After visiting Ayasofya we walked a short distance to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque was built in the early 1600s. From the outside, it looks somewhat similar to the Ayasofya. We read that the Ottoman Turks were influenced by Byzantine architecture. You can see the Ayasofya from just inside the entrance. Another view just inside the entrance of the Blue Mosque. There are six minarets. I’m a little bit afraid of heights so just looking up made me a bit queasy. Before entering we had to remove our shoes. There was a place for the faithful to wash their feet. Inside you are struck by the thousands of blue Iznik tiles, their dye made from cobalt. Above the tiles blue paint is used in intricate patterns. The dome was circled with blue stained glass. The domed ceiling suggests somehow that the sky itself is a dome. Tourists are not allowed in when organized prayers are conducted, but there were a few people quietly praying or meditating. The atmosphere was hushed. I wonder what they were praying for. Blue, I believe, is a calming color. On our way out it was hard not to feel awed, and a bit more peaceful.
The heart of historic Istanbul is called Sultanahmet. It’s got the Ayasofya, the Blue Mosque, and the site of the Roman Hippodrome.
It’s also got about a jillion tourists, and half a jillion shops catering to tourists. Though when we were there (in December and January), the crowds weren’t bad.
And Sultanahmet is not Turkish Disneyland. It seems to have a fair amount of ordinary life going on, along with the historic sites, the hotels, and the carpet stores. We enjoyed wandering the streets here, as we did in other parts of Istanbul.
There are a number of wooden buildings that look like they could use some fixing up.
Most buildings are in much better shape, and I’m sure many are insanely expensive. Balconies and windows with fancy metalwork are commonplace.
There are newer buildings built right up against centuries-old fortifications.
Not all the shops are for tourists.
As in all of Istanbul, street vendors are a ubiquitous part of the scene.
Sultanahmet Square is on the site of the old Roman Hippodrome. Among other things, we saw the Serpent Column and the Theodosius Obelisk, both about 17 centuries years old.
Walking around, you frequently catch glimpses of the Bosphorus with its many ships.
Istanbul is a very large and very remarkable city, I’ll do several more posts about our experiences there.
It was 3 degrees F this morning (-16 C), and I have pretty much given up on my dreams of an early spring. Since not much will be happening in the garden for a while, let’s cast our minds back to December 2009, when Judy and I and the boys took a trip to Turkey.
Danny had spent that fall studying at St. Petersburg University in Russia. For our Christmas trip, we thought we would take advantage of the fact that he was already in a far off land.
And in fact, his flight from St. Petersburg and ours from Chicago landed in Istanbul within a couple of hours of each other. Meeting at the airport, we all thought ourselves masters of international intrigue.
So let’s start by looking at one of the places we saw on our first full day in Istanbul: Ayasofya, also called the Hagia Sofia. The name means “Holy Wisdom”.
Ayasofya was built as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral about 1,500 years ago, when Istanbul was Constantinople and capital of the Byzantine Empire.
It was converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453. Under the emphatically secular Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Ayasofya was transformed into a museum in the 1930s.
As a result of restoration efforts, Ayasofya displays art and architecture both Christian and Islamic, Byzantine and Ottoman.
From the outside the whole building gives a feeling of massiveness and solidity, like an enormous domed boulder. Inside, the space is cavernous, the windows mostly small, the light dim.
A view of the upper gallery from the opposite wall.
The capitals of the marble columns are intricately carved.
Byzantine mosaics were destroyed or plastered over when the building was converted to a mosque. Conservators have been working on restoration for many years.
The Islamic art, including patterned mosaics and Arabic calligraphy in gold, is also undergoing restoration.
For security, the Sultan had a private screened loge to sit in.
The minbar or pulpit for the Imam is very tall. The mihrab points towards Mecca and indicates the direction worshipers should face when praying.
Ayasofya was a fine introduction to the antiquity and the parade of empires past that seems to surround everyday life in Turkey.
