Tuesday, March 31, 2009

First Cherry Blossoms

I have signed up to be a cherry blossom scout for the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival and here's the object of my first posting: a small Whitcomb in bloom at 26th and Main. Last night I went to a talk by Douglas Justice on the subject of blossom biology. He fell in love with ornamental cherry trees on his early morning paper routes as a teenager. He loves the poetry of ornamental cherry blossoms and used to take his friends walking around the city at night on tree-spotting expeditions. Justice brought some branches he had forced to show us some examples of the blossoms so we could literally pick them apart.

Apparently there are about 1700 ornamental cherry trees in Vancouver. To learn how to identify them, Justice recommended a book called Japanese Flowering Cherries by Wybe Kuitert, or you can buy Justice's book called Ornamental Cherries in Vancouver. There are some good basic things to learn, like how to tell the difference between a cherry tree and a plum. (Hint: look closely at the petals.) Apples and plums have claw-shaped blossoms, becoming very narrow where they attach to the calyx. Cherry tree bark is also very distinctive on many of the trees (as you can see on the post I did below on the Weeping Higgans).

Here are some excerpts from my notes:

Akebonos often have a noticeable extra petal or half petal in one in ten blossoms. Shiroto blossoms have a faint almond fragrance. Taki-nioi (Fragrant Waterfall) have an even stronger almond fragrance, and you can see one of these rare trees in the Nitobe Garden at UBC. Umineko (Seagull) has curved white petals, and you can see an example in Queen Elizabeth Park. The Rancho trees have a very upright shape and the new leaves and buds are very sticky. Ama-no-gawa (Heaven's River) has flowers that stick straight up from the branches. Takasago's blossoms hang in balls like fluffy white baseballs. Mikuruma-gaeshi (The Royal Carriage Returns) has double and single blossoms; an apparent contradiction which was the cause of a long ago royal argument.

Ukon (Turmeric) cherry trees have a yellow tinge and can be seen on the south side of the Oakridge shopping centre. Shogetsu (Moonlight through Pine Trees) are very old, venerated trees. The Shiro fugen are the last to blossom in Vancouver and can hold their blossoms for up to one month. All these cherries are grafted on to sweet cherry stock, which is often problematic, causing many of these trees to be diseased. The UBC Botanical Garden is going to try a new program growing cherry varieties on their own stock. It will take longer, but the gardeners hope to create more resistant cherry trees this way.

Monday, March 30, 2009

What's Blooming at the Cherry Blossom Festival?

Well, the cherry trees aren't blooming in Van Dusen Gardens, but I took photos of this Weeping Higgan anyway.

I went and visited the honeybees who were taking short, cautious flights, and exploring the world directly around them.

I found one tulip is bloom, some white forsythia, some earlier rhododendrons and this Japanese witchhazel.

Cherry Blossom Festival: Haiku

On Sunday the sun came out, making it an ideal day to go to the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival at Van Dusen Gardens. At the entrance was this tunnel made of chicken wire filled with shredded paper. People wrote wishes and haiku on the ribbons.

This installation was inside the entrance to the gardens. You could write your haiku on the paper circles and hang it vertically.

Some people chose to have picnics outside the gardens, but once you entered the path with the cherry trees, there was another haiku installation piece called Trunk Space.

People wrote haiku and clipped them onto strings. When I was visiting the installation one little girl explored the wonderful echo inside by barking like a dog into the tubes.

This is the view up through the tubes.

This is one of my favorite entries to the haiku contest this year. It's the best reason for being late to school I can think of! Look for the haiku entries on the buses this spring.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring Fling: One

This is a great time of the year to launch our seed balls. The students had fun tossing them into a vacant lot and marking the area as pollinator habitat with ephemeral art.

I showed the class pictures of natural art using patterns such as spirals, circles, webs, and checkerboards, which they could draw inspiration from.

I brought along organic materials for the students to use (rhododendron leaves, pusywillows, twigs, and dried flower petals) and they picked a few things they found on the site, such as the occasional rock or feather.

This spiral is accented with weeping birch twigs.

Here the teacher uses rhododendron leaves and hydrangea petals to decorate her spiral.

Some of the students used the sidewalk chalk on the plants themselves. Here, it reveals the delicate texture of the leaf.

These students chose to create a 3D sculpture in the grass and created "snow" by grating the chalk.

Some students created homages to the bees by drawing their images and wishing them well.

Others created more abstract signs.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Honeybee Centre

Is that a hive tool in your pocket or...? During spring break last week we took a trip out to the Honeybee Centre in Surrey where I bought my own bee suit with a zip-in hood.

There's lots of honey for sale and a visible hive where you can see the bees working to keep the hive warm.

Apparently this skep is a prop used in a movie. Brian the beekeeper says that skeps are actually illegal to use as beehives. They sure look great though. (The hole is around the back in this photo.)

It looks as though it was made with straw covered in mud. The other ones outside the shed are stryrofoam copies that stood in the distance of the scenes to give the illusion of more skeps.

Here's a nice little extractor for a community garden. I like that it comes with a jaunty red stand.

Traffic Signs for Bees

In yet another class we made seedballs for the bees today with calendula, fennel, marigold, hollyhock, and nasturtium seeds. We separated the seeds from the chaff and learned to identify the seed shapes. Next, we discussed what makes good bee habitat and what makes poor bee habitat and I asked the students to design traffic signs for the bees.

The hive hanging from a branch is a die-hard image. (That would be a wasp nest.) I blame Disney's illustrations of Winnie the Pooh. Here, the student at least has morphed it into a skep hanging from a tree. I love the artist's use of pattern and repetition. Check out the bite marks!

I love this bee dreaming of flowers and the way the artist has given the illusion of movement.

Here's a nice bold, graphic image that will look great as a chalk drawing.

I like the natural form of the tree and the unnatural scale of the hexagons here.

The student explained that this is two flowers, merged. Brilliant!