Friday, March 30, 2012

Start of the sakura season

I've been a bit unfair to the local weather; after all my whining about the perpetual rain, we actually had a couple of gloriously sunny spring days during the weekend. Unfortunately, I was all too busy either to take photographs or to blog about it, so you just have to take my word for it. For the moment it is pouring rain again, so I had to postpone my planned cherry photography session...

Flowering cherries are extremely popular in the Pacific Northwest gardens, which is one living proof of the tight east-west connections of the area. Many single-flowered species are out now, but their petals have unfortunately been ripped of by the winds and water all too soon after opening. I caught these white ones by a nearby roadside two days ago, and now they are already gone. Buds of the double-bloomed cherries are still swelling, wisely waiting for better weather before bursting out. I'm following them daily and hoping for a dry spell, if only for a couple of hours... I'm dreaming of a Hanami - a cherry blossom viewing party - under the big, double pink cherry tree in our backyard, but we'll see if the weather gods think it is a good idea or vote it down with their showers. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Surviving the hail... but only just

It is really all too windy today for taking any photographs, but I nevertheless had to check what's going on with my star magnolia in the backyard...

Late yesterday evening, a hailstorm  combined with strong cast winds covered the ground with almost two inches of marble-sized ice stones. Of course there are bigger problems in life, but it is still a nuisance (or of course, a disappointment - haven't I learned my lesson yet...), especially when magnolias have just started opening their buds. Last year, a freaky late frost took them; this year, the hail? But as you can see, nothing was really broken and the opening petals had only some brown spots. And what is even better, there is still a chance for many unblemished blooms as many of them still are safely wrapped in their downy covers. This might still develop into a good (or lucky?) magnolia year...

(I just can't enough of these soft, downy buds....)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A golden tree called "spring"

If we poor Seattleites don't even have a season called spring (see my previous post - but today, the sun actually peeked through the thick clouds...), then the Mexicans are so much more lucky; they both have the season and also Primavera, a golden tree named after it. 

I found this glorious Primavera reaching over the magnificent stone wall of a garden that I almost saw a couple of weeks ago - the Jardín Etnobotánico in Oaxaca in southern Mexico. As I never got inside the walls, I can only assume that it is Tabebuia chrysantha, a Primavera native to the area. Several species of Tabebuias grow in Central and South Americas and their hard weather- and insect resistant wood is better known as "ipê", a hardwood commonly used for building decks and outdoor furniture around the world. I'll never be able to look at an ipê-deck again without thinking of these golden flowers...

A young Jacaranda tree radiating purple on Monte Albán close to Oaxaca... if you look closely, you can see the city on the left side below the pyramids. 

Because of its magnificent flowers, Tabebuias are hugely popular as ornamental trees, but they have also several other uses from medicinal to agricultural, and are also an important source or nectar for hummingbirds and bees - always a recommendation for any plant to me. Many of its relatives have similar, showy flowers. One example is Jacaranda; while we visited, I spotted a beautiful young tree covered in bright, lavender-blue flowers at the altitude of 2000 meters at Monte Albán close to Oaxaca (see above). Unfortunately, the climate of Seattle is far too cold for Tabebuias and Jacarandas to thrive, but some other of their trumpet-flowered relatives like Catalpas can cope with these northern latitudes and could be used for creating a similar, slightly tropical touch with their clusters of pearly white flowers and huge, heartshaped leaves.

An exception to the rule of not posting pictures of my family... here with my daughters under a flowering Jacaranda tree in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, Australia... what a bliss!

Friday, March 16, 2012

No spring, just a season of "disappointment"

Rain, rain go away - come again another day...

Earlier this week, the Seattle Times ran an article that exactly expressed thoughts that I hadn't really formed into words during my almost four years in this wet, northwest part of the country. In it, Chris Burke, a long time meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Seattle, talked about his definitions for the seasons, declaring the usual solstice- and equinox-relational connections completely obsolete in this area.

According to him, summer starts here first in July and lasts generously until August; then autumn spans over September and October, and winter lasts from November through February. But the oddest thing is that there is no such thing as spring, only a cold and wet, everlasting transitional period between February and July, which he generously dubs as the season of "disappointment".  

I'm more than ready to agree with him. As usual this time of the year, the heavens have been throwing on us hail, snow, rain mixed with hail and/or snow, or rain with drops so large that they could drown mice (unfortunately, they don't seem to have effect on the moles or voles that are messing up my lawn for the moment). I come from Finland with a climate so much colder than this, but I don't mind cold as long as it is dry, preferably with snow covering the ground. What I really dislike is this perpetual wetness; some days I'm sure I'm starting to grow gills, or at least small webs between my toes. 

