Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Singapore: Beauty in Money

Singapore has a thing for orchids, and two new floral coins to prove it.

image2007 Heritage Coin

“Dendrobium Singa Mas”

or Golden Lion

Photo: Singapore Mint

Having grown up in a country with grimy-looking greenbacks and copper pennies, the currency of places like Singapore doesn’t seem like it would spend. The island republic’s Monetary Authority has announced two new heritage coins featuring “Vanda Mimi Palmer” and “Dendrobium Singa Mas.”  Not national pioneers, chieftains or generals, but orchids. The flashy $5 coins will go on sale June 25.

Singapore issued two other commemorative orchid coins—Vanda Tan Chay Yan and Aranda Majula—in 2006,  and they sold out fast. What but beauty and rarity could get folks to shell out $138 for a $5 coin? Call it chump change? We think not. What a secret treat to have pockets jangling purple and yellow.

These exotic flowers, of course, are serious business in Singapore. The island supplies 15% of the world’s market for cut orchids “valued at $19.7 million in 2005.”  The white orchids on tables at Charles and Diana’s 1981 wedding banquet were donated by the Singapore government. With ever-mounting competition from India, Thailand, and China, Singapore’s orchid growers circled the wagons and formed a business cluster in May 2003. Their goals were to spot threats to their market position, improve sales, investigate expansion overseas, and develop new “products.” The PR team seems to have been doing a crack job: in 2011 Singapore will host the World Orchid Conference for a second time.

image$50 Singapore “orchid”

Photo: ebay

We found especially intriguing that from 1967—when Singapore was expelled from Malaysia—to 1976, the national currency was not the dollar, as it is now, but “the orchid.” There were nine denominations of orchid bills (including a $10,000 note) each with a flower on the front.

Moving at last from commerce to botany and culture, we hope one day to visit the orchid collection at Singapore Botanic Gardens and also the Mandai Orchid Garden, which draws 200,000 visitors a year.

imageThe Vintage Garden—Mandai Orchid Garden, Singapore

200 varieties grown

“the old-fashioned way”

Photo: Mandai Orchid Garden

Begun by grower and orchid aficionado John Laycock in 1951, Mandai features orchids grown the “old-fashioned way,” planted in the earth in open beds, in the full sun. Some of Laycock’s original collection lives on here, though many of the plants were lost during World War II.

And controversy being the hallmark of culture, we recall that Vanda Miss Joachim, Singapore’s national flower, generated more acrimonious debate here than has any other plant during the two and a half years of the Human Flower Project. (At risk of stoking the fire, we wonder if any new information has emerged in the case of Miss Agnes’s integrity…. Y’all keep it clean!)

History, beauty, business clusters, conflict—and money:  somehow they all drip from the tongues of these peculiar flowers, the pride of Singapore.

Posted by Julie on 05/31 at 12:13 PM
Culture & SocietyCut-Flower TradeGardening & LandscapePoliticsPermalink

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Garden History—Bookish

The Bookish Gardener has returned! Chan Stroman is back at her lyrical and literary blog, and generously has delivered this fine review to us. Thank you, Chan. Your readers have missed you.

imageGarden History:

Philosophy and Design

2000 BC – 2000 AD

by Tom Turner

Taylor & Francis Ltd

Spon Press, 2005

Reviewed by

Chan Stroman

The gardener peers into the locus of the open, recurved narcissus, eye to pheasant’s eye. Although brief moments like this sometimes imprint themselves in the gardener’s personal history, most quickly wash away with the rest of daily life’s ephemera. In this case, though, there’s other history bound up with this particular flower. It was originally grown in a garden that I’ve never seen, its bulb gathered, preserved and sent from the garden of a friend that I hope to meet one day really, not just virtually. I recall that history every spring as the poeticus blooms, although that history will ebb away some day too, as the gardener leaves the garden. The garden to me is intensely personal, in how it’s made, how it feels, what it expresses, and what it means. In the garden, my eye—and mind—zoom in.

Zoom out. — Garden History: Philosophy and Design 2000 BC – 2000 AD, by Tom Turner, takes you up, and away, and way back, across the history of the idea of the garden in Western civilization over the past four thousand (yes, thousand) years. As an object, it’s a beautiful book. You’ll appreciate its handsome production values, from the sculpturally gnarled, sepia-toned, snow-dusted grand oak on the cover, to the luscious heft of the paper that make leafing through the pages a tactile pleasure. Despite the ambitious sweep of its title, the book keeps to a judicious limit on pages (less than 300), and is amply illustrated with photographs of excellent composition, a few academic tables, and whimsical sketches here and there.

imageStatues at Charlottenburg, Berlin

Photo: Tom Turner

Garden History

Gorgeous, yes, but Garden History is no mere coffee-table tome of all style and no substance. The reader is given the chance to become an armchair traveler through space and time, to see how humans and their cultures here in the Western world have sought to enclose, tame and remake their natural surroundings. This book isn’t meant to and doesn’t cover horticultural techniques or functional garden design. Instead, it’s an exploration of how the idea of the garden seems to have become an inevitable element of how every culture comes to express itself.

Reading Garden History is like taking a tour of a world-class museum, personally guided by an erudite and engaging curator. Of necessity, much historical data is rendered in shorthand, leading to often amusing examples of what might be called “world history as elevator speech”:

Italy was dominated by Spanish influence during the reign of the Hapsburgs (1525-1700), although some areas, including Venice, the Papal States, Tuscany and Genoa, retained nominal independence. It was a period of relative economic decline as the focus of world trade and industry shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. But it was also the period when Rome recovered its ancient role as the hub of western civilisation: the place which every artist and every tourist felt compelled to visit.

As we start with earliest history in the cradle of civilization, the author looks to archeology and ancient texts to reconstruct the history of what might have been the earliest forms of the garden. We’re led to ponder: was the first garden a place (Eden)?—Or an idea: a line marked in the sand, joined end to end to form a boundary, distinguishing what’s “within” from what’s “without.” As civilizations advance and evolve, we’re shown the evolution of the many species of the idea of the garden: as property, sanctuary, worship site, memorial, status symbol, plant “zoo,” public commons. Famed gardens such as the Villa d’Este, Taj Mahal, Versailles and Sissinghurst are put in fresh perspective, as we’re stimulated to think about them as more than just pretty landscapes.

imageGarden designs through time (detail)

Drawings: Tom Turner

Garden History

Despite the breadth of the subject matter, the book is more accessible than daunting. I think it’s best approached in the same way in which you might visit a museum. If you’ve got a particular interest in a certain historical era or civilization, the book’s index will point you to the chapters (museum exhibits) on which you’ll want to focus your attention …or you can browse through numerous chapters to get just a taste of it all (like a tourist given two hours off the bus to wander through the Tate)…or open a page at random (like an in-town visitor who can pop in regularly over the lunch hour). However you come to it, the book gives a great jumping-off point for delving further into cultures (and their gardens) that pique your interest.

(Although Garden History only covers gardens of the West, broadly defined to include West Asian and Islamic gardens, I’d love to see the same treatment given to the Far Eastern gardens and history of China, Korea and Japan. Their diversity of flora, dynastic histories, and the prominence of gardens in their literature and culture would make a fascinating journey.)

This stimulating book leaves me pondering: How will the idea of the garden in our times and in American culture be remembered centuries hence? Will anyone look back on and remember our lawns, community gardens, urban high-rise “green” rooftops, and preserves? And if they do, what will these things say about the way we were?

Posted by Julie on 05/29 at 11:58 AM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePermalink

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day/The Iraq War

3682 U.S. soldiers and civilians have died in the Iraq War (May 26, 2007).  Soldiers from the U.K., Italy,  S. Korea, and many thousands from Iraq have died in the fighting. In October 2006, a U.S. university research team estimated that 655,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed; that was seven months ago. They said the war kills 500 Iraqis every day.


Funeral of U.S. Army Sgt. Gary Brent Coleman, age 24

Nov. 30, 2003, Pikeville, KY

Photo: Shawn Poynter for AP


Funeral of paratrooper Jacob Fletcher, 28, November 19, 2003

Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, N.Y

Doreen and Ray Kenny, Fletcher’s mother and stepfather, sit at left

Photo: Ed Betz, for AP


Memorial for Kim Sun-Il, who was executed in Iraq

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon pays his respects

6/23/04, Busan, South Korea

Photo: Reuters


Funeral in Kirkuk, Iraq, Jan. 30, 2006

for a boy killed in a bomb attack outside a church

Photo: Slahaldeen Rasheed, for Reuters


Funeral for Master Sgt. Kevin Morehead, September 21, 2003

Fredonia Cemetery, near Judsonia, Arkansas

Chaplain Marc Gauthier, presiding

Photos:  Janet Wilson, for the Daily Citizen


Funeral of Marine Paul Collins, May 2006, CTC Lympstone

Collins, of Britain’s Royal Navy, was killed in Basra

Photo: Royal Navy


Sabrina Dent, at the funeral of her son Spc. Darryl Dent, 21,

a member of the District of Columbia National Guard

Arlington National Cemetery, Sept. 8, 2003

Dent died while on convoy duty near the town of Arimadi, Iraq

Photo: Stephen J. Boitano, for AP


Funeral of Izzadine SaleemIraqi, May 2004,  Baghdad

SaleemIraqi was chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council

Photo: Muhammed Muheisen, for AP


Funeral of DC3 Nathan Bruckenthal of the US Coast Guard

Arlington National Cemetery, May 7, 2004

Photo: PA2 Fa’iq El-Amin, for USCG


Funeral mass for 19 Italian soldiers who died in Iraq

November 18, 2003, Saint Paul’s Basilica, Rome


A child’s funeral in Iraq, February 2006

Photo: via Middle East News

Posted by Julie on 05/28 at 01:40 PM
Culture & SocietyPoliticsReligious RitualsPermalink

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Basalt Daisy—Rock On!

A case of extreme botany, Erigeron basalticus is now in bloom, though you’ll have to brave rattlesnakes to see it.


Lavender basalt daisy (Erigeron basalticus)

blooming in the Selah Cliff preserve

Photo: Gilbert W. Arias, for Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Not everyone’s cut out for this: hanging in a crack on the face of a cliff. But for some reason Erigeron basalticus, a.k.a. the lavender basalt daisy, likes nothing better.  Thanks to Gordy Holt of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for alerting the rest of us to this rugged wildflower. The basalt daisy is endemic to a 10 by 2 mile spot in central Washington; according to the botanical experts, it’s known to grow only in this microclimate, in the basalt walls of the Selah Creek and Yakima River canyons.

Gordy describes his expeditions to track the rock-dwelling daisy. “We found them blooming on only our second trip,” he writes, “but blooming they were late last week and should continue well into June.”

imageChristian climbs Railway Avenue’s Never the Twain

in the Field Valley, Canada

Photo: Nicola Pelletier, via Field, British Columbia

This rare flower has, of course, been of interest to plant conservationists and hikers. It was also written up in a recent environmental impact study, as Bonneville Power Administration planned to stretch transmission lines through its habitat. (Anyone know how that controversy was resolved?)

It always strikes us as paradoxical, that plants rugged as these can be so vulnerable, too. Not so different, perhaps from the tough human rock climbers, likewise in peril.

If you’re far from the Yakima canyon, there’s information about the Basalt Daisy and other Washington wildlife available from the Washington Natural Heritage Program. And even if you’re there, looking up at the canyon walls, you may not detect the plant’s stiff, spreading hairs (the better to clutch with!).

Visitors to the canyons are urged to bring water and binoculars and “stay on the trail,” Gordy advises. “For those who don’t, there will be rattlesnakes to enforce the rule.”

Posted by Julie on 05/27 at 01:38 PM
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