Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cicada Karma/Weather Retribution

Beating the odds (or perhaps pleasing the gods), Allen Bush has been spared cicadas and enjoyed a beautiful spring garden. Is it good luck or climatological justice?


Showy Colorado Four o’Clock (Mirabilis multiflora)

without one cicada in sight, Louisville, Kentucky

Photo: Allen Bush

By Allen Bush

I’ve been worried silly the last few weeks.  The word on the street in Louisville: the 17-year cicada was coming – again. Brood X, the Mother of all 17-year periodical cicada broods, checked in 4 years ago, and the otherworldly drone of the scuffling swarm sounded like a million rainsticks. Why do I deserve Brood XIV?

I can’t remember a more beautiful mid-spring. There were no late frosts; no pounding thunderstorms – not a one - and the weather was cool with wonderful gentle rains. I’ve been holding my breath for a May like this. Dogwood blossoms lingered past Derby and daffodils went on forever.

But there were those irksome few who dampened my sunny view, and said “We’re gonna pay for this.” The wages of sin: a nice May?  Our Hellfire— blast furnace summer heat—arrives punctually before the solstice. I can live with that. But I don’t want any more cicadas, not now.

And I don’t deserve them. A year ago we had a terrible mid-April freeze, on the heels of a very warm late March and early April.  The tender new growth on trees, shrubs and perennials got hammered. Even the new leaves on a hackberry got singed. (I’m counting on the genus to survive the apocalypse - which it may.)

Things got worse. Waking-up to low morning temperatures in the high seventies doesn’t suit me.  As the day oozes toward noon, it only gets hotter. A hail storm is over as quick as it comes, but a drought doesn’t let go soon enough. By August, I craved an early freeze - to put an end to the misery.  Mercifully, September and October were cool and sunny. There would be another day.


Kniphofia ‘Primrose Beauty’ defies early June heat in Louisville

Photo: Allen Bush

But I want more than just another day. I want a garden season – just like May - from March through November.  Cool daytime temperatures in the 70s and nighttime lows in the mid 50 would work. And how about gentle, overnight rains, too? I’m entitled. I’ve paid my dues, but a cloud follows me.

I moved to the mountains of North Carolina,  thirty years ago chasing a better growing climate where the summers would be cooler and the winters not so cold and gray as Louisville. There were no floods or tornadoes but, in my first ten years in the nursery business, near Asheville, there were a record freeze, summer droughts that beat all and a March blizzard that closed Interstate 40 for a day. When I explained my turn of luck to a group of visiting nurseryman, one fella, from the back of the crowd, replied in a drawl, “Everything was ok before you got here.” 

imageMap of Magicicada XIV Cicada sightings as of June 15, 2008

Source: College of Mt. St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio

This cicada thing has got me spooked. The thought of another 17-year home invasion is worse than a long road trip in the mid 70s with the blues-rock band, Foghat,  playing continuous loop on a busted eight-track. (How many times would you want to hear Slow Ride…Take it easy?)

I am a little bewildered why we’ve been spared. I went to a party this afternoon and folks there who live not so far away, in Jeffersontown, said they’ve been under siege for weeks. But nothing here. Go figure….

Actually, cicadas don’t do significant damage (they aren’t locusts). The females lay eggs along the tips ends of tender new shoots of trees and shrubs. A few weeks afterwards these new shoots turn brown and die. It ends up being little more than tip pruning.

The tiny nymphs, said to be egg-shaped (I haven’t seen them) fall to the ground, burrow underground and feed on tree roots for 13 or 17 years or whatever the primary number incubation period. But these don’t cause any problems either. Some folks recommend putting netting over newly planted trees and shrubs as a precaution but this seems overly fussy to me. Let ‘em be, but send ‘em packin’!

imageCampanula ‘Sarastro’

Photo: Allen Bush

My blessed month of May has come and gone but is not a faded memory. Penstemon pinifolius ‘Mersea Yellow’ started flowering near the end of the month and is still here. So is Geranium wlassovianun, a tough Siberian species that doesn’t mind muggy. The Showy Colorado Four o’Clock (Mirabilis multiflora) and Campanula ‘Sarastro’ are June bloomers. They flower in defiance of this week’s heat wave with Kniphofia ‘Primrose Beauty’ and Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’.

