Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Saturday, February 16, 2008

No Movie for Real Men, or Women

We offer a still with flowers from a movie you can miss and still be cool.


Josh Brolin gets a respite and flowers between killings

Image: No Country for Old Men

Before it arrived in Austin, the Coen Brothers’ film No Country for Old Men was taking shape as a pop culture necessity. Must see… Best of…etc. To miss it would leave you somewhere between never having heard of Bob Dylan and failing to get the polio vaccine: in that wasteland a.k.a. No Country for Cool People.

Still, we refrained, until several of our most trusted movie buff friends highly recommended the flick, too. There would be No Uncool Country for us, damnit! Today we feel suckered, and worse than that, completely confused. What is praise-worthy here? The movie is an expensive horror flick. There are a lot of grim faced men with stubble. There’s a villain with a Prince Valiant hairdo. Mainly, though, there is non stop killing. Strangulation with handcuffs. Thunks in the forehead from an air-donker. A car crash. A car on fire. Spray from a big gun with a bean can (?) on the end. Pow-pow from a revolver taken off a corpse. There are two dead pit bulls (one with flies). There are many dead “Mexicans” in and around motel rooms on the Texas border. There’s a girl with bad grammar killed in her bedroom right after her mother’s funeral. There is a fat red haired man executed at his desk in a high rise building and at least four Scots-Irish looking guys with weak chins who are shot to death, one as he offers to jump the bad man’s car (aw! that’s too mean!).

With all the killings there also gets to be lots of blood—on the broken glass of a shot-out truck window, trickling across a carpet, in a bathtub, soaking through several snap button cowboy shirts, dripping from a deer in flight,  even poured out of a cowboy boot. Uh-oh, we should have said “Spoiler alert!” We would hate to have ruined that scene where the cowboy boot gets tipped over and fake blood pours out (We understand the Coens’ exported the stuff from England, since your ordinary old U.S. manufactured fake blood will not do—What a pisser to live in No Country for Decent Fake Blood!).

We hope we’ve provided enough details so that all our readers can skip the movie but not look uncool. If the subject comes up, here are some comments to make with confidence.

“This is the Coen Brothers’ best film since Hudsucker Proxy.”

“Javier Bardem was superb, so much more virile than Hannibal Lecter or Hillary Clinton. Hah-hah!”

“The Woody Harrelson role was a bit redundant, didn’t you think?”

“All the little border towns were so evocative.”

“No. I did not think Tommy Lee Jones bore the slightest resemblance to Barney Fife!”

That should do you…. In the meantime we’re going to be reading up on nihilism, unless we can find something better to do, like laundry.

For those of you who still may be tempted to see the movie, we offer this great philosophical howler from near the end of the film. Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) goes to visit his poor old uncle in a ratty trailer. The old guy is destitute and confined to a wheelchair, has a weekold pot of coffee on the stove and is covered with stray cats. So what does his nephew do? He talks about himself of course! He complains about the sorry state of the world, says he’s “outmatched” by the bad guys, and then stares out the window.

Sheriff Bell: “I always thought when I got older God would sort of come into my life in some way.  He didn’t.  I don’t blame him.  If I was him I’d have the same opinion about me that he does.”


Scratch a macho nihilist (or take his fake-bloody boots off) and you’re left with grandiosity, self-pity, and wet socks. If you won’t getcha own bean-can gun, Sheriff, and go find that bad guy with the Prince Valiant hairdo, can you at least make your old uncle a fresh pot of coffee? 



Posted by Julie on 02/16 at 02:50 PM
Art & MediaPermalink

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sheep, Sex, Shipping: Valentine’s ‘08

Consumer frenzy, love policing, and labor rights hug the headlines February 14th.


A shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand, sets the mood for sweethearts

Photo: Chaiwat Subprasom, for Reuters

Hallmark holiday? We prefer to think of Valentine’s as comic, an invitation to lighten up on everybody and see the redbud on bare February branches.

Here’s some floral news confetti.

NEW ZEALAND: Tessa Laird writes that a florist in Wellington is boycotting red roses this Valentine’s Day. Jeanie McCafferty, owner of Next Stop Earth, contends that demand for red roses in February drives prices six times higher than normal—or even tolerable. On an average day in Wellington, a dozen red roses sells for about $10, but with demand so high at Valentine’s, they go for about $65. “You can get a fantastic bunch of flowers from us for that price,” McCafferty says. McCafferty also refuses to deliver flowers to workplaces on Valentines “as it put pressure on her staff and couriers.” She recommends that everybody postpone their flower-buying till March.

