Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Faith, Realism, Enterprise: All in a Mustard Seed

A talisman from the 1960s reaches back two centuries and forward, to this very spring in California.


Sunset on mustard-covered hills, Tepusquet Canyon, California

Photo: Caroline Joyes Woods

“It is so completely covering our hills right now,” writes Caroline Joyes Woods, “that you can smell its honey-with-a-dash-of-fetid (the fetid being just a tiny after-smell) fragrance in the morning when you first come out and the air is still and the moisture still in the air…nice!”

“It” is mustard, and “our hills” are Tepusquet Canyon, near Santa Maria, California, where Caroline and her husband have been ranching for many years. “Nice” and a lot more than that is Caroline herself, a childhood friend, apple tree climber, and moss garden maker.

We contacted her this spring having dimly remembered a human flower project from back in the early 1960s. When we were still in elementary school, Caroline used to wear around her neck a silver chain and glass amulet with a mustard seed encased inside. We went treasure hunting and were thrilled to find one several weeks ago at Uncommon Objects here in Austin. But aside from, now, being souvenirs of childhood, what were these charms all about?

Caroline reminded us that Christ told his disciples “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed-nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matthew 17:20) In several of the gospels Jesus also compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed “which a man took, and sowed in his field:
 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”  (Matthew 13:31-2)


Mustard seed “Remembrancer” and prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa)

Photo: Human Flower Project

Someone turned the parable into a trinket that caught on. A few clicks through ebay (and the trip to Uncommon Objects, too) proved how popular these items once were—though somehow we can’t imagine preteens of today much going for them. It turns out they were manufactured by the Flint Company, a mom and pop operation in Kansas City.  In Richard Weiss’s book The American Myth of Success, we learn about Maurice and Alice Flint, a Missouri couple who had fallen on hard times after World War II. They consulted Norman Vincent Peale, a leading pop-religious figure of the time (Dr. Phil, Billy Graham, and Donald Trump rolled into one).

Weiss writes that it was Peale “who advised them to repeat the following New Testament injunction whenever they felt despondent: ‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed…nothing shall be impossible unto you.’ Flint asked his wife for a mustard seed to carry as a reminder, and she obliged with one from the family pickle jar. One day, feeling low, he reached into his pocket for the seed, but it was gone.” He then struck on the idea of capturing a mustard seed in a protective container and started making costume jewelry. “The Remembrancer,” as he dubbed it, “was advertised a ‘Symbol of faith – a genuine mustard seed enclosed in sparkling glass, makes a bracelet with real meaning.’”

imageRemembrancer pin and cards from the Flint Co.

Photo: Collectible Jewels

The Flints opened a charm factory and did very well, it appears; according to Peale, “These articles sold like hot cakes.”) “The Remembrancer” was being marketed at least by 1951, and Caroline was wearing hers in 1964. A good streak.

The mustard seed also makes an appearance in Buddhist legend, and, as you might guess, conveys a very different message.

A woman named Kisa Gotami was wandering in grief, after the death of her only child. “Her sorrow was so great that many thought she had already lost her mind.” Pleading for help, she went to the Buddha, who promised to bring her son back to life—if she could gather “white mustard seeds from a family where no-one had died. She desperately went from house to house, but to her disappointment, every house had someone who had died. Finally the realization struck her that there is no house free from death.” She was renewed, and comforted, and continued on the path toward enlightenment. (We don’t know if the Remembrancer ever caught on among Buddhists.)

Are these the same story or contradictory stories? Can “When you wish upon a star” be the same as “Wake up and smell the mustard”? We’re not sure, but Caroline seems to have found faith and truth in bloom together—“honey-with-a-dash-of-fetid.” Nice going, old friend!

Posted by Julie on 04/30 at 09:25 PM
Culture & SocietyReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Tall Order—Large Stature Trees

What lengths would you go to for shade, good drainage, and year ‘round beauty? Urban arborist Georgia Silvera Seamans explains the benefits of tall trees and ways to plant these giants successfully in cities. Thank you, Georgia.


Cycle path, Lincoln Parkway, Buffalo

Source: Heartland

By Georgia Silvera Seamans

The “Right Tree in the Right Place” (RTRP) concept encourages municipalities, NGOs, and homeowners to plant trees shorter than 25 feet under overhead utility lines. The crowns of large stature trees, encroaching on wires, can cause a number of problems: downed branches that interrupt utility service, tree trimmers’ perilous contact with live wires, and the conventional pruning of tree crowns into U-shapes (these tend to be structurally unsound and are nearly always unattractive).

