This year was going to be the year I finally would experience a real Japanese hanami. I would look at the cherry blossom (or sakura) forecast, and book a trip to Kyoto to view them at their finest. I would buy a delicious bento boxful of food, a bottle of sparkling wine, and sit under the cherry trees, letting the petals slowly cover me in rosy white fluffy joy.That dream remains a dream, thanks to the covid-19 outbreak. Next year I will not have the flexibility to just up and go at a moment’s notice – but I plan to plan ahead. Apparently, even if it sweeps through Kyoto in just one week, sakura season in Japan lasts for an entire month. One just needs to catch it where it is at its best.Thankfully, Copenhagen also has two cherry tree parks, at Bispebjerg cemetery and Langelinie, that give acute relief to the longing for spring in Japan.(Copenhagen, Denmark; April 2020)
Some plants become lifelong friends. Like the weeping fig I grew from a cutting from my mother’s tree when I was 17, wrapped around a rock, and grew into a bonsai tree. It has moved to Holland and back with me, and it made it to Denmark a year after I did. It looks a bit funky today as its apex is missing: half of the tree died when I spent a year in the UK. A big love was shattered during that year, too. Both it and I survived, but we are not the same anymore. The photo was taken a year after our crash-and-burn. I was doing about the same.Then there is the jade plant, which originates from a cutting I snatched from the botanical gardens in Helsinki at the age of 19. When I intended to bring it over here to Denmark I discovered it had been forgotten for so long that the parched soil had shrunk from the pot edges, the wire holding the roots down had corroded and snapped, and the plant had capsized, lying sideways with its roots in the air. I apologized profusely, stuffed it into a bag and flew it to Copenhagen with me. Today it looks shaven on the sides because many leaves cracked off during the transport, and overgrown because I have focused on nursing it back to life before repotting and pruning. Life mangles us all up from time to time.
Recently I caved and bought an “it-plant”. Although I suppose the fiddle leaf fig was an it-plant five years ago, and should now be considered your garden variety hipster millennial living room species. They’re supposed to be high maintenance, and they’re supposed to wither and die with too much light, too little light, too much water, too little water, too hot, too cold, too anything.
Right now my baby fiddle leaf is pushing out new leaves two at a time. I whispered a secret to her: she will not end up in a bonsai pot, wired into shape. She will get special treatment and only the room ceiling is the limit for her. I hope we will remain friends for a long time. (Copenhagen, Denmark; March 2020)
Poor daffodils, such uniquely beautiful flowers with so many negative connotations. Daffodils are also known as narcissus, and “narcissistic” is not a nice thing to be. Why these poor flowers have to suffer by association and name to the Greek myth of Narcissus, a vain man who was turned into a daffodil, is beyond me.
When I was little, my grandmother instructed me to never give anyone yellow flowers, as it was a sign of envy. Google tells me that in other European cultures, giving a suitor or anyone with a proposal yellow flowers was a polite way to refuse what was on offer. Daffodils are the most vibrant shade of yellow – how can anything so sunny and energetic be used to send a negative message?
And last but not least: that round trumpet in the middle of a daffodil is known as a “corona” in botanist speak. Enough said.
And yet, daffodils themselves know and care of none of the above. Neither do I. When I pass hordes of flowers on my daily run I wish I could bathe in that vibrant yellow hue.
(Copenhagen, Denmark; March 2020)
To the buddhists, the lotus is a symbol of purity and transcendence: its feet bathe in the muddy bottom of the pond while its flowers and often leaves, too, rise into the pure air above it all. It is a reminder that one can have one’s roots entangled in mud and mess while still keeping a clear and pure mind above it all.
As I walked around the botanical gardens of Bologna I thought of how my own feet were currently so deeply embedded in the mud and mess and madness of this world. And how it seemed that the level of mud was rising dangerously close to my head. With honesty to myself I admitted that my head was probably already covered in spatters of mud, messing with my mind.
It is easy to see one is messed up. It is much more difficult to pinpoint how, and what to do about it. I almost wrote “and how to get out”, but really, getting out never helps. It is all about getting in, and working it out from the inside. This year I have been following a personal development plan which revolves around identifying negative energy inside and around me. One of its action points is to repeat to myself when needed, “I am not my emotions”. I have found myself repeating this mantra over and over again these past few months. Another action point is to KonMari incoming energies, impressions, and matters: sort them at the door and not letting every single one in. And if needed, put the newcomers in separate rooms, close the doors, and deal with them later. I have found that my mental rooms are nearing overcrowded.
Robin Sharma says that because a lifetime is precious and finite, there is no time for negative emotions. At all. That thinking a negative thought is to waste the time it takes to think that thought. This may sound like a highly platonically theoretic view, but when I think of all the time I spent dealing with negative emotions the past year I could probably amass a few weeks of life better spent doing other things. For example fully enjoying the botanical gardens of Bologna.
A dear friend once criticized me for being too solution-oriented. For offering my help in solving a problem when she would rather just wallow and swim in it for some time, until perhaps a solution slowly emerged. She gently told me that not all people want help, because not all things can be helped. Her words hurt me so much that I could not bear to spend time with her for two years. Some years ago I learned that not all problems can be solved. Not immediately, and perhaps not ever. Accepting the company of a deep injury for the rest of my life was possibly the toughest lesson I have learned in life so far.
And so I continue to trudge on through this life with my feet in the mud. As long as I remember to stretch upwards into the clean air, keeping my head relatively pure and sane like the lotus, I will be alright. (Bologna, Italy; July 2019)
This 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?Wikipedia.
(Brande, Denmark; May 2019)
Spring 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)
Blueberries 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)
Snowdrops 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)
European 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.
(Gardens by the Bay, Singapore; July 2018)
If 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?The 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. But 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?
(Marina Bay Sands, Singapore; July 2018)