Saturday, August 25, 2007

blossom of snow may you bloom and grow

We have what you would call a difficult garden. Parts of it are shady and wet, almost swamp-like, while other areas are dry as a bone. I like to refer to one particular terraced flower bed as Death Valley Meets The Bermuda Triangle. No matter how much we watered and fertilized and fussed, most anything we planted there seemed to immediately die a crispy brown death or gradually get sucked down into the bowels of the earth never to be seen again.

A couple of months ago, tired of pouring money into a hopeless project, we had a brilliant idea. Why not fill the two upper tiers of the bed with container plants that can be moved around at will, and leave the lower level for the few little green things that will actually grow there?

As luck would have it, one of the flowers that seems to do well there is one of my very favourites - the Leontopodium alpinum, more commonly known as Edelweiss (or Edelweiß if you happen to have a ß on your keyboard).

The Edelweiss is a well-known alpine flower related to the sunflower. The German name Edelweiß is a combination of the words 'noble' and 'white'. The Latin name Leontopodium means 'lion's paw'.

Tiny white hairs covering the silvery leaflets surrounding the yellow flower heads give the plant a wooly appearance.

I did have some plants several years ago but they disappeared after a while, much to my dismay. I had thought that the damn flower bed was the culprit but I have since learn that the Bermuda Triangle was not to blame. Apparently the Edelweiss is a short-lived perennial that eventually does die off and need replacing. Who knew?

What's so attractive about these fuzzy blooms, you ask? Well, for me the Edelweiss is not about looks or fragrance or longevity, it's about the sentimental value the flower holds for me.

When I was a child I used to love looking through the family photo albums. Along with the pictures I remember the dried Edelweiss flowers that were pressed between the pages. Flowers that my Austrian grandfather had climbed all the way up a mountain to get for us. Once in a while we'd get another one in the mail and off it would go into the album for safekeeping. My mother also had a beautiful Edelweiss pendant necklace, made from a real flower and strung on a black velvet ribbon. I got to wear that necklace on special occasions.

Nowadays you can buy Edelweiss plants at any German garden centre, as I did. And looky here, you can even buy them from a company in British Columbia that grows them in the Rocky Mountains. However the Edelweiss still remains an endangered species and is protected in many European countries with the request to hikers not to pick any flowers they may find in the wild.

Contrary to popular belief, the Edelweiss is not the offical flower of Austria. It is, in fact, the inofficial flower of Switzerland, although the Austrians do use the Edelweiss on their 2 euro cent coins.

So I plant Edelweiss in my garden to remind me of my grandparents and of my dad's Austrian heritage. When he left his home country to start a new life in Canada, he still had his roots in mind.

This post shows a picture of my parents' first house, and below you can see what the family homestead from the mid 60's to the early 90's looked like. I think it has a certain alpine flair to it, especially since my parents insisted on having it built on a rock! The house itself was white with brown trim and a red tile roof.

When the house was sold, the new owners painted it pink and put in lots of glass and chrome. Eeep. I don't even want to think about it.

And now we come to everyone's all time favourite movie - The Sound of Music. Well, maybe not everyone's. Ask an Austrian about it and he'll most likely say "Heh??" And if you try to imply that the song "Edelweiss" sung in the film must be Austria's national anthem, you better be prepared for some funny looks.

I do like that song very much, though, national anthem or not.

Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Every morning you greet me
Small and white
Clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow
May you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Bless my homeland forever

But really, to get the full effect you need to watch this video of a very handsome Christopher Plummer singing to his many well-behaved film children and a cute-as-a-button Julie Andrews.

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At August 25, 2007 12:09 p.m., Blogger mar said...

Beautiful!!! we got a little one in a French open-market last july (3 euros) and took it home...but it didn't like its new home. It looks hopeless. Yours is absolutely fantastic, congratulations!
I wasn't spying :) but since yesterday I am using google reader which tells me "you've got a post to read" the minute one of my reads posts something new.
have a great weekend!

At August 25, 2007 1:15 p.m., Anonymous cara said...

The Sound of Music is my favorite movie. while in Austria, we took The Sound of Music bus tour. i was so disappointed that no one sang along with me as the soundtrack played as we passed through the countryside. i prefer the version when Captain Von Trapp sings at the competition and gets all choked up and Maria has to come and help him out. *sniff, sniff.

what do Edelweiss smell like?

At August 25, 2007 1:46 p.m., Blogger Maribeth said...

Yes, it is lovely. I bought a sweater in Austria years ago with buttons that were painted with Edelweiss. I love that sweater!

At August 25, 2007 2:44 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

You have just tapped into a well-spring of joy within me, Christina, with this plant and song and movie. First of all, "The Sound of Music" may be my favorite movie of all time. And you are so right--most Austrians have never seen it because they already had 2 movies of the Von Trapp family and saw no need to see the American version! Or so we were told.

Also, Amy sang Edelweiss to Nicholas every night of his life in his early years. For all I know, she sings it still.

What a great flower and song and memory. I fell in love with Julie Andrews in that movie (and in "Mary Poppins"). She's still gorgeous. :) And of course, Christopher Plummer isn't bad himself. :)

At August 25, 2007 7:49 p.m., Blogger Expat Traveler said...

What beautiful pics Christina! I just love the Eidelweiss also. And you did have a brillant idea but you also gave all of us an education about them..

I used to love seeing them in Switzerland everywhere, even if the majority of the time it was in Montreux and on souvenirs.

I love your photo of your house. I have a few favorite houses on the north shore that have that Swiss/Austria feel to them.

I especially love the doors the most actually...

At August 25, 2007 7:52 p.m., Blogger Expat Traveler said...

