This past March we had the wonderful opportunity to go to Paris! We’ve been there many times however this time was definitely different as we went with the bébé! When you’re sans bébé navigating through the Paris Metro, wandering through the cobblestone streets and feasting your eyes on the artwork of one or ALL the museums is a synch. With bébé, everything has become more complex, and think again about taking that stroller into the metro. This is reserved for the very brave (or foolish) souls out there. We were foolish… I mean brave…. but only once. Can I get an amen from all the baby-carrying mamas!?
Number one on the list for this trip was the Grandes Serres du Jardin des Plantes. And it did not disappoint. If you caught our feature on Amsterdam’s Hortus Botanicus (you can read it HERE), you know we love exploring botanical gardens and wandering through their marvelous collections of plants.
The Grandes Serres originally started to protect and preserve a collection of orangeries. These orange trees were housed in utility buildings and were off limits to the general public. It is only later that we see the appearance of the first greenhouses made of glass and wood; built for the chief purpose of conserving the botanical collections that naturalists would bring back from their explorative voyages outside of France.
In the early 19th Century, the concept of combining metal with glass was introduced to the construction of greenhouses. This allowed for stronger structures and better insulation for the varied temperatures that the plants needed. England spearheaded this innovation and architects, most notably Charles Rohault de Fleury, were sent to bring back this innovation to France. Between 1834 and 1836, Rohault de Fleury built two greenhouses: the Eastern Pavilion and the Western Pavilion (both would later be renamed). These two structures were the prototypes of modern greenhouses and significantly are the first greenhouses in the world of such large dimensions made of glass and metal.
The tropical greenhouse constructed in typical Art Deco style was built in the 1930s by Rene Berger. It is here that we started our visit and it was absolutely incredible. Our senses were captivated by the biodiversity we found there. Every step we took seemed filled with so many different varieties of plants: cascading banana leaves, gorgeous ferns, dangling orchids and a waterfall of monstera deliciosa (my favourite) just to name a few. It was a treat for our souls. They had built a structure at one end of the greenhouse that you could climb up inside to have a panoramic view. It was gorgeous, and of course gave me a chance to get up close and personal with their breath taking monsteras.
Monstera deliciosa is a type of flowering plant common to southern Mexico and Panama, but they have been introduced worldwide. I was always taken aback by their name: why monstera (a.k.a monstrous)? It refers to the sheer size that these beauties can grow to… over 9 meters in some cases! That may be indeed monstrous! They are a member of the Arum family Araceae with very impressive aerial root systems. What fascinates me the most is the fenestrate leaves—although each leaf is similar, they are each so unique with different perforations and lines.
From the tropical rainforest greenhouse, we ventured into the deserts and arid environments greenhouse – a complete change of atmosphere and certainly temperature. Their collection had cacti and succulents from all over the world: USA, Mexico, the Andes, South Africa, the Sahara and even Madagascar! I am always so intrigued how these plants have each a different way of conserving water, reproducing and their fascinating defense mechanisms for deterring predators.
From there you enter the greenhouse of New Caledonia which contains plants from… you guessed it, New Caledonia. New Caledonia is a French territory in the southwest Pacific Ocean about 1,210 km east of Australia. Discovered by the British navigator James Cook in 1774 it came into the hands of the French in 1853. What makes this collection so special is that it contains several plants that are actually quite ancient in origin and are ancestral to the genealogical tree of the plant kingdom. New Caledonia is only 19 058 km², but it is incredibly rich in more than 3000 species of fauna and flora that do not exist anywhere else in the world. In fact, 76% of plant species and 72% of known animal species are endemic. Amazing! The greenhouse presents this flora through five environments: the humid forest, the dry forest, the maquis, the savanna and the mangrove. You can see a brochure of this collection here.
Finally, you enter into the history of plants greenhouse where the evolution of plants is traced beginning from 430 million years ago. Here you see a wide variety of gorgeous ferns (another favourite of mine) including breathtaking tree ferns, as well as cycads, a Ginkgo Biloba, lianas and the tour ends with flowering plants.
