Sunday, August 12, 2007


What’s blooming in the area: Apache plume, roses, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, canna, datura, silver-leaf nightshade, bindweed, Heavenly Blue morning glories, purple phlox, bigleaf globemallow, bouncing Bess, white sweet clover, alfalfa, goat’s head, yellow and white evening primrose, toothed spurge, English plantain, pigweed, mullein, heliopsis, broom snakeweed, Tahokia daisy, cultivated and native sunflowers, golden hairy aster, goldenrod, horseweed, goat’s beard, wild lettuce, side oats and blue grama grass; watermelons and pumpkin visible; hay cut and baled during the week.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Golden spur columbine, coral beardtongue, hartwegii, squash, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, yellow cosmos, perky Sue, chrysanthemums.

Looking east: Floribunda rose, garlic chives, large-leaf soapwort, Crimson Rambler morning glories, sweet alyssum, winecup, hollyhock, sidalcea, scarlet flax, California and Shirley poppies, pink bachelor buttons, African marigolds; buds on hosta.

Looking south: Rose of Sharon, bundle flower, perennial sweet pea, tomatilla, Sensation cosmos, zinnia.

Looking west: Caryopteris, buddleia, Russian sage, catmint, leadplant, flax, David phlox, white spurge, purple ice plant, ladybells, sea lavender, Monch aster, purple coneflower.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunia, Dahlberg daisy; first tomatoes ripe.

Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Deer mice, hummingbirds, quail, gecko, grasshoppers, stink bug.

Weather: Rain late Monday; corn and sunflowers more than doubled their height.

Weekly update: Hollyhocks must be the easiest plant for amateur artists: all that’s needed are vertical lines, a few spots of color, and some flat green splotches. There’s no need for draftsmanship or botanical detail; they can be rendered with pastels or watercolor. Viewers recognize synecdoches and respond appreciatively. Hollyhock dotted landscapes are among the easiest pictures for Santa Fe galleries to sell to tourists and neophyte collectors.
Actually, Alcea rosea, goes through several phases in the summer, and not all are photogenic. The one captured by painters occurs in early summer when multiple stalks on older perennial plants are covered with buds, the lower ones are fully open, the middle half, and the upper ones just showing color. Leaves are still green and fully lobed, reaching up from the base through the lower flowers.

Artists rarely show what happens when those early buds dissolve into beige seed cases and basal leaves die or disappear into the lacework of insect dinners. Then, stalks grow a little to put out a single bloom, then grow again to open another cup. Some summers the bedraggled stems reach over seven feet, but rarely have more than one blossom at a time clinging precariously to the top. Then they overbalance and tilt, lean, and finally flop.

Last summer’s rain and last winter’s snow made this a very good year. Plants shot up early and flourished for weeks. But now, porches in the village are palisaded by brown spotted shafts. Some have been cut down along stone walls, but others still have spidery monoliths upholding their solitary mementos. In the past, those discards would have been burned to prevent the incubation of bacterial rust that destroys leaves.

Along walls where plants have been allowed to reproduce, a newer generation is opening. They’re shorter, perhaps because there’s been so little rain since June. New branches are appearing low on older plants, and producing new color several feet below the stragglers high on the main trunks.

Meantime, seeds have been ripening. This week the valises began opening to dump dark, flat discs onto ground, where normally the outer rings would bury the notched ends in soil loosened by drought, then dampened by passing rains.

Last year’s kernels began germinating the end of March, and now are expanding into hairy rosettes that should remain green all winter. There were more volunteers than could survive, but grasshoppers and weather are winnowing away.

When you glance at single Malvaceae flowers they appear simple to draw, with their protruding pistols clasped by stamens that spill pollen. The five overlapping petals usually have smooth edges, but some of mine are distinctly fringed, and more are simply undulating.

Most people here begin with seeds, but they never harvest the color ranges shown on packages, and rarely the dramatic reds and whites found in paintings. Instead, plants in the village this year have been pale. Natural selection has reduced mine to deep rose and pale pink.

Some flowers have white or yellow centers, while others are solid. I have one that’s pale peach with a rose center, and others have green-ringed yellow tears at their bases. Veins emboss lighter striations that relieve the monotony of broad monochromatic planes. Morning sunlight penetrates the translucent corollas, shadowed by clasping calyxes. Later, petals become so opaque, light bounces away.

In a gallery one has the choice of artists influenced by the sunny impressionism of Childe Hassam or the darker abstractions of Georgia O’Keefe, but the variations within the season, even within the patch, or on the stalk can only be captured by folk artists with simultaneous, multiple perspectives that capture the details one’s eyes see darting far and near, up and down, at the moment and deep into the recesses of memory.

Hassam, Childe. "Hollyhocks, Isle of Shoals," pastel on paper, 1902.

O’Keefe, Georgia. "Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur," oil on canvas, 1930.

Photograph: Single hollyhock flower, 8 August 2007.

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