Past Columns from
(The Sullivan County Democrat, January 2003 )
To know the popularity of Japanese gardens is to know that a television science fiction series called Babylon 5 (still in re-runs, today), included in its gigantic eight mile-long, outer space platform, a Japanese stone garden where Earthlings and Aliens could seek spiritual enlightenment and relax from the chores of navigating deep space.
Japanese gardens are special places and should be in the mind’s eye of every gardener who wants a small garden. By the very philosophical definitions, when all such gardens are counted up, there are very few large Japanese gardens—and those are usually found in arboretums and botanic gardens. But the elements of Japanese gardens are easily incorporated into the small backyard garden or terrace garden. Courtyard gardens come to mind and such small-scale plans can easily be adapted to balconies, decks, patios, or even rooftops (being sure that the roof is structurally sound). Containers, like placing a cobalt-blue jardinière with a great Japanese maple, next to some smaller pots planted with a few annuals and perennials, perfectly express the feel of peace and serenity—two of the hallmarks of Japanese gardens.
Japanese gardens are beautiful any time of the year. At winter's end, the flush of new growth brings a watercolor intensity to shrubs, small trees, and spring flowers. By early summer, when evergreens are a vibrant green and flowers are blooming, such a garden looks like an oil sketch. But when fall arrives, the sketch becomes a full-blooded oil painting, with the colors of autumn almost flung at the canvas. Finally in winter, a Japanese garden becomes a stark etching, with all colors reduced to beiges and browns, blacks, and whites.
I remember visiting the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Japanese Garden one day in mid-December. The air was cold (about 22°F) and most of the pond was frozen. Yet one small section close to the Torii (a gateway to heaven usually built near a shrine) remained clear of ice. A number of ducks had crammed themselves into the open water like commuters on a rush-hour train. Underneath the cover of ice, the hazy forms of bright orange and spotted goldfish made slow serpentine curves. There were other colors, too: the light browns of the ducks, the diluted greens of the pine needles glowing through the snow, and the lacquered red of the Torii. Everything else was white on the canvas.
The garden was beautiful yet not one flower was in bloom.
The Classic Calla
(The Sullivan County Democrat, February 2003 )
Whenever I see a calla lily I am often reminded of a movie scene with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In a darkened theatre they effortlessly dance to a Gershwin tune, feet lightly tripping on a polished marble floor while the two float by in front of skyscraper widows looking out on a fabled Manhattan of the 1930s.
When used in a Greek compound word, calla means beautiful. Unfortunately, this lovely flower lost its name in a kind of botanical sweepstakes to a single genus of aquatic plants, Calla palustris, or the bog or water arum. These are hardy plants grown along pond margins for their glossy heart-shaped leaves and their small white spathes wrapping around a yellow spadix--like a poor man’s calla from the fens and marshes. They are also rather unromantic because in Lapland the rhizomes are dried, ground, boiled, and macerated, becoming a kind of flour used in a baked delicacy called missebroed—a far cry from a shrimp cocktail in a Manhattan nightclub.
After that, callas were grace with the name of Richardia, but that term was tossed out to avoid confusion with the genus Richardia, one member being the annual Mexican clover (R. scabra) usually grown as a green manure and cover crop.
So today these classic blooms belong to the genus Zantedeschia, named in honor of Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773-1846), an Italian botanist and physician from Verona. The species name for the florist’s or garden calla is aethiopica, and in realty, has nothing to do with Ethiopia, but refers to the lands south of the world’s known geography, or south of Egypt and Libya. The other common name of arum lily is doubly incorrect because this plant doesn’t belong to the genus Arum nor is it a lily.
Zantedeschia aethiopica was originally introduced into Europe back in the 1700s when callas were planted in the Royal Garden in Paris, where it was seen by gardeners from all over Europe and was imported into England in the early, followed in 1860 by Z. albomaculata, a calla still bearing flowers surrounded by a yellow spathe but with white-spotted leaves.
When describing what most people call the flower we’ve used the word spathe and spadix, because in structure the flowers of the calla resemble those of our common Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) with the spathe being a modified leaf that gracefully wraps around the spadix, a thick, club-shaped flower spike that actually bears the tiny flowers.
These little blossoms are found in male and female zones on the spadix. On average, the top three-quarters are male flowers and the bottom quarter are female. Flowers are scented and attract a number of pollinators, including bees, flies, and beetles. Cross-pollination is guaranteed because the male flowers ripen before the females. Using a hand lens you can easily see the pollen emerging from the males.
Peter Loewer ~ The Wild Gardener ~ Asheville ~ NC ~ email The Wild Gardener
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