Wednesday, April 20, 2011

nasturtiums rampant

In Old French, the language of heraldry, rampant means "rearing up," and a rampant animal is depicted in profile standing erect with forepaws raised (see Wikipedia). The name of the animal (lion, gryphon, pelican) is always given before the word describing its stance (rampant, couchant, dormant). Thus the picture at the left shows a lion rampant.

In Modern English, rampant means "unrestrained or violent in behaviour, desire, opinions, etc.; growing or developing unchecked."

In most seed catalogs, nasturtiums are generally described as blooming from early summer through early fall, growing to a height of  10 to 12 inches, though one variety, Jewel of Africa, is said to reach 4 to 5 feet "just the right size to tumble from a hanging basket or twine up a small trellis or patio tub. They can even be allowed to trail along the ground, carpeting the garden in color!"

In our garden, nasturtiums are rampant in all senses of the word, and have been for weeks. After predicting since January 23 of last year (weeding with Emily)  that at some point I would have to define them as weeds, I have continued to let nasturtiums go unless they threaten to choke out a sweet pea, hyacinth bean, boysenberry, viola, fern, or struggling succulent.

Rampant nasturtiums have given a bright orange crown to our eight-foot fence and twined around the potato drum as well as one rain barrel. Soon they will turn my leafless six-foot Australian tree fern stem into a virtual nasturtium tree. They cover dying narcissus and freesia leaves, and retain moisture for tall calla lilies and the last of the ranunculi. Only yesterday, I realized that I was essentially using them as a mulch, up to two feet deep in areas where they sprawl.

Steve and I sit at our bistro table and watch bees, moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds visit the nasturtiums. Human passersby express delight, and toddlers often leave with a bright flower in hand or mouth.

Horticultural memoirs abound. Nasturtiums were rampant in the back yard of the house I lived in from age eight to age twelve. They reared up into the big old eucalyptus trees that lined the backs of all the lots on our street. I was fascinated by their fat, tripartite seeds, and would line them up along the top of a redwood fence to watch them dry out and split apart as summer progressed.

I am astounded to learn that nasturtium, though a Latin word, is not this rampant beauty's scientific name. Nasturtium officinale and& Nasturtium microphyllum are watercresses, while the flowering nasturtium is described by botanists as Tropaeolum majus and a whole raft of other species including Tropaeolum pulchellum, and Tropaeolum sanctae-catharinae.

What do nasturtiums have to do with St. Catharine? A question for another day.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

long path to primrose pride

I am inordinately proud of the Mexican evening primroses (Oenothera speciosa) that have finally started blooming in our parking strip. According to seed stories, part 3, I planted the seeds in February of last year, so it took a good fourteen months and two more postings (parking strip, part 1 and part 2before we saw the first pink blossom.

On March 6, 2010, I wrote:
     "New plants -- Mexican evening primrose and California poppies -- will be planted in the sheltered areas next to the Chinese evergreen elm and two well established jade plants, but not until after the war on weeds goes into a moratorium to be specially decreed for that purpose."

The primrose and poppy seeds were planted in pure sifted compost from which a large population of sow bugs had been laboriously removed. I don't remember any weed moratorium, but somehow the seedlings were set out as planned. All of the poppies, along with the primroses sheltered by jade plants, vanished without a trace,* but the magenta blossoms of ice plant at the base of the Chinese evergreen elm are co-existing nicely with primroses. They look very much like the primrose-and-African daisy combo described by fellow blogger 'Garden Wise Guy,' who ends his post with these self-deprecating words: "Nothing profound here. Please move along. Thank you."**

I have transplanted two tiny primroses into the center of our largest front-yard bed -- the one anchored by a white azalea and bordered by a mix of freesias, hyacinths, ranunculi, and convulvus mauritanicus. This bed was a driveway at one time, so the soil is not wonderful, especially in the center, which is populated with drought-tolerant lavenders and an on-again-off-again Mexican sage. Daring to create a horticultural barrio, I have placed the Mexican primroses on either side of the sage, and am looking forward to their intermingling. Naturally one of my poems comes to mind. I wrote about the way a pole lima had climbed my Banks rose: "this magic will touch the slow-cooking beans of winter / and scent them ever so lightly with rose."

Being a wildflower at heart, Mexican evening primrose can be invasive. I hope not to reach the point where I say, with yet another garden blogger: "No more primroses, please!"

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*My poppy saga is described in greener on the other side (March 19, 2011), and I'm happy to report that the poppies from the two four-inch pots are looking healthy though blossomless in the cactus and succulent bed.

**GWG flirts with profundity (consonance and imagination, at least) in Foliage Foundations and Gnasty Gnomes (the Gs are silent). He turns out to be an important Santa Barbara garden designer whose parking strip work has been featured on Sunset Magazine's garden blog, Fresh Dirt.

Monday, April 11, 2011

a plethora of purple

Plethora is a word I use very rarely and with considerable trepidation, because I think it has faintly pejorative connotations. For purposes of today's posting, however, I think it accurately conveys my mild annoyance with a situation that folks outside our favored Mediterranean/subtropical climate zone will probably envy.

On January 15, 2010, when I wrote perennial sweet pea, there were no sweet peas of any kind blooming in my garden, though some vines had reached the top of the fence. I was anxious to see and smell the blossoms, but not overly concerned since I thought it was too early for them. Ultimately, I had a long and successful season of multi-colored sweet peas, and saved a lot of seeds. I did not attempt to identify the seeds by color.

Then on November 28, I reported that a volunteer sweet pea, brought on by fall rains, was already blooming on my fence. It was dark purple. It was the first and only sweet pea that had sprouted exactly where I wanted sweet peas to grow. Others popped up farther from the fence and in the front garden among sprouting freesias. These I moved to stand along the fence, spacing them to occupy a much longer portion of the fence then I'd devoted to sweet peas last year. At the same time, I started more plants from last year's seed.

Late last summer, a community group was giving away free seeds (limit two packets) at a nearby farmer's market . I gratefully took 'Blue Celeste' sweet peas and  'Legion of Honor' poppies*. You may wonder why I took the sweet peas when I had plenty of saved seeds at home. Well, these giveaways were PALE BLUE! I know that truly blue flowers** are very rare, and so I just had to have them.

I planted a lot of 'Blue Celeste' seeds along with my saved seeds, but so far, the only plants in bloom are dark purple and a very pale pink. The pink ones are just starting to open up, whereas there are two more dark purples blooming prolifically in the same section of fence with the original volunteer. Right now I have a bouquet of sweet peas on my desk -- twenty or so dark purple with ONE light pink. Moreover the purple ones have longer stems and larger blossoms, and about half of them are from the volunteer plant that bloomed in November.

Four months of exclusively dark purple sweet peas? To misquote Shelley again: "If purple comes, can blue be far behind?" The answer is a resounding "Yes!" Each day I check the buds for hints of PALE BLUE. It's a vigil.

The wait for perennial sweet peas to bloom has been an even longer vigil. These were planted from seed in fall 2009. They grow wild along the coast of Maine, so I admit they're not in their element here. The vines are tall and healthy, but, after at least a year and a half of easily being green, are just beginning to show some tiny buds. BTW, perennial sweet peas range in color from white to            
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*I intend to plant  poppies when when it starts raining next fall.

**My borage is looking good, and it's not only true blue but also edible.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

shop till it drops

Yesterday, Tru's Facebook posts included a link to M. Crow and Company General Store in Lostine, Oregon. I took a virtual shopping trip via their on-line slideshow. (Sorry this link isn't functional at the moment, but I'm posting it here in hopes it'll come back up. Meanwhile you may be able to access a Facebook version.)

Imagine being able to buy a horse collar and a hula hoop, a washboard and an instant-read meat thermometer in the same store. I am enticed by the fine selection of enamel ware in a wide range of colors, and long to ask whether they carry Bliss Foot Soak. Bliss, a powder containing salicylic acid, was packed in a cylindrical cardboard container -- goldenrod yellow with black printing if I recall correctly. It has nothing to do with similarly-named products being marketed today in blue plastic tubes,

Crow's is a True Value Hardware store. Visiting their website, I learn that True Value is a coop owned by individual store owner/operators. A light dawns. This is why True Value stores are so different from each other -- ranging from the glitzy Koontz Hardware in West Hollywood (virtually next door to the Pacific Design Center) to Crow's in Lostine (pop. 283) .

According to another of Tru's postings, M. Crow and Company General Store is for sale. It's only 200 miles from our Idaho farm. Will I get there in time to see it before it goes the way of the Star Merch, Orville Jackson's, and so many other rural retailers that served our parents and grandparents?

I feel privileged to remember shopping in stores with softwood floors, where "brown paper packages tied up with string" was a way of doing business rather than a song lyric.
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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