Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Stormy Flowers

Many hurricanes and typhoons have been named, incongruously, for flowers. So why don’t earthquakes have names, even floral ones?


Nargis, 5/1/08, two days from landfall in Myanmar

Photo: NASA

Does this look like a narcissus flower to you?

It’s cyclone Nargis, nearing landfall on the Irrawaddy River delta in Myanmar (Burma). More than 62,000 are dead or still missing since the horrific storm hit on May 3. (The Red Cross now says as many as 128,000 people may have died.) Andrew Kirkwood, who directs Save the Children in Myanmar, told the International Herald Tribune that 3000 schools were destroyed.

So how strange that this cruel freak of nature bears the name of the daffodil flower. Nargis means “narcissus” in Urdu.

Nine days after the cyclone tore through Burma, a powerful earthquake shook central China, killing an estimated 10,000 people in the Sichuan province. Monday’s 7.9 magnitude temblor remained nameless.

Why would societies name some forms or natural disaster, not others? And why, in some instances, would they choose flower names for anything so immense and destructive?

Author Ivan Tannehill contends that the tradition of naming hurricanes began in the West Indies. There, storms were named after the Catholic saint on whose holy day they occurred—“for example, Hurricane Santa Ana which struck Puerto Rico with exceptional violence on July 26, 1825, and San Felipe (the first) and San Felipe (the second) which hit Puerto Rico on September 13 in both 1876 and 1928.”

Tannehill credits Australian meteorologist Clement Wragge with first naming storms for women in the 1800s. The custom seems to have spread among weather casters during World War II, and in 1953 the U.S. made the giving of women’s names to hurricanes official practice. (Men’s names were added in 1978).


Hurricane Iris, spinning toward the coast of Belize, Oct. 8, 2001

Photo: NOAA

With so many women’s names being floral, there have been quite a number of “flowered” storms since 1953. Hurricane Iris, Category IV, tore across Belize and Guatemala, October 9, 2001. The storm killed at least 13 people, and left 10,000 more homeless.

In the U.S., anyone alive in 1969 will remember Hurricane Camille. Camille struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast August 17, 1969, creating the highest tidal surge ever on record in the U.S.

And one of the deadliest of all Atlantic hurricanes was Flora, in the fall of 1963. More than 7000 Caribbean island people lost their lives; 5000 people died in Haiti alone.


The path of Super-Typhoon Violet through the Northern Pacific

Image: UK Meteorological Office

In the Pacific, Typhoon Violet struck Japan September 22, 1996, a “record year for tropical cyclones.”

We have discovered that for Pacific and Indian Ocean storms, like Nargis (Narcissus), designations are far more complex than in the U.S., with our simple alphabetical list, alternating between men’s and women’s names. In 2000 the fourteen nations in the Pacific typhoon belt came up with their own system.

“The new names are Asian names and were contributed by all the nations and territories that are members of the WMO’s Typhoon Committee. These newly selected names have two major differences from the rest of the world’s tropical cyclone name rosters. One, the names by and large are not personal names. There are a few men’s and women’s names, but the majority are names of flowers, animals, birds, trees, or even foods, etc, while some are descriptive adjectives. Secondly, the names will not be allotted in alphabetical order, but are arranged by contributing nation with the countries being alphabetized.”

Looking at this Japanese site with all the fourteen nations’ current choices translated into English, we found lots of flower names, in addition to Nargis. Here are just a few stormy flowers waiting on the list: “Haitang” (flowering crabapples) a name from China; “Toraji”, meaning bell flower in Korean;  and “Melor,” which is Malaysian for Jasmine.

“In the aftermath of a storm or hurricane,” writes V. R. Narayanaswami, “there can be a great deal of negotiation over insurance claims and legal issues related to the destruction to life and property. A name can more easily be handled than longitude and latitude as data or even direction and distance from a coastal town.” Makes sense. And perhaps the custom of switching from men’s and women’s names to trees and flowers spares people from future association with these tragic events.

But if so many nations have agreed that hurricanes and typhoons should have names, why not earthquakes too?

Here are two guesses (we welcome yours)—

*People sometimes can, and do, take measures to try to spare themselves from hurricanes’ destruction; having a storm name might help with evacuation and other emergency preparedness. But planning isn’t really possible with an earthquake. There’s little or no communication about the disaster BEFORE it occurs.

*Hurricanes and typhoons are water-borne and water-bearing disasters, churning in from the sea. And sailors have a thing for naming (just one example).

Posted by Julie on 05/13 at 03:45 PM
Culture & SocietyEcologySecular CustomsPermalink

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cycling to Ashwell, Two Gardens

John Levett rides south of Cambridge to see what generations of nickings, seed droppings, and skill have made: the expected and the surprising.