Consequently, following RTRP along roads and in neighborhoods with overhead wires yields a short canopy. Redbud, purpleleaf plum, crape myrtle, “flowering” cherry, crabapple, Japanese lilac, and trident and hedge maples, these small stature trees both look and function differently than do streetscapes of large trees like elm, London plane tree, sweet gum, tulip tree, ginkgo, oak, and linden.

Let’s consider some of those differences.

imageSetback trees on private property create sidewalk shade.  Berkeley, CA.

Photo: Georgia Silvera Seamans

The aesthetic contribution of short stature trees tends to be limited to their flowering season, while the arching canopy effect of larger stature trees is a year-round feature. Also, short canopies, while beneficial to wildlife, produce smaller ecosystem benefits.  (See “Street Trees: Let’s Think Outside the Wires.”  Short stature trees have tremendous habitat and food value.  Take urban birds.  They utilize different layers of the urban forest canopy. As Julie Zickefoose writes in Natural Gardening for Birds, short stature hawthorns provide berries, while larger stature ashes and locusts provide nesting.)

Here are other benefits provided by larger stature trees:

• They provide more shade for infrastructure like streets: “shade on the street segment with large-stature trees will reduce costs for repaving by $2,900 (58%) over the 30-year period compared to the unshaded street. Shade from the small-stature trees is projected to save only $829 (17%)” (From Why Shade Streets? by the Center for Urban Forest Research, 2006).

• In terms of air pollution, “the annual net reductions for pollutants range from 10.1 lbs for a 40-year-old large tree to 0.7 lbs for a 40-year-old small tree. And values range from $64 for a 40-year-old large tree to $1.62 for a 40-year-old small tree” (Center for Urban Forest Research, newsletter, January 2005).

To learn more, here are three good resources (al pdf files): the CUFR’s 2003 newsletter “The case for the large tree”; 2001 Factsheet #1 about the benefits of large front yard trees; and Dr. Greg McPherson’s 2003 article, “A benefit–cost analysis of ten street tree species in Modesto, California, U.S.,” published in the Journal of Arboriculture.

Another deficit of the Right Tree for the Right Place formulation is its ignorance of design factors.  Street trees are typically planted at the street edge of the sidewalk.  Wires are generally sited towards the edge of the sidewalk, too.  With this inevitable conflict for over space, streets with overhead wires are usually planted with short stature trees.  But, street trees could be planted on the building side of the sidewalk or in front yards (preferably through an easement so that the city has some oversight about removals).  There are actually several such “setback” programs in the U.S.  The City of Boston Parks Department sponsors one, (and is enabled to do so according to Massachusetts General Law).  Public trees can be planted on private property as long as they are within 15 feet of the public right of way.  EarthWorks Projects in Boston, MA, initiated the Setback Trees Project in 2007, self-described as planting “trees on private property for the common good.”

imageBumpout (note this bumpout is not connected to the sidewalk) – tree is just outside overhead wires.  Berkeley, CA

Photo: Georgia Silvera Seamans

There are other design possibilities.  Trees could be planted in bump-outs located beyond overhead wires, in traffic circles at neighborhood intersections, or in the center of neighborhood blocks (see photo below).  (Traffic calming is one co-benefit of planting trees in the center of the roadway or at an intersection.)

And overhead wires could be buried.  This is an expensive proposition; according to The Seattle Times, the cost to the city of burying utility wires for a local project was $350-$400 per linear foot.  In another Washington community, the cost of burying electric, phone, and cable wires was estimated at $2500 per foot.

However, tall urban street canopies provide considerable benefits long-term.  The conflict between large stature trees and overhead wires is not new.  In his fascinating book, Republic of Shade, about the American elm (Ulmus americana) in New England, Thomas J. Campanella describes anti-elm sentiments expressed in an 1853 article from the New York Times:

“Most American cities were in urgent need of a pruning.  Larger, ‘weedy’ species should be removed at once, (the Times writer) argued, and replaced with smaller trees ‘of a character that can be trained around the wires.’  Elms, very big and very weedy, must be sacrificed to appease the goddess of electricity.”

imageAppeasing the gods of electricity: large trees pruned into u’s under wires on Old Brownsboro Road, Louisville, KY

Photo: Human Flower Project

Campanella also notes that changes in road technology affected trees.  Street surfaces before 1890 did not restrict “the passage of water, nutrients, or oxygen to the roots of adjacent trees,” but asphalt and concrete paving “virtually sealed the surface of the street,” depriving trees of all three. 

