Human Flower Project

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Chihuly in the Greenhouse

Glass bulbs and blooms by an art-pioneer come to life in botanical gardens.


Dale Chihuly glass- work with water lily

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Photo: Terry Rishel via

That’s no lily pad. It’s a Chihuly! Among the ferns at Fairchild Gardens giant red glass tubers stand. At the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the stems of glass blossoms flex and shine, framed by living fronds of palmetto.

imageChihuly in a palm tree, Kew Gardens, London


Dale Chihuly (b. 1941) is one of those rare American artists who are both popular and critically “darling.” Over the conceptual barrier between art and decoration, his innovate glass works flap with the confidence of giant stingrays. There is something worldly about them—weird and wild, they belong among us rather than in an antiseptic gallery or museum (though you’ll certainly find them there as well).

Of late, Chihuly has been working with public gardens. Chihuly in the Park came first, an installation at Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory in 2001-02. Collaborations followed in Atlanta (2004) and Kew Gardens (2005). The marvelous show now at Fairchild in Coral Gables, Florida, will be on exhibit through the end of May. And on April 30, the Missouri Botanic Gardens (St. Louis) will open “Glass in the Garden,” through October. Every Thursday night, MOBOT will stay open late for special light shows of the glass pieces, sparking in the shadows of living plants.

imageChildren spot a glass ikebana

Kew Garden, London


Check out Chihuly’s own website, with its delicious galleries of photographs. In a short video piece here, he confesses to know very little about plants but recalls vividly his mother’s garden in Tacoma, Washington. “I think that flowers had a big influence on me.”

We think so too, Dale.

One of a handful of truly popular American artists, Chihuly and his gorgeous works will bring new audiences to the conservatories, quiet spaces that many folks overlook in the all-American mission called “diversion.”

(Many thanks to Mimi Pickering for the tip and the photo—with a Chihuly “Flower” at The Bellagio Hotel,  Las Vegas.)

Posted by Julie on 04/21 at 11:04 AM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapeTravelPermalink

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Belated Brides

In Taipei, “comfort women” are honored with white dresses and flowers after 60 years’ disgrace.


Six women, ages 82-90, who’d been forced into

wartime sex labor by Japan’s military during WW II,

were honored as brides in Taipei on Tuesday

Photo: Chiang Ying-ying, for AP

Cheng Chen-tao “was a student at Tainan Girl’s School. One day, as she was passing the police station, Japanese police officers seized her and sent her abroad to serve as a ‘sex slave.’

“After coming back, she didn’t tell anyone about her painful experience. She tried to kill herself twice. Her family members said they couldn’t live with the fact that she had served as a prostitute.”

They were called “comfort women,” the tens of thousands of girls kidnapped and forced into sex slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. The Japanese government rationalized its barbarism as hygienic, sexual containment. Between 80,000 and 200,000 women were subjected to this policy of rape, in Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Dutch East Indies. Some, like Cheng Chen-tao, have only spoken up in recent years.

image“Comfort Women” in Korea

Photo: The Seoul Times

Many thousands of these women have died, but some of the survivors are coming forward now, to describe what happened and demand reparations from Japan.

In Taipei, a few former “comfort women” bravely were honored with a special ceremony on Tuesday, April 18: a wedding. “Six women—ranging in age from 82 to 90—came together in Taipei to put on white wedding dresses, hold bouquets and have their pictures taken.” Cheng Chen-tao was among them.

Why flowers and a wedding? “After Japan ended its 50-year occupation of Taiwan in 1945, many of the women were rejected as ‘damaged goods’ by their relatives and never found a spouse.” They bore the past as a shameful, personal secret.

But a bride stands before the public, to be acknowledged for her beauty and worth. She carries flowers as the fragile, glorious emblem of her sexuality. So how fitting that the Women’s Rescue Foundation, which organized Tuesday’s event, had a beautiful bouquet for every “bride.” May these flowers be a small reparation.

Here are more resources on the history of these war crimes and the survivors, as well as a special site created by the Seoul Times.

Posted by Julie on 04/20 at 11:09 AM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyPoliticsReligious RitualsPermalink

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

‘Cadillac of mulches’ is a wildlife guzzler

Louisiana’s huge cypresses have been destroyed in the name of better gardens. Who needs it?


