Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny hires English gardener

An English gardener has landed one of the most prestigious jobs in French horticulture. James Priest, 53, has been appointed head gardener at Giverny in Normandy, the former home of the Impressionist artist Claude Monet, who painted his waterlilies series there.

The appointment means that Priest, from Maghull, Merseyside, becomes a direct successor to Monet, who looked after every aspect of the garden until his death in 1926.

Priest, who qualified at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, said: “Monet is the factor that brings everyone here. It’s an Alice in Wonderland Monet world and you have to capture the imagination of all these nationalities who visit. Monet would paint in layers and I think he made his garden in the same way.”

Mr Priest takes over from Gilbert Vahe, the head gardener who was largely responsible for restoring the garden in the late 1970s from an overgrown wilderness to its former glory.

Priest was hired initially for three years but has ended up staying for 17. He will take over on 1 June. He first saw the work of the Impressionists when he visited Paris as an 18-year-old student “I like art with emotion. I work a lot on emotions; my gardens must speak to people of all nationalities.”

Monet started to create his flower-filled garden when he moved to Giverny in 1883, refining it over 43 years.

New gardens director to infuse more native culture

KAHULUI The new executive director of Maui Nui Botanical Gardens wants to cultivate public interest in what she calls “a cultural gem in the middle of Kahului.”

Joylynn Jennifer-Nedine Mailemekalokelanionakupuna Nakoa Kaho’okele Paman took over as head of the 7-acre facility last week.

She succeeds Lisa Schattenburg-Raymond, who is teaching at the University of Hawaii Maui College, and Anders Lyons, who served as interim executive director.

Paman’s vision for Maui Nui Botanical Gardens may sprout partially from having studied Hawaiian language for 18 years.

“My vision here is to infuse the Hawaiian culture even more than it already is into this place. I come from a strong Hawaiian culture and language background, and so I just see the potential in sharing our Hawaiian culture with the community.

“The board wants to make sure that people know about this place. . . . It’s like a cultural gem in the middle of Kahului that we really need to share with everyone else.”

Taro expert to appear at workshop


KAHULUI – Maui Nui Botanical Gardens will host a kalo (taro) workshop Sept. 4 to 6 led by Hawaiian cultural practitioner and mahi’ai (farmer) Jerry Konanui as part of its new education program, “Ulu Ka Hoi” (to grow interest).

This three-day event will educate local farmers and practitioners on the varieties of kalo available, techniques to identify these varieties, proper cultivation methods and cultural applications. Participants also will have the opportunity to learn innovative wood- and stone-sculpting methods using modern equipment.

Space is limited and daily fees apply. Call 249-2798 to reserve a place.

Botanical Gardens Are Turning Away From Flowers

For the last quarter century, the Cleveland Botanical Garden went all out for its biennial Flower Show, the largest outdoor garden show in North America. With themed gardens harking back to the Roman empire, or an 18th-century English estate, the event would draw 25,000 to 30,000 visitors.

But in 2009, the Flower Show was postponed and then abandoned when the botanical garden could not find sponsors. This year, the garden has different plans. From Sept. 24 to 26, it is inaugurating the ‘RIPE! Food & Garden Festival,’ which celebrates the trend of locally grown food — and is supported in part by the Cleveland Clinic and Heinen’s, a supermarket chain.

‘The Flower Show may come back someday, but it’s not where people are these days,’ says Natalie Ronayne, the garden’s executive director. ‘Food is an easier sell.’

So it is across the country. Botanical gardens are experiencing an identity crisis, with chrysanthemum contests, horticultural lectures and garden-club ladies, once their main constituency, going the way of manual lawn mowers. Among the long-term factors diminishing their traditional appeal are fewer women at home and less interest in flower-gardening among younger fickle, multitasking generations.

Forced to rethink and rebrand, gardens are appealing to visitors’ interests in nature, sustainability, cooking, health, family and the arts. Some are emphasizing their social role, erecting model green buildings, promoting wellness and staying open at night so people can mingle over cocktails like the Pollinator (green tea liqueur, soda water and Sprite). A few are even inviting in dogs (and their walkers) free or, as in Cleveland, with a canine admission charge ($2).

South Africa protects endangered cycads

Beautiful plants from the time of the dinosaurs now threatened by thieves.

By Erin Conway-Smith — Special to GlobalPost

Published: March 9, 2010 07:06 ET

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — The thieves knew exactly what they were looking for when they broke into the Durban Botanic Gardens on a Saturday night. They smashed open the lock on a gate, drove past where security guards should have been patrolling and headed straight for some of the rarest varieties of cycads in the world.

They roughly but selectively dug up 20 of the most highly endangered plants of a collection of 150, a haul worth $65,000, loaded them into their vehicle and rolled out.

It was a brazen theft but not at all uncommon in South Africa, where demand from collectors at home, in the United States and Asia is behind the widespread plundering of rare cycad varieties.

Cycads are the oldest seedling plants on earth, with fossil records dating them to before the time of the dinosaurs. During the Jurassic period they were spread across the earth, but today they are found only in diminishing numbers in certain tropical and subtropical areas of the world.

Now, in a high-tech bid to fight the cycad smugglers, scientists at the University of Johannesburg have launched a DNA barcoding project that aims to create a database of cycad species. The project could eventually help police and customs officials to identify specimens being stolen and trafficked across borders, with the hope of deterring crimes like the one in Durban late last year.