Botanical Gardens aren’t just beautiful places where one can admire and marvel at the beauty of plants or learn about their history. In a world where we are losing so much biodiversity in the name progress and economic growth, these places become safe havens for our rarest flora. Many botanical gardens including the one in Paris and the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam contain rare and endangered plants. They are “banks of plant biodiversity.” If these plants multiply, they are spread and shared between a network and community of botanical gardens. This becomes very important as botanical gardens are most notably places of research and of course knowledge dissemination to the wider public. Thus, it’s another place where we can learn the importance of taking care of our dear home. You don’t just learn about the plants themselves, but their part in a wider ecosystem including their relationships with the flora and fauna you would find in their natural and wild environment.
If you’re ever in Paris, the plant lover in you will find great joy in visiting the Grandes Serres du Jardin des Plantes. The greenhouses are just a small part of the Jardin de Plantes. They also have an Alpine Garden, Ecological Garden, Rose Garden, Peony Garden (next time we come in June!) and an Iris Garden, just to name a few. And if you come with others who aren’t so botanically inclined they have something for everyone: the Gallery on Evolution, the Gallery of Minerals and Geology, a zoo, the Museum of Man and special exhibitions.
I brought back a treasure trove of new material that I making my way through, so keep your eyes peeled for a new release of fine art prints.
Make sure to check out our web shop for beautiful fine art botanical prints to adorn any space you call your own. Let nature in with us!
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There are so many unique and beautiful gems in the city of Amsterdam. Taking a stroll through the Jordaan with its architectural delights and small bridges, having a picnic in the Vondelpark, taking in incredible art at the Rijks or the Van Gogh Museum (I mean, come on, a whole museum dedicated to Van Gogh?! Be still my heart!), grabbing fresh produce from the Biological Noordermarkt or savoring a fresh homemade-on-the-spot stroopwafel at the Albert Cuyp (I can just feel that warm gooey syrup running down my chin as I write this).
One of the crown jewels for me is the Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam’s botanical garden. Nestled in the Plantages area of the city, a skip and hop away from the Artis, this sweet oasis has really captured my heart. About a year and a half ago we purchased a membership and we find ourselves there weekly. I am baffled how EVER SINGLE WEEK we discover something new. How that is possible is beyond comprehension, unless of course they sneak in new plants in the dead of night while no one is watching. Sometimes it’s a new shoot on one of our favourite plants that we discover, but more often than not, it’s a new plant that we had never even noticed before!
Like last week, we noticed for the first the gympie-gympie plant, a stinging tree native to Australia. It tends to have oval or heart-shaped leaves covered with stinging hairs. "Like being burned by hot acid and electrocuted at the same time," according to botanist Marina Hurley on what it feels like to come into contact with the gympie-gympie. Even if the leaves have been dried and put in storage for a century no less, the hairs are still lethal as found out by some unlucky researchers. How can something with such a cute name be so astoundingly lethal? And as a side note, can I just say how grateful I am that this plant is behind glass. For more about the gympie-gympie click here.
The Hortus is one of the oldest botanical gardens of the world. Established in 1638 by the city municipality, it’s primary function was to be an herb garden with medicinal plants for the Amsterdam doctors and pharmacists. This came about due to a plague epidemic that occurred between 1634-1637. The Hortus was able to amalgamate a vast array of exotic plants that were completely unknown to the whole of Europe. These striking plants had been brought to the Netherlands via traders working under the Dutch East India Company.
If you visit the Hortus today you’ll find over 6,000 different plants divided between an incredible three climate greenhouse, palm greenhouse, butterfly greenhouse and three marvelous outdoor gardens. It never ceases to amaze me how in every season, the Hortus, looks wildly different as the year transitions from spring to summer, summer to fall and then to winter.
