October 19, 2008

KIKU - The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum at the New York Botanical Gardens

Chrysanthemums, trained to Ogiku style or  'single-stem' forms, are a traditional method of training certain chrysanthemums which require careful pinching, and disbudding throughout the growing season. This is exactly how they are displayed in Japanese exhibitions, in precise rows set under protective roofs.

This glorious autumn weekend we had the luxury of attending the opening of Kiku -The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum held at the New York Botanical Gardens' Enid A Haupt Conservatory. As a solid Japanophile myself, having a local exhibition of such a collection is a rare and unique treat, since this is the second year that the NYBG has offered this exhibition. Most impressive is that this exhibit is the result of five years of a cultural exchange between the Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo, where for the past 100 years gardeners have perfected the art of growing and displaying exquisite chrysanthemums for the Emperor's garden. Under the training of Kiku master Yasuhira Iwashita, is is noted in the catalog of this years' exhibit that last year was the first time that the techniques and styles developed and displayed at the Shinjuku Gyoen were presented outside of Japan. This show runs from October 18 until November 16, 2008 at the New York Botanical Garden.

Exhibitions of this quality and authenticity are rare outside of Japan. If you are in the New York or ti-state area,  try not to miss this show -  a show which takes an enormous amount of time and talent over a 18 month period.

There are some very traditional patterns and forms which each takes years of apprenticeship to be able to achieve good results. The New York Botanical Garden display demonstrates most every method of training (perhaps without the human-doll forms), which makes this show very tradional from a Japanese perspective. It seems no detail has been overlooked.

There was a time when chrysanthemum displays were more common in North American, which reached an apex of popularity around 1900, but given that displays were often limited to the wealthy, those with private estates and teams of gardeners or to horticultural societies (often those, which financial support from said supporters who saw value in supporting such displays) today, outside of Asia, chrysanthemum displays are virtually non-existent (except perhaps those which feature crotons, plastic orange pumpkins and hay bales from Home Depot.

A formal conservatory chrysanthemum display itself may be a relic of the Victorian era, a traditional Kiku display featuring only the most traditional of Japanese forms, is something rarely seen anywhere at all outside of Japan. Thanks to the New York Botanical Gardens and it's dedication to horticultural talent and art, we al have been gifted this very generous treat - a portal to the Edo period, right here in the Bronx.

There are four Imperial styles of Kiku which are being displayed at the Enid Haupt Conservatory.  These include the Ozukuri ("thousand bloom") amazing domes and ovals of giant, incurves and recurve (or what we might call 'football mums' trained to a frame and all grown from a single cutting - a study in geometry which has to be seen, to be appreciated, or shall I say,"to be believed'; the ogiku ("single stem"), kengai ("cascade'), and new this year, shino-tsukuri ("driving rain"). These plants are all housed and displayed in decorative Japanese garden pavilions known as uwaya. These intricate structures protect and frame the beauty of the kiku displays: they are constructed from bamboo and cedar and then edged with ceremonial drapery.

Shin-tsukuri ("driving rain") style Chrysanthemums

Contemporary Japanese art from traditional materials adds to this years display. A magnificent outdoor installation of a  massive bamboo sculpture by artist Tetsunori Kawana, a master teacher of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana,the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging. Kawana is known worldwide for his innovative installations using freshly split bamboo.

The New York Botanical Gardens displays are attractive and immersive from every angle. I love the lanterns, music and the bonsai which all added to the effect.

The amazing ozukuri style of training Chrysanthemums - perhaps the most difficult, this "thousand bloom" form takes 11 months of training from cutting, to this,. Yes...this is all from a single plant, and if you kneel down, you can see the single 1/4 inch thick stem of the entire plant!

Cascade -trained chrysanthemums were most compelling and seemed like something that I could try at home. Finding books on the subject, however, has been difficult. But you know me! I will continue trying to find them before I give up!

The cascade style might be more popular to some people in the States, if you visit a fine botanic garden, but this form is still rather unusual, the plants are trained like waterfalls. This cascade style was the first fancy exhibition style that I tryed. Yes, you can try growing these amazing Japanese forms at home ( by ordering cuttings from Kings Mums for delivery in June).

If I cannot find a book to show me how to train these mums, these images on the didactic panels at the Kiku display, are quite helpful.

