Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a great start into 2013 from Malaysia!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Summer Travels 2012 - Part 8: Semmozhi Poonga, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

From Gwalior I continued on to Bhopal and then Hyderabad. I got to stroll through quite a few parks in both cities - Bhopal in particular surprised me with the quantity and quality of its public landscaping - but somehow failed to take good pictures. My next stop was Chennai, the capital city of the southern state of Tamil Nadu formerly known as Madras. One of India's industrial and high-tech hubs, it is not a city particularly rich in open spaces, though it does have a lot of trees for being as densely built up as it is. One of the more prominent - and newest - among the public gardens the city does have is the Semmozhi Poonga செம்மொழிப் பூங்கா or "Classical Language Park" in the Teynampet area, just opposite the American Consulate. This was also quite close to where I was staying, so of course I made sure to have a look around. Opened in 2010 and apparently named for a Classical Tamil Conference that also took place that year, the relatively small park is clearly meant to be hip and modern, as is evident immediately from the planted walls that frame the entrance.

One of the planted walls at the entrance

The central plaza

A pergola clad in Urechites lutea leading to the children's play area

Unfortunately, the garden is not very well maintained. Especially considering that it is just two years old, the glaring signs of decay and lack of care in many places are really rather disappointing. Granted, I visited during a particularly hot and dry part of the year, but even so those responsible for this rare bit of urban green space could really do better, particularly since they charge admission. Of course, my photographs hardly show this negative side, since I always tend to focus on capturing the pretty bits when taking pictures.

The pond

Double rangoon creeper (Quisqualis indica)

Beds of foliage plants

Close-up of an Urechites lutea flower

The obligatory bonsai corner

This could be a lovely public green space in a city that has oddly few of them, and one probably has to be thankful that the land was used for this purpose rather than commercial development which would have probably been much more lucrative. However, it really has to up its game in terms of maintenance.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone very happy holidays

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Summer Travels 2012 - Part 7: Usha Kiran Palace Hotel Grounds, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India

From Delhi I traveled on to Gwalior, a city most known perhaps for its gargantuan ancient fort and the prestigious Scindia School located within it. Thanks to off-season rates, I was able to stay at the Usha Kiran Palace Hotel, which is housed in the guest house of one of the palaces of the local Scindia dynasty that founded and gave its name to the school. A lovely historic building, it is set amongst elegant and peaceful grounds.

The walk to the front entrance

A small temple set amidst the gardens

One of the courtyards, with rose petals in the fountain

The front garden as seen from above

A somewhat incongruous art deco wall fountain on one of the roof terraces

A small orchard of various Citrus species and jamun (Syzygium cumini) in one of courtyards at the back

A tiny courtyard with a tiny tulsi or holy basil plant (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

There were also ring-necked parakeets (Psittacula krameri) flitting between the trees and I occasionally heard the screech of a peacock, though I never actually saw it in the grounds.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Summer Travels 2012 - Part 6: Revisiting Lodi Gardens, New Delhi, India

From Singapore I traveled on to Delhi, where I spent a few days revisiting many of my favorite spots as well as exploring parts of the city I had not hitherto seen. On my way to Khan Market for lunch and some book shopping, I took a stroll through Lodi Gardens and snapped a few pictures.

The approach to the greenhouse

A shady walk

A double cultivar of Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac)

The Tomb of Sikandar Lodi

Some summer flower beds

As far as flowers and foliage are concerned, the park is probably considerably nicer in winter and early spring, when temperatures are pleasant and the plantings have not yet suffered through the extreme heat and drought of early summer. Even so, it made for a nice spot of greenery even at the time of my visits just at the beginning of the monsoon season that follows the hottest and driest part of the year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Summer Travels 2012 - Part 5: The Chinese Garden, Singapore

There was no post marking the third Advent Sunday the day before yesterday as I had originally intended because I spent most of the day driving from Massachusetts back home to Michigan with my parents. However, now that I am on break and comfortably ensconced here at my parents' house, I hope that the frequency of my postings will finally pick up again, beginning with the last installments of my belated series of posts about the gardens I got to see this summer. The plan is to finish these before the end of the year, so that I am caught up for new travels and new gardens in the year to come. Today's post is about the Chinese Garden or Jurong Gardens in Singapore. I had visited this park on my previous visit to Singapore last winter but somehow never got around to posting about it on this blog and then went back one afternoon this summer. Located relatively far out from the city center in the neighborhood known as Jurong East, this park was first laid out in 1975. It features a sprawling landscape in the style of northern Chinese imperial gardens, a similarly expansive Japanese garden, and a Suzhou-style garden used to display a large collection of Chinese bonsai or 盆景 penjing, all arranged around a series of lakes.

