Human Flower Project
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Feeling winter weary? Jasmine, carnation, lily or amaranth, down the hatch.
With a fresh pot of flowerball tea
Huxinting Tea House, Shanghai
Photo: A Theory of Relativity
The groundhog saw his shadow three days ago, meaning six more weeks of winter lie ahead. Put on the kettle and, if possible, get out the glass teapot. Instant spring can be yours; just add water.
We’ve learned about an inspired concoction from China, flowerball teas. Green tea leaves or “silver needles (a kind of white tea)” are wrapped about a dried flower, rather innocuous looking. “However, the magic comes when hot water is added to a ball, and it unfolds into a spiky green starburst with a flower in the middle, sometimes jasmine, sometimes other flowers. The one last night turned out to be a red globe amaranth,” writes blogger “the food nerd.”
Tea leaf and amaranth flowerballs
Photo: Enjoy Tea
We dimly remember little gimcracks from childhood that would open up underwater, but they weren’t reconstituted flowers, and they certainly weren’t potable. In fact, mysterious and lovely as the flowerball tea appears, we have a bit of a hurdle to get over—didn’t you see a tetra slide past?
Red flower blossom tea
w/globe amaranth and jasmine
In Hong Kong, they’re “known as ‘blooming teas’ (hui fa cha, 開花茶) or simply ‘art teas,’” according to Chaxiubao, who offers this good general advice about brewing: “Gently pour in hot water at about 80℃ (boiling water for green or white tea is always advise(d) against). Allow 2-4 minutes soaking time, you’ll see how the tea ball turn from a sleeping beauty to a willowy stunner. Each tea ball can be served up to 3 times.”
Please let us know which of the flowerball teas you like—we’ve come across lily, several jasmine varieties, carnation, and amaranth. And if you’re traveling in Shanghai, we understand that just outside Yuyuan Gardens, the famed Huxinting Tea House (perhaps that city’s equivalent of Trader Vic’s) serves a fine blooming brew.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
Inspired by the Lotus- New Delhi’s Baha’i Temple
Thank you, Lubna Kably, for introducing us to this marvel of floral architecture. You may reach Lubna through her weblog The Writer’s Cyberslate.
By Lubna Kably
India is the land of a multitude of religions, faiths and beliefs. Yet, not many people know about the Baha’i faith. Even so, in New Delhi, capital of India, the Lotus Temple is a huge attraction.
The Bahá’ís believe in the oneness of mankind, oneness of God and oneness of religion. Their lives are centered around these three cardinal principles.
The website of the Bahá’í faith states. “As an evocative symbol of beauty and purity, representative of divinity, the Lotus flower remains unsurpassed in Indian iconography. Rising up pure and unsullied from stagnant water, the Lotus represents the manifestation of God. The architect used this ancient Indian symbol to create a design of ethereal beauty and apparent simplicity, belying the complex geometry underlying its execution in concrete form. Twentieth-century architecture has been characterised by a high degree of technological prowess; however, it has been, by and large, unexceptional in aesthetic value.”
The Lotus Temple, New Delhi
Image: Courtesy of Lubna Kably
(Designed by a Canadian architect of Iranian descent, Fariburz Sabha, the temple was dedicated December 24, 1986.)
The Lotus (Water Lily), the national flower of India, grows abundantly all across the country. It is found in profusion in stagnant ponds, especially after the monsoon season of June, July, and August.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Parma Violets - The Toast of Toulouse
From Feb. 3rd to the 6th, Toulouse, France, will attract chefs, collectors, gardeners, gawkers to appreciate the flower it seduced from an Italian duchess.
Crème glacée et caramel cristallin à la violette
Photo: Nathalie Casbas
Februarian by birth, we are enamored of violets. Impossible, to hear a friend recount that a lawn and garden expert had deemed his yard “infested with violets.” Ten years later, the insult-once-removed still smarts.
That expert would be tossed out on his keester or, as is more the French way, simply ignored this week in Toulouse. This city in Southern France proudly holds an International Violet Meeting each February, where guests may, among other pleasures, eat candied violets, sip violet wine, and learn much more about this ancient and delicate flower. An exquisite feature of this year’s meeting will be the opportunity to hear Nathalie Casbas discuss her renowned collection.
Violette de Toulouse
Photo: Nathalie Casbas
Nathalie’s website is staggeringly beautiful, with history, recipes, and a gallery of her favorite violet art.
We’ve learned that the purple flowers we grew up with were the nearly scentless Viola riviana. The toast of Toulouse, however, is ruffly and highly fragrant: Violola odorata var. parmensis, more succinctly known as the Parma violet.
