Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy First Advent Sunday!

Today is the beginning of Advent, the four-week period preceding Christmas during which the imminence of the birth of Jesus - and of the holiday - is celebrated. The name "Advent" actually comes from the Latin "ad venire", meaning "to come here". In Germany, this period is traditionally celebrated with an Adventskranz ("Advent wreath"), a thick wreath of greenery decorated with small Christmas tree ornaments, ribbons, and four candles. On each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas,which in Germany is celebrated on December 24th, one more candle is lit, so that by Christmas all four candles are burning. The most traditional Adventskranz is a thick, tight wreath of fir branches with short bright red candles and ornaments ranging from small pine cones to red ribbon. Such wreaths can be seen in practically every German florist's shop and supermarket in late November and early December. My mom usually prefers a somewhat more modern take on this tradition and usually designs her own version of the Adventskranz. As can be seen in the picture, this year she opted for a color scheme of pale green and white. She found a wreath of dried bay laurel and olive branches and adorned it with white wooden snowflake ornaments and a white crystal bird ornament. The candles she chose are a bit bigger than the usual ones and instead of setting them on the wreath itself she placed them in a block in the center. Personally, I think it worked out very well.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Flower Find: Stunning Chrysanthemum

Here are the pictues of the amazing chrysanthemum, or mum, which I had mentioned in the previous post on the season's last roses. I am simply amazed by the density of the flowers.

From what I have been able to find online, this particular variety appears to be Chrysanthemum 'Sheffield Pink', noted for its ability to flower late into the fall. I shall keep this one in mind; there will certainly be use for it in future garden schemes.

The Last Roses of Fall

Yesterday morning I had to drop off some assignments in an office on more or less the opposite end of the university and since it was a pleasantly mild day I decided to take the long way home, wandering through some quiet residential areas instead of cutting through the busy center of campus. Thus I came upon a tiny park wedged between an apartment building and a few Victorian houses, some of which continue to function as homes while other have been converted into university office space. Most plant life in the little garden had already retreated into winter dormancy, but a few rose bushes were still flowering resiliently. I was happy to see them and had to take a few pictures - with my phone, unfortunately...I really need to start keeping my camera on hand for situations like this - but I was also somewhat saddened by the thought that these will probably among the last real flowers I shall see outside this year.

I also realized that roses were almost the only flowers I have had the opportunity to take pictures of in the past weeks - the exception being a stunning light-pink Chrysanthemum which shall get a post of its own. On the whole, I really appreciate the fact that many classes of roses, such as most modern hybrids, Bourbon roses, and Remontant roses, flower so freely right up until the first hard frost. A few years ago my parents and I went to Germany for Christmas and there were still roses blooming in almost every garden. That fall and early winter had been really mild and so they just did not quit.

It even seems to me at times that some rose varieties produce their most beautiful flowers in the fall. There used to be a large specimen of the Bourbon rose 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' growing next to the main entrance of our house in Germany, and that bush always appeared most vigorous and produced the most immaculate flowers towards the end of fall.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Summer Travels - Part 9: A Vertical Garden in Paris

I have been intrigued by Patrick Blanc's murs végétaux ever since coming across his gorgeous coffee table book The Vertical Garden ( sometime last winter when, surrounded on a daily basis by urban gray and wintry slush, I was desperately craving foliage. Since then I have been in awe of his creations, which sprout lushly from walls both inside and outside in places as different in terms of climate as Bangkok, Madrid, and Brussels. What really amazes me is how well these horticultural creations integrate visually into various environments and how they strike a balance between nature and artificiality. For a stunning gallery of Blanc's gardens as well as information on the science and technology behind the green walls and Blanc's own academic background as a botanist, you can visit his website at

My own pictures are of a vertical garden Blanc created for the façade of the men's department of the Parisian department store Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville or BHV in the Rue de la Verrerie. Created only in 2007, it is already a bit overgrown, testament to how happy the plants are in their somewhat unusual home. Paris has many wonderful installations by Blanc, among them the impressive front of the Musée du quai Branly next to the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately it was already too dark to take pictures when I passed by that particular building and I did not have time to seek out any of Blanc's other gardens in the City of Lights, so these are the only pictures of Parisian vertical gardens I ended up with. Hopefully I will be able to see more on future visits to the city...and perhaps Blanc's designs are also gaining popularity on this side of the Atlantic and will become part of American cityscapes. Some of his works may apparently be seen already in New York City, Charlotte, and Los Angeles...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Summer Travels - Part 8: Gülhane Park in Istanbul

