Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


With evergreens and candles, advent wreaths build anticipation of December 25

imageLighting the Adventskranz

Photo: Johann Peter Heber School

Thanks to John Stokes, long-distance friend and faithful steward of Mary’s Gardens, for sending this piece from ZENIT: an interview with Father Juan Javier Flores Arcas, rector of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of St. Anselm in Rome, about the meaning of the Advent wreath.

On the Sunday closest to November 30 (the Feast of St. Andrew), these circles of greenery are brought into houses and churches, and the first of four candles is lit. The custom in our Episcopal Church was to light one more candle each Sunday until Christmas. On December 25, all four would shine.

imageCatholic Community of Pleasanton, CA

Photo: via St. Nicholas Center

According to Father Arcas, purple is “most appropriate” for the candles, this color being both regal and penitential. The wreath itself, he says, “must be placed in a visible place in the presbytery—very near the altar, very near the pulpit—on a small table, or the trunk of a tree or hung from the ceiling.” Interesting, how the tree slips in.

Lighting candles  and logs with the approach of Winter solstice is a custom far older than Christianity. A strong fire could lengthen winter days and ward off icicles, much appreciated in the high latitudes of Scandinavia. Lights at four points of the compass and green boughs bent into a circle suggest an ancient pagan custom, but according to a couple of sources, the Advent wreath (known in its native Germany as Adventskranz) is relatively modern. Wikipedia credits Johanes Hinrich Wichern, a Protestant minister, with designing the first one. He was running an orphanage in 19th century Hamburg, Germany, and surely trying to contain the children’s excitement. It’s said that the first wreath held 28 candles, four “Sunday” ones taller than the rest.  With each passing day, another candle would be lit, until the whole wreath shone on Christmas. (The Advent calendar, also of German origin, likewise builds suspense day-by-day.)

imageAdvent wreath

Photo: Odla

While in the U.S., one most often finds Advent wreaths in churches or schools, in Germany it’s also become customary to have such a wreath at home. “We always had an advent wreath when I was growing up,” writes Carol Lehr. “Right before bedtime my brothers and I gathered around the wreath and we each took turns lighting the candle(s) and reading the bible verses. I can’t, in all honesty, say that as a child I appreciated the tradition. But I must have gotten something from the practice because I carried on the same custom with my children.” More evidence that the juice of tradition is in the passing as much or more than in the practice.

Writer Ken Collins takes an especially down-to-earth approach: “Historically, the candles have no more meaning than a countdown. That is, they originally stood for 4, 3, 2, and 1. However, people like for things in the church to have symbolic meanings,” he writes, and goes on to specify for us those associations. As Collins suggests, this is custom in its late mannerist phase,  the same kind of symbolic filigree that emerged with “the language of flowers.”

“If someone in your church tells you that the candles have some other meaning than Hope, Love, Joy, or Peace, they aren’t wrong, they are just different,” he advises. “The meanings are so new,”—so superfluous and arbitrary, we might add—“that they aren’t completely standardized.”

imageSt. Anthony High School

Detroit, MI (1961)

Collins alludes to Advent’s older, more solemn mood—before the piping in of “ring-ting-tingling,” etc. In keeping with this penitential spirit,  there were to be no flowers on the Advent wreath (December in Germany isn’t known for its blooms anyway). The third Sunday in Advent, however, was known as Gaudette Sunday, a day to lighten up on austerity. According to Collins, priests would change their vestments from dreary purple to rose on this day; and “the pope had the custom of giving someone a rose,”  late in the Advent season.  John, do you know any more about this papal custom?

While the Adventskranz does seem to have originated among German Lutherans, it’s now a custom observed by Presbyterians in Alabama, Episcopalians in California, Anglicans in Melbourne. Perhaps because it’s not bound to Christian liturgy, the Adventskranz crops up and lights up in schools, hotels, and even on the German airline Lufthansa.

imageAdventskranz aboard

Photo: Lufthansa

“There are seven on each jumbo jet,” we learn, “adorned with apples, cinnamon sticks, pyracantha and other greenery, and festive red bows.”

And why not? Father Arcas says, “Advent is a live and actual time. While we hear the still unfulfilled prophecies, we see the world pass before our eyes and long for the world to come…”

...where, along with lights and greenery, there will be flowers.

Posted by Julie on 11/29 at 03:36 PM
Culture & SocietyReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink

Monday, November 28, 2005

Colombia: Cutting Corners on Cut Flowers

The California Cut Flower Commission has rounded up its Congressional delegation, and says Colombia has cheated on a flower-trade pact with the U.S..


