...upon learning that the botanical name of the blackberry lily has been changed from the luscious, toothsome Belamcanda chinensis to...Iris domestica? I hereby protest.
A small commemoration, two years on, of the day my trusty Volkswagen Beetle, slug bug blue, was T-boned and totalled. The week or so after impact was mercifully lost to Morpheus, then followed by a crazy quilt of memories distinguishable from hallucinations only in retrospective, logical cross-examination (hallucination: reading a magazine, whose staples leap out to implant themselves as stapled sutures bisecting my abdomen; hallucination: my hospital bed transported to a Chicago El platform; not a hallucination: the young doctor on morning rounds a dead ringer for Zach Braff in Scrubs). Good and kind nurses and doctors (and, perhaps, the second-hand effects of cultivating lots of Eupatorium/boneset in my garden) healed all things broken quicker and better than I could have ever hoped.
The Beetle's in an auto graveyard somewhere, too smashed-up in the collision to allow retrieval of its CD cartridge, which held: Joni Mitchell, Hejira, Tobias Werner, Bach Cello Suites, The Kinks, The Kink Kronikles, John O'Conor, Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Vol. 7, and Alison Moyet, Voice. I don't think it was playing at the time of the crash, but I remember playing Voice pretty much incessantly in the days and weeks beforehand. So much to love in Alison Moyet's articulate and heartfelt Purcell ("Dido's Lament"), Jacques Brel ("La Chanson des Vieux Amants"), Michel Legrand ("What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?"), and an utterly perfect "Cry Me a River" (first pass, mocking; second pass, wistful). The penultimate cut on Voice is "Bye Bye Blackbird," a song (in its Miles Davis rendition) played at my father's funeral. Maybe it will be played someday at mine, too, but not just yet.
Our little* burning bush bloomed for the first time this spring, with barely noticeable yellow blooms, the size of a pinky nail. This fall's first berries are sprinkled delicately throughout the denuded branches. Its fall color was rich this year, thanks (I think) to rain and more rain. The berries and the leaves were persimmon and pomegranate juxtaposed, colors that shouldn't go together, but they did, and they do.
*'Rudy Haag' is actually compact, smaller than 'Compactus', and way smaller than the species, which is alatus? or alata? or just apparently the topic of another taxonomical food fight: "This is because botanists disagree as to whether the genus name Euonymus should be treated as feminine ("alata") or masculine ("alatus")".
"Where's my coffee?" (This MadMom incarnation comes courtesy of my 12-year-old.)
The Twilight Zone turned 50 this month, too...but it never gets old. Much has been said about the suayve and deboyner "Don Draper", but I like to think that his ineffable coolth was modeled on Rod Serling's smoke-gets-in-your-eyes squint and clenched-jaw baritone delivery of existentialist aphorisms. Let's raise an old-fashioned glass to the ad men of The Twilight Zone: the free-falling (with a hard landing) Accounts Guy from (my favorite) "A Stop at Willoughby"; Gig Young's Media Guy from "Walking Distance" (an inferior fraternal twin of "Willoughby", in my estimation—but prominently featuring a carousel); and honorary ad man Dick York's fine comic and dramatic turns in "A Penny for Your Thoughts" and "The Purple Testament" (but was Darrin Stephens Accounts, or Creative?).
Since the climbing hydrangea here has (a) decided it's never going to bloom, at least not this decade, and (b) become favored fodder for this summer's roaming swarms of Japanese beetles, it's just as well that 'Grandpa Ott' morning glory has shown up to take up the slack. I planted Grandpa Ott seeds a couple of summers ago, in a sunny planter way around the corner from the chimney pictured here. Grandpa Ott has reliably reseeded around the garden without being weedy, and it's a welcome sight wherever it newly appears. My husband's of the view that ironweed (Vernonia) is the plant world's best purple, but I think Grandpa gives it a run for the money, no?
(...and the talk gets so topical*)
The caladiums are happy in today's humid heat. I used to think that I didn't like caladiums. I'd seen them in too many desultory container plantings, where it seems that they could be swapped out with a fake fabric floral counterpart with no one the wiser. But a bargain-bin bag of a a dozen tubers came our way this spring, which I tucked in here and there in the north-facing shady garden. The spaethes are unfurling gracefully, some with a faint tinge of pink, and complement the minichromatic greens and white of this bed nicely. They might convincingly pretend to be a long-lost distant cousin of 'Jack Frost' brunnera, or of 'Beacon Silver' lamium.
