Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tulip Itinerary

The Netherlands? Of course, but here’s a farther-flinging trip for tulip enthusiasts.


Tulip fields of the Netherlands seen from a tourboat

Photo: Barges in France

The tulip blooms of Holland have been delayed by a cool spring. But now here they come.

Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, the Grande Dame of tulip landscapes, simply has extended its open season a few weeks, until May 21.  Events and exhibitions this year feature two opportunistic species: birds of prey and interior designers, along with hyacinths, narcissus and tulips—the main attraction. Keukenhof was laid out in the 1840s by architects Zocher & Son. In 1949, the mayor of Lisse, W.J.H. Lambooy, pulled ten major bulb-growers together and “conceived the idea of a permanent annual open-air flower exhibition.” The tulips and “theme gardens” there have become a mainstay of the Dutch travel industry.

One of the most imaginative garden writers around, Felder Rushing, noted that Northern Europe possesses a distinct gardening advantage over his home, the Southern U.S.: its light. “The angle of the sun is so low way up there, colors get ‘punched up’ and seem more vivid than they do in our muggy heat, which washes out a lot of the blue and green. Same thing in England, New England and British Columbia. Because of the climate, many plants grow better. And because of the angle of the sun, they simply look better.”

Just ask the 700,000 tourists who—on foot, astride bikes, and from passing boats—visit Keukenhof Gardens each year.

An interesting story today by Alex Rijckaert reports, however, that Holland’s bulb sales have been declining. “The number of bulb growers has fallen more than 40 percent since 1990 and the amount of cultivated flower land has been stagnant for five years, according to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics.” China and Poland are tough competitors, both with good climates for bulb production, cheaper labor and much, much more arable land.

Dutch marketers can’t do anything about the nation’s hectares, so they are fighting back with nearly-instant gratification. “The usually urban-dwelling younger consumer ‘doesn’t want to wait several months to see their gardens bloom,’” said Henk Westerhof, a leading horticultural exporter.  So Holland’s growers are offering more “potted tulips already in bloom, that you plant in your garden as soon as you come home, with an immediate and concrete result.” Another new product, for sale in Britain, is “an aluminium can decorated with flowers…Simply remove the lid and pour water on the flower bulb inside and three weeks later, a tulip pops up.” (We received one of these jiffy amaryllis bulbs for Christmas and found it quite wonderful.)

imageTiles, with tulips and other flowers

Rustem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul

Photo: Cornucopia

On the tulip trail, our friend Cyndy Clark of Lexington, KY, recommends Amsterdam’s Tulip Museum. Here one may discover how the tulips came to the Netherlands and took the nation by storm in the 17th Century.

The serious tulip enthusiast, however, won’t be content with a visit to the Netherlands only. Such a person will want to visit Iran in the spring. This is the native land of wild tulips, and eco-tour agencies now offer excursions to the Zagros region. “Drive 90 km back to Shahr-e-Kord and then 220 km south to Yasuj through mountains and plains covered with red wild tulips and deep valleys with lots of waterfalls and streams,” says one travel company. A contributor to this travel message board makes a compelling case for visiting the Iranian countryside. “The wild flowers in spring are incredible….  I have ridden through tulips so tall  they touched the horse’s belly.”

The intensive domestication of tulips first took place in Turkey; here, the flower thrived not just botanically but culturally,  in Ottoman gardens and throughout all the Turkish arts. This extended essay by Jon Mandaville will fill you in on how the gardens of the sultan Ahmet III developed and how his ambassadorial gifts ignited Western Europe’s tulip craze.

imageHolland (Michigan) Tulip Time

May 2004

Photo: Yan Lan

Heading back West, tulip sighting will continue through May in Holland, Michigan. We very much enjoyed Yan Lan’s photo album of this New World town’s celebration of its Dutch heritage and tulips.

And don’t unpack! Commercial flights should be departing any time now for the Moon, where scientist Bernard Foing hopes to plant tulips bulbs with success. “Lunar soil would receive its first gift from the Amsterdam tulip trade, perhaps planted inside a plastic biosphere with carbon dioxide on tap.”

Foing told the BBC, “With current missions we have much better knowledge of the polar regions as a site where we could search for ice; and also ... we have identified some ‘peaks of eternal light’ where we would like to land - these are areas near the poles of the Moon which have sunlight all the time, even in winter.” Will tulips look as delicious blooming in “peaks of eternal” lunar light as they do beneath the low-slating rays of the Netherlands? We’ll hope to see.

Posted by Julie on 04/26 at 12:03 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyCut-Flower TradeGardening & LandscapeScienceTravelPermalink

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

ANZAC wreaths

Rosemary and laurel remember the bloody struggle for Gallipoli, 1915.


Students from Scots College Prep School, New South Wales

lay a wreath at Australia’s Tomb of the Unknown Solider

Photo: Australian War Memorial

Across New Zealand and Australia, April 25 brings reflection, solemnity, realism and pride. This difficult mix of emotions gains public coherence through an old floral custom: the laying of wreaths.

