Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Friday, May 27, 2005

Chelsea Flower Show: Bring Your Snoot

Robin Lane Fox reports on his delicate sensibilities, as prickled at England’s foremost flower show.


Photo: Royal Horticultural Society

“England is the most class-ridden country under the sun. It is a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and silly.”

George Orwell said it, not me. And I will let Robin Lane Fox go about proving it to you. Fox is garden writer for the Financial Times, the London daily published on “someone left the cake out in the rain” pink newsprint.

He reports today on the Chelsea Flower Show, England’s premiere horticultural event, which closes tomorrow. The exhibition, under the auspices of the Royal Horticultural Society, began in 1862, which qualifies it as “old.”

As for silly, consider Robin Lane Fox’s review, Flowering Achievement, for example, this discourse on hydrangeas:


Photo: Northamptonshire

“I never expected to study an array of large-flowered hydrangeas with such interest, but the exhibit from Ashwood Nurseries in the west Midlands was exceptionally varied and thought-provoking. Many keen gardeners have already found it one of the most stimulating in the show. In recent years, the nursery has drawn our attention to Japanese varieties in other popular garden families. This year, it had reached out far and wide and had not hesitated to show the biggest and brightest, the sort of hydrangea that used to be associated with vintage years at Royal Ascot. On a second look, these big varieties were far better than anything Ascot ever found. If you want the deepest and most impressive blue on a big-headed lacecap, I now know the answer. Choose Blaumeise, which means Blue Tit, although English growers also call it Teller Blue. It is an exceptionally deep colour and would be amazing in a formal town garden. Among the forms with heavier heads, I succumbed to the subtle shade of one called Decateur Blue. Maybe these forms are still too New Age for you, and if so you would like the small-flowered off-pink variety of Hydrangea Serrata called Miranda.”

This is quite amazing writing: “the deepest and most impressive blue on a big-headed lacecap”...“the sort of hydrangea that used to be associated with vintage years at Royal Ascot”? Let’s keep going, into begonias:

“More than 40 years ago, my Chelsea visiting began in amazement at the begonias the nursery was staging. Since then every civilised gardener has bolted away from begonias and is now hiding timorously among ornamental grasses. The begonias are still stunning and it is only our prejudice that stops people from finding the right place for them. Please believe me when I say that even the most sensitive soul would welcome a pale yellow begonia called Charlotte. Another yellow, Golden Hinds, is not at all as brash as you might suspect.”

“Please believe me….” This plaintive appeal sheaths the axe of Taste.

imageMerrill Lynch Garden

Fox also finds “very impressive” an exhibit by Merrill Lynch, one of the event’s “discreet sponsors.” M-L had Andy Sturgeon design “a workplace that is an extension of the home”—that being, we presume, a “workplace” for someone who sits on his keester, examining a stock portfolio all day.

And this being garden writing, Fox closes with a dig, at TV personality Diarmuid Gavin, for starters:

Gavin “had set himself the task of a garden that might belong around a tall block of unfavoured flats and be seen from above as well as at ground level. The main planting was lavender, which had not come into flower, but in among it were repeated rounded objects and bits of clipped box. If I lived in a flat, I would not like to look down on Diarmuid’s green balls from on high. The entire garden is going off to Dublin where it may well be very welcome.”

You want to choke the guy. The rub is that what’s most detestable about the English—the precious snottiness—is so funny.

In the essay cited above, Orwell writes that while the English “are not gifted artistically,” they possess an inordinate “love of flowers.” How true. Orwell says it’s part of the English insistence on liberty” “to have a home of your own, to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above.” other words, a society where no critic could force yellow begonias on anyone, or shame them out of “green balls.”

Posted by Julie on 05/27 at 11:07 AM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePermalink

Thursday, May 26, 2005


Mount Diablo buckwheat, a plant botanists believed was extinct, has turned up east of San Francisco.

imageEriogonom truncatum,

Photo: Associated Press

Okay, so it’s not as racy as the ivory billed woodpecker.

For botanists the discovery that, unlike James Dean, Mount Diablo buckwheat has survived the 20th Century in California, is cause for euphoria.

Eriogonom truncatum , a pink wildflower, looks like baby’s breath. “It was found in a remote section of a Contra Costa County park that is popular among hikers, scientists said Wednesday.”

The plant, last seen 69 years ago, had become “the holy grail for botanists” in this region, according to Cal Berkeley’s Barbara Ertter, Curator of Western North American Flora at the Jepson Herbarium.


