Human Flower Project
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Butara for Palm Sunday
In Slovenia, evergreens are bundled with ribbon for Palm Sunday, a radiant beginning for Holy Week.
Butara for sale
Photo: Boštjan Burger
You won’t find many palm trees growing in Ljubljana or anywhere nearby. So much the better. Palm Sunday, remembering Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem, is observed in Slovenia with a glorious custom, the yearly making and purchasing of butara (literally “bundles”). In these traditional ornaments, sprigs and branches of local greenery are bound up with colored ribbons. Some look to be the size of maracas, others tall as totem poles.
An enduring decorating tradition in Slovenia, the butara are turned out both by schoolchildren and by the pros, who sell their Holy Week wares in souvenir shops, groceries and open-air markets. According to this source, the butara “will often be blessed on Palm Sunday and then placed in the home for the holiday.” We understand that each butara stays displayed in the home all year long; the next spring, it’s discarded and a new one takes its place.
If you check out only one Human Flower Project link all year, be patient as it loads, and let it be this one! Boštjan Burger has composed a series of “Virtual Reality Panoramas” of Slovenia, complete with sound. Three of them show the flower market in Ljubljana’s Pogacarjev Square outside St. Nicolas Cathedral before Palm Sunday 2005. Here, with shuffling feet and clanging church bells, you can see people shopping for butara. There are also beautiful sweeping shots of the flower sellers, with their bouquets of roses and chrysanthemums and fine array of wreaths.
The Flower Market of Pogacarjev Square
March 21, 2005
Photo: Boštjan Burger
Boštjan writes that some butara are tied together not with ribbon but “shavings of wood ...painted various colors.” He calls this custom a “peculiarity of Ljubljana ethnology. Colorific bundles made by handy craftswomen or men are small works of art and the most (re)quested goods on a marketplace in a week before the Palm Sunday. Bundles made from shavings of wood were meant for the townspeople, who had no fields and no cattle.”
Thank you, Boštjan, for permitting us to “snap” a few stills of your magnificent moving pictures. Oh, to be in Ljubljana today!
Friday, March 30, 2007
Color Blind? Go for the Yellow
Take a color blindness test and help us strike gold.
Crocus in McHenry Co., IL
Photo: Cal Skinner
At last, across much of the U.S., the forsythia is blooming and daffodils are opening. Good news for all, especially the color-challenged.
Illinois blogger Cal Skinner turned on the lights for us with his photo of early golden crocus in bloom and a recent post (3/28):
Message of the Day – A Color
And the color is yellow.
That’s the color of my flowers of choice.
The reason is simple.
I have a hard time seeing pastels.
Even red gives me a problem.
That’s probably because I am red-green colorblind.
Hint: be wary of me at any intersection where the traffic lights are not vertical.
In any event, I like yellow flowers because I can see them vividly.
If the other colors are as vivid to other people as yellow is to me, we live in a beautiful world.
Thanks for this bit of consciousness-raising, Cal.
Texas Gold columbine (with iris)
March 25, 2007
Photo: Human Flower Project
May we recommend to you some of our own favorite yellows that should do well there in Northern Illinois?: celandine poppy, coreopsis, and (the gold standard) sunflowers. Right now in Central Texas, primrose jessamine is giving way to two other yellows: Lady Banks rose, and Texas columbine. (We’re not sure whether Texas Gold and Hinckley’s columbine are one and the same or not, but both are yellow rocket ships, soaring now through April.)
In Vietnam yellow flowers, especially bong mai and chrysanthemum, are beloved, their color signifying both happiness and prosperity. On the contrary, in parts of the Near East, yellow flowers are avoided, as they suggest sickliness and death.
What number do you see?
Image: Toledo Bend
Have you ever wondered about your own color receptivity? According to one source, color blindness affects “12 - 20 percent… of the white, male population and a tiny fraction of the female population.” Take this online test if you like, or several more tests. Or, for a quickie diagnosis, take a look at the circle at left. What number (if any) do you see inside? Check your results right here.
Thanks again, Cal, for waking us up to this very quiet deficiency, one that, to be sure, has a big impact on the human-flower relationship. It may explain in part why women seem generally to be more sensitive to flowers than men.
And readers, for Cal and the rest of us yellow flower fanciers, please tell us about your favorite golden blooms.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Where Your ‘Geraniums’ Come From
The world leader in pelargoniums, Fischer, has sold to a Swiss agri-chemical company.
Pelargoniums/Geraniums, looking homey
Photo: Umea Universitet
What we non-botanist types call “geraniums,” those potted plants of summer with the red and white and pink moppy heads, are actually pelargoniums. But whatever you’ve been calling them, there’s a good chance some of yours can be traced back to the Fischer company in Germany.
Gerhard Fischer began it all in 1959, with a nursery operation near Koblenz. “Les géraniums lui ont procuré une telle passion qu’il spécialisa l’entreprise dès le début sur cette culture.” (Geraniums inspired such a passion in him that he specialized in them from the outset of his business.) He moved the operation to Hillscheid in 1962. From laboratories there he and his horticulture team concentrated on developing disease resistant strains and by the mid 1970s, the company’s creations—GRAND PRIX, TANGO, SCHÖNE HELENA, and RIO—to name a few, were shipping across the world.