Tessa’s reaction: “I like it!” But Tessa, Jeanie, we don’t understand. Without excess, without irrationality, without “stress,” where’s the magic juju? We and hundreds of frantic florists will be interested to hear how Next Stop Earth fares.


At Maridadi flower company in Naivasha, Kenya, a worker loads red

roses from a greenhouse, February 9

Photo: Simon Maina, for AFP

KENYA: Widespread violence after national elections here disrupted flower production—and a whole lot more. In Naivasha, where most of the Kenya’s flower farms are concentrated, homes were burned and people were massacred last month. The “flower farms were relatively untouched but no one showed up to pick the roses and hypericum at Wildfire Flowers the next day, or the day after.” Flower companies hustled to get back in operation, phoning workers to reassure them that the factories were safe, then sending “runners out to homes” to convince workers to return. It appears that long days of flower production and shipping resumed in time to meet heavy demand in Europe. Kenyan companies “have flown flowers to Nairobi or directly to Europe rather than risk impromptu roadblocks. Those that go by road move in daily truck convoys protected by police.”

imageSting Ray, be mine!

A special Valentine’s treat at Tokyo’s Sunshine Aquarium

Photo: Itsuo Inouye, for AP

JAPAN: The Sunshine International Aquarium celebrates Valentines all month long. Throughout February, there are special events with a Valentine’s theme.  At left, an aquarium staffer brings an underwater yummy to a ray on February 2 (maybe Ground Hog Day needs renaming).

COLOMBIA: Some 60% of cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from Colombia. Just two days ago, eleven religious leaders from the U.S. signed and sent a letter to the president of Dole Fresh Flowers, the largest flower company in Colombia, asking that the corporation permit workers to unionize.

“These workers report that they organized independent unions in order to address concerns about low wages, long hours, high productivity quotas, humiliation by management, and health problems associated with repetitive motion and over-exposure to pesticides,” reads in part the letter to David DeLorenzo, Dole Flowers’ CEO. The religious leaders, brought together by U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project, urge Dole to permit the latest union effort at its La Fragancia plantation to move forward (Dole closed its Splendor operation last year, where flower workers had been successful in building a union).

INDIA: Fundamentalists, both Hindu and Muslim, have tried to suppress romantic tokens at Valentine’s Day here, but in Bangalore, street vendors of roses have been doing brisk business. A flower seller in Raipur, though, says sales of flowers and cards, too, are just one quarter of what they were in 2007. Religious ethics aren’t to blame.  “Today’s youth, armed with a high disposable income, is buying the most expensive cards and gifts in addition to spending it on eating out,” said an executive of Archies, a card and gift company.

TAIWAN: A survey of women in Taipei, published this week, showed that 70% of Taiwanese men thought their lady friends wanted flowers for Valentine’s Day. However, 92%of the women surveyed “said they would prefer other gifts, such as chocolates or even a marriage proposal.” The research was conducted by an environmental group called Green Sense, which urges the public to buy potted plants instead of cut flowers (marriage offers being out of most people’s price range.)


Sheep nosh on red carnations, flowers that an Israeli embargo

prevented from leaving Gaza

Photo: Reuters

PALESTINE: Flower growers in Gaza have resorted to feeding their carnations to livestock. An Israeli “lockdown” in the area ruled by Hamas has meant that farmers have been stuck with their harvest, unable to export this Valentine’s season. “I apologise to the lovers on the day of their love because I cannot bring flowers to them,” Ziad Hejazi says. “Our flowers have become food for the sheep.”

THAILAND: A poll in Thailand revealed that 1 in four teenagers celebrates Valentine’s Day by having sex (without indicating what rates on an ordinary Thursday might be.) “Police plan to swoop on motels, malls and parks to ensure youths behave themselves on the ‘Day of Love.’”





Posted by Julie on 02/14 at 12:09 PM
Cut-Flower TradeFloristsReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Front Gardens in Winter (see ‘Attitude’)

On a walking tour of Cambridge, England, John Levett gets down to the bones—and girders and porta-potties—of his city’s gardens. Are we having fun yet?


Essay and photos by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Gimme the facts.

Spending on gardens peaked in Britain in 2003 at £5.9b. Last year it dropped to £5.15b. Hardly free-fall. Growing spending on so-called organic gardening (organic no doubt if using a wooden plough harnessed by sisal to live oxen) plus an ageing population is supposed to boost demand for garden products but the thirty-six hour work-or-die day is sending the tendency the other way. Whatever, there’s still a loada bucks in the thing.

