Nov 27, 2015

A Stranger in a Strange Land

Why I often feel like
A Stranger in a Strange Land

So, I’m researching Penstemon rupicola because I have two plants that are the result of a cross between it and Penstemon speciosus var. kennedyi and wanted to compare the physical characteristics of both. I was mildly surprised by the lack of information on this particular species (despite all the books and the internet!), but finally found a reference and read that it grows in depressed mats with flowering stems glabrous, petioles densely canescent, the inflorescence glandular-pubescent, herbage glaucous. Leaves elliptic to orbicular . . . petioled, serrate-denticulate, raceme condensed, calyx 6-10mm, lobes lanceolate, long-acuminate, . . .ventral ridges sparsely villous, anthers slightly exerted; staminode . . . at the filiform tip, and much more.

It got me thinking about vocabularies, and how horribly limited most of us are when it comes to the English language. I went to my reference library and pulled out at random a dictionary of legal terms, and a pocket music dictionary, and just riffling the pages I realized I recognized very few words I would use in general conversation or correspondence. Almost all of the words were subject specific. I don’t know why I was surprised, or was I?. I took a few years of latin (never even considered Greek) simply to be able to pronounce the words correctly, and get an understanding of the root of so many scientific words and terms. (something I have never regretted) Then I wondered why we seem more likely to accept unfamiliar words into our world, even if we don’t understand them, if they relate to the sciences, but less so than if they are related to, let us say, pedestrian subjects such as masonry. Over the years even the most prosaic of professions have developed vocabularies best, if not only, understood by those who are active in that particular trade or profession. For the masonry worker words such as corbel, pilaster, parging, and wythe are, we hope, easily understood, and likewise for the dozens if not hundreds of other ‘specialists’, but for the rest of us. . . we become stumbling verbal strangers in a strange land.

When is that last time you used amplexicaul or caducous in a sentence? for me it’s been a week or two.

Nov 13, 2015

Lilium regale

Lilium regale and

The Consequence of Impatience

About three years ago I purchased seed of Lilium Regale. Seeds were stratified and planted on March 21, 2013. Germination occurred and on June 3rd I managed to transplant about 80 seedlings into two inch pots. Being rich in Lilium regale seedlings on September 20th I planted 39 in one area of the garden along with two other lilium species. All grew well, and this year all of them bloomed profusely. A magnificent display of 4 - 5 foot stalks flourishing huge white/pinkish reverse, heavily scented trumpets. (I can't believe I didn't take any pictures!) I know I should have deadheaded them after blooming but the seedaholic in me persuaded me to let all of them set seed. I gathered seed in buckets, but, something about them seemed odd. They were paper thin with only the hint of a dark line passing through the center. The slightest breeze sent them fluttering into the landscape. As I had planted all the original seed I had none to compare mine with, but somehow they seemed too ephemeral to be viable, so, I decided to do a germination test and took twenty seeds, placed them on a damp paper towel, put the towel in a plastic bag and placed it on top of the range hood where they would get a little warmth. After a couple of weeks I began to check for signs of germination - nothing. I assumed they were infertile, and me with several thousand seeds on hand. Finally I carried the bulk of the seed to the garden and scattered it - just in case.

A day or two later I decided to check the seeds on top of the range hood. Talk about irony (and stupidity), almost every seed had germinated; roots had worked their way into the fabric of the paper towel, and one or two showed over an inch of green top growth!  I went out to where I had dumped the seed but of course it had rained heavily overnight and the seeds were a soggy mess. Who needs thousands of Lilium regale seeds anyway?

How satisfying to discover, a few days later, a plastic basin filled with more than enough Lilium regale seeds to satisfy anyone.

It occurs to me that a well-illustrated book describing seeds in some detail would be a boon to many gardeners, plant propagators and collectors. I’ll buy the first copy.