Their collection boasts the Victoria water lily, a massive water lily that blooms in the summer months, a Wollemi pine (which until 1994 was only known from prehistoric fossils until a park ranger discovered a group of these growing in the Blue Mountains in Australia), cycads (one of which is a 350-year-old Eastern Cape giant cycad), and my favourite, a beautiful gingko biloba.
I couldn’t say which part of the gardens or greenhouses I love the most, but where I spend the most time in is in the three-climate greenhouse especially in the desert and the tropics portion—two opposite sides of the spectrum. This is where my love affair began with how light affects the way we perceive things, and the contrast between light and shadow. The weather in the Netherlands is so unpredictable and at a moment’s notice it can go from cloud to sun, to hail, to rain, to mist, and back to cloud. Especially clouds…we have an infinite supply of those here. Thus, the last 3 years have really been a study on light for me. And I relish all of its nuances in this beautiful place.
If you visit our shop, you’ll see some beautiful examples of some of the flora that you can find at the Hortus. From the tiniest succulents to the giant banana leaves towering and cascading overhead. The Hortus provides a feast for the senses. And in our shop, you’ll be able to bring some of that beauty right into your own home, with no watering or plant care required!
Amidst all the excitement, noise, culture, and thrill that Amsterdam offers, the Hortus is really an oasis of calm and respite. To us, it’s become a little slice of tranquility which we heartily enjoy. And the coffee’s good too! ;)
A couple months ago we announced that our ‘lil team was sprouting. Well, our lil’ sprout is here! It has been just my husband and I for the last 12 years, and now it is unbelievable that we are now 3.
So, let me introduce you to Ethan Oak. We chose the name Ethan because it means strong, optimistic, solid, and enduring. We chose Oak not only because oak trees are symbolic of strength, might, beauty, and highly revered in folklore and mythology. But also, based on the verse found in Isaiah 61:3. It’s a beautiful passage full of hope, and we pray that Ethan Oak will grow into his name and be an oak of righteousness in a turbulent and unsure world.
We are beyond grateful for all of our families’, friends’, and readers’ warm thoughts, prayers, and support. Ethan Oak was born October 18th. He was 8.3 lbs! Birth and delivery was nothing short of miraculous. Contractions began October 16th at around 1PM. After consistently having contractions for 5 hours we thought he was arriving that night. However, Ethan needed much more time. After 2 sleepless nights with intense contractions ranging from 2 to 10 minutes apart, the midwives decided to break my water in the early morning of the 18th, and we soon held Ethan in our arms!! We are so thankful we were able to have Ethan born naturally at home, and our midwives were incredible and so wonderful.
I marvel at just how miraculous our bodies are made, and how they can create, sustain and push out a tiny human life.
Nature knows exactly what to do whether it’s how our bodies function or how plants grow and bloom. Every season evolves into the next in utter beauty from spring to summer to fall to winter. It doesn’t need to be ordered or instructed, everything opens itself up to the elements and surrenders itself to the unfolding of life.
I came across this quotation a few months ago and it is so apt as the chill of winter is approaching and the last leaves descend and return to the earth. Every fall,” the trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.”
I want to encourage you that if you’re going to through a tough season in your life, there is reason enough to raise your head in hope. There is much beauty to be discovered (or rediscovered) all around you… even in the process of letting go. Sometimes the things that we hold on to most tightly are the very things that are weighing us down, and stop us from enjoying what is right in front of us.
Currently, I am learning to be an expert in letting go with this new little one... especially of sleep, but so so so many other things too. And it’s absolutely worth it.
It’s in art to celebrate in the ‘letting go’.
We love to celebrate the wonder of nature here, as I’m sure you’ve already noticed. And we have a couple of happy announcements!
We launched three new mini collections in our shop just in time for Christmas. Each collection comes with a set of two beautiful fine art prints that complement each other perfectly: Tropical Reverie, Fern Fractals, and Arid Daydream. They are each sized 20cm x 30cm or 8in x 12in. They are a gorgeous pair and at a special price for the set.
