Monday, January 31, 2011

what color is your honeysuckle?

On December 9, 2010, a press release from Pantone revealed that 2011's Color of the Year would be Honeysuckle, but I was not aware of this development until January 12, when Lion Brand Yarn assured the world that they could supply this timely color in at least eight fibrous forms.*

I was astounded. Sometime in the middle of 2010, I had read somewhere that turquoise was a really big color, but had not realized until now that turquoise was actually Color of the Year for 2010. And somehow I'd managed to weather the Y2K crisis without knowing that cerulean blue would be Color of the Millennium.

Honeysuckle was one of the first flower names I learned as a child, and pulling the blossom apart to sip its drop of nectar was a favorite summer pastime for me as a four-year-old at my maternal grandparents' home on the Ohio River. There I also dismembered countless daisies, made huge white rose petals into balloons to pop on my forehead, and played loud music on tall blades of grass.

While still loving the flower, I have come to view honeysuckle (it's NOT a vine but a climbing shrub) as an invasive plant. Last summer, I reluctantly tore out an infestation of honeysuckle that was harboring snakes and threatening to engulf our Idaho garage. And Cape honeysuckle (not related) was one of my greatest garden gaffes in SoCal.

But we're talking about color here, not plants. White, shaded with a delicate yellow, is the color I associate with the honeysuckle blossom, so I was surprised to learn that Pantone's honeysuckle (PMS** number 18-2120) is "a dynamic reddish pink. ... Honeysuckle is encouraging and uplifting. It elevates our psyche beyond escape, instilling the confidence, courage and spirit to meet the exhaustive challenges that have become part of everyday life" (from the press release of 12/9/10 cited above; emphasis mine).

That's a lot to ask of a shade of pink -- bright though it may be.

I was preoccupied with the word hyacinth in 2010 (still am, with hyacinth beans in various stages of development and hyacinth bulbs sending up 4-inch shoots in the front garden, but it looks like honeysuckle may be my "H-word" for 2011.

More to come.

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* LBY's names for these colors are: Honolulu Pink, Pink Poodle, Rose, Parfait, Hibiscus,  Lollipop, and Peony (this last available in both Superwash Merino and Baby Wool).

** In this context, PMS stands for Pantone Matching System, which assigns a specific number to every hue used in computer graphic work. Thus the League of Women Voters, with nary a snicker, specifies that we use PMS 294 Blue and PMS 200 Red when printing our logo.

Friday, January 28, 2011

you say ornatus, and so do I

On the way home from Ventura, Steve and I made our first visit to the rightfully renowned Sperling Nursery in Calabasas. We bought a four-inch pot each of sweet marjoram, ornamental kale, and shallots, a seemingly inconsequential purchase though ornamental kale has been hard to find this year. The real 'find' was a plant we didn't buy because we already have it: plectranthus neochilus, more familiarly known as dogbane. Walking away with this plant name scribbled on a little piece of paper was the coup du jour for me.

I had planted dogbane several years ago at the northeast corner of our lot, and promptly lost track of its real name (if, indeed, I ever knew it). As it spread, I planted cuttings at the front corners of our two larger brick-bordered beds, as well as in the parking strip: two at the base of the Chinese evergreen elm, and one under a jade plant. I continue to believe that I am repelling dogs, though a recent test on Rita's border collie was inconclusive. Personally, I think the dog was just trying to please us by sniffing the plant, and would have given it a wide berth if Rita and I had not directed her attention that way.

My quest for information about dogbane has been long and frustrating. Two or three years ago I saw it covering the whole parking strip in front of Sandy's neighbors' house in Long Beach. When I pointed it out, and mentioned that it was supposed to repel dogs, Sandy told me she had given the original plant to these neighbors. She'd watched it spread, and enjoyed its purple flowers, but she'd also forgotten its name.*

Googling plectranthus neochilus brought me to PlantThis, a wonderful Australian gardening site with a useful page on the dogbane I was looking for, plus a page on the dogbane known to botanists as plectranthus ornatus. At first I thought these pages were identical, but closer inspection shows a big difference in the pictures

Plectranthus neochilusPlectranthus ornatus

"Ahah!" My dogbane is p. ornatus, the one on the right, with its pinker flowers, and the one Sandy bought for her neighbors is the purpler p. neochilus. From further comparison of the two PlantThis pages, I learn that neochilus' leaves are "aromatic," whereas ornatus' have an "unpleasant aroma,"

It's comforting to know that my p.ornatus is suitable for "informal edging, pot, hanging basket, groundcovers, spillover, border," since "informal edging" is just exactly what I want it to be, and it's starting to spill over its brick borders toward the sidewalk where dogs pass by many times a day.

Dogbane by any other name might not smell as strong.

BTW, Royal Flame Lilly Pilly (Syzygium luehmannii) is today's 'Plant of the Day' at PlantThis, and Facebook will bring me daily updates.

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*Coincidentally, it was Sandy who first told me about Sperling Nursery, and I have a feeling she bought the plectranthus neochilus there.

Monday, January 24, 2011

be prepared

Judith's Facebook post of last night  is about a "Girl Scout weekend at Pilgrim Pines," where "the beds were hard, the food was bad, and we all had a wonderful time ...!" Reading this brought back a flood of memories.

Pilgrim Pines was my [ Congregational ] church camp back in the 50's, but Singing Pines was my Girl Scout camp. This made me wonder why Judith and her daughters would go farther away (north of Yucaipa rather than north of La Cañada) to a less secular venue. It was easy to find an answer, but not so easy to process the new knowledge.

From Singing Pines' Facebook page, I learned that it was a Girl Scout camp "from the 1940's until 1993," and that about half the facilities were lost in the 'Station' fire of 2009. The horse corral survived, but the swimming pool did not. I have not yet been able to watch the entire video. It's the Bambi story as a documentary, made much sadder by the recollection of hiking beside the very stream it shows.

My idyllic two-week stays at Singing Pines were in the summers of 1951 and 1952. We made friends, ate mediocre food (many thought they were trying to kill us with war-surplus powdered eggs), sang loud (I got to play an autoharp accompaniment sometimes), did crafts, wrote letters home, learned how to act around rattlesnakes, and saved water obsessively.

Outhouses were the most obvious and drastic water-saving devices. Each of us had a little enameled dishpan into which we'd pump water for hand-washing and tooth-brushing. I loved my collapsible drinking cup. It was aluminum, not plastic.

A daily swim was essential to personal hygiene, while providing an opportunity to save even more water. When we were ready to climb out of the pool, we had to wring out any wring-able parts of our swimsuits. In those days, most swimsuits had cute little skirts or 'boy-shorts' legs, plus bows or ruffles anywhere (across the bust or even the shoulders). A staff member was there to make sure we were well wrung, and to lecture us on how much water was saved by this laborious process. How proud she would be of my current rainwater harvesting and laundry-water salvaging!

One day while walking at Singing Pines, I was stunned when Wendy knocked me off the trail yelling "Snake!" I looked to the right as I fell to the left, and saw a rattlesnake uncoiling into the underbrush. We had first aid kits with sharp blades and big suction cups for treating snakebite, and I was greatly relieved not to have to use them. Maybe I feared the first aid more than the snake.

Away from our families for two weeks at a time, we learned independence at Singing Pines, but possibly we learned even more about friendship and cooperation.

I'm glad Girl Scouts are still being prepared, and I thank Judith for sending me down the Pilgrim/Singing Pines' trails.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

hard copy

In cessations, part 2 I talked about the possibility of publishing POSToccupations 2010 as a hard-copy book.

When I discussed the issue of publication with Steve, I almost talked myself out of it. "Why," I asked as my initial burst of enthusiasm wound down, "would anyone want to own a book that merely duplicates stuff that's available for free on line?" Another basic question is that of length/completeness. Are 70 essays enough? Is the August lapse a serious drawback?

I also feared that my work would lose something without the links sprinkled through it, but then I thought about the transiency of links. My techie friend Bill, who was present when the Internet was born, once described the posting process as "writing something on the wall and hoping the right person comes along and reads it." We can also hope that nobody comes along and wipes it off. For example, recipezaar is one of my labels, but has evolved into the more mundanely named, and I don't suppose the two URL's will be interchangeable forever. Also the linked material will change over time -- whether undergoing regular updates or simply being deleted by its creator. (Yes! Google Blogger has the option of deleting an entire blog.) If it seems necessary I'll transform my most essential links into footnotes.

At last, I have began to consider ways of adding value to my on-line text, and so now am in the pleasant throes of making an index, This started with the list of labels that appears in the upper left-hand corner of POSToccupations. I'm inserting titles of individual postings and names of identifiable persons mentioned. This means, for instance, that a reader will be able to look up toola (the title) as well as cat (the subject) and T.S. Eliot (the poet who wrote about cat names).

In addition to an index, I'll add an introduction and maybe even an appendix of my poems -- just the ones that are mentioned in the blog.

For years, friends and colleagues have been asking me when I was going to publish. One even wrote on a Christmas card: "We'd stand in line to buy your book."

This is going to be fun.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Last summer I removed a large, impacted stand of dudleya from the center of our cactus and succulent bed because there was no room to stand while pulling out weeds (mostly tall grasses and the occasional volunteer freesia or Star of Bethlehem). Now I have a greater variety of cacti and succulents, most transplanted from overgrown backyard containers, along with plenty of space in between for weeds. The dudleyas have yet to make a spectacular comeback, and the tiny iceplants brought from the parking strip are just barely holding their own among volunteer nasturtiums.

During December's rains, weeds got a major head start, thanks in part to my earlier digging. We've all heard the old saying: "A weed is a plant out of place." Though I've uttered this cliché many times myself, I think it's more accurate to say "A plant out of place is a weed." Thus three plants revered in other settings -- freesia, star of bethlehem, and elephant garlic -- are weeds among cacti and succulents.

Last week I finished relocating most of the garlic.* It will stand tall in the herb and veggie garden along our chain link fince, and in the narrow strip along the driveway. Some I pulled out when it was as much as six inches high, but it seems to be withstanding the shock of transplantation. I also planted a lot of the tiny brown bulblets that grow under larger garlic bulbs; these have not yet sprouted, but I'm looking for new green garlic recipes in anticipation of a bumper crop.

Freesia, a native of South Africa, is one of my favorite flowers, but it has sufficient room of its own in a flower bed among azaleas, lavender, ranunculi, and convolvulus mauritanicus (ground morning glory). There's no need to transplant any freesias here, but I've given away myriad bulbs and baby plants.

The invasive star of bethlehem, aka SB (see star wars), has absolutely no redeeming social, environmental, or aesthetic value for me anymore. I think I've pulled out more SBs since 'fring' started than I've pulled out in the last year. Yes! It's the fring fling!

The power packed into a harmless-looking SB bulb is phenomenal. Any sprout has the potential to burrow through multiple layers of heavy cardboard and mulch, or creep out from under a brick or paving stone. I litter the ground with SB shoots up to a foot long, blanched as pale as white asparagus, when my digging and yanking fail to dislodge their bulbs. These rejected leaves will subside into the perma-layer of mulch. I rather pathetically hope their bulbs will not sprout again. Surely some must rot with no light and air. When I succeed in pulling out a bulb (even if it's only 1/4 inch in diameter, it goes straight into the green plastic bin whose contents are destined for a huge municipal composting project.

If SB escapes the municipal compost and blankets SoCal in a couple of years I will feel extremely guilty but will still be shouting "Not in my front yard!"

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* During my recent trip to Idaho, folks were horrified when I talked about growing garlic. Reputable nurseries will not ship garlic bulbs to Idaho or Canada, because they can carry a fungus that threatens commercial onion farming there.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

pet goat?

Yesterday morning Kathy and I attended a League of Women Voters meeting downtown. With a group of about 40 men and women, we reached a somewhat shaky consensus on what issues our League should focus on for study and action at the state and local levels for the League years 2011-2013.

I wanted to go out to lunch afterwards, but Kathy had to go home, so I walked over to my local Indian restaurant and had a wonderful meal. They serve a combo of rice, raita, na'an, and a choice of three vegetarian or vegan dishes (out of a possible eight or ten). I had mixed veggie korma, mushroom curry, and potato curry. Came home and took a nice nap.

Later, I got on the Internet and learned that Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had been shot in a Tucson supermarket. Six were dead (including a nine-year-old girl) and twelve wounded. Giffords' condition was critical after surgery to remove a bullet from her brain. Another rampage. Another blot on Arizona's reputation. I flashed back to Columbine and all the carnage since.

This morning, Facebook brought me a posting by my local League president: "had a 'my pet goat' moment today. learned a congresswoman had been shot by checking email during league of women voters meeting, but didn't share the news. the more I learn about it, the more I wish I had. to the league, town hall meetings like hers are pretty much sacred."

My first reaction was relief that David didn't interrupt our meeting with news of the shooting. We had enough trouble focusing on the issues we were supposed to discuss. Did this lack of focus have anything to do with folks checking their smart phones? At the same time, I recalled that when I first learned about the shooting I felt some guilt for not keeping up. Not listening to news on the car radio instead of chatting with Kathy? Not checking the Internet before lunch?

Wondering what all this had to do with a pet goat, I visited Wikipedia and learned that The Pet Goat was the book President George W. Bush kept on reading with grade school students after being informed of the 9/11 attacks.

My Facebook comment to David was: "We're always on the sidelines of the global village. The question is often whether to step in or step out." I was musing on what it means to be present. Still am.

Continuing along through Facebook's News Feed, I learned that Phil and his father had been at our neighborhood Indian Restaurant at about the same time I was there yesterday. How I would have loved to see them! Maybe I'd have learned about the Giffords shooting in a more gentle way, or maybe we'd have enjoyed a meal in blissful ignorance.

I learned a long time ago that I can't be in two places at once. Nevertheless, the Internet sometimes gives an illusion of being on a second plane of existence while we're logged on. Simulated simultaneity?

Do you suppose Candide had a pet goat in his garden?

Friday, January 7, 2011

oh, THAT Epiphany!

I generally check Google Reader first thing in the morning, so it always includes many items posted the previous day. Being one day late with most of the news is not so bad, but I was sorry to have missed out on National Bean Day, January 6. This annual observance was written up in the L.A. Weekly and the Huffington Post, among numerous other media, but none of my sources mentioned the happy coincidence that Bean Day falls on the Twelfth Day of Christmas, aka the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the three Wise Men's arrival in Bethlehem and their presentation of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ Child.

January 6 has been a day of revelry and foolery for centuries, and the write-ups of National Bean Day certainly have their silly side. My scholarly inclination is to check out Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for legume imagery. Malvolio in the dungeon being fed nothing but beans? Wikipedia doesn't go into that much detail, but it does tell me about the bean reference in Robert Herrick's poem Twelfe-Night, or King and Queene (published 1648). Herrick is easy to find at the astonishing readbooksonline, and bean and pea come up in the first stanza:

     Now, now the mirth comes
     With the cake full of plums,
     Where bean's the king of the sport here;
     Beside, we must know
     The pea also
     Must revel as queen in the court here.

I will not claim that Bean Day originated with Herrick. The Huffington Post thinks it might commemorate the death of ur-geneticist Gregor Mendel (give me a break!), and I'd love to take them on. Maybe next year I'll write the definitive Bean Day study and launch it a few days in advance of January 6.

In a sense, every day is Bean Day for me, as I'm always watching the garden. Hyacinth beans and scarlet runner beans are undergoing their 'fring'* resurrection -- new leaves but no blossoms yet. Yesterday I harvested the hyacinth bean seeds I'd been allowing to dry on the vine, and in retrospect this seems a very fitting celebration. Really a pea, not a bean, the purple-flowered legume will be my garden queen -- with the scarlet runner as her rampant consort.

For our belated Bean Day celebration. A pot of ham hocks and lima beans would be more than welcome, but it takes me two days to make it, given my fussy way of dealing with broth. Four-bean soup seems well within the realm of possibility.

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* 'Fring' is my word for the spring-like season that begins with SoCal's fall rains. See second spring? and fring weeds.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

... and a happy new year

During the Christmas visit just past, our five-year-old granddaughter often exuberantly sang "... and a happy new year!" when something was over. This line could show up spontaneously at the end of anything -- unwrapping a present, reading a book, brushing her teeth, feeding the chickens -- and the more out of context it was, the more giggles it would provoke. She has learned early on that laughing at one's own jokes is a family tradition if not a necessity.

When I sought to prolong the musical experience by starting at the beginning of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, I was vehemently stopped. Our girl was wallowing in the joy of cadence (used in the sense of the musical term having to do with ends of phrases). Cadence is the "amen" at the end of a hymn, the "ta-dum DUM" after a joke, and the "shave and a haircut -- two bits" that can terminate almost anything, and, indeed, is so close to "... and a happy new year" in melody and rhythm.

Later I remembered how this child relished the ends of words when she was learning to talk. "Dark" and "book" were examples: their percussive final k's like small exclamation points.

Once again the ephemeral has intersected with the eternal. How tempting it is for Granny to blather on about a hereditary preoccupation with structure, or to make cadence the focal point of cessations, part 3. But, in the words of Alexander Pope: "Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?"*

... and a happy new year!

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Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License