May 20, 2015

Sedum valens, Revisited

Sedum valens, revisited

Sedum valens

Well, it’s certainly not a plant likely to elicit thunderous oohs and ahhs, but it is, in a comely way, rather beautiful.

It's warm! It's May, and the garden is full of frolicking madness with drifts of aquilegia in dozens of colour combinations, styles and sizes, and wonderful clumps of Iris (of several genera) splotching the landscape in a delightful manner. And many of the Lewisia (rediviva, pygmae, longipetala, cotyledon, nevadiensis, etc.) are still refusing to ‘bow out’ after weeks of blooming. And the Clematis. And the Azaleas, and the Rhododendrons and the, and the, and the, and the.......

Lewisia rediviva

Planted a new Hosta bed yesterday and then moved a few peppers and a couple of tomatoes out of the greenhouse. Something tells me this will be a warm year. We can usually expect five degrees of frost up until the end of May or even early June, but predictions are for nothing below forty in the predictable future. I will still keep a few plants in the greenhouse until early June, just in case.


'Savannah Sunset'

Busy planting and transplanting. When you grow dozens of a hundred or more different plants from seed, and many others from cuttings, there are always too many that desperately need liberating from their pot-bound existence.

Have been suffering a bout of gout for the last two weeks and my movement has been less than half of normal, and the constant pain has meant fitful sleep which only compounds my dreary situation.

Those of you old enough may remember a comic strip titled "Bringing Up Father", featuring Jiggs and Maggie, and you may recall that Jiggs was often portrayed sitting with his painful, gouty, bandaged foot propped up on a stool. I'm not quite there, yet.

Apr 21, 2015

What can a Robin do that Requires such Ablution?

What can a Robin possibly do that Requires such Ablution?

Most (late) afternoons you will find me sipping a glass of wine and transplanting seedlings in my small lath house. The lath house is fifteen feet or so from a small pond. Several days ago, lost in thought, and pricking out seedlings, I heard, above the music of Midnight Oil, splashing. Directing my attention to the pond I watched as a Robin bathed itself, bathed itself for four or five minutes. It then flew to a nearby branch, fluffed up its feathers, wiped its beak, and flew away. The next day it returned and repeated the performance. This behavior has continued. My question is: What can a Robin possibly do in 24 hours that requires such ablution?

I’m  reminded of a poem by Leslie Leyland Fields

My Last Banya with You

All afternoon you were chopping wood
for the banya, hauling water
with arms gone long and lean
bucket after bucket up the hill and
you did not stop until
the banya was filled
and the stovepipe burned red until
we were standing naked in our sweat
among only buckets of water
and steam I couldn’t breathe and
you threw water on the rocks
for more steam and more water
on the rocks and you wouldn’t stop
taking my breath and I can’t
see you anymore only steam in the corner
so I left you there.

What did you do

that you have to be so clean?

Apr 7, 2015

The Blooming of Sedum Valens #030613B5b

The Blooming of Sedum Valens #030613B5b

Sedums, for the most part, are low-growing (up to two feet) plants with succulent leaves. There are somewhere around 600 species growing in virtually every habitable place on the planet. In bloom they can make quite a splash as they produce colours in virtually every hue, but even out of bloom they can be quite delightful. With roughly 600 known species the likelihood of discovering one that is unknown to science is problematic. Eventually it comes down to splitting a known or accepted species into two groups. Many times the differences noted are purely based on botany  Thus it is with Sedum valens, a ‘newly’ discovered species from the Snake River Canyon in central Idaho. Morphologically it resembles Sedum borsch and Sedum leibergii, but does have characteristic differences - hence the new species status.

