Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Garden Chocolates: Get a Rush

If composting doesn’t get you off, how about chocolate-scented flowers? Have a botanical bonbon, or two, or three….


Chocolate orchid (Encyclia phoenicea)

Photo: FlowersWeb

Our heart goes out to addicts, the needle freaks and hot-wheels collectors. There’s something admirable about dedication to anything, we think, whether it’s curing cancer or opening the next beer.  With obsessions aplenty of our own, however, we’re always grateful to realize there are a few psychic tigers that haven’t sunk their claws into us…yet.

Chocolate, for instance. In small doses, like chips in ice cream, we can handle it. But the thought of a whole brownie makes us cower. This has nothing to do with virtue. It’s that ingesting chocolate in chunks that big brings on instant headache, also sore jaws and, sometimes, zits the next day.

A dear friend once confided to us her intense pleasure at lying alone in bed, turning off the lights, and eating dark chocolate. We hate missing out entirely on something that sounds this fun and wonder if perhaps chocolate flowers couldn’t transport us at least to First Base.

The proto-craving was set off by an article from Cuba, extolling the delights of a spectacular island flower, Encyclia phoenicea.  Called the chocolate orchid, for both its color and its fragrance, it grows primarily in the foothills of Sierra del Rosario of Western Cuba, but according to this piece, is also found as far east as Guantánamo, and in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands, too. Not surprisingly, this plant has suffered “predation” – appealing as it does to two voracious species of addicts: orchid-collectors and chocolate fiends.

imageChocolate-scented Daisy (Berlandiera lyrata)

Photo: Mountain Valley Growers

This Caribbean delicacy is out of the question for us here in Central Texas, but we find there are many more chocolate flowers to choose from. While not anywhere as dazzling as the Cuban Godiva, we can have Hershey’s kisses—Berlandiera lyrata, the chocolate-scented daisy

It’s highly praised for strong fragrance by the obsessive experts at Chocolate Flower Farm. Really. They specialize in brown flowers, foliage plants, and other botanical chocolatiana. Yvonne Swanson’s article gives a short profile of the Washington State gardener/owners and includes quite a list of choco-centric plants. You may note that many of these species are also admired by Goth gardeners, but calling them “chocolate” brings out a different clientele – with bigger waistlines and fewer tattoos.

This article includes an even more extensive list that curiously includes Akebia quinata,  “a vine with cocoa blossoms that smells of vanilla.” Another case of fixation overlap.

imageKaren Finley, spreading art

Photo: Art Interviews

This topic of course leads us to Karen Finley, artist, performer, plaintiff. Finley, with three others, challenged the National Endowment for the Arts in 1990 for failing to award her an artist’s fellowship. Finley’s piece “A Different Kind of Intimacy” involved her stripping down and smearing her body with chocolate: “to commemorate Tawana Brawley, a young woman who alleged that some police officers raped her and smeared her with feces.” For Finley, this was creative art, for then Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina it was obscenity, and for the NEA is was a near-fatal headache.

Using chocolate – not mud or some other smearable brown matter – Finley struck a nerve—the same nerve that used to titillate our old friend with the lights out and still makes us shudder.

We hope that readers will let us know which chocolate varieties (by scent or color) they’ve tried in the garden and to what effect. We don’t go in much for bonbons, but like everyone else on the planet, we want ecstasy minus the pimples.

Posted by Julie on 05/22 at 02:02 PM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapePermalink

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Gun or the Garden?

Allen Bush, Director of Special Projects for Jelitto Perennial Seeds, slips out of the garden to indulge a new (but no less primordial) pleasure.


The late Charlton Heston: Biblical actor, champion of

the Second Amendment. But did he ever mulch?

By Allen Bush

The trigger-happy were in Louisville, Kentucky, last weekend for the National Rifle Association’s annual convention. The NRA honored the memory of Charlton Heston, its past president (1998-2003), who died last month.

“I’ll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands,” are Heston’s words— divine and fondly remembered – not the words of Moses, whom Heston played on screen. And at the Louisville meeting, The Ten Commandments bowed to the 2nd Amendment: “Bear false witness against your neighbor at your own risk, but pack some heat, just to be safe.”