Another dimension of “Right Tree in the Right Place”  is to select species according to the size of the growing area—most often the square foot of the sidewalk cutout or width of the tree lawn (the grass strip located within the sidewalk).  This is a very reasonable concept.  Healthy trees depend on adequate root systems, which requires sufficient area to grow.  Often, according to landscape architect and arborist James Urban, we look up at tree crowns and ignore what’s happening below ground.

Different cities have different standards.  In the City of Boston, the minimum tree well area is 24 square feet, often a 3x8 foot or 4x6 foot sidewalk cutout.  One East Bay, California city’s minimum standard is 2x2 feet or 4 square feet!  Generally speaking, a foot of root area supports an inch of trunk diameter.  Accordingly, at only four inches in diameter at breast height, a tree with a well area of 4 square feet has maximized the initial growing area for its root system.  This tree will seek additional space either within the sidewalk (made visible by buckling) or in someone’s front yard.

A small cutout clearly will restrict the size of the tree that can be planted initially.  For example, a 2x2 foot area cannot adequately accommodate a tree that is two inches in diameter whose root ball is two feet in diameter.  On average, for every diameter inch at planting, a tree needs a year to establish.  So, a two inch tree will take two years to establish.  Although, a 15-gallon tree (the size frequently planted in a 2x2 foot cutout) will establish faster, its aesthetic and functional presence is less significant than a larger diameter tree.

The 2x2 foot area is the minimum, so presumably a larger growing area will be provided if the sidewalk can accommodate it.  Although a 3x8 or 4x6 space is significantly larger, it can only support a 24-inch diameter tree within the original cutout.  Ideally, street trees would be given larger growing areas for their root systems.  However, if the sidewalk is space constrained (Americans with Disabilities law requires four feet of clearance for accessibility), what are the options? 

imageAnnie’s Oak, Berkeley, CA

Photo: Georgia Silvera Seamans

One option is to install structural soil beneath the sidewalk.  Structural soil is an engineered medium that supports root growth while simultaneously satisfying engineering load-bearing requirements.  The most well known structural soil recipe was developed by Cornell University’s Urban Horticulture Institute.  An older version of structural soil is sand-based, also known as Amsterdam structural soil.  The most significant difference is that CU soils can achieve a greater level of compaction (important for load bearing) and still sustain root systems than can the Amsterdam soil – 95% versus 85-90%.  The installation of structural soils could be undertaken as sidewalks are repaired, redone, or created.  Like the burying of overhead utility wires, this solution is costly, but again, the potential benefits to a city, its trees, streets and people are significant.

Posted by Julie on 04/25 at 11:11 PM
EcologyGardening & LandscapePoliticsSciencePermalink

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Geobotany: Rocking the Garden World

Nature first put flowers on stone pedestals, but gardeners of the Picturesque school followed, with painterly landscapes of their own. Well done, say the EarthScholars: But, please, give rocks equal time!


Trees, Fort Greene Park, 2004

by Kerry O’Neill

By James H. Wandersee and Renee M. Clary

EarthScholars™ Research Group

Unwittingly, people view landscapes through the lenses of their prior knowledge and experiences. They compare the new landscapes they visit with ones they already know.  Given that more than half of the world’s inhabitants now live in big cities, more and more people lack an extensive personal knowledge of nature. Nor have most people, urban or otherwise,  traveled to explore a variety of conserved natural ecosystems —experiences they could use in making comparisons and aesthetic decisions about the new landscapes they encounter.

There are many theories about how humans perceive landscapes. The Australian environmental scholar Andrew Lothian poses the question: Is landscape quality inherent in the landscape or in the eye of the beholder? He opts to defend the latter.

