Friday, July 31, 2015

Floating Flora

Franklinia alatamaha 'Wintonbury' July 24th, 2015 (left) and October 15th, 2014 (right)

A week ago, on July 24th, I noticed that my oldest Franklinia alatamaha had produced some fully-opened flowers with dozens of swollen buds in hot pursuit. What!, how could that be?, for blooming time normally occurs in October...with glorious mahogany-red leaves accompanying the white camellia-like blossoms. I have even seen photos of flowering Franklinia twigs with an inch of snow atop, and its famous garden appeal – besides the autumn color – is that it is one of the last trees in the year to produce flowers.

Clerodendrum trichotomum

Clerodendrum trichotomum

Seattle, Washington
Ben, why hast thou burst forth so soon? No doubt it is due to our weird weather, our so-hot no-rain spring and summer that has set many records, with the drought word common in daily forecasts. Deer now browse in our apple orchard because the fruit is commencing to ripen, at least six weeks ahead of time. In the office Eric chimed in that his Clerodendrum trichotomum is flowering more than a month ahead of normal. What's next, Christmas in October? In a news report Seattle officials are urging homeowners to reduce their water use. They say the supply is low, but that "there should be enough water until the rainy season returns in autumn." As if that is a guarantee.


Flora has admonished me in the past for whining about the weather. She apparently feels that everything balances out in the end, and one shouldn't get worked up over the trivial details of the day. For the past ten years we have been fed the notion that our planet is warming and goodbye polar bears, so imagine my surprise when last week's news report indicated that we are actually entering a "mini ice age." So I don't know obviously, but it would be a convenient truth for most of us if we knew things were going to cool down. But when, a thousand years from now? The problem with Flora's even-steven approach is that she doesn't worry about the health of my plants on a daily basis, 24-7 as they say, and that includes weekends and holidays. Flora occupies an ethereal realm, floating around in the sky and bestowing her favours upon a few choice places. The earth evolves for her and the plants will adapt or perish, but in the end there will still be her beloved plants. Perhaps I am worried that she will dump me for another, maybe somebody younger and better-looking.

Zephyr and Chorlis (Flora)
The name flora is derived from Latin flos for "flowers" and "spring," and importantly, her job was also as a goddess of youth. Ms. F. liked to party, and as the wife of Zephyr – the Greek god of the west wind – she presided over the festival Floralia which was held between April 28th and May 3rd, and that regalia celebrated the renewal of the cycle of life and was characterized by drinking, nudity and the hunting of hares. Count me in! Before the Romans immortalized her, her Greek equivalent was Chorlis (Khorlis), a mere nymph and not a goddess. Khorlis can be translated as "green buds," and thus we have chlorophyll, and interestingly, she was the mother of Karpos which we know today as carpa for "seed" or "fruit."


In Ovid,* Flora declares that "I enjoy perpetual spring. The year always shines, trees are leafing, the soil always fodders. I have a fruitful garden in my dowered fields, fanned by breezes, fed by limpid fountains. My husband filled it with well-bred flowers, saying: 'Have jurisdiction of the flower, goddess.' I often wanted to number the colours displayed, but could not: their abundance defied measure." She also offered that "To describe my beauty would mar my modesty."

*Ovid – Publius Ovidius Nasa (43 BC – 17 AD) – was a Roman poet, most notable for his Metamorphoses, which offered an attractive and accessible understanding to the riches of Greek mythology. He was also renowned for his humor, exuberance and for the sensuous quality of his writings. Chaucer, Shakespeare and Goethe all owe a nod to Ovid.

Flora continues, explaining a set back, "We love festivals and altars; celestials are a status-greedy bunch. Sin often renders the gods hostile to a man; a sweet victim pays for the offense...If we are neglected, the offense is punished massively, and anger exceeds just bounds...The Roman Fathers also passed me by. What was I to do -- to demonstrate my dismay and to penalize their insult to me? Distress let duty slip. I failed to guard the fields, and I neglected my fruitful garden. Lilies have fallen, you could see violets parched and tendrils droop on the crimson saffron. Zephyrus often said to me: 'Do not ruin your dowry,' but my dowry was now worthless." [Sic] Flora's grammar above.

