Thursday, August 23, 2012

Garden Images in the Media - Part 4: Rosemary & Thyme (2003-2006)

To readers from the UK this will probably be a bit of an old hat, since the show in question aired there a quite number of years back, but after coming across it about a week ago and watching a number of episodes I decided I had to post about it anyway. Rosemary & Thyme is a British murder mystery series that was produced between 2003 and 2006 and is essentially garden-themed. Pam Ferris and Felicity Kendal star as Laura Thyme and Rosemary Boxer, two middle-aged women who decide to start a gardening business together after one is left by her husband and the other loses her position as a university lecturer in plant pathology. In each episode a garden project for which they have been hired leads them to witness or discover a murder or series of murders and sometimes other crimes which they then proceed to solve. The show has a bit of the feel of Murder, She Wrote, both in the older, down-to-earth female protagonists and in the implausible conceit that they appear to accidentally hit upon violent crime wherever they tread. While perhaps not being as riveting as other murder mysteries or crime procedurals, I think it is quite fun to watch. Luckily, all episodes are available on YouTube, beginning with the pilot:

Virtually every episode features lavish gardens as backdrops, with filming often having taken place at real-life historic gardens such Serre de la Madone in Menton, France, or the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Storylines also often touch on various aspects of garden history, from Moorish gardens in Spain to pineapple growing in Victorian England. I also appreciate that accurate scientific and common plant names are used in the show and only a small amount of fake plants appears to have been used in set and prop design. The only thing that I find really odd is that every episode - except perhaps for those set in southern France, Italy, and Spain - appears to have been shot in spring or early summer, with seasonal flowers daffodils, tulip magnolias, cherry blossoms and the like often prominent in the background. While that is a very pretty season for most gardens, it does become a bit monotonous.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer Travels 2012 - Part 1: The Garden of the Humble Administrator in Suzhou, China

The first stop on my trip this summer was Shanghai, where I visited a friend from high school. She currently lives in Norway where she attends business school but since her parents live in Shanghai she has been spending her summers there visiting them and interning. Apart from exploring the city, eating lots and doing a fair bit of people watching, we also took a day trip to Suzhou, about half an hour by train west of Shanghai. For centuries, Suzhou was one of the richest cities in China, and to this day it is very famous for its aristocratic gardens, a large number of which are preserved and are now major tourist attractions. They are also the main model for what has come to be seen as the quintessential "Chinese garden" and most Chinese gardens elsewhere in the world, such as the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, are based on them. The largest of the Suzhou gardens - and the first we visited - is the Zhuō Zhèng Yuán 拙政园 or "Garden of the Humble Administrator," though British art historian Craig Clunas in his fascinating 1996 book Fruitful Sites: Garden Culture in Ming Dynasty China prefers the alternative translation "Garden of the Unsuccessful Politician". It was first created by a retired imperial official by the name of Wang Xianchen during the Ming Dynasty, sometime around the first decade of the 16th century. About twenty years later, in 1533, the garden was immortalized in a prose record accompanied by poems and thirty-one paintings by the famous scholar, painter, and calligrapher Wen Zhengming, a Suzhou native and friend of Wang Xianchen. Over the subsequent centuries the garden changed owner many times and was repeatedly redesigned and even partitioned before being reunited and renovated in 1949. Rather than preserving the original design, then, the garden as it appears today is a agglomeration of elements from various time periods. That in no way detracts from its beauty, however, and we found the garden both lovely and impressive, even with the crowds of visitors and the steamy summer heat.

Floral displays at the entrance

A white miniature lotus (Nelumbo nucifera cv.) and maidenhair fern (Adiantum sp.) in the floral display

Stylish signage

The eastern part of the garden through which one enters is laid out in an informal and sprawling series of lawns, ponds, and pavilions, apparently a result of the 1949 reunification and restoration of the property. While pretty, this part looks least like the stereotypical "Chinese Garden" of intricate rock work and closely clustered decorative features.

One of the ponds in the eastern section, covered with lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) and overhang with weeping willows (Salix sp.)

View along a path - I love the bamboo fence!

Zig-zag bridge

One of the first blossoms of the truly massive lotus plants in the ponds

A pavilion above the lotuses

As one progresses westward within the garden, it becomes more densely built up and more extravagant, with a profusion of pavilions, covered walkways, pools, canals, bridges, rockeries, and artificial hillocks. The planting, too, becomes fancier, with entire hills devoted to collections of tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) and herbaceous peonies (Paeonia lactiflora), bamboos and Japanese fiber bananas (Musa basjoo) and many other temperate and subtropical shrubs, climbers, and perennials. 

