Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, November 19, 2007

Reely Beeg Shew Moves to Christchurch

The splashiest flower show in the Southern Hemisphere, Ellerslie, is uprooting and heading even farther south.


Potatoes, tomatoes and peanut pig on a spit

at Ellerslie Flower Show, Auckland, NZ, 2005

Photo: via wiki

The Ellerslie Flower Show drew 65,000 visitors this year in Auckland. The event, featuring New Zealand’s neon and unorthodox designs, has taken place in Auckland since its beginning in 1994. But the Garden City farther south, Christchurch, has snaked this popular event away, starting in 2008.

According to the New Zealand Herald, Auckland City Council’s chose to “bow out of a rescue package.” According to the paper, the city’s finance committee “rejected officers’ advice to contribute $50,000 over each of the next three years ... to keep the show at the regional council’s Botanic Gardens in Manukau.”

We always suspect the heavily-compounded-sounding claims of what such events contribute to local economies. But if the paper’s right, that Ellerslie brought $12 million to the region, it seems the city’s finance committee slipped up and lost Auckland a good thing. TVNZ, reporting on the switch, noted that Ellerslie visitors tends to be well-heeled and fat-pocketed. “Twenty per cent of the people coming here are from out of Auckland,” said a member of Auckland’s Chamber of Commerce. “They come here, stay in good hotels, go to good restaurants and spend money. These are the sorts of people that we want to come.”

Well, so long as the show’s moving, we can’t think of a more congenial place than Christchurch, with its two-legged blooms and floral aisles. Congrats, Garden City, for adding another blossom to your crown.

Posted by Julie on 11/19 at 10:20 PM
Gardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsTravelPermalink

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kigo & the Frenzy for a Sunflower Freebie

The festival of late-blooming sunflowers draws locust-like visitors to Tosa, Japan.


Sunflowers in Hokkaido, Japan

Photo: teck3939

Japanese culture is famous for how it relishes the emerging, ripening and passing seasons. The ritual viewing of sakura (cherry blossoms) each spring inspires those of us on other continents to stop, look, and apprehend the living world. But as summer follows spring and turns to autumn, there are many other events to witness. Peach blossom time, lotus season…and harbinger of the new year, the flowering plum.

Running through Japanese literature are familiar seasonal images. Called Kigo—these motifs situate writer and reader at a precise time of the year. Here’s one little concordance of kigo ~ seasonal words and phrases. They’re presented in sets that include human routines, heavenly bodies, animals, and of course plants and flowers. Not so surprisingly, those of us in other parts of the world, knowing no Japanese, will recognize the seasons of each image, too… colt, firefly, goose, oyster.

Or how about these? ...Dandelion, lily, apple, narcissus.  If phenology is the scientific observance of earthly cycles, kigo is the cultural equivalent.

In general, Japanese culture favors appreciating each activity, each flower in its due time, but there are exceptions. One beloved out-of-season bloom is the sunflower of Southern Japan. Himawari (sunflower) is, of course, normally associated with late summer across most of the islands and in the tradition of Kigo, too, but several regions of the south have managed to grow huge displays of sunflowers in autumn, drawing thousands of visitors. From what we’ve been able to learn, this tradition may be relatively new. One source refers to “Sunflowers grown with the distortion method” on view from mid-September to early October at the Asahigaoka Observatory in Memambetsu.

A Japanese airline touts, “Hokuryu prides itself on having the latest sunflowers field in Japan, you may visit Himawari-no-sato at Hakuryu, Chiebun garden at Nayoro, (and)  Mexican Sunflowers also can be seen at Shika Park at Oiwake.” It seems that autumn himawari is both a horticultural feat and a tourist attraction.

