Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

‘Nature Is in Charge Now’

When the apple trees bloom, a group of Wisconsin friends pursue happiness, and find it.


Charlotte Elizabeth’s first Blossom Party

near Janesville, Wisconsin, May 2006

Photos & article: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

“Our property is adjacent to an old orchard, one that was farmed up to about five years ago.  I grew up here and have never stopped being completely entranced with the orchard in all seasons.  It is no longer being farmed and is in decline - Mother Nature is in charge now (guess she always was).

“For many years we have had a blossom party, a gathering of friends and family, where we spend four-six hours out in the orchard when it is in full bloom.  Visiting, walking, napping, entertaining each other with music and conversation.  Some years we have had to cancel because of weather, etc. but this year everything was perfect.  I hope you enjoy these pictures.”


Blossom Party in an old orchard, under the Ozark Gold apple trees

near Janesville, Wisconsin

Note: You can be sure of that! This year’s picnic included fresh strawberries, asparagus, and (whee!) devilled eggs decorated with violets. A thousand thanks to you, M, for sharing with us this beautiful custom. Long may your family blossom.

Posted by Julie on 06/21 at 01:58 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink

8:26 a.m. EDT



Gustave Caillebotte

Image: Art Imitates Life

Summer Solstice.

Posted by Julie on 06/21 at 08:32 AM
Art & MediaSciencePermalink

Monday, June 19, 2006

Bride, Groom and Pha Khoane

The centerpiece of a Laotian wedding combines bouquet, cake and champagne punch in one object of splendor.


Wedding with floral Pha Kouane, at left

Northern Laos, 1998

Photo: Tai History

As in the U.S., it’s wedding season in Laos. “Traditionally, Lao couples get married mostly from the month of June onward, on even months and days.” (If you’re scheduled to marry this coming Saturday, you’re looking good.)

We’ve learned that Laotian weddings take place not at an altar or along a line in the surf, but around a sumptuous floral arrangement called the Pha Kouane (also spelled Phakouanh and a number of other ways). Sy and Sabine’s lovely photo album explains, “The center piece of the ceremony consists of trays covered with smaller trays and bowls, traditionally dressed with cupped banana leaves filled with flowers. A larger bouquet of flowers is placed on top as a symbol of happiness.”

Actually there are two Pha Kouanes at many weddings, one for the bride, one for the groom—appropriate, since the Laotian wedding is such an exuberant joining of two people and their families. The service even includes a literal binding with string, the in-laws gently tying their offspring together.

imageA groom’s hands are bound with string

Photo: Kitty Wells and Frank Schwartz

This essay by historian T. Phoumirath offers many interesting details and perspectives. The author writes that a Laotian wedding is neither religious nor civil, but a “traditional family celebration.” The young folks have chosen, with their parents’ blessing, to set up housekeeping—spread the news.

A wedding occasions one of several “Soukhouane” ceremonies in most people’s lifetimes, when the individual’s “khouane” or spirit needs special attention. “The ceremony is held whenever the totality of the physical, spiritual and psychological person needs to be protected, blessed or unified ... and at any important threshold of a person’s life”—what Westerners call “rites of passage.” Surely marriage is one such time.

From what we can tell, though, the Pha khouane belongs to weddings only. The arrangements are most often “decorated with flowers and white cotton strings, and surrounded with food, sticky rice and drinks.” Traditionally shaped into a conical “shell,” the pha khouane serves as both “a welcome mat for and the offering to the returning Khouane of the guests of honour.”

In former days, only “auspicious” older women (happily married ones) could make the centerpiece, using marigolds and Dok Hak flowers. The marigold color betokens richness and prosperity and “the Lao name of the flower – Dao Heuang – means ‘brilliant as shining stars’, and ‘to prosper’.” Dok Hak (The Flower of Love) speaks for itself. Frangipani, the national flower of Laos,  is decidedly not used as Pha Khouane decoration. “It is not regarded as an ‘auspicious’ flower, because the flower does not contain the seeds for propagation.”

As Laotians have traveled the world, out of range of family elders and Dok Hak blooms, the rules bend. Many friends, even male ones, may help make the pha kouane, using assorted materials—plastic flowers, even popcorn. See T. Phoumirath’s essay for more on how this and other customs are changing.

Here’s a Laotian wedding in New Jersey, and this site features a whole photo album of wedding preparations. (Laotian brides must have every hair bound securely in an up-do).


Pha Khouane Photo: Sy and Sabine’s Photo Gallery

Bouquet, cake, candelabra and punch bowl rolled into one, the pha kouane is the ultra-cornucopia. Best wishes to you June newlyweds.

And a special welcome to our first visitor from Laos!

Posted by Julie on 06/19 at 03:15 PM
Culture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink

Sunday, June 18, 2006

QEII—If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It

On the occasion of Her Majesty’s 80th “birthday,” we recall a commonwealth of flowers: her coronation gown.


H.R.H. Elizabeth II, at her coronation, June 2, 1953

Queen Elizabeth II turned 80 April 21st, but as a national convenience she celebrated yesterday. (Making the royal birthday party a moveable feast began, we learn, with King Edward VII, who didn’t want November weather to spoil his parade.)

Saturday there were people marching about in bearskin hats, airplanes zooming, and of course loads of floral tributes—both pro forma and serendipitous.

Surely, the best perk of being Queen of England is the constant outpouring of flowers. Each time the Queen turns around, she’s met with a bouquet. Inside and out, her surroundings are full of blooms. And her life and reign are in constant floral commemoration—whether with postage stamps or parks.

imageElizabeth II’s coronation gown

designed by Norman Hartnell

Image: Royal Insight

We believe Elizabeth set the tone in this, by choosing imperiously floral garb for her coronation, June 2, 1953.  Husband Prince Philip pointed out with greedy accuracy that she would be ascending to the throne not just of England but the whole British Commonwealth. How do you get the globe to fit inside one hem?

The project would take a special sort of designer: Norman Hartnell. Later knighted for his service as royal getter-upper, Hartnell specialized in encrustation. If his eye for dazzle hadn’t gotten him the job, surely his motto would have: “Simplicity is the death of the soul.” Just the fellow for a woman with two birthdays.

What a dress! After eight revisions ,  the 27 year old Elizabeth chose a white gown with an empire’s worth of floral emblems:  a Tudor Rose (England), a thistle (Scotland), shamrocks (Ireland),  maple leaves (Canada), wattle flowers (Australia), ferns (New Zealand), proteas (South Africa), lotus flowers (India), leeks (Wales), and for Pakistan, three emblems—Wheat, Cotton and Jute. In the same “cover the waterfront” spirit, she carried “an all-white bouquet featuring orchids and lily of the valley from England and Wales as well as stephanotis and carnations from Scotland and the Isle of Man.”

This array of plants and flowers also borders the official coronation program.

imageQueen Elizabeth II receives daffodils during a “walkabout.”

Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth, for AFP

We suppose such material ado is what’s meant by “trappings,” (the stuff that, with a lot less gleam, we commoners call “baggage”). For Her Majesty, no sequence of asanas or therapy brings relief. There’s the big handbag and hat (purple featured yesterday), the medals, the footmen, the boxes of stationery and wax seals, and a day-planner that has to be thicker than the Guttenberg Bible. Simplicity is out of the question for H.R.H. So for that matter is style, shifty devil.

In lieu of reason, send wattles and thistles. Where sanity is loath, flowers are welcome.

Posted by Julie on 06/18 at 11:59 AM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink
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