A balance for Easter

There's a disconnect between Church flowers and Church gardens in Israel and the past.

April 7, 2007 20:47
A balance for Easter

easter eggs 88. (photo credit: )


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As Jerusalem fills with tourists for religious services, flowers are being prepared to decorate Christian churches. However, the links between church flowers, nature and church gardens seem now to be forgotten. There is little connection between church flowers and the spring flowers of Jerusalem, that is, the local flora that Jesus Christ would have seen. Many Easter lilies and bouquets are forced in hothouses so they will be in bloom for Easter Sunday vases. Flowers at Easter are often perceived as a symbol of the cycle of life, a sign of renewal. But with many commercially grown flowers the cycle is now often broken. A large number have had a facelift at the expense of fertility. They have been biologically modified so that they can withstand the strains of modern marketing. There is much science to making flowers look attractive after surviving in cardboard boxes for days without water during the process of transportation, auction display, presentation in a retail outlet, and finally, being purchased and arranged. Christians visit the Holy Land in search of the spiritual, so having an abundance of fresh flowers and gardens in keeping with the time of Jesus would help visitors recapture the feeling of early Christianity. But the areas around places of worship are usually an eclectic mix of trees and flowers from all over the world, everything from eucalyptus trees from Australia, purple bougainvillea and orange lantana from South America to bright blue plumbago and geraniums from South Africa. Few of them supply the flowers for church services. Despite the extensive landholdings of the Christian churches and the hundreds of churches, convents and monasteries in Israel, all the significant public biblical gardens in the state are run by Jewish organizations or people. The sole exception occupies a corner at the back of St George's Cathedral and College in east Jerusalem. LITTLE IS said about the flora that surrounded Jesus during his earthly life. This lack of focus is unexpected as the outdoors was essential to early Christianity. Most of Jesus' ministry took place in the open, especially the events during Lent. His last free night on earth was in the Garden of Gethsemane. His tomb and his Resurrection were in a garden. According to John's Gospel, when Mary Magdalene saw Jesus after the Resurrection she mistook him for a gardener. Just as the religious character of the exterior areas around churches is often overlooked, it is now the same with the actual species of flowers. If local plants such as tulips, wild marjoram, sage-leafed rockrose, African rue, hyacinth, common narcissus, sea squill, blue lupin, sea daffodil, Cyclamen persicum and Anemone coronaria, were grown in the grounds of Holy Places and church gardens in Israel, it would add a sense of continuity with the past, give an extra dimension for tourists and, more importantly, help the environment. THERE HAS been publicity recently about "carbon footprints" with flowers clocking up thousands of air miles and thus causing carbon emissions. But other ethical issues in the process of creating "designer" flowers for mass consumption have been ignored. Long-flowering and showy modern cultivated versions of flowers may be, but in gardens cultivars are a disaster for wildlife as they are often offer nothing to food chains. This is because sex organs have often been altered, sacrificed to create more petals and also to increase longevity. Some of these do not produce that essential to food chains, the sugary substance known as nectar, and in those that do, insects are often obstructed by "double" petals or improvements in the bloom. The process of known as "doubling" is the selection and breeding of plants with large or profuse petals. In "double" flowers the reproductive organs, such as stamens or anthers, are sometimes altered, resulting in an inability to reproduce. Yet a flower's purpose is to continue the life of plants. Sterility contradicts the purpose of a flower. Sexuality and reproduction is the core of its existence. After pollination a flower usually sets seed and/or turns into fruit or pods. When eating an orange or an apple people often forget that, like all fruit, it was once part of a flower. However, sterility has become sought after in cut flowers and "new" garden plants. For most cut flowers to be top merchandise it is essential for them to linger week after week in bloom. If a flower is prolonged at an immature stage it delays or stops the seeding processes and stays in bloom for longer. The result is flowers with little or no nectar flow or flowers with profuse petals in which pollinating insects find it impossible to reach the nectar hidden at the base. For instance, double larkspur flowers secrete no nectar at all. The same absence is found in nasturtiums with no spurs. The lower petal of the heartsease is a perfect landing platform for bumble-bees, but in the double version the petals are so large and flimsy the bee tumbles off before it can reach the nectar. So the flower is not pollinated and the bee goes hungry. The longevity of cut flowers can also be improved when nectar has been adjusted. Boxed flowers can be sullied by the drips of nectar from other flowers and their own. Nectar can cause black spots or mildew during transportation. It can also give problems in packing sheds with bees and ants and can brush off on flower petals so they stick when packed together. Pollen too can make blemishes on packed cut flowers. The tempestuous Jean Jacques Rousseau, better known for his Social Contract, anticipated the threats of modern flower breeding in his book on botany La Botanique (Letters on the Elements of Botany Addressed to Ladies) published in 1771. In it he complains against the manipulation of nature. Double flowers showed, he said, "nature disfigured by man": Should you find double flowers, waste no time in examining them; they are deformed…nature is no longer there; she refuses to be reproduced by such deformed monsters; for while the most arresting part, the corolla, is reduplicated, it is at the expense of the more essential organs, which disappear beneath this splendour. At the end of the book he added: "Those double flowers admired in the flowerbeds are monsters deprived of the faculty of reproducing their kind, a faculty with which nature has endowed all living things." There is a need for a balance to be struck between modern flowers produced by big business and flowers for spiritual well-being. There is no better time to start this than this Easter. The writer, Duchess of Hamilton, is author of God, Guns & Israel and 15 other books, is presently researching the family law for Arab Christians in Israel. She is affiliated to the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. www.jill-hamilton.com

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