In Tosa, the excitement apparently boiled over when the local late-sunflower festival also invited visitors to take away the blooms for free. Did they ever! A field of 800,000 plants was stripped bare in three days.” The annual Izumaoki no Hana Hana Festa flower festival began October 28 and by November 1, the three blooming hectares were bare.

imageSunflowers field in Tosa, three days after the festival began

Photo: Mainichi

Toshiki Kawasawa, who chaired the event, said that next year “we’ll double the space and number of flowers that are grown, set aside an area where flowers won’t be allowed to be taken and limit each visitor to taking home no more than 10 plants to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”

Nothing like “free” to set off human grabbiness. We’re reminded of Ratso Rizzo in the movie Midnight Cowboy. Living and bumming on the New York City streets, he’s handed a flier and invited to a hispter party. He enters the apartment, looks around, bellies up to the refreshment table and begins packing sandwiches into his overcoat.

“Why are you stealing food?” asks the stoned-out hostess. “You know, it’s free. You don’t have to steal it.”

Ratso: “Well, if it’s free, then I ain’t stealin’.”

Plowing, lighting fireworks, bundling straw and cooking porridge—we know which seasons they belong to, but what about taking all you can get? Is this autumnal, a human version of squirreling away, or a year-round activity?

Posted by Julie on 11/17 at 03:52 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietySecular CustomsTravelPermalink

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Yellow Rose for Marianne Moore

Superioress of American modernism, Marianne Moore (b. November 15, 1887) challenged the Language of Flowers.

imageMarianne Moore, 1952

Photo: Univ. of Pennsylvania

Marianne Moore, born in Missouri, settled in New York City with her mother at an exciting time, the 1920s. She worked at the city’s public library and became literary editor of the Dial, a hub of America’s literary avant-garde, publishing Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens….

The mirror of Victorianism had shattered—and 19th century Europe’s cultural conventions, cracked, began to glimmer with distortions peculiar and new.  In poetry, the old lines broke off and chunky stanzas bent into strange polyhedrons. Mythology with its winged sandals and all those Pre-Raphaelite women wearing drapery began to look rather silly under bombs, a war in the trenches.

In 1915, Marianne Moore published a poem in Egoist: 

If yellow betokens infidelity

  I am an infidel.

    I could not plant white roses on a hill

    Because books said buff petals boded ill

  White promised well….

Moore made her poem (later entitled “Injudicious Gardening”) after reading the love letters of poets Robert and Elizabeth Barret Browning. In their correspondence, Elizabeth recalls that her suitor’s first flowers to her were yellow roses; after checking in The Language of Flowers, a popular source in Victorian England that allegedly decoded the secret meanings of flowers, she chides Robert for selecting a bloom that signifies “infidelity.” He answers her, saying he’s just planted a dozen white rose trees “to take away the yellow-rose approach.”

The Language of Flowers was just the sort of tripe that the Modernists would chop to the ground. Symbols? Cymbals! Can’t a yellow rose be a yellow rose, completely? (From the perspective of 2007, Moore’s own language may seem stilted, tentative, arcane, but that’s another mirror…)

In the spring of 1938, ee cummings gave his painting of a yellow rose to Moore. She wrote to him April 12, “After studying this very noble rose,—the turquoise under-leaf and touch of red reflected back even to the petals, I can surmise why botanical gardens and over-flowered shops do not abound in yellow roses. Yet they might, and still lack this one.”


Gloire de Dijon

Photo: Poldiri

For Moore, all yellow roses didn’t mean anything; it was each yellow rose that warranted precise consideration—“study.” Her contemporary William Carlos Williams wrote that Moore could see “the vastness of the particular”—in a rose, in a gift, in a creative effort. She went on to thank cummings, “I try not to think of your loss in the fact of my having the painting. We say what a man has done, he can do again, but can he? An affect is got once. But another awaits him.”

We tried unsuccessfully to find a reproduction of cummings’s painting. But if you’re in Philadelphia, you can see it for yourself at the Rosenbach Museum. There, Moore’s Greenwich Village living room has been exactly recreated, with the yellow rose on the wall.

Posted by Julie on 11/15 at 11:49 AM
Art & MediaPermalink

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Apple Day

John Levett tastes tastes, names names. Old varieties like Ribston Pippin recall when the city and the country were more clearly connected.  They lead forward, too, in the movement to save England’s allotments.


