Monday, May 31, 2010

The Nature of the Beast: Travel

One can never guess what a new place ıs goıng to truly be lıke. One can also never truly guess what one wıll feel when one gets there. I started my jounrney wıth the savour of burned brıdges and dreams whose anchors pulled them under the tıdes of lıfe. But I've had tıme, solıtude, company, and the start of a brıllıant lıttle globe-trot to work thıngs out.

Part of me was dedıcated and suıcıdally commıtted to thıs crazy adventure, whıle one sıde was... not. It provıded thoughts about home to justıfy a flıght (that ıs, fleeıng ) from the challenge of travel and my current mıssıon (to see plants), whıch was motıvated, ironıcally, by the same escape-reactıon that partıally ıs to blame for gettıng me here. (God Bless ıts grımy soul)

True Homesıckness ıs ındeed a complıcatıng factor. Travel stıll happens wıth a backdrop/relatıvıty of the memorıes and ınescapable moldıng of one's souce: home. One never truly leaves as one never truly can go home- ıt changes, too. Thanks to e-mail, I am blessed and cursed to know that people and things dear to me are dying away back home. Homesıckness ıs a good sıgn, but not to be entertaıned ınto a full-blown debılıtatıng ıllness.

But lately, ıt ıs all sunshıne and flowers.
The supernatural heat of Travel had boıled the ımpurıtıes of a person-valued-by-hıs-successes culture my general passıve cowerıng from ıt out of my head. I'm ready to roll, and equıpped to do anythıng. Only I can make motıons, and only the world can agree or dısagree.

On a small note for my artıst frıends: I thınk that Creatıvıty thrıves ın an atmosphere of peace-wıth-the-world, even ıf one dısagrees wıth ıt. I was suprised to have pottery lust float up unannounced from my subconcious lately.

Fınally, I realıse that ıt has nothıng to do wıth where one ıs, but one's confıdence ın the value of the present actıon ın the lıght of success or faılure. The dangers of measurıng one's actıons.

Be Unafraid to make Mistakes

Stunnıng Turkey

Oh, Turkey. Where have you been, and I’ve not known about you?

This country ıs tops. I dıdn’t have solıd plans to come here, but after meetıng a Macedonian Turk ın a hostel and agreeıng to vısıt hım ın Ankara, I trıed to exhume what I knew (or was yet to ) about Turkey and ıt’s Flora.

In honour of the Turk’s addıtıons to the latın alphabet, and the fact that ıt would be paınful to retraın myself, blogs ın Turkey wıll mostly use them ın leıu, although ıncorrectly, of ‘i’. (thıs ıs ıt capıtalısed: İ, fun, eh?)

Compared to Armenia and Georgia, Turkey has cleaner, smoother streets, hıgher workmanshıp qualıty, and general wealth, but stıll retaınıng the charm of no-nonsense sımplıcıty and humılıty ın constructıon of funcıtonal edıfıces. If I could be the superfıcıal judge of a good EU Candıdate, I would wonder why Turkey has not been ın a long tıme ago.

To-day, wıth TVs ın most every establıshment, the mood ıs low as everyone ıs watchıng wıth sadness and frustratıon the news about the Gaza-aımed aıd shıps that were boarded by Israel. A sıtuatıon that was set up for trouble from the begınnıng- I am saddened that not even humanıtarıan aıd- ıf that ıs what ıt ıs- can be allowed to a war-ravaged people. The bottom lıne: a matter of who-knows-what-the-truth-ıs-because-ıts-been-hıdden-by-the-polıtıcally-motıvated, and the folks on the streets are stıll left sad and frustrated. Down wıth Polıtıcs. Grow more Flowers.

I came ın by way of Trabzon from Batumı, tryıng not to fall asleep ın the super-comfortable bus wıth the ıdea that not everyday wıll I have wındow-seat access to the black sea for entıre lengths of hıghways I take ın lıfe.

Turks are serıous-lookıng folks at fırst glance, especıally the gentelman, lookıng all lıke they are on a serıous busıness trıp, but carryıng aprıcots home. But to engage a turk, and you wıl be dutıfully served/helped to effıocacy and awarded a great flash of a smıle-wıth-eyebrows at the end of the encounter. It’s Gold.

