Human Flower Project
Sunday, December 19, 2004
A Holiday Meditation (or Parlor Game)
This “snowflake” is actually a white petunia, transformed by photographer David Bookbinder into a Flower Mandala. Welcome and thanks again to David for pointing us to his beautiful images. The photographer solicits your thoughts.
I’d like to invite you to participate in a project I’m doing with the series of mandala images I’ve made from photographs of flowers. I’m planning to put together a book with a word and a meditative phrase or quote associated with each image. I’ve posted the images in a forum on the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden web site and am hoping people will help me with the text part of the project.
I hope, eventually, to create a book of 52. In addition to text to go with the images, I’m also interested in any other sorts of comments you might care to make.
David J. Bookbinder Photo Transformations
Queen Anne’s Lace
Note: It takes just a moment to register on the UBC Garden Forum site, but for your trouble you can see all 50 of David’s photos and join one of the finest gardening forums around.
Human Flower Project is on the road for the next few days. We’ll resume the weblog soon. Meantime, to all visitors and friends, Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas!
Poinsettia: a Little Legend, a Lot of Marketing
We call Euphorbia pulcherrima—a.k.a. nochebuena, poinsettia—the “traditional” Christmas flower of the Americas. But traditions, like all dimensions of culture, aren’t decreed by Nature; they’re human-made.
So who turned a highland weed into a consumerist sacrament?
Fifteen years ago during a dusty busride in the Guatemalan highlands, we passed a huge hill covered with red bushes: poinsettia, wild, blooming like mad in early August. How weird to see a whole mountainside of them in the summer sunlight.
Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, must have seen something like this nearly a century ago. An amateur botanist, he brought the plant back to his native South Carolina, sharing it with “John Bartram of Philadelphia, who in turn gave the plant over to another friend, Robert Buist, a Pennsylvania nurseryman.”
For months, from Delaware, to Texas, to Xochimilco (the famed flower district of Mexico City), growers have been toiling to meet the huge holiday demand for poinsettias. From the White House to the beautician’s counter, they’re everywhere. It’s traditional.
The legend of the nochebuena , as the plant is called in Mexico, is a Christmas story that smacks of the Little Match Girl and Little Drummer Boy. I don’t know where the tale came from or how far back the association of this starry red flower with Christmas reaches. But I can guess.
Paul Ecke, Sr.
Photo: Ecke Ranch
It was a miracle of marketing, performed by Paul Ecke, Sr.. In the 1920s, Ecke, a California nurseryman, recognized that the poinsettia “would make an ideal official holiday flower. But the question remained: how to promote and market a plant that most people had never heard of or even seen, let alone associate it with the holiday season?”
The Ecke Ranch website offers a wonderful history, an unabashed example of what Eric Hobsbawm calls “the invention of tradition.” Ecke’s success involved intensive cultivation, roadside sales in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, innovative use of greenhouses, and—perhaps most important of all—strategic product placement.
Paul Ecke, Sr. (1895-1991)
Photo: Ecke Ranch
Ecke “made certain that poinsettias became a necessary part of the holiday experience. No holiday scene could be considered complete without at least one poinsettia in it. On a larger scale, the Ranch worked with television, such as The Tonight Show and the Bob Hope Christmas Specials, to make certain that poinsettias were always a part of the holiday sets.”
And speaking of product placement: “the United States produces more poinsettias than any other country, patenting new varieties and reaping some $260 million a year in sales, and Mexico, meanwhile, can’t sell the plants in the United States because of restrictions on importing Mexican soil.”
Does it drain some of the magic out of Christmas poisettias to learn that they were foisted on us all by an industrious Californian, with Bob Hope as his promotional Blitzen? Maybe. But Santa Claus hadn’t managed to get those blooming plants from the Mexican mountains to Home Depot by December 24. Mr. Ecke looks like an elf to me.
Saturday, December 18, 2004
Two Views of Bangalore, Both Floral
Business folks have staged a splendid flower show in Hosur, outside Bangalore, to encourage flower industries in the area; Ronnie Johnson sings the region’s floral praises too, in a very different key.
“O taste and see…” the psalmist sang. Following flowers in life and on the WWW means just that, and O the variety on every hand…
The Hindu reports on an international flower show in Hosur, India . The exhibit, arranged “through videoconferencing,” isn’t tourist-driven like most of India’s best known flower shows. Instead, a spokesperson explains, it was designed “to attract more investment in the floriculture sector and promote the region as a reliable supplier of cut flowers and foliages in the world market.”
Check out that arena-sized arrangement!
A related story reports the chief minister of Tamil Nadu (Hosur’s province) has asked area flower farmers to grow for export, making the most of the region’s new “export zone.” Clearly, flowers look to many Southern Indians like a profitable product.
Ronnie Johnson of Bangalore sees flowers in a different light. His quixotic and personal Flowers of Bangalore is a tribute to his mother, Anne, and a gift to his children. At least I assume that’s who these young people are, mugging in the hollyhocks.
“Bangalore, what we can offer is some respite before you crumple into the ground,” Johnson writes. His outlook on the region’s flowers, anything but industrial, steps up close to photograph single blooms and remember the old-timers whose rose and palm gardens he still reveres. These aren’t flowers for export but flowers of nostalgia and introspection.
Call it bourgeois, romantic. Whatever you call it, it demonstrates better than a behemoth arrangement the longevity, beauty and power of Bangalore’s flowers.
Culture & Society • Cut-Flower Trade • Gardening & Landscape • Permalink
Daffodil Visitors, Yes; Daffodil Pickers, No
As Cornwall prepares for the glory of daffodil season, tourists are welcome, but flower laborers less so.
The head of a cut-daffodil operation is butting with residents of Hayle over his plan to set up an encampment for seasonal workers. Cornwall, in southwest England, is famous for its temperate winters and early daffodil crop.
Alan Garrard wants permission to accomodate 250 workers on the outskirts of Hayle: “They are brought in on contract, they’re here for two months or three months and then they leave when the work has dried up,” Garrard said. The chairman of the Hayle Chamber of Commerce told the BBC, “We have 80,000 visitors a month in the high season and we have trouble enough keeping basic infrastructure concerned going.”
According to the BBC, some 3000 foreign workers come to labor in the Cornish bulb fields annually.
Actually this season looks peculiar. Flowers all over England have been blooming far too early. The Hayden Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Garrard, and the migrant workers may have more than a zoning problem.