The cicadas have been circling outlying areas, and making a racket for three weeks, but they’re nowhere to be heard in my neighborhood. Friends in the countryside say the mating season of Brood XIV has quieted and is coming to an end – for another 17 years.

No cicadas this year… I am living a charmed life and I am not going to pay for it.

Allen Bush, Director of Special Projects for Jelitto Perennial Seeds, lives and gardens in Louisville, Kentucky.

Posted by Julie on 06/15 at 10:19 AM
Gardening & LandscapePermalink

Friday, June 13, 2008

St. Anthony: Babysitter, Lily-Holder

The saintly finder of lost things is also Catholicism’s model of protectiveness. June 13th is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua.


St. Anthony with the Baby Jesus

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Photo: Keith Coronel

It happened twenty years ago. We pulled into the local Quick-Mart, got out of the car, and heard a small child shrieking. A toddler had somehow scrambled up on the back of the family station wagon and couldn’t find his way down. We pulled the little tyke off the car and were setting his feet on the ground when mom stormed out of the store.

“Don’t touch my child!” she yelled. “What are you doing with my child?!” As we explained, she clutched the teary little fellow, turned away, and drove off.

Who could blame her? In our little town, a child abuse scandal had just come to light involving, of all places, a church day care center. We all now know generally what had happened in the Roman Catholic Church by that time – the mid-1980s. According to the John Jay Report (2004), commissioned by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,  the incidence of reported child sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests quadrupled between 1960 and 1985. It’s been a sinister problem, though not so well reported, in Protestant denominations, too.

imageSt. Anthony statue, 9 June, 2007

Cathedral Church of Macau

Photo: Bernard Oh

We consider this grim subject a human flower project today because of St. Anthony of Padua. June 13th is the feast day of this Franciscan friar. Anthony is one of the church’s most beloved figures in part because of what we call today “branding.” He’s so easy to recognize—shaved head, brown cassock. And he nearly always is depicted holding the Christ child on one arm and carrying a white lily in his other hand.

The white lily (which is also associated with saints Philomena,

Cecila, Clare, and Joseph, as well as the Blessed Virgin and Christ Resurrected) is one of Christianity’s oldest floral emblems. It’s associated with Saint Anthony in particular for a number of reasons. First there were miracles:

Somewhere in Austria, a fresh lily was placed in the hands of St. Anthony’s statue June 13, 1680. “For an entire year the flower remained as fresh and white as it was on the day it was put there. The next year the same stem bore two lilies, which filled the whole church with their fragrance. This fact was authenticated officially, and was looked upon as a heavenly testimony to the purity of the Saint.”

During the French Revolution (a nadir of French Catholicism), the Franciscans were driven into exile. “However, their chapel (in Marcasso, Corsica) remained open and a public procession was made to it each year on June the 13th. For this occasion a temporary altar of St. Anthony was erected in the centre of the main aisle. Garlands of flowers were hung above the Saint’s head; at his feet were placed roses and other flowers, and lilies of spotless white stood out against a green background of laurel and myrtle.” The sacristan failed to remove St. Anthony’s statue and decorations after the ceremony. Returning to the chapel several months later, he found the lilies still there, “fresh and white, whereas the other flowers were withered and dead.”

Pope Leo XIII gave permission for the blessing of lilies to honor St. Anthony, a custom that endures today. Though one doesn’t ordinarily think of Scotland as devoutly Catholic, the blessing of the lilies is celebrated with special fervor in Glasgow’s Blessed John Duns Scotus Church June 13th. Here’s a version of the blessing:

O God, Who art the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, the Lover of spotless purity, the Giver of all grace and everlasting life, sanctify by Thy holy benediction these lilies, which in thanksgiving, and in honour of St. Anthony, Thy Confessor, we present for Thy blessing.