April 25th is ANZAC Day, when, in 1915, New Zealand and Australian infantrymen landed in Turkey, joining French and British forces on the Eastern Front of World War I. The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed before dawn on a cove north of Gaba Tepe, Turkey. They would face nine-months of blood, known as the Battle of Gallipoli.

“It was the first great conflict experienced by those fledgling nations. Before Gallipoli the citizens of these countries were confident of the superiority of the British Empire and were proud and eager to offer their service. Gallipoli shook that confidence and three years on the Western Front would destroy it utterly.”

This excellent site examines changes in New Zealand’s ANZAC Day observances. “Gradually standardized after (World War I), the ceremony was essentially a re-enactment of a military funeral. It would be conducted around a bier of wreaths and a serviceman’s hat, with a firing party with heads bowed and a chaplain to read the words from the military burial service. Three volleys would be fired by the guard, and The Last Post played, followed by a prayer, hymn, and benediction.”

imageWreath laid by New Zealand Sikh Society, Wellington, New Zealand, 2004

Photo: New Zealand Sikh Society, Wellington

After the Armistice, public war memorials were erected throughout Australia and New Zealand, many built in the 1920s, and ANZAC ceremonies shifted to these locations. We find this commentary of special interest: “The move to Anzac Day commemorations at public war memorials rather than in town halls or churches signified an increasing secularization of the ceremony. Despite occasional protests from churches, it was RSA leaders, servicemen, and local politicians who increasingly made the speeches, rather than clergymen. The laying of wreaths became more central to the ceremony, while fewer speeches were made and hymns sung.”

Indeed, the laying of wreaths does seem the principal custom of ANZAC Day now. We found such wreaths laid in Hungary and France, and many examples of wreath ceremonies in Australian schools.

imageMarching in Sydney’s ANZAC Day parade, April Foster remembers her grandfather Ronald Foster

Photo: Mark Baker, for AP

For decades, parades for ANZAC Day were limited to veterans, but that too has changed. This editorial from The Advertiser (Adelaide) supports the development.

The first marches included only those in active military; then veterans joined the parades. “But now Anzac Day is entering a new phase and with it come new questions. There is pressure to allow the children, grandchildren, great grand children and perhaps other relatives of veterans dead and alive to more actively participate in ANZAC Day marches. Let’s not be precious or equivocal. Of course they should be allowed to.

“Anzac Day is no longer a commemoration confined exclusively to those who served their country. It has evolved as a day of national identity and national pride. When Australian and New Zealand troops stormed ashore at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, Australia broke free from the formal ties and disciplines of Britain and became a free, autonomous and independent nation.”

“Young people, fortunate enough to have avoided the terrors of war, have developed an affinity and affection for Anzac Day which transcends war itself.”

It’s not surprising that mourning—that strange, unbidden activity—would give way to “national identity”… “affinity and affection.” These are more comfortable attitudes, abstract sentiments completely to be expected from those who’ve never (yet) lost a limb or a relative to war. 

imageRAAF veteran wearing a sprig of rosemary

ANZAC Day 1999, Nowra, Australia

Photo: Australian War Memorial

We find all these changes of rites and their due participants intriguing. In a more diverse and secular society, the hymn is displaced by a non-verbal, non-denominational emblem of unity—the wreath. ANZAC Day arrangements often feature shiny laurel leaves, an honorific symbol since ancient days, though increasingly the red poppy (more closely associated with November 11th, Armistice Day of World War I) predominates. We have seen, though, many varieties of greenery and flowers for ANZAC Day commemorations, including carnations, roses, camellias.

Is “transcendence” the purpose of a war memorial? We don’t believe so. There will be another time for that. On ANZAC Day, one may still see old soldiers and their young relatives who, wearing sprigs of rosemary, choose not to transcend but to remember.

Posted by Julie on 04/25 at 11:56 AM
Culture & SocietyPoliticsReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink

Monday, April 24, 2006

Ligustrum: There Goes the Neighborhood

A fast-growing landscape favorite of the 1960s and ‘70 shows its ugly imperialist face.


Ligustrum ovalifolium (privet) in bloom

Photo: Habitas

Saturday, we thought we were in for a bit of trash collecting along the creek. Instead, the Austin Parks Foundation had tricked us. We’d been drafted into three hours of muscle-to-root combat against ligustrum, an invasive plant that’s overtaken the neighborhood park.

Mind you, we walk every morning for a good half hour through this park and had never taken any note of ligustrum. To be honest, we’d thought the whole “invasive plant” issue was a sham, the cloak for anti-immigration sentiment. Did we care if there were clumps of non-native mustard blooming along the freeway?