October 12, 2008

Nerine Timey

Nerine sarniensis as cut flowers indoors. (The mural in our kitchen was painted by my dad in 1948, it features all of my brothers and sisters, as well as neighbors and relatives in an old English setting. I wasn't born yet ...yeah... obviously an oops baby born 11 years after my sister, who is a baby in the mural; Still, rather weird, but attractive too with it's color palette and cracks, especially when lit well - a little Starbucksy.

Each year, I hesitate with cutting the Nerine sarniensis since although they are the perfect sign of autumn, and so difficult to grow for most people, if not impossible to bloom, my Kismet of luck keeps me a little more protective with them. Besides, I usually cross them with each other, and don't want to lose out on any seed. This year, since I had an abundance of bloom, I decided to cut a few to take to work, decorate the kitchen and bring into my studio. Here in New England, it was a perfect fall weekend, and nothing says "fall' like pink and magenta, I always say!

In the autumn greenhouse, the stars are certianly the Nerine sarniesis - the Amaryllis' long lost cousin, rarely seen in America, and unusual even in it's more common habitat - the UK, where the call it the Guernsey Lily, based off of an old legend that a ship at sea dumped its cargo of Nerine in the 1800's off of the coast of Guernsey, where they bulbs that washed up on shore, naturalized. Native to South Africa......wait........? Has anyone ever wondered WHY a ship would be full of Nerine? Perhaps there is a greater mystery here.

Nerine sarniensis hybrids growing in the greenhouse. ( I know, the ugly old gas can is still in the picture).

October 7, 2008

Moving Plants into greenhouse

We spent last weekend moving plants and tubs of trees into the greenhouse, since I will be traveling next weekend.
Check out the size of our Gardenia....

The intoxicatingly fragrant spires of Hedichium 'Tai Monarch', growing in a large tub outside.

The scent of Hedychchium instantly brings me back to my college days in Hawaii, ( yes, I went to college in Hawaii), and during the autumn, Hedychium blooms under the high tension wires high up in the Tantalus mountains, the mountain range that runs through the center of Oahu. Tantalus drive was a favorite drive on full-moon lit evenings, taking our Fiat Spyder at silly speeds with the top down, hugging the hair-pin turns as most college kids would do. I remember the access road to this drive ran along the edge of Punahou HIgh School, where Barack Obama went to high school, I must have been in College when he was there. Anyway, I digress.... These ginger blossoms practically bring me to tears whenever I smell them. Not because they are so strong, but because their scent instantly transforms my memory.

Easy to grow, you can order them from Plant Delights Nursery in the spring and plant the 6 inch pot into the ground, or the largest tub you can afford, and stand back. In the autumn, we drag them back into the greenhouse, but one can just as easily cut them back before the last frost, and haul the tub into the cellar or unheated garage were they cannot freeze, and keep them until spring. Their foliage is tropical and Canna-like all summer, but the real treat comes in September with these cones of incredibly fragrant blossoms. I can't get enough!!!

Anemone japonica - a semi double form which arrived without a label. Still, quite beautuful for a species which does more than 'fill a gap' in the garden. IF you've never grown the late blooming Anemone's, I highly recommend them. Just buy as many as you can afford, for a stand of 15 plants is the best way to blow away your neighbors. A single plant is OK, but not as great at 5, not as awesome as 10, and 15 - 30? Sublime! Start some from seed this spring. They just get better each year.

Every year I say "OK, we are not going to drag the giant gardenia back into the greenhosue, right?" But then, when the frost nears......eventually most everything finds a place back in the greenhouse, and somehow, in a very Harry Potterian way, everything fits!

Some gingers, such as this unknown Hedychium species we recieved from Logee's Greenhouse never bloomed which means that it may have wanted to bloom later in our short growing season, but sadly, I voted to terminate it, in order to make more room for other new plants ( like my new collection of Hawarthias and Gasteria - which I have been fighting against collected for a couple of years now!). Now I need to go throw more pots for them, since Haworthia's MUST have dark brown high grog stoneware pots, and the only place I can get those if from my own kiln - so off to the wheel. More on that later.

Fergus, one of our Irish Terriers, relaxes most anywhere, as long as he isn' t too far from us. He was groomed later today, since we are going to NYC for a few days next week, and he and Margaret love to go and "do the city". I think it reminds them of their dog show days. SO if you are at the W on Lexington, look for them, ( they are rather well known there!).