A leading garden centre chain, Dobbies, has adopted the slogan: You don’t have to have a garden to come to Dobbies. Stating the obvious really, seeing that in most centres these days you can get double-latte with mango chutney and a brain transplant while you go through the car wash. Which must account for their annual ten million punters.

imageAnd prompts the question: What do they buy and what do they do with it when they get it home? I buy mulch; potting compost; fish, blood and bone; various highly toxic lethal non-organic potions; bulbs; seaweed extract (doing my bit to wipe out whatever essential link in the global food-chain that feeds on it plus the rest of the hierarchy up to the polar bear, panda, lemur, meerkat or photogenic must-save-it-if-it-means-sacrificing-my-own-children endangered species of choice). This combination seems to work. My garden has a brief flowering period from April to early Summer (I’ve never got the hang of the all-year-round-garden much promoted by the TV horticulturalist) then it’s heads down all the way to those Autumn leaves and Winter death. It’s much loved and has magic. And enhances greatly the next door carpet warehouse wall.

Which brings me to my front garden. I don’t have one.

Nor do most Brits. They have front works-in-progress.

imageThe face is the window to the soul (a vomit-inducing thought but a useful sentence-starter) and the front garden is the window to an attitude. There are places to be seen about England where a cottage stands in its own grounds, flowers sprout in curved beds, roses cluster around the front door and vegetables are harvested in seasonal routines; Adam the gardener tamps the tobacco into his corn-cob, adjusts his leather knee-pads, takes off his moleskin jacket and starts his double-digging of the beet bed; Doris, his wife, bakes, scrubs the front step and rushes to pull the plough when called for.

But not hereabouts. Cambridge is worth a trip for at least one apotheosis of late-Mediaeval ecclesiastical architecture but don’t detour for the front gardens. It’s a Sunday close to the fag-end of Winter and I have a theory. Gardens aren’t supposed to be doing much except await the next Great Leap Forward (although on a bike ride out Newmarket way last week I caught a verge of daffodils near Dullingham; must be the horse droppings). But looking at the framework of the garden without the distraction of stuff like flower heads, leaves, blossom gives out an idea of what gardening has been going on; what’s the gardener’s root theory of horticulture; does the praxis fit the theory; is the garden team marching in step or off down the pub. A nation holds its breath. I went for a walk.

imageFirst, the building site. Time was when you bought a house and lived in it. Quaint idea that. These days loft conversion, basement irrigation, kitchen and restaurant extension, patio colonisation are the minimum additions. The front garden is the builder’s yard. Ever heard of a tidy builder? Me neither. One satisfied to pee in the cement mixer. Not these sensitive days. Get that portaloo in there. And the builder’s billboard.

Then there’s the concrete solution. Airstrip One. Easy maintenance, doesn’t crowd the neighbours, no overhangs, won’t block the sunlight. Fit the family’s family of 4X4 tractors so essential for the badlands of East Anglia and the High Sierras of the Fens. Building complete. Car park sorted. Get a steel gate. Suits you, sir. Floodlights, porch lights, patio flares, intruder beacons, machine gun nest. Collect the set. You can never have too much security these days.

imageNext comes the Never-Quite-Got-Started. It’s close to the building site but more progressive. The cupboard that was going to the waste tip but never got that far; the caravan that would have been useful if we’d kept up the payments on the car; the bike I’ll get around to fixing a chain to; the useful-for-Summer-play-days inflatable pool; the fit-for-life trampoline. Promise I’ll sort it after Easter…we’ll get Dave’s pick-up…it’ll all go in there. Promise.

Then there’s the ooo-so-easy kooky idea from this month’s Editor’s Choice of the Garden Book of the Month Club. “Now here’s a great idea for that steel girder left over from last year’s loft-to-playroom conversion. Turn it on its side, plug the rivet holes, weld a plate at each end, give it a coat of non-toxic Ocean Blue and you’ve got a home for Koi and lilies Donald Judd style.

imageA perennial: Let’s grass it over. Easier said than grassed. Most let’s-shop-for-a-garden shoppers don’t suss out that grass (whatever version we’re talking about) is a plant, needs planting correctly, needs feeding, watering, raking, pruning continuously (otherwise known as mowing). Sun helps too. There’s a guy near me with a small front patch that’s peachy perfect. I asked him once if he’d been a green keeper or groundsman at a lawn tennis club. Nope, he just had the time for it. And the lesson is: short of time? Don’t grow grass. Don’t shop for an oak.