Michael Park, 35, Mt. Diablo hiker and grad student

Photo: Save Mount Diablo, Scott J. Hein, for AP

Nearly as heartening as the discovery is the discoverer, Michael Park, a first year doctoral student in integrative biology at Berkeley. Park had been surveying Mount Diablo for his senior thesis when he spotted the plants in bloom. Let’s hope his marvelous find will inspire others to plunge in to the study of ecology and remind everyday hikers to keep their eyes and field guides open.

Posted by Julie on 05/26 at 10:37 AM

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Flowers that Settled Western Canada

Many thanks to Oana Capota of Vancouver, for this fascinating slice of Canadian gardening history. I had known flowers were part of the westward expansion in North America but, until now,  hadn’t realized that flower gardening spurred that expansion.

Capota is a curatorial assistant at the Port Moody Station Museum, also a gardener and, quite obviously, a writer. 

May the force—and spring temperatures—be with you, Oana.


Canadian Pacific Railway train west of Glacier, B.C.,

circa 1886

Photo: Canadian Pacific Railway,  the O. Lavallee collection

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Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) stations across Canada once boasted gardens alongside the tracks, growing both vegetables and flowers.

The vegetables had an easy explanation: produce from the gardens went to the stationmaster’s table, fed the railway men and sometimes even the passengers in dining cars.

The abundant flowers in these gardens made sense, too.  They were a marketing ploy:

When the CPR was incorporated in 1881, it received 25 million acres from the federal government and then sold much of this land to settlers over the next five decades. Vegetables were part of the railroad’s effort to sell land—as in 1884 when the CPR transported vegetables from experimental prairie farms to the east to show off productivity— but flowers demonstrated fecundity even better. Lush railway gardens attracted tourists and, in the eyes of immigrants traveling across Canada, promised fertile farmland, prompting them to buy acreage from the company.

One of the founders of the railway gardens and later superintendent of gardens across western Canada, David Hysop, lay down the guidelines for making them profitable.  Rail workers tended to the gardens, with seeds, bulbs and shrubs provided free from plant companies.  Steam locomotives discharged water for the gardens in barrels along the tracks; laundry steam heated some greenhouses.

The gardens’ success led to the formation of a forestry department within the CPR in 1907, and by 1912 there were nurseries across western Canada supplying almost 1500 railway gardens.

The last vestige of these original gardens lies in Banff, though it grows only flowers today.  At other locations, like the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbrook, gardens are being restored, and still others, like the Port Moody Station Museum, are creating new gardens.


Port Moody Station Museum gardens, summer 2004

Photo: Jim Millar, courtesy of Port Moody Station Museum

The Port Moody Station Museum’s garden, near Vancouver, Canada, is based on the 1910-1912 style. In 2000, a curator led community volunteers in conjuring up the garden from scratch, using mostly heritage seeds and many flowers that were popular in the early Twentieth Century: Crystal Palace lobelia, Golden Gem marigolds, petunias, bachelor buttons, sweet william, red hollyhock and lupines.

The Port Moody Heritage Society, which runs the museum, is part of Seeds of Diversity Canada, a group dedicated to preserving, studying and encouraging the cultivation of heirloom and endangered plants, including ornamentals.

The Museum’s volunteer gardeners meet once a month to work on the garden, and some volunteers come every week.

These flowers not only decorate the museum grounds and the former live-in station where the Port Moody Station Museum is housed, they are also used in floral arrangements at the local public library and at special events.

Posted by Julie on 05/25 at 10:39 AM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeTravelPermalink

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Catch the Cauliflower Bouquet

What prevents breast tumors and is pretty enough to go down the aisle?

imageIt’s cauliflower season in much of the Northern Hemisphere, and big white heads will roll at the market, especially in Brittany, France. There, we learn, some of the tastiest cauliflower in the world is grown, thus its nickname “fleur de Bretagne.”

The vegetable truly is a flower, actually a tight cluster of flowerets and stems all bunched together.  But this bouquet,  “helps to prevent tumors before they form. This is especially true of tumors in the breasts and the prostate glands.” Nutritionist Elizabeth Franks adds that cauliflower “contains vitamin C and folate, which helps the blood to work more efficiently and helps to prevent anemia. It’s also important for proper tissue growth, again helping to prevent cancer and also heart disease.” 

imageMark Twain called cauliflower, “Nothing but cabbage with a college education.” I think this discredits both cauliflower and cabbage. Twain should have had his head examined. Both these cruciferous vegetables are delicious and mighty healthy. Just don’t overcook them. Cauliflower in particular loses nearly all its vitamin B and “84% of its folacin” after just 10 minutes of cooking.

Better to buy it fresh, wash it well, eat it raw. Why would you steam a white bouquet?

(Here’s a recipe from About French Cuisine for a shrimp and cauliflower salad.)

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Posted by Julie on 05/24 at 08:58 AM
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