Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Azalea Line

In the U.S., the hardiness zone for these low-growing rhododendrons has a cultural wall on the western front.


Wanda Gamble of Smithville, Texas, delivers blooming branches to an azalea-deprived Austin family

Photo: Human Flower Project

Absence makes the mind grow ruffles.

This we have discovered since crossing over from the deep soils of the East to a lime shelf in the West. Going on ten years now of alkalinity and drought, there have been tremors; a Jungian well gurgled and now gushes with the unthinkable —azalea love.

Friday our friend Wanda Gamble, painter and gardener, drove in from Smithville, Texas, to catch a few bands at the SXSW music festival in Austin. She brought home-grown vegetables and two pink clouds: scissored-open milk jugs loaded with azalea branches.

Coming up a granite path, through our new xeric plantings of agave and muhly grass, she struck us as ambassador from Xanadu. Smithville is only 45 miles east of Austin but what a difference those miles make. You can see it on the rainfall maps: Austin/Travis County, shown in medium green, averages 30-34” a year, though we’re far below that currently; Bastrop County, just east in dark green, averages 38-42” and Smithville, on Bastrop’s eastern edge, could very well be the little blue dot, with 38-42” of annual rain. On plant hardiness maps too, you can see the shift: Travis County is shown as Zone 8a, Bastrop County 8b.

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Posted by Julie on 03/22 at 02:09 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Learning the Lesson of Happiness: the A(ubergines), B(eets), C(arrots)

A New Orleans charter school takes up ancient Epicurean pedagogy, and a hoe.


Epicurus (300 BC) and student of Samuel J. Green

Charter School (2009 AD)

Photos: Florida Humanist; Edible Schoolyard New Orleans

By Allen Bush

Ancient philosopher Epicurus would have loved what’s going on in the New Orleans Uptown Freret neighborhood. The Samuel J. Green Charter School here has updated several pages from his guide to self- sufficiency and the good life. Whole wheat (not grits!) is served, and fresh vegetables and flowers feed 426 children, body and soul. Kindergartners learn their ABCs from the garden – Aubergines…Beets…Carrots. (I’m making-up “aubergines” but did hear that one school kid had asked another, “You’ve never had eggplant caponata?”)

I like what’s in the air. President Obama has recently been promoting more “laboratories of innovation” in education; First Lady Michelle Obama has announced she will continue serving fresh organic foods in the White House, a direction quietly begun under Laura Bush. And there is rumbling that a vegetable garden might be planted on the First Lawn. I had never imagined a high functioning K-8 garden school, much less a nation of gardeners consumed with fresh foods. Maybe we have the misunderstood Epicurus to thank.

Epicurus advocated foremost the attainment not of wisdom or justice but happiness. Richard Pogue Harrison’s Gardens – An Essay on the Human Condition argues that Epicurianism has been taken for “a crass philosophy of materialism that chases after the pleasure of the day.” Harrison writes, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

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Posted by Julie on 03/18 at 03:27 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePermalink

Monday, March 16, 2009

HFQ #6: Fit for Foraging?


Georgia Silvera Seamans, local ecologist of Berkeley, California, writes:

Spotted this vine with fruit over the weekend.  Reminds me of a mango but as an avid mango eater (we had two mango trees in our back yard in Jamaica) I know it’s not a mango (tree!).  I am hoping it’s human-edible so I can forage to exchange with Forage Oakland.


Hanging fruit in Berkeley’s Elmwood neighborhood:

Photo: Georgia Silvera Seamans

No popping off on this Human Fruit Query, folks; Georgia’s considering not only eating this herself but helping her neighbors to some also, through this interesting Bay Area group. Seems that they come together around the usefulness of local plants, much like the amazing Scooter Cheatham and Lynn Marshall here in Austin. (In the past, Scooter and Lynn have hosted “weedfeeds”—potluck meals where all the dishes are made from wild plants).

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Posted by Julie on 03/16 at 09:42 PM
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Martenitsa—To Make It Through

To endure the last weeks of winter, Bulgarians exchange red and white amulets and then pass the good wish on to a tree.


Neli Nikolova stands before bare branches in Louisville, Kentucky, with the key to surviving March, a Bulgarian martenitsa

Photo: Human Flower Project

Will it be mukluks and flip-flops? One night, you frost; the next day, it’s throbbing sunshine. So goes March.

Contrariety is a hard quality to honor, but in Bulgaria they do. Last week, Nedyalka Nikolova presented us with a “martenista,” the traditional good luck token of this month. In Nedyalka’s homeland, people exchange these red and white amulets in the early days of March to tide them over in the fickle, final weeks of winter.

Martenitsas, woven from cotton or wool thread, are meant to ward off the crankiness of Baba Marta (“Grandmother March”) and bring good health.  There are many legends associated with these spring accessories. Some hark back to Zoroastrianism and the founding of Bulgaria itself. But the giving and receiving of martinitsas is popular too among the nation’s avant-garde —junior high school students. It’s one of those rare folksy customs that’s still very much alive and swinging. As Neli tied our red and white martinitsa on there wasn’t a trace of “once upon a time, in olden days.” This is just what you do for a friend.

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Posted by Julie on 03/14 at 05:28 PM
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