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...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Bit of Horticultural History...

Here is a rather interesting recent article from The New York Times about efforts to preserve and revive the fruit tree heritage of southern Arizona and the adjacent part of Mexico:

In the Garden: Seeds of an Era Long Gone

A really cool bit of ethnobotany, and some of the heirloom varieties of fruit mentioned - a pomegranate with white flesh, a quince that is ready to eat right off the tree - sound very intriguing indeed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Happy Deepavali!

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, India

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Please Vote!

Here are some gratuitous morning glories for motivation:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Houseplant Update

Even as the light has been declining, things have been growing in my little window sill garden, and there are even a few flowers. A few days ago, I noticed that my Rex begonia (Begonia rex-cultorum cv.) is forming buds:

Emerging buds on my Rex begonia (Begonia rex-cultorum cv.)

My Rieger begonia cuttings (Begonia x hiemalis) - descendants of the two specimens bought at Trader Joe's that graced my bedroom window sill last winter - have grown strongly as well but so far do not appear inclined to flower. Meanwhile, my Anthurium scandens is flowering away as always:

Two inflorescences of Anthurium scandens

As if that were not endearing enough, the plant is now also starting to branch, producing new leaves and flowers from its base as well as from the tip of the main branch:

Extra inflorescence sprouting from the base of the plant

I am also very happy with my basil seedlings, which so far have been doing quite well despite less than ideal light conditions. There are a number of seedlings of Italian - or Greek, depending on whom you ask; I personally first encountered the variety in Portugal - bush basil (Ocimum basilicum var. minimum), just beginning to branch...

 Baby bush basil (Ocimum basilicum var. minimum)

... and some smaller but all the more precious seedlings of holy basil or tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum):

Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

Maybe I should get more begonias. There is still some space left...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Beautiful Waterlilies!

Among the not exclusively garden-related websites I read regularly, one of my favorites is The Delhi Walla by journalist and author Mayank Austen Soofi. It chronicles many facets of life in the Indian capital, sometimes pensively, often humorously, and almost always with stunning pictures. True to form, the most recent post consists primarily of an enchanting series of images of tropical waterlilies from Lodhi Gardens, one of Delhi's most historic parks:

City Hangout - Lotus Pond, Lodhi Gardens

For more on Lodhi - or Lodi - Gardens, you can find an older post I wrote about the park here.