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Some years ago BBC Radio 5 ran a Doris Day in celebration of Dorises everywhere. They even managed to get a phone link to the iconic pre-feminist post-ironic Doris of Doris & Rock fame. Doris Day (we’re back to the ‘day’ now) was, of course, a take on the variety of ‘days’ that any feeling-neglected-getting-no-attention-need-awareness cell announces to a no-notice-taken-shout-louder public.

It’s often seriously worthy groups dealing with frequently-unmentionable-and-I’d-rather-you-didn’t inner and outer bodily bits that feel left out of the giving & taking joys of such as Christmas, Easter, Halloween, the essential remembrances of Armistice Day and the vapid creations of The-Day-Diana-Died banality. Then come varieties of tree huggers, save-the stoaters, wear-a-kilt-for healthers, stop-nail-biting-in-under-fivers; to name none that I’ve heard of but am convinced they’ve had a day to themselves.

Apple Day is one such day—made up by old apple growers of old apples and confined, as far as I can tell, to Cambridge. It seems it’s been going for eleven years, attracts queues, sells out its stock of everything apple-related (ciders, juices, toddies, pies, cakes, jams, chutneys, honeys hived in apple orchards), identifies your apples, gives apple history lectures, warns of pests and sells you forty varieties of eaters and cookers. And (inevitably & predictably) there are ‘apple art activities’ for families (kids can’t go anywhere these days without having to draw something; what happened to clambering over stuff and carving your name on it?)


It’s housed (or should that be ‘tented’?) at the Cambridge Botanic Garden & sponsored (essential to get global monopoly capitalism behind you these days) by Waitrose. Actually I can understand Waitrose’s participation in this. I haven’t checked out yet how many of these varieties the up-market retailers stock themselves but I’d guess they do a few; here in Cambridge I’m convinced Waitrose match your food to your style of clothing (“We have a very nice cut of Aberdeen steak, madam. It matches your autumnal twin-piece perfectly. Our veal goes with the ear-rings too.”)

A friend phoned me up & asked “Wanna go?” so we did. Autumn this year has been stunning. It seems it has something to do with the washed-out Summer and the extraordinary creation of sugars in the trees, which is no consolation to the flood sufferers but it does make the best out of Cambridge. Sunday was cloudless, the Garden was only a walk away but friend has convertible so we drove and sat in traffic and gas-guzzled. (“Heat that planet up and we can have our very own Cambridge Pineapple Day for the grandkids,” I say.)

imageThe first thing that struck me was the queues outside the tasting tents. Vast! Is queuing an Anglo-Saxon thing? I can remember queuing to get into a glass foundry on the island of Majorca once when a bus load of Italians fell out the bus and trooped in disorderly non-file straight through into the workshop. Quelle horreur! Bounders ought to be shackled!

So, Italian style, we walked to the exit and started there. It was like being a kid again in a sweetshop. Truth to tell, I’ve never been a great apple fan. When I was growing up there was an orchard (bombed but trees still standing) at the top of our plot; great for cricket, camping and playing at failing to hang ourselves (I kid you not!) And pigging out on apples. I went over to bananas which, being just after the last war, still had rarity value. Gradually apples went out of my life, supermarkets came in, taste never came back.

Apple Day changed that. If I’d ever remembered, I’d forgotten what an apple could taste like. I tasted all forty & went back (that would be ‘backwards’ having come in through the exit) to check the taste again. Then bought some. I went for the names knowing that the variety wouldn’t disappoint. Here’re some: Zabergäu Reinette (Germany 1885), Orleans Reinette (France 1776), Ribston Pippin (UK 1707), Rosemary Russet (UK 1831), Crispin (Japan 1930), Belle de BosKoop (Netherlands 1856).

imageEven the crosses sound wonderful: Charles Ross (Cox’s Orange Pippin x Peasgood Nonsuch), Gloster (Richared Delicious x Weisser Winterglockenapf). Then the cookers: Lane’s Prince Albert (1841 Russet Nonpareil x Dumelow’s Seedling), Ontario (1820 Wagener x Northern Spy), Striped Beefing (1794 from Lakenham in Norfolk).

