Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

“A Flowering Tree”—Operatic

The Indian folktale of a girl who turns into a blossoming tree is transformed into music by John C. Adams.


Amaltas in bloom, Chandigarh, India

Photo: Chandigarh Tribune

“There lived an old woman with her two daughters. She did menial jobs to feed and clothe and bring up her children. When the girls reached puberty, the younger sister said one day, ‘Sister, I’ve been thinking of something. It’s hard on mother to work all day for our sakes. I want to help her. I will turn myself into a flowering tree. You can take the flowers and sell them for good money.’

“Amazed, the older sister asked, ‘How will you turn into a flowering tree?’”…

image Scene from “A Flowering Tree”

by John C. Adams/Peter Sellars

Photo: SF Examiner

Good question. To learn the answer, you may want to buy a ticket for composer John C. Adams’s “A Flowering Tree.” The opera, which premiered in Vienna in November, makes its U.S. debut tomorrow night in San Francisco.

The story comes from an old tale of Southern India, one lush with low-hanging dramatic fruit. There are jealous sisters-in-law, a handsome prince, dismemberment (it’s true) and many strategic pitchers of water. Of course, there are the human-flowers, too, produced by self-sacrificing heroine Kumudha.

If you can’t attend the opera, make your own music, and read A.K. Ramanujan’s version of the tale right here.  John Adams said that, weary of his own dark themes,  he decided to compose an opera in the tender spirit of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and found the psychic-seed in Ramanujan’s story.

Here you may listen to a sound clip, sparkling as a pink cassia tree. For the libretto, Adams joined forces with longtime collaborator Peter Sellars.

imageRed Silk Cotton tree (Bombax malabarica)

Image: D.V. Cowan

The heroine of Richard Strauss’ opera “Daphne”  also mixes ardor with arbor. But Adams notes, “Unlike Strauss, who got only one transformation to compose,” in his own opera, there are four human-to-flower changes.  “And the transformations are much more disturbing than Kumudha anticipates. It’s as though she had casually dropped acid, and now it’s not going to be just a regular Saturday night.” How fitting for its first U.S. performance to be in San Francisco.

Adams himself will conduct the San Francisco Symphony in “A Flowering Tree” March 1-3. This summer, the opera will be performed in London and Amsterdam. (Here’s a schedule.)

Of course, we wonder which flowering tree Kumudhah becomes. There are soooo many possibilities. Just take a look at this very-slow-loading but sumptuous and illustrated catalogue of India’s flowering trees and shrubs. Drumstick tree, Trumpet Flower, Banyan, Peepul….Then clear your throat. There’s a lot to sing about.

Posted by Julie on 02/28 at 06:02 PM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapePermalink

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Who’s Counting? We and Victoria

The City of Victoria tallies its flowers this week, a continental gloat over the rest of snowbound Canada.

imageLogo: via Victoria

As of 1:30 pm Central Standard Time (U.S.), it stood at 39,542,160.

We refer to Victoria’s annual Flower Count, which began yesterday and will run through March 3. While much of Canada faces two more months of snowplows, spring has arrived in Victoria and its residents enjoy rubbing it in. This crowing count is the community’s spring festival, heavy on the math.

Like Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses each January 1 (a floral in-your-face to the wintry U.S.), Victoria’s custom seems to have been drummed up by busness leaders to inspire visitors.  In the late 1960s, members of the local Chamber of Commerce, wearing Victorian-era garb,  “descended on shivering Canadian cities such as Edmonton and Winnipeg during February, dispersing fresh, Victoria-grown daffodils to the public, radio stations and news organizations to promote snow-free winter tourism.” Local residents were urged to join in the count by 1976 to stir the promotional pollen, and since then, it’s become a citywide rite of spring.

imageRhonda Rose at the University of Victoria’s Finnerty Gardens

checking out (or perhaps counting) a rhododendron

Photo: University of Victoria

Helen Chesnut, columnist for the local paper, gives a sense of late February here: “Beside the driveway, near the front of my house, a hugely spreading Springwood Pink heather taken from my father’s garden over two decades ago never fails to clothe itself in colour at this time of the year. Nearby, beside the front lawn, a Chinese witch hazel’s spidery yellow flowers linger in partnership with a Pink Dawn viburnum’s rosy bloom clusters. Next to the carport, a winter daphne (Daphne odora) is set to open its blossom clusters and release one of nature’s most exquisite floral perfumes.”

