Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, April 30, 2007

Spring Happens, or Phenology

Last frost dates look too late to believe? After a mean final nip, “it” arrives right on schedule.


Last frost dates in the continental U.S.

(the line between light and dark greens is May 1)

Map: The Garden Helper

Phenology must be the oldest of the sciences, lots older even than its Greek name. It’s the study of natural phenomena, especially plant flowerings, bird migrations and mating.

Where we grew up, Louisville, KY, a widely accepted piece of folk phenology was the last frost date. No matter how balmy April might be, longtime gardeners warned you not to plant before Derby Day—the first Saturday in May. We’re not sure where Mystic Mom lives, but she writes, ” My Granddaddy used to say, ‘Never plant your ‘maters before Kentucky Derby Day.’ The Derby is Saturday so my ‘maters’ are going in the ground Sunday.”

Taking a look at more scientific measures of frost dates, we see that the old gardeners were right. The last frost in Shelbyville, Kentucky (a mite south of Louisville) is recorded as May 5, and this year that’s Derby Day on the dot.

Here’s a site where folks in the U.S. and in Canada can check on the last frost date for their locales. Sorry we haven’t succeeded in finding similar sources for other continents and countries. If you know of such, please send them along.

With global warming, there’s heightened awareness of phenology. Biological scientists are teaming up with amateurs around the world to witness and document the effects of climate change.

image“It Happens Every Spring”

painting by Stephen Dinsmore

Image: Anderson O’Brien Fine Art, Omaha, Nebraska

A chronological smattering of last frost dates:

Berkeley, California * January 29

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida * February 1

Mobile, Alabama * March 19

Austin, Texas * March 21

Vancouver, British Columbia * March 28

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania * April 14

(Wouldn’t they say “Tax Day”?)

Quebec City, Quebec * May 13

Eau Claire, Wisconsin * May 26

Lake Placid, New York * June 19

Jackson, Wyoming * July 28 (!!)

The Greengirls of the Twin Cities had an interesting discussion of last frost recently. It seems in that part of Minnesota, the commonly accepted safe “mater” date is Memorial Day. Let us know of your own timetables, whether your phenology is scientific or vernacular, the Granddaddy kind.

(Congratulations to Stephen Dinsmore for his recent show at Anderson O’Brien gallery and for capturing the spirit of the season in this painting. The last frost where Stephen lives, Omaha, Nebraska, is May 12.)




Posted by Julie on 04/30 at 05:16 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePermalink

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ginza’s Pricey Streets

To begin Golden Week, tulip petals carpet a main thoroughfare in Tokyo’s costly shopping district.

imageTulip carpets in

the Ginza district

Tokyo, April 2006

Photo: Trina Chow

Today begins a peppering of holidays in Japan, four in a row, that the Japanese wisely round off as Golden Week. This is Showa Day, in homage to former Emperor Hirohito, born April 29, 1901. May 3 will be Constitution Day, and May 5, Children’s Day. The fourth occasion? We’ve discovered that under Japanese law “a day that falls between two national holidays (is declared) a national holiday” also. Now here’s a forward-thinking piece of legislation. May 4th, thus, will be “Greenery Day.”

In the Ginza district of Tokyo, widely referred to as “the most exclusive and expensive shopping area in Japan,” they really get down on Showa Day, covering Miyuki-dori Street with carpets of tulip petals.  The flowers “appear on the 300-meter long avenue from Nishi-ginza dori (Sotobori-dori) to Ginza-dori. 200,000 tulips will arrive from Toyama prefecture early in the morning.” Seems to us that the colors look all the more saturated within the city’s architectural canyons. You can read more about the Ginza district, some of its landmarks and swankiness here.


Sightseers take in flower covered Miyuk-dori St., 2007

Photo: Shizuo Kambayashi, for AP

“Showa” is the official name for Emperor Hirohito’s reign—1926-1989. Since he presided over Japan during World War II, Hirohito’s legacy is fraught with international tensions. Maybe that’s why, after his death, “Showa Day” was downplayed and the more politically neutral “Greenery Day” played up. Ah yes—where directness poses a threat, plants and flowers often are stuffed into the breach.

The tulip petal carpets along Miyuk-dori Street of course serve a balder purpose also: It’s a holiday, people. Bring your wallet and come on down!

Posted by Julie on 04/29 at 04:59 PM
PoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink

Saturday, April 28, 2007

As Rain Is Our Gardener

With twice the average rainfall, even lazy Texas gardeners are looking good.