R.P. Taylor, writing in the journal Leonardo, recalls that, “In art school I was told that Monet’s water lilies calm the observer, while van Gogh’s sunflowers electrify. To what extent, however, do paintings [of landscapes] really affect the observer’s physical condition? The foundations of this question date back to 1890, when the connection between psychological states and physiological states was first considered.”

imageA famous African Savannah,

the Maasai Mara

Photo: Masai Mara

Judith Heerwagen, in her article on the Psychosocial Value of Space, notes: “Drawing on habitat selection theory, ecologist Gordon Orians argues that humans are psychologically adapted to and prefer landscape features that characterized the African savannah, the presumed site of human evolution….If the ‘savannah hypothesis’ is true, we would expect to find that humans intrinsically like and find pleasurable environments that contain key features of the savannah that were most likely to have aided our ancestors’ survival and well-being.”

Features of the savannah landscape include a fairly unobstructed “big sky” view, a high diversity of flowering plants, scattered clusters of trees with high canopies, swaths of open grassland, occasional rocky outcrops, multiple visual corridors, and topographic changes to enhance predator surveillance and long-distance escape movements.

Do humans really prefer these, or other, particular landscapes? History shows us that colonialists and emigrants sometimes attempted to transform their new landscapes of residence into replicas of those they had known. Presuming the superiority of “The Old Country,” they tried to mimic what they considered “civilized spaces”—importing plants, seeds, and even rocks from their landscapes of origin.

Just as people’s first maps showed their tribes or cities at the center of the world, it is common for us all to judge new landscapes by the rather xenophobic criteria of familiarity and congruence with our original cultural values and preferences.

In 18th century England, complex debates developed about the essence of beauty in the landscape—with followers of the ‘Sublime’ school inspired by wild, natural landscapes (simultaneously fascinating and startling), while those of the ‘Picturesque’ school wanted ‘painterly’ landscape views (human-designed to be blurred, disjointed, and soft composites of color and contour).

Followers of the latter were willing to have flowering plants moved from their traditional positions in borders or against walls, provided they were regrouped to form non-linear, painterly compositions (“painting with plants”). The eye of the landscape artist (painter), with its aesthetic understanding of nature and training in the principles of composition, was thought to be the best guide to good planting design.

imagePlant Hunter Joseph Dalton Hooker’s Rhododendrons of the Sikkim-Himalaya (1849-51)

Image: Garden Visit

The Picturesque school had a pronounced effect on landscape design. It both justified using foreign plants in British gardens and provided a system of compositional principles to harmonize the intermingling of exotic and native plants and natural objects. Instead of the plantings being natural of themselves, landscape designers were to use art to imitate rugged natural scenes in aesthetic ways.

In the second half of the nineteenth century the Picturesque Style was used, for example, in the making of woodland gardens. Landowners on the western shores of the British Isles installed rhododendron woods, arranged in “painterly compositions.” As can be seen from Hooker’s print (above), the art that inspired Paxton’s landscape (below), making effective use of jagged irregular lines of plant and rocks, represents the furthest possible conceptual distance from an artificial geometrical regularity. In contrast, fractal geometric patterns predominate—for both plants and rocks.


Landscape at England’s Birkenhead Park, Designed by Joseph Paxton

Photo: Garden Visit

Like Charles Darwin, Joseph Dalton Hooker saw the need to integrate botany and geology to understand nature. When he was only 5 years old, Joseph regularly attended his father’s botanical lectures at the University of Glasgow, and displayed a genuine interest in the subject. Because his parents thought Glasgow High School’s curriculum was too limited, he and his brother were withdrawn from formal schooling to be home-schooled. In those days, botany was still regarded as merely a branch of medicine, so like every other young Glaswegian botanist in his day, Hooker studied for his medical degree at the University of Glasgow. This education later proved to be quite expedient because, in 1839, Sir James Clark Ross, famous discoverer of the magnetic north pole as well as his father’s good friend, offered young Joseph the position of Assistant Surgeon on Clark’s expedition to the Antarctic, aboard the discovery ships Erebus and Terror.

This four-and-half-year voyage allowed Hooker to botanize in many lands and also to notice the natural relationships between botany and geology. At the Kerguelen Islands, where Captain Cook had managed to collect just 20 new species of plants, Joseph identified and collected over 150 different species, including flowering plants, 3 ferns, 35 mosses, and the rest lichens and seaweeds. This was no easy task, as the cold, harsh weather and rough terrain made collecting very challenging. Hooker wrote: “Many of my best little lichens were gathered by hammering out the tufts, or sitting on them till they thawed.” Joseph later became assistant director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, near London.

One result of the English affinity for Picturesque landscape design was an enthusiasm for rock gardens. A European rock garden, also known as an alpine garden, features extensive use of rocks or stones, along with plants native to rocky alpine or tundra environments. 


