Tuesday, December 3, 2013

fring 2013

We returned from a four-day Thanksgiving trip on Friday November 29 to find that this year's rainy season had started the night before. Thus the official start of fring, the spring-like season brought on by Southern California's fall rains.

On Saturday I took inventory. Narcissus and freesia bulbs were sprouting. Calla lilies (sprouted during the dry months) were unfurling their broad leaves on noticeably taller stems. Fattening jade plant and ice plant were starting to bloom, sweet violets were standing tall, and a single volunteer sweet pea seedling stood next to the kalanchoes. It's too early to expect any Idaho daffodils.

Jade Plant

Calla Lily

Perhaps my greatest fring surprise is the false dragonhead (Physostegia virginiana) I had been trying to keep alive in a container. This plant was totally new to me when I admired its striking pink blossoms in my friend Nancy's* late August garden As soon as I asked about it, Nancy started pulling up great handfuls. She told me to come back for more if these didn't grow for me. At the time, I had no good place for them in the garden and felt that it was too hot and dry for a new plant. I stuck them in water till they made some new roots, and then potted them.

As the dragonheads shed their blossoms and then their leaves, I started using the same pot to root kalanchoe cuttings. Sure enough, fring brought the dragon heads to life, and inch-high shoots were coming up at the base of each dry stem. The roots had managed to stay alive, and I'm thinking of planting them next to the African white irises which bloom off and on all year.

False Dragonhead Sprouts
So why are they called false dragonheads? According to Wikipedia, they were once thought to be part of the genus Dracocephalum, but both true and false dragonheads are part of the huge mint family (Lamiaceae). Wikipedia also says they are rhizomatous. I don't remember any rhizomes when I planted them, but we'll see when they come out of the pot. This will be soon, I hope.

Fring will be replaced by wring on December 21. A short but intense season, barely long enough to get the false dragonheads established, but promising many pleasures along the way.

- - - - - -
* Nancy loves to share her garden's bounty and is best known for the lavish bouquets of sweet peas she gives to local friends and neighbors. On her many travels, Nancy carries sweet pea seeds she has saved for this purpose, and has left a trail of lovely blossoms in the gardens of new and old friends on all the temperate continents.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

cereus business

Our huge Cereus lamprospermus is a night bloomer, and so I was astounded when I stepped outside on Saturday morning and saw this magnificent blossom facing our front door. It had bloomed during the night, but stayed open in daylight due to a rare set of conditions: shaded by our street tree, facing due west and thus not struck by November sun coming from the southern sky. I was glad my little camera was charged up and ready to go, to catch not only the full-blown cactus blossom but also the sun highlighting a Eugenia hedge across the street.

Our Cereus usually blooms in late spring or summer, but this fall it has produced four buds. We totally missed the first opening a couple of weeks ago, but kept a vigil for the second, which never opened fully because it was blocked by one of the plant's five tall trunks. This, the third blossom, is a rarity. The fourth and last bud faces south; it will close early, and, since it's only a foot off the ground, we will have to kneel on the sidewalk to see it.

Tonight Steve and I will both be going to rehearsals, and I hope we'll remember to check on the progress of this bud when we get home.

In Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Thomas Gray (1716–1771) observed: "Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen, /   And waste its sweetness on the desert air." This is an apt though unintentional description of our experiences with night-blooming Cereus, but I'm willing to bet Gray wasn't talking about any kind of cactus. The word desert, in this context, simply means deserted, and blush is an obsolete synonym for bloom. It was not until the following century that explorers and botanists began bringing African and South American cacti home to Kew Gardens and private plant collections where English poets could see them. A Cereus would have frozen to death in Gray's celebrated country churchyard.

Thomas Gray is best known for his widely misinterpreted words "ignorance is bliss," from Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. This would be a good poem to read while waiting for a night-blooming Cereus to bloom. Or, you can watch lovely time-lapse photos of Cereus openings at YouTube.

It is not blissful to be ignorant of cactus blossoms in one's own garden.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

a mushroom chronicle, part 3

All has been quiet on the local yarnbombing front since I posted a mushroom chronicle, part 2 in April. Oh, there was one small episode when Mr. B spotted a REAL mushroom in his front yard and, at first glance, attributed it to me. We had a good laugh over that one.

Earlier this week, I was walking up our street to make a trade at the Little Free Library that's sprung up in the block north of us (talk about mushrooming!). Perhaps half way between home and the corner, I was surprised to see one of my crocheted mushrooms lying on the sidewalk. I quickly picked it up and put it in my pocket.

This mushroom was VERY DIRTY. The three crocheted mushrooms in Mr. B's front yard are nice and clean, because he waters that part of his yard frequently. The three I've placed in our parking strip, however, are in a clump of dogbane which I never water. It will 'green up' with the rest of the succulents as soon as the fall rains start, but meanwhile the soft, spongy yarn I used to make these mushrooms has absorbed a great deal of the street dirt thrown up by passing cars. In fact, I had been thinking of washing these mushrooms and 'replanting' them if the rains don't come soon.

So the errant mushroom was soaked upside down for a day in a dilute solution of dishwashing liquid, kneaded repeatedly against its wire frame to loosen the dirt, and then thoroughly rinsed. It took another day to dry, stuck in a glass and placed on our bistro table to get some sun.

I'm thinking about washing the other two mushrooms and then placing all three in a more sheltered location among the bromeliads or kalanchoes.

Of course I'm curious about how my mushroom migrated up the street. Not prone to suspecting foul play, I have hypothesized that it was picked up by the wheel of a stroller, tricycle, or skateboard and then fell off after being transported about 50 yards. Steve is convinced that "a little girl" picked it and threw it away after getting tired of carrying it. More likely her mother noticed it and told her to drop it because it was so dirty.

This is one of the many things we'll never know. I'm just glad I was able to bring the mushroom back home. "All's well that ends well," they say.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


With the demise of Google Reader, you may be shopping for a new way to keep track of the blogs you like to read. Like, this one!

If you go to http://www.bloglovin.com/ and copy http://postocc.blogspot.com/ into the 'search blogs' box, you can ask to be notified whenever I churn out a new posting. This assumes that you open a free account (with no privacy risk that I can see),

I keep track of a whole raft of blogs through bloglovin' and, though I organize them into categories, I like to whip through the combined list each day and read the individual posts selectively or 'like' them for later reference.

My list includes most of my local newspapers -- exciting reading now that we're in the throes of a divisive school board election campaign -- as well as numerous sources of free needlework patterns and recipes.

Check it OUT!

Monday, October 28, 2013

rain readiness

Today we are supposed to have new rain gutters installed. They will be red aluminum to go with our new roof, and will drain into our four rain barrels. I am not totally convinced that the job will be done on schedule. Steve and I were out of town last week, thus missing the contractor's confirming phone call on Friday.

