Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Just Some Blooms

Today is another ridiculously cold day - the predicted low this morning was -5 degrees Fahrenheit/-21 degrees Celsius, and it is only a teensy bit warmer now - but according to the ten-day forecast  temperatures above freezing are finally on the horizon. In the meantime, here are a few more indoor blooms that help me stay cheerful in the face of this frosty weather:

Freesias (Freesia cv.)

Pelargonium zonale cv.

Tradescantia zebrina

The freesias are from bulbs carried over from last year's batch. While they flowered abundantly, their foliage was infected by some sort of disease. I was going to throw them out and start with new bulbs this winter but then I tipped out the pots in spring and some of the bulbs were so nice and plump and healthy-looking that I could not bear to throw them out. They spent the summer completely dry in some potting soil in a pot in a corner of the back landing and I repotted them in the fall. The flowers are beautiful and fragrant once again but the disease problems on the foliage appear to be returning as well. Maybe next year I really will buy new bulbs...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Happy Chinese New Year!

I contemplated writing yet more about the "Chinese Sacred Lily" narcissus for the occasion of Chinese New Year since it is commonly grown as a decoration for the holiday but instead decided to recommend some pertinent reading. My favorite books on Chinese gardens and garden culture are the the wonderfully hefty and lavishly illustrated The Garden Plants of China (1999) and Gardens in China (2002) by Australian botanist and garden writer Peter Valder, both published in this country by Timber Press. As far as garden history is concerned, one of my favorite works, not just with regard to China and Chinese gardens but in general, is the magisterial Fruitful Sites: Garden Culture in Ming Dynasty China (1996) by art historian Craig Clunas.

The books in question and lots of auspicious oranges

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - February 2015

We are currently living through yet another massive snowstorm, so needless to say, there is not much in the way of flowers to be found outside. Our street currently looks like this:

Snow, snow, snow... and check out those icicles! 

Luckily, even while outside looks more and more like we are living through some trippy live-action version of the movie Frozen, there are a few things in bloom inside. Some are trusty stalwarts that are practically always in bloom though perhaps not very showy, like crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii) and Anthurium scandens:

Crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii)

Anthurium scandens

Then there are, oddly enough, two basils, the ever vigorous van tulsi or wild basil (Ocimum gratissimum) and the more finicky and delicate regular tulsi  (Ocimum tenuiflorum):

Van tulsi (Ocimum gratissimum)

Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

Some of the 'Constantinople' narcissi are still blooming as well, and then there are the flowering plants that I have bought in the past weeks to add some color and fragrance, like the florist's cyclamen and the Jasminum polyanthum.

Narcissus tazetta 'Constantinople'

One of the florist's cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum cv.)

Jasminum polyanthum

Creeping bellflower (Campanula sp.)

And last but not least, there are the flowers I got for Valentine's Day from the best of significant others - not living plants, per se, nor grown here, but still lovely:

My Valentine's Day flowers... :)

Now back to studying and dreaming of all the things I will plant one day when this snow actually melts...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

This (very) short film for Valentine's Day, part of a campaign by Spanish department store chain El Corte Inglés, has nothing to do with gardening, but it is funny and adorable:


There are English subtitles, so make sure to turn them on if your Spanish is a little rusty... :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A German Documentary on Delhi Gardens

One of the things that I loved as a child growing up in Germany - and that probably contributed to my intensely nerdy tendencies and my abiding fascination with pretty much anywhere far away and foreign - was the seemingly never-ending stream of documentaries on the most obscure topics that aired during the day on Germany's numerous public television channels. Of course, given my academic and horticultural interests, I was delighted just now when I came across this one from a few years ago that focuses on gardens and gardening in and around the Indian capital:


The narrator does not always know what she is talking about - she refers to cinerarias as asters at one point, for example, and stocks as "white wallflowers" - and there are a few orientalizing generalizations as well, but nonetheless even having a documentary of this length on something as niche as the gardens of a place like Delhi is quite exciting. Unfortunately there are only German subtitles, though.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Guess what is happening outside...

... That's right, another snowstorm! Meanwhile, inside a Jasminum polyanthum I bought a few weeks ago is beginning to bloom.

Jasminum polyanthum in the sun room

Jasminum polyanthum was the first fragrant jasmine I grew as a kid - the scentless yellow Jasminum nudiflorum was already flourishing in the garden of our first house when we moved in and was also ubiquitous all around the neighborhood - and its fragrance is still the quintessential jasmine smell for me, even though I have noticed over time that the scents of the various fragrant species of jasmine, while all lovely, are actually quite distinctive.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Even More on Narcissi...

