Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ligo—Prove It All Night!

The herbs in Latvia are at full potency, and so are the people.


Ivan Kupala Day in the Ukraine, a.k.a. Jani

Photo: via flickzzz

A couple of decades ago, during the last few days before summer vacation, we were “teaching” in a rural high school. Teaching belongs in scare quotes because in fact we were hanging on for dear life. Neither Socrates nor Pamela Anderson would have been able to capture the attention of these sixteen year olds. They were beautiful, loud, excited and completely oblivious to anything a thirty-something had to say. We turned helplessly to the old principal,  a man who had seen the phenomenon many times before. He grinned: “The sap is risin’!”

Sap-apogee is the theme tonight in much of Eastern Europe. In Poland, Russia and the Ukraine it’s Ivan Kupala (St. John’s Day). Yes, yes, let’s take all that concupiscence and dedicate it to John the Baptist! (Kind of like the desperate schoolmarm who shows movies the last two weeks of school in the name of education.)

imageJanis Rapa sports respectable Ligo-wear, an oak sombrero

Photo: Janis Rapa

In Latvia, the festival near the summer solstice is Ligo, meaning “grass” (the 23rd of June) followed by Jani (the 24th). Thus the Latvians make a national holiday out of what we used to call “pulling an all-nighter.” And this being the fullness of midsummer, there are many bows to flora. Women make and wear floral chaplets, and for the guys there are splendid headpieces of oakleaves. We’re not talking about tidy little Greco-Roman laurel crowns but something tire-sized and very shaggy, enough to jolt a wood nymph into acquiescence— or maybe get the attention of a 16-year old.

imageOsmunda regalis unfurling

Not truly a fern flower but a good excuse for disappearing

Photo: Wiki

From what we understand of botany (not a whole lot) ferns don’t flower – except on this magic night. According to lore, young people will wander into the woods in search of “the fern flower”—Papardes zieds in Latvian, known in Poland as Kwiat paproci (in either language, a polite way of saying “looking to get laid”). An NGO called Papardes zieds seems to be Latvia’s version of Planned Parenthood.

Ligo and Jani, like lots of festivals rooted in paganism, are celebrated today with great variety. There are family picnics with middle-aged women wearing aprons and singing; bagpipers (sorry); community bonfires, wholesome as St. John would have it. There are other celebrations where a drop or two of sap shines. Many involve what appears to be whiskey. Others, skipping floral trappings entirely, head straight for the water – which ferns, being seedless, require for reproduction. (Check out this good site for more about the fascinating sex lives of ferns.)

Floating a wreath of flowers in a lake and wishing for husband, jumping over a fire, eating homemade cheese, skinny dipping – while we’re revving up, how about a little Bruce Springsteen. ( “A little” Springsteen is like “a little” pregnant—make that nine minutes….)

Posted by Julie on 06/23 at 09:46 PM
Culture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Think Florally, Act Humanely

A gardener in Seattle and a researcher in France shine two bright lights on human flower potential.

imageFleiksa, through

a welcoming fence

Rose St., South Park

Seattle, Washington

Photo: Deborah Semer

The longest day of the year and our inbox runneth over…

Out of the clear ether, Deborah Semer has sent photographs from her house on Rose Street in South Park—Seattle, Washington. With young neighbor Jazmyne, Deborah’s caring for a radiant orange rose.

“When I garden, the 7-year old girl next door always wants to help,” Deborah writes. “It’s been a great way to build relationships with my neighbors….although they joke that now she won’t help at home.  She also gets her friends to help garden.  I had her help me plant a rose in front of my gate.  (I put up a large fence and cut hearts in the gates to make it more friendly).”

Deborah, who took these pictures with her iPhone, says she doesn’t know what rose variety this is. Can anyone help? If not, how about “Neighborly.”

imageFlourishing for Fathers Day

Seattle, Washington

Photo: Deborah Semer

One shrub, a saw, and a cell phone camera – just add generosity and there’s a human flower project in full swing. “The rose bush is doing great,” Deborah writes. We can see that! Last Sunday, Deborah encouraged her young friend to cut and take home a bunch of blooms for Fathers Day.