But wouldn’t it take all week to count the flowers on just one cherry tree? Possibly, so officials have simplified things. For a medium tree full of blossoms count 500,000, for a large heather bush, 2,000, etc. Check here for details. Tabulators are urged to call in their numbers by phone. A “Banana Belt” goes to the happy, cross-eyed winner.

2002’s record-setting count was 8,521,514,876 flowers—last year’s total, a mere 1,766,698,868. For Victorians who may lack pencil and paper, we offer this aid: How to count to 1023 on your fingers.

And it so happens that this post is the 1000th entry on the Human Flower Project, a milestone for which no banana belts will be awarded. We would like, however, to send thanks to all our contributing writers, members, visitors, and friends. And we send special greeting to those who have tripped over the e-threshold unawares. A quick look back at “search terms” shows a very few of the many interests that brought you here.

imagePhoto: Tulsa World

“fibroids cut open with teeth”

“cher as giantess”

“vatican tumbling angels”

“muslims ‘no stringed’ instruments”

“bride flip flops”

“removing splinter from toddler foot”

“inexpensive Betty Boop statue in Ohio”

“bagpipe fingering chart”

“spoiled shrimp pictures”

“Brain teaser: why is the letter t like an amphibian?”

Beats us!

Posted by Julie on 02/27 at 03:34 PM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsTravelPermalink

Monday, February 26, 2007

Outdoor Kitchens—WWWD

Garden rooms swing open the doors of perception and the gates of consumption.

imageServing it up

in an outdoor kitchen

Photo: Masonry Systems

As plant and hose and wicker companies know, the restive Northern gardener is gnawing on the curtains about now. Let the garden shows begin! At big city exhibit halls landscape designers and turf sellers work mightily to bring the outside in. There will be booths of flagstone appointed with wrought iron furniture, flowering plants, of course, and plashing fountains that sound strangely urinal within these echo chambers.

It’s not really possible to duplicate a cottage garden inside a convention center, but an “outdoor kitchen” with Viking Range and sink? Can do, along with just about any other sort of outdoor room you can dream up.

Jane Martin, Ohio horticulturist, writes, “Outdoor rooms are the spaces created among various landscape objects, whether fences, patios, plants or ponds. They have floors, walls and ceilings (overhead branches or structures).” (We haven’t yet achieved such architecture but do have a plein air Fibber McGee closetright out the back door.)

Joe Lamp asserts, “Just as we demand 12-month, 24-hour enjoyment from our indoor rooms, we now expect the same outside as well. Portable propane-fueled heaters tower over our heads like small trees, while all-weather lamps set the ambiance and illuminate the pages of our late-night reading.” Imagine the moths!

Valerie Easton sees in the shift from ordinary yards to outdoor rooms a generational difference: “The research says that Gen X and Y aren’t looking to study the Latin names of plants or spend every weekend weeding. They favor easy maintenance and instant effect. I worry younger gardeners will miss great joys and satisfactions,” she laments, “yet I admire their perception of gardens as outdoor living rooms rather than science projects.”

We’re less admiring than amazed, but we don’t think “younger gardeners” have anything to do with it. It’s marketers, whose “joys and satisfactions” come from filling our every inch and instant with more stuff.  Lamp reports that sales of ordinary lawn and garden products “remain flat,” meanwhile “homeowners are pouring money into expanding their living space outdoors.” He writes,  “The trends of 2007 for gardening and outdoor living continue to reinforce our need for instant gratification.”

That “trend” began with Adam or, certainly, Eve. It’s had a good streak since at least 1950, but okay. The question then becomes: What is it that gratifies you? Is it walking from the kitchen out of doors into another kitchen, with a sun-drenched stovetop and a second stack of dirty dishes?


