I recently started a project documenting some local flora as part of a long-term project, and naturally I started with my favorite wildflower, Berlanderia lyrata, or "Chocolate Daisy." The painting is the most difficult I've done yet, in part because I was worried about making this particular flower look cartoonish. Because the daisy is the first flower any of us ever draw, and because we also think of daisies as rather happy-go-lucky, I think it is hard to take illustrations of it seriously. In fact, I searched quite a bit for other examples from which I could learn, and while there are legions of tulips, exotic fruits, and irises galore, I found very few daisies that were not caricatures. So I was quite nervous about doing justice to this particular beautiful, sturdy, surprisingly elegant flower. I think, to a degree, I succeeded. I should probably take a better photo of it, but it is a rainy Saturday and I am feeling lazy.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Spring has sprung and it is time for gardening. It is also about the time people start thinking that they'd like to see someone else's garden, in order to, you know, get ideas. As such, I thought it would be a good time to post a five simple rules about visiting other people's gardens. (I apologize in advance if I sound a bit scoldy about this, but you would be surprised how many people break at least one of these rules during a garden visit. And for what it is worth, I have broken every one of these rules myself at one time or another and regretted it, so this is your chance to learn from my mistakes!)
1. If you ask a gardener take a look at her garden and she says something like, "Gee. It doesn't look very good right now. I'd rather not show it to you," do not say, "Oh, I don't care about that. I just want to see it." A gardener wants to show off her garden in the best light, not when it is just coming out of the winter doldrums and she's been too busy to pull the spring weeds and there are unfinished garden projects afoot (see photo above). To press her on it would be akin to asking to see the bedroom when the bed is unmade and the laundry is not put away. If a gardener doesn't want you to see the garden right then, let it go.
2. When you visit a garden, say something nice about it. I don't care how tiny and insignificant it might be, say something nice. Gardens are hard work and heartache. The smallest improvement can be an enormous amount of labor. Show that you appreciate this. In other words, show that you know how hard it is to garden.
3. Do not ever point out a flaw. Never, ever. Do you think the gardener has not noticed the nutsedge herself? Do you think she has no clue that powdery mildew coats her squash? That the Mexican feather grass fills the cracks in the flagstones? That every single rosemary died during the last freeze? Of course she sees these terrible lapses in garden perfection. She is hoping that you will overlook the stuff she has not had time to address and notice the nice things instead. (See above.)
4. Do not offer advice unless asked. (I think this is pretty self-explanatory.)
5. Even if you are asked for advice, think twice about giving it. Sometimes what people really want is to tell you what they think should be done, and then get your confirmation. This is tricky. You're just going to have to figure out which it is. You will get it wrong sometimes.
That's it. Five rules for visiting private gardens. I think these apply whether you are visiting one informally or as part of a garden tour, since putting a garden on tour is an enormous act of courage and sacrifice, and should be recognized as such.
Happy spring, everyone!
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
My father died six years ago in January, on the first day of spring classes. It was actually on January 7th, which is not the first day of classes every year, but I loved my father and I have always loved the first day of classes, and they are now forever linked in my heart.
I was thinking of him today, in the main because it was the first day of spring classes, but also because I moved a corn plant (Dracena fragrans) that someone gave us at his funeral, from our bedroom downstairs to my study upstairs. There is a north window where it will finally get all the bright, indirect light it has deserved for lo, these many years.
It is a tough plant, and has defied all my attempts to neglect it. When we received it, it was just a little two foot mite, but now it is is five feet tall if it is an inch, and putting out new leaves like who laid the chunk.
I have no idea where the phrase "like who laid the chunk" comes from or what it actually means, but it was a favorite of my dad's, and when he used it, his eyebrows were always raised and he meant "more than you could ever imagine, Horatio." Or something like that.
The family got a lot of live plants for his funeral, most of which were kalanchoes, but one of which was this silly corn plant. I was the one chosen to take home all the live plants, because, supposedly, I am a gardener (though not a houseplant person, which is actually a different species altogether), and it was assumed that I would know what to do with them. (Snort! I didn't even know what these plants were. I had to look them up--not that it did me any good.) Well, as you might expect, the kalanchoes all gave up the ghost in short order, because, as it turns out, houseplants require, you know, watering and shit. That is to say, they require attention from a houseplant-person (see above, in re, not necessarily a gardener).
But not, apparently, corn plants. They just trundle along in their dark corners of inadequate light, sans water, sans fertilizer, sans anything at all, waiting patiently for their annual spate of pathetic-houseplant-person attention. All it ever seemed to ask from me was no direct light and an occasional "last dregs from the glass of water," and in those things I was happy to oblige. When I thought of it.
Note to people who plan to give live plants to bereaved families: Corn plants. Not kalanchoes. Kalanchoes are lovely, but they require, you know, watering and shit.
Anyway, today on this anniversary of sorts, I moved the corn plant upstairs, re-did the stakes that prop up its leggy stems, gave it an actual watering--and get this, fertilizer!--and danged if it doesn't look happy to me.
I miss you, Dad. Wish you were here so I could tell you about the corn plant and how it is being a tough little nut, resistant to all neglect, like who laid the chunk.