Deer hunters, target shooters and machine gun owners came to hear motivational speakers Ted Nugent (rocker and Motor City Madman) and Iran Contra legend and TV pundit Oliver North. They could have been planting Dr. Martin’s pole lima beans or enjoying the first yellow blooms of Gaillardia ‘Amber Wheels’ at home. It is prime time in the garden across the fruited plain. But sixty thousand visitors took the week off to peruse “Acres of Guns and Gear” instead. I heard a lot about recoil but nothing about slugs. 

Gardens and guns. The phrase doesn’t look right. The infamous Garden and Gun Club, a discotheque open in the 1970s and ‘80s in Charleston, South Carolina, was popular with gays and straights, but booze and narcotics seemed to be more essential than guns or gardens. The stylish, new magazine, Garden and Gun, whose name commemorates the Charleston disco, is devoted to “21st Century Southern America” – less dancing and more sporting.

imageGaillardia “Amber Wheels,” competing with sidearms for the hobbyist’s attention

Photo: Allen Bush

Gardening and hunting are primordial hobbies – humanity and nature – with an aging demographic. There are more women gardening than men; hunting is a man’s world.  Both have their fair share of obsessed collectors – historic Colt 45s or hostas. Gardening remains the country’s number one pastime, but only if you include those who do little more than cut the grass. Hunters despair over loss of property to development. Neither group seems able to figure-out how to get Generations X and Y off the Internet and outdoors – the outdoors gardeners and hunters love.

A bumper sticker says, God, Guns and Guts made America, Let’s Keep All Three. That may make sense to the NRA (more so than Give Peas a Chance) but while the convention goers protect the right to bear arms, I wonder what’s happening in their gardens. Do they garden at all? (Bird dogs and vegetables make poor bedfellows.) Nugent’s book Kill It and Grill It has good rotisserie tips, but after the hunt, wouldn’t it be nice to have something tasty and colorful from the garden to go with the fresh meat? (Poppin’ a bunny from the back porch with a .22 caliber subsonic hollowpoint doesn’t count.)


The author handles a 357 Magnum at the National Rifle Association’s convention

Louisville, Kentucky

Photo: Courtesy of Allen Bush

I garden on a one-third acre patch in a Louisville neighborhood, a quarter mile from an Olmsted-designed city park. I’ve got a deer trekking through a tiny rain garden, rabbits breaking tender stems on a chokeberry bush, and chipmunks slicing new shoots of butterfly weed with the precision of buzz saws. These critters drive me nuts, and I think sometimes it’s a pity I don’t own a gun.

Last week at the convention I was surprised at how sensuous it felt to hold a 357 Magnum revolver, with a 6-inch barrel and smooth stainless finish. If they made gun smoke that smelled like lavender, I might be won over.

Posted by Julie on 05/19 at 06:13 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Detailed Enough to Insult: Flower Sculptures by Shou Ping

With paper, paint, and scrutiny, a Taiwan-born artist tames the wildflowers of her adopted country.


Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), by Shou Ping

Photo: Human Flower Project

When we think of paper flowers, usually we envision blooms like these, de rigueur for any good party in South Texas or Mexico. So how mind-expanding to encounter the works of Shou Ping recently at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Shou Ping’s paper sculptures combine the delicacy of a confectioner and the precision of a botanist. She shapes flower replicas, right down to the threadlike stamens, from paper, paints them in watercolors, and then frames them in glassed shadow boxes. (Note: her Wildflower Center show ends today.) Nothing could be less like the gay bobbing stems of crepe paper flowers you see at a Cinco de Mayo fiesta. Shou Ping’s pieces are ultra still, studious and quiet. For us, they possess an elegance reminiscent of porcelain flowers (topic for another day’s post, to be sure). We also found them slightly morbid; pressed flowers usually strike us this way, too.


Sunlight applauds a stunning piece by Shou Ping

at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Photo: Human Flower Project

Trained in both art and commerce, Shou Ping has worked as a cartoonist and graphic designer. A native of Taiwan, she moved to the US in 1993 and now lives in San Antonio. Perhaps her paper works are inspired in part by cork sculpture, a popular craft in Asia, for it, too, often depicts plants and landscapes and likewise is displayed under glass. But she’s quite obviously been swept up with a fascination for native Texas plants. How carefully she’s looked at wine-cup (Callirhoe involucrata), white dog’s tooth violet (Erythronium albidum), and—our favorite of her depictions—dayflower (Commelina erecta), also known as “widow’s tears.”

imageDayflower (Commelina erecta)

detail from a paper sculpture by Shou Ping

Photo: Human Flower Project

We learned in Geyata Ajilvsgi’s excellent Texas wildflower guide that this flower, with its two larger bright blue petals and one tiny “teary” white one, conveys a put-down. “Swedish botanist Linnaeus named this plant for the three Commelin brothers, Dutch botanists, two of whom were very productive in their field. The third brother published nothing and was relatively unknown. Linnaeus used the flower’s three petals to represent the traits of the three brothers.” Shou Ping’s rendering is true, right down to the insult.

