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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Holy Plant Expertise Helps Lytton Musselman Build a Better Albania

By Tom Robinson

Albania beckoned from out of the blue. Lytton Musselman, Old Dominion University's Mary Payne Hogan Distinguished Professor of Botany, is glad he answered.

"This came as a total, happy surprise for me," said Musselman, who recently consulted for an international landscape design competition in Albania's capital city of Tirana. "It was immense fun."

Twenty-four years removed from Communism, the Republic of Albania asked Musselman last December to contribute to its continued transformation.

Tirana's urban planning agency solicited proposals from landscape architects throughout Europe to design an elaborate "Park of Faith" throughout the open spaces along the city's main boulevard. The goal was to use plants referenced in the Bible, Qur'an and other religious books.

The boulevard, known as "Martyrs of the Nation," includes "Mother Teresa Square," which honors the late Albanian nun.

According to the competition's manifesto, the "Park of Faith" is to create contemplative gardens inspired by "holy books" to promote coexistence and spiritual comfort.

But the urban planning agency also needed jurors to judge the merits of each proposal. That is where Musselman came in.

Tirana officials hardly needed to conduct exhaustive research to discover Musselman's expertise. For decades he has written and lectured on plants found in religious texts. His books include "Figs, Dates, Laurel and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and Qur'an" (2007, Timber Press) and "Dictionary of Bible Plants" (2011, Cambridge University Press)."

The agency contacted him last July and asked him to join an international panel of eight, including the deputy mayor of Tirana, a Turkish columnist, and urban planners or landscape architects from Poland, Helsinki, Paris and London.

Musselman would be the voice that determined whether the plants included in the proposals could be found in the holy texts and whether they would be able to survive in Tirana's climate.

He flew to Tirana - Albania is east of Italy, across the Adriatic Sea - in late December and spent three days with his fellow jurors.

They listened with a public audience to seven presentations, discussed them later in English among themselves, and in the end unanimously recommended the plans of landscape architects from Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

During his visit, Musselman, who received a stipend as well as all expenses paid, also delivered a public lecture on "Plants of the Holy Writings" at Tirana's cultural center.

"My impression of Tirana was very positive," said Musselman, who characterized his first visit to Albania as enlightening. "It's a place of great change, and the vibrancy of the kids running this competition was just marvelous. They're energetic, well-educated, bright and visionary. It was very encouraging."

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