Human Flower Project
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Putt-Putt with Joe Pye Weed
A miniature golf course in British Columbia offers flower beds for the put-challenged.
Miniature golf with a floral twist
Photo: Tugboat Junction
Despite the purr of electrified windmills, the bared fangs of cement dinosaurs, miniature golf always brings on narcolepsy by about the 5th Hole. We once thought to rev up the experience with an added boost of incongruity by playing the Biblically themed putt-putt outside Lexington, Kentucky, but nope. Even a parting of the Red (astroturf) Sea couldn’t sustain us. We ditched before the New Testament began on the back nine.
Today, however, we came across what may be our last best hope: Tugboat Junction, in Harrison, British Columbia. The Tugboat course, you see, is a marvelous garden, the flowering plants all lovingly laid out, labeled, and even extolled in verse.
Joe Pye Weed is big and tall, never fear, it will not fall
If you, of course, provide the sun—and lots of water by the ton.
Who cares about making par when there are astilbe, bellflower and clematis to enjoy along the way? Check out the complete list of the plants at each hole (slow-loading pdf) along with rhymed couplets, or perhaps we should say “couplets rhymed.”
The ‘Open Garden’ event
at Tugboat Junction, Harrison, B.C.
Photo: Jenna Hauck, for Chilliwack Progress
On the other side of the golfing green
subtle tones of purple seen.
Fennel, stonecrop, vi-bur-num,
Each one with a hint of plum.
Let Tiger, Davis, etc. vie for the PGA title. We’d rather be putting at Tugboat Junction (or gazing off into the sedum).
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Caillebotte’s Last Stand
Gustave Caillebotte, born August 19, 1848, spent his final hours gardening at Petit Gennevilliers.
Le parc de la propriété Caillebotte à Yerres
Gustave Caillebotte, 1875
A late-bloomer among the French Impressionist painters, Gustave Caillebotte was born on this day 1848. Caillebotte befriended Degas, Pissarro, Renoir and Monet, and, being a man of means with the sun in generous Leo, subsidized their early exhibitions, bought their canvasses when nobody else would, and paid the rent on Monet’s studio.
Since Caillebotte didn’t need to sell his own paintings to survive, his works trickled slowly into gallery and museum circulation, where artistic reputations are made. It took art historians 100 years to see beyond his importance as a supporter and collector and look seriously at what he produced. His story is, in fact, quite a blot on the arbiters of culture.
Massif de chrysanthèmes, jardin du Petit-Gennevilliers
Gustave Caillebotte, 1893
Image: Humanities Web
Caillebotte wished to donate his fine Impressionist collection to France but stipulated that the works had to be prominently displayed, at the Luxembourg Palace or the Louvre. French officials declined.
“In February 1896, they finally negotiated terms with Renoir, who was the will’s executor, under which they took thirty-eight of the paintings to the Luxembourg. The remaining twenty-nine paintings (one was taken by Renoir in payment for his services as executor) were offered to the French government twice more, in 1904 and 1908, and were both times refused. When the government finally attempted to claim them in 1928, the bequest was repudiated by the widow of Caillebotte’s son. Most of the remaining works were purchased by Albert C. Barnes, and are now held by the Barnes Foundation of Philadelphia.”
What does all this have to do with flowers? Though his friends Monet and Renoir may be better known for flower paintings, Caillebotte turned to this subject with intensity in his later years. In 1881 he bought an estate along the Seine outside Paris at Petit Gennevilliers. Seven years later, he moved there and took up gardening and orchid breeding with gusto. Only an avid gardener would have been privy to this tangle of chrysanthemums, painted in 1893. Caillebotte died the following February while working in his garden. He was 45.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Wildflowers from El Pais de Poetas
As spring begins in Northern Chile, Alain de Trenqualye shares the wildflowers of his homeland.
Ochagavia litoralis (Calilla) at Playa Tuman, Chile
He writes, “Had you seen or heard about the Ochagavia litoralis before finding it on my page?” Heavens, no, Alain—not even in our dreams.
“Here in Chile very few people have seen it. I just recently found it (Feb 2006), and learned through the web that it is cultivated in some European countries near the sea. Revealing our underdeveloped nation status, I think that not many people here grow it or even care about it.” All the more reason why your Human Flower Project is exciting and important—though, of course, Chileans are not the only folks unaware of the flowering bounty around them. We have that problem in the U.S., too.
Alain recommends this site about Calilla (as it’s known in Chile) by Uncle Derek. To our very non-botanist eyes, this amazing plant looks like a cross between a teddy bear, a cactus and a pizza.
Wildflower season, “is just beginning in Chile,” Alain reports, “being at its height in September-October in our sunny North, and moving south until December. But you can find Calillas even in February,” which is when he snapped this giantess in Playa Tuman.
