Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Produce and Politics

Here is an interesting article on British rhubarb - specifically the forced kind virtually unheard of in continental Europe - and agriculture more generally in relation to Brexit, punny title and all:

The Dark State of British Rhubarb

Also makes me want to read up on Europe's other 24 protected heritage food products...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Paris Pleaures: Le Jardin des Plantes

Once again I have fallen behind on reporting here on my garden-related adventures. If by any chance you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen that while I have been away from my own garden and plants, I have had the good fortune of visiting quite a few parks and botanic gardens over the past weeks. As always, I will try to also write a bit about them here, beginning today with the Jardin des Plantes, the comparatively small but nevertheless delightful historic botanic garden in the 5th arrondissement in the middle of Paris. Begun in 1635 on the left bank of the Seine, the complex also contains a zoo and the National Museum of Natural History. I, of course, tend to focus on the botanical and horticultural parts, which include a large systematic garden demonstrating plant families, a hilltop hedge maze dating to the 18th century complete with an original gazebo know as the Gloriette de Buffon, named after George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), who had served as director of the garden, then the Jardin du Roi, and a series of soaring art deco greenhouses. Much of the garden was still dormant during my February visits, of course, but here and there things were already blooming, and in the greenhouses the annual orchid display Mille et une orchidées was on.

A view along the main axis of the garden on a sunny day

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) just beginning to bloom

Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima)

Part of the systematic section

A very happy European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis)

The first Edgeworthia chrysantha I got to see in bloom this year

A view up into a massive cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) planted in 1734

The Gloriette de Buffon atop the hedge maze

Loads of hellebores

The art deco conservatory, with lush tree ferns even on the outside

Some of the 1001 orchids

Laelia anceps, which I seem to be noticing more and more often

The prettiest foliage

Entrance to the outdoor gardens is free - and they do act as a popular park for the surrounding neighborhood - while for the greenhouses an entrance fee is charged. On a completely separate note, today is also Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and while I cannot contribute anything from plantings of my own this month since I have been traveling, check out what is going on in others' gardens at May Dreams Gardens.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Awful People Being Awful

The European populist ultra-right seems to be constantly searching for ways to become more ludicrous and revolting:

Italy's right-wing opposition to foreigners now extends to trees

Now, I have plenty of sympathy for wanting to protect local small businesses and local coffee culture and not being over the moon about Starbucks coming in. I also understand that the planting so far, with only the trees and lots of bare soil, does not look like much. However, to turn this into vitriolic attacks around culture and race is reprehensible and just plain stupid. Moreover, the bizarre focus on "Africa" of these diatribes is completely misplaced as the palms in question are clearly Chinese windmill or Chusan palms (Trachycarpus fortunei), which are native to China and do not grow particularly well in hot dry climates like that of much of North Africa. These people honestly need help, though they are hardly deserving of it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Names of Flowers

Today is International Mother Language Day and I wrote a short piece in my slightly broken Urdu - with an accompanying English translation - for the blogathon hosted to mark the occasion by Pratham Books. My post focuses on the associations plant names can evoke and while I think Urdu and Hindi have an abundance of particularly beautiful such names, the experience I believe is a universal one:

The Names of Flowers

Pratham Books is a non-profit organization that publishes children's books in many of India's numerous languages with the goal of "putting a book in every child's hand".

Thursday, February 16, 2017

London Excursion: Chelsea Physic Garden

Yet another garden visit from a few weeks ago when I was in London for my research: on my last weekend there, we managed to make it to the Chelsea Physic Garden, which had just reopened that Saturday after its January winter closure for Snowdrop Days. The snowdrops were indeed lovely and the sheer number of varieties of these dainty little flowers on display was impressive  - as was the fact that in the sales tent rare varieties were going for as much as £50 for a single pot of a few shoots! Yet beyond the snowdrops, this was the first time I got to explore this small but jam-packed historic botanical garden, and despite it being winter there was plenty to see.

The plaque at the entrance to the garden - though it was actually founded in 1673

Wintery beds and trees

The wonderful Ethiopian acanthus (Acanthus sennii) blooming against a sheltering wall

Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca 'Citrina' - a long name for a delicate flower

Some of the snowdrops that were the stars of the day in the Snowdrop Theatre...

... some more in the open ground...

... and a single bloom in one of the little stands used to display them for examination closer to eye-level

Part of the palm collection - note the chubby, wonderful Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis) in the background

The garden's inner city location combined with the already very mild climate of southern England means that it has a very protected microclimate. This is evidenced by the palm trees - including my favorite, the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis) - and tree ferns, an ancient olive tree, a cork oak (Quercus suber) which, apart from the fact that its bark has not been harvested, would not be out of place in the rolling hills of the Portuguese Alentejo, and, perhaps most outrageously, what is likely the northernmost outdoor grapefruit tree (Citrus x paradisi) in the world. Yet a series of small but atmospheric greenhouses is home to even more tender plants.

Part of the greenhouse and hotbed complex, with the city in the background

The Canary Island bellflower (Canarina canariensis) blooming in one of the greenhouses

Greenhouse scene

Bright colors 

A delicate, pale cultivar of wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) perfuming the air

We also caught the beginning of a tour by head gardener Nick Bailey but unfortunately had to rush off to make our lunch reservation with friends. The garden is a real treasure box, so hopefully I will be back during the summer some time in the future. Now off to read more manuscripts and explore more gardens here in Paris...