Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Le Roi de Deadheading

Marie de Medici may have ordered the Luxembourg Palace built, but thirty gardeners sweat to keep the grounds gorgeous.


Sylvain Piperno gestures from the main parterre to

other reaches of the huge Luxembourg Garden that he

and thirty other full time gardeners, keep looking royally


Photo: Bill Bishop

The Parterres of the Luxembourg Garden in Paris are bright as jewels in Louis XIV’s crown: dahlias, coxcomb, geraniums, begonias, and more, backed with tall stands of white nicotina and pink and white cleome. Every bloom we saw in this huge garden (covering 24 hectares)  was stout and bright.

If you think plants just grow that way, you should have seen Sylvain Piperno out methodically trimming the edge of the flower bed this humid and hot September day. He worked slowly along with a pair of large clippers, tossing each trimming carefully into a large plastic bucket. In the half hour or so we watched, he probably worked around about a twentieth of the huge oval.

Taking a short break, M. Piperno told us he’s worked here at the Luxembourg Garden for 18 years, first at its Orangerie but in more recent years taking charge of these beautiful geometric beds behind the palace. July and August, he says, are the most strenuous months of the years, requiring constant work to stay ahead of the vigorous plants and keep them at full tilt bloom. He says there are 30 gardeners on staff and another 40 who “do paperwork.” We noticed that there also were gendarmes calmly stationed beside some of the flower beds. Now that’s terrific community policing!

While the rest of the world knows better—slathering on the sunblock—the crowds at this beloved Paris park were stretching out their legs and tossing their heads back, as we used to say, “laying out,” for their bains de soleil. Very likely, though, all that preening was just pretext, to hang out here and savor M. Piperno & company’s handiwork.

Those bright geraniums alone are enough to bring freckles out on your nose.

Posted by Julie on 09/05 at 03:34 PM
Gardening & LandscapeTravelPermalink

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Whatever Happened to Norman Spannon?

Calling out a history of daring designers.


Arrangement by Norman Spannon, 1962

Photo: National Archive of Australia

Is there a Department of Florists History? If not, we’d like to create one right here at the Human Flower Project, to learn more about designers of the past.

This ephemeral art form has been a fairly anonymous one, too. And there is definitely power in anonymity: when ideas and methods aren’t owned, bought and sold, they have a way of sluicing through cultures with ease. Further, there is something basically repugnant about turning shapes and color combinations into “intellectual property,” though increasingly people are attempting just such antics.

Several days ago we ran across this photo in the National Archives of Australia, an intriguing arrangement of “dried Australian Streletzia” flowers. Who would have thought of drying Bird of Paradise blooms? Norman Spannon, that’s who? But who was (or is) Norman Spannon? This arrangement, from 1962, looks daringly “modern.” We find it marvelously sculptural, almost fiery.  And check that dramatic lighting—enough to turn Martha Stewart’s hair jet black.

In the days and weeks to come, we welcome visitors, especially our florist friends, to send us photos of daring, original or otherwise memory-making designs, with as much or as little information as you may have. For the purposes of our history project, we’re especially interested to see designs, say, pre-1972—that’s the year Miss Vicki and Tiny Tim were married on the Johnny Carson Show amid 10,000 tulips and seems a reasonable milestone in the popular culture of flowers.

So .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and tales.  We’re eager to learn more about the florists, famous or “anonymous,” of the past and do some singing about these unsung artist/craftspeople.

Posted by Julie on 09/03 at 05:59 PM
Culture & SocietyFloristsPermalink

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Counting in Kurinji Years

The hills around Munnar, India, are turning blue, for the first time in a generation.


Neelakurinji: See it now or wait till 2018

Photo: Ian Lockwood

The anticipation’s been building since 1994. Now all the tourist offices around Munnar are swelling to full holler. “The Neelakurinji flowers (Phelobophyllum Kunthanum) have picturesquely carpeted the entire hillside,” a phenomenon that only happens every twelve years in this mountainous region of Southern India.

The kurinji plants live along the slopes between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. According to Mohan Varghese, chairman of High Range Wild Life and Environment Association,  “About 30 percent of the flowers have already blossomed.” The rest will unfurl in the next two and a half months, covering 250 acres in all.

The kurinji is beloved, almost mythic, here. One blogger went nearly apoplectic with happiness upon seeing his first bloom last October. “I felt a sharp pulse of electric excitement: ‘Neelakurinji!’” Like seeing a comet streak overhead, the kurinji places us back in a larger, loftier design. And, metaphysics aside, the event is beautiful.

imageStamp commemorates the 2006 kurinji bloom

Photo: The Hindu

The kurinji’s limited range has been shrinking, due to competing tea and cardamom plantations and intensive timbering. Now, especially as they see the potential for tourist dollars, officials in Tamil Nadu and Kerala are cooperating on preservation efforts.  To mark the 2006 bloom, the Indian government issued a commemorative stamp, too.

Care to visit? This site gives directions to the kurinji fields of Kerala. If you’re within ogling distance, don’t miss it, for the kurinji blooms just once in a generation (Okay, “a generation” used to extend for 70 years, but apparently, that’s changed).

This excellent site provides intriguing “human/kurinji” associations, literary and otherwise. We’d heard of counting in dog time (7 X human years) , and now we learn “The Muduvar tribe, which inhabit the mountain ranges around Valparai (Tamil Nadu) and Munnar (Kerala) in the Western Ghats, calculates its age with blossoming of the Kurinji.” How fine, to be 4 1/2 again!

Posted by Julie on 09/02 at 05:39 PM
Culture & SocietyEcologyTravelPermalink

Friday, September 01, 2006

Hoya—All I Want from Christmas

It’s Bird Week on Christmas Island; floral detours allowed.


Christmas Island (the one in the Indian Ocean)

Photo: Earth from Space

Welcome to our newest visitors, from Christmas Island (pop. 1500).

Strange to find out you’re nowhere near the North Pole, but 360 km SW of Java, in the Indian Ocean. (Actually there are two Christmas Islands—the first a territory of Australia, the second one better known as Kiritimati, part of the Republic of Kiribati and likewise without igloos. It’s right near the Equator in the Pacific.)


Of Christmas Island (Australia) 63% is protected land. This national park “contains the last remaining nesting habitat in the world of the endangered Abbott’s booby and also supports the world’s largest remaining robber crab population.” Christmas Island, in fact, claims to have the “most diverse land crab community anywhere.” This site has some fine shots of fauna and flora, including a number of those Cancerians.

There are some 411 plant species on Christmas Island. “18 of these are endemic” and about 125 have been found nowhere else in Australia or its other territories. “28 species are currently considered rare or threatened” including several orchids and the marvelous Hoya aldrichii, its flowers a cluster of waxy stars more dazzling than any holiday ornament.

imageHoya aldrichii

Photo: Christmas Island National Park

We weren’t familiar with the Hoyas (except, of course, through Georgetown University athletics). And if they’re new to you make sure to take a look at these flowers via the International Hoya Society. They remind us a bit of Rubik’s cubes—Rubik’s globes, if you will. Here’s one to make reindeer fly: Hoya Publicalyx featured last month in Daniel Mosquin’s knockout Botany Photo of the Day (which makes every day Christmas).

For a bit more on the political history of Christmas Island check here.

Bird Week on the island begins today and should be merry. If you’re in the vicinity, put down your egg nog and go help “biologist Janos Hennicke attach tiny tracking devices” to Abbott’s boobies. And please send us a hoya flower photo, too.

Posted by Julie on 09/01 at 03:44 PM
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