“Every two or three years, when the desert around Copiapo receives a minimum amount of rain, we are able to witness the ‘Desert Flowers in Bloom’ phenomenon, or Desierto Florido as it is locally known. You can find an excellent introduction here.” One of the authors of that intro, Michael O. Dillon—Chair & Curator of Flowering Plants, Department of Botany, The Field Museum—spent several months in Chile this summer and presented a number of lectures in Santiago, Alain says. “He told us that the word sacha that he chose for his site is the local name for ‘tree’ among some tribes near the Amazon, sacha sacha’ meaning forest. They called himself ‘sacha gringo,’ the American man fond of trees.”
Azulillo at Playa Blanca, Chile
Photo: A. de Trenqualye
By the same token, we might call you “the flower man,” Alain. One especially fine aspect of your photos is that so many manage both to show us wildflowers in detail and to give a sense of the larger landscapes where they grow. And what landscapes these are! Check out the Cerra Mirador or how about this view: a delicate Pasithea coerulea (azulillo) overlooking the Pacific at Playa Blanca.
We must add that our outlook on Alstroemeria has been forever changed by seeing this Chilean native in the wild. Here are just two photos of about a score.
Many thanks, Alain. Let the spring show begin!
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Hogweed - Flower of the Cold War
It’s lacerating, it’s impotency-producing, it’s invasive… It’s Giant Hogweed!!
Taking the measure of hogweed’s bloom
Photo: King County, Washington
Who’d have guessed that a relative of carrot and Queen Anne’s lace could sterilize goats and scar the faces of children?
This season’s floral horror tale may be found in E.O. Torriero’s fine article about Heracleum mantegazzianum, a.k.a. Giant Hogweed. With blooms big around as doilies and stems stout at sewer pipes, the plants grow to be 15 feet tall. Acquisitive gardeners of a century ago are to be forgiven their eagerness to bring this flowering giant back home, but in doing so they opened a Pandora’s box of lacerating problems.
“It causes burns and bubbly blisters on legs and arms of people who come into contact with its sappy juice. It leaves folks crazed with itching. Discoloration on the skin can last a year.” It’s also the devil to get rid of. Torriero reports that hogweed is even interfering with plans for London’s 2012 Olympics as, by fire, blade, and herbicide, groundskeepers fight back plants that have overrun competition sites. One hogweed plant produces 10-20 thousand seeds each season, so they better make quick work of it, or introduce a new Olympic sport.
Invasive plants near Seattle
(hogweed noted in green)
King Co. Noxious Weeds Map
Giant hogweed has been a harrowing nuisance in Michigan where, if you spot one of these botanical Yeti, the state ag department asks that you phone its Hogweed Hotline: 800-292-3939. Things are worse in Washington—and if you think we’re whistling parsnip, then download this big ol’ Hogweed Factsheet from the state and check out the map at right. There are more stands of giant hogweed than coffehouses in Greater Seattle.
Where was this monster born? From its native Caucasus Mountain, we learn, it was introduced to botanical gardens in England, New York and Vancouver, and after putting on grand displays there spread among private ornamentalists as a mammoth conversation piece. Little did these gardners know the talk would turn to shrieks!
Especially intriguing is this excellent story by Peter Walsh from The Baltic Times. He reports from Riga on the animosity Latvane (as Giant Hogweed is known locally) has incurred. Russian ag scientists brought the plant to Latvia in 1968. “The original idea was to use the plant for cow feed because of its high sugar content, according to Kaspars Goba, a farmer and biologist who recently made a documentary film about the Latvane.
“The plan was to cut and grind the plant, store it in silage where it would ferment, and then feed it to the cows in winter. But the problem was the cows didn’t actually like it. Although its sugar content was high, it was still very bitter to taste.” Even hogweed honey, we learn, has a peculiar flavor - sweet and horribly bitter.
The Soviet system, whose science introduced the invader, was able to contain it for awhile with state labor “through a sort of annual culling ritual. Hundreds of people would dress up in plastic clothing to protect themselves from the plant’s acidic sap and hack away with machetes so that the Latvane was at least unable to produce any seeds and spread further. But the situation worsened with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early ’90s. Agriculture virtually ground to a halt for many years, and the plant was left to flourish.” In the late 1980s, latvane filled about 120 hectares. “Today it occupies more than 13,000 hectares of the (Latvian) countryside.”
Herbicides are effective against Heracleum mantegazzianm, but in Latvia the plant has now spread into national forests, areas where such toxins, with good reason, can’t be used lest they kill off fragile plants and rare animals.
In the U.S., Giant hogweed is a noxious invader of the northern states: May the gardener beware. But in Latvia it’s part of political history, too—a burning reminder of Soviet incursion and a hostile Human Flower Project still.
Ecology • Gardening & Landscape • Politics • Science • Permalink