Photo: Gregory Crewdson

The press for outdoor kitchens sent us to this photo by Gregory Crewdson,  from his collection TWILIGHT. A housewife, suffering from Epstein-Barr or perhaps an especially bad bout of indoor oven-cleaning, kneels in the kitchen. A garish plot of yarrow and gerbera daisies has clogged the breakfast nook, and David-Lynch lighting pours through the window. If an outdoor kitchen can provide “instant gratification,” why is it that this indoor flowerbed’s such a bummer? (We don’t believe Crewdson will be getting any commissions from Scott’s Miracle-Gro, but in this age of marketing-de-Sade, we’re probably very, very wrong.)

image“Mr. Wolf

eating by the chuckwagon”

Photo: Prairie Rose

All very perplexing—which leads us to ask WWWD? What Would Wishbone Do? He being, of course, the chuckwagon cook on Rawhide. Cowboys are well versed in plein air cooking and dining, after all—as well as bathing, defecating, and sleeping. In fact, they and other nomads may be said to have pioneered the outdoor room.

“Easy maintenance” is one way to look at this lifestyle. Furthermore, it may be within reach for those of us who’re not up to sink #2 and a patio refrigerator of brushed stainless steel.

Posted by Julie on 02/26 at 04:38 PM
Gardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cleavers: Can’t Shake It

Galium aparine takes two-fisted gardening and still won’t let go.


Cleavers (Galium aparine) in bloom

Photo: Jim Lindsey

What’s your pick for “Most Loveable Weed”? (No fair voting for smokables.)

After tangling in the yard with a number of candidates this morning, we choose cleavers (Galium aparine). Here in Central Texas, we’ve pulled out many heaping bucketsful of this little devil. When you reach for it, it reaches back. Letting go is a trick - the stems and leaves clutch your gloves and have to be scraped off somehow (shaking them free would take the torque of a plane propeller).

Arthur Lee Jackson puts it perfectly: “Unmistakable, unforgettable, it is a fascinating little pest.” So what makes it endearing?  We believe this attitude first came to us through kindly neighbor Beverley Bajema. We met her about this time of year, one day as she was weeding her own yard. “I kind of like cleavers,“ she said, tossing a sprig onto her sleeve.  ”You can wear it.”  But this weed’s not mean to wear, like those burrs one must painfully dig off socks. It’s just clingy, rather like Wally, June, Ward and the Beav.

imageMaking the acquaintance

of cleavers

in Alley Pond Park, Queens, NY

Photo: Don Wiss

Dr. Adrian Goodman clearly has a thing for cleavers and has published quite a bit of research about the plant’s virtues. “Historically it has been boiled as spinach before the two-seeded fruits appear and in Sweden the seeds are roasted, ground and used as a substitute for coffee. The green seeds were also once used to adorn the tops of lacemakers’ pins to provide a padded head.”

Dr. Goodman is enchanted with the stems’ elasticity. too. In his experiments, “the lower stem stretched by up to 24 % of its original length before breaking. This is rather unusual for a terrestrial plant.” He writes that only aquatic buttercups and “some seaweeds” are this stretchy.

And yes, cleavers do (or is that “does”?) have white flowers—nothing you’ll mistake for a hibiscus, but fair enough.

There is some possibility that cleavers was the inspiration for Velcro, the sticky brainchild of Swiss inventor and dog-walker George de Mestral. Other sources say a pricklier plant inspired Mestral to develop the fast-latch fabric.

imageGalium aparine

Drawing: via Web Jardiner

Galium aparine is surely a native of Europe (check these botanical fansites from France and from Italy, where cleavers are known as attacammani). To get an idea of how widespread the weed is in the US,  here’s a map of its territory.

We did find one Canadian source with grudges against Galium aparine. “The clinging bristles make crop handling and harvesting difficult,” it says. “The seeds are similar in size and shape to canola, making them a serious contaminant of canola and rapeseed, resulting in the downgrading of these crops.”

We’re awfully sorry to hear that. But we still are fond of cleavers.  Hope you can try lightening up on this clingy weed. We have just the thing to help: ZZ Top’s 1986 hit, shown here with a Egyptian overlay—Velcro Fly.

Posted by Julie on 02/24 at 07:30 PM
Gardening & LandscapePermalink
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