Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Awful People Being Awful

The European populist ultra-right seems to be constantly searching for ways to become more ludicrous and revolting:

Italy's right-wing opposition to foreigners now extends to trees

Now, I have plenty of sympathy for wanting to protect local small businesses and local coffee culture and not being over the moon about Starbucks coming in. I also understand that the planting so far, with only the trees and lots of bare soil, does not look like much. However, to turn this into vitriolic attacks around culture and race is reprehensible and just plain stupid. Moreover, the bizarre focus on "Africa" of these diatribes is completely misplaced as the palms in question are clearly Chinese windmill or Chusan palms (Trachycarpus fortunei), which are native to China and do not grow particularly well in hot dry climates like that of much of North Africa. These people honestly need help, though they are hardly deserving of it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Names of Flowers

Today is International Mother Language Day and I wrote a short piece in my slightly broken Urdu - with an accompanying English translation - for the blogathon hosted to mark the occasion by Pratham Books. My post focuses on the associations plant names can evoke and while I think Urdu and Hindi have an abundance of particularly beautiful such names, the experience I believe is a universal one:

The Names of Flowers

Pratham Books is a non-profit organization that publishes children's books in many of India's numerous languages with the goal of "putting a book in every child's hand".

Thursday, February 16, 2017

London Excursion: Chelsea Physic Garden

Yet another garden visit from a few weeks ago when I was in London for my research: on my last weekend there, we managed to make it to the Chelsea Physic Garden, which had just reopened that Saturday after its January winter closure for Snowdrop Days. The snowdrops were indeed lovely and the sheer number of varieties of these dainty little flowers on display was impressive  - as was the fact that in the sales tent rare varieties were going for as much as £50 for a single pot of a few shoots! Yet beyond the snowdrops, this was the first time I got to explore this small but jam-packed historic botanical garden, and despite it being winter there was plenty to see.

The plaque at the entrance to the garden - though it was actually founded in 1673

Wintery beds and trees

The wonderful Ethiopian acanthus (Acanthus sennii) blooming against a sheltering wall

Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca 'Citrina' - a long name for a delicate flower

Some of the snowdrops that were the stars of the day in the Snowdrop Theatre...

... some more in the open ground...

... and a single bloom in one of the little stands used to display them for examination closer to eye-level

Part of the palm collection - note the chubby, wonderful Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis) in the background

The garden's inner city location combined with the already very mild climate of southern England means that it has a very protected microclimate. This is evidenced by the palm trees - including my favorite, the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis) - and tree ferns, an ancient olive tree, a cork oak (Quercus suber) which, apart from the fact that its bark has not been harvested, would not be out of place in the rolling hills of the Portuguese Alentejo, and, perhaps most outrageously, what is likely the northernmost outdoor grapefruit tree (Citrus x paradisi) in the world. Yet a series of small but atmospheric greenhouses is home to even more tender plants.

Part of the greenhouse and hotbed complex, with the city in the background

The Canary Island bellflower (Canarina canariensis) blooming in one of the greenhouses

Greenhouse scene

Bright colors 

A delicate, pale cultivar of wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) perfuming the air

We also caught the beginning of a tour by head gardener Nick Bailey but unfortunately had to rush off to make our lunch reservation with friends. The garden is a real treasure box, so hopefully I will be back during the summer some time in the future. Now off to read more manuscripts and explore more gardens here in Paris...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day!

To celebrate, here is a painting by the Mughal painter Govardhan from  around 1645 illustrating the introduction to the Gulistān of Abū Muammad Musli ad-Dīn bin Abdullāh Shīrāzī 'Sa'dī' (1210-1291/1292). In this section of Sa'dī's famous collection of entertaining and didactic tales, written in 1258, the author recounts how he spent a night at a garden retreat outside of town with a companion. In the morning, the latter collected flowers in his shirt tails to take home as a souvenir; seeing this, Sa'dī told him that he would instead create a literary garden for him which unlike the real flowers would never fade. Hence the Gulistān or "Rose Garden", a text that, besides its enduring popularity in general, would serve as a primer for generations of students across the Persianate world and was translated into Western languages like French, German, and Latin as early as the 17th century.

Sa'dī and His "Friend" in the Garden, by Govardhan, Mughal India, c. 1645
Source: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

On another timely note, Sa'dī's Gulistān is also famous for the following wise verses:
 بنی آدم اعضای یک پیکرند
که در آفرينش ز یک گوهرند
چو عضوى به درد آورد روزگار
دگر عضوها را نماند قرار
تو کز محنت دیگران بی غمی
نشاید که نامت نهند آدمی
Banī Ādam a'żā-yi yik paikarand
Kih dar āfrīnash zi yik gauharand
Chū 'ażū-yi bih dard āvarad rūzgār
Digar 'ażūhā rā namānad qarār
Tū kizi minat-i dīgarān bī ghamī
Nashāyad kih nāmat nihad ādamī

The children of Adam are members of one whole
Who in their creation are of one essence
When fate causes one member pain
The other members cannot remain at ease
If you have no compassion for the suffering of others
You shall not call yourself a human being

Monday, February 13, 2017

London Excursion: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Once again time has got away from me and I have visited a whole number of gardens without managing to post about it. I shall try to work through the backlog in the next few days, starting with my visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew a few weeks back. This is a garden I had visited before many years ago during the summer and it was great to see it again, with more experience and in a different season. Of course, it being January, the outdoor areas of the garden were dominated by muted greens and browns, an effect that was only increased by the cold, grey weather that day. However, in the greenhouses there was of course plenty of color.

The great Palm House, probably Kew's most iconic sight

Inside the Palm House

The wintery Japanese Garden with Kew's chinoiserie pagoda in the background

The Bamboo Garden is arranged around this historic Minka, or traditional Japanese farm house

Kew Palace and a section of its formal gardens

Delicate treasures in the Davies Alpine House

A particularly dainty Tropaeolum

The most ridiculous yet adorable primrose

Scilla maderensis

 A cheerful wattle (Acacia sp.) near the entrance to the Princess of Wales Conservatory

February orchid displays were being set up throughout the conservatory

There was much to see besides orchids, though, like this flowering banana (Musa ornata)

Kew, of course, is somewhat of a Mecca for plant and garden aficionados, having been at the epicenter of global plant exploration and botanical research for centuries. The collections are amazing, especially if one keeps an eye out for the less conspicuous, like the treasures in the enormous collection of alpine and rock garden plants. However, the gardens are also just vast and very pretty. To find out more, visit Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.