Cypress stumps cut for garden mulch

in the Atchafalaya Swamp, Louisiana

Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance

“Cutting an 80-to-100-year-old cypress tree for mulch is like taking your dining room furniture and burning it for firewood.”  So says John Day,  Louisiana State University ecologist.

And then the rug and the whole house catch on fire.

imageWaterkeeper Alliance, a group working to protect wetlands, rivers, and more of the world’s environmental H20, has come on strong with gardeners. The organization’s new campaign points the finger right at our flowerbeds, where ground up cypress is the mulch du jour. Cypress mulch has been “preferred” by upscale landscaping companies, mainly because it’s pricey. To chop down a 100 year old tree and grind it into kibbles for your rosebed is the yard equivalent of a polar bear pelt in the livingroom, only in this case the dead tree doesn’t have glass-eyes to glower with.

Waterkeeper Alliance, along with University of Florida scientists, the Louisiana Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation—among others—all say that clear-cutting of cypress trees in swamplands of the U.S. needs to be stopped.

“At a time when the nation must invest billions to restore Louisiana’s wetlands for hurricane protection, cypress forests are being ground into mulch. Cypress wetlands prevent flooding by absorbing excess water like a sponge, controlling flood height and speed. These wetlands save lives and prevent the destruction of coastal cities.” The swamplands are also habitat and migratory stopover territories for hundreds of wild animal species.

imageCypress logs head for the chipper

Photo: Waterkeeper Alliance

And to beat all, cypress mulch, despite its uppity advertising, is no better than pine or many other materials at conserving moisture in our gardens. Sylvia K. Beauchamp of University of Florida recommends “melaleuca chips, pine nuggets and pine straw” as perfectly good alternatives. Actually, the best garden mulch going “is something most gardeners already have on hand: yard waste. Researchers at the Ohio Agricultural Research Center found that composted yard waste increased the number of flowers on rhododendron plants by 300 percent over plants grown without mulch. Wood mulch gave no such benefit.”

Check out these photos of huge tree stumps and logs being chipped to smithereens. Consider that the Louisiana coast is disappearing “at about thirty-five square miles per year or three acres per hour.” Tough to figure where we’re going to toss all that precious mulch if the land itself is submerged.

It’s obvious that without a market for their cypress mulch, these companies would quit clear-cutting. So, who’s behind the wheel of this Cadillac? We gardeners are.

Posted by Julie on 04/19 at 11:12 AM
EcologyGardening & LandscapePermalink

Monday, April 17, 2006

Uh-Oh: Prickly Pear in Bloom

Global warming in our own front yard.


Opuntia robusta (Prickly pear cactus), April 17, 2006

Photo: Human Flower Project

The last breath of spring has coughed up a thorn.

Prickly pear cactus out on our corner has blossomed, bright yellow as lemon peel. This signals the end of spring in Texas and, alas, the onset of summer. It’s an evitable turn, of course—you can’t rein the seasons. The only problem is it’s all happening about three weeks too early.

This summer harbinger, combined with alarming stories we’ve read about too-early English wildflowers, Alaskan species blooming too early to reseed, has brought global warming up close and personal. Please check out these compelling sources on the subject. This site reports, among other disasters, that scientists say   the world’s coral reefs will be dead in 50 fifty years. This website runs down the evidence on every continent. North American examples include no subzero days in Glasgow, Montana (1997); Edith’s Checkerspot Butterfly’s disappearance from the lower elevations of its range in California; 2.2 million acres of land burned in Nicaragua (1998); Colorado marmots emerging from hibernation 23 days earlier than in the past—and, oh yes, our cactus flowering three weeks too early.

Predicted high temperature today in Austin is 96 degrees. It’s only mid-April, people!


Record of rising global average temperatures

Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research

UK Meteorological Office

Chart: via Ecobridge

At last year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, scholars blamed industry. “Records show that for the past 50 years or so, the warming trend has sped up—due, researchers said, to the atmospheric burden of greenhouse gases produced by everything industrial, from power plants burning fossil fuels to gas-guzzling cars—and the effects are clear.”

Want to learn more? Here’s an excellent library of resources covering all sides of the debate (for those still in the debating mood). Please send us your own anecdotal evidence to prove or disprove global warming. We’ll post all reports here.

One bright note: We’ve learned that the blooms of Opunta robusta, the relatively spineless variety of prickly pear in our yard, will last up to three days as cut flowers. We’re looking for scissors now.

Posted by Julie on 04/17 at 10:32 AM
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