Commemorative Names and Diplomatic Bridges: Begonia ‘Kimjongilia’ Turns 30

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On a mural in Pyongyang, Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il enjoy a garden setting. Photo by Michael Day, Creative Commons by 2.0
On a mural in Pyongyang, Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il enjoy a garden setting. Photo by Michael Day, Creative Commons by 2.0

Long known as “The Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il was from 1980 a member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Workers’ Party of Korea, from 1991 the Supreme Commander of the People’s Army, and from 1993 Chairman of the National Defense Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea until he died in 2011. That’s an assortment of important names, isn’t it?

From February 1988, added to this array was a new variety of begonia to reflect them, ‘Kimjongilhwa.’

In the second act of a play you might have seen or read, Juliet Capulet asks her boyfriend, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet.” Although they can be arbitrary or intentional, there is much to a name indeed. Read more

Winter Sweetness for the Eyes and the Nose

a Basket of Winter Flowers, painting on silk by Li Song (1166-1243)
Basket of Winter Flowers, painting on silk
Li Song (1166-1243)

The realism allows each plant to be identified. What we see is a rattan basket filled with some of the earliest flowers of the year. From left, they are (top) Chinese winter-flowering plum with green calyx, (bottom) narcissus, camellia, wintersweet, and daphne. Once plum blossoms have been open for a while, the calyx changes to red, so this state indicates the freshest and first flowers to be produced. What the picture can’t show you is the fragrance Read more

What Are the Hardiest Gardenia Varieties?

Since January is the month Alexander Garden was born, let’s take a timely look at the popular shrub that commemorates him.

note: Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. The links here are independent, which means this web site has nothing to do with them!

a photograph of a gardenia plant growing in the snow in January

The Frost of Death was on the Pane—
“Secure your Flower,” said he.
Like Sailors fighting with a Leak
We fought Mortality—

In the past few years, many people who have grown gardenias outdoors have shared Emily Dickinson’s lament for the unspecified vegetable victim from poem F 1130. You may wonder just what the hardiest gardenia varieties are. The answer is developing, so let’s consider what we know about what’s available. Read more

Do You Appreciate the Wabi-Sabi Effect and Early Flowering Time of Ornamental Quince?

a white quince in a 3 gallon container at the nursery showing blooms before the leaves come outIn temperate climates, one of the earliest shrubs to bloom is the Ornamental Quince. The display will usually peak at the same time as forsythia, and you can make spectacular combinations by putting them side-by-side. Since the red form of quince seems most common, I thought I’d point out that they come in other colors too: orange, pink, and white.

white crocus blooming in a lawnA few of these shrubs with Iris reticulata at the base would make a fine show that in most parts of the country would appear in March. Or consider planting with crocus, creeping phlox, Siberian squill, Puschkinia, or Chionodoxa. Read more

Why Didn’t Macon, Georgia Learn This Lesson from History?

Monoculture shouldn’t be encouraged the way this one has been.

Listen patiently, quietly, and reverently to the lessons, one by one, which Mother Nature has to teach, shedding light on that which was before a mystery, so that all who will may see and know.

Luther Burbank

If you violate Nature’s laws you are your own prosecuting attorney, judge, jury, and hangman.

Luther Burbank

a color photograph of double white cherry blossoms against a clear blue sky with tiny green leaves and dark branches nearly blackAs spring arrives, communities nationwide are holding blossom festivals that of course have no connection to the pagan cultures we often rebuke and nature worship that predates Christianity. No, they’re about tourism and promoting the local economy. They’re also about bringing people together, creating unity rather than division based on wealth, religious beliefs, and politics that often yield acrimony.

As we crown blossom queens and spoof kings who were added not long ago to remedy the inequality and sexism of a beauty pageant (note to self: watch Drop Dead Gorgeous again), there’s a glaring problem behind some of these festivals that many people in the community aren’t aware of Read more

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom by Lucy Walker

An early 20th Century copy of Japanese woodcut The Great Wave off Kanagawa (神奈川沖波裏), from 36 Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).

Think back a few years and you probably remember the immense, destructive waves that hit Japan. On March 11, 2011, an earthquake off the coast of the largest island, Honshu, triggered tsunamis over 100 feet high that traveled more than a mile inland once they reached the coast. Thousands of people were injured or died, and in the days that followed, aftershocks woke survivors in the night and brought disturbing reminders of the whelming force of nature during the day.

British documentary filmmaker Lucy WalkerFor obvious reasons, foreigners who could were leaving, but British filmmaker Lucy Walker went to Japan just after one of the greatest natural disasters in its history. Read more

The Ornamental Cherry ‘Okame’ Offers a Celebration of February Plus Symbolic Luck and Happiness

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branches of the ornamental cherry 'Okame' loaded with pink flowers in late February 2017

Over most of its range, this tree comes into bloom before March. In the area around Philadelphia, where it was introduced to this country, it is also among the first trees to flower, usually between late March and mid-April. ‘Okame’ will grow as far north as zone 5 although it’s not commonly sold some places where it would grow. Since the flowers open so early, you might be worried about their ability to withstand late freezes. Worry not! Like other plants of very early spring, it can take a night or two below 32 without harm in bud or in bloom. In fact, I’ve seen it endure 17 degrees after flowering just ended.

So who or what is Okame? Read more

Sound of the Season: Music for a February Sky

note: Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. Most links are independent, but some help support this web site. If you prefer, feel free to donate instead.

a painting of a city street lined with trees called Night in February (1901) by Charles Conner
Night in February (1901)
Charles Conner

In England, there’s a group of contrarians who oppose “blue-sky thinking” by helping people appreciate the beauty of clouds, which makes you realize a curious aspect of our language. Although we commonly use the term “landscape,” we only rarely encounter the term “cloudscape.” Yet we look up all the time, and gardeners in particular often look skyward and spend time thinking about what kind of weather will come. And all this means Read more

Consider the Value of Reading Wind Patterns in Snowfall

an untitled winter landscape painting by Jose Salis Camino
Untitled Winter Landscape (no date)
by José Salís Camino (1863-1927)

If you live where it snows and you’re not a kid, dealing with snow is mostly a chore–one some residents dread so much they resolve to retire in a place where they will never see snow again!

The Japanese have a saying karo tosen, or “Summer heater, winter fan.” The point is that Read more