What took me so much was that each variety had a history; came from a place, had a birthday, knew its mother and father, appeared at some time in a nurseryman’s catalogue. Here’s Ribston Pippin raised from a pip brought from Rouen to Ribston in Yorkshire in 1707. I can appreciate that, being a rose grower. I like to know where my roses were raised, something about the rose grower, which crosses brought forth seed, which unlikely parents worked the trick. If Jack Harkness hadn’t done his apprenticeship at J. Burrell & Co. just outside Cambridge about 1930 and learnt hybridizing from Edward Doncaster, I’d never have had Doncasterii in my garden; it’s placing it in history that matters.

This next paragraph is pretty predictable but I’ll do it anyway. I can walk into Asda and pick up a (plastic) bag of Cox’s Orange for a quid; plastic bag because Cox’s would never grow uniformly to fit into a uniform. Golden Delicious do; so they’re beloved of supermarkets. Braeburn fit the same moulded nests. Cox’s have blemishes. GD’s don’t. Cox’s don’t taste quite the same this month as they did last. GD’s do. There was a tale told some time ago that the only country that eats Golden Delicious by the truck load is the UK; stacked up port-side in Calais waiting for the day trippers. I despair. Same goes for tomatoes, potatoes, onions and shallots, pretty much any veg—no acknowledged begetter.

My mother ran a small grocer’s shop when I was growing up and everything had a name—potatoes were King Edwards, tomatoes were Cheshunt Tangellas, onions were Bedfordshire Champions. And from the name you knew when they’d been dug, when picked, when planted and the name of the farm, the name of the nursery, was on the sack, on the box and, as likely as not, they were local. Even living in the city there was some country connection. London’s East End families taking two weeks each year hop-picking in Kent most easily comes to mind (read Orwell’s ‘A Clergyman’s Daughter’) and, living in South London in the mid ‘60s, there was still spending money to be got from fruit picking on the Weald.

imageAllotments are coming back into fashion. There was a danger some decade or more ago that town and city plots were likely to be swallowed by residential development so neglected and abandoned had many of them become. The rise of the organic food trade, the fuss over GM technology, the blandness of supermarket produce, the downturn of taste in readily available fruit and veg & the recognition that a valuable public resource was likely to be lost for ever from our culture translated into a (mostly middle class but not to be deprecated for that!) upsurge in interest & uptake of rented municipal plots.

I can remember renting two plots in the early ‘70s for about £5 each and got seeds and sets from the local allotment association at cost. I also got community. Even then, when Tesco was only at the early stages of mustering its troops, there was something radical about growing your own stuff and that mindset is within the current movement back to allotments. They arose out of the Enclosure and Commons Acts of the Nineteenth Century and the subsequent loss of working class cultivation land (how else to drive them into the factories?) There was a high of a million and a half plots during the last war down to a quarter million by the millennium. The news that the 2012 Olympics would bulldoze some local communal land holdings brought the allotment issue back to the fore. We know what we can lose here.

The average cost of an allotment (250 square metres…think two and a half lanes of a 100m track) in Cambridge is £20 a year. Then think variety, taste, companionship, digestion, exercise, wildlife, conversation, sharing, history, recipes, snacks, soups, roasts, seed catalogues, harvest, summer, timelessness, early morning, sunset, sandwiches, chutney, an apple tree.

It’s not only fruit and veg. I used to grow sweet peas on the plots I had thirty years ago from seed I got every September from Bolton’s near Haverhill in Essex. Twenty varieties each year. Bolton’s have long gone but there are plenty of nurseries who keep the old varieties in their lists. Delphiniums grew there too; sow-‘em-and-see varieties from the Delphinium Society (whose seed list came this week).

It’s something that passed out of my life and high time that it passed back in. I’ve just glanced at Chiltern Seeds’ catalogue—twenty-eight varieties of bean, twenty-three basil, huauzontle and jicama, couve tronchuda, kiwano, miner’s lettuce, scorzonera, vegetable spaghetti. Get some!

Posted by Julie on 11/11 at 10:25 PM
CookingCulture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink
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