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Monday, December 04, 2006

‘Buried Treasures’: Of Bulbs and Libraries

Judy Glattstein brings wonders of the New York Botanical Garden to light.

image“Tubercules alimentaries” (detail)

Maubert’s hand-colored engraving

in Le Règne végétale

by Oscar Reveill

Photo: Courtesy of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library

The New York Botanical Garden

Those “that have found a way of coping with hard times and harsh conditions” deserve their due. We mean, of course, bulbs. Many, like iris and tulips, actually require “hard times” (frost temperatures for a stretch) to launch their showy flowers in the spring.

In the Northeastern U.S., where winter means “harsh conditions,” the New York Botanical Garden presents a timely encomium, curated by bulb expert Judy Glattstein. Out of flower season, “Buried Treasures: The Nature and Art of Bulbs” exhibits an array of dazzling prints and paintings from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library: hand-color crinum lilies striped and grand as circus tents, engravings of coveted tulips, and lowly chives. All grow from these mysterious underground stems that store food and moisture. (Max Weber might have called them the Protestants of the plant world.) 

image“Garden View in Spring” (detail) from A Garden of Flowers by Crispijn van de Passe

copperplate engraving (1615) 

Photo: Courtesy of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library

The New York Botanical Garden

Judy Glattstein has authored eight books on botany and horticulture, three of them specifically about bulbs.  Though all bulbs are underground stems, Glattstein explains succinctly the differences among rhizomes, corms, true bulbs, and tubers. The show looks at the edible (onions),  the fragrant (lilies), the grand (fritillaria) and the homely (garlic). “Buried Treasures” informs home gardeners which bulbs will naturalize and when to plant them. And Glattstein’s catalogue essay offers tasty prose— Of autumn crocus:  “Pair them with perennials such as dwarf asters, which flower in tandem with colchicums, or creeping thyme that protect the leafless crocus flowers from muddy rain spatters.”

“Buried Treasures” includes ten thematic displays of what Glattstein calls “these lumpy things we stuff underground” and the glorious blooms they produce. She worked for nearly a year on the exhibit, commuting from her home 80 miles away in New Jersey to the botanical garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library. “The best part of the entire project was doing the research,” she writes, “being turned loose in the Rare Book Room and finding all these fabulous works. I could have filled twenty cases.” Glattstein is a digger. Combing through a good library presents thrills and triumphs as stunning for her as the bulb gardener’s rewards. From her generous letter of November 28:

image“Tulips,” mezzotint

after Philipp Reinagle

in Temple of Flora

by Robert John Thornton

Photo: Courtesy of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library

The New York Botanical Garden

“Decades ago when I was in Holland doing research for ‘The American Gardener’s World of Bulbs’ -  my first book about bulbs - my friend Carla Teune (now retired from her position as hortulanus for the Leiden Botanic Garden) took me to Teylers Museum in Haarlem. They sat me down, handed me a pair of white curator’s gloves (NYBG does not use gloves, taking the approach that sensitivity of touch is more important, helps prevent damage to pages as they are turned) and brought out Besler’s enormous books. It was said at the time they were published that one needed a wheelbarrow to move the two volumes from place to place.

“Anyhow, to get to the point of this meandering - the Teyler volumes had been annotated, here and there, in quill pen, in Latin, noting, ‘see L’Obel,’ ‘see Mattioli,’ ‘see Clusius.’ They were all ‘good old boys’ sharing publishers, wood block illustrations, information and, I’m sure, plants. At the time, I swear to you, I felt my hair stand up. I was touching history, part of the chain that went before, hoping to become a link in the chain that will follow.”

The current show in New York is just such an extension (even including two works from Besler’s Hortus Eystettensis). Congratulations to Glattstein and all at New York Botanical Garden and its library. The show will be up through the holidays, until January 7, with special guided tours this weekend. See the NYBG website for directions and hours. And see Bellewood Gardens for more of Judy’s adventures with lumps.

Posted by Julie on 12/04 at 06:37 PM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapePermalink

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pohutukawa: The 70 ft. Poinsettia

A native of Australia, Wendy Cowling moved to New Zealand 15 years ago. She kindly sent us this post on the New Zealand Christmas Tree: Pohutukawa (Maori for “drenched with mist”). Beaches of the Coromandel are now “drenched” in their annual festival.

Thank you for this seasonal eye-opener, Wendy.


Oceanside, with New Zealand’s Christmas tree

Photo: Volvo Adventures

By Wendy Cowling,

Hamilton, New Zealand

In New Zealand people look forward to the flowering of the pohutakawa, Metrosideros excelsa, which is popularly known as the New Zealand Christmas Tree. Pohutukawa [pronounced po-hootah-kahwah] is a coastal tree often growing with its roots clinging on to the rocky sides of cliffs or where the land begins and the beach sand ends.  The flowers are often featured on New Zealand-produced Christmas cards.