Furthermore, we are so happy to announce that we've been able to reduce our flat-rate shipping costs for Canadian, American and UK customers (HALLELUJAH!!) and still offer the same exceptional delivery service *insert happy dance*. Our state-of-the-art fine art printers in Germany estimate 10 business days for both printing and delivery to North America.
We also released a November gift for you and are offering a free phone wallpaper to take you back to lazy sunny summer afternoons for those -20/-30 Celsius days (shout out to Toronto)! You can download your free gift here. Feel free to send us a screenshot of your new wallpaper in use via Instagram!
There’s a little unsightly nook in our apartment just between the couch and my favourite Calathea. And regardless of what I do, it is always a mess of jumbled white wires, plugs, and chargers. Sometimes it reminds me of the scene in Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones is dropped into the Well of Souls where he comes face to face with a slithering tangled mess of pythons. I exaggerate… but between the wires for the mobile phones, tablets, laptops, e-reader, camera equipment, modem, and our lamp; it gets overwhelming.
We live in a digital age of touchscreens where we can have anything we want at a swipe or a tap. It’s amazing but I’ve realized it comes at a price.
When I was studying for my Montessori certification years ago, one thing that made such an impression on me was when we discussed sensorial learning and its importance in child development. See, everything that is not digital but tangible engages ALL our senses and gives our minds and bodies feedback. This feedback is what allows us to learn and experience the world with all of our faculties.
There’s a huge difference between reading your favorite novel in a paperback or limited edition or on an e-reader. The e-reader is fantastic, you can carry an entire library in your bag and even read it in the dark (no flashlight required!!). Practical and extremely convenient. However, your experience dramatically changes when you pick up a physical book. The weight of the book in your hands, the act of opening the book and turning a page, the minute breeze you feel against your face when you turn a page, the texture of the paper against your fingertips, or even the fragrance that the page wafts to your nose. It’s not just about the words on the page.
And over time, the experience changes. You can always tell which book has become a favorite; the fingerprint marks on the pages, the creases in the spine, the dog-eared corners, or the underlined passages that are adored. All of this tells a story. It’s a story of experience, enjoyment (or lack of) and value.
I have no qualms with my Ipad or my other digital devices. They are so unbelievably practical. But to me that’s all they are: practical. On their own, they tell no story, but must be turned on and used as a vehicle to get me where I need to go (digitally). But we forget. I forget! What began as a tool to get me somewhere or something can itself become the SOMETHING that I strive for.
When I started this journey on rediscovering how to marvel and relaunch monaelisaphoto, I debated whether to create digital products or physical art. I’m embarrassed to say that the last time I printed a photograph must have been at least 4 years ago and I was still doing portraiture at the time! A photographer who doesn’t print their own photographs? Insane!
While in the testing phase over the last year we printed many samples on so many different types of papers with diverse finishes, textures, weights – and it was GLORIOUS. The photographs and images became so much more alive than what I could have hoped for or even imagined. There’s such a difference in seeing your art for REAL, as opposed to on a digital screen. It’s mind blowing.
And the story these pieces tell changes every day and throughout the day—and that’s all thanks to the light or lack thereof where they decorate our walls.
A little background on our printing process…
We’ve found a phenomenal laboratory in Germany that utilizes excellent archival inks with an exceptional color gamut. With much testing, we decided on a bright white torchon archival paper (285gsm) as our medium. Torchon comes from the French word that means “course structure”. It has the same texture as watercolor paper and it’s simply sublime. The details that you see in the highlights and shadows are beautiful, and gives the image a sense of three dimensionality that other paper simply cannot.
It was almost a pity to frame these pieces as it felt like it took away from the sensorial experience of the paper, and how the light influences what you see as it hits it or is reflected from it. And yes, the texture of the paper on your fingertips even feels lovely (although I don’t recommend ‘feeling up’ your prints).