Alpine flowers on tundra along Trail Ridge road

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Photo: Q.T. Luong

In 1803, Europe’s first alpine garden was constructed at Belvedere Castle in Vienna. The best rock gardens were designed and built to look like natural outcrops of bedrock (e.g., limestone, sandstone). Stones were aligned to suggest a bedding plane and plants were often used to conceal the joints between the stones. This type of garden was especially popular in Victorian England as well.

The first rock garden of appreciable size to be constructed at an American botanic garden opened at Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1917. Today, some of the best alpine rock gardens may be viewed at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland; Le Jardin Botanique Alpin du Lautaret, Grenoble, France; Cambridge University Botanic Garden, Cambridge, England; Royal Horticultural Society Garden, Wisley, England; New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY; Devonian Botanic Garden, Devon, Alberta, Canada; Göteborg Botanical Garden, Gothenburg, Sweden; Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Vail, Colorado; Jardin Botanique de Montrèal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; and the Tromso Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden, Tromso, Norway.


A Picturesque rock garden at Chatsworth Manor, England

Photo: Michelle Anstett

Although the use of rocks as decorative and symbolic elements in gardens can be traced back to very early Chinese and Japanese gardens, rock gardens dedicated to growing alpine plants have a shorter history. During the age of the great plant explorers (basically, the 1800s) there was great interest in the exotic discoveries being brought back to England, and people wanted to grow these amazing new treasures successfully. Although others had previously written about growing alpine plants, it was actually Reginald Farrer who, with the 1919 publication of his two-volume book The English Rock Garden, rocked the gardening world for the first time. There was great interest in Farrer’s method and approach to creating large-scale, naturalistic settings for growing alpine plants.

(For more about the man credited with starting the rock gardening craze, read Nicola Shulman’s biography of Farrer).

imageAlpine Crevice Garden

Alpine Garden Society Center

Pershore, Worcestershire, England

Photo: Stone Garden

Because our own research group focuses on the integration of botanical and geological knowledge, we strongly recommend that public rock gardens interpret both the plants and the rocks that are present. The public trails we have designed always include geobotanical interpretation. As visitors tread the rock garden’s paths examining the alpine plants, we think it is helpful for the visitors to understand the geologic history of any garden site, to know what kind of rocks they are seeing and their influences on plant growth.

We appreciate, for example, University of Florence’s Botanical Garden exhibit that interprets the geobotany of the alpine plants of Italy’s Dolomite region via a simulated outcrop of limestone derived from the Dolomite Mountains themselves. Similarly, we think the rock garden at the Botanic Garden of Montreal is exemplary from a geobotanical perspective. It’s not only a rock garden, but also a mineralogical garden, with rocks and minerals drawn from all over Canada.

Finally, if you live in the US, be sure to experience the Denver Botanic Garden’s remote 1.5-mile Walter Pesman Trail through the alpine tundra on Mount Goliath, a mountain peak section of the Mount Evans area within the Arapaho National Forest (17 miles from Idaho Springs). Volunteer guides will interpret not only the plants but also the rocks that you see in this “nature-made” alpine rock garden, but only during the summertime days when the alpine flowers are in bloom, June 26th to August 7th. (Reservations are required: phone 720-865-3539). The Denver Botanic Garden within the city also has a fine rock garden, with thousands of different rockery plants collected by Panayoti Kelaidis—the godfather of American rock gardening.

We conclude with a passage from author Donna E. Schaper: “Building a quiet [sanctuary] of stones and plants, slowly and meditatively over time, is [a rock garden’s] true meaning. Process over product, journey over destination, forever a work in progress—rock is the best metaphor we have of everlastingness.”

Posted by Julie on 04/22 at 03:06 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeTravelPermalink

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Carmen: Red Hot, Yellow Acacias

The original bad girl, Bizet’s gypsy heroine, casts a floral spell, but why do opera productions always get her bewitching blossom wrong?

imageFrancesca Zambello as Carmen, Royal Opera House, 2008

Photo: Telegraph

Seeing the opera Carmen for the first time this past Friday, we met Amy Winehouse’s great-great grandmother.  The lady with churning hips and long black hair, on the loose while her boyfriend keeps winding up in jail, first came along 150 years ago. Georges Bizet was inspired to compose his opera after reading of this femme fatale in Prosper Merimee’s novella published in 1845. Look out!