Jazmyne “always comments on how OUR rose bush is doing and wants to plant more,” Deborah says. The new girl on the block (Fleiksa, above) is clearly taking an interest too. And now Semer has begun “a little seed exchange in our neighborhood.” Who knows where this all may lead? What’s amazing is all that Deborah and Co. have accomplished already.

From the local, we sail off to a global project: EvE-Urgent is Kevin Desmond’s effort to encourage towns, states and communities across the world each to adopt an endangered plant or animal species. “EvE, “ as well as the first lady of Genesis, is a French acronym: “Espèce-Ville-Ensemble” or “Species-Town-Together.”

Desmond reminds us that in the ancient past tribes would assign themselves to a particular animal, as a means of physicial and spiritual protection (social solidarity, too). With 16,000 plant and animal species likely to go extinct in the next twenty years, he writes, now it’s time the humans acted as protectors.

imageColumbia, South Carolina, has adopted the endangered Rocky Shoals Spider Lily

Image: City of Columbia, SC

Kevin already has compiled a list of cities, states and nations that have adopted such totems (the list will go up on the Web later this month, stay tuned). Some are well established, like the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) which George Washington declared the national bird of the United States back in 1789. In 1925, Colorado chose its rare, native white and lavender Columbine (Aquilegia caerules) as state flower, and began to regulate its handling. More recently Columbia, South Carolina has adopted the endanged Rocky Shoals Spider Lily, and Nassau County, New Jersey, has adopted the birdfoot violet (Viola pedata).

imageDominica, an island in the Caribbean, is dedicated to saving the sisserou parrot (Amazona imperialis)

Photo: Extincting Species

Based in Lignan de Bordeaux, France, Kevin is reaching out to municipalities and states across the world. His international list of such emblems (both plants and animals) already includes places in India, Grenada, Domenica, New Zealand, Guatemala, and Turkey, as well as the U.S.. The goal of EvE, of course, is to encourage more governments to do likewise, preserving some of the thousands of endangered species through human action and social identification.

Please .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) if you know of other places that have taken up the challenge of protecting a threatened species—or to learn more about EvE.

Have you heard “Think Globally, Act Locally”? We’re taking liberties with that today ~ Think Florally, Act Humanely. At the solstice, greetings to all, especially to those carrying out human flower projects small and/or grand.

Posted by Julie on 06/21 at 01:31 PM
Culture & SocietyEcologyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Get Your Goat: Labdanum

A farmer in Crete gathers an ancient perfume ingredient the hot (and sometimes hooved) old-fashioned way.

imageLadanesterion, used to gather resin from Crete’s rock rose

Image: via Niktaris Dimitris

Will wine taste better if the grapes are stomped by barefoot virgins? How about cheese made by silent monks? Cookies baked by elves?

And will perfume smell more delicious if the labdanum in it has been scraped off the beards of Cretan goats?

Niktaris Dimitris hopes you will think so, as he harvests this perfume ingredient the traditional – as in, ancient – way. Actually, Dimitris does appear to raise goats but he gathers labdanum resin using this goat-simulator – a 1st C. tool called a ladanesterion.

It’s a kind of short handled mop, with a drape of leather strands. In the very hottest months of the year May-August, stalwart gatherers head to the hills and literally mop the resin off of blooming Cistus creticus flowers. (Dimitris stresses that “only the crimson flowers” produce high quality resin). The mops then dry several days in the summer sun and the resin hardens. Historically it was used in cosmetics, medicine and even food, but today it’s a prized ingredient in perfumes and incense.

imageLabdanum gathering

in Sises, Crete

Photo: Niktaris Dimitris

Niktaris says his region of Crete (about twenty miles west of Heraklion, near the north coast) is the only place on earth where labdanum, a base note of in our favorite chypre perfumes, is gathered from this particular variety of rock rose, in this way. And the fragrance?

