This blue marble

– and yet it spins

Leave a comment

Dear old wisteria

genoa-9Dear old wisteria, how old are you? How were you brought to the rooftop of the palazzo Doria Tursi on via Garibaldi? Were you a sight to be seen, covered in periwinkle flowers?  Were you the centerpiece of a pre-dinner cocktail gathering? How many kisses stolen and promises of love fervently whispered have you hidden underneath your branches?

Wikipedia tells me that your kind was not brought from far Asia until the early 1800s, which means you are probably not more than two hundred years old. Do you agree? And by the way, did you know that the house you grow on is three hundred years older yet?

(Genoa, Italy; July 2018)

Leave a comment

An English garden in Italy

italygardens-2When one is 35 years old and wishes to establish oneself, one can either join the entertaining society or one can entertain oneself by building a fine garden from scratch. In this garden it is not enough for the visitor to love flowers to see them; here one must climb down a height difference of 100 meters to see the end of the garden by the ocean – and another 100 m up again to exit by the gate. When deciding to establish themselves, Sir Thomas Hanbury and his brother Daniel did not choose a garden site with step-free access.italygardens-1 To compensate for the viewer’s labors, in the late 19th century the La Mortola garden was one of the most famous gardens in the world: nearly 6,000 different plants; many exotic and brought home from Asia by Sir Thomas himself.

The garden has been destroyed and reborn several times due to war and bad management. Today it is owned by the University of Genoa and is in better shape than it has been for decades. While it is lovely, and age has only made the buildings and structure more charming, I could not help but think that it lacks the more orderly feel of an English or German garden (Hanbury’s head gardener was German). Perhaps this slightly topsy-turvy current state befits a garden which after all is on Italian soil.
italygardens-3(La Mortola, Italy; April 2018)

Leave a comment

Easter lilies

daffodilsIn my mind, daffodils are flowers of old houses inhabited by sweet old ladies. In Finland they are mostly bright yellow wild daffodils. But oh, those special moments, when walking past a garden I would spot the smaller, white poet’s daffodil, with a little red crown. I could look at the intricate and symmetric architecture of a poet’s daffodil for a very long time.

In the winter garden in Helsinki, Easter was celebrated with daffodils. Perhaps partly because daffodils are also called Easter lilies in Finnish and Swedish? And what is more joyful than a sea of yellow and orange after a long, cold, dark winter?

(Winter gardens, Helsinki, Finland; April 2018)

Leave a comment

The Spice Isles were not always so

spices-1Zanzibar and its surrounding islands are also known as the Spice Isles. Curiously, this is a wholly imported conception, as there was no real concentration of spices growing here until the Arabs and the Portuguese came and planted spice and fruit varieties they had encountered on their travels around the world. Everything seems to grow on Zanzibar, and so now the farmers grow peppercorn from India, lemongrass from Southeast Asia, avocado from Peru, cloves from Indonesia, and vanilla from South America. In essence, the ecosystem of Zanzibar changed completely with the settlement of the Portuguese. spices-4.jpgAnd yes, cloves come from red flowers on a tree and peppercorn grow on a vine. Cardamom comes from overground root-like pods produced after flowering, and pineapple takes 6 months to mature (and one can only harvest one fruit per plant per year). All of these, as well as cinnamon, turmeric, and other spices are now an integral part of the Swahili diet and kitchen. I would love to know what food tasted like before the Portuguese came.
spices-2.jpg(Zanzibar, Tanzania; August 2017)

Leave a comment

A modern monkey

canopy-2After browsing the free-time activities during a work retreat, I signed up for a canopy tour. I thought it would be like the canopy tours I did in the past: walking on planks and suspension bridges in trees. How wrong I was. Read the small print they say – but who ever does?

Instead we were whisked up on top of a mountain in a ski lift, trussed and clamped into a harness, and sent down the mountain on ziplines, toes skimming the treetops. Hanging from a wire, wind in my eyes, speeding towards a huge tree, I had to learn to brake with my glove on the wire before hitting it full speed. That’s what the helmets were for – or against.

canopy-1 As I stood under the apex of a lark tree, enjoying the sunlight and hum of the wind in the branches, squirrels scattered in all directions with angry complaints: humans don’t belong in the trees anymore. “Have not done so for quite a while so Go Away!”

Yet I could not help but think of John Muir’s tale about when he rode out a storm in the top of a douglas fir in Yosemite. And I thought of redwood arborists who spend days harnessed and hanging from trees, studying the animals and trees that grow from compost deposited on a redwood branch – and even sleeping suspended in the trees.

And I realized I just may have missed a second calling as an arborist, spending my days up in the trees, researching the microecosystem of a single tree branch. I may have missed a chance for happiness by reverting into a modern monkey.

canopy-3(Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, USA; October 2015)


More water and rice fields – and ducks

riceterraces-2  Just like to every other culture on this planet, to the Balinese water is holy. To them rice is holy, too, and a gift of God. Thus perhaps life is best managed by managing rice growth and water supply? This seems to be the worldview of the Balinese, who have cultured rice in terraces for thousands of years. The subak system intertwines collective ownership, agriculture, water systems, and religious worship in water temples.

waterfallAs I looked out at the rice terraces I was reminded of an elementary school lesson where we were taught that circulation of crops keeps the soil fertile: grains, potatoes with stalks, and most importantly, nitrogen-binding peas in a continuous rotation. The Balinese have grown rice – and more rice – year after year, for thousands of years. No potatoes or peas. How could that be?

The answer is ducks. Yes, ducks. Dozens of ducks. Sometimes hundreds of ducks, invading the rice fields, eating insects and weeds, and pooping out the best organic fertilizer.

Organic agriculture rocks. Who needs chemicals when ones has fluffy quacky ducks at one’s disposal?

riceterraces-1(Jatiluwih, Bali, Indonesia; August 2015)


On Bali every flower has a purpose

Baliflowers-2One lonely frangipani flower lies at the toes of a griffin carved in stone. A monkey statue has two red hibiscus flowers sticking out behind its ears. A buddha blesses a fresh, sun-orange marigold in his hand. On Bali, no flower lies anywhere by chance.

Baliflowers-3Every flower has a purpose. Godly forces and beings are everywhere, and everything man-made has a religious purpose or has been blessed for its proper use. And the lotus flower is the most sacred of all. It grows in every little pond and pot by the door, with its feet in the mud and its flower held high.

There is much muddy water in this world. Most of us wade or swim through it without ever knowing better. We forget what it was like to be a child and to skip on the surface, feet barely touching the dirt below. The lotus has realized that barely floating is not the best salvation: only by rooting into the mud it is possible to stretch and reach above it, and to enjoy the pure air and sunlight.

Standing by a lotus pond in Ubud I was wishing that I could grow lotuses home in Helsinki, too, as a reminder of what is within my reach, if I only remember how to reach for it.

Baliflowers-1(Ubud, Bali, Indonesia; August 2015)