Pour down upon them, by the sacred sign of the holy Cross, Thy heavenly dew, Thou Who didst so kindly create them to gladden man by their beauty and fragrance; enrich them with such power, that to whatsoever disease they may be applied, or in whatsoever home they may be kept, or on whatsoever person they may be borne with devotion, through the intercession of Thy servant, Anthony, they may cure every sickness, repel the attacks of Satan, preserve holy chastity, and bring peace and grace to all who serve Thee. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

imageSan Antonio de Padua

con el Niño

by Bartolomé Murillo

Photo: via Wiki

Like St. Francis, Anthony received a vision of the infant Jesus: “French writers maintain that it happened at the Castle of Chateauneuf-la-Foret near Limoges, and Italian writers maintain that it happened at Camposanpiero near Padua.” In both accounts, Anthony was reading his Bible at bedtime when the baby appeared, literally “the Word of God,” and stroked Anthony’s face. It’s this intimate encounter that painters and sculptors most often represent.

Anthony, born in Portugal, traveled and taught in Morocco, Sicily, Italy and France. He was admired for his powerful preaching and defense of the defenseless – prisoners and the poor.

He was also someone who could be entrusted with a child, even a divine one. The white lily symbolized his chastity.

imageSt. Anthony altarpiece (detail), Minoritenkirche (Greyfriars) Vienna

Photo: Brother Lawrence

This fairly recent tribute draws the contrast directly between those who would abuse their priestly authority and Anthony’s protective tenderness. “Placing a vulnerable child under the care of another human being shows a tremendous amount of trust toward that person,” writes Brother Jack Wintz, of the Franciscan order.  “The risks are apparent: Any child can be easily harmed, neglected, misguided or even abused by a human parent or mentor.” Brother Jack writes that the many thousands of artists who have represented St. Anthony holding the white lily were “planting a big clue as to why Anthony deserves such honor and trust,” his complete devotion to the vows of celibacy and compassion for the helpless.

“In today’s world, when children are so often victims of neglect and abuse, the combined symbolism—of Anthony, child and lily—gives us rich food for prayer and meditation. Our children, our Church, Christ himself are sacred gifts entrusted to the People of God.”

Enjoy nearly 200 hundreds images of St. Anthony of Padua from all over the world.

Posted by Julie on 06/13 at 10:34 AM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyReligious RitualsPermalink

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Greenwich Park, Beyond Indications

A band of photographers descends on Greenwich Park south of London. Wild boars could do wonders for the place! (Thanks, John.)

imageVisitors’ souvenir in Greenwich Park

Photo: John Levett

By John Levett

The roots of my family were in Suffolk on the edge of East Anglia. They lived in the village of Tunstall and were farriers. They moved to London, to Greenwich on the south bank of the Thames, in the late nineteenth century. I have no idea what caused the move. Agriculture was depressed and remained so but horses stayed to be shod. Perhaps the 1890s brought too many motor vehicles passing through towards Lowestoft to the north or Ipswich to the south. Maybe Grandfather Levett saw the time of change and hoofed it to the city. I have no idea either what happened to him or what business he took up. Grandmother Levett lived until the early 1960s but she never spoke of life as a young Victorian. You may guess that communication wasn’t a skill much practiced in the family.

My mother and I traipsed from one lodging to another, one family member to another, after the war, until arriving back in the south London borough of Bromley in 1954. Grandmother Levett traipsed with us (being that time of the century, the remaining unmarried daughter got to look after the remaining mother). Gran was a bit of a trial after a while. She was suffering from what would nowadays no doubt be recognized as Alzheimer’s. She’d dress up in what was left of her finery and wander off into town with mum in chase having shut up the corner grocer store she ran. Some Wednesday afternoons (there was a tradition of half-day closing for shop workers in those days) we’d all go to the cinema together. Often, through the main feature, Gran would shout out: “I’m going up to bed now, Mabel. I’ll have a cup of Ovaltine.” Mum blushed; I sank lower in the seat.


With an eye out for the long grass—a rarity in Greenwich Park

Photo: John Levett

Some Sundays, family members would come and take Gran out so Mum could have a break. The best break was Greenwich Park. We’d bus down to Lewisham and climb up the hill to Blackheath. At Easter & early summer Bank Holidays there were fairs on the heath, other times kite festivals. But best was the Park & best of all was standing on the hill in front of General Wolfe’s statue and running full pelt downwards towards Wren’s naval college until velocity wouldn’t keep you anchored any more, you could keep upright no longer and tumbled headfirst to a stop. Then did it again. And again. And again.

Fade to black.