‘’She was wearing a very short red skirt which revealed white silk stockings with more than one hole in them, and dainty red morocco leather shoes tied with flame-colored ribbons. She wore her mantilla lowered in order to show off her shoulders and a big bouquet of acacia at the opening of her blouse. She also had an acacia flower in the corner of her mouth, and she walked swaying her hips like a filly on a Cordova stud farm.”

—from Prosper Merimee’s Carmen

That flower, as opera buffs know, has its own role in the drama.

imageFranco Corelli as Don Jose, in jail,

in love with the wrong woman

(and holding the wrong flower)

Photo: Sandy’s Opera Gallery

A squadron of French soldiers, stationed in Sevilla, Spain, is killing time outside a cigarette factory. The working girls come out for a smoke break, and all the guys go apoplectic for the brash and gorgeous Carmen. She winks and sings, sidling up to a few of them. After teasing the whole regiment, she at last tosses her “acacia” flower to a standoffish sergeant, Don Jose, who tucks the blossom inside his uniform.

He’s a goner, of course. Carmen soon gets into a nasty girlfight (marvelously staged by Austin Lyric Opera, with many fistsful of convincing hair-pulling). The smitten Don Jose helps her escape arrest, and for his trouble gets thrown in prison.

In Act II, our hero is released and finds Carmen dancing on tabletops and flirting with a bullfighter in a bar on the edge of town. He prepares to tell her off – or worse—but reaching inside his coat, pulls the blossom out. (In last Friday performance, it was a pink fragile thing that shattered right on cue.) And so begins his aria.

La fleur que tu m’avais jetée,

Dans ma prison m’était restée.

Flétrie et séche, cette fleur

Gardait toujours sa douce odeur…

The flower that you tossed to me

Stayed with me in my prison.

This flower, withered and dry,

Never lost its sweet perfume.

As Don Jose clutches his flower and pledges his love, Carmen gazes off. For the first and only time in the drama, she seems concerned, maybe confused is more like it, confused by tenderness.

imageAcacia retinoides:

relative of Don Jose’s floral love charm

Photo: Floracyberia

Meanwhile, we ask, what is a red flower doing on stage? Acacia blooms are bright yellow!

From looking around, it seems a very common mistake by the props managers for this opera. Carmen’s temper and the Andalusian setting make red roses or carnations the obvious choice, that is to say, cliché.

But acacia, often called “mimosa” in southern France, has a lot more to offer here than mere faithfulness to Merimee’s story.

In the 19th Century, when both the fictional and operatic “Carmens” were born, several species of acacia were imported from Australia to Southern France and became hugely popular both as landscape plants and cut flowers. Hundreds were planted as ornamentals around the homes of wealthy English and Parisian vacationers, who escaped to the Cote d’Azur in winter. Happily the mimosas bloomed as early as December, a relief from all that gray.


A wreath of acacia in Provence, along the Mimosa Trail

Today’s travelers in Provence take the Mimosa Trail in February through Rayol Canadel, Ste. Maxime, and Tanneron (a major acacia growing center) to Cannes Mandelieu (Merimee’s old stomping grounds), and finally the perfume industry capitol of Grasse.

As well as scenting Don Jose’s uniform, acacia farnesiana is the major ingredient in many perfumes, among them Mimosa pour Moi, and L’Eau d’Azur. “Fragrances in which mimosa plays a vital part, but is not the main theme of the fragrance, include Farnesiana by Caron, Chanel Nº 5, Moment Suprême by Jean Patou, ... Paris by Yves St Laurent, Byzance by Rochas, Amarige by Givenchy as well as Summer by Kenzo.” One source describes the acacia scent as “sweet, heady, almondy.”

imagePlacido Domingo sings Don Jose’s aria in Carmen, with faux acacia blooms, in a 1978 production by the Vienna State Opera, filmed by Franco Zefferelli

If you’d like to hear what melted Carmen’s heart (temporarily), here are a few fine tenors singing “La Fleur que Tu M’Avais Jetee” (The Flower Song). Jussi Bjorling clutches a rose bud. Franco Tenelli fumbles something red. But, here is Placido Domingo in 1978, performing with the Vienna State Opera AND some round yellow flowers, acacia at last. Leave it to the Austrians to get the flowers right! Bravo.

Posted by Julie on 04/20 at 09:54 PM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapeTravelPermalink
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