Each year the company begins a work-up on 30,000 new pelargoniums. The horticulturists narrow down to a mere 2000, based on 70 criteria. These are then field tested to see how they’ll fare in three very different climate conditions, and finally five or so new varieties will head to market.
Fischer’s pelargonium field trials
Growing petunias, poinsettias, vinca, and impatiens, as well as their renowned pelargoniums, Fischer has been a private company. Until now. It’s been bought by Syngenta, a Swiss company, for $67 milion (USD) “on a cash and debt free basis.” Fischer reported sales for 2005-2006 of $86 million and employs about 1700 people. It “sells flower crops in over 20 countries under well-known brands including Fischer® and pelfi®; these brands will be maintained,” Syngenta announced. The U.S. offices of Fischer are in Boulder, Colorado.
But what about Syngenta? It’s own flower division had 2006 sales nearly three times the size of Fischer’s—$228 million. And flowers are a small patch in the Swiss company’s estate. Its total sales (2006) were roughtly $8.1 billion. Syngenta employs 19,5000 people in more than 90 countries.
Announcement of the Fischer sale crackled through the financial wire services today. But Syngenta also made news for quite another reason. South Africa has rejected the Swiss company’s request to grown genetically modified corn for biofuel.
Melanie Gosling writes, “The government turned down the application from seed company Syngenta because it said it had not convincingly shown that the maize was safe for food or animal feed. Although the GM maize was intended to feed cars, not people, the government said it was possible that the GM maize would become mixed with ordinary maize grown for food. The department of agriculture’s executive council, which regulates the GM industry, also said the GM maize could harm South Africa’s maize export industry.”
Josef Fischer, CEO of the German pelargonium specialists, announced his company’s sale in the lantern-jawed language of corporate happiness: “Combining our varieties, cultivation knowledge and supply processes will enhance our service and support to all our customers, with whom we can now access exciting growth potential in flowers.”
Would that be floral or financial “growth potential”? In any case, this news fails to enhance our “passion” for pelargoniums.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Pittosporum: Here to Stay
Fragrant, shiny, shieldy, dog-proof, what’s not to like about this beauty?
March 28, 2007
Photos: Human Flower Project
Our first—and, to date, only—advice from a garden designer several years back was not a disaster, only because we paid this person for his time and then ignored everything he’d said. Our place definitely needs design triage but we’re shy, bordering on design-phobic, after such a brush with inanity.
We had a nice preliminary chat with the fellow who’d been recommended to us and about a month later received several scrolled up blueprints (?). Unfurling them, we saw lots of circles, that weird calligraphy they must teach in architecture school, a list of botanical names and numbers, and a drawing that looked like something you’d see at the entrance of a golf course in Palm Springs. This could be ours for roughly $10,000.
Now certainly we were at fault. Or/and we must have been body snatched by the spirit of Nancy Reagan during that conversation with the designer, for how else could our rattling on about the wildflowers of Peloponnesia have been converted into this?
Being greatly the coward before authority figures of all kinds, we ordinarily would have tried compromise: “Could we possibly have the $1000 version of Swastika Estates?” except for one thing. This fellow wanted to chop out the pittosporum tree. In fact, he really insisted. “It will clean up all the lines and enhance the view of your oaks,” he told us.
The old gnarly pittosporum must have been planted 30 or more years ago. It’s grown up around and underneath a mott of older live oaks and makes a wonderful screen on the street side of our little bumpy patio. And it’s beautiful, especially this time of year. The tree is in full bloom, covered with clusters of white blossoms that smell sweet and citrusy. E.B. Castro, a renowned florist in San Antonio, told us that pittosporum has long been a signature of his arrangements. Not only are the blossoms delicate and fragrant, the leaves spray apart in shiny green starbursts. As a cut flower, it possesses many of the virtues of magnolia but without the plantation-scale.
We’ve learned there are 200 species of flowering plants in this family and, as usual, aren’t sure what’s growing here. Our best guess is Pittosporum tobira, a native of Japan. It’s long been popular throughout Florida and the Gulf Coast. For lots more about this plant, including how to grow one, please check this thoroughgoing entry.
This author too makes note of pittosporum as a “filler” flower. “In 1983, the last year for which a published estimate is available, Japanese pittosporum accounted for about 5% of the U.S. cut foliage market.”
Gaston, an 11-year old Catahoula,
companion animal for pittosporum
Anyone who enjoys arranging flowers will like this article about using woody ornamentals. There’s quite a list of shrubs, trees and other plants you may not have considered cutting and bringing indoors—and of course, pittosporum makes the cut.
Finally, we should note that, unlike many delicate garden flowers, this hardy plant goes well with dogs, a significant feature for many of us. You may note in this photo, taken today with a new friend in the neighborhood, that pittosporum branches, like some magnolias, have the graceful habit of reaching down, as well as up, to bloom.
Last year, we saw that a volunteer pittosporum had sprouted in a shady bed beside the house. Seems today’s the day to dig that youngster up and plant it where it may thrive—no thanks to the experts.