Our paper is museum grade which has 82 years’ longevity if displayed framed under glass or 132 years if displayed framed with a UV filter. (I’d like to see a tablet survive that long. And absolutely no charging required ;)
I’m so very proud of our final product. I wish there was a way that I could have each of you over so that you could see with your own eyes the difference between seeing our work in person versus on a digital screen (preferably with a glass of wine, and your favourite song playing in the background).
In an age where we tend to value things on the cheap because they are fast, convenient and fulfill our immediate desires, we often forget the beauty that comes with craftsmanship, quality and longevity. It’s difficult to remember amongst the clutter, the noise and all the various things that vie for our attention what it is that truly speaks to us, restores us from our weariness and makes us marvel again. In a digital age, something real is so worth the investment.
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Dirk and I always enjoy during our downtime, curling up on the couch, sharing a glass of whiskey and watching nature documentaries. I confess that I always get squeamish during those hunting montages, so with my trusty pillow by my side I’m always ready to do a full-face plant when anyone is getting eaten.
Recently, we bumped into Planet Earth II and I was blown away by one of their segments on the Chinstrap Penguin Colony. These little guys live on Zavodovski Island (just north of Antarctica) on an active volcano. Not only is the island volcanic, and surrounded by treacherous cliffs but it lies in one of the stormiest seas.
Photo credit: taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/
Every January, the island explodes with newly hatched chicks. Hungry and vulnerable, they depend on one parent to protect them while, the other goes on a 2-mile hike to the ocean to feed. Once at the coast, they have to time their jump into the ocean with absolute precision in order to catch a wave that will pull them into the freezing water otherwise they fall against the cliff’s rocky edges. They must feed, avoid predators, and swim back to the island, and again find the perfect wave to propel them back onto the cliffs to return to their starving chicks. Many arrive back bloodied, bruised, and/or with broken limbs, while others simply don’t make it. And let’s not forget, that after this ordeal they still need to hike back 2 miles and find their nest amongst 1.5 million other penguins!
I was deeply moved watching this. Are these penguins extreme thrill seekers? Is it instinct? Are they just bat crazy? What possesses them to do this EVERY OTHER DAY? Unfortunately, I can’t answer these questions. I’m not a penguin, and I’m so grateful I’m not. But the single motivation that I can observe is that they are consumed with an absolute desire to feed their chicks and give them a chance at survival. It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, awesome, incredibly vulnerable and frightening. These penguins have only one single focus and that is the preservation and protection of the next generation. (You can watch the clip here).
It reminds me of a beautiful quotation I ran across on a storefront two years ago:
I marveled at those words the first time I read them. It’s so easy for me to be consumed by my own desires and needs without a second thought to how my choices may affect those around me. Or how I can be blind to the needs of others. When I read those words, it made me pause, and start to question the choices that I make and the way that I live my life.
As we get ready to launch our online shop on April 11, one thing that’s become incredibly important to me is the desire to leave the space in which I inhabit on this earth (hopefully) better than the way I leave it, not only for the environment but also for those that will come after me. And I want it to be a part of my business model, without question.
When you invest in a piece of fine art with us or any product you purchase in our online shop, a percentage of all proceeds will be donated to one of three organizations whose sole mission is: wildlife and habitat conservation, offering medical care to displaced persons in war torn countries, or rescuing children from the sex trafficking industry (more details coming soon in a future blog post).
Firstly, I’m very excited about this as it allows us to support and empower people to bring about good in this world in the midst of incredible injustice and pain. Secondly, as a customer, you can choose which organization you would like to receive the proceeds. Thus, choosing one that aligns closest to your own passions. We are all so very different and have diverse causes that we care deeply about.
So, whether you are concerned about the environment, or you passionately care for the next generation like the Chinstrap Penguins, please know that when you invite us into your home by purchasing a piece of fine art photography from us, you’re also doing good and partnering with us to leave our temporary earthly home in a better place than it was before.
What causes are you most passionate about?