Monday, February 28, 2011

fleurs d'érable

Above, Acer platanoides blossoms are pictured in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow.
It is the season of maple sugaring, as my cousin reminded me the other day. She'd been assisting with sugaring operations over the weekend at Fairmount Park in the Wissahickon nature reserve of Philadelphia, and was describing the scent of fresh sap filling her apartment. I love how she relishes the turning of seasons, she always seems to be taking advantage of the most ripely seasonal food or activity (or both).

The sense of smell takes prominence in spring. As plants and earth wake from their winter slumbering, a musky scent of soil, with topnotes of chlorophyll, fills the air. Before even the smallest crocus unfurls to distract the senses (vision, that most easily seduced sense, overwhelms more subtle stimuli), the earth exhales, and we breathe it in.

The sense of color deprivation I feel at this time of year, when snow makes for a monochrome landscape, is really the biggest motivation for this series of flower posts, but I also feel scent-deprived, a deprivation not as easily mollified. Alas, scent is not transmittable by internet, so I will have to speak to memory and try to awaken yours. The scent of maple flowers is one of my favorite spring smells. Norway maple flowers have a sweet, fresh, warm scent I just love (one of the few redeeming characteristics, selon moi, of this invasive species). To me, the scent of maple flowers has always been the standout indicator of spring. The scent of green cut grass belongs to summer, and frequently has gasoline overtones. The heat of summer, at least in the city, blots out subtle scents with a miasma of smog. Delicacy of scent in nature belongs to dulcet, humid spring. So, enjoy the scents of spring! Breathe deep!

I intend to soothe my cabin fever next weekend at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Last year's show featured such marvels as an attractive luxury-resort style lounge with pillars and walls of plants (even a plant-covered bar, left), and a larger-than-life-size giraffe made out of orchids. This year's theme is "Springtime in Paris." I expect numerous floral interpretations of the Eiffel Tower, and a generous serving of kitsch. It will be difficult to resist adding another orchid to my collection, but I am trying to remind myself that moving domiciles with a large collection of plants will be tricky enough as it is.

Friday, February 25, 2011

last September, Ravello

In September 2010, I had the good fortune to go to Italy. The trip was academic in nature: my studio class was studying the site of an archeological park in Castellammare di Stabia on the Bay of Naples, a site centering on two villas that were part of the Roman town of Stabiae. We stayed at the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Institute, a former seminary with views of Mt. Vesuvius. During the day, we did field work, went to lectures, and ate long lunches. Occasionally, we were treated to outings by bus to see local attractions, usually after we had completed a cycle of staying up all night drinking Italian wine working and then formally presenting our designs, and were thus somewhat loopy.

Dendrobium kingianum 'Roy'

I purchased 'Roy' in spring 2009, at the Smith College Botanic Garden orchid sale. He has fragrant purple flowers in abundance when he blooms. The drawing at left depicts only one of his "branches." What are they really called? Bulb-lets?
To be honest, though I painted the picture on the left last night, the underlying pencil sketch was done last winter, when Roy sent up numerous spikes of flowers. This winter, he has not bloomed, though it is prime orchid blooming time and all my other orchids (except for the teeny baby Phal, which is still nor more than the size of my thumbnail) are blooming. Why? Well, it's my own fault. While he was blooming last winter, I overwatered him, thinking that surely putting up so many flowers must be taxing. As a result, instead of storing up flower-energy during the summer, Roy sent up a huge crop of clonal babies (keikis). This, I read, is a dendrobium's response to receiving surplus water during what is supposed to be its dry season. Oops. Those babies, however, after they sent down lots of fibrous white roots, were transferred to tiny pots, and given to friends (I still have one unclaimed. Any takers in Ithaca?). I'm keeping him dry right now, in the hopes that he will bloom next year. On the right is a color photo of my D. kingianum 'Roy,' alongside Oncidium Twinkle 'White Twinkle.' Twink has been banished to the corner of the kitchen under the grow-light, where she is now blooming her silly head off, because her flowers smell like cheap vanilla perfume, with top-notes of putrid fruit. Roy (coincidentally, also the name of my future father-in-law) smells like fresh iris and violets.

Edit: Since writing this post, I have taken a look at my orchids, and one of the offspring of Roy is growing a flower stalk! Hooray! The parent plant is also showing some swelling buds. There will be flowers after all, just a little late. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

poppy, Château d'Acquigny

Very full weekend, excuse the lack of posting recently. Last Friday-Saturday were spent riding the rails of New York state, for a studio project. Sunday was greenhouse work. Mondays are just crazy-busy for me. Man, I love teaching, but it is exhausting!

