Thursday, May 13, 2010

Enchanted by Armenia

"Inchpes es?" he said with face that said 'you're crazy.'
So wierd- I'd never heard the words before, but knew them well: "What are you doing ?"spoken by a slightly buzzed Armenian youth. Yes, and I, trying to find my friend's place at midnight with a giant rucksack on my back in a country whose language I've studied and only been in for a few hours. Like finding yourself in a fantasy story you've read and know well.
Vanadzor, Armenia, is lovely.

I'm staying with my long-time-correspondant colleague, Zhirair Basmajyan, who is a twenty-plus year grower of tulips, preserver of historical tulip cultivars, and launcher of a future caucasian bulb-growing business.
Armenia makes up for its small size with a strong individuality resulting from a long history. It is in that place that only former-Soviet nations know, each with their own spice of external political histories that effect them. Life was good in Soviet times, but pragmatically unsustainable. (Evidence being what has happened). A great deal of Armenians have moved away, and a great deal of folks from Vanadzor have moved to the Armenian capital, Yerevan. Competition for good jobs is high. I will not pretend to fully understand the situation and its nuances, but I fancy I'll be finding out.
I'd like to mention that Armenians are terribly classy, everyone dressing stylish and well to go out.

Stunningly beautiful people.
Zhirair's wife, Alla, is in instructor at the local institute, teaching Armenian. She's set me up helping English classes as a native speaker for the last three days. (And, in turn, I'll be getting help in Armenian) All the kids have an ingrained understanding for the usefulness of the "international language" faculty of English. They beat the pants off of the average American student in a foreign language class, too. They are inspiring and aspiring.Zhirair himself works for the marz (state/province) of Lori. But what he's rather be doing, like the rest of us, is gardening. His specialty is Tulips and a few other bulbs. A few being dozens of species and cultivars of Fritillaria, Scilla, Crocus, Lilium, and recently- Narcissus. A trip to his gardens (located on the properties of relatives) is a holiday to the most scrupulously grown Tulip material I've ever seen. Due to the rainy quality of Vanadzor, his tulips are best if harvested: that is, dug up each summer and allowed to be dry for a period before replanting.

That "summer baking" treatment leaves the Greigii Tulips much happier, also making doubles more double and fringes more fringed.
Tulipa greigii 'Jackie' looking voluptuous. (and at once of suspicious but inconclusive health- see leaf colour irregularities)

His potted plants are grown very well, to my suprise, in locally harvested leafmold-rich soils, which he hand-screens. No fertilisers or pesticides stronger than boiling water. When deadheading or other cutting is done, a fresh blade is used for each and every plant. Serious business.

Pots on a roof. It gives me too many ideas.
But he does it for reasons of land shortage- amazingly planting them in early spring out of cool winter storage.

His biggest concern is viruses. He watches his plants closely at all levels fo growth and knows symptoms on each part of the plant. He quarentines new material and protects plants from vectors. Useful trivia for you: Aphids are stronger, short-distance spreaders of virus; bees are weak but distant carries of virus through thier microscopic rasping legs. (The above netting is to protect particularly susceptible 'Ballade' hybrids/sports from bee-born virus from his neighbour's plants. Viruses are rampant in the world of tulips, and some commercial material does carry it. Sparing you and not going into detail, I'll refer to a link to his in-process website, translated from Russian via Babelfish:

Dutch-grown tulips are also treated with growth retarders to keep them fresh-looking longer, which also makes them split into small bulbs after their first season, resuming normal growth in the third season- a poor performance- which effectively inspires the consumer to buy bulbs every year and, ladies-and-gents-the real-bottom-line: increase sales.

Now, enough of my tripe and more pictures of plants!

Tulipa 'Ataturk' provides a scheme I've not seen before.
Kiev, above, is the star right now. We kept going back to regard it...

'Dymka', ("Дымка", Russian for "Smokey"), although not totally accurate in this shot, is of odd colour, common of breeder tulips (which are also uncommon in cultivation).
Darwin Hybrid 'Eric Hofsjö' Yes. He's not sold anymore.

The future? Our Zhiro hopes to sell Caucasus-native bulbs that he propagates and grows naturally, resulting in large, healthy, and well-selected plants. I'll let you know how it goes.

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