Opps. Missed one. Let’s stick chippings down. Remind ourselves of that holiday in a Welsh quarry.

imageMost front gardens in most modern developments are a joke; a vague nod back to between-the-wars when building land was still cheap, suburban half-timbereds were designed to acknowledge something baronial and a buffer zone between you and the road gave time to prime the muskets when Bolsheviks threatened.

But even the modest Victorian villa was given a space large enough to park a bike (just). In those that aren’t bike parks there’s some success. The single rambler that cascades; the serpentine wisteria that clings; a potted shrub; three potted shrubs. There’s the inevitable water feature with gunge; the beach pebble tessellation; the rock garden; the tufa garden; the sink garden; the sunk garden. And the pram garden.

Dusk came around five. I walked home along the Backs (cunningly so called because they run along the backs of the colleges) and took a short cut through Clare. I like its view of the Cam and it’s got the finest inner quad.

imageComing out onto Trinity Lane I noticed the best front of the walk. Cluttered as anything I’d seen, dressed for winter, tended, walled, gated, overlooked and locked, no space to swing a swinging thing but a gem.

There are probably more television progs about gardening on British tv than the rest of Europe combined. Gardener’s World is the longest running from the days of Percy Thrower in the ‘60s when cultivating a plot still leaned heavily on wartime Dig for Victory practice; through Geoffrey Smith in the ‘70s and his As-Tested-On-Vietnam potions for greenhouse fumigation and soil disinfecting; the wonderfully appropriate Clay Jones; the ‘80s and ‘90s and the emergence of the ‘celebrity’ gardener and his (always a ‘his’) sidekick (think John Steed and Emma Peel…never a Cagney and a Lacey). These days everything’s sponsored by, recommended by, as featured in, buy the book of the series, buy the seeds featured in the series, quality loam as scraped from the boots of…

imageSomething gets lost in all this. What I didn’t do (have never done) is ask the front-gardeners: Do you enjoy your gardening? I see so much effort, so much expense for so little effect. That’s OK as long as there’s fun in the thing. Some sort of mentally sitting down in the garden, stopping one’s outer life, not bothering with the plan, creating one’s version of Glastonbury Tor on a spring morning (bad example that..too full of Morris Dancers and would-be Merlins), maybe Walden (as was…without the hot dog franchise as is), maybe a Miss Jekyll and Mr Lutyens cast-off (did they ever?).

Forget all that. What I’m getting at is…I get an impression that gardening, front or back, is now in the league of home decorating along with the fitted kitchen, the bath suite, the games room, the home entertainment centre. Buy the garden. Select a style, choose a price range, decide on a colour scheme, indicate optional extras, specify if fitting is required. Too much quick fix and instant solutions; gardens for this age. It’d be nice to think that gardens could be different; away from the rest of life. But, then again, in the majority world they are. Aspirations are often the same but the rhythms are different, resources scarcer, priorities on a different page, patience a part of being. Or am I just flaffing about nothing?

imageJust remembered. Every July, Cambridge hosts four weekends of open studios when artists open-up their homes & work rooms to anyone who’d like to pop in. Their gardens get opened too. Do artists let go in the garden? Or are they just a bunch of control freaks like Monet? Is Donald Judd’s girder in a west Texas desert more significant than the bloke’s round the corner?

Addendum Again…remembered Bill Laws’ book on Artists’ Gardens and Artists in Their Gardens  by Easton, Laskin and Mandell.

Posted by Julie on 02/12 at 11:15 AM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePermalink

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Miami’s Big ‘Oh’:  A World of Orchids

Orchid-fans, you shoulda been there, but if you weren’t, Greg Allikas offers a fine show-and-tell of the 19th World Orchid Conference in Miami. Thank you, Greg!


Lc. Mona Pink ‘Hiromi,’ one star of the recent world orchid show in Miami, Florida

Photo: Greg Allikas

By Greg Allikas

True orchid devotees try to attend at least one World Orchid Conference in their lifetimes. A very few have attended most or all of them! Since 1954 these events—bringing together the global human-orchid community—have taken place in a different country every three years. The last one was held in Dijon, France, and the next will be in Singapore. But this year it was Miami, Florida’s turn, a dazzling orchid spectacular for South Floridians and their guests from around the world.