Except for a few international mega-farmers and some trade negotiators with their careers on the line, nobody seems to like the Andean Free Trade Agreement. The first pact, made in 1991, ostensibly was to wean the Colombian economy from growing coca and trading in narcotics.

This speech from U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Zoellick (2002) trumpets Colombia’s cut flowers as the showiest sign of AFTA’s success.

“As many of you know, a free flow of exports - and imports - can help to inject new energy into the Colombian economy. The Colombian flower industry embodies the success of Colombia’s export sector. In 1965, Colombia exported just $20,000 worth of flowers. Ten years later, flower exports were valued at more than $20 million. And today, these exports total nearly $600 million. The flower industry generates 75,000 direct jobs in Colombia - and these are good jobs, offering year-round stability and health and retirement benefits.

“Nearly 85 percent of Colombia’s flower exports go to the United States, and these shipments have contributed to impressive job creation in our home market: 7,000 people work in jobs connected to the imports of Colombia’s flowers; aviation and trucking companies that transport Colombian flowers employ some 3,600 people; U.S. supermarkets employ more than 24,000 people in their flower departments; and U.S. flower shops employ nearly 125,000 people.”

Who’s he kidding? With the influx of cheap flowers, chain groceries have put thousands of independent U.S. florists out of business, and thousands of growers in the U.S. have given up flower farming. Also, just this month Human Rights Watch and the AFL/CIO, among others, have lodged objections to the AFTA over working conditions in Ecuador. Now the California Cut Flower Commission, claiming that Colombia is unfairly subsidizing its flower production, says it may sue the Colombian government.

“It’s unfair, and it’s illegal,” Peggy Dillon of the CCFC told the Santa Cruz paper. AFTA stipulates that “Colombia’s flower growers can only receive $15 million a year in subsidies…. When the Colombian government announced last year that it was going to give hundreds of growers as much as $40 million to help offset the devaluation of the peso against the dollar” California growers began mobilizing themselves and their Congressional delegation.

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, leading the charge, called the increased subsidies, “a slap in the face to our growers, not to mention illegal under WTO trade rules.”

imageCalifornia rose

Photo: California Cut Flower Commission

Santa Cruz County, California, was a center for rose production as recently as 20 years ago. Now “there are fewer than a dozen rose growers left.”  U.S. rosarians have tried disparaging the big blooms of Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador. “They kind of look like a small piece of cabbage,” said Arne Thirup, a grower in Pajaro. “They don’t open up like our roses do.” But the fact is most U.S. consumers like the big Southern roses just fine—Roses grown in Latin America now make up 80% of the U.S. market.  “What’s mainly left is the wedding industry,” one California grower told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “It’s very high end”—a bastion of conspicuous consumption in an otherwise cut-rate society.

The complexities of trade agreements are, honestly, beyond us, but here are some diverse views of the Andean Free Trade Agreement: a rah-rah report issued via the Japanese Embassy,  a more modulated assessment from the Global Policy Forum, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce line, and an up-to-date report from a blogger on Colombian issues.

Of them all, this account from Javier Ponce, a columnist in Quito, Ecuador, rings truest to us. Ponce writes that “the greatest economic potential of the FTA lies in the products controlled by the big agricultural corporations: banana, flowers, broccoli, and palm hearts.” Meanwhile, small farmers who grow rice, meat, and maize—the region’s food supply—will be dispossessed.

For now, Colombia and Ecuador have broken off talks with the U.S. over AFTA. If the California growers and their Congresspeople can ever join forces with U.S. labor-rights activists and environmentalists, there will be just a madrigal group of supporters left.  The Andean Free Trade Agreement may very well be redesignated in 2006: as an international trade “Disagreement.”

Posted by Julie on 11/28 at 11:16 AM
Cut-Flower TradePermalink

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Mayflower

Thorny hedge or creeping shrub? There’s cross-Atlantic dispute over which plant gave its name to the Pilgrims’ ship.


Pilgrim Overboard—The Rescue of John Howland

Painting: Mike Haywood

At daybreak November 9, 1620, passengers on the Mayflower at last spotted land. They’d been on board for 66 days, having left Southampton, England, on September 16, sailing for the Hudson River. At the urging of the ship’s owner, Christopher Jones, who was ready to get on with business, they gave up on finding the Hudson and settled west of Cape Cod in Plymouth, Massachusetts, instead.

