Sunday, April 24, 2016

California Water

Weather: Winds with fickle temperatures: down to 29 on Wednesday, then no lower than 53 yesterday, and 33 this morning. Alfalfa, lawn and June grasses have greened since last rain, 4/16.

What’s blooming in the area: Flowering quince, red buds, lilac, first yellow Dutch iris, moss phlox, donkey spurge; spirea almost in bloom.

Beyond the walls and fences: Tansy and purple mustards, alfilerillo, western stickseed, fleabane and dandelions.

In my yard: Sand cherries, Siberian pea, grape hyacinth, lilies of the valley, vinca; privet berries dropping.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, small birds, ants.

All the yucca leaves have been chopped off since the last snow. If it was the ground squirrel, I imagine it just cut them all down to take back for future use. It’s the animal equivalent of clear cutting.

Weekly update: If it were only water, one might have a garden. Alas, it’s water in the air that matters as well as that in the ground.

When I was in California a couple weeks ago, I expected the lushness that comes from being near the ocean, and the exotic plants that thrive in the warmer climate. And so, I only looked with awe at seeing ferns growing in their natural habitat in the Armstrong Redwood state reserve.

I know my attempt to grow them in me wettest, shadiest bed is quixotic. They’re as alien here as the lilies in the valley in the top picture.

What I didn’t expect to see were the giant species of prickly pear.

This is dry land where cacti are supposed to do well. Ours fight off predators, and rarely bloom.

I was a bit surprised to see California poppies along the coast, since I thought they grew in drier, colder inland valleys. And the ones I saw were more specimens than great masses.

Mine do as well, those few years when they actually germinate.

The last time was 2013, the same year the prickly poppies bloomed. The wisteria hasn’t flourished in town since 2012.

Of course, the one growing in Luther Burbank’s old farm is better. It’s also probably a different species.

1. Lily of the valley in my yard, 24 April 2016.
2. Yucca that’s been attacked, probably by the ground squirrel, 24 April 2016.
3. Ferns in Armstrong Redwood state nature reserve, 7 April 2016.
4. Fern in the same bed as the lily of the valley, 16 May 2015, before it was eaten by the rabbit.
5. Prickly pear in neighborhood of my motel in Berkley, 9 April 2016.
6. Prickly pear in nearby field, 7 June 2013.
7. California poppy along the coast in Sonoma County, 7 April 2016.
8. California poppies in my yard, 28 June 2013.
9. Wisteria blooming in town, 13 April 2012.
10. Wisteria blooming at Luther Burbank farm, Sebastopol, 7 April 2016.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Spring Greens

Weather: Rain after dark several nights this week; when I went out to see the darkening sky Thursday around 7 pm, there was a full rainbow. last rain 4/16. Ditches are running.

What’s blooming in the area: Apples, crab apples, cherries, purple leaf sand cherries, purple leaf plum, flowering quince, red buds, daffodils, moss phlox, donkey spurge. New leaves visible on apples and crab apples.

The local big box is now carrying pink and white flowering cherries and pink and white dogwoods. It’s getting more and more difficult to know which trees actually are blooming.

Beyond the walls and fences: Tansy mustard, alfilerillo western stickseed, and dandelions blooming. Scurf pea, green-leaf five-eyes, velvetweed and first round of pigweed coming up. Seeds blowing from Siberian elms. New leaves on Russian olives and cottonwoods.

In my yard: Sand cherries, Siberian pea, grape hyacinth, and vinca blooming. Raspberries, hostas, lilies of the valley, David phlox, sea lavender, catmints, blue flax, Saint John’s wort, Rumanian sage, tansy, anthemis, coreopsis, purple coneflowers, Maximilian sunflowers and Mönch asters emerging. Leaves opening on apricots, snowball, and beauty bush.

Inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, small birds, ants, bees around Siberian peas, bees and smaller insects around sand cherries.

Saw a quail walking in the drive Wednesday morning. Later they were trying to colonize my back porch. Years ago they disappeared when my neighbor’s dogs were running loose. It’s the first I’ve seen them since other neighbors insisted he keep them inside his fence.

Weekly update: I visited a friend in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco last week. I expected things to be greener. What I didn’t expect was the green would look like a thick covering of algae.

The clouds cleared enough as the plane entered the state that Mono lake was visible. Snow fields in the Sierra Nevada followed. Then, as we traveled west and the mountain elevations decreased, a bright green appeared at the tops of ridges with the darker evergreens below.

Even when we landed, the same green covered the tops of hills along the road, both inland and along the coast. It was even the same color in the grasses in the vineyards and on the vines. It had to be grass, but it couldn’t be the same grass in all the locations.

I was only able to take pictures at a turnoff near the coast. By then the clouds had returned, and the lowered light exaggerated the colors.

When I got home, a walked up the road a bit to look at the equivalent kind of ridge. