Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Kickin’, with Dahlias in the Tirol

The Austrians combine a flower parade with anticipation for next year’s European soccer championship.


The Football Wizard, winning float

at the Seefeld Flower Parade, 2007

Photo: Tourism Presse

Have you noticed that every cultural event or social occasion now seems to do double duty as an ad campaign? Twinning is the name of the game. So organizers of the 39th Seefeld Flower Parade in Austria’s beautiful Tirol chose to dedicate this year’s Blumencorso to next year’s UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) championship matches. The floats, with 120,000 dahlias, included “the Football Wizard,” what appears to be an English Bobby, and Austria’s delightful logo—a red and white snail. (You have to admire a culture that would represent itself as proudly slow.)

imageTrix and Flix

mascots for the UEFA games

representing co-host countries

Switzerland and Austria

Photo: Tourism Presse

Next year’s European “football” games will be co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland, so mascots for the event are hot-headed twins Trix and Flix. They looked radiant at the Alpine flower parade, done up in garnet-colored dahlias.

Most flower parades in the U.S. take place in the winter and spring and usually feature roses and springtime blossoms. In contrast, many European Bloemencorsos seem to be held in the summer and fall months and go heavy on the dahlias,  with dazzling results.

Delightful as these floral sculptures in homage to soccer are, we still long for the days before twinning prevailed. Pretty soon, we expect to see Tyson’s Thanksgiving and the Ray-Ban Summer Solstice.

Posted by Julie on 08/12 at 11:53 AM
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Friday, August 10, 2007

Zero-Gravity Gardening

With hundreds of thale cress seeds aboard the latest Endeavor spacecraft, astronauts will try growing a geeky garden over the next two months.


Clay Anderson gardens NASA-style

Photo: NASA via aftenposten

Don’t you know that space travelers get awfully tired of Tang!

Scientists, trying to put some fresh vegetables in orbit, have packed 1600 seeds of Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress) aboard the Endeavor, which launched Wednesday, August 8. Over the next couple of months, the astronauts, with lots of guidance from the earthbound team of Norwegian botanists who supplied the seeds, will attempt to grow three generations of this flowering plant.

imageArabidopsis thaliana

(thale cress on Earth)

Photo: NASA

One of the many purposes of the experiment is to determine the effects of antigravity (plus all that stale air, galactic turbulence, and artificial lighting) on growing plants. “This is vital knowledge for man’s trip to Mars,” a three year trip.  “The crew must be able to cultivate plants for eating while on the way to the red planet.” Vårskrinneblom (Thale cress in Norwegian) is “inedible” (which is saying quite a lot for in-flight food)  but since Arabidopsis reproduces easily and its genetic structure is well known to scientists, its behavior on board Endeavor should help the international Dobbs House figure out which tastier plants could survive in a rocket plot. For much more on the experiment, check details here, via NASA.

There will be time lapse video taken as the thale cress sprouts and matures “to study circumnutation (the successive bowing or bending in different directions of the growing tip of the stems and roots).” With each generation, plants will be dehydrated, some seed saved for sprouting the next space crop, some set aside for planting back here on Earth. American astronaut Clay Anderson will be the lead gardener (though with a hairnet not a straw hat). Let’s hope the NASA outfitters thought to put galluses on his spacesuit.

Posted by Julie on 08/10 at 01:31 PM
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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Try a Local Florist, or Cash

A Texan sues an online florist for $1 million, for allegedly disclosing his love gift.

imageWe read reports today of a Houston man who’s taking 1-800-FLOWERS, the big daddy of online flower businesses, to court. And it’s not because his roses didn’t open. According to Consumerist, “Leroy Greer specifically asked 1-800-Flowers not to send him a receipt for the cuddly stuffed animal and dozen long stemmed roses he ordered for his mistress.” But the company, inadvertently we presume, sent a routine thank you message to the Greer household. After Greer’s wife inquired about the flower order, the company allegedly provided more than anybody bargained for—a copy of the romantic message.

Now Greer (Mr., that is) wants $1 million from 1-800-FLOWERS for “breach of contract.”

For what it’s worth, we consider the suit a breach of reason. Anyone desperately seeking discretion should be doing business with a trusted local florist. But more fundamentally, we don’t think sending flowers is conducive to secrecy. It’s not just a coincidence that the Victorian Language of Flowers died out. The supposed “secret messages” in posies were either plain as the nose in your rose or so cryptic nobody could tell who on earth sent the flowers or why. As we see it, the gift of flowers is provocative—an overt display. People with something to hide should send cash.

Posted by Julie on 08/09 at 12:23 PM

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Elderberry: Put Your Lips Together and Blow

Reading and travel to the American Midwest transport horticulturist Jill Nokes. And so does the lyricism of a familiar plant. Thank you, Jill!


Elderberry wine, also known as “Elderblow”

Photo: Chuggnutt

By Jill Nokes

I have been re-reading Willa Cather this summer in anticipation of my first trip to Kansas. I tried to imagine what that landscape had in store for me, wondering if it would be as extreme as the Texas Panhandle, or more pastoral. As it turned out, a visit to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Stone City would answer a lot of my questions, but re-reading My Ántonia renewed my admiration of Cather, her poetic and knowledgeable observations of nature, and also turned my attention to a familiar plant here at home, the common elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. camadensis).

In a lovely passage that is part of Jim’s (the narrator’s) last summer in his small town before leaving for college, Cather describes how he and a group of immigrant country girls he grew up with take time off to have a picnic and gather elderberry flowers.

“I had only one holiday that summer; it was in July.  The elder was all in bloom now, and Anna wanted to make elderblow wine….It was the high season for summer flowers. The pink bee-brush stood tall along the roadsides, and the coneflowers and rosemallow grew everywhere. Across the wire fence in the long grass I saw a clump of flaming orange milkweed, rare in that part of the state.

“The girls had already taken their baskets and gone down the east road, which wound through the sand and scrub. I could hear them calling to each other. The elder bushes didn’t grow back in the shady ravines between the bluffs, but in the hot sandy bottoms along the stream, where their roots were always in moisture and their tops in the sun. The blossoms were unusually luxuriant and beautiful that summer.  I followed a cattle path through the thick underbrush until I came to a slope that fell away abruptly to the water’s edge. A great chunk of the shore had been bitten out by some spring freshet, and the scar was masked by elder bushes growing down to the water in flowery terraces.  I didn’t touch them. I was overcome by content and drowsiness, and by the warm silence about me. There was no sound but the high, sing-song buzz of wild bees and the sunny gurgle of the water beneath.

“Down there on a lower shelf of the bank, I saw Ántonia, seated alone under the pagoda-like elders.”

imageCommon elderberry in bloom

Sambucus nigra ssp. camadensis

Photo: Jill Nokes

You can find elderberry growing from Nova Scotia south to Florida, west to the Dakotas and Texas. This loose, graceful woodland shrub belongs to the honeysuckle family and is typically found in a bar ditches old fields, and the edges of woods. Many stalks rise from a base and in early summer are topped with flat corymbs of white flowers that later become nodding clusters of dark red to black fruit. The genus name comes from the Greek sambuce, a name for an ancient musical instrument and refers to the soft interior pith which is easily removed to make flutes and whistles. Although the leaves, twigs, stems and unripe fruit contain a low toxicity, old farm journals and almanacs list many curative uses of the plant, from ointments for healing sores on animals as well as salves to “beautify the complexion” of hard-working farm wives. The prolific berries have been used for many centuries to make beautifully colored and delicious wine and jelly, though it was considered rather difficult, as it has a tendency to turn to vinegar.

In My Ántonia, the girls are using the blossoms to produce “elderblow” a beautiful pale yellow wine of delicate flavor. An old farm journal of my grandmother’s from rural New York offers this recipe: “Pack the flowers in three gallons of water with five pounds of sugar and a yeast cake to ferment for nine days. Add three pounds of raisins. Store in a cool, dark place for six months.”

As a source for a childhood whistle or the wherewithal to wet your whistle later in life, there’s always the elderberry bush.


Antonio Flores, docent with the Middle Mountain Foundation, teaches

hikers at Sutter Buttes, California, how to make flutes from elderberry

stalks. Flores said that it took him “about a year and a half” to learn

how to play one.

Photo: Courtesy of Mary Yamada

Posted by Julie on 08/07 at 04:36 PM
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