It has been described in New Zealand Geographic (1995,  #28, p.106) thus:

Crooked gnarled furrowed limbs span 10 or more metres, often cantilevered out from sheer cliffs. The whole tortured frame looks to have endured a thousand years of adversity, even when it has only seen fifty summers.

The most famous site for seeing numbers of these trees is along the coast of the peninsula known as the Coromandel in the North Island.  The trees also form an avenue along the road from Auckland airport and are features of the coastline on both the north and east coasts from late November onwards.

imagePohutukawa bloom

Photo: Project Crimson

I am particularly fond of the pohutukawa blossoms because they are reminiscent of one of my favourite Eucalypt flowers, Eucalyptus ficifolia (originally from Western Australia), which is also bright red and flowers in the summer.  I make a pilgrimage each year to Raglan, a seaside/surfing village one and half hours from Hamilton, to see the pohutukawa in bloom.  The flowers are usually bright red but can sometimes be reddish-orange. 

The pohutukawa has cousins elsewhere in the Pacific, including the Tahitian shrub, rata. Pohutukawa is a protected tree but suffers from the depredations of possums (an animal imported from Australia in the 19th century).  The possum has a voracious appetite for the young leaves of shrubs and trees, including the Pohutukawa.  If they survive such predators, the trees can live for hundreds of years.


Posted by Julie on 12/03 at 10:40 AM
EcologySecular CustomsTravelPermalink

Friday, December 01, 2006

Archduke Charles: December’s General

A china rose greets first frost militarily: “Bring it on!”


Archduke Charles, china roses, 11/30/06

Photo: Julie Ardery

They warned of 24 degrees last night, so we mulched, wrapped the Mexican palm, threw a sheet over the brugmansia and cut most of the flowers. We shouldn’t have panicked, at least about the roses.

Most of the roses in bloom here are an old china variety, called Archduke Charles. Somehow it survives our July and August, and with a little supplemental watering in November can greet Advent in full bloom. Even after last night’s cold snap, we see a neighbor’s old shrub today still covered with juicy buds and flowers. It came through the night just fine.

We first learned about this wonderful plant from Morton King of Georgetown, Texas. Morton told us that up his way, it’s known as “The Sam Houston Rose” since, it’s said, that Houston’s daughter Nannie introduced the plant when she moved here after marrying local store-owner Joseph Morrow. “She brought a cutting from her Mother’s garden in Huntsville and of course all the little old ladies around town wanted a Sam Houston rose,” says Morton.

The Kings moved to Georgetown, about 25 miles north of Austin, in the late 1970s and set about restoring a beautiful old house there. Unwittingly, “they poured the porch over the Sam Houston Rose,” he says. “We didn’t know what it was. Just an old rose bush.

“The daughter-in-law of a former resident showed an interest in the property and came by and met us and talked with us, and was looking around the yard, and pointing out things and said, ‘Now where is the Sam Houston rose?’ And she said ‘It used to be right here.’”

Listening to their sheepish story, she took pity on the Kings. “She said ‘Hmmm, we took some cuttings out to the fishing camp out on the (San Gabriel) River. It’s all grown up out there but maybe I could get some…’ So she went out in the country here somewhere and fought her way through bushes and brought us some cuttings, and that’s what we have now in different places in the yard,” Morton says, adding. “That’s how far people (in Georgetown) will go to be helpful to you with flowers.” Mr. King showed us photographs of blooms he’d cut as far into winter as Christmas Day.

By the way, this same plant is called The San Marcos Rose a little farther south, since it flourishes in that town, too, about 50 miles away.


Archduke Charles of Austria, Duke of Teschen (1771-1847)

Image: Napoleon Online

Austin sits just between Georgetown and San Marcos, putting us smack in the center of Archduke Charles’s reign. This beautiful flower buds deep pink, but opens with a white center. In bright sunlight the blooms turn red in time. Rosarian Thomas Rivers called it “a chameleon.” But perhaps the mutable feature is a reference, too, to Erzherzog Karl von Österreich, for whom it was named.

An Austrian prince, Archduke Charles trained for the military and first fought in the French Revolution. He handed Napoleon a huge defeat at the Battle of Aspern-Essling (1809). But after this victory, though his popular esteem continued to grow, the Archduke was not so successful on the battlefield. One military historian writes, “Again and again he repeats the advice that nothing should be hazarded unless one’s army is completely secure, a rule which he himself neglected with such brilliant results in 1796. Strategic points, he says, not the defeat of the enemy’s army, decide the fate of one’s own country, and must constantly remain the general’s main concern, a maxim which was never more remarkably disproved than in the war of 1809.”

Talking prudence but winning with daring, it appears that Archduke Charles, the general, was a chameleon too.

Posted by Julie on 12/01 at 04:10 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePermalink
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