Another reason for my skepticism is that a 50% chance of rain is predicted for today. Of course this means there's an equal chance it won't rain, but yesterday it really felt like rain, and so I took time to plant the Idaho daffodil bulbs I had dug up during the summer and stored on the front porch in a small paper shopping bag.

There were nine bulbs -- eleven after I separated two doubles -- and I planted them in a circular space as planned. The soil there, at the foot of our largest lavender 'tree,' was not very good. We're talking about the part of our front garden that had originally been a driveway and later a thick bed of ivy. I scraped away three inches of what passes for topsoil plus mulch, and then used a bulb planter to make the eleven holes: eight around the edge and three in the center. About an inch of a bulb-friendly potting soil went in each hole, then the bulb, and then a generous trowel full of the potting soil, followed by an inch of topsoil, a generous sprinkling of blood meal, and finally the rest of the topsoil.

If it rains today, I'll wait until afterwards to apply more mulch. If it doesn't rain today, I'll water the new bulbs and then try to spread as much mulch as I can. In either case, I don't suppose I'll want to be gardening while the rain gutters are being installed -- if, indeed, that happens. I have until noon before the workers are supposed to show up anyway, and may be able to "make hay while the sun shines" and/or the clouds gather.

Two surprises graced my bulb-planting project. Both involved freesias, the principal inhabitants of our bulb bed. I was astounded not to find any freesia bulbs in the space I had chosen for the daffodils. Granted, I'd identified it as a bare spot last spring, but the freesias are prolific in casting off tiny bulbs at the end of each flowering season.

The other freesia surprise was my sighting of the first freesia sprout of 2014's blossoming. If it rains today or tomorrow, more grassy-looking freesia foliage will soon follow this harbinger. I'll happily declare the start of fring and start watching for the first paper-white narcissus to appear.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

you, alfred hitchcock!

Yesterday on Facebook, Dollar Store Crafts shared a link to a picture of an elegant Halloween wreath made of black birds (they called them ravens). There was a detailed tutorial explaining how to hot-glue ten (10) dollar-store birds to a styrofoam wreath form. I don't usually do much decorating for Halloween, but this piece caught my eye.

Steve hates the noisy black crows that fly through our neighborhood most late afternoons and early evenings, often terrorizing smaller birds. He will sit at the bistro table in our front garden and fantasize about ways to kill them. Like, a water cannon. And so I knew that hanging some black bird effigies on our front door would appeal to him.

A digression about wreaths. My mother grew up believing that wreaths should be hung only to signify that there has been a death in the family, and that the body is still laid out in the house. Presumably when the hearse comes to take the body away, the wreath will be taken to decorate the church and, finally, the grave. Thus for me, hanging a wreath has that added frisson of childish rebellion.

So I went to our local Dollar Tree store and looked at all the items of Halloween decor. The black birds were tossed together in a big box on a bottom shelf along with other black things: unreal fluffy black owls, black plastic rats, and spiders of all sizes. I sorted through everything in the box and placed all the realistic crow-like black birds in my shopping cart -- then sorted those by shape and condition. Some had outstretched wings, while some held their wings close to their bodies. I selected four of each.

Dollar Tree was not stocking any styrofoam wreath forms, but Steve was quick to adapt a wire coat hanger, and seemed to enjoy stabbing it through the birds. We alternated the two bird shapes and added large black beads in between. An orange velvet ribbon set the whole thing off nicely, but I decided to forgo the dusting of black glitter.

If this wreath lasts until Halloween I'll be surprised, but I think its therapeutic value has been fully realized already.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

the great green tomato worm race

Steve is not a sadistic person, but yesterday he showed some frightening tendencies in that direction.

I was at the computer, and he walked up to my desk with two long but not leafy stems from a tomato plant. One had a nice-looking ripe tomato at the end and the other one didn't, but what they had in common was that each bore a full-grown tomato worm: white stripes, red horn. and all.

This year, after two or three years of failure to grow a decent tomato crop, we took the plunge and bought some 'Topsy Turvy' tomato planters -- not only "seen on TV" but also featured at our local 99¢ Only Store. We're not inundated with tomatoes, as the ads seem to promise, but the ones we've harvested have been very good. And a Topsy Turvy  pepper planter has given us an adequate supply of jalapeno and serrano chili peppers.

We had not seen a single tomato worm until yesterday, when Steve brought these two bad boys into the house, and were thinking that maybe Topsy Turvy planters were immune from this scourge. Evidently not!

A few minutes after Steve walked off with the miscreants, I started wondering what he'd done with them, so I tracked him into our dining room, where he was calmly folding origami boxes. I asked if he had killed the tomato worms, and he said, somewhat diabolically, "No, I put them somewhere." I followed him to the front garden and there, in our cacti and succulent bed, the green tomato worms showed up in stark contrast against the tan background of our permanent mulch, made up mostly of dead leaves from our street trees: Chinese evergreen elms. These leaves are crunchy, small, and pointed -- with serrated sides -- not the smooth and shady green surface on which tomato worms generally spend their time.

It was fascinating to watch the tomato worms scurry around. They would seem to be making assaults on our giant cereus, but then would change their minds and rush off in another direction. The larger one walked between two stalks of a very spiny little cactus that I think may be a miniature cholla, but drew back after an inch of his body had tunneled through. The smaller one headed for the brick border of the bed. He thrust the front half of his body bravely over the edge, but then retreated back onto the carpet of crispy leaves.

How I wish I'd taken some pictures! I went back in a couple of hours and there was no trace of the green guys. Were they eaten by our resident crows or other birds? Were they on a long, dry trek back to the Topsy Turvy planters? Had they merely evaporated in the hot sun? We will never know. Unless we find more tomato worms and repeat the experiment under more controlled conditions.

The whole experience reminded me of a time years ago when we encountered an infestation of slugs. Steve was removing them with his fingers and setting them gently on the pavement. I was flicking them off the plants with a stick, and trampling them, along with the ones Steve had placed so gently. He said: "Isn't it interesting that you can't touch them and I can't kill them?"

I've killed many tomato worms over the years, and watched their liquid centers spill out. Steve didn't kill these two, but he certainly put them in harm's way.

I guess everyone has a sadistic side, whether we believe in treating our victims to a speedy death or a slow demise. Right now, I'm off to look for more tomato worms, and for sure I'm taking my camera.

Friday, August 16, 2013

with friends like these . . .

Earlier this week, I started a long overdue project of decluttering the bench beside our front door. When we moved here in 1975, this bench was a brick planter harboring a giant split-leaf philodendron with thick roots that were trying to undermine the foundation. I soon pulled it out, and ultimately Steve filled the cavity with concrete.

Over time, the bench had become a dumping ground for empty pots, cuttings waiting to be potted, garden tools, gloves, watering cans, etc.

My first task was to remove empty pots. Plastic and plain terra cotta pots, if not damaged, were sorted by size and put in containers bound for their new home on the back patio, where I hope to establish a work area for potting. Decorative pots were placed on or near the bench. There was some repotting done, but I'm not going to talk about it now.

