This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Modern watermelons

melon-2This watermelon has nearly no seeds, a very thin rind, and barely any green flesh at the edges. Seedless watermelons exist – and who knows when one might run into an almost rindless watermelon in the grocery store?

One does not need genetic manipulation to significantly alter life: a few centuries of focused work does just as well. The watermelons in Giovanni Stanchi’s 17th century fruit stilleben look more like the oversized berry that a watermelon botanically is: a green fruit with swirls of red flesh covering clusters of seeds. My watermelon on the kitchen counter looks quite alien in comparison, almost industrially produced, don’t you think?

Image humbly borrowed from Wikipedia

(Brande, Denmark; May 2019)

 

 


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Scilla

scillaSpring in Helsinki means carpets of blue scilla. Someone must have started importing these plants from the Middle East and Caucasus, and now they claim their own space in every garden and park.

There is no better place to sit down for a glass of sparkling wine than in the middle of spring flowers.

(Helsinki, Finland; April 2019)


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Blueberries, goodberries

blueberriesBlueberries and bilberries are the same, right? Wrong. Blueberries found in our European supermarkets all-year round are cultivated highbush blueberries, juicy and light or green inside. The blue berries found in the Northern European forests are bilberries. These are the ones that stain your fingers and tongue when you eat them straight from the bush.

And it is the European bilberry which (as far as I know) is the superior superfood of the two: loads of antioxidants, minerals, and great taste, unbeatable by the North American blueberry.

But when it is April and the Finnish forests are only waking up one takes what one finds (in the supermarket). And so today granma’s old sugar bowl is filled with cultivated blueberries.

(Loviisa, Finland; April 2019)


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Snowdrops

snowdropsSnowdrops are champions of spring. Although in most of Europe they flower in winter, before spring equinox. Apparently they are not supposed to be native of Denmark but that has not stopped them from taking over this little town.

Snowdrops are literally sweet: they are filled with sugar which acts like an antifreeze against cold snowy mornings. Should one taste a snowdrop? No, as it is a narcissus – and those are poisonous at least to us humans.

(Brande, Denmark; March 2019)


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Growing a green city

marinabaysands-2European cities may have a few large, designated parks and many small green patches squeezed in later between the houses and streets. In Singapore, urban greeneries and jungles are not inserted here and there after the city is planned and built. Instead, since 1967, they have been consciously included in the plan as the city grew. Surprisingly large areas of green have been retained, such as the Botanic Garden and the Gardens by the Bay. Access is free from dawn until late, in some cases until midnight. My local friend spends most of his weekends in the Botanic Gardens with his wife and baby, discovering new things every time.

Because this is Singapore, “conventional” is not a word used in the urban planning office. The Gardens by the Bay include huge mushroom-like structures of steel towering above the treetops, connected with canopy walkways. There are many theme gardens with colorful sculptures, and two huge, air-conditioned glass domes: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.

The city is littered (or “decorated” if you prefer) with tiny parks, and each park is a carefully constructed piece of art, with surprising sculptures or a decorated walking path. Such attention to detail and imagination only happens when two aspects are met: enough affluence to invest a little extra in every structure being built; and a strategy to consciously incorporate greenness into city planning.

Only this way are there people employed to really rethink the greenness of spaces planned, before they are built.
marinabaysands-1(Gardens by the Bay, Singapore; July 2018)


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In the cloud forest

cloudforest-4If it is too hot to enjoy gardens outside, why not build a hollow mountain with a cool cloud forest on the outside, complete with mist, underneath a huge glass dome?cloudforest-1The Cloud Forest consists of a large, hollow, man-made “rock” planted with flowers, ferns, mosses, and climbers. The entire construction is misted every two hours, and this is the main attraction: visitors time their visit to enjoy the cooling sensation of mist on their skin while strolling the 6 stories of criss-crossing walkways in the skies. Because this is Singapore, one can naturally ride the elevator all the way up. cloudforest-3But the best surprise awaits the one who makes it all the way down and still has eyes for more beauty: the waterfall cascades down into a clear pool lined with the most interesting ferns, mosses, epiphytes, and climbers. Oh if only I had a private garden in a cool, shady area – this and a few trees would be the gorgeous landscape. Who cares if there was no sun, as long as there are ferns, mosses, and no mosquitoes?
cloudforest-2(Marina Bay Sands, Singapore; July 2018)


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Green wisdom

SPbotanicgarden-3On a whim I took the metro to the Botanic Gardens. I had no idea it was famous – until I entered and realized it probably must be. I have visited many botanic gardens in my life but nothing comes close to the one here in Singapore. The garden is easily 2-3 kilometes long and 1 kilometer wide. It contains two lakes, several ponds, a rainforest (large enough for a proper stroll!), a palm tree valley, an orchid garden, a symphony orchestra stage in front of a lawn – and approximately 20 themed gardens.

One of the most interesting gardens is the ethnobotany garden. It is divided into themes: symbolism, spirituality, food, crafts, and so forth: thus how people, especially local ethnicities, use or used plants to their advantage. There are plants used for hunting, for medicine, for building boats and houses, and for crafts.SPbotanicgarden-4It strikes me that still 150 years ago we Europeans too knew all about the properties and uses of our plants and trees: which wood is pliable, which is durable like steel, which plants are medicinal, and how to weave bowls and from what. All this knowledge here on the Malaysian peninsula will be lost soon, too, unless it is specifically conserved. Even here in Singapore I would wager to claim it is already lost from the collective mind of commoners and preserved only among few with an interest in herbology and healing.
SPbotanicgarden-2(Singapore; July 2018)