Spring at Docwra’s Manor House, Shepreth, England

Photo: John Levett

By John Levett

I cycle a lot. It’s what I used to do as a kid. Stopped. Then started again forty years later. When I was growing up in South London in the 50s I used to walk over to Lewisham some Saturday mornings, up Loampit Hill then down Tanners Hill into Deptford. Just before hitting Deptford Broadway there’s a small turning and there used to be Witcomb’s cycle shop. I went there to watch the frame builders. They had four or five in those days plus a racing team. Most famously, Stan Britten rode a Witcomb in the 1958 Tour de France. He finished in 69th spot but a Brit taking part in those days was a moment of wonder. I’d get a Witcomb when I went out to work (it said on my list of what to do with money when I got some).

Fast forward forty years to 2001. I decided I wanted a road bike to add to my workhorse that got me places but not fast (nor stylishly) enough and it was then that Witcomb came back into mind. Did they still make bikes? Did they still exist? Never mind looking it up; I hadn’t been down to Deptford for decades. I travelled down from Cambridge at Easter that year, tube to New Cross Gate and down New Cross Road. Still there and as small and grubby as ever it was and Dad Witcomb still behind the counter.


The Witcomb, parked in the garden at Level Crossing, May 2008

Photo: John Levett

To cut to the end I got the bike I wanted as a kid. Made to measure, full road spec, Witcomb lilac and black head tube just like Stan’s. Part of my history. It took until October for Barrie Witcomb (my age, ex-racer, sole frame builder) to complete the bike but I took possession a few days before I had to undergo radiography treatment at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Each afternoon, after treatment, I took Witcomb out into the Fens and rode through a perfect Autumn.

I love the Fens in any season and they’re not as featureless as pictured; the surprise of villages, the washes, remnants of farmsteads, the island settlements, the Ely towers, trails where there’s nothing and nobody—rare in this part of the kingdom. But no hills.

I often ride over into Essex for variety around Thaxted, Dunmow and the North Weald but my favourite detour is up to the Cambridgeshire hills overlooking Duxford and then over the Hertfordshire border to Reed; Therfield (one of the beacon hills of 1588 announcing the sighting of the Spanish Armada); Kelshall at the eastern end of the Chilterns near Royston; then dipping down into Ashwell whose spring sources the Cam. The church is fine, has a mason’s scratching of the original St. Paul’s cathedral before the Great Fire and graffiti recording the Black Death of 1349. My route from Ashwell back to Cambridge passes through Shepreth (‘the brook in which sheep are dipped’). It’s got two gardens worth a stop; for different reasons.


Hemerocallis Fulva points the way to the Manor House, Docwra

Photo: John Levett

Docwra’s Manor House is 17th. century. Its garden’s got a formal informality. Let me explain. When I was learning history one of my teachers was WG Hoskins whose most widely read publication was The Making of the English Landscape; a fine television series came out of it too. He took us out into the Leicestershire countryside and demonstrated how everything that looks natural was in fact built, contrived, purposely located and served a variety of economic, political and social interests. I get that feeling about Docwra’s. It feels too much like how a manor house garden should look; even down to the seat, the sharpening stone, the water butt. On a blisteringly hot day you could think yourself into The Go-Between.

This might seem to be knocking the gardening skills that have gone into its creation. My problem (if problem it is) has always been that, whichever season I’ve been there, I’ve found whatever I’ve expected to find. For me, surprises have been few. Nonetheless, I love going there. Sometimes I like comfortable recognition. I love the mix, the heights, the turns, the contrived skill of the planting.


Docwra’s gardens: successful “experiments”

Photo: John Levett

Docwra’s represents what many gardeners (especially in England) aspire to: a garden that reflects the gardener’s ease and casual facility; an almost-inconsequential dropping of a seed here a cutting there; an accepting awareness that one experiment will succeed, another fail and in the scheme of things all moments pass. Gardening by walking about. Plantings merge. Seed drops. Confusion’s eased into what fits. Sorted.

I contrast it to Beth Chatto’s garden (or gardens) at Elmstead Market in Essex. My Uncle Syd used to live in Brightlingsea nearby and when I visited we often wound up there. (Syd left England in the 1930s for the States, going from one depression to another, looking for work and started off as a seller of Mazawattee tea. He finished up as butler to the Bloomingdales and often featured as a model in adverts in the photogravures of the ‘50s advertising pool-side drinks or crisp, white shirts. He bore a passing resemblance to Alfred, butler to Adam West’s Batman.) Anyway…I first went to Beth Chatto’s in the early ‘80s and got thrilled, bought more than I could afford and wanted back to spend more. It was some years later but by then the commercial side seemed to be doing the driving and a supporting contrivance dominating. I know all gardens are contrivances but this seemed to be up front and centre.

imageLevel Crossing, where the rail line crosses Ashwell Road

Photo: John Levett

Docwra’s has the advantage of being just a garden; no ‘Buy one get one free’ of anything. It has confusion too; it’s part of its artifice. A near neighbour has it as well.