A few years back Cambridge had a public access Darkroom Gallery, curiously so-called because it was both a film processing darkroom and a photographic gallery. For various admin reasons it had to close down at the end of the ‘90s. It was just at the cusp of digital taking off on its inevitable trajectory so for many the loss of the darkroom was no loss at all. For me, I missed the ‘alchemy’ of the developing print—‘instant’ has never had the same magic. But what I lost also was the camp meetings & the fireside chats—looking over at someone else’s stuff, sharing failures, getting feedback, quick fixes. So …

Just over a year ago I got wind of a group of independent photographers in London, cunningly known as London Independent Photographers. I joined up. One of its finest features is its satellite groups—locations & members at various points around London who meet regularly to share work in progress, get feedback, seek a critique, reflect on practice, get an insight how a photographer got from ‘there’ to ‘here.’ The group down in Greenwich needed a coordinator so I volunteered; we marked our first birthday last month. The group has grown into a fine collection of photographers at all stages of development (professionals, designers, starters, portraitists, street photographers, landscapers, urbanists, documentarists); those who live in London, those studying, those passing through; those who pop in occasionally, those who never miss a meetup. Living groups need that sort of flux. An essential feature of the satellites is that they each have a different character, different pace, different makeup—need a different audience for your work, another perspective? Pop over to another group one evening.

image‘Resurrection, performance, and poesy’ —Greenwich Park

Photo: John Levett

A week ago we arranged our first group shoot. Ten o’clock Sunday morning at the bottom of Greenwich Park. Two hours in the Park and its boundary roads and try interpreting this text …

Ballard parted the slats of the blind and looked across the park: a necropolis of empire; relics of science, plunder and fantasy; the presence of the dead; forgotten histories soaked in walls.

Blake broke his silence, “Resurrection, performance and poesy. And across the water the Throne of Mammon grey.”

I’d tried to find a poem or piece of prose that might give suitable inspiration for a morning’s shoot but out of the whole oeuvre of Wordsworth, Blake, the rest of the Romantics, Ian Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd and the collective sons and daughters of Albion I could find nothing that fitted. So I cobbled that together and waited for jaws to drop and a quick scramble for the exit. No need. We had a fine morning. Rain had threatened but never arrived. We met up two hours later and amazed ourselves at our inventiveness & (de)construction; our hermeneutical facility; our snappiness. We enjoyed ourselves and being with, fortunately, unlike-minded photographers.


St. Mary’s Church, on the Western side of Greenwich Park

Photo: John Levett

That morning I’d travelled down on the first train out of Cambridge, took a bus through south London and found Lewisham Hill. Sometimes there is an inevitably about routes I take. I hadn’t walked up the hill for something like twenty-five years and noticed nothing of note; a little deterioration on a few walls but nothing a corporate total erasure and rebuild wouldn’t put right. It was only on emerging onto the heath that I caught some remembrance—the houses around the edge I once thought I’d live in (fat chance), the spire of Blackheath church around which I nervily waited for an early date sometime around 1963 and thought this might be the place where we’d be married (it wasn’t, I wasn’t, she was).

Blackheath was the place where Richard II met the leaders & masses of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, promised the world then massacred a few. Which thought is a decent prelude to entering Greenwich Park. The park is a royal park which means it’s stolen property. The curious relationship which this country has with monarchy means the people won’t be stealing it back any moment soon. Even when Queenie snuffs it it’s unlikely those waiting in the wings will stir any lingering republicanism; more chance of a welcome to the X-Factor. Anyway …

The first thing to notice about the park is its blandness. Too kept-up, too organized, too signposted (isn’t everything?), too much like you’re being shunted into ‘useful’ directions (go here first, then there, now right). If you followed that you’d miss the margins. Get off the paths and look for the long grass (lovers have for centuries). You’ll find stuff there (buildings long since abandoned, tunnel entrances, views over gardens, carved embraces, found ways of looking). People who know the park find their way there—for reading, slouching, dreaming, avoiding, eating. Seeing London from a different view.