A gate in the middle section of the garden

 A hill slope covered with beds of tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) and edged with wisteria (Wisteria sinensis); if these flower at the same time in Suzhou the effect in spring must be marvelous

A covered walk at the edge of a pond

A bamboo pergola

A gardener in a tiny boat tidying up the lotuses

A little tower crowning one of the artificial hills

The interior of one of the large pavilions

Chinese trumpet vine (Campsis grandiflora) trained over a rock

Yet another elegant pavilion

At the western end of the garden there is also a large area devoted to Chinese bonsai or penjing 盆景 in all different sizes, neatly displayed in a sort of courtyard.

Innumerable penjing...

Intricate paving patterns

Gate in the penjing section

While exiting the garden one can also pass through the Suzhou Garden Museum, which is attached to the outer buildings of the garden complex and kept in the same style of open halls and planted courtyards, albeit with a few sleek modern architectural touches. The exhibits within strive to elucidate the history of Suzhou gardens, including such facets of garden construction and management as building methods, water management, rockery piling, and plant growing. Some of the English translations are not the best and there is a rather fanciful - read: blatantly inaccurate - model of the gardens of Versailles in the gallery on garden history around the world, but considering how little museum space is devoted to gardens in general this place makes a valiant effort, and does so in a very visually pleasing manner.

Wordless Wednesday

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Garden in August

I am working on the first post about the gardens I visited during the course of my travels over the past month and a half, but in the meantime I thought I would put up some pictures of how the garden is doing right now. It is a bit messy and there is plenty of weeding and trimming still to do in the coming days but on the whole most of the garden appears to have made it through the weeks of drought and record heat fairly well. Some plants, such as the Japanese fiber bananas (Musa basjoo) and the newly planted roses, have not grown as much as they might have had their been more rain, but there are still plenty of flowers.

A section of the front yard featuring Musa basjoo, Miscanthus sinensis var. zebrinus, pink crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), and an apricot Agastache cultivar

A close-up of the crape myrtle...

... And another one of the Agastache

Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)

Oddly early chrysanthemums

Flowering naranjilla or lulo (Solanum quitoense) - check out those spines!

A miniature gladiolus  (Gladiolus cv.)

A self-sown spider flower (Cleome hassleriana) in the pebbles by the garage

A red-flowered cultivar of Hibiscus moscheutos

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) in purple...

... And white

Coreopsis 'Full Moon' or a similar cultivar

Now it has been raining for much of yesterday and today, which should do the plants a lot of good and also make it much easier to weed once the showers let up.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lotus Lotus Lotus!

So I am finally back in Michigan after about a month and a half of travel featuring many exciting plants and gardens. Posts about these will commence shortly, but first I want to write about something that happened here in the Michigan garden during my absence: the flowering of my first lotus blossom (Nelumbo nucifera). You may recall that two years ago I posted about starting lotus seeds; that batch, having been started in January, unfortunately did not survive inside until it could be moved outside in spring. However, in the spring of last year I sowed another handful of seeds and the resulting seedlings spent all of last summer growing in large water-tight containers on the terrace. In late fall my dad dumped out the standing water in the containers and moved them to the back of the garage, where the dormant rhizomes passed the winter moist but not submerged and just barely frost-free. In May we brought the containers back out onto the terrace and filled them with water again and shortly after new leaves began to emerge. By the time I left in mid-June the water surface was covered with floating leaves but the plants were not yet producing any shoots bigger than those of the previous year. While I was gone, however, they appear to have progressed rapidly, and a couple of weeks back my mom captured a flower bud as it began to emerge:

Bud just emerging

It grew quite fast and a little over a week later looked like this:

The bud shortly before it began unfurling

A few days later the bud unfolded into a perfect flowers of deep pink:

The flower on the day it opened

On the second day, it opened much further, revealing a lighter coloring in the center:

The flower fully opened...

... And a close-up

Unfortunately the petals dropped two days before I got back. Now the typical lotus seed pod appears to be developing quite rapidly. When I came home, the plant looked like this:

The plant as it looks now, with developing seed pot held high

I am afraid there probably will not be any more flowers this year but I do hope that the plant will continue to grow and perhaps produce more flowers next year. Also, if the seeds manage to ripen, I might just try to raise a few more lotuses...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012