Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Last Minute Knots

On the eve of Ramadan, couples need to wed now or wait until next year.

imageWedding car in Kandahar

Photo: Rodney Cocks, via Lonely Planet

It’s the 11th hour of wedding season in Afghanistan; actually, it’s more like 11:55. The holy month of fasting begins tomorrow. 

Ramadan is no time for marriage. Muslims cannot eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. Evenings are given over to prayer. Then it is early to bed so everyone can get up around 4:00 am for a quick bite before the sun rises.

“The holy month ends with the three-day Eid al-Fitr celebration. But in Afghanistan the period between this holiday and the Eid al-Adha festival two months later is viewed as an inauspicious one for marriage.”

Afghan marriages, traditionally arranged by the couple’s parents, involve many sorts of rituals—of dance, henna-dyed hands, and dowries. The big floral element of these affairs seems to be the decorated wedding car (these days, usually a Toyota Corolla), festooned with flowers and ribbon.

imageHeaded for the groom’s house

Kandahar, Afghanistan

Photo: Rodney Cocks, via Lonely Planet

“A gaudy rainbow of ribbons, plastic flowers and streamers adorn the vehicles, painstakingly affixed with miles of sticky tape by the numerous wedding shops that have sprung up in the downtown area. Accidents regularly occur with wedding cars as they are so heavily decorated the drivers can barely see out of the windscreen.”

After the vows and a long reception, the couple drives to the groom’s parents’ house in this cake on wheels. Once they arrive, the bride will ceremonially refuse to leave the vehicle.

“Everyone will insist and would ask her to get off the car but she won’t listen to them until she is promised some property by the groom’s father.” Once that’s done, she’ll emerge.  “When she steps on the ground, a chicken or a sheep is sacrificed under her foot, and a little blood is rubbed on the bride’s shoe. A number of girls take the bride to her bedroom to take her wedding gown off and dress her up with her night suit.”

imageAt Gul-e-Maryam flower shop, Kabul

Photo: ICRC

Of course, this has been the busy season for hall-owners, chauffeurs, musicians, and florists. A report featuring one of the hundreds of flower shop owners in Kabul disclosed that today most wedding flowers are artificial ones, made in China. And “the cost for decorating the bridal car can vary between 500 and 1,000 Afghanis, (10-20 US dollars). Floral decorations for the hall, tables, and bridal suite cost, on average, another 1,000 Afghanis, although orders can sometimes run as high as 100 US dollars.”

Whether your gladioli are real or silk, best be taping them to that Toyota in a hurry. All good wishes to the newlyweds in Afghanistan.

Posted by Julie on 09/23 at 01:26 PM
FloristsReligious RitualsPermalink

Friday, September 22, 2006

Peonies, Through an Alaskan Window

Now, when peonies have vanished from the rest of the globe, Alaska is sitting pretty.


An English cottage garden, in Alaska

Photo: David Goodgame

Where are the harpoons and polar bears? This is Alaska??

Indeed it is, and ag scientists—following in the footsteps of several seasoned flower gardeners—see a business opportunity in that blooming incongruity, namely peonies. Some of the most adored flowers in all the world, they have a short bloom season. “Most peonies come from Israel in April, Southern Europe in May, and Great Britain in June. After that, there’s none available until October, when New Zealand and Australia start to export their crop.” Meaning there are three months of every year when peony-lovers have gone without.

Except for some savvy Alaskan gardeners. Judith Wilmarth of Anchorage has been growing peonies since 1985; she’s provided this online primer for producing these luscious flowers. And David Goodgame, focusing on delphiniums, roses and lilies, will melt your igloo with his amazing gardening successes—peonies included.

imageYellow Itoh ‘Garden Treasure’

Photo: Alaska Master Gardeners

In Rosie Milligan’s report, UAF researcher Patricia Holloway says she’s been offered “$1.25 a stem for fresh peonies during the seasonal dead time”—a window of opportunity that’s open from July to late September.  “She has concluded that it is possible to grow 100,000 stems per acre with the buyer paying for shipping. That’s $125,000 for an acre worth of peonies.”

One of the reasons peonies do so well up here is that they actually thrive under an insulation blanket of snow. “In 2005, Fairbanks received snowfall late in the year. Many perennials were lost.” But those ingenous ag scientists have been experimenting with “fake snow” —to see if it might protect the plants in case of late precipitation. Another hitch: peony farming requires only 3-4 weeks of intensive work a year. One farmer says she plans on hiring “14-year-olds, who have a hard time getting a summer job, and schoolteachers, who have the summer off.” Or did, until now.