To be honest, I’ve never purchased anything from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, (I usually order bulbs from John Scheeper’s) but I feel justified in writing a review because they are enthusiastically recommended by one of my instructors at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
And I should mention that Brent and Becky’s plants are grown organically on their 28 acre Virginia farm. Their website is here.
When we think of bulbs, what usually comes to mind are the tulips and other spring bloomers that we plant in the fall. Brent and Becky’s has those, but right now they have an intriguing catalog of summer blooming bulbs (as well as foliage plants) that can be planted in spring. Technically, most are not really bulbs, but tubers, corms, and rhizomes.
For example, I was goggle eyed by the selection of Caladiums. I like Caladiums very much as a foliage plant for shade, but they are expensive. I’ve tried overwintering them but without success. Brent and Becky’s sells five ‘Celebration’ Caladium tubers for just $10.85.
The catch is that you have to keep them inside in pots placed on heating pads until the soil warms. But never fear, Brent and Becky’s sells heat mats for $26.945.
They also carry a large selection of Dahlias, Colocasias, Lilies, Gladioli, etc. There is also ‘Emily McKenzie’, a very distinctive and striking Crocosmia.
Brent and Becky’s carries a number of perennials that I’ve always believed had fibrous roots, but I don’t want to be picky. Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), for example, or Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana).
This catalog has serviceable photographs and straightforward descriptions as well as necessary cultural information. It crams a lot of selections into its 50 pages.
Have you ever ordered from Brent and Becky’s? Where do you usually obtain your bulbs?
Is gardening a crusade or a hobby? This question occurred to me after reading a New York Times article about a symposium featuring Douglas Tallamy, Chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. Tallamy is also the author of “Bringing Nature Home”, in which he argues for the environmental importance of using native plants in home landscapes.
In his presentation, Tallamy maintains that gardens should not be judged on beauty alone: Gardens should, among other things, help sustain the diversity of life.
Tallamy’s argument is all about insects. His research shows that native plants support way more insects than exotics. To give just one example, native oaks support 537 species of caterpillar, as opposed to a Japanese elm (Zelkova serrata), which supports none. This is because most insects are specialists able to digest the foliage of only a very limited number of plants (Monarch butterflies, whose caterpillars eat only Milkweed (Asclepias) plants, are a well-known example.)
You may like the idea of fewer insects, but fewer insects means fewer birds, amphibians, and many other animals. Without insects, the food chain collapses. And in fact the number of birds has declined by half over the last forty years.
But should gardeners be expected to take on these dire problems? Doesn’t this approach detract from gardening as a means of relaxation, of simply taking pleasure in the beauty of plants? Also, can gardeners even make a difference?
Tallamy makes a pretty good argument that gardeners could help mitigate the loss of natural habitat if they wanted to. In the USA there are 40 million acres of lawn, an area about six times the size of the State of New Jersey. It would be significant if even a fraction of that lawn were converted to native plant gardens.
But let’s be honest. The real purpose of a garden is to make the gardener happy. If a gardener can’t be happy without tulips, or lilacs, or some other exotic plant, he or she should not be asked to go without (leaving aside the issue of invasives). Native plant advocates will win few converts if they insist on purity. And some exotic plants have wildlife value, for example by providing nectar for pollinators – though not forage for caterpillars.
In my own garden, I’d guess that about 2/3 of the species are native to the region, but these are mixed with exotics that I love.
Even so, there are a large number of beautiful and underused native plants capable of giving most gardeners a great deal of pleasure. And a garden full of insects and birds is a more lively, interesting, and enjoyable place.
Tallamy has written a new book with Rick Darke called “The Living Landscape: Gardening for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden.” The idea is that we don’t have to sacrifice pleasure while gardening with the environment in mind. I read and was much influenced by Tallamy’s last book. I’m looking forward to reading “The Living Landscape”.
So, to answer my own question – hobby or crusade? I’d say the two are not mutually exclusive.
My son sent me a link to an interesting post by Chicago Magazine’s Whet Moser. The post deals with some current research on identifying the elements that make a park look more “natural” to most people.