The Level Crossing garden is a couple of hundred yards down the road from Docwra’s; at the apex of a triangle formed by Ashwell road and the main line Great Northern railway. These crossings used to be hand operated; gardening was no doubt a way of passing time between trains. I’ve often passed it on a ride but only rarely stopped.

There’s a recognizable trend in urban gardens these days not just for off-the-shelf-as-seen-on-TV gardens but for if-it’s-too-small-pave-it-or-chip-it-over approaches. Thankfully there are still many who see small as challenging—what works, what might work, what’s worth a try, that’s-too-big-but-I-love-it, that’s-too-small-but-it’ll-give-a-season. Cookery.

imageLevel Crossing garden, nothing wasted

Photo: John Levett

Once, there used to be a generation of gardeners who thrived on nicking cuttings (pinchings more likely) from roadsides, other people’s front gardens, stately homes, next door neighbours. It made sense. There might have been a local nursery but unlikely, probably a greengrocer who doubled up on seed packets, possibly a corn chandler who’d do seed potatoes and onion sets in season but many gardeners just picked up plants on the fly or exchanged on the allotment. It was part of communality; but communality needs time to give and stay awhile with neighbours. That’s becoming scarce.

Level Crossing always strikes me as a throw-back to such a time. Nothing wasted, its meanderings Looking-Glass like, its confusions essential. It’s the sort of garden you’d walk daily and recognise something planted seasons ago and forgotten, smile and congratulate yourself on your prime competence.

imageA lesson in planning

Level Crossing

Photo: John Levett

There is also a confident plan to the garden. I could be wrong but it’s not as casual as it looks. It’s a small plot but the paths that almost turn back on themselves, the siting of bowers & the space beyond that they suggest, the just-slightly enclosed seating, the taller plantings that ‘hedge’ a small bed , the pottings that fill any spare space — create an available space seemingly greater than its extent. That’s always a lesson in Garden Planning 101 but so difficult to achieve in common practice.

I also get the feeling there’s an element of ‘Thrive or Die’ about some of the plantings. We’ve all done it: the must-have that universal experience says is a plant-death waiting to happen but we plant it anyway. I’m reminded of H. persica which is a native of Iran and Afghanistan and was mightily difficult to keep alive in Europe. (John Lindley 1829 “Drought does not suit it, it does not thrive in wet; heat has no beneficial effect, cold no prejudicial influence; care does not improve it, neglect does not injure it.”) Jack Harkness brought it to Hitchin in Hertfordshire the early’ 60s from seed given by Alex Cocker in Aberdeen—it thrived; crossing with such as ‘Canary Bird,’ ‘Cornelia,’ ‘Margo Koster,’ ‘Roseraie de l’Haÿ.’ (I think ‘Euphrates’ was Harkness’s first commercial child in 1986). One feels anything from central Asia would have the same success in Shepreth.


The comfort of a welcome, Level Crossing

Photo: John Levett

There’s another historical comfort to Level Crossing—its openness. Until recently (and in neighbourly streets you still can) you stuck your head into someone else’s garden, walked around, stopped awhile, moaned about the weather and the price of stuff, remembered before the war, swapped plants, gave out left-overs. There’s less of that now; we’re too busy on these islands. Level Crossing’s one of those spots you can stick your nose into; there’s no feeling of taking up someone else’s time. In the housing block where I live, three of us are gardeners and one tries (I take an Aristotelian view of that—to try is to succeed). We won’t win prizes but none are bothered; it’s all in the doing and the sharing; the giving and the trading; the stopping and the nattering. When I walked around Level Crossing it felt like next-door’s garden. But for the train.

Posted by Julie on 05/11 at 10:06 AM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeTravelPermalink

Friday, May 09, 2008

Warm the Cacti, Cool the Computers

An Indiana city saves on heating, while the university pays less to chill its super computers. Kiss your brain!



Computer scientist 
Paul Brenner of Notre Dame explains how the university’s computers and the city’s desert plants will make beautiful climate together.

Photo: University of Notre Dame

Better than a stroke of genius, here’s a spike of conservation brilliance.

The University of Notre Dame’s computer experts have teamed up with botanists of South Bend, Indiana, to save energy. They’re moving several of the university’s 400-pound computer processors into the city’s Arizona Desert Dome.