*Gratuitous reference to a pair of lyrics from Elvis Costello's "Riot Act", on the occasion of hearing that he'll be opening for
Sting [updated: The Police] in Milwaukee next week [updated: today (July 25)...and through serendipitous happenstance, I'll be in the audience].
Observed, this July morning, while waiting for the left-turn green light off the Rimrock Road exit: sky-blue chicory next to violet thistle next to ivory Queen Anne's Lace, with rust-colored seedfronds of dock for contrast, and egg-yolk yellow bird's-foot trefoil (the same weed that I can't bear to yank out of my lavender bed) lapping underfoot. It's beautiful!
In the modest 48-square-feet-plus-whiskey-barrel allocated to edibles in my garden, form often trumps function in the things I grow to eat: lemon cucumbers, red okra, scarlet runner beans (two varieties), rainbow Swiss chard, Chinese long beans, Green Zebra tomatoes, purple-black Diamond eggplant, Jimmy Nardello's red sweet chili pepper, a collection of herbes de Provence + herbs of "Scarborough Fair", and the 6-foot endive that looks like a big weedy mistake for all but the first hours of the morning, when it blooms with the blue that I cannot live without.
I've purposely stocked my vegetable beds with ornamental edibles, but the balloon flowers in my perennial back border are a surprising edible ornamental, as it turns out. Platycodon (platy, the prefix, meaning "broad", and codon, the suffix, meaning "bells": thank you, Dictionary of Botanical Epithets!) grandiflorum's an invaluable garden citizen. It blooms tall and long, and the blue velvet texture of the specimen in the photo above (looks much better "in person", trust me) is a knockout against bright pink phlox or lemon yellow daylilies.
Platycodon is doraji in Korean, celebrated in folk song. What's edible is not above-ground, but below: the fleshy taproots (pictured here, if you scroll down some) are peeled, soaked, julienned and spiced, and eaten as banchan. It's crunchy and very yummy; I'd been eating it for years and years before finally cluing into its floral connection.
I'd never sacrifice the balloon flowers in my garden just to get to their roots, but they're prompting a summer day's fantasy: a platycodon farm, with acres planted to billowing fields of the broad bells, in blue, pink and white. Mmmm.
The yews made it out of rehab this year, and the garden is benefiting from their triumphant comeback. Five years ago, they were the typical overlooked foundation hedge, trimmed into the classic crew cut, barely concealing barren, knobby-kneed branches and a hollow interior of brown and dying needles. They're planted in a tough site—fully shaded northern exposure in inert subsoil, "mulched" with black pumice stones that look like charcoal briquets—so the thought of tying them to the bumper of a pickup and extracting them like an achy tooth was briefly tempting, but impractical.
Instead, I pruned them severely, especially trimming the tops and sides with the hope that it would allow more light and encourage new growth from the bottoms up. The four little evergreen stumps looked ridiculous for a few years, but growing they were, and every spring, I kept trimming, and trimming. And, finally, this spring:
Gentle, lush sprays of succulent, lime-green growth. Look; touch.
Corinna: It says here that Sweetwater hosts the annual sorghum festival. What the h*** is sorghum?
Alex: Third most popular cereal grain in the country.
Corinna: How do you know that?
Alex: I'm a gardener. I know crops. What's the address again?
Corinna: Four fifty-five.
Alex: No, no way.
Corinna: No what? You don't even know what this says.
Alex: It says that we have to rob the bank.
Corinna: How do you know that?
Alex: I wasn't always a gardener.
Alex Tully, we hardly knew ye. Drive got cancelled after just four episodes over three nights. Those of us who got hooked too quickly are waiting for the final two episodes to show up somewhere, anywhere, after they were scheduled to air July 4th, then yanked and rescheduled for July 13th, then apparently scrubbed altogether. (Hey, Fox...ya might want to check into that Long Tail thing.)
I'm back from a 2,700-mile drive myself. We took the quintessential summer family car drive vacation, looping through the Great Plains, with Mount Rushmore as the epicenter. My favorite serendipitous soundtrack moment of the drive: switching on the radio after heading onto the interstate out of Miles City in "Big Sky" Montana; a station comes in, clear as a bell. It's playing The Who's "I Can See For Miles and Miles."
When I drive, music is essential company (although sometimes to distraction). The CD's in my commute car/mom taxi have to wear well over weeks, and sometimes months, of repeated listening, and now it's time to change out the CD changer for these summer tunes:
Pale Young Gentlemen, Pale Young Gentlemen
David Daniels, Serenade
Sly and the Family Stone, Greatest Hits
Haydn, Auenbrugger Sonatas (Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano)
Bangles, Greatest Hits
Elvis Costello, Armed Forces.