I purchased seeds of Sedum valens (#90214.12) from Alplains (a wonderful purveyor of alpine, arid climate and high altitude seeds, mainly from the central and western United States) in early 2013. They were duly planted on March sixth and germinated, quite well, on March 30th, 24 days later. By June I had 14 plants in pots. In May of 2014 I foolishly planted two in a sunny, gritty part of the garden but investigating today I find no evidence they were ever there. Our winters are simply too damp. Now, unless there are others hiding in the cold frame, I am reduced to one plant. On February 6th of this year I transplanted the survivor to a hypertufa trough and have been watching and waiting to see how it developes. Well, it seems happy, and has produced a flower stalk whose buds seem ready to open. A few weeks of warm, dry weather and it may be fooled into thinking it is growing quietly on a basalt cliffside above the Salmon River and open those closely wrapped petals.

Sedum valens

Plant is two years old and the basal rosette measures 1 1/2 inches in diameter, the flower stalk is 2 3/8 inches tall.

Apr 4, 2015

Typing My Way to Freedom

Typing My Way to Freedom

We were eventually dismissed, and I was led into the office building. It was warm, well-lit, and contained half a dozen desks and other office equipment. I was assigned one of the desks, with a typewriter, and told this was my duty station for the present time, and report here after breakfast each day. I was told to acquaint myself with the typewriter and given a form, or a list, or perhaps it was the local phone book to type, for practice. Then I was left alone to type, dream, and otherwise appear busy until quitting time. There were two, perhaps three sergeants, who I assumed were responsible for running various facets of our, and other training unit, and they were, in retrospect, somewhat stereotypes. Sgt. Brown (not sure this was his name) was a large, amiable, African American, and it was he I reported to, and the one who gave me my orders. The other sergeant, who I interacted with occasionally, was Sgt. Schwartz, or something like that, and yes, he was of German descent, and spoke with a heavy German accent. I was at first (always) intimidated, scared, timorous, etc., when they were around after all, I had just completed boot camp and everything that showed even a flicker of life was automatically addressed as Sir, the idea I might be treated as a human being seemed somewhat alien at the time.

And so, the next morning, after marching to and from breakfast in the dark, I reported for duty. My primary responsibility, other than typing uncountable documents that I never read, was to type the work assignments for the day. I was given a list of all the airmen in my unit, including myself, and a list of the various duties that needed to be preformed. The biggest need was for kitchen help (KP), followed by requests for personal to guard someone or something, or bodies to shovel snow, or spread sand, or unload stock, or to stock stock, or to stand at attention for three hours while someone gave a speech. It was I who assigned the bodies to the daily tasks.

It got worse. There were days when the weather was so atrocious that the daily spiel and propaganda was broadcast via the intercom, no one stepped outside except those who had no choice. I was inside, with the sergeants, looking out the frosted windows. After my ‘mates’ had marched away to their various jobs, their heads wrapped in bath towels for additional protection from the cold, Sgt. Brown said, nonchalantly: “Better grab a donut before Sgt. Schwartz cleans the plate.”

“Shall I make another pot of coffee?” asked Sgt. Schwartz. I still can’t believe I didn’t have to make the coffee!

I even avoided most inspections as I had to be in the office when they were scheduled. So while everyone else was frantically rearranging their footlocker for the umpteenth time or polishing shoes I lay on my bunk reading.
Did I feel guilt? No, I didn’t feel anything. I was simply doing as I was directed; and everyone else was doing as they were directed.

One day the request for bodies exceeded the names on my list and, hoping to make things easier, I added my name to one of the work details. Sgt. Brown exploded. “Isn’t that you? Isn’t that your name you’ve typed on that work list?” I told him I had run out of names. He didn’t call me a fool, but I felt that is what he wanted to say, instead he smiled and said: “When you reach the bottom of the list you simply start over at the top, as long as they are not still working somewhere, but, since you’ve typed in your own name you had better report, and be on time.

I think it was KP in the ‘Foreign Students’ mess hall - and that is a story in itself.

After a couple of weeks our training began and I resumed my life as part of the squadron. During the time I spent in the office I never detected the slightest hint of animosity or jealously at my good fortune, but, it's entirely possible they never realized what 'work' I was doing

Today almost everyone with a computer can type at a reasonable speed, but in the sixties, before the advent of the electric typewriter, and many years before electronic keypads, typing was something very different. You would have to have spent considerable time in front of a manual keyboard to understand.