The monumental entrance gate at one end of the Chinese Garden

Lush plantings framing a moon gate in the entrance area

Twin pagodas at the edge of the lake

A lovely cultivar of Heliconia psittacorum

View towards the pagoda that dominates much of the garden

An apricot-orange Ixora

One of the colorful pavilions

Compared to the larger portion of the Chinese Garden with its colorful pagodas and pavilions as well as its many sculptures, the Japanese garden is much more understated, though its vegetation is of much the same tropical exuberance.

A view in the Japanese Garden

One of the bridges in the Japanese Garden

A lotus bud (Nelumbo nucifera)

The Suzhou-style garden, for its part, is very elegant and would easily be my favorite part of this park if it were not for the fact that during both of my visits large parts of it were closed off for construction. What remained accessible, too, was not quite as immaculately maintained as much of the rest of the park, if only because the whole complex is in the process of renovation.

A section of the Suzhou-style garden still accessible at the time of my visits

A bamboo penjing

One of the halls of the Suzhou-style garden

Compared to Singapore's other horticultural attractions, such as the Singapore Botanic Gardens, National Orchid Garden, or Gardens by the Bay, the Chinese and Japanese Garden are very tranquil and generally quite empty. They are not nearly as polished and ultra-contemporary in their presentation, yet they are well-maintained and lovely nonetheless. Rather far from the city center, they can be reached via their very own Chinese Garden MRT Station.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Nocturnal City Flowers

On the way to a holiday party last night - the one for which I had baked those cakes, which luckily were very well received - I came across a few a flowers still blooming rather flamboyantly in otherwise bare and wintery city streets. It was dark already but there was some illumination from street lights and I was rather taken by the effect when I took some pictures:

A lonely hybrid tea rose bush flowering enthusiastically despite the chilly November weather

A gnarled climbing roses adorning its bare branches with beautiful blood-red blossoms

Prunus subhirtella var. autumnalis doing its autumnal thing

There is something particularly pleasing about finding such unexpected beauty...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy Second Advent Sunday and Some Plant-Related Nerdiness...

As is the custom, today I lit two candles on my Advent wreath:

The Adventskranz amongst some of my plants

I am spending today baking two cakes (Reine de Saba from Julia Child's classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Turkish Yoghurt Cake from Claudia Roden's Arabesque) for a holiday party and otherwise working on two term papers. For one of them I am translating a section from an obscure agricultural manual written in Persian in Bihar in northern India in the early 19th century. The portion I am dealing with contains charts of vegetables to be planted in the various seasons, and I am having rather too much fun hunting down the exact species behind the colloquial and sometimes regional names used in the text. Some of the vegetables listed turn out to be quite exotic and make me want to get some hands-on experience growing them. Amorphophallus campanulatus or Trichosanthes cucumerina anyone?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Barbaratag and Barbarazweige

December 4 is the feast day of Saint Barbara, an early Christian saint and martyr who, depending on what hagiographies one follows, hailed either from modern-day Turkey or from what is now Lebanon. She is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and continues to be a fairly popular saint in many parts of the world today. In the German-speaking world, her feast day is associated with the custom of the Barbarazweige or "Barbara branches," small branches of flowering trees or shrubs that are cut on this day and placed in a vase in a warm room so that hopefully they will be in bloom by Christmas. Not having access to a tree from which to cut my own, I was hoping to buy some from a florist's shop this year but unfortunately none near me is offering any flowering branches for forcing at the moment, although several definitely did later in winter in previous years.

Lovely peach blossoms partially obscuring a much less lovely sign in my neighborhood last spring

So even though my attempts at doing so this year have been foiled, I think that if you have access to suitable branches - cherry, plum, forsythia, etc. - you should give this nice custom a try. For some more information on Saint Barbara and the customs associated with her, as well as gratuitous cherry blossom pictures, you can find my previous posts on the topic here, here, and here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Happy First Advent Sunday!

Today is the first of the four Sundays of the Advent season leading up to Christmas, and in Germany it is customary to mark these by successively lighting the four candles of an Adventskranz or Advent wreath. For my Adventskranz this year, I used some twigs from a bouquet of Eucalyptus gunnii branches from Trader Joe's of the kind I recently blogged about, and it is not so much a real wreath as a loose arrangement. I also reused the candles from last year - no reason to waste them, right? - but I am nonetheless quite happy with my Advent table:

My table for the Advent season - the German glazed gingerbread cookies on the lower right were a must, as were the poinsettias at $2.99 a piece!