I'm told that our house sits on what used to be farmland not more than a generation ago, and mullein (Verbascum thapsis; common mullein, wooly mullein, flannel plant...you get the idea) is a farm weed that shows up here and there every season. I'm fond of this weed. The leaves are softer and silkier than lamb's ear (but to describe them as "a kind of Native American Charmin"? Eeuuww).
Mullein in the wrong place at the wrong time is gangly, ugly, and yes, weedy. But sometimes it just shows up where, it turns out, it needed to be. This summer, it's next to the David Austin rose 'Graham Thomas', punching up the yellows in a mostly bronze-leaved bed, and helpfully obscuring the rose foliage that's already tattered and pitted with blackspot.
Last summer, it added heft and textural contrast to the agastaches and penstemons:
In the early days of this garden, I sought out and planted the verbascum 'Helen Johnson', enthralled by the description that I'd read in Jamaica Kincaid's garden book. Her delicate buds were pretty, her dusky peach-salmon color unusual, and she didn't last more than one season. I think I'll stick to the great mullein, and look forward to its surprises in the seasons to come.
"If your life had a soundtrack, what would the music be?
Here’s how it works:
1. open your library (iTunes, winamp, media player, iPod)
2. put it on shuffle
3. press play
4. for every question, type the song that’s playing
5. new question – press the next button
6. don’t lie and try to pretend you’re cool"
Most of my audio library lives outside my media player, so the selections below aren't all that representative of what I listen to from day to day, although the overweighting of a certain artist (overlooking the gruesome fact, which has me in an irrational adolescent rage, that he has recently begun hawking a line of luxury cars and, if that wasn't bad enough, had to bring Beethoven—Beethoven!—into it...because, what, the second movement of the Ninth is the most luxury car-like of all the symphonic movements? Or maybe I'm just annoyed that I won't be able to smirk "sellout" to my husband anymore when Robert Plant caterwauls for Caddys) is.
"Everything to Me" - Rockapella - Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
"Trail of Broken Hearts" - k. d. lang and the re-clines - Absolute Torch and Twang
First Day At School:
"Big Sister's Clothes" - Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Trust
Falling in Love:
"Do You Love What You Feel" - Rufus & Chaka Khan - The Very Best of Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
"Fantasy" - Earth, Wind & Fire - Greatest Hits
"Shallow Grave" - Elvis Costello - All This Useless Beauty
"After the Love Has Gone" - Earth, Wind & Fire - Greatest Hits
"People Make the World Go 'Round" - Marc Dorsey - "Crooklyn" Soundtrack (Vol. 1)
"Fish 'N Chip Paper" - Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Trust
"Let the Good Times Roll" - Harry Nilsson - Nilsson Schmilsson
Getting Back Together:
"Seasons Change" - Exposé - Exposure
"(I Don't Want to Go To) Chelsea" - Elvis Costello & the Attractions - This Year's Model
Birth of a Child:
"I'll Take You There" - The Staple Singers - "Crooklyn" Soundtrack (Vol. 2)
"Sunday's Best" - Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Armed Forces
"Pretty Words" - Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Trust
"It's Time" - Elvis Costello - All This Useless Beauty
"Moods for Moderns" - Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Armed Forces
When they named any thing, they turned toward it, and as they spoke, I saw and remembered that they called the thing they would point out by the name they uttered.
Saint Augustine, Confessions
Linnaeus was born about 300 years ago. (His birthday is officially commemorated as May 23, 1707, but given the fits and starts of Sweden's Julian-to-Gregorian calendar transition between 1700 and 1753, I believe I'm within the grace period of not having to turn to the "Belated Birthday" rack at Hallmark just yet.) His father, Nils, created the surname "Linnaeus" after the littleleaf linden tree (Tilia cordata) on the family homestead.
His love of flowers developed an an early age, and it is recorded that when only eight years old he was nicknamed "the little botanist."
Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1958 edition).
The Prince of Naturalists, Barton called Linnaeus. The Great Architect. The Swedish Sage. God's Registrar.
[Narration of the imagined Meriwether Lewis]
Brian Hall, I Should Be Extremely Happy In Your Company: A Novel of Lewis and Clark.
I love those botanical names, even when I'm bamboozled by pronunciations (Cotinus coggyggria, anyone?) and frustrated by the it's-Mahonia-no-it's-Berberis types that keep rearranging the sock drawer. Forest for the trees, folks, forest for the trees:
The first word in his scheme of Latin binomials tells the genus, grouping diverse plants which nevertheless share a commonality; the second word names the species, plants alike enough to regularly interbreed and produce offspring like themselves. It is a framework for understanding, a way to show how pieces of the world fit together.
