Human Flower Project
Monday, September 26, 2005
The Hits Keep On Growing
The Floriade of Canberra, Australia, adds some back beat to its annual flower spectacle, with garden themes drawn from rock and roll lyrics.
Photo: Tim Wimborne, for Reuters
As spring arrives in the Southern Hemisphere, so have flower festivities there. Floriade opened September 23 in Canberra, Australia, and will run for a month. Some tout it as a “the biggest flower festival in the southern hemisphere, regularly drawing over 300,000 visitors.” And indeed it appears to be a real floral pop festival. This year’s theme is “Rock ‘n’ Roll in Bloom,” featuring 16 top-40 inspired flowers beds: “Whiter Shade of Pale,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Paint It Black” (the latter, chock full of Queen of the Night Tulips).
Somehow, listening to Brian Jones twang a sitar never called tulips to mind for us. Nor did we take John Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” literally (in fact, wasn’t escaping literalism—or at least rational consciousness - what the song was about?)
Okay, sorry to be picky. We hope the Canberra festival kicks off a lively and beautiful season of flower events for those localities where spring has lately sprung. It’s just that for those of us who’ve gone from mini-skirts to Fosamax, this year’s theme just seems to rub it in: we’ve gotten to the point where we really do like flowers—too rickety to rock.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
The End of the Five-Rupee Garland
Pakistan has replaced its five-rupee bank note with a coin, and put a dent in the fungible garland trade.
Pakistan’s 5-rupee notes
Celebrations in Pakistan usually—and gloriously—involve the giving of cash-flower garlands. At weddings, graduations, or retirement parties, the honorees receive splendid, spendable well-wishes, worn for the occasion and then, once the flowers wilt, spent or socked away.
In July, Pakistan did away with its low-note, five-rupees, worth about 8 U.S. pennies—too bad, because these provided garland material for most everyday Pakistanis. Hasan Mansoor, writing for the Daily Times, reports that, the coin for cash switch has already undermined this custom, and florists are complaining. “Now one has to pay at least 200 rupees to buy the cheapest garland containing ten-rupee notes. And many these days can’t afford to pay that much money,” said Karachi flower shop owner Baboo Gulfrosh. ““The number of people buying garlands stuffed with notes has greatly reduced since the government withdrew the five-rupee currency.”
On a brighter side, flower sales are up across Pakistan, as are flower prices. Over the past two weeks, the price of roses has doubled.
We learned that several years ago, Pakistani authorities tried to ban the public wearing of cash-garlands. Columnist Hazifur Rahman took an amusing swipe at the idea:
Graduate in Pakistan
wearing a rupee garland
Darul Uloom Haqquania seminary
“I agree with that regime that the public display of money garlands should have been stopped when it first came into power. Long ago one such garland was put around my neck by fawning subordinates. As soon as I got home, I counted the money. The total came to exactly 303 rupees. Although I deplored the meanness of my subordinates, I still wear the garland on the anniversary of my retirement and look at myself in the mirror. It is a purely private act and I hope is not considered a public display. I don’t want to be hauled up at my age for breaking the law.”
This ordinance flopped and rightly so, though one wonders whether the discontinuance of the five-rupee note isn’t someone’s attempt to squelch this custom in a way that’s subtler but more absolute.
We also came across this interesting and perhaps related 2002 story out of Ludhiana, India, (not far from the Pakistan border). There, the giving (and, of course, receiving) of cash-flower garlands to politicians had become so widespread that the region was running out of small-note currency. (In this Northern Indian region, there’s also the practice of “weighing the candidates in coins.”)
Hm. Maybe the five-rupee note was discontinued so only the super-rich could bribe politicans (as in the U.S.).
Should you have any Pakistani five-rupee notes tucked away, they’ll do you no good at the market anymore. But hang onto them. Nestled among 100 rupee notes and marigolds, they’ll make lovely sentimental additions to a grandson’s wedding necklace.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Why Does ‘Progress’ Step on Flower Sellers?
Light-rail construction, eminent domain, “restoring order” all take a heavy toll on flower sellers.
who joined the fight
against eminent domain
Photo: Institute for Justice
Are selling, buying, and giving flowers anti-progressive? One might think so from today’s news.