When discreetly complain about the weather to the locals, they look at me as if I was mad, asking me what I did expect. I don't like them doing that. But then, by now I should have learned my lesson and not to expect a real spring, but a season of - disappointment. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A dainty new favorite - Tulipa polychroma

I've just discovered a new tulip favorite : Tulipa polychroma, a wild species from the rugged mountainsides of Iran and Afghanistan. I've never grown it before; a herd of deer make nocturnal grazing visits to my garden (they just chomped the heads off of most of my white crocuses...), so I haven't invested much in planting them. Instead, I grow them and other 'deer delicacies' in shallow terracotta pots on the balcony under my kitchen windows, which is not a bad solution, as in this way I can follow them closely. Without the deer, this species would be perfect left to naturalize in the rocky parts of the garden.

What I love most of this tulip is its delicately veined petals - just take a closer look at them in the first picture. What comes to flowers, I usually fall for anything veined or striped or otherwise reminiscent of watercolor painting, preferably with a white base color acting as a canvas, so these little fellows match perfectly my tastes. The outer petals are tinged with olive and mauve with a hint of yellow at the tip of the petal. The white inner ones have distinct, thin strokes of olive in the middle, emerging from a yellow base - so elegant. A bit temperamental, the buds only open in full sun, turning their own yolk-yellow centers to the light. And just like they wouldn't already be quite perfect, they also carry a fresh, sweet scent - in short, is has everything you could wish for in a small, species tulip. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Almost a visit to Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca

So close, and still so far...

Oh, if there ever was a situation when I wanted to throw myself to the ground and howl like a toddler who is denied a lolly, then this was it.

Fences of organ pipe cacti (on the left) frame plantings of opuntias that act as house plants for cochineal insects. They produce highly-prized, crimson-colored dye of carmin that was exported by the Spanish and used for fine paintings and as a dye for carpets and silk.

I'd been wanting to see Jardín Etnobotánico in Oaxaca for a long time, and it was one of the main reasons we chose to visit this beautiful, UNESCO World Heritage recognition worthy little town in South Mexico despite its slightly inconvenient distance from our present hometown. And yet, I arrived behind the garden gates during the announced time for English speaking tours, highly excited about at last getting to see this magnificent garden - sometimes called the best ethnobotanical garden in the world - only to be met by large signs telling that it would be closed indefinitely due to striking state employees. The gates stayed closed during our whole stay, and the strikers seemed to have a good time under their shady canopy, watching TV and listening to rowdy music. They showed absolutely no sympathy to my anguish, and happily continued exercising their democratic rights to my - I'm a little ashamed to say - utter irritation.

The only glimpse I got of the garden was a bird's eye view from the second floor of the adjoining museum; it was brief, but still long enough to convince me that the reputation of this magnificent garden is well-deserved.

Like a street party; employees of the Oaxacan state exercising their democratic rights by the impressive entrance to the garden...

The Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca tells the story of interaction between plants and people of the Oaxacan state that is famous for its ceramics, food and textiles. Plants have been an important part of its culture since the ancient civilizations of the Zapotec and other indigenous people who inhabited the area.

 Cycads and other palms that provide both food and fibres for textiles.

Cacao and vanilla are only two of the countless plants used for food production in Oaxaca... and that I missed seeing in this fantastic, architectural garden.

Nothing happens without a reason, some say.... so I just might have to go back to Oaxaca.

More information about visiting this garden:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

An unexpected side of Mexico City...

Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City - a miles long, tree-lined avenue where sculptures form a calming contrast to the roaring traffic.

Mexico City was in many was just what can be expected of one of world's largest metropolitan areas - vast, congested, crowded, noisy and filthy, full of decrepit buildings with dirty, rag-covered windows, and people begging and sleeping in gutters even in the wealthiest of area trying to carve out their daily living amongst millions of others in need. At the same time, it was all the opposites of the aforementioned: colorful, luxurious, tree-lined avenues lined with glorious houses, art and grand architectural monuments, and with smiling, effortlessly friendly people always ready to explain and help you further when needed.

A sculpture with a wonderfully soft organic form, with no plate about its name or creator...

What I found one of the most intriguing features of the city, was the amazing amount (do you say amount?) of sculpture on display everywhere in the city; by roadsides, in parks, in the middle of roundabouts - it felt like where ever my eyes wandered, there was a sculpture waiting to be discovered in the shadows of trees, forming proud focal point in the white sun, or drenched in the middle of water squirting fountains. Partly a deliberate and proud effort to display Mexican art and history, I still sensed that somewhere behind that official agenda, there must run an innate, deep love for the sculpted, chiseled, casted and modeled. Maybe, it is a living heritage of the earlier, ancient civilizations who carved their magnificent temples  filled with sculpted artwork on this same soil...

"Las Alas de la Ciudad" ("The Wings of the City") and"Equilibrista 90 monumental" by Jorge Marín, a young Mexican sculptor, whose classically influenced works are displayed on Paseo de la Reforma.