Sue Hubbell, A Country Year: Living the Questions.
"It is a marvelous creation, isn't it? Linnaeus's system? The most valuable contribution to natural history since Noah put saw to gopher wood. His binomial standard reminds me of terrestrial coordinates, the genus, say, representing latitude, and the species longitude, so that the two of them in conjunction enable you to pinpoint the one precise location or the one recognized scintilla of Creation, that is here, this one, and no other."
Dialogue of the imagined Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis, from I Should Be Extremely Happy In Your Company.
This statue and I arrived on campus the same year, 1976, but it wasn't until one spring morning last year that I spent more than a passing moment in its company. I was at the medical center to accompany a family member (with an ailment favorably resolved for now), for a procedure that would take most of the morning. I was reading King Dork, and figured that my steady stream of low chuckles occasionally punctuated by the poorly suppressed outburst of laughter would be inappropriate comportment for the waiting room of the PET scan department, so I walked down the Midway and visited Linnaeus. The statue's surrounded by beautiful gardens (which wasn't always the case), and I sat down on one of the garden benches. Across me was a crabapple tree, every limb full and drooping with blossoms, and behind me another, which pelted me with petals like ticker tape with every musky sweet breeze.
This statue of Linnaeus is uncommonly expressive. He's on the go, with one foot stepping off his pedestal. A book is tucked under his arm, and he's clutching a bunch of flowers—could they be of his beloved tea plant (Camellia sinensis)? The visage is intelligent, engaged, and even a little bemused:
I read in one of my handbooks, written before it was considered necessary to be dull to be taken seriously:
"Delightful Linnaeus, who dearly loved his little joke, himself confesses to have named the day-flowers after three brothers Commelyn, Dutch botanists, because two of them—commemorated in the showy blue petals of the blossom—published their works; the third, lacking application and ambition, amounted to nothing, like the third inconspicuous whitish third petal."
From A Country Year: Living The Questions.
To the man, our latter-day Adam, who named living things: Happy three-hundredth birthday.
Ah...the weekend that was. Three Whole Days of weeding, and mulching, and (plant) shopping, and (plant) planting, and (picture) snapping, and (garden) gazing (the peonies this year are early, tall, and gorgeous), all under temperate skies—not too hot, not too cold, not too sunny, not too rainy. Heavenly!
Or so it would be, but for the strange syndrome that affects me after extended periods of silence in the garden: the uninvited earworm, summoned by the merest and feeblest association with a plant name:
Roz - anne
You don't have to put on the red light
Roz - anne
You don't have to put on the red light
Last summer, growing tomatoes, it was:
Cherokee Pur - ple
Cherokee Tri - ibe
So proud to live,
So proud to dieeeeeee
And, judging from the self-sown seedlings showing up in the back border, later this summer it'll be:
Love - cle-o-me
Won't you please, please help me?
Last summer's June: Lavender, penstemons, mullein, petunias, snapdragons, hops, marigolds and cabbages.
Snow Friday, snow Saturday, snow today, snow tomorrow, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The shrubs are waist-deep in it. The night sky, glowing white, softly pelts its flakes, interminably, inexorably, down, down, down.
Afghan iris. I saw this flower open last spring. The blossom was furled in a tight, pointed whorl. I looked away. When I looked back, one of the falls had snuck out from behind the curtains, as if to say "Ta da!" with its tongue out. I vowed to stay and watch the pot come to boil. (My patience would be rewarded sooner than I expected.) As soon a gnat-sized flying something-or-another alit on the bud, the petals sprung open with a whfft and the minutest of tremors. Then there it stood, in pristine glory, sky blue and heaven-scented.
Oriental poppy. This treasure emerged last spring from the one-inch crack between concrete patio and concrete foundation, the product of my poor aim in scattering seed two seasons before. The petals are softer than tissue, but saved from preciousness by the edgy, contrasting, lush, weedy foliage. The purplish-black stamens undulate in the breeze like the tendrils of a sea anemone, guarded by Haman's hat. In twenty-four hours, the petals are gone with the wind.
Blackberry lily. I don't know why, but I think this flower's botanical name, Belamcanda chinensis, is indescribably luscious. The provenance of my garden's blackberry lilies is the garden right next door, courtesy of my neighbor friend's gift of a generous stalk of blooms gone to black-berry seed. All the seeds were meant to be scattered near the stand of Russian sage in the perennial border, but one must have slipped out of my hand right here, just outside the back door, where it took root behind a trellis container and, last summer, flowered more vigorously and more colorfully than its brethren (who keep getting elbowed out by the Perovskia).