The "Park of the House of Roses" is a large park adjacent to the grounds of the Topkapı Palace. It used to be a part of the palace grounds proper until - at least according to Wikipedia - it was converted into a public park in 1912. Until a few years ago the park was apparently in a rather derelict state but recently it has undergone extensive renovations and it is now once again a beautiful green oasis. Most of the park consists of a beautiful grove of massive oriental plane trees (Platanus orientalis), with large beds of annuals for color. This past summer these were mostly planted with wax begonias (Begonia semperflorens) but I would imagine that planting schemes very from year to year.

However, the park also honors its name with a large rose garden which extends along the edge of the grove. The roses are by and large tea and floribunda hybrids and were flowering beautiful despite the heat on the scorching hot July day of our visit. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the rose garden is a section that appears to have been planted fairly recently and which seems to be meant to imitate classical Ottoman flower garden models. It is a bit difficult to see in the pictures, but this part of the garden essentially consists of a square covered with white marble. The roses grow in beds cut out of the marble in a geometric pattern. Apart from roses, four columnar cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) mark the corners of the square. On the whole, the design is reminiscent of the gardens sometimes depicted Turkish, Persian, and Indian miniature painting. Perhaps that is where whoever designed this garden found some of his or her inspiration.

I another part of the rose garden there was a long border of standard hybrid tea roses, underplanted with a sea of scarlet sage (Salvia splendens). While I tried in vain to take a decent picture of that border, I could not help but be jealous of Istanbul's mild Mediterranean climate and the resulting ease with which such horticultural extravagances can be obtained and maintained there. In my native southern Germany, too, people hardly find anything special about the flood of roses in all shapes and sizes that adorns their gardens from late spring until late fall. In Michigan, however, almost any rose presents a challenge, hybrid teas are a constant battle, and standard roses are all but impossible. They appear to do better here in Massachusetts, though, so perhaps one day I will have a plot of my own here - or somewhere else altogether - and can try my luck once again...

To return to Gülhane Park, however, I would just add that I highly recommend giving it a look, regardless of whether one loves roses and old plane trees as much I do. Considering that it lies right next to Istanbul's biggest tourist attractions - Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque - it is amazing that the park nevertheless retains a relatively quiet and serene atmosphere. Finding it is easy; the tram stop is appropriately named after the park, and the massive Ottoman gate leading into the park is hard to miss.

Summer Travels - Part 7: The Baghdad Kiosk in the Gardens of theTopkapı Palace

The Baghdad Kiosk, or Bağdad Köşkü in Turkish, was built in 1693 to commemorate Sultan Murad IV's conquest of Baghdad. Much of the outside of the pavilion and virtually all of the inside is covered in beautiful blue-and-white tiles with floral and calligraphic motives.
The inside of the pavilion is magical - cool yet light and airy and bathed in a beautiful blue light filtering through the colored glass in the windows and reflecting of the tiled surfaces. On a hot summer day this must have been a wonderful place to while away the hours...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Some More on Gardens as Hope and Resistance

In response to the article on gardening in Iraq I recently posted I did some further research and I came across the following website:

It focuses on gardening in war zones and times of conflict. This might sound like a very odd proposition but it actually makes for some very suprising, inspiring and sometimes simply heartwarming stories. One would think that if there are people resiliently struggling to preserve or even to establish anew parks and gardens in places all but torn apart by violence and uncertainty we should perhaps be able to do just a bit more to protect, preserve, and enhance our own - presumably peaceful - green spaces.

On a slightly different note, I promise I will return to posting proper posts with pictures - instead of annotated links - soon; this week has been a bit crazy but hopefull things are about to calm down a bit before I am once again plunged into a tide of research papers and exams.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gardens as Signs of Hope: Topiaries in Baghdad

I just found this recent article on the website of The New York Times, and I found it nice to read - and see, for there are pictures - that at least some people in Iraq can once again turn their attention to gardening:

It is also interesting how topiaries are so in vogue there. I think it is often underestimated to what extent horticulture, even in unusual circumstances, is subject to trends and fashion.