Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Swap Is Mightier Than the Sale

A first-time seed swapper is raring to dig in.

Yesterday a padded envelope arrived. “Gimpytwice,” whom I’d met on an internet gardening forum, had mailed me a fat bundle of mixed hollyhock seeds, in exchange for the cardinal vine seed I’m harvesting along the porch rail.

Like ships in the night, our seed envelopes crossed in the mail, arriving here in Austin, Texas, and there in Marion, Ohio, the same day.

I have no sense of Gimpytwice’s age, but she’s clearly an old hand at seed swapping. Rather than raving with delight, she promptly e-mailed me her mailing address and her real name. The hollyhock seed came sealed in a tiny plastic packet (the kind that seasoned swappers buy in bulk and then conserve and recycle). She enclosed a slip of paper “Thanks, Julie. Feel free to reuse envelope” and a gentle reminder of our agreement: “cardinal vine for hollyhocks.” I also found a preaddressed seal, two 37 cent postage stamps, and a second seed packet, containing “Free Mix Color Spider Flower 2004,” little specks of black and brown. (I think this qualifies as lagniappe.) All I’d mailed to her was about 30 cardinal vine seeds taped up ingenue-style in a piece of notepaper and a memo gushing enthusiasm.

I’m getting the picture: swappers don’t want praise and commentary, they want seed and postage.


Hollyhocks Photo: tawny tahni

In former times, gardeners relied on neighbors and relatives for seed-swapping. Steve Bender and Felder Rushing’s book Passalong Plants offers a fun review of this old-timey custom. But, today, if you aren’t on speaking—much less swapping—terms with neighbors or relatives, you can still exchange seed thanks to the internet.

Look at the seed exchange forum on the Garden Web. That’s where I met gimpytwice. There’s a wealth of both generosity and desire out there, people who have lost their last “bat face” plants and are eager to replace them, people with “chocolate cosmos” to offer. “I would like Queen Anne’s Lace and small cherry tomato seed,” pleads “shoe” from Missouri’s Zone 6. “Planting nut,” a swapper from North Florida, announces “The pink moon vine has finished for this year. I have seeds now for those who are still looking.”

I have no idea what pink moon vine is. I wasn’t looking, but I am now. self-addressed padded envelope and two postage stamps are on the way.

(Here’s a second seed swap source I haven’t tried, though it looks promising. Less Americentric, this site includes a “world seed exchange.”)

Posted by Julie on 10/26 at 11:09 AM
Gardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink

Monday, October 25, 2004

Korean Floral Customs Change but White Wreaths Have the Last Word

Koreans are enjoying orchids, now plentiful for the first time, but for obsequies they still choose the traditional white chrysanthemum.

A column in today’s Manila Bulletin report on flower trends in Korea. Dr. Benito S. Vergara observed that Koreans, who ten years ago might splurge on one or two cut orchid flowers, today are treating themselves to arrangements of 6-12 live orchid plants, even during the winter months. Seoul hotels, restaurants and business offices are “awash with phalaenopsis and dendrobium flowers,” the story reports. The Korean government and cut-flower producers have stepped up production so that these once exotic varieties are now affordable.

Vergara, recently back from a trip to Korea, observes, ” The yellow single-headed, large mums used to be the standard flowers during autumn. We did not see any of them anymore this year. However, the white mums are still in demand for funeral wreaths.”

Korean funeral wreaths tend to be monumental, often 10 feet in diameter, and draped with inscribed black ribbons. Monstera leaves are customarily used to offset the white flowers. “Foliage similar to kamuning or sinamomo are also used as fillers,” Vergara adds. He describes these arrangements as “standard with very little variation except where some yellow mums are added.”


Representatives of N. Korea send condolences and white funeral wreath

Photo: The People’s Korea

A floral moment in recent Korean history occurred in March 2001, when emissaries from North Korea’s leader Kim Jong II traveled South for the funeral of Hyundai founder Jong Ju Yong, “the first time the DPRK leader has sent an official message of condolence upon the death of a South Korean.” The North Koreans paid their respects, in part, with a huge white wreath of flowers.

Evidence that the white flower presides at funerals throughout much of SE Asia (and elsewhere in the world too), is this photo from the January 2004 funeral of Hong Kong pop singer Anita Mui.


Anita Mui Kim-Fong funeral in Hong Kong, Jan. 12, 2004

Photo: the Sun

Posted by Julie on 10/25 at 01:49 PM
Culture & SocietyCut-Flower TradeReligious RitualsPermalink

Masked Deliverymen

Two Holmdel, New Jersey, residents have been burglarized so far this year by men claiming to be delivering flowers.

A puzzling story in today’s Independent (Holmdel, NJ) reports that thieves posing as flower delivermen stole a safe containing some $750,000 of jewelry from a Holmdel house.

Local police said that in May, a group of men claiming to be on a flower delivery errand entered another house in the town, pistol whipped the resident, and stole cash.

Condolences to these innocent folks.

Let’s all repeat together now:

Flower deliverers don’t travel in packs.

Flower deliverers don’t wear masks.

Flower deliverers are carrying flowers.

Posted by Julie on 10/25 at 01:18 PM

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Idea of Order in Tuscaloosa

Calling all Rudy Giuliani fans: take a tip from gardener Vera Horton.

Back in the 1990s, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was tough on crime and tough on civil liberties too. Giuliani had been intrigued by a study called “Broken Windows” that tied crime rates to minor traces of public disorder. “Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.” So said a 1982 article published in the Atlantic Monthly.

Giuliani proceeded to beef up policing and surveillance in New York and crack down on graffiti and panhandling. Rates of violent crime declined. So did civil liberties.

The Tuscaloosa (AL) News reports on another kind of “Broken Windows” initiative. Vera Horton, a 61-year-old gardener, is fighting crime in West Tuscaloosa with “banana trees, angel trumpets, crape myrtle, geraniums and pumpkins. She chose to use her yard on 21st Street as the cornerstone of a project to help the area called Silver Park look better than its name, rather than remain tagged one of the worst places in the city.”


In Vera Horton’s Garden

Photo: Jason Getz, Tuscaloosa News

She asked the city council for help but was turned down. So after bringing her own corner lot to bloom, she went door-to-door offering to do the same for her neighbors. Interest in gardening has spread. A city council member told the Tuscaloosa paper, “Crime is down, street lights have been put up, a police substation is there… We’re looking anytime now to plant those crape myrtles Horton wants.”

New York’s mayor had proposed—and then claimed to have proved—that creating order decreased crime. Vera Horton had the same premise, only her idea of order wasn’t to expand arrests but to extend flowering gardens.

“Freedom is about authority,” Giuliani told Newsday in 1998. “Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do and how you do it.”

Horton holds another view—rather than ceding authority, freedom is about assuming responsibility, to work with others on behalf of the common good.

“I just remind people that some things we just have to do for ourselves,” Horton said. “We knew that no one was going to do it but us, so we did it.”

(For a good essay on the “Broken Windows” theory of crime prevention, check this piece on

Posted by Julie on 10/24 at 11:10 AM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePermalink
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