Hercule Poirot: How Does Your Garden Grow?

I can only hope that you are all having a jolly good holiday, wherever you are, in Japan or anywhere else on this precious planet. Thank you for visiting Kurashi, and a very God Jul to all of you.

May I introduce an episode of the 1991 Hercule Poirot series, called How Does Your Garden Grow? It is set in 1935, in a Britain that was once so great, with a treat: how the RHS Chelsea Flower Show might have looked back then.

You will enjoy Poirot proudly presenting his polyanthas rose (with a strong fragrance) and Chief Inspector Japp noting that Poirot would not have been very interested in the "hybrid tea" roses that were so popular around that time. I just love that kind of attention to detail!

Rose breeding is a bit of a futile hobby, if I may say so, with a lot of effort to achieve what nature does not approve of, in the long term. Many varieties look fantastic, but they will not be sustained beyond that one plant. After the plant dies, you have nothing left. That is indeed man's folly. We think we can create, by transmogrifying the laws of nature, but it is rather futile. Plants and some animal breeds are just that - a mirage. They will last a single generation, not more, not less. Also, most hybrids do not have any fragrance, as the energy goes into making fancy petals and colours instead.

That is a key concern related to "sustainable development" as we need to think long-term, not just try to profit from that first success. Biological diversity, we are beginning to understand, takes much more time to thrive, than we humans are currently used to. Also, we need to consider how the wild relatives are preserved, to provide the genetic diversity necessary.

Ulf Nordfjell won Best in Show and a gold medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, according to BBC:

"I really would like to encourage the younger generation to see how you can unite interesting architecture and design with horticultural sustainability," says Ulf. It's this supremely practical approach with an underlying deep affinity and respect for nature that shines through Ulf's work in Sweden and elsewhere. This garden may take its inspiration from Britain, but it has a Scandinavian soul.

Many famous European roses in the 20th century had Chinese (Rosa chinensis) or Japanese roots, often using wild varieties of Rosa rugosa to create new varieties. Rosa rugosa was introduced to Sweden in the 1780s by Carl Peter Thunberg, when he came back from his long journey all the way to Edo era Japan.

ハマナス Hamanasu (Rosa rugosa) or Japanes rose is related to Rose hip, or what we call Nypon in Swedish. Nypon sounds very much like "Nippon" to me - could the name have something to do with the origin?

The China rose, or the Rosa chinensis, has been a source of many varieties that we enjoy today: The desirable traits evident in the China roses found their way to European breeders by way of four distinct imports that arrived between 1792 and 1824, named the China stud roses.

In 1983, a Japanese botanist working in China named Mikinori Ogisu also found R. chinensis var. spontanea. His discovery occurred on a dry, west-facing slope in the Ichang Gorge of the Yangtze Kiang River , within the secondary forests of Leibo County , Hubei Province. He described a wide range of flower colors on various plants of this particular population, depending upon their elevation, which ranged between 1,560 and 1,850 meters. He noted that flower color changes from pale pink to crimson due to exposure to the elements and to pollination. At lower altitudes, flower color was seen to develop quickly to a deep crimson, while at higher elevations there appeared a slower and less noticeable color change, with both pale pink and crimson flowers occurring on the same plant. He considers a cultivated variety named R. chinensis ‘Sanguinea’ (also called the Bengal Crimson 1 and depicted by Redouté) to demonstrate similar characteristics. Over a 10-year period of exploration in Sichuan , Ogisu found 10 locations where native stands of the species occurred, including a pure white-flowered population. As seen in previously discovered populations, these flowered only once, in early to in mid-summer.

Mikinori Ogisu, the Indiana Jones of Botany.

The China Roses have a mysterious origin. Although there is no evidence of how they were developed, they are the product of a rich culture of ingenious people. They were not seen in art before the tenth century, were not a part of mythology, and little is known of their history. What we do know is that they were cultivated for many centuries in China; however, the Chinese did not prize the rose as they did the chrysanthemum, which appears in their art from long times past.