The ‘Goblet’ narcissus are in bloom, and they are beautiful.

Apr 3, 2015

Underwood, Olivetti, Royal, Smith Corona, Remington, or ?

Underwood, Olivetti, Royal, Smith Corona, Remington, or ?

In high school I took a typing class. I was the only male. That fact meant nothing to me then, or now, I wanted to be a writer, and thought the ability to type quickly and accurately would be an asset, and so it has proved to be. Z’s and x’s always gave me trouble [still do] and lowered my score, but even after subtracting 1 word per minute per mistake from my total I was still in the forty to fifty words per minute range, occasionally reaching sixty, and even seventy plus on occasion, when there weren’t too many z’s or x’s in the copy.

Advance to November, 1961. Boot camp was miserable, as intended, how else to instill unquestioning obedience to directives that make no sense, and rarely have even a shadow of logic in their makeup? So, like millions of other young men (and women) I closed my eyes and muddled through their insanity with little more than gritted teeth and dreams and memories of better days. Then, in January, off to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois for training on the Atlas ICBM. Cold, Snow, Ice. Below zero many times and wind. Bloody nasty weather, especially for a ‘beach-bum’ from southern California.

After processing I was assigned a bunk in one of the numerous barracks and given the rest of the day off to organize my belongings and settle in. There were perhaps fifty or sixty of us, but it could have been less, occupying the bottom floor of the building. We were a unit. We would live and breathe together for several weeks.

Before dawn the following morning reveille had us up, dressed, and out in the street within minutes, where we shivered in the frigid air of January. We stood there, under the floodlights, stiff as dead eels, not an eyelash twitching, waiting. Finally a Sergeant sauntered out of the well-lit office building we were facing, and after berating us for a few minutes about something we probably had not yet done asked: “If anyone here knows how to type step forward.” My heart stumbled, and I cautiously allowed my eyes to move left and right - but no movement of the head. No one had stepped forward, so, reluctantly, I did.

Apr 1, 2015

How a Typewriter Saved my Life

How a Typewriter Saved my Life
[or at least made it tolerable, for awhile]

It was early in October, 1961, and I had just returned from several weeks on-the-road, hitch-hiking from my home in El Monte, California, up through the San Fernando Valley and over the ‘grapevine’ and further north to Fresno. From Fresno I headed east into the Sierra Nevada Mountains (King’s Canyon), but after a delightful week or so of wandering the canyons and climbing pinnacles above Bubb’s Creek, and the Kearsarge Lakes I descended to Zumwalt meadow and caught a series of rides that took me eventually (that’s another story) to San Francisco. I spent July living above the ’Tivoli’ restaurant under a makeshift discarded carpet tent in the heart of Chinatown, walking North Beach, and ‘hanging out’ at City Lights Bookstore, the Enigma coffeehouse, Coits Tower, or the Embarcadero, (too young for Specs or Vesuvio), writing what I thought was monumental poetry on the backs of discarded envelopes. Eventually I realized my pockets were almost empty and there would be no more soup at F….. (I’ve forgotten the name of the cafe but it was something like Ferraros), and so made a hasty, hungry retreat down highway 101, arriving home, after a series of adventures unthinkable today, early one morning to my familiar, welcoming bed.

The next day, or the next, or the one after that, confused and having no particular plan for my future, college applications having been used to light campfires, I enlisted in the United States Air Force.

But let us skip ahead to the significance of the typewriter.

