Thursday, October 29, 2009

Floral Eye Candy: The Saffron Harvest in Iran

For a pleasant shock of color as well as some pictures from the Islamic Republic of Iran decidedly cheerier than that country's usual appearances in the international press, take a look at this photogallery in The Guardian:

There is also an interesting, though somewhat older, post about the Iranian saffron industry on the blog of the Human Flower Project:

If this inspires you to grow your own saffron crocuses (Crocus sativa), here is a link to the website of the European Saffron Project concluded in 2007, which has cultivation tips:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Memories of Summer: Flowers in Boston's Back Bay

These are some pictures I took in Boston's Back Bay one sunny September afternoon. Most were taken along Commonwealth Avenue, with a few originating on Newbury Street. Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) and impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) appear to dominate pretty much all the planters and frontyards I photographed but I still thought there was quite a bit of variety, at least in terms of lay-out and design...Besides, I am always happy if there are any flowers at all, and out of the many ubiquitous annuals, coleus and impatiens are still two of my favorites.

Summer Travels - Part 6: The Gardens of the Topkapı Palace

As promised, here are my pictures of the grounds of the Topkapı Palac. These were all taken in the area of the third courtyard of the palace, which in Ottoman times constituted the private realm of the Sultan and the royal family. The plantings today are fairly informal, with clumps of cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens), oriental plane trees (Platanus orientalis), crape myrtles (Lagerstroemeria indica), and many other tree species scattered across wide expenses of lawn. There are also beds of roses and annuals, the latter mostly consisting of impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) and wax begonias (Begonia semperflorens).
Much of the gardens was probably layed out in a similar fashion in Ottoman times since Ottoman landscape architecture was often much less formal than the irrigation-dependent garden designs of other Islamicate cultures, such as those found in Iran, South Asia, or Islamic Spain. Close to buildings and garden pavilions, however, one would have probably found fairly formal, ornate, parterre-like flower gardens. Some glimpse of this might still be caught in the small rose garden adjacent to the magnificent Baghdad Pavilion. The fountain of that garden is a beautiful piece of playful, intricate stone carving. I wish there had been water in it...

Even though the beautiful fountain in the rose garden was completely dry, there was water spurting from the small fountains around the edge of the pool on the large terrace facing the other side of the Baghdad Pavilion. Perhaps the most eye-catching ornament of that terrace, however, is a small balcony graced by a gleaming gold-plated roof. It juts out from the terrace to offer fantastic views across the golden horn to the area of the city known as Beyoğlu with the famous Galata Tower. Also notice how the golden finial of the roof is shaped into a delicate tulip containing the word ﷲﷲﷲﷲﷲﷲﷲﷲالله‎ "Allah" or "God" in an allusion to the anagram of the word formed by the Ottoman Turkish name of the tulip لاله "laleh". In addition, the tulip finial appears where on the domes and minarets of a mosque one would find a crescent-shaped finial, which might be a reference to yet another anagram of الله and لاله, namely هلال"hilal" or "crescent".

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Summer Travels - Part 5: More New York City Sidewalk Gardens

I found a few more pictures of little sidewalk flowerbeds which I took this summer in New York City. The first one is my overall favorite; not only do I love the powder-blue big-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) and the Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) but the whole bed is lushly planted, and it seems that whoever was at work here has a keen sense for coordinating color and arranging shape.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Summer Travels - Part 4: Floral Ornamentation in Istanbul's Topkapı Palace

The world-famous Topkapı Palace is a large palace complex that sits at the tip of the peninsula between the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus which forms the oldest part of Istanbul. From 1465 until 1853, the palace was the home of the Ottoman Sultans who for a time ruled over much of the Middle East and the Balkans, and the palace was therefore not only a royal residence but also the center of a vast administrative system. Built on the site of previous Byzantine palaces, the complex is organized around three successive courtyards; in Ottoman times, each successive courtyardcorresponded to a higher degree of royal privacy and exclusivity. Perhaps the most famous part of the palace is the Harem, which consists of the living quarters of the Sultan's concubines as well as his mother. Entering this part of the complex costs extra, but the maze of chambers one encounters is indeed as enchantingly beautiful as one would expect. Floral and vegetal decorations in particular abound, not only in the form of Turkey's famous blue-and-white Iznik tiles, but also in paintings on wood and plaster and in the form of delicate gold-leaf patterns. One of the things that absolutely fascinates me about these tiles is that even though all the plants are strongly stylized, they nevertheless remain more or less identifiable - almond blossoms (Prunus dulcis), tulips (Tulipa sp.), carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus), and hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis), and cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) being the dominant plants. These also happen to be plants which are quite frequently referred to in classical Turkish, Persian, and Urdu poetry, where at least some of them are assigned a set of specific symbolic meanings and associations. The slender form of the cypress, for example, is often likened to the beautiful figure of the beloved.

Furthermore, the tulip held symbolic value for the Ottomans since its name in Turkish, Persian, and Urdu, لاله or "laleh" is spelled in the Arabic alphabet with the same letters as الله‎ or "Allah" meaning "God" and هلال or "hilal" meaning "crescent". The tulip was thus understood as a symbol of God and of Islam.

There is a beautiful book on Ottoman floral culture entitled A Garden for the Sultan: Flowers and Gardens in the Ottoman Culture by Nurhan Atasoy which explains this and many other fascinating peculiarities of the role of flowers in Ottoman art and culture. Alas, the book is out of print and quite expensive, so for now I will have to make do with the copy in my university's Fine Arts Library.
I could go on writing about Iznik tiles, floral ornamentation in Islamic art, and the Harem of the
Topkapı Palace all night, but Urdu homework needs to be done so I can one day read more poems about tulips and cypresses. Stay tuned however, for more pictures of beautiful Ottoman architecture as well as a post on the gardens of the sumptuous Dolmabahçe Palace which the Ottoman royal family inhabited after leaving the Topkapı Palace and in which Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish Republic, passed away on November 10, 1938 - the pictures for that post are as of now on another computer, but I will get to them soon!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tropical Splendor in the Boston Public Garden

Wintery weather is starting to set in around here and the leaves are changing colors and falling rapidly. Looking outside it is hard to believe that only a few weeks ago it was still summer and the Boston Public Garden was swathed in exotic foliage and brilliant blossoms.

I had never been to the Public Garden in summer before and was expecting run-of-the-mill displays of impatiens, geraniums, and whatever ornamental grass happens to be in vogue this year, but instead I found lush plantings of tropical shrubs and vines, unusual annuals, and even palm trees. On the whole, the plantings were strongly reminiscent of the elaborate exotic bedding schemes popular in Europe and North America during the 19th and early 20th century.

The bed of palm trees and Codiaeum variegatum was among my favorites, partly because it reminded me of planting schemes I have seen in tropical regions and partly because it did not look very much like a temporary display - that is if it had not been in Boston, I would have happily believed that those plants had been growing together in that configuration for a number of years.
Next summer I will try to make it out to the Public Garden more is nice to know that a few truly beautiful and somewhat old-fashioned public parks still remain, even as so many public horticultural spaces appear to look more or less the same.

Now back to my homework...More posts to come very soon!