Arizona’s construction of a light-rail line through Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe will take three years. “Traffic impacts will be minimal during initial stages,” say spokespeople from Tempe’s transportation department. Florist Lois Daly, manager of Watson’s Flower Shop in Mesa, isn’t buying that. “We’re not very encouraged,” she said. In fact, Watson’s is going so far as to open a second location, in Gilbert, “because we want to be accessible during construction.” (Of course, not all flower shops have the resources to start a sister store elsewhere.)
Pam and David Johnson, who own Watson’s Flower Shop, told the Arizona Republic today they had to take this drastic step since 30% of their sales are to walk-in customers and with the street torn up, they expect to lose half this business.
A third generation florist, David Johnson says, “I will do everything in my power to keep the legacy of my grandmother alive.” Dedication, a customer base in Gilbert, and painful experience drove the decision to move. “Watson’s Flowers lost 25 percent of its business after construction of Loop 101 in the 1980s.”
Meanwhile, in Stockbridge, Georgia, Mark and Reginia Meeks are battling the city to get what they consider a fair price for their flower shop. “The city sought the Meekses’ store, and 17 other properties, so it could move forward with its Urban Redevelopment Plan.” The “plan” will demolish their shop and other businesses to make way for new municipal buildings and, of course, a parking lot. “Other parcels in the so-called Urban Redevelopment Area would be turned over to private developers.”
The question of whether local governments have the right of eminent domain—and can condemn existing homes and businesses to clear the way for new private development—is hot and getting hotter. A bill to limit such powers has already passed the Georgia Senate and will “likely come up for a vote in the state House in January.” Will that be too late for the Meekses and their Stockbridge Florist and Gifts?
They and similarly embattled florists need to check out what happened in Pittsburgh five years ago. There, 160 small businesses joined forces to fight the mayor’s plan to take their property and turn it over to a Chicago mall developer. And they, including florist George Harris pictured above, prevailed.
U.S. florists, if you feel you’ve got it bad, give a thought to what’s happening in Zimbabwe. There, president Robert Mugabe’s Operation Murambatsvina has arrested tens of thousands of vendors, seizing their goods, and taking their money. This AP story follows a flower seller who for 35 years has grown roses and asters outside the capital, transporting them 20-miles to Harare on his bicycle to sell on the sidewalk. “Even though he had a vending license,” the police seized his flowers and arrested him. “The $20 loss represented a huge chunk of his capital savings.”
Mugabe’s policy to “Drive Out Trash” has “destroyed the homes or livelihoods of 700,000 people and affected some 2.4 million others, according to U.N. estimates.” The crackdown has targeted, among many others, the flower sellers of Harare.
So, do flower sellers stand in the way of “development” or “progress”? No. But in many parts of the world, what goes by the name of “progress” is anti-floral and anti-human, too.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
The Paradox of Pecos Sunflower
A paradoxical sunflower gains more aggressive protection from New Mexico, and now the U.S. feds.
Photo: R. Sivinski
Helianthus paradoxus likes to have its feet wet, but also likes the arid climate of West Texas and New Mexico. No wonder it’s called “paradox sunflower,” and no wonder it’s so rare.
The plant was put on the endangered species list in 1999 and appears to have survived in less than two dozen places: Pecos and Reeves counties in Texas and Chaves, Cibola, Guadalupe, Socorro and Valencia counties in New Mexico. The Environmental Protection Agency found that the plant had been squeezed out by “aquifer depletions, diversions of surface water, and filling wetlands for conversion to dry land; competition from non-native plant species, including Russian olive and saltcedar; excessive livestock grazing; and highway maintenance and mowing,” the usual culprits. Last year the EPA stepped up efforts to conserve this plant, considering “puzzle sunflower,” as it’s also known, a good candidate for reclamation and removal from the endangered special list.
And what do you know? In July of this year the State of New Mexico took a bold step, actually buying a “desert oasis in Santa Rosa in an effort to protect the sunflower’s habitat. It marked the first time the state had purchased land to protect an endangered plant.”
Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has introduced a federal recovery plan.
There are several ways to be “rare.” And it appears that Pecos sunflower’s sort of rarity—being “numerically abundant only in a few small, widely scattered habitats”—may be its salvation. That and some governmental gutsiness and foresight.
Have we gotten to the point where only state bureaucracy can save the wild? —a paradox if ever there was one.