Half of the immigrants died that winter. The rest is historic gravy. Those who survived spent the next soevermany years trundling around in black outfits, shooting turkeys and testing the local Indians’ recipes with corn.

But what about the Mayflower? Jones took the ship back to England the following spring and made “another trading run to France later that year.” (He’d been an importer of cognac before transporting the Pilgrims.) One source says that by 1624, the ship was in such bad shape it was more valuable as scrap lumber and torn apart.

imageEpigaea repens

Photo: Mike Baker

None of this explains who named the ship and after which flower of May (arguably the most bloom-diverse month in both Englands, old and New).  The State of Massachusetts adopted one mayflower as its floral emblem in 1918, triumphing with a vote of schoolchildren over advocates of the mountain laurel and water lily. But Epigaea repens is a New World flower; only a prescient and botanically exacting shipwright could have given the English boat such a name.


Crataegus monogyna

Photo: Nemorosa

Far more likely is the hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna. This thorny hedge plant, widely known as “mayflower” in England, is “one of the nine sacred trees of the British Isles.” For centuries it’s been used as a heart remedy in herbal medicine. To confuse things further, there’s also wild lily of the valley (Maianthemum canadense) that grows in New England, known as Canada mayflower.

Logic and pilgrim pride, in our view, both favor the hawthorn rather than the lily or epigaea, a.k.a. “Trailing arbutus” and described as “a low creeping” plant. But as they say (or used to say), “it’s a free country.” Take your pick.

imageThe Mayflower II (1957 replica), Plymouth, Mass.

Photo: James C. Ferenzi

The 1957 Mayflower II, a replica anchored in Plymouth Harbor, bears a white flower on its stern, but the painting is generic, and could be the hawthorn or arbutus. (This site suggests that paintings were commonplace on 17th century vessels, the better for non-readers.)  Perhaps a stylized painting preceded the christening of the ship itself—with a generic flower-name to match.

Good wishes this Thanksgiving to those on both sides of the Atlantic, and the six other “seas” as well. To all who are about to venture forth with extended family for the weekend,  we offer this suggestion from Pastor John Robinson’s farewell letter, read aboard the Mayflower September 1620, as the Pilgrims were leaving England.

“Your intended course of civil community will minister continual occasion of offense, and will be as fuel for that fire, except you diligently quench it with brotherly forbearance.”

Posted by Julie on 11/23 at 05:12 PM
Culture & SocietyEcologySecular CustomsPermalink

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Decisions, Decisions…Poppy Seed

Time has come today, a choice between the garden and the kitchen.


Photo: Kolache Depot

Ave Bonar instructed us soon after we moved to Texas that November is the time to plant poppy seed. Sow in the spring if you live up north, but here, poppies need a cooler send off. Aggie horticulturists recommend: “Scatter the seeds over bare soil in full sun in late fall. Dragging a rake over the seed bed will provide adequate preparation for the seed. When seeding a large area, mix the tiny seeds with sand to facilitate even sowing. Keep the seed bed moist. Germination occurs in about a week.”

In years past, we’ve skipped the sand and ended up with a mat of seedlings (and, come spring, a crop of puny blooms). Thinning is recommended.

image‘Dorothy’ Poppy

Photo: D Acres of New Hampshire

We lucked into a double salmon variety of Shirley poppy, what Austinites call Dorothy poppies. They’re named for Dorothy Cavanaugh, a beloved member of the Austin Herb Society, who shared her seeds and plants with everyone in town. Each spring after the poppies have finished blooming, we shake the tiny black seed from the pods into a paper bag, seal them up in an envelope, and hold them over till November.

One spring, neighbor Eugene Kubelka spotted the pods and remembered how his mom, in Waco, would use the seed for her kolaches, a scrumptious and popular Czech pastry.

imageWeighing kolache recipes

Moving image: Texas Monthly

Herein lies the November dilemma. Most poppy seed kolache recipes (here’s a Croatian one) call for at least one cup of poppy seed. But that means foregoing practically a whole yard full of flowers! Is it worth it?

Each person must consult her own appetite, heritage, and soul for answers. As you deliberate, here are several more kolache recipes from Texas Monthly.

Consider: Rose Marie Miller of St. Anthony Croatian Catholic Church—and other cooks too—note that you may substitute cooked fruit or jam for poppy seed filling. Can anything substitute for blooming poppies in spring?

Posted by Julie on 11/22 at 10:53 AM
CookingGardening & LandscapePermalink
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