It was more the purpose than the results of this particular research that interested me. I’m not sure that anyone would be surprised by the qualities found to be more natural-looking – curved rather than straight edges, for example.
Marc Berman, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, has stated that his research could help in designing “new environments in ways that may improve psychological functioning.”
In other words, this is a new spin on the idea that exposure to nature (or something we think looks like nature) provides uplift to those who live in man-made environments.
Berman has done some research in the use of nature walks as part of a course of treatments for clinical depression. He theorizes that natural environments provide a tranquil counterpoint to the overstimulation of man-made environments, and that this can create a sense of calm and well-being.
Or, as Berman puts it:”… interacting with natural environments can have a salubrious effect on cognitive and affective processing compared to interacting with more urban/man-made environments.”
My own experience in the garden tells me there is something real behind this. Contemplating a single plant, a border, or a garden overall provides a tranquil focus for the mind and quiets worrying or distressing thoughts. Watching bees on flowers has for me the sort of hypnotic effect that some who practice meditation get from concentrating on their own breathing.
There was also a study by Frances Kuo at the University of Illinois which found that green spaces in the inner city tend to reduce crime. This runs counter to the conventional view that bushes and trees provide hiding spaces for criminals and criminal acts.
Do naturalistic gardens have this effect more than formal gardens? Perhaps. As Jens Jensen, founder of the Prairie Style of design, once said: “Straight lines spell autocracy …”. Both formal and informal gardens are designed landscapes, but the formal garden suggests control, tension, discipline. The informal garden, by definition, is more relaxed.
Jens Jensen may not have been familiar with “affective processing”, but he did say of naturalistic landscapes: “They appeal to the finer feelings of mankind and elevate the depressed in soul and mind to a higher place in the human family.”
Do you agree? Do natural-seeming landscapes in urban environments make us happier?
Yesterday and today Judy and I sat for an hour on the back porch, watching birds. This was not an example of us wasting time. No, it was an example of us carrying out our responsibilities as Citizen Scientists.
Specifically, we were taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). Launched in 1998 and led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, the GBBC enlists amateur birdwatchers to measure bird population trends.
One thing I really like about the GBBC is that you can do it from the comfort of a chair by the window. That’s the kind of birdwatching I can really appreciate. Particularly since yesterday got down to 5 degrees F (-15 C). Today it was snowing and a bit warmer, but I still preferred to count my birds from inside.
Hardier birders head out to parks, beaches, nature preserves, and other likely outdoor locations.
Over both days Judy and I saw nine bird species, including Juncos, Goldfinches, Cardinals, Chickadees, House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows (I think), Downy Woodpeckers, and Hairy Woodpeckers. The greatest excitement, however, came when a Red-Tailed Hawk twice swooped through the backyard. This caused all the other birds to scatter and not return for another fifteen minutes or so.
I was a little disappointed that the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers and White-Breasted Nuthatches did not make appearances, because they have been fairly frequent visitors to our back garden this winter. I even thought of cheating and putting them on my checklist (because they might have shown up, after all).
But then I thought, would Jonas Salk or Albert Einstein have falsely recorded a Red-Bellied Woodpecker on their checklists? I don’t think so. And so I stayed true to my oath as a Citizen Scientist. Not that there is an actual oath, but you know what I mean.
A nice thing about the GBBC is that you can enter your data online and see the data develop in real time. For example, as of this afternoon there were almost 43,000 checklists submitted from the USA, plus thousands more from 115 other countries. Closer to home, there were 223 checklists submitted from Cook County, Illinois, where I live.
Monday, February 16, is the last day of the GBBC. I have the day off, and I’m thinking I’ll spend one more hour doing another checklist. Maybe the Red-Bellied Woodpecker will show up.
If you’d like to participate, check out the GBBC website here. You can spend as little as 15 minutes watching from the comfort of your own home, and there are guides to help with bird identification.
Have you taken part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, and if so what birds did you see?