Let's get on to the friends I mentioned in the title of this piece: spiders! Steve and I love spiders. Noiseless, patient spiders! Indeed we venerate them. If we see a web blocking a garden path, we will give it a wide berth. We have been known to feed spiders by throwing stunned houseflies into their webs, and we are great fans of the Spider Pavilion at the L.A. County Natural History Museum.

Few habitats are more beloved of spiders than your common empty flower pot -- plastic, terra cotta, concrete, porcelain, or metal. While sorting the pots, I gently relocated myriad spiders (dead and alive), as well as their silken egg sacs, into the mulch on our garden beds.

So now I have two questions:
  • why must I be suffering from so many spider bites (at least seven on my left leg alone)? 
  • with friends like these, who needs enemies?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

stabat mater spuriosa

In January 2012, I posted cyathea mater epiphiticorum to describe how, during the previous November, I had started tying epiphitic plants to the trunk of a dead tree fern in our front garden. (Let's call the spurious tree "CME" for short.) Then in March 2012 I posted tree revision to celebrate the appearance of new growth on a cutting of basket plant (Callisia fragrans) which topped the dead trunk.

Since that time, the pastiche of plants has had its good times and its bad times. Dead epidendrums have been taken down, while live ones have been admired. One tillandsia has not only survived but also multiplied and produced a spray of tiny blossoms -- purple with touches of yellow and white at the tip. I don't think the Spanish moss was alive when I tied it on, so after almost two years of denial I am admitting that I had essentially draped the tree with tattered crepe.

Today, citing the 13th-century hymns Stabat Mater dolorosa (a Good Friday text) and Stabat Mater speciosa (a Christmas text), I celebrate the fact that my secular foster-mothering tree still stands in spite of recent affronts to her dignity. The drooping Spanish moss would not be appropriate even if it were healthy. I think of how religious statues periodically receive festive new garments, and resolve that CME shall wear a mantle of pale pink or white basket-plant blooms and a skirt embroidered with tiny orange or magenta orchids.

My faith in CME's future is based on her survival after being badly battered while a new roof was being put on our house. On each of three long workdays beginning two weeks ago, huge plastic tarps were spread all around the house to catch a sequence of off-fallings: old shingles and wood, new foil-coated plywood scraps, sawdust, and trimmings from new shingles. At the end of each day, the tarps were removed and the whole area was cleaned with heavy-duty blowers.

Initially, I thought that our bromeliads, which I had been in process of transplanting (a story for another day), had suffered the most damage, but then I noticed that CME's topmost tuft of basket plant was gone. Fortunately, I found this sprig of vegetation on the ground and stuck it back under a strip of the terrycloth toweling I had originally used to tie it to the tree.

Late yesterday afternoon, I decided to take some pictures of CME so that I could post them with a description of the devastation. First, however, I used a fluffy duster to remove some of the sawdust that clung to the remaining leaves, and thus inadvertently knocked off the same leaves I had recently put back in place, and, adding insult to injury, broke off yet another section.

While replacing CME's treetop once again, I was delighted to discover tiny new green leaves on the broken stem. This was a 'photo op' for sure, but it turned into a 'photo flop' because the sun had gone behind the house.

This morning, conditions for photography have been better, though I'm afraid a picture is not worth a thousand words when it must be explained to the viewer. From the perspective below, the basket plant's stem looks like the trunk of a palm tree, but in fact the assertive green buds at the top are less than a quarter inch in height. I like the way they stand out against our dark red soffit, however. The arching of the mature, red-tinged leaves contrasts nicely with the straight lines of chimney and roof, while patches of "blue skies up above" promise a fine summer day ahead.

Looking at CME from the other side, against a backdrop of Chinese evergreen elms (the straight line is a downspout), we can see three tiny new buds along with a better shot of mature leaves, plus the speckled terrycloth along with the fibrous tree fern trunk at its very tip.

"Fall rains heal all," I wrote years ago to close a poem about getting through a dry and difficult year. In the meantime, frequent spraying and perhaps a foliar fertilizer should speed the process and let the new growth know how welcome it is in spite of fractured Latin and a barrage of building materials.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

bedfellows, part 2

This post has been 'in development' for a long time. Bed 'B' is the bed in question. It's devoted primarily to bulbs, but with four lavender 'trees:' English and French (both bluish of hue) and two Spanish (pink and pinker) marching down the middle with a Spanish white lavender spreading at their feet.

I'm pleasantly preoccupied by the question of when lavender is a color and when it's a plant. See, for example, the color lavender (June 2012) and lavender paradox (April 2013). The story of how our lavenders started becoming trees is recounted in aftermath (March 2011).

So, after talking about bed 'C' bedfellows of contrasting colors (orange and yellow, cerise and white) in bedfellows, part 1, I wanted to talk here about bedfellows that are known for their fragrance and may be called by the same color name (lavender, of course), but are of different species: lavender and elephant garlic.

One of my expressed goals for 2013 has been to take more photographs, and indeed I have been gracing this blog with pictures since March. The first of these were taken with my phone (not a 'smart' phone, BTW), and then I dusted off last year's Vivitar Vivicam 46 to photograph daffodils. Alas, that camera needed new batteries for every 'shoot,' and so I replaced it with a Nikon Coolpix S01 which can be recharged from dependable household current. This new tool more than does justice to our gardenias and calandrinias, even capturing a bee in motion on a flower bobbing in the breeze.

Wanting the lavender and garlic to look their best in their photographs, I decided to prune the lavender trees. This process took over a week, done in short sessions during a major heat wave. By this time the garlic blossoms were bending low on dried-up stems, while the existing lavender blossoms stood higher, due to drastic removal of their lower branches. Posing the flowers did not help. I cut three garlic blossoms and balanced them in the lighter pink Spanish lavender, but could find no angle that showed both bedfellows to advantage.

Is a picture worth a thousand words? Or even the 360 I've expended so far on this subject? Maybe we'll find out next year.

Meanwhile, my mind's eye and nose enjoy juxtaposing two herbs of contrasting odors, being visited by omnivorous bees.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

bedfellows, part 1

Our front garden consists of three raised beds, each roughly triangular, bordered by eight-inch brick walls, and trisected by a path which Steve paved when he put in the bricks. Lately I've written a lot about the cactus and succulent bed (Bed 'C,' if you will); earlier in spring it was the bulb bed (Bed 'B'); and occasionally there's something to say about Bed 'A,' which includes all the rest -- from my repurposed Australian tree fern and a Meyer asparagus fern to a tall camellia, a clump of flowering ginger, and a patch of bromeliads.

One of my grad school professors liked to divide literature and philosophy into two processes: 'lumping' and 'separating.' This is a useful distinction, but sometimes the two are simultaneous. We have separated the garden into three parts and lumped certain categories* of plants into them.