“The odour is very rich, complex and tenacious. Labdanum is much valued in perfumery because of its resemblance to ambergris, which has been banned from use in many countries because its precursor originates from the sperm whale, which is an endangered species. The odour is variously described as sweet, woody, ambergris, dry musk, or like that of leather.”


Labdanum is still gathered by grazing goats, who pick the resin up on their necks and beards

Photo: Niktaris Dimitris

Now, while we’re skeptical about the advantages elf bakers might bring to cookies, we definitely allow how labdanum gathered by billy goats or leather mops would be preferable.  It’s a matter of FUNK. In our opinion, any perfume that lacks this funky note isn’t worthy of the name (might as well spritz on apple juice).

Niktaris has a sumptuous multi-lingual website that includes videos of labdanum gathering, Biblical references, maps, drawing a chemical compounds,  and, naturally, several goat photographs.


Cistus creticus, the rock rose that produces labdanum, May-August

Photo: Niktaris Dimitris

If you’re headed to Crete in the next several months - well, lucky you! It sounds as if Niktaris welcomes visitors to see the labdanum harvest with their own eyes, an easy trip from the capital. You can, of course, buy his labdanum, too.  But from what we’ve gathered on our own beards, he really is welcoming a greater interest in this mysterious and ancient floral resin and the lovely flower that produces it.

“I will be cheerful if we have a contact.” He writes, “My e-mail : .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)”. He is also in the process of creating an online group called “Friends of Labdanum.”  As such a friend you will likely receive messages like this one:

Came the spring

The plant Cistus Creticus or Cistus Incanus has flourished.

It is a beautiful plant.

Indeed it is. Thank you for staying in contact, Niktaris, lo, these many months. And good wishes to you and all your labdanum gatherers, human and otherwise, in the heat of harvest time.

Posted by Julie on 06/19 at 06:05 PM
Gardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

100 F: Send in the Dolls

It’s too hot for humans to garden. How about some surrogates?


Would you know a good gardening doll?

We never much liked dolls, even in childhood. Jacks, basketballs, cards, skip ropes and (yes) guns were so much more entertaining. But about now, since temperatures seem to be leveling out at 100 F each afternoon, and gardening is no longer a human flower project (It’s torture), we’d like to be able to engage a few lively puppets or mannequins to take over.

Late yesterday afternoon, we emerged just long enough to water a few things. Hackberries are protruding through every crack but everything else is plainly suffering. We administered as much mercy as fatigue, mosquitoes, and humidity would allow. It wasn’t much.

We wouldn’t consider hiring another person to endure this, but a doll? The image above is what inspired us. This little blonde seems to be working out quite happily with her rake in a bower of bridal wreath.


Bellflower and Marigold (?) dolly

Photo: Treadles

And how about this jolly creature? Surely, s/he would be able to keep the beautyberry from wilting.


Relaxing in the Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Photo: Heather Powazek Champ

After some searching, we’ve found there are any number of this sort of garden doll – happy to pose in the shade but none too interested in stepping on a spade. It’ll come as no surprise to you that Garden Party Barbie has declined our offer, as have Brenda Starr and Chloe. And while there are plenty of characters like this  and this around Austin,  they don’t strike us as reliable.

This candidate at least owns a sensible gardening hat but hasn’t returned our phone calls. We’ve even come across one Doll Garden Blogger, Miss Fairy Amaryllis Hippeastrum – with more sense than to leave the keyboard on a day like today. These gals clearly have a way with vegetables, and can they ever grow hair!


Please put us in contact….

But this is actually the crew we’re looking for—a couple who not only can mow and hoe in triple-digit heat but frug as they work (and come with their own tassled lampshades). Help! For the life of us, we can’t find their URL….

Posted by Julie on 06/17 at 03:19 PM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapePermalink
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