From China Roses of Zhengzhou

"How Does Your Garden Grow?" is a question in the English nursery rhyme. Poirot also receives a special gift, an empty bag of seeds from the Unwins Seed Co, a company that started out in the early 1900s selling sweet peas:

It was back in 1903 that William Unwin sold his first sweet pea seeds. However, the story starts two years earlier, in the summer of 1901. One evening, after choir practice, he was showing two fellow choristers round the many rows of sweet peas he grew to send to the flower markets in London.

William was soon hybridising sweet peas, and offering large flowered forms in a wide range of colours. By 1914 he had been joined in the business by his son Charles, who went on to become one of the leading sweet pea breeders of the 20th Century.

If you enjoy this epsiode of Poirot, you will also find many others on YouTube, or in your local video shop.


Pandabonium said…
The hamanasu is the official flower of Kashima City, Ibaraki. Vitamin C on the vine - I don't have to worry about scurvy. ;^)
Martin J Frid said…
Yup, the nypon (hamanasu, rose hip) is very rich in Vitamin C. Nip it in the bud, so to speak!
Thanks so much for this wonderful post. I wanted to share about a documentary called "First Flower" about an gorgeously biodiverse and beautiful valley in western China that is a "living museum" of many of the world's flowers: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/flower/

"Mother of Gardens

"When the early 20th-century plant hunter Ernest H. Wilson published a book on his collecting expeditions in China, he titled it "Mother of Gardens." China earned this epithet for good reason: the country is home to some 31,000 native plant species, a third more than the U.S. and Canada combined, and many of these species are endemic to China. Yet a vast number of Chinese species could be adopted in North America and Europe (AND JAPAN & MUCH OF ASIA) because the regions share similar climates. Gardens throughout the world today are graced with flowering plants—rhododendrons, forsythias, magnolias, camellias, primroses, viburnums, and many others—that originated in China. In this slide show, glimpse just a tiny sampling of some of the most stunning transplants."—Susan K. Lewis

The imperial flower -- the chrysanthemum -- also came to Japan from China around the Nara period.

More from "First Flower" --

"NARRATOR: Flowers hold a special place in the natural world and in the human heart. But flowering plants are not just fragrant, decorative objects, they are essential to human life. Almost all our food, including wheat, corn and rice, is derived from them, as are many medicines, old and new.

"But where did flowers themselves come from?

"Professor Sun Ge, from China's Jilin University, is certain that early flowers evolved here, in northern China, and he is determined to find the world's first...

NARRATOR: Before flowers, the Earth was covered with green plants like ferns, pines, and the now-extinct seed ferns. Their reproduction was relatively slow and inefficient. Pollination was mostly carried out by the wind.

Eventually, the fossil record shows that flowering plants came to dominate the globe. They, clearly, were the winning evolutionary strategy...

One of the best places on Earth to see the results of the evolution of flowering plants is the Hengduan Mountains in southwestern China, which span the regions of Sichuan, Hunan and Tibet. This is the most biodiverse temperate forest in the world. But to a plant lover it feels strangely familiar, because this is where many of the flowers in your garden came from.

Professor Yin Kaipu, a botanist from Chengdu, has spent his life studying the diversity of plants in the Hengduan Mountains.

YIN KAIPU: Everyone who comes here falls in love with this place. The scenery is sublime, it's beautiful. The biodiversity is so rich. It's why most of the world botanists feel that this is a living museum of plant evolution.

NARRATOR: While Sun Ge and Dilcher are studying evolution from the ancient fossil record, Yin is taking a different path. He is documenting the outcome of that evolution through a catalogue of living plants.

How did such an astonishing array of colors, patterns, shapes and sizes evolve? And how are they related?

Finding and cataloguing plants is essential to answering that question. As part of that effort, Professor Yin has been joined by Dan Hinkley, an American plant explorer.

DAN HINKLEY: China's the mother of all gardens. Whether it be the ferns, whether it be the maples, the rhododendrons, camellias, the lilies, the iris, we're in their place of origin. Right here is where they came from.

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