Posted by Julie on 09/22 at 09:33 AM
Cut-Flower TradePermalink

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hanging Gardens of Paris

It’s not Babylon, but better—Two wonders of vertical gardening in the City of Light.


Le mur végétal, at Musée du Quai Branly

Photo: Julie Ardery

You’d know us for tourists, what with the pointing, the constant unfolding of a plastic map, and the very unsexy problems with masculin et feminin. We are also the ones unabashedly looking up, the better to see two marvelous Parisian gardens that hang in the sky.

One covers a part of the new and controversial Musée du Quai Branly, the house Chirac built for $293 million. The museum, which opened in June, brings together objects once called “primitive art”—African drums, Northwest Indian totem poles, embroidery from Thailand, Mesoamerican stone carvings—all those things that are neat to look at but for reasons yet unclear can’t make the cut into the Louvre. (More on this later.)

imagePatrick Blanc’s Vegetal Wall

at Le Musée du Quai Branly

Photo: Bill Bishop

The Quai Branly museum buildings, designed by Jean Nouvel, are stunning, no matter what one may think of what goes on inside. A commentator writes, “Geometric shapes meet flowing curves; plate glass meets natural wood; concrete meets vegetation. Detractors lament the architectural medley. But the overall result is oddly harmonious, perhaps because of the linking theme of nature. Once the trees planted on it mature, the site will be shaded and woodlike. There is even an extraordinary 800-square-metre ‘vegetation wall’: a vertical garden in which 150 different plant species have taken root on polyamide felt, stapled to waterproof PVC slabs and fed by automatic hosepipes.”

Le mur végétal covers the north facade of the museum’s offices. We learned that botanist Patrick Blanc, who was called in for the project, has created other growing walls, in Japan and the United Arab Emirates. For the Musée du Quai Branly he chose 15,000 plants from China, the U.S., Central Europe, and Japan, and like a tapestry artist, has woven them together: a tall green, cool, and fuzzy “garden” suspended next to brown metals, gray stone, and pavement. Blanc found inspiration in woodland plants that grow on rocks and tree trunks, and as you’d guess, many of the specimens in his upright garden are of the mossy and ferny sort, though we did see a few red blooms. Springtime may be another story.

Across town in the Jussieu neighborhood, we happened upon another hanging garden, less celebrated, but to our eye just as beautiful. Someone has affixed an armature subtly below the Ecole Polytechnique (perhaps fulfilling an assignment for Introductory Engineering). All around a carved niche, greenery cascades and petunias, geraniums, begonias, and other popular annuals bloom. Above a little park where children knocked a soccer ball and sweethearts embraced on benches, this hanging garden made a shady glen. On closer inspection, we could see that each plant grew from a tiny pot (which as any gardener knows means daily or twice daily watering in June, July, August). Parisians don’t wear hats but we do and will doff ours to the anonymous gardener who nursed this garden through the summer heat wave, so that it could reach such dense splendor with fall coming on.


Hanging garden, outside the Ecole Polytechnique, Paris

Photo: Julie Ardery

Some proto-Frommer called the Hanging Gardens of Babylon one of the Seven Wonders of the World. That’s only hearsay, though: no contemporary ever described them.  It’s a bigger world now.

Ergo, we keep on gawking.



Posted by Julie on 09/20 at 07:26 AM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapeTravelPermalink

Friday, September 15, 2006

On the Trail of the Wild Cardabelle

A thistle—now endangered—was the trusted weatherman of the Mejean.


Cardabelle—in plaster—at Pezenas

Photo: Julie Ardery

We rubbernecked all the way to Olargues, hoping to spot the cardabelle, legendary wildflower of the limey “causses” of Languedoc.  These thistles, we had heard, were nailed to the doors of farmhouses and barns as simple barometers here. The points of the plant’s star, we were told, curl inward when foul weather is on the way.

As we drove up into the mountains, the skies got darker, lower, until one needed cardabelles less and umbrellas more. A baker in Olargues sold us a fine loaf of olive bread, but when we asked after the cardabelle, she pointed us skeptically toward the high road, into the storm.

Only farther east, in Pezenas, did we find the elusive flowers, these made out of chalk and for sale at the pottery shops and a boutique in this artesan town. Today, the cardabelle (also known as Chardousse and Pinchinelle) is an endangered species. Cutting them, even for the purpose of weather forecasting, is forbidden.

Posted by Julie on 09/15 at 06:07 AM
Culture & SocietyEcologySecular CustomsTravelPermalink
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