Mar 30, 2015

Counting the Winter Dead

Counting the Winter Dead

Chamaecyparis obtusa

Well, the statisticians have had their day and gathered, collated and examined recent weather data for the northwest part of the country and determined the winter here was milder than average. I would agree, based on the meteorological data we have recorded for the past twenty or thirty years. However, and this is a very big however, we have suffered the worst damage to trees, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials in our over forty year residence, and our neighbors, some who have lived here since fur trappers and snake oil salesmen were encountered daily, have experienced the same devastating damage. Many of our plants have shivered through below zero temperatures without complaint on more than one occasion - minus twenty something back in the late seventies. But this year it is wrack and ruin in every quarter. Almost all of the plants we grow are said to be hardy to zone four or five, well below zero, but these valuations do not take into account a great many factors. It’s obvious to me our undoing was the single digit [almost zero] temperatures we had for four or five days in late November. At that time few, if any, of the plants had even contemplated winter dormancy and were metabolizing their hearts out sending sugar down to the roots; life was coursing through their phloem. then the arctic axe fell, November 15th and 16th: 5.0F, November 17th: 2.1F, and November 18th: 2.4F, all without benefit of any snow cover. The week before our lows had ranged from 21.9F to 32.5F.

Pinus thunbergii

Pieris japonica
'Mountain Fire'

Chamaecyparis obtusa

Pinus densiflora
(tanyosho pine, 15-20 years old)

Will the trees and shrubs recover? Many, probably, given enough time. Grafted plants may grow back from their root stock and will not be the species or variety originally planted (why most of our plants, other than dwarf conifers, are raised from seed or cuttings). Others may recover but will look like ragged scarecrows for a few years, and even then may succumb due to stress. And, when you are in your seventies, the years it will take a plant to regrow into a semblance of what was lost are simply not available. At least there is now room for new acquisitions.

And of rhododendrons: Lost several younger ones, Saffron Silk, Misty Moonlight, a couple of Dauricums, and, a surprise, a large, fifteen year old Trilby. Worse than the loss (I have dozens and dozens of various species and hybrids I have raised from seed or cuttings) of plants is the loss of flower buds. Looks like this year there will be no mounds of bright red blooms on the four Vulcans, no bloom on Sappho, Calsap and others. Reduced bloom approaching zero on Scintillation and Fantastica, and on and on.

The garden still looks magnificent with drifts of narcissus, crocus, and other spring bulbs, plus many perennials, especially primrose and pulmonaria.

Primula kisoana

Mar 16, 2015

Some Notes Concerning the Germination of Semi-Dwarf Bearded Iris

Sleepy Time, I think

Last spring I purchased and planted three semi-dwarf bearded iris cultivars: Circus Clown, Bantam Prince, and Sleepy Time. I was somewhat amazed at the end of summer when all three plants carried large, ripe seedpods. Very rarely do the standard Bearded Iris I grow, and there are many, ever set seed. I propagate hundreds of different plants each year but have only grown bearded iris from seed once before, and that was an overwhelming success, although all of the resulting progeny produced nondescript pale violet blossoms. In December I planted the seeds collected from the three SDB Iris after the following treatment;

Circus Clown: 30 seeds divided into two groups. Group A soaked in water overnight and Group B in GA-3 at 1,000ppm.

Bantam Prince: 16 seeds divided into two groups. Group A soaked in water overnight and Group B in GA-3 at 1,000ppm.

Sleepy Time: 12 seeds divided into two groups. Group A soaked in water overnight and Group B in GA-3 at 1,000ppm.

All were planted in the same soil mix and placed on a heated germination pad under fluorescent lights.

As of today many have germinated and been ‘potted up’; most display vigorous growth.

Germination percentages thus far:

CC A = 54%
CC B = 87%

BP A = 50%
BP B = 25%

ST A = 67%
ST B = 50%

Such a small test group proves or disproves nothing, but it is curious that the GA-3 treatment of the Circus Clown seeds seemed to enhance germination while it was detrimental to Bantam Prince and Sleepy Time. If I get seeds again this year I will repeat the experiment, if only to satisfy my own curiosity.

It even looks as if a few of the new seedlings may flower this year!