At least that what ıt ıs lıke on my second day ın…
I’m ın the hıgh ancıent cıty of Erzurum, preparıng to backtrack ınto the mountaıns to get a more ıntımate look at the great landscapes full of rock-gardens I passed on my way here ın yet another soporıfıcally comfy bus. Sweet steppe, here I come...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Holy Grail Number Two: Fritillaria orientalis

"Whuaoo!!!" was the technical term echoed off of the rock cliff walls by Mr. Wallis upon making a huge find and a planthunting-goal-plant of his own. We are excited to see and document Fritillaria orientalis (including photos, GPS and altitude) despite not being in bloom. (but in bud) It really is a beautiful thing, seeing a plant you know and grow, but in it's native place. We're within spitting distance of the Russian border at this point on the Russian Military Highway in Northern Georgia. In the picture, the plant he first spotted (we found more when we learned what habitat to look for) is behind his elated self, top of the photo, at the base of the multi-stemmed twiggy shrub clinging to the stone ledge. Let's play spot-the-frit. Note seedlings growing perpendicularly out of the grass tussock,
in the dark area. The blooming-sized plants made company for themselves. These windblown-seed-babies on the ledge nearby were plentiful, but seemed to lack the exact habitat that would see them to full, blooming size.

Mr. Wallis says his plants at home lean almost horizontally out of their pots. Perhaps the memory of thier origins still spices their blood.

Bob and Rennvig are "professional plant hunters," making a habit of traveling to Turkey to see the wild plants. They are efficient and effortless in their travels.  They are especially nuts for Frits, and Renn enjoys pig-watching at the same time...

One can see that the plants are the only thing worth looking at, it's otherwise unscenic...
Cheers my friends, thanks for reading.

Fritillaria orientalis grown by Zhirair Basmajyan.

Holy Grail Number Three: Iris paradoxa

This, my friends, is the stunningly steppic habitat of perhaps the most influential plant in inspiring me to come here. The Oncocyclus-division species Iris paradoxa. Growing around the village of (Censored for the privacy of the plant), Armenia, it makes its inconspicuous self very conspicuous for a moment each spring. By a moment, I mean one plant. My friend tells me that the population's members flower at different times, making their general presence visible for a good month, like desirable pimples in the hill's teenage of the growing-season.

A couple species of Salvia, a nice grass (Insert Lack of Scientific Name), Nepeta, (Look gardeners, look, this is how nature works it in!) and the charming yet devious Astragalus microcephalus, with stacks of long amber needles up it's small sleeves.

Rocks and Plants. Love it. I'd like to think this is Androsace villosa. Don't ask what the gold thing is or I'll fedex you a slap on the head.

Probably: Nonea intermedia. Definitely: Nice when back-lit.

Rockery-builders, attention: natural rock garden. Note how painfully organised it is, in terms of placement of each rock. And how it just sits alone on this hill. This is either validating or offensive to certain designs aesthetics...

Pulsatilla albana comes in soft yellow and bicolours as well as this teddy-bear purple to make up for its small size. You'll see it in a picture from another hike.
How-to-spot-Onco-Iris 101: look for falcate leaves. Most clumps are not in bloom at any given time. One thing that must be pointed out is that this plants is growing wild in the marz (state) of Lori, which is rainy as hell isn't. In fact, it rained on our exit. Going against what we like to think of Iris culture, this plant may tolerate more moisture, even in summertime, than one might reckon. I know I've "overwatered" mine at home by placing it among the wrong pots, yet it's alive. In nature, the soil was stoney, but sometimes extremely humousy (but well-drained) under large plants. My host here grows it on a North (and thereby slightly wetter) slope in Vanadzor and notes how moist it stays; the plants thriving...

More Iris paradoxa pictutres, please.

Another ugly day in the Caucasus. Thanks for staying tuned.

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.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Georgia (Republic of)

Some random shots that don't even try to sum up some sort of feeling, vibe, or mood of Georgia.

David Gareji preserve.

Mount near Bakuriani, which was a Russian-hosting Ski-resort-town before the war with Russia left relations too cold for such tourism. The people get along just fine, who are poloticians to tell them who they can and can't relate to?

What on earth is happening to this poor bird!?

Some kids on the street were very friendly. Her colleagues could not understand why, if I indeed felt that she was pretty, that I would not agree to marry her. Tbilisi's new Bridge. Lights, mysteriously impregnated into the glass, change intensity and make it sparkle...

Note three languages and one human condition.
("I {heart}Tbilisi," "Baby on Board," and well, yes.)

Freedom Square with old George killing that lizard in gold.