I'm working on some watercolors to post here, but (bien sûr) with all that's been going on its been really hard to find a non-exhausted moment when I can paint. I'm always stealing time from something else to have a wee moment of pause. Like now, I am supposed to be in class... A tout à l'heure!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

tiger lily, Parc André Citroën, Paris

Isn't this orange color just magnificent? This lily was glowing in one of the modernist bosquets of the Parc André Citroën, a wonderfully geometrical park in the XVe arrondissement in Paris.The park was designed by a group of architects and architectes-paysagistes (landscape architects) in the 1990s. While we were there last summer, there was a weather balloon mounted in the center of the park (is it still there? a semi-permanent fixture?). Square screens on four sides of the balloon changed color to indicate air quality (red=bad quality, green=good quality). The immense balloon was tethered to the ground with cables, and visitors could ride in its basket for an incredible view of Paris and of the park. I had never been in a balloon before, and the idea of a balloon view of Paris seemed too perfect to pass up. After a moment of extreme vertigo as we climbed higher and higher, and the basket swayed queasily, I steadied myself and snapped as many photos as I could manage (double click on images for larger views).
In the second photo of the three above, you can see the Tour Montparnasse off in the distance.  As you can see in the photo immediately above, there were ugly construction gates set up throughout the park, as the water system was being refurbished. Some of the water features were not functioning, but I am sure the work is completed now (if anyone reading this is heading off to Paris soon and wants to visit a really neat park, and if so I am envious). At the "head" of the park are two large glasshouses housing strange tropical plants, complete with informational placards. Several other, smaller glasshouses are placed near the bosquets (you can just barely make them out in the middle photo). Despite the construction work, many people were using the park, including a full-blown birthday party going on in one of the bosquets, and these adorable kids kicking a soggy football through the fountain between the two big glasshouses. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


This tiny passiflora was blooming in Cornell's Liberty Hyde Bailey Greenhouse (now sadly closed due to its deteriorating condition) last February. The elaborate flower pictured here was only about the size of a dime.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Rose, Parc et Jardin d'Acquigny, France

The Parc et Jardin du Château Acquigny has some beautiful roses, of the old, fragrant, billowy variety. My fiancé and I visited here the day after he proposed this past summer. The family to whom Château Acquigny belongs are friends of mine, ever since I stayed with them for two weeks in 2004, during a horticulture internship. It was romantic and nostalgic to visit again, as this was one of those places I knew I wanted to take Mike to, but never really thought it would happen. Aside from roses, a very pretty orangerie, and peaceful pastoral scenery, the park also includes some enormous, amazing trees, including two Sequoias and some immense London Plane Trees. If you ever find yourself in Paris and wanting to take a day trip, Acquigny is 45 minutes from Gare St. Lazare, though when you get there you'll need to take a bus into Louviers or call a taxi, though Acquigny is close enough to Louviers that you could bike the rest of the way. The d'Esnevals are really lovely people and may show you around in person. They have recently converted a graceful old carriage house into a gallery space, and frequently hold art events and concerts. Parc et Jardins d'Acquigny

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cherry Blossoms, Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow, Scotland

Geez, way to drop the ball already, Liz. That's okay, I know you understand. Maybe I should change the name of this posting event to "flower-every-day-I-can-manage-to-post." Nah, too long.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

a little spring in your step

Hello! I have been very lax in posting. Many apologies. I blame wedding planning and the hectic-but-so-far-so-good LAST SEMESTER of GRAD SCHOOL. Hurrah.

While the snow continues to fall, and spring seems very far away, I thought I'd bring back the flower-a-day posting. Forthwith, and until the end of April, I will bring you a flower each day, photographed by yours truly. Each flower shall be identified, along with its provenance. Use of flower images as screensavers and desktop backgrounds is encouraged (so long as you are honest and give me credit if anyone asks).

Today's flower is a (what else?) coquelicot, or field poppy. These iridescent red flowers grow wild throughout France. This one was blooming in a disused, weedy rail corridor (which, ridiculously charming, has a name:  La Petite Ceinture du 12e Arr. de la Friche Ferroviaire au Sentier Nature, in English "The Little Enclosure of the 12th Arrondissement [no trans.], of the Vacant Railway with a Nature Path," ye gods), which was being used variously as a sentier nature (nature path) and potager communal (community vegetable garden). Also as a place to spy on the gorgeous rooftop gardens of adjacent apartment buildings.

In the Square Charles Péguy, a park which adjoins La Petite Ceinture, several large placards explained to park visitors the importance of the city's tree maintenance workers, or Bûcherons-Élagueurs. Since I have a passion for the type of intensive tree pruning practiced in Europe, I couldn't resist reading them and taking a picture. Especially nice graphics, as well, which is typical of the Mairie (roughly, town administration) of Paris. Somehow that wood-grained tree-maintenance man, with his chainsaw and akimbo stance, manages to look chic and confident, for all he is a silhouette.