I'm going to be entering a Canadian photo contest soon, please drop by once I enter and post for support (and if you can round up any more support too). I'll hopefully have it up by tomorrow morning!

At August 25, 2007 7:58 p.m., Blogger Carol said...

I have the same sorts of memories -- having a Bavarian mom who remained very much in love with Bayern throughout her life.

Do you think Edelweiss would grow in the Pacific Northwest?!

Oh, by the way, I made your lentil soup last night. It was a HUGE hit! Thanks!


At August 25, 2007 10:05 p.m., Blogger Rositta said...

Beautiful post, The Sound of Music was my Mom's favourite movie. I have it on tape but haven't watched in years. Your old family homestead was lovely...ciao

At August 26, 2007 12:31 a.m., Blogger Dixie said...

This whole post made me say "Awww!" all through it. Edelweiß is so sweet and pretty and I'm absolutely captivated by them. I have a pin made with a real Edelweiß that I wear on my jean jacket.

At August 26, 2007 10:35 a.m., Blogger Michelle said...

Your garden sounds like ours. We are in the trial and error phase but how lucky you are that you can grow Edelweiss of all things! I never would have thought of trying it.

At August 26, 2007 10:37 a.m., Blogger Berlinbound said...

And is that you, skipping down the driveway?

At August 26, 2007 2:27 p.m., Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

I loved the Sound of Music as a kid. Now, after reading your post, I think I will get it on DVD.

BTW, in Switzerland, hikers are not only "requested" not to pick wild Edelweiss, they also get a juicy fine if caught.

At August 26, 2007 4:09 p.m., Blogger Betty said...

I love those pictures ! And the coin is wonderful. From reading the words to the song, I learned to love the song, too. The movie is not in my top ten.

At August 26, 2007 6:40 p.m., Blogger Expat Traveler said...

Please vote for me in a photo contest I've entered. Just return to my page again to click on the link to vote.

I need 200 plus votes! :)

At August 27, 2007 1:51 a.m., Blogger Cathy said...

You have officially planted that song in my head now. Thanks for that! ;)

At August 27, 2007 8:04 a.m., Blogger ColourMeCrazy said...

Lovely photos! and Sound of Music is one of my favourite movies !!

At August 27, 2007 10:05 a.m., Blogger J said...

ewwwww! You said the S word!

At August 27, 2007 9:33 p.m., Blogger Poppy Fields said...

I love that song. Through this flower, I feel you may have a sentimental attachment to your expat home though it's not Austria, but not far.

At August 28, 2007 1:15 p.m., Blogger christina said...

mar - I don't really know what kind of conditions they like best, but I'm trying to keep these ones alive!

cara - Yeah, there are some other scenes available but I didn't want to have all that not-so-good symbolism on my blog. I just went and smelled and Edelweiss and they smell really good, kind of like sweet peas.

maribeth -I love all the Trachten fashions with Edelweiss on them. It's such a timeless flower

ginnie - Aww, I'm glad this has such meaning for you. Seems like everyone has a little story to tell. I think I still know the words to most of the songs.

expat - Seems like a lot of Germans that move to the North Shore do build their houses in that style. I know there were a couple on my parents' street in Lions Bay when they used to live there.

carol- I think it would probably grow in the right soil conditions. You should give it a try. I'm so glad the soup was a hit!

rositta - I haven't watched it in years, either. I should get it on DVD and go to town.

dixie - There's such pretty Edelweiss jewelry and it really goes with everything. I also have a pair of shoes with silver Edelweiss flowers on them.

michelle - Well, we've had our share of goners and we're still learning but I think I've mostly got it figured out. Looking at neighbours gardens that you admire is a good way to figure out what will grow.

berlinbound - Why yes indeed, that is me in my unencumbered youth. :-)

canswiss - I can imagine they would be pretty diligent about keeping people away from the flowers these days. Back then when my Opa used to pick them I don't think they cared as much.

betty - All the euro coins are interesting. I should send you some. The song is really sweet, I think. Makes me all sniffly.

cathy - Sorry! :-) It was in my head for about a week, but I think I've moved on now!

colourme - yeah, it's a sweet movie, isn't it, even if they did take a TON of artistic license with the real story.

j - LOL! I can see we're never going to get you up into the Swiss Alps. :-)

poppy - Hmm, I guess there's a bit of Germanic blood still coursing through my veins.

At August 28, 2007 3:21 p.m., Blogger Pardon My French said...

I really enjoyed this post. It made me think of my mother, although as far as we know we don't share any Austrian blood, only a love for the S.o.M. I made my husband watch it, but he's not yet exactly a fan. Edelweiss is one of my lullaby tunes, so if all goes well at least my little girl will be conditioned to watch it with me.

Your parents' house was really cool, by the way.

At August 28, 2007 4:25 p.m., Blogger Thimbleanna said...

Ooooh, aren't those flowers pretty! I guess I was under the mistake impression that they would ONLY grow high up in the alps -- thinking they needed the altitude. But there you have it -- it's just not true.

At August 28, 2007 5:05 p.m., Blogger Tonicito said...

I love Edelweiß! The flower, the name, ... Even though I live in Austria, I haven't seen a "wild" Edelweiß yet. Maybe I would have to hike a little higher!
I loved your post as well. In fact, I linked to it from mine. I hope that's OK!
Cheers! :)

At September 02, 2007 4:53 p.m., Blogger Bek said...

Thank you for telling me that I'm normal after all. I already thought I am the only Austrian who has never seen Sound of Music:)

At September 09, 2007 11:31 p.m., Blogger Gardner said...

cool to see the flowers up close. Very nice photos

At September 29, 2011 8:12 a.m., Anonymous martian packets said...

Thanks for this post. What a magical flower.


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