Dorothy” poppies and bachelor buttons, April 28, 2007

Photo: Human Flower Project

We learned that another neighbor has gone over to the dark side: i.e. installed an irrigation system.  Well?  With Austin’s yearly average rainfall of only 32 inches, why haven’t we done so, too? On sanctimonious days we call our stance “water conservation.” There’s also the matter of being too cheap to have a system put in and too lazy to do it ourselves.

Hillary Clinton declared recently, “Hope is not a strategy.” Perhaps not in the Iraq War, Senator, but in gardening, yes it is. In fact, it’s our strategy. And this spring it’s succeeded. Our usually moribund yard has poured out daisies, larkspur, roses, phlox, ranunculus, cornflowers, and poppies. All we did was toss out seed, thin a few sprouts, weed some, and listen to the rain come down.


April 2007, thanks to nearly twice normal rainfall in Austin, TX

Since New Year’s Day, we’ve gotten over 17 inches of rain, that’s more than 8 inches above normal. And May is usually the wettest month here (averaging 5.03 inches). So South Austin blogger Susan may be right: the good times could last awhile. Our most assiduous garden weather tracker locally is hands down M. Sinclair Stevens. MSS’s amazing “Week by Week in the Garden” feature puts the booms or busts of the present into perspective. Every locale should be so lucky as to have a detailed record of weather and growth patterns, beautifully illlustrated.

When does your rainy season arrive? If you haven’t actually noticed and live in the U.S., you can check out the National Weather Service site and enter your ZIP code to find out. Thinking more broadly, here’s a quickie movie of global rainfall from January ‘97 to May ‘98. No wonder people on the Pacific islands can hand out leis!

For information a lot more current, here you can find rainfall amounts in the past three hours anywhere in the world, a dandy service provided by the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission. TRMM is a joint effort of NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.

We’d like to hear about your gardening strategy, even if it does include PVC pipe.  Hope for rain worked for us these past few months;  June may call for drumming.





Posted by Julie on 04/28 at 03:19 PM
EcologyGardening & LandscapePermalink

Friday, April 27, 2007

Legeron: A Flower at the Waist

The Paris fashion world has plenty of designers but not enough “little hands.”


Junko Shimada dress with Legeron flower

Photo: Legeron

“Who knows how to do this anymore?” asked cousin Ben, leafing through a gorgeous book about the optics, engineering, botanical and design wizardry that built the gardens of Versailles.

The same question applies to many smaller human flower projects, much smaller ones – like the ersatz peony on your grandmother’s hat. Jenny Barchfield’s excellent story for AP profiles Bruno Legeron, owner of France’s last remaining independent flower-making company.

His great-grandfather started the business in 1880, when every hem, waist, and lapel begged for a blossom. By the end of World War II “Paris had hundreds of independent flower-makers,” writes Barchfield. But no longer. Legeron’s “last two competitors, Guillet and Lemarie, were bought by Chanel.”

imageCustom-made beaded flower

Photo: Legeron

Barchfield describes how haute couture has always depended on the “petites mains” (“little hands”) of such artisans. Concern among the fashion houses is building into alarm, as the craftspeople who made hat blocks and buttons, beaded embroidery, and turned out silk and feather flowers retire. No one’s replacing them.

“Few young people are drawn by the low-paying and fiddly work,” Barchfield observes. Though 50-year-old Legeron is a fourth generation flower maker, he looks to be the end of the line. “It’s a vicious circle,” he said. “Because I spend my life in the workshop, I never got out to find a wife, which means I don’t have a kid and won’t have anyone to leave this place to when the time comes.”

imageFeather flower by Legeron

Photo: Legeron

Consider that as you enjoy the company’s beautiful website, with both single flower portraits and embellished fashions by Dior, Ungaro, and others. These don’t look at all like the artificial flowers one finds at the hobby shops; they were never meant to be replicas. Hand-crafted or machine-made flowers, to our eyes, are only gross insofar as they try to fake it. But who’s ever seen blooms quite like these? They aren’t fake flowers but imagined flowers. Many of the loveliest ones are grey.

Barchfield writes, “Each Legeron made-to-order blossom takes up to an hour to assemble and retails for the equivalent of $39 to $133.” We would be very interested to know more about the company – How many people does it employ? Where were they trained? How does someone stop imitating violets and start intimating them?

In the liberties Legeron’s artisans have taken, we see again what Jim Wandersee and Renee Clary described in their most recent post: here are flower makers who “value essence over fidelity.”

Posted by Julie on 04/27 at 01:56 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyPermalink
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