Flora's Lexicon
Colored plate from Flora's Lexicon

Robinia pseudoacacia

Robinia pseudoacacia 'Unifolia'

Wow, parched violets and drooping tendrils! Now you see why I am nervous about Flora. Nevertheless I descended to my basement library and returned with Flora's Lexicon*, an 1858 publication by Catharine H. Waterman. Her book is a combination of scientific and romantic descriptions of a couple hundred plants, from Acacia to Zinnia. The Acacia is actually Robinia pseudoacacia, but that is the only "scientific" information rendered. Instead we read that "The savages of North America have consecrated the Acacia to the genius [sic] of chaste love," and later, "These fierce children of the forest, whom nothing can subdue, conceive a sentiment of delicacy; perhaps what they are unable to express by words, but they understand the sentiment by the expression of a branch of blooming Acacia." I think Waterman was on drugs when she wrote that.

*A lexicon is a group of words, as in a dictionary, and is derived from Greek lexikon ("word book") from lexis for "word" and legein to "say." The nursery industry also has a lexicon, with words such as "full, hardy, heavy, quality" and the worst of all: "proven winners."

Helianthus annuus

For Zinnia, we learn that "This flower received its singular name from a German botanist, Dr. John G. Zinn. We have many species of this genus in America. The red is found on the banks of the Mississippi; the yellow is a native of Peru; the scarlet, purple-flowered and slender-flowered, of Mexico." Waterman then ties in Absence with the Zinnia and quotes the poet Dryden:

Love reckons hours for months, and days for years,
And every little absence is an age.

Shakespeare weighs in with:

O thou that dost inhabit my breast,
Leave not the mansion so long tenantless;
Lest, growing ruinous, the building fall,
And leave no memory of what it was!
Repair me with thy presence, Sylvia;
Thou gentle nymph, cherish thy forlorn swain.*

*From Old Norse sveinn for a young man-attendant, from Shaks's The Two Gentlemen from Verona.

Viola rostrata

Viola 'Dancing Geisha'

Viola's connection with modesty is more apparent. Waterman writes, "Ion, the Greek name of this flower, is traced by some etymologists to Ia, the daughter of Midas, who was betrothed to Atys, and changed by Diana into a violet, to hide her from Apollo. The beautiful modest flower still retains the bashful timidity of the nymph, partially concealing itself amidst the foliage from the garish gaze of the sun. Hence it has ingeniously given as a device to an amiable and witty lady of a timid and reserved disposition, surrounded with the motto – Il faut me chercher – I must be sought after." Waterman then cites Sir Walter Scott:

Sweet violets, Love's paradise, that spread
Your gracious odours, which you couched bear
Within your paly faces,
Upon the gentle wing of some calm-breathing wind
That plays amidst the plain;
If, by the favour of propitious, you gain
Such grace as in my lady's bosom place to find,
Be proud to touch those places.

Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet, and was the first modern English-language author to have a truly international career in his lifetime. But I find his poetry unbearable, and have thought so since they first crammed it down my throat in high school literature class.

That's enough of Flora's Lexicon, and after 252 pages the book is summed up with: THE END. As is this blog.

So I just "float around?" Talon, I have given you a career and to your life a purpose. Don't trifle with me."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer Time

I don't take many photographs in summer for a variety of reasons: the light is too harsh, many of the plants are blasé and tired-looking, and because I am generally exhausted and uninspired after days of glaring sunlight and far too many hours in hot, humid greenhouses. And...I'm getting old. But occasionally I'll snap a flower photo or a nursery scene, and sometimes fascinating clouds in the sky. So, here we go:

Acer palmatum 'Umegae'

Lilium parryi

Lilium 'Loreto'

Sempervivum 'Spinel'

Aquilegia longiflora

Calycanthus 'Venus'

Bletilla 'Kate'

Lilium speciosum var. rubrum

Penstemon heterophyllus 'Electric Blue'

Rosa 'Sunsprite'

Caesalpinia gilliesii

Sequoiadendron giganteum

Campanula latifolia

Picea polita

I guess I'm not totally devoid of energy to take photos in the summer after all. In fact, I'll put down my beer and go outside to see what I can find.

Good idea Talon, and stop complaining about how old and tired you are.”