Bed 'C' includes California poppies and Texas sun drops. Neither of these is a cactus or a succulent, but both are natives of states where cacti and succulents flourish. This year the orange poppies appeared to be finished before the yellow sun drops really got started, but the poppies have managed a 'second coming' since I cut back most of their dried-up foliage. Thus we have the plants side by side, looking very similar with their four delicate petals and wispy foliage.

I hope that, as they spread, these natives of different states will intertwine into an orange-and-yellow ground-cover reminiscent of the iconic "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" so popular in the mid 1950s.

But wait! We have true 'Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White' in the same bed with the poppies and sun drops. White gardenias, gracing the cactus and succulent bed thanks to their seniority, are mingling with cerise calandrinias, newcomers from a backyard succulent sale two years ago. 


The calandrinia's pointed gray-green leaves are visible in the lower left corner of this photo, while its 'cherry pink' blossoms rise on slender 30-inch stems to crowd in front of the sturdy gardenias --larger this year than ever before, though not as symmetrical as the ones we wore to junior high dances.

See the well camouflaged bee? I have to wonder whether the gardenia feels deprived of insect attention. A fall dose of iron should be good for whatever ails it -- even the yellow leaves.
- - - -

*I cannot think of categories without recalling how Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986) classified animals into types 'a' through 'n.' I hope you'll follow this link to a page of Borges quotations and scroll down to a longish paragraph beginning: "These ambiguities, redundances, and deficiences . . ."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

barrels of memoirs

Barrel cacti bring back memories of my family's earliest days in California at the end of World War II. Having been transferred here from Ohio by Owens Corning Fiberglas, my father was called upon to develop applications in many industries, from aircraft to sporting goods. One of his most unusual assignments was a trip to the desert (probably near Palm Springs) to develop 'guzzlers,' fiberglass-lined cisterns that collected rainwater for birds and animals. I can remember how he came home and raved about the wonders of the desert, with barrel cacti prominent among them. 

According to Quail Unlimited, the guzzler project started in 1948. Ten years later, my father was able to act upon his passion for the desert by taking an early retirement and buying a small business there. Over a period of fifty years, he and my mother lived in a series of desert towns, and he ultimately volunteered as the caretaker of a large desert garden in Arizona.

Desert living does not appeal to me, but I do enjoy cacti and can grow them easily in our Mediterranean climate. Not long after Steve and I established the cactus and succulent bed in our front garden, I set out several small cacti which had been growing in pots for years. This may have been a mistake, as some of them were so tiny that we lost track of where they were. Here's a photo of the biggest one, a barrel cactus, with a dime at eleven o'clock to indicate scale:

2013 marks the third spring this cactus has bloomed for us, making quite a show next to the Texas sundrops that match its nearly neon color. Since the barrel is almost perfectly round, it's easy to follow the line of its circumference and to see that the flowers are larger than their host.

I stood on the sidewalk to take the photo above, but when I decided to photograph two more little barrels, I had to step right into the bed. This I did gingerly though I was wearing sturdy shoes, and indeed I almost stepped on a barrel that had successfully hidden from us for over a year. Growing less than two feet from the 'big' barrel, it looks to be a younger specimen of the same variety:

When I narrowly escaped stepping on this little guy, I was heading toward the smallest barrel in the garden:

Obviously this one is a different variety, with its shorter spines and lighter green color. It would be eclipsed by a quarter. I'm eager to see what color its blooms will be, but I'm not holding my breath.

Finally, here's the last known barrel.It's very much like the first, but with longer spines and a somewhat lighter color. The dime (three o'clock) should've been closer to it, but I was not interested in pricking my finger tips.

When I asked Steve whether he knew we had four barrels, he wanted to know: "Is that like a four-barreled carburetor?" Very like that AND "very like a whale," I think.

Barreling ahead through other parts of the garden, I see gardenia buds fattening and serrano chilies setting fruit: pulling together the best of so many worlds.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

you, gregor mendel!

I love the history of science and its early heroes. The eighteenth-century botanists* are my very favorites, but Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) is right up there. He is remembered chiefly as  "Father of Modern Genetics" for his work with peas (and bees!). I am visualizing a black-and-white illustration of pea vines from my high school biology textbook, but sadly can't find it on line. A more beautiful and provocative picture (by illustrator Joseph A. Smith) graces the cover of Cheryl Bardoe's Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas (2006).

I could probably spend the entire day writing about Mendel and/or the history of science. Suffice it to say, however, that Gregor (who advanced to the rank of Abbot) brought us the broad concept of dominant and recessive traits. He practiced a beneficent form of hybridization before 'GMO' became a dirty word. And let's bear in mind that he was working with garden-variety edible peas, whose blossoms only come in white and a pinkish purple. 

What I want to write about today is the history of my recent attempts to grow sweet peas in a controlled range of colors.  

On January 15, 2010, in the earliest days of this blog, I said:
. . . three small plantings of annual sweet peas are in various stages of development. The ones from the nursery have reached their promised five feet (they're a dwarf variety) so are sticking up above the top of the four-foot chain-link fence. The ones planted from seed are close to two feet tall, and the ones from the farmer's market are about eight inches tall and just beginning to reach out for the fence.
Well, I had certainly forgotten ever buying any sweet pea plants, but I clearly remember that the seed packet promised "mixed" colors and I suspect that the plants I bought were the same. "Mixed," in fact, was what I got, including the white ones I really love best and the dark purple ones that become the focal point of any bouquet.

The following year, on April 11, 2011, I reported on volunteer sweet peas coming up as early as the previous November. These I had moved to stand next to the chain-link fence, interspersing them with seeds saved from 2011's "mixed" crop, plus seeds of a "Blue Celeste" variety that I was really anxious to see in bloom. No way:
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.
Whereas 2011's Sweet Pea Report was titled a plethora of purple,  2012's showed up on April 20 as paltry in pink. 2012 was the first year I went for an all-volunteer sweet pea crop, and here's what it looked like:
Now that April is more than half over, the volunteer sweet peas along the fence have barely started to bloom. They're pale pink, with short stems, and the vines are less than two feet tall. Nary a one of the sprawling sweet peas in the front garden has managed to bloom, but some are reaching over a foot long, so I haven't exactly given up hope. 
After diligently mulching with spent sweet pea vines in the summer of 2012, I went into my second year of all-volunteer sweet pea culture, and as the seedlings came up I let them stand where they had chosen to sprout. Many, as reported on February 18, were in our infamous parking strip. Like this:

In the photo on the left, you can see the gray pavement of the curb running diagonally from right to left. And on the right, Steve's car is visible at curbside. The red-and-purple flower, I swear, was not in the original "mixed" seed packet. It looks like something to wear at a Red Hat Society event.

These long-stemmed blossoms have appeared on dense foliage topping out at around three feet. The 'bushes' would have been taller if I had provided taller supports. I have picked only three or four bouquets over the season. I'm purposely letting them go to seed, and looking forward to 2014's range of colors.

Will I ever grow a white sweet pea? Time will tell. Like blue eyes, white sweet peas must be a recessive trait. And I'm beginning to suspect the alleged pale blue sweet peas of being GMO's. Not in my front yard, Mr. Monsanto!

- - - - -
* Years ago, I ended a poem about plant name idolatry with this line: "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Linneaus eleison."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

basket case, part 2

When I told Steve I was going to blog about the theft of my planter basket made of t-shirt yarn, he asked, "Are you going to excoriate the person who stole it?" This was a difficult question, as I always try to maintain a positive tone. I said, "No, I'm going to lay a guilt trip on him." (Note the stereotypical masculine pronoun. This was what I said. I was too angry for my typically high level of political correctness.)

In his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, a touchstone of literary theory, William Wordsworth wrote that "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." The same can be said of most art forms, including blogging, and so, having reached a state of relative tranquility, I set about analyzing the emotions in which my "spontaneous overflow" had originated.
My 'guilt-trip' approach originated in the emotion of anger. It was based on emphasizing the amount of skill, work, and time involved in:

  • cutting and spinning the yarn,
  • making the basket,
  • planting the haworthia and donkey-tail sedum inside, and
  • tending the little planter on a daily basis.

In fact I must confess that I have no idea how much of my time was involved. I had so much fun with all parts of the process that I would gladly have prolonged the time it took. Thus the "powerful feeling" of satisfaction ultimately triumphed over that of anger

Recollecting my satisfaction as an artist actually led to a feeling of pride as I entertained the possibility that my thief had a great appreciation for fiber art. But wait! What if he was only interested in the plants? What if he repotted the plants and threw the basket away? Oops! Here comes anger again. But the plants did have some value even though they're more abundant and easier to get than one-of-a-kind artisanal baskets.* 

At the end of basket case, part 1, I had said I would move my surviving basket to a perch high up on its prickly host. Well, I changed my mind and actually placed it in a more natural nesting spot on the sidewalk side of the cactus. If anyone wants to steal it (thereby demonstrating appreciation for my work as a fiber artist), I think he should be able to do so without personal injury and (especially) without damaging our giant cereus. Imagine walking out in the morning and finding a basket thief sprawled and bleeding on the sidewalk, tangled from head to toe in long cactus branches. Or, he has been able to walk away, finding a pile of branches smeared with blood and bits of torn clothing.

Unfortunately I did not take a 'before' picture of basket #2. It originally held a couple of scraggly epidendrums (about seven inches long and with unkempt-looking aerial roots) along with another hopeful start of the donkey-tail sedum and a branching, reddish green succulent whose name I do not know. Preparing for the great re-hanging, I cut the epidendrums back to one or two leaves apiece, and wove their white aerial roots loosely through the top edge of the basket. Check it out:

Here's the side view, showing tall cereus shadows on the sidewalk behind:

If these epidendrums bloom, it will be the first time I have had any success with these 'poor man's orchids,' after more than twenty years of trying. Will I owe that success to the infamous basket thief?

- - - - -
* In line with all this soul-searching, I have to admit that I had stolen the donkey tail myself -- but only about five little (separate) sections, and those from a part of the plant that would not be noticed. The haworthia was one of two I won in a garden club raffle and thus it would have cost me fifty cents or less ($1 a ticket, 6 for $5).

Monday, May 6, 2013

basket case, part 1

On March 22, I posted this photo on Facebook, not long after I'd posted a shot of my first crocheted mushroomMade in the flush of euphoria over my 'coming out' as a fiber artist, it's crocheted freehand with yarn made from an old t-shirt. It looks sort of like a miniature laundry basket, but who needs a miniature laundry basket? I decided to use it as a planter, and so I lined it with the toe end of an old sock and filled it with potting soil. The reddish plant is a Haworthia (aka Zebra cactus), and the little translucent green things that look like jelly beans are members of the huge Sedum family, best known as 'donkey tail.' The dime should give you a good idea of scale.

The green 'frame' around the little basket is the eight-foot Cereus that anchors the northeast corner of our front garden. Its short but very sharp thorns are borne in little clumps -- good for holding the basket in place, I thought.

In addition to being free and abundant, old t-shirts (which take many years to break down in a landfill) seem to be an ideal medium for small hanging planters. The fabric is light in weight, yet absorbent, while the space between stitches provides ventilation. I found that watering it with a spray bottle worked very well, and I envisioned roots happily penetrating the fiber.

I had previously crocheted other things (hats and bags, mostly) with old t-shirts, but this was the first one for which I actually spun the yarn, on a hand spindle. This extra process added to the amount of time it took to make the planter, but enabled the basket-like texture that I loved so much.

On April 22 (Earth Day), I posted the same photo on Facebook again, with this sad comment:
Well, it's a month since I posted this photo of a tiny planter I'd crocheted from an old t-shirt. This morning I discovered that someone had stolen it out of my front yard. Happy Earth Day, somebody. Hope you're taking care of the little plants.
When the first basket disappeared, I had already crocheted, planted, and hung another one, this time with audio cassette tape 'plied' in on the spindle. The second one looks even more like an oriole's nest. It hangs on the side of the cereus that doesn't face the sidewalk. I think I'll get out a ladder and move it to a higher perch. Six feet may be enough, but time will tell.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


On a June 2011 visit to our Idaho farmhouse, I spent 'quality' time digging Austrian Copper rosebushes away from the foundation. These had been planted by Steve's mother, Alice (1912-1998), who had also planted a row of daffodil bulbs under the wide living room window. The daffodils make a stunning show every spring, and their foliage stands until it's mowed into the adjacent lawn.

While digging rose canes, I had naturally dislodged some daffodil bulbs, and though it was not the proper season to dig and separate them, I brought a few home, let them dry throughout the summer, and planted them in the fall without much hope. Idaho daffodils, I believed, would need a cold winter to flower. I was happy to be proven wrong, but still not confident that the bulbs would really naturalize. Maybe they were still feeling the benefit of freezing during the winter of 2010-11.

During the long fring and wring seasons of 2012-13, tall daffodil foliage appeared in our front garden, and by mid April I had to admit that Idaho daffodils had naturalized and were blooming against a backdrop of lavender and white freesias.

As you can see by the bit of brick in the lower left-hand corner of the photo above, I had planted the daffodil bulbs quite close to the edge of our bulb bed. Their drying foliage now stands in a row, sticking through the mulch I've used to cover spent freesias. The bulbs should be easy to find when I'm ready to dig them out in late summer or early fall. Then they will move to a circular space at the foot of our largest lavender tree, and thus the display of naturalized Idaho daffodils will be more graceful in spring 2014 and beyond.

But wait! What if Alice took the daffodil bulbs from SoCal to Idaho sometime in the 1940s or 50s and had naturalized them there in spite of the freezing winter? What if I was bringing them to their home instead of taking them away from it?

Many humans have believed that they 'took dominion' over the vegetable kingdom a long time ago, but plants can still have their secrets and surprises. Rightly so, I think.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

lavender paradox

See the tiny white flowers in the picture below?

They're lavender. The Spanish white lavender (Lavandula stoechas) I planted last spring. The word stoechas refers to the pineapple-shaped blossoms which are typical of Spanish lavenders, in contrast to the more familiar dentate blossoms of English and French lavenders..

See the lavender-and-white flowers in the picture above?

They're not lavender, except in color! They're freesias, displaying their relationship to irises by bearing their matte, pointed leaves parallel to each other and, for the most part, parallel to the ground.

See the little shriveled blue thing between two sprays of freesias near the lower left corner of the picture above. Up until last year I thought it was a Hyacinthus orientalis, but it's actually Hyacinthoides, a member of the asparagus family. Its leaves are the shiny ones -- longer and clumpier than freesia leaves.

I didn't think I was taking a picture of a hyacinthoid, but I'm glad it's there. I've been meaning to set the record straight on these delightful flowers, and on hyacinth beans, which turned out to be a colossal disappointment -- a woody-stemmed perennial that's almost as invasive as asparagus fern.

You can't see the pink or blue ("dilly, dilly") of any English, French, or Spanish lavenders in this picture, because they stand tall. Sometimes it's nice to focus on the beauties of the ground.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

azalea from 'a' to 'z'

Evidently some sort of magic occurs on February 27. On that date in both 2011 and 2013 I noted the first blossoms on our white azalea. This leads me to wonder whether the same thing happens every year. Shall I make a note in my 'tickler' file for next year?

In mid to late March, when the azalea is totally covered with blossoms, it receives a lot of attention from passersby. Sandra, who moved out of the neighborhood last spring, reported that she had used it as a backdrop for photographing her grandchildren.

This year, a woman stopped while walking her dog and asked me how I managed to make the azalea bloom so prolifically. Essentially I told her the pruning story I had related in the 2011 link above. She shook her head and walked on with her impatient dog, who may have been eager to get away from my dogbane.

Now the azalea is past its prime for sure, and the ground under it is littered with limp petals, contributing to the dismal array of freesias breathing their last. Fortunately the freesias still smell wonderful, but I'll start deadheading them soon. It will be a relief to cover the whole area with a fresh layer of mulch.

It will take a long time to deadhead the azalea. I've been allowing myself about 15 minutes a day for this ritual, but may be able to squander an hour on it some day next week. Occasionally I'll take off a twig or two, but the real pruning must wait till the deadheading is done so that the shrub isn't wasting energy on seedpods.

Passersby with their dogs and children may think I'm working hard -- unless they've read Andrew Marvel's The Garden and guess that I've chosen this time "to weave the garlands of repose."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

a mushroom chronicle, part 2

Early in the morning after crocheting and 'planting' my first mushroom (see a mushroom chronicle, part 1), I started watching for Mr. B to come out and spot it. Yes, I must have an audience for this work! When he came out, I simply had to point it out to him: "Did you see the mushroom under your chocolate-berry bush?" It looks quite real from a distance. He quickly spotted it and walked over to it, then looked at me and asked, "Did you make this?" I quickly confessed, and then had the slightly narcissistic pleasure of watching him show it to Mrs. B.

Naturally I had to make more mushrooms, and by the time I'd used up my skein of Lion Brand Homespun, I'd  added seven more fabulous fungi, in different sizes, to the neighborhood crop. A total of three are growing at the original site under Mr. B's chocolate berry bush. Four are peeping out from among the dense blanket of dogbane leaves under a Chinese evergreen elm tree in our parking strip, and one was placed at the base of another elm tree across the street. Alas! That last one seems to have disappeared -- gone the way of the bus-bench upholstery I'd installed on International Yarn Bombing Day in 2012.*

It's been fun to watch various mushroom sightings, and to speculate about occurrences I haven't seen.

A couple of days after the first mushroom was placed (and I think there was probably a smaller one next to it by that time), I looked at the spot and saw that the original mushroom was hovering a little over an inch above the ground. Evidently someone had tried to pick it, but did not complete the heist. Had s/he thought it was real, but was deterred by the sweater-like 'feel,' the tension of the wire base, or the shock of realizing that it might be a valuable piece of art? We'll probably never know.

When there was just one large crocheted mushroom under our evergreen elm, I was sitting at our bistro table in the front garden when two elderly gentlemen walked by, carrying on a lively conversation in Russian. The taller one moved out ahead of his companion and then turned so as to face the mushroom, to which he pointed and, I assume, described. His friend reached his side, turned, spotted the mushroom and literally shouted "MUSHROOM!" Then he turned to face me and asked, "MUSHROOM?" I replied, "MUSHROOM!" He smiled broadly,  gave me an enthusiastic 'thumbs up,' and hurried to catch up with his friend.

Sometime after Mr. B's grouping of three mushrooms was complete, his neighbor on the other side noticed what he thought was a proliferation of real mushrooms under the chocolate berry bush. Mr. B disabused Mr. J, whom I later enjoyed joshing.

Will there be a mushroom chronicle, part 3? I sincerely hope so. With a fresh skein of Homespun in hand and my newest mushroom gracing a potted plant in Sacramento, this has become a tale of two cities.

- - - - - - -
* Upon looking up the posting where I described that project, I found that I had not written about its loss. Once again, I seem to be setting the record straight.

Monday, March 25, 2013

a mushroom chronicle, part 1

My yarn bombing activity started out as a solitary preoccupation. Then in January a neighbor brought me an e-mail he had received about Yarn Bombing Los Angeles' group project of covering the facade of a museum with 5" granny squares. This neighbor suspected I would be interested, because one of my first yarn bombs (a crocheted street-light pole cozy) has been hanging in front of his home for almost two years.

So it was that I started crocheting 5" granny squares in the prescribed colors of purple, yellow, white, and hot pink. The design's range was broader than that, but these were the colors of yarn I had on hand. Other crocheters would come up with the lime green, bright blue, and orange squares to complete this design:

I delivered my 35 squares to Los Angeles' Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) on the third Saturday of February and spent a pleasant afternoon sewing squares together into monochromatic blocks of nine. Of the 15 or so people gathered around a table in the museum's back room, almost half were college students of both sexes: members of classes in fiber arts or fabric design, some of whom had never held a tapestry needle (the tool of choice for assembling crocheted or knitted pieces).

On the third Saturday of March, I returned to CAFAM to sew alternating-colored blocks of nine, together with contrasting blocks of two and nine, into larger blocks representing traditional multi-colored granny squares (like the pieces between the upstairs windows in the picture above).

So what does this have to do with mushrooms?

I came home from CAFAM feeling that I, after hanging out with fiber artists, might be a fiber artist myself. I picked up some yarn left over from a hat I'd knitted, and quickly crocheted a realistic mushroom -- freehand and asymmetrical -- about three inches tall. Steve made a wire support that would stick into the ground and hold the mushroom upright with a coil in its cap and a spike in its stem. Under cover of darkness, I took the mushroom next door and planted it under a neighbor's chocolate-berry bush:

See a mushroom chronicle, part 2.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

wring buds

The Vernal Equinox will officially usher in Spring on March 20, and until then Steve and I will enjoy wring, the spring-like days that occur during winter. Winter will assert itself from time to time. I remember once when March 17 was the coldest night of our year, and the record low temps for this current week are in the 30s.

Meanwhile, our white azalea, the 'anchor' plant at the southeast corner of the garden, is covered with buds. One west-facing blossom has opened. At first glance I thought there were two azalea flowers, but then looked more closely and saw that the second was actually an African white iris* poking up through the lower branches of the azalea. 

A couple of fat freesia buds are showing hints of their purple and white colors, and look ready to burst open any day. Unfortunately, this is not true of the buckwheat for which I had such high hopes last fall, but sweet alyssum has stepped into the breach thanks to my shaking their seeds hither and yon when the flowers faded last fall.

Calla lilies are starting to unfurl against the background of creeping fig that's finally filling in the width of our chimney, as so hopefully predicted in my first blog post back in January 2010.

In the cactus and succulent bed, a tight bundle of buds is barely visible at the center of a thick leaved aloe.** Clusters of bright orange flowers will emerge at the top of a tall stalk and will last far into spring. I am especially glad to see these buds, since several years ago I almost exterminated our dense clump of aloe and saved only this one specimen.

I am surprised by some of the plants that are not participating in this virtual frenzy of budding. None of the volunteer sweet peas or hyacinth beans is showing anything like a bud, and the Idaho daffodils, though they produced a few blossoms last year, show foliage only. 

In Nothing Gold Can Stay, Robert Frost talked about how the leaves of deciduous trees look like flowers when they first emerge from their tight golden buds:
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
The buds of wring give us the SoCal equivalent of that shining hour: a week of promise on the verge of full-blown spring.
- - - - -
* The white iris is an evergreen and blooms intermittently year round with flowers that last for only one day. Years ago, Kay gave me a small clump which has spread to form a dense border along the south side of the garden. I am surprised that this plant has not been declared invasive, but the University of Florida Extension website claims that it is "not known to be invasive." Obviously they never saw how it filled Kay's north garden in spite of dense shade, or spread unkempt along a neighborhood alley.

** This is not aloe vera but a pricklier, thicker leaved cousin which I hope to identify soon.

Monday, February 18, 2013

wring is right

One day last week, we were having lunch at our bistro table in the front garden when Steve said something on the order of "Spring is here!" Wisely sensing that I was about to insist that it was really fring, however, he quickly backpedaled: "Maybe we should be calling it wring (with a W)."

Wring is right, indeed. When I defined fring back in 2010, there was some ambiguity, if not downright confusion, as to whether it was a composite of first + spring or fall + spring. Clearly, though, wring is a composite of winter + spring.

There was no question that fring (as initially defined) could last too long. It could start any time after the autumnal equinox, but would always last through the vernal equinox. Thus fring could theoretically take up half the year -- not this year of course, since it didn't start until the second week in December.

Fring and fall may occur concurrently (though the fall rains so rarely start before October). Likewise wring and winter may be concurrent, but are likely to be punctuated with an occasional wintry day or week. Five days of lows in the 30s (January 12-16, 2013) were wintry enough to kill most of the leaves on Jacob's newly transplanted papaya tree.

After lunch, Steve took off on some errands and I spent an hour contentedly pulling wring weeds in the parking strip: common chickweed, dandelions, petty spurge, two kinds of oxalis, wild carrot, elm tree seedlings, and perennial as well as annual grasses.  Dichondra, fring-blooming sweet allysum, and volunteer sweet peas had made greater inroads against the weeds than they had last year at this time, during whatever season that may have been.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

one bug's nectar, another bug's poison

Jim, the Garden Club speaker last Tuesday, talked about insects. Some thought his topic would be 'Beneficial Insects," but he disabused everyone of this notion at the outset. It was just "Insects." His point of view was purely aesthetic. 

Jim likes to watch insects in all their metamorphic stages, and listen to their distinctive sounds. His slides were beautiful closeups of insects. He accompanied them with appropriate clicking and buzzing, while using his arms and head to mimic the movement of mouth parts . 

Every picture of a butterfly on a flower was balanced with that of a caterpillar eating the leaves of that same plant. When milkweed and buckwheat were touted as host plants for butterflies, I thought lovingly about the little holes I'd seen in some of my buckwheat plants -- now nearing maturity and starting to show tiny white buds.

By revealing his love for mosquitoes, Jim laid to rest anyone's expectation that he was going to focus on beneficial insects. Evidently Jim's wife empties vessels of standing water whenever she finds them around the garden. Jim patiently refills them so that mosquitoes will have a place to breed. Next, I heard shocked whispers of "termites!" all around me when Jim advocated having a woodpile to provide nesting places for insects. He also uses wood to build homes for mason bees, one of my preoccupations from last year.

Less flagrant ways to attract insects were also described. Evidently bugs eschew mowed lawns and prefer a diversity of plant sizes, colors, and flavors, along with a carpet of decaying leaves. Plants that taste 'nasty' to one insect will be the favorite food of another (hence the title of this post).

A few of Jim's slides showed lifeforms other than insects. Spiders and hummingbirds, attracted by insects, were also featured. This prompted me to ask about legless lizards. "Legless lizards are wonderful," Jim replied, but he didn't want to go on record as saying that they would eat snail eggs.

After the presentation, I talked with a lovely woman who told me that she has to "go inside and lie down for a while" when she encounters a spider in her garden. I was on my good behavior, so didn't mention spiders' "noiseless, patient" attributes.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

thy neighbor's aeonium

Let me just start with a confession: I have coveted my neighbor's aeoniums. Aeonium arboreum and Aeonium arboreum (var. atropurpureum) stand tall in the brick planters on either side of his front door. They face west to take advantage of afternoon sun, and are lovingly watered at least once a week. They have been blooming in neon yellow splendor since about January 15.

My own aeonium arboreums have never bloomed for me. They include plants grown from clippings given to me by this same neighbor, as well as a potted aeonium 'Irish Bouquet' bought years ago at a farmers' market in San Diego.

On a recent trip down the coast, I spotted a huge pale yellow aeonium at a 'destination nursery' in Leucadia. It was not a blossom. It bore the unmistakably petal-shaped leaves of an aeonium arboreum, and spread as large as a mid-summer mid-western sunflower. Yet it stood only a foot above ground level. I had to have one.

The affable nurseryman identified this beauty as a 'Sunburst Aeonium,' but regretted that he had none potted up for sale. Sympathetic to my needs, however, he dug up another specimen bearing two foot-long stems. I could plant the main stem in the garden and make a cutting of the subsidiary stem. This smaller one I would pot for something spectacular to enter in the garden club show next June.

All the way home, I thought about how my neighbor would covet my new aeonium. Of course I would place it so that it faced directly toward his front door.

Yesterday while doing errands, I noticed some new plantings in the median strip down the center of our east-west commercial street: tufts of ornamental grass, surrounded by a border of about a dozen sunburst aeoniums -- as big as my two and much healthier. How long have I, and my neighbor (not to mention all the garden club members), been driving past these not-so-rare specimens?

With any luck, my Calandrinia grandifloras will attain covetable stature this year. I hereby resolve to water them, and the sunburst aeoniums, at least once a week.

Friday, January 25, 2013

emerald becomes coy

With February looming, you may have been wondering why I haven't written anything about 2013's Color of the Year (COY) yet. After all, it's become a tradition for me to unveil this factoid and comment on it here. This year, however, I learned about COY in a surprising way, and it got me to thinking less about color and more about how information is gathered.

During a post-holiday visit, I mentioned to our younger son and daughter-in-law that I would soon be looking up the 2013 COY and writing about it in my blog. She had never heard of the concept, so we were having a good chuckle over PMS numbers (assigned by the Pantone Matching System). He knew all about PMS from the POV of an entrepreneur who must maintain a consistent color scheme for his corporate image. COY was new to him, though, so he touched his ever-present smart phone and said, "It's emerald green."

Thus I was upstaged. Surprised when I had expected to do the surprising, yet also surprised that a color from the cool end of the spectrum had been chosen after two years of hot ones. Here was a COY, like the turquoise of 2010, that I would actually wear. Indeed, emerald is my birthstone.

After cooling down for at least a week, I finally made a leisurely visit to the Pantone website, not to be surprised by the COY but to revel in the rhetoric I have learned to expect there. I was not disappointed, and must quote the whole blurb:
The 2012 color of the year, PANTONE 17-1463 Tangerine Tango, a spirited reddish orange, provided the energy boost we needed to recharge and move forward. Emerald, a vivid verdant green [PMS 17-5641], enhances our sense of well-being further by inspiring insight as well as promoting balance and harmony.
Most often associated with brilliant, precious gemstones, the perception of Emerald is sophisticated and luxurious. Since antiquity, this luminous, magnificent hue has been the color of beauty and new life in many cultures and religions. Also the color of growth, renewal and prosperity, no other color conveys regeneration more than green. For centuries, many countries have chosen green to represent healing and unity.
"The most abundant hue in nature, the human eye sees more green than any other color in the spectrum," said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute®. "As it has throughout history, multifaceted Emerald continues to sparkle and fascinate. Symbolically, Emerald brings a sense of clarity, renewal and rejuvenation, which is so important in today's complex world. This powerful and universally-appealing tone translates easily to both fashion and home interiors."
There you have it. 2013's COY. I shall put on my necklace of emerald nuggets and go in search of inspiring insights.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

my morning as homework

This morning I spent about 45 minutes engaged in a video call (on Skype) with our seven-year-old granddaughter. We were both dressed in jammies, and she had a school assignment to interview someone for a family history project. Following in italics are the questions developed by her teacher, using 'they' (alas!) as the universal unisex uniperson pronoun.

When were they born? Please include the month, day, and year. May 7, 1941

Where were they born? Please include the city, state, country and continent. Newark, Ohio, U.S.A., North America

How did they dress? Here I started to have some fun with the answers! My granddaughters' generation wears leggings most of the time. I told her we didn't have leggings because we didn't have any synthetic fabrics besides rayon (a new word she needed to have spelled). She asked, "Didn't you have elastic?" I said, "Yes, we had elastic, but no spandex or nylon, which is what most of your leggings are made of. All our clothing was cotton or wool." 

How did they get to school? I told her I walked to school until junior high, and was ready to start talking about the school bus. She curtly reminded me that we were talking about elementary school. Ah, yes! The girl knows how to focus.

How was their classroom [different from classrooms of today]? My talk of dip pens, ink wells, and the wind-up Victrola was accepted as the ancient history it is. I didn't mention how we all snickered at the rear view of our teacher winding the Victrola, but she was astounded when I told her that the teachers wore dresses all the time.

What did they do during recess time? I told her we had swings and monkey bars (which I loved), and played kick ball, dodge ball, and tether ball. Later I remembered jumping rope (she had received a jump rope for Christmas). Anyway, she said she hadn't had swings except in kindergarten, but otherwise concluded that "recess was pretty much the same."

What do they remember most about their experience in 2nd grade or elementary school? This was a hard one, because I had missed kindergarten (due to a parental oversight) and skipped essentially every other semester until I ended up in fifth grade on my eighth birthday, with no particular memory of any grade between first and fourth. Still tightly focused, however, she didn't accept my account of walking home with my friend Carolyn, who had ducks and a grapefruit tree in her back yard ("This is supposed to be about what happened in school," she reminded me), so I told about pretending to know how to read (a simple matter of memorizing the Dick & Jane story the others in the group were reading, and rattling off my lines with no hesitation).

What did they do when they were not in school? Here I was able to work in Carolyn's ducks, as well as roller-skating on the sidewalk, playing 'cops and robbers' in the alley, and avoiding the alleged witch who lived in a little house at the far end of our block.

Did they have a hobby?  My talk of knitting and playing the flute (both of which I started at age 7), must have suggested I hadn't changed a bit, but drawing and painting were definitely things from my past.

What activities did they do? I'm not sure how activities differ from hobbies and 'what they do', but I came up with accounts of fishing at the beach and visiting the Redondo Beach pier to buy lobsters that we'd bring home to barbecue in the back yard.

Did they watch television or some movies? What kind of movies? Television didn't come along for me until 1952, but I talked for so long about Disney movies (Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty, Bambi) that there wasn't room on the page to include my favorite radio shows. I was summarily interrupted when I started to spell 'Uncle Whoa-Bill.'

Did they have chores? Setting the table and feeding the cat paled in comparison with my account of watching our family's trash burn in the backyard incinerator. You see, someone had to stomp out flying embers to keep the fire from spreading. This was history for sure!

Ask them to tell you a story or special memory that they experienced when they were your age. (For example, a trip, a historic event, war, immigration, a special memory with their family or friends, etc.)

My story was of a road trip from L.A. to central Ohio, where we visited my paternal grandparents' farm and I helped my grandmother gather eggs. Knowing how she loves the four chickens and one rooster who live on the farm where her father lives in Idaho, I confided that I didn't like the chickens. She wasn't so shocked, because I'd told her this before. What grandmother hasn't told a story (or any part of it) more than once? It's a prerogative. 

What better way could there have been to spend a Sunday morning in January, while memories of recent holiday visits still danced in our heads? But oh, to be a fly on the classroom wall when this assignment is turned in or reported to the class! 
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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