As I was looking into narcissi for my last post, and in particular the Narcissus tazetta var. chinensis types that have long been so prominent in many parts of the world and which I am growing for the first time this year, I came across two beautiful recent photo series about their cultivation and harvest in Iran today. They are from Mehr News Agency; the first was posted on December 29 as the harvest of the flowers was beginning in the province of Fars in southern Iran:

Narcissus Harvest Season in Iran

The second was posted on January 30 and covers the ongoing harvest of the flowers in the province of South Khorasan in the east of the country:

Narcissus Harvest

Mehr News Agency is ultimately part of the propaganda complex of the Iranian regime, so as a source of balanced and objective news reporting it is probably about as trustworthy as Fox News here in the United States - and hey, on a lot of social "issues" their respective stances would probably not be all that different. However, it often publishes beautiful photo essays like these that reveal the gentler sides of everyday life and culture in the Islamic Republic and are well worth a look.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Narcissi, Narcissi, Narcissi

A few days ago I posted about my "Chinese Sacred Lily" narcissi (Narcissus tazetta var. chinensis) beginning to flower, and since then the double-flowered form of the same species known as 'Constantinople' has come into bloom as well. Both are lovely and fragrant, but I am also fascinated with them for another reason. Historically, these varieties, or at least forms very close to them, have been the most common narcissi throughout much of the world. Especially outside of northern Europe and North America, these forms would for centuries have been what people most associate with the term "narcissus" or its local equivalent. The large yellow daffodil types, so prominent in Western Europe and North America that they have their own names in languages like English and  German, do not appear to have traveled as far or gained nearly the same kind of cultural cache until fairly recently.

Narcissus tazetta 'Constantinople' beginning to bloom in the sun room

In Persian poetry and Persianate literatures like those of Urdu and Ottoman Turkish, the nargis or narcissus appears frequently enough to be very much a stock image of the tradition. It typically represents or is likened to a beautiful, languid eye, with the yellow corona of a Narcissus tazetta var. chinensis-type flower thought to evoke the iris and pupil, discolored by intoxication or excessive crying. 

A 'Constantinople' narcissus from the St. Petersburg Muraqqa' or Album, Iran, 17th century
Source: Flickr

My favorite Indo-Persian lexicographer - let us not get into what it says about my life that I have one of those - who has appeared on this blog before here and here, a very learned man by the name of Ānand Rām Mukhliṣ (1699-1750), also wrote an entry on the "double narcissus" which I am fairly certain refers to the 'Constantinople' variety as well. Here it is, first in the original Persian and then in my own translation:

نرگس صدبرگ: به معنی نرگس سیربرگ است که اهل هند آن را هزاره گویند و چون نرگس صدبرگ که آن بو کم دارد، می شود. راقم اوراق نرگس صدبرگ در شاهجهان آباد دیده، در واقع که بو کمتر داشت ولطف هم آن قدر نداشته. زردی آن که به طور مردمک چشم می باشد، در برگها پنهان بود و بالیده نبود. بنا بر کمیابی تحفگی دارد

Double narcissus: This means a narcissus full of petals, which the people of India call "thousand[-petaled]" and it happens that the double narcissus has less fragrance. The compiler of these pages has seen the double narcissus in Shāhjahānābād [Delhi] and it in fact had less fragrance and also did not have much charm. Its yellow part, which resembles the pupil of an eye, was hidden in the petals and it also was not fully blown. Because of its rarity it is suitable for giving as a gift.

     The Goldfinch and the Narcissus by Shāfi 'Abbāsī, Isfahan, Iran, 1653
Source: Chaudron

Narcissus tazetta var. chinensis is also the most important narcissus in traditional Chinese culture, as attested by both the scientific name and its colloquial English name of "Chinese Sacred Lily", although it probably was not originally native to China but was brought there from the Middle East. Here is a nice piece from Pacific Horticulture on its history in China, its role around Chinese New Year - coming up later this month! - and how it arrived on the West Coast of the US with early Chinese immigrants:


 The single form of Narcissus tazetta var. chinensis blooming in the sun room

Now to leave my darling narcissi behind and head out into yet another blizzard to somehow make it to campus...

Source: 


Mukhli, Ānand Rām. Mir’āt-ul-Iṣṭilāḥ. Prakashika Series. Delhi: National Mission for Manuscripts, 2013.