My mom's creation for this year is more sophisticated and playful:

My parents' Adventskranz back home in Michigan

You can see her fantastic Advent arrangements from the last three years here, here, and here. Now I am going to drink tea, listen to Mele Kalikimaka on repeat, and work on one of my final presentations for tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Literary Gardens - Part 1: Störfall (Accident) by Christa Wolf (1987)

It has been quite a while since I have posted anything about garden references in music, film, or television, though that is a topic I am still very much interested in - in fact, I have just been drawing up a list of movie and TV show appearances of plants or gardens that I find interesting and which I will hopefully get around to discussing on this here blog. However, I have also been looking at a lot of literary depictions of gardens and gardening and then just this past weekend I ended up writing a short paper for my class on ecocriticism in German literature based on the following paragraph from the 1987 novel Störfall (Accident) by German author Christa Wolf (1929-2011):

Mir ist es plötzlich unaufschiebbar vorgekommen, endlich die japanischen Friedensblumen aus den Töpfen, in denen ich sie überwintern ließ, aufs Beet auszupflanzen. Nachtfröste würden doch wohl nicht mehr zu erwarten sein; gleichzeitig mit den Samen war mir im vorigen Jahr die Anweisung zuteil geworden, die Pflänzchen müßten abgehärtet werden und würden sich dann auch in unserem Klima behaupten. Ein japanischer Soldat habe diese Blume aus dem japanischen Krieg gegen Burma mit nach Hause gebracht, als Friedenszeichen habe er sie angepflanzt, inzwischen sei sie über ganz Japan verbreitet; man wünsche sich, daß sie auch in Europa heimisch werde. Sorgfältig habe ich die Sämlinge auf einen freien Fleck im Blumenbeet gepflanzt, meine Verantwortung für diese Versuchspflänzchen ist mir bewußt gewesen. (Nur eine von ihnen hat bis in diesen kalten Herbst hinein überdauert. Aus ihren Samen versuche ich, in Töpfen Nachkommen zu ziehen, die ihrerseits in geschützter Umgebung überwintern könnten. Eine Tätigkeit, die keine Rechtfertigung braucht) - (Wolf 75)

And here is my own rendering into English, since I do not currently have access to the official translation:

Suddenly it seemed urgent to me to finally transplant the Japanese peace flowers from the pots in which I had let them overwinter and onto the bed. No more night frosts were to be expected; last year along with the seeds I had received the instruction that the little plants would have to be hardened off and would then be able to succeed in our climate as well. A Japanese soldier supposedly brought this plant home from the Japanese war against Burma, he planted it as a sign of peace, by now it has spread through all of Japan; it is wished that it also establish itself in Europe. I have carefully planted the seedlings in a free spot in the flower bed, I was aware of my responsibility for these experimental plantlets. (Only one of them has endured into this cold fall. From its seeds I am trying to raise descendants which could once again overwinter in a protected place. An activity which requires no justification) -  (Wolf 75)

The plant in question appears to be Orychophragmus violaceus, a purple-flowered plant related to cabbages and radish that is native to East Asia. Supposedly a Japanese man took some specimens of this plant to Japan not from Burma but from Nanjing, the Chinese city that was a site of particularly atrocious carnage during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and promoted its cultivation as a symbol of peace. Apparently this is now even commemorated by a monument back in Nanjing which was paid for by the man's son. For references to this story and pictures of the monument, see here and here

The larger narrative of the novel consists of a meditation on the risks and responsibilities associated with science and technology in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl - the accident of the title - and as the narrator tries to make sense of the brain surgery her brother has to undergo to remove a tumor. In this bleak context, I find this rather detailed horticultural excursion all the more remarkable.


Wolf, Christa. Störfall. Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1987.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Houseplants Back Home

I have been back home in Michigan since Tuesday because of Thanksgiving, enjoying lots of food and familial warmth and general laziness. One of the added perks of coming home to my parents' house is the opportunity to check in on all the plants I have had to leave in their care over time. Not particularly zealous gardeners on their own, they really are admirably supportive of my obsession and the resulting miniature jungles inside and outside their house.

Red Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera cv.)...

... and a pale pink cultivar

My oldest parlour palm (Chamaedorea elegans) is sending out lots of inflorescences; apparently in the palm's Central American homeland these are eaten as a vegetable, either in salads or deep fried

We also just rearranged my old bedroom and added some new furniture, so now it is more like a combination library-greenhouse than ever.

A glance into my room

I am particularly pleased with the Cordyline australis - it has almost doubled in size since I left for the fall semester at the end of August

A Rieger begonia (Begonia x hiemalis) from last year reflowering

I have also already added yet another plant to the household since coming home, though this one - a lovely Christmas rose (Helleborus niger 'Jacob') - will soon move to the garden.

Christmas rose (Helleborus niger 'Jacob')

Now I am off to repot a few things and cover some of the more tender plants in the garden for the winter...