The computers shed heat, which is just dandy with the cacti and other Southwestern plants, and air circulating through the 26,000-square-foot greenhouse will help cool the machines. Big computers like these are very expensive to keep cool. “According to The South Bend Tribune, the plan will save the university about $100,000 in utility costs, even after the university pays for the electricity to power the processors.” Nobody knows yet how much the computers’ warmth will save the city, but last year South Bend’s parks department spent $70,000 to heat the desert dome and other conservatories.

According to Kathleen, a South Bend blogger and conservationist, this region of Indiana “relies heavily on coal-powered generators for electricity,” so this Desert Dome/Computer partnership should reduce emissions from burning coal, heating the desert greenhouse while cutting down on greenhouse gases.

This forward-thinking human flower project grew out of the city of South Bend’s commitment to climate protection. Last month, South Bend became one of 800 Cool Cities dedicated to reducing the causes of global warming.


With amaryllis looking on inside the Potawatomi Park Greenhouse, Mayor Stephen Luecke (right) is honored by Christine Fiordalis and Steve Francis of the Sierra Club. South Bend became a “Cool City.”

Photo: Kathleen, If We Only Connect

“This Green computing initiative proves that global challenges can bring out the best of our creativity,” said Mayor Stephen Luecke, “especially when the public and private sector join together to find solutions. It is only the latest of a history of ventures by the City of South Bend to reduce our carbon footprint and make a real difference for the future of our planet.”

Couldn’t such a climate partnership work between any botanical garden (or private business) with greenhouses to heat and any company or institution with computers to keep cool? Congratulations to scientists of Notre Dame and the city of South Bend. May your initiative spike others into collaboration.

Posted by Julie on 05/09 at 04:54 PM
EcologyGardening & LandscapeSciencePermalink

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Flower Electioneering: You Be the Judge

Did $11 arrangements break Oregon elections law? We plead the case of one judicial candidate.

imageMr. F.E. Smith, lawyer

Could you buy his vote

with one pink rose?

Drawing: Vanity Fair/SPY

via Antique Maps and Prints

Flower power is very real - and chancy, working less like a strategic missile than a heap of gunpowder. BOOM, sometimes. But more often you get kablooey!

So discovered Doug McGeary, a lawyer in southern Oregon, who “deployed” $11 arrangements in his campaign to be Jackson County Circuit Court Judge.

In Oregon, the state bar association polls local attorneys on their preferences among judicial candidates, then makes those preferences public before election day. McGeary’s campaign advisor recommended that he send flowers to 25 law firms in the area as “modest floral reminders” intended to “get out the vote.” McGeary won the April poll of lawyers, by the way; according to reporter Sanne Specht, he pulled in 110 votes, many more than either of his two opponents (71 and 23 votes apiece).

But since learning of the floral gifts, one of McGeary’s opponents is calling the lawyers’ poll “tainted.” The flower strategy that first looked like a political bull’s eye now is careening like a wild pitch. The state of Oregon, like most others, prohibits any gift giving that could smack of vote-buying. What, exactly, smacks like that? According to a state election official, “Frisbees, hats and postage stamps” are out of bounds, but “balloons, bookmarks and pens are allowed.” What about nail files or cigars? What about bubble gum cigars, then? And what about flowers? Oregon law, it appears, is silent on any of them.

imageDoug McGeary and family (and flowers)

Photo: Doug4Judge

We aren’t eligible to vote in Oregon, but we would like to speak up on Doug McGeary’s behalf. Foremost, he seems to be someone who sincerely likes flowers. Check out this photo from his campaign website showing McGeary and the family, a bunch of placards flung around, and a folding table with a vase of flowers. Nice touch, Doug!

Second, Oregon election officials should note that in both Texas and Florida, flowers get a bye, at least on the opening day of the legislature. See our story on Florida here.

imageAn arrangement priced at $18.50

delivery cost not included

Image: Flower Magik

And third, consider for a moment what sort of arrangement $11 will buy. We actually couldn’t even find one that, uh, “inexpensive” on any online florist’s site. The closest was this $18.50 selection: three pink (or lavender) roses, and bit of greenery in a glass cylinder. That price doesn’t include the delivery fee, by the way. Reasonably, we’d guess that for $11 a pop, Doug might have been able to send one rose or a couple of sprigs of alstromeria to each of these 25 law firms.

Now, think about the last time you were in a law office…and think about the lawyers you know. How big an impact could a floral arrangement on this scale have in one of those wood-paneled caverns? And when was the last time your lawyer friends were impressed, by ANYTHING?

Your Honor: the defense rests.



Posted by Julie on 05/08 at 04:05 PM
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