In five days, January 23-27, the 19th World Orchid Conference delighted and educated thousands of visitors. Two of South Florida’s most vital orchid societies—The South Florida Orchid Society of Miami, and the Fort Lauderdale Orchid Society—co-hosted the event. (Robert Fuchs, the current WOC president, and Ken Kone served as co-chairs). Both groups have held their own annual orchid shows, which are among the finest and largest in the U.S. so there was an ample pool of experienced talent to draw on for this major undertaking. Volunteers from all of South Florida and many local orchid societies pitched in with crews before and during the event.

Walking through the doors, visitors were face to face with the mountainous Grand Champion exhibit by R.F Orchids of Homestead, Florida.  This wall of flowering orchid plants featured purple Vanda hybrids on one side and white Phalaenopsis on the other. Its antique props a 150-year old cart at front and a Burmese offering temple at back, featured special orchids.


Reserve Champion Exhibit by Kruss-Smith Orchids, Apopka, Florida

Photo: Greg Allikas

The Reserve Champion exhibit was created by Krull-Smith Orchids of Apopka, Florida. This 1000 sq. ft. Japanese-inspired garden featured a Phalaenopsis “cherry tree” and bridge over a “river” of scarlet Phragmipedium besseae flowers. Frank Smith’s superb culture of slipper orchids was evident throughout the exhibit and won the Grand Champion plant award for Paphiopedilum Michael Koopowitz ‘Krull-Smith’ AM/AOS.

Directly behind Krull-Smith was Singapore Botanic Gardens’ stunning exhibit. Created mostly with cut flowers, a silk-draped tea house served as a focal point. The exhibit from South Africa featured plants that were all Disa species or hybrids—a beautiful genus of scarlet, pink or yellow flowers not often seen in the U.S.  Their culture is difficult and requires constant moisture supplied by cool water. A beautiful and inspiring exhibit of diverse soecies was presented by Andy’s Orchids from California, Many exhibits provided creative ideas for displaying orchids, but overall, the flowers were the stars here!

The logistics of shipping orchid plants and flowers halfway across the world for five days of display can be complicated. Take, for example, the participants from Ecuador. Their exhibit was beautifully conceived: against 20’ tall photographic banners of the country’s two main habitats, the orchid plants were to be set in small trees and mossy banks. But because of paperwork difficulties getting the plants out of Ecuador, the orchids sat in boxes for two extra days in less than ideal conditions. When they arrived in Miami, more than half of the orchid flowers had faded. Dispirited but undaunted, the group salvaged what they could and borrowed unused plants from other exhibitors. They did what they came to do…create a beautiful orchid exhibit!



Michael Koopowitz, Grand Champion Orchid Plant, 19th WOC

Photo: Greg Allikas

A World Orchid Conference offers the best opportunities for buying new and unusual orchid plants, and the 19th WOC was no exception. Whether you were just shopping for a few plants to decorate your home or for a recently discovered species from distant jungles, you could probably find them at the 19th World Orchid Conference. Fabric wares, crystal, jewelry, glasswork, photography, painting and arts & crafts could be purchased in the second level mart area, where the art and photography contests were also on display.

Billed as the largest orchid show in the U.S., rivaled only by shows in Tokyo and Taiwan, the Miami event featured over 100 exhibits of orchids and orchid-related arts, crafts and supplies. This was the first time a WOC had been held in the U.S. since the 11th show—in 1984, also in Miami.  The attraction for locals was mainly the orchid show itself, but many orchidists, some who traveled across the globe, came for the educational opportunities. Four days of concurrent lectures offered topics to appeal to the scientist or the casual orchid hobbyist. These triennial events provide a forum for the leading experts and orchid researchers to exchange information and compare notes. For some of them, the show itself is just a venue to meet and network.

From all who attended the 19th World Orchid Conference, there were few complaints, many comments of high praise, and too many special moments to mention. (The official 19th WOC Proceedings, available this summer, will include photos of the trophy and medal winners, social events including the Tropical Night Gala, Preview Party and show, and abstracts of all the presented lectures. The proceedings can be ordered online at the 19th WOC website.)  As beautiful and compelling as our favorite flowers can be, what makes the worldwide orchid community so satisfying is the people. Make plans to attend the 20th World Orchid Conference in Singapore in 2011 and experience the beauty of orchids and the warmth of our gracious hosts!

Posted by Julie on 02/10 at 02:28 PM
Art & MediaCut-Flower TradeGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsTravelPermalink
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