View of London, w/ generating station at right, from Greenwich Park

Photo: John Levett

I looked across the river and tried to work out what was left that I might have seen some time in the mid-1950s. Not much. There was the pre-Great War electricity generating station with its brick chimneys. And that was it. I could never recall any high-rises where the towers of Canary Wharf are now, in fact nothing on the Isle of Dogs and Millwall docks that rose higher than a crane. I also wondered if I’d have been interested in what was there anyway when I was a kid; I doubt it.

imageThe Royal Observatory

Greenwich Park

Photo: John Levett

The observatory, of course, is still there, tarted-up as a ‘visitor attraction’ but worth the trip if this is your one-and-only-lifetime-visit-to-London. Standing on the meridian line (I had to), it caught my mind that we often go to public parks to avoid the public; carve a sitting space, hope for avoidance, pray for quiet. It’s what royal parks are good for because that’s why they were built. Keep in animals to hunt, keep out riff-raff (unless the animals don’t comply). Think of Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Richmond Park; you can lose an army in any of them. They weren’t built like the great public parks of other great cities, out of some tinge of democratic responsibility or aristocratic beneficence, but out of separation, division and contempt. I still get a feeling of being there on sufferance (you’ll be OK with your Canon Ixus but try taking out a large-format and tripod).

Or maybe my lack of current enthusiasm comes down to something like commodification. Everything indicated (‘You are here’), bins for dog poo, multiple toilets for the adult, royal ice cream kiosks, royal restaurants, royal snack bar, royal benches, security suits … and so it goes. I suppose I compare it to the heath. Not much variety on that but at least you can make it what you want: party on, fly a kite, build a bonfire, start a gig, create an insurrection.

imagePark improvement project

Photo: John Levett

It happens on the commons of Cambridge. The first Saturday in June is Strawberry Fair on Midsummer Common. I’ve no idea how the thing started but it’s a magnet for the disenchanted of the East of England or Europe generally. Tents are pitched; music is blared; tie-die shirts are still sold (still); potions brewed; all manner of substances are ingested, digested and puked up. Then they go home and leave the clear-up to someone else. Just like hippies always did!

I’d close the royal parks for decades; let the grass grow, buildings collapse, restock with wild boar, spikes on the walls (makes scaling them more transgressive), no fly zones; await the tribes, a new folklore (‘Chaucerian English spoke here’), delving and spinning in Morrisonian (William) mediaeval worktents, brewing and digesting, leaving unwashed plates in the sink.

And then go home for a nice cup of tea at the end of the day.

Posted by Julie on 06/10 at 05:55 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeTravelPermalink

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Strolling the Heifers

A summer custom in Vermont lifts up the dairy industry and does wonders for bovine beauty.


Butterscotch, looking good at the Strolling of the Heifers

Brattleboro, Vermont

Photo: Strolling of the Heifers

We’re not going to call in PETA, but we aren’t much for dressing animals in costume. William Wegman ... What’s so funny? Or is it supposed to be clever? We don’t get it.

And stuff like this.... Isn’t there something better to do, even with a cat?

imageStrolling of the Heifers parade

Vermont’s answer to the Desalpe

Photo: Strolling of the Heifers

Now the great exception, of course, is wreathing cattle with flowers. This is a practice we wholeheartedly endorse. Cows are like blondes. They need a little cosmetic help. And they seem not to mind a few blossoms, even artificial ones, which is very broad minded of them. Or is it divinely indifferent?

What brought this deep question of aesthetics to the surface was Brattleboro, Vermont’s Strolling of the Heifers. This is still dairy cattle country, for the moment, and to remind everyone that Vermonters did not always sit at computers for their livelihoods, Brattleboro has local dairyfolk parade their cows through town each June. The three-day festival took place this past weekend, its centerpiece being the stroll on Saturday.

There were Holstein balloons, like the one above/left, a celebration of women in agriculture, bagpipers, twirlers, and a “Live Green” theme. Cows are exemplary on this score, and we learn there are 162,000 of them living in Vermont. 

Okay, so it’s not Pamplona. These are Yankees. Running down the street and getting gored isn’t their idea of a good time. No, it’s not quite as magnificent as the late summer Desalpe—when herds are led down off the mountains in Switzerland and Austria. It’s still a fine human flower project, and a darn sight better than putting a hound dog on a cocktail dress.




Posted by Julie on 06/08 at 10:42 PM
Secular CustomsPermalink
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