Histories we’ve seen are all a bit shaky, but Napoleon’s second wife was most definitely Maria Luigia, Duchess of Parma. In 1815, she wrote to her lady in waiting in Paris, “Please obtain for me some Parma violets, with written instructions on how to plant them and have them bloom; I hope they will grow well since I am becoming a botany scholar and I will be happy to grow this graceful little flower again.” The plant did exceptionally well in Toulouse: “In 1850, the violet emerged commercially and grew naturally in the northern part of the city. The little flower was very fashionable in the court of the Second Empire, wherein courtiers were charmed by its fragility and sophisticated scent.”
Helene Vie prepares
violet leaves for a tea
Photo: Helene Vie
for the Violet Society Journal, Autumn 2004
Can’t make it to Toulouse this year? Here is a recipe for candied violets that requires a tiny paintbrush. And here is the Violet Society’s invitation to join or just learn more. Helene Vie explains her experiment making a tea of violet leaves, a process that involved drying them “on linen sheets.” Vie writes of violet leaves quite marvelously: “Analysed, crumbled, they were combined with Viola ordorata flowers and verbena to create a relaxing blend mix.” After much snipping, drying, and crumbling, she concedes that the tea is delicious, but for commercial purposes “trop cher.”
If you’d like to try growing some of your own Parma violets, here are some suggestions, gentle ones.
Cooking • Culture & Society • Gardening & Landscape • Secular Customs • Travel • Permalink
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Rosettes—All the Wiser
Rosette plants stand up to winter’s brutality by standing low.
Rosette in the dunes
Westport, MA (11/04)
Photo: Alexey Sergeev
Roy Lukes admires the rosettes of his February yard, tough customers like yarrow, dandelion, hawkweed, and evening primrose. A fine observer, Lukes describes the symmetry of these “weeds”—how “the upper leaves are shorter than the lower leaves, which allows all the leaves to receive an equal amount of sunlight,” how grooves channel rain water (or snowmelt) “inward toward the taproot,” and how overlapping leaves form a gentle barrier against encroaching species.
You’ve got to hand it to Lukes for being out in the yard at all this time of year. He writes for the paper in chilly Appleton, Wisconsin. Who better to appreciate the simple ingenuity of what he calls “winter greens”?
Rosettes are plants that produce their leaves at ground level, radiating out from a central growing tip. There are a huge variety of such plants, several of them carnivorous, a number of others aquatic. Frederick J. Tyler, in this excellent article from Ohio Naturalist, writes that in the Buckeye State alone there are 155 species of Rosette plants.
“The advantage of the rosette habit is chiefly in the protection which it affords from extremes of temperature and from drying winds, browsing animals, etc. The typical rosette rarely projects more than an inch or so above the ground and the leaves are usually spread out flat upon the surface. In Winter the rosette is well protected by even a light blanket of snow and is often partially covered by the debris of higher vegetation which has been cut down by frost.”
Common teasel rosettes
Photo: R. Uva
Most rosettes, he writes, are biennials. They establish themselves in year one, girding up, if you will, for the big job of flowering and setting seed in year two. Some especially savvy plants, like turnips, abandon their rosette configuration in the second year to make room for more expansive flowering; like teenage girls, they change into “tall, branching herb(s).”
Another rosette devotee, Tyler admires how these plants protect themselves from the cold with “the geotropic curvature of the leaves and the development of red color. If a leaf of a rosette of Smooth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria, or of the common Teasel, Dipsacus sylvestris, be examined late in October it will be seen that it is pressed tightly against the surface of the ground, and if the entire plant is dug up and placed in a collecting case for a few hours the leaves will be found turned downwards so far that they are parallel with the tap root and form a cup around it.”
Would that we were all so sensible in adversity.
Scorpions and Rosette seal
c. 3300 B.C. Gawra period.
Photo: Diane Christian
We’ve learned that one of the most ancient of known deities, Inanna, was represented by the 8-pointed rosette. She was revered in Sumeria @ 3500 B.C.E., a goddess of fertility and wisdom. According to myth, a carefree Inanna was called to the underworld by the groans of her sister. She went below decked out in a crown, lapis beads, a breastplate, and staff…but to pass through seven descending gates to find her sister, she leaves all this protective finery behind. At last, naked, she confronts and is murdered by her sister, who hangs Inanna’s corpse on a hook in hell.
Nobody has much sway in the Underworld, except Enki, god of wisdom and water. He cleans the dirt from beneath his fingernails and turns the soil into two insects who can crawl below, find Inanna, and return her to the world—the wiser for having endured cruelity and the dark.
The beautiful, terrifying seal of Inanna, a rosette surrounded by scorpions, speaks to the spirit of February. From winter greens, low-lying and bunched, will come the hardiest flowers: ox-eye daisy and Queen Anne’s lace.
Culture & Society • Ecology • Gardening & Landscape • Religious Rituals • Permalink