But what a difference a morning makes, especially if one is working out with a clunky iron vise. This tool, provided by the Austin Parks Foundation, could grip a three-inch ligustrum at the base of its trunk, and with a little (or a helluva lot) of leverage, pop that baby right out of the creekbank. Call it Horticultural Pilates.

imageSeeds of ligustrum are spread by berry-eating birds

Photo: BFNS

Ligustrum, we learn, is a problem all over the Southern U.S. It was introduced as a fast-growing evergreen, perfect for impatient suburban landscaping but a fright over time. The Clemson University botanists write, “Common privet (Ligustrum vulgare) has escaped into the wild in South Carolina to become a weedy and invasive pest. Birds eat the small, black fruit and deposit the seeds everywhere.”  There are many varieties of privet, some less invasive than others, but all “have abundant, showy clusters of very sweet smelling, white flowers in late spring.”

So what’s the big deal? Why not let this vigorous plant keep on choogling? Here’s why: “Ligustrum japonica competes with natives for light and nutrients. It outcompetes natives by spreading rapidly and completely covering and toppling small trees and shrubs in the process.” In our Saturday battle, we saw this with our own eyes. Ligustrums had shot up tall through the park. We saw ligustrums growing right next to oaks and junipers, actually squeezing them out: “Move over, old timer!” Ligustrums had leafed out high over head, so the ground below was overshaded and bare. Now we learn, too, “The newly opened understory causes L. japonica to spread rapidly and provide habitat to other invasives, such as Hedera helix (English ivy) and Pueraria montana (kudzu).” In other words, ligustrum is a botanical imperialist.

Is there privet in your yard? Consider trying your hand at topiary. Since ligustrum grows fast, some varieties make ideal hedge sculpture, and with constant trimming, the plant won’t produce berries, meaning fewer ligustrums escaping into the wild.

Here’s a primer from The Nature Conservancy about how to contain privet plants, with a good description of many ligustrum varieties. The report notes, “In North America, Ligustrum spp. have no important pests or predators.” Not true! You should have seen us Saturday, grunting and bouncing on those orange levers, and dragging trees by the score to the curb. We barely made a dent in the problem.


Stacy Park volunteer Bill Bishop, post-shower, and Dinah survey

the handiwork of uprooted ligustrums

Photo: Human Flower Project

Congrats to the Austin Parks Foundation (and our gentle neighborhood general, David Todd) for mustering 1000 volunteers across the city Saturday, even if we DID think we’d be picking up paper cups. We find it amusing that the Foundation chose to fight imperialist plants with a privatizing slogan: “It’s My Park.”

No. It’s not my park. But we love it and will gladly pull out ligustrum again. You bring the orange grippers, we’ll bring the elbows and grunts.

Posted by Julie on 04/24 at 12:43 PM
EcologyGardening & LandscapePoliticsPermalink

Sunday, April 23, 2006

‘Art in Bloom’—Boston Populism

What can flowers do for Cezanne or ancient Greek funerary art? See for yourself.


A docent tours visitors through a gallery of Roman

sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston during

‘Art in Bloom,’ 2002

Photo: Sharon

Thirty years ago, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts tried something fresh: inviting 18 floral designers each to fashion one arrangement to complement a work of art in the collection. “Art in Bloom” 2006 will include 70 flower designs and will draw some 20,000 visitors to the MFA through April 25. (Monet’s water lilies may endure for centuries but ‘Art in Bloom’ lasts only four days, lest the blossoms start to fade.)


Arrangement of lilies with marble lekythos

(oil flask/funerary monument), Greek, C. 380 B.C.

during ‘Art in Bloom’ at Boston’s MFA, 2002

Photo: Sharon

The mid-1970s, when “Art in Bloom” began, were expansive years in the U.S. arts. The newly formed National Endowment for the Arts was at last throwing public money at something other than the military, and fledgling state arts agencies around the country were nursing young theatre companies, dance troupes and orchestras along. Simultaneously, the grand (and for the U.S.) old institutions like Boston’s MFA were seeking to “be relevant.” “Art in Bloom,” though most definitely the brainchild of affluent Bostonians—the sort who could pay a fortune for flowers—still illustrates an attempt at populism. Putting big bouquets of flowers in a gallery with Roman stone carving and Old Master paintings is a way of domesticating High Art: it says, “You’re invited to the Culture Party.”

These days, seeing busloads of schoolkids seated on the floor of an art museum gallery is no big surprise. There are “Family Days” and a host of other events designed to draw new audiences in to see Etruscan statues and 18th Century landscapes. But it wasn’t always that way. Art museums once were the musty preserves of the superrich. The public wasn’t particularly welcome. All that changed, and quickly, in the mid-1970s, the era when “Art in Bloom” began. An instant success, it’s been copied by many other museums across the U.S. as a springtime custom.

At the MFA, for fun, there are hints of the old exclusivity and grandeur (this is Boston, after all). Check the schedule of events. “Art in Bloom” includes, for example,  “Elegant Afternoon Tea.” But you don’t need a personal invitation from Mrs. Winthrop. Just $15, plus the price of museum admission.

Posted by Julie on 04/23 at 10:50 AM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyFloristsPoliticsPermalink
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