For more about this artist, her watercolors and paper sculptures, visit her website.

Posted by Julie on 05/18 at 11:15 AM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyPermalink

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ball Moss ~ Texas Tribbles

A windstorm did what tree pruners couldn’t manage. What to do now with all these nitrogen-rich fashion accessories?

imageOaks are dying in Austin, but don’t blame the ball moss

Photo: Bill Bishop

Last night we were awakened by a rattling of hail. The delight of it turned into a spooky thrum and then the wind began gusting, wildly. We clicked on the TV to hear a jittery weather-caster describing her broadcast building shaking. “I’ve never seen a storm like this,” she exclaimed. And then in a fine burst of unprofessionalism: “My heart is pounding!”

Zap! The power went off. As we went back to bed this speedy storm cell was already moving past. (MSS has more, including photos of broken trees, on Zanthan Gardens.)

Thankfully, our oaks came through intact. And, more to the good, those 70 mph gusts brought down hundreds of ball moss plants. This morning the yard was covered with “Texas Tribbles.”

Many of you will remember these muttering, furry creatures from Star Trek. They came aboard the Enterprise first in 1967, a kind of intergalactic guinea pig, “born pregnant,” as ship’s physician “Bones” McCoy said. They reproduced like crazy, eating the crew’s grain supply, and…well, we won’t ruin the episode for you.


Scotty, ship’s engineer, tells Capt. Kirk and First Officer Spock that Tribbles have overrun the engine room on the USS Enterprise

Photo: via Thorn in Paw

We’ve held ball moss in the same regard as tribbles: harmless, except that too much even of harmless begins to impinge on anyone’s good humor. Having seen many oaks hereabouts with ball moss clotted along dead branches, we feared that in abundance they might be damaging, even killing off, the trees. But how the hell do you get the things down?

imageBall moss (Tillandsia recurvata) downed by an early morning storm, May 15, 2008

Photo: Human Flower Project

With 70 mph winds, that’s how. We picked up many hundreds today, some of them obviously in flower.

We’ve since learned that ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata) is an epiphyte, not a parasite. It’s just hanging on to the trees not, like the tribble, stealing moisture or minerals. Betty Rogers and Bill Edelbrock offer a mild-mannered defense of this plant, which many Texans perceive as threatening.

“We notice ballmoss a lot more than the trees do!” they write. “The first few layers of leaves, located at the top foot or two of the tree canopy where they can get full sun, are where the primary growth of trees actually happens. Over 90% of sugars are produced in the top layers of trees. The lower leaves in the shade of the canopy are hanging on for dear life, as insurance in case the upper leaves fall off.

 Ballmoss is most often found on the dead interior branches of older live oaks. These interior branches die from lack of sunlight - not as a result of ballmoss.” (And, sadly, in our neighborhood, oak wilt is killing many of the trees, noticeably those west of Blunn Creek.)

imageGood for summer ear muffs or Princess Leia costumes

Photo: Bill Bishop

Far from being harmful, it seems that Tillandsia recurvata may even pose a benefit to yards and gardens, by “’fixing’ atmospheric nitrogen and adding it to the soil.” So no more pick-ups today. We’ll just mow over the remaining clumps.

At the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling last month, Carol of May Dreams Gardens, a Hoosier, rolled a piece of ball moss in her hand. “In Indiana, people would find a way to do something with these.” Carol, your instincts were right on, as usual.  (Congrats, on your all your garden blogging recognition.) If you get here before Tuesday, when the city sanitation guys come, we’ll have bushels of wreath-worthy, nitrogen rich Texas Tribbles for you. We’re dreaming up more ways to use ball moss by the hour.

Posted by Julie on 05/15 at 04:26 PM
Art & MediaEcologyGardening & LandscapePermalink
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