The Meaning of Milkmaids

– Posted in: Garden Photography

What do I see in Milkmaids?


I see thousands of little white flowers covering my hill. It is February in Northern California and unlike the far more showy flowers to come, the Milkmaids (Dentaria californica) say spring is here. And for me, finally emerging from winter’s long nights in philosophical mood, I see far more than little unprepossessing dots of white. I see you and me, bloggers and gardeners, doing what we can to brighten the day.

This is yet another way the camera lies. In the grips of a caption a photo often says something very different than either the photographer or the scene intended. This is not the day to rant about a lush Seattle lawn photo ending up in a book sold to Arizona gardeners or a zone 11 succulent tempting a New England rock gardener. This is waxing philosophical about the power of a simple photo to provoke a thought.

I am impressed by all the blogging going on in the gardening world. Probably in every little world, from politics to facebooks, cooks to churches, blogging is everywhere. Like milkmaids on my hill. But garden blogs, like many a personal garden, exist just to please ourselves and our friends. No big expectations – like milkmaids on my hill

Individually, each flower is insignificant. And aren’t blogs and gardens too? Yet each flower goes on regardless if anyone notices, and collectively it’s wonderful. For those who notice, the day is brightened for a moment. Then we move on.

Now consider the manzanita flower, another February bloomer:

manzanita flower

What do we see here ? Well, it has been said it takes a village . . .

Is the camera lying – or provoking a thought ?

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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Frances February 13, 2008, 6:01 am

Thought provoking post. The numbers of bloggers out there is mind boggling, and growing every day. Your manzanita cluster is truly breath taking.

Frances at Faire Garden

Robin at Bumblebee February 13, 2008, 6:51 am

The simple thought your milkmaid photo inspires in me is “Crap, why can’t my open spaces look like that?” I have a huge patch of former hayfield that needs some serious attention. Milkmaids maybe?

Robin at Bumblebee

Lisa at Greenbow February 13, 2008, 7:33 am

Aaahhhhh the camera provkes a thought…Hope. It reminds me that Spring will emerge from this icy world I am now enveloped in.

Yay rah to Garden Bloggers and their photos. I don’t care if the camera lies. I love to see those blossoms. 🙂

kate February 13, 2008, 12:54 pm

Those Manzanita flowers are pretty … so are the Milkmaids, although it might be their name that I really like!

wiseacre February 13, 2008, 1:35 pm

Quite frankly I was amazed at the number of garden blogs. As a new member of the ‘community’ I’m having a hard time keeping up with so many. As you say, each contributes it’s small share and the total is truly a wonderful past time for me during the winter. While a single blog may be insignificant I’ve found the people behind them to be unique and special, each in their own way.

Saxon Holt February 13, 2008, 1:50 pm

Thanks Frances – the cool thing about blogging for me, not being a writer is I can provoke a thought, expand a photo, speak about what i son my mind.

Glad you like the manzanita photo. I almost put a photo up of the manzanita blossoms covering the ground like snow. But it evoked the same analogy as the milkmaids

Saxon Holt February 13, 2008, 1:53 pm

Robin – If you have a hayfield let it become a meadow and mow paths through it. That is what fellow GGW blogger Nancy has done. Don’t try milkmaids unless you have open woods, high shade, and few deer.


Saxon Holt February 13, 2008, 2:02 pm

Lisa – Glad to bring the hope of spring . . . which I have been doing since my October entry “Hooray for Spring”

Sorry, don’t mean to rub it in; and spring means more to those who wait. oh, is that rubbing it in ? ;->

Saxon Holt February 13, 2008, 2:11 pm

Kate – I too think the hane is part of the charm. And although they will always be milkmaids to me there is a name change to the Bittercress family – Cardamine californica.

Bad idea. Barry Glick of Sunshine Farms addresses this appropriately in a rant

Saxon Holt February 13, 2008, 2:15 pm

Anyone notice ? I am replying to myself

Saxon Holt February 13, 2008, 2:19 pm

hey wiseacre – the blogs pull you in don’t they ?
Thanks for keeping up with this one. I am honored to be part of it and a bit jealous as my cohorts are all writers who can put writing into the rythme of their day. I enjoy it – but it is not part of my routine.

Anna--Flowergardengirl February 13, 2008, 5:36 pm

I will be adding lots of white to my new gardens and loved this post. Thank you for adding me to the group. I’m a new blogger and am loving it.

Saxon Holt February 13, 2008, 7:40 pm

Welcome Anna – Thank YOU for dropping in. Be careful about adding the white of Milkmaids into a garden. Most people consider them weeds….

Jack Winston February 13, 2008, 8:16 pm

nice to see the wildflowers – God’s garden

Nice to hear from you Jack! let’s walk soon

Jan February 13, 2008, 9:31 pm

I, too, am impressed by all the garden blogging going on now. Too often gardening is a solitary activity, and with blogging it is a great way to be able to connect with other gardeners. Thanks for adding me to your blog roll.

Jan Always Growing

jodi February 15, 2008, 1:51 pm

I’m with you, Saxon, on the bane of taxonomists. I’ve thrown tantrums about them before, and will again. They obviously have nothing better to do than split genera hairs in order to make themselves look like they’re doing something useful.
We don’t have milkmaids here–delightful name–but we do have Dentaria diphylla, toothwort or pepperwort, in our woods; and the taxonomists have changed THAT to Cardamine diphylla too. A pox on them–may they get blossomend rot where it counts!
As for garden bloggers–I have a lot of gardening books, and read exhaustively–and I learn more and more from other garden bloggers all the time. Plus we inspire and cheer each other on. I love this worldwide community (far more than the local garden club!)

jodi – I caution restaint on tantrums towards taxonomist. a) it may mirror you own inflexibility to change; :-> b) in the big picture it’s best to get things sorted out correctly; and c) it won’t do any good . . .

jodi February 15, 2008, 11:48 pm

Chuckle….you’re correct, of course, Saxon. I had a run-in with one last year that soured me generally on them because he was so damned condescending; as if we all should be able to instantly know the latest in nomenclature.

Why it bugs me so much is because I busily am encouraging gardeners to not be intimidated by botanical names–and then they just get used to saying Cimicifuga and we say, oops, sorry, it’s Actaea now. So I try to keep up on the new names so as to help other gardeners learn them too, but there are days….

I too have had those run ins with know-it-all taxonomists who made me feel stupid. Not being a botanist, or even a writer who can keep up with name changes, I am intimidated by all the experts and just wanna say “get over it” sometimes. And I agree with you that it probably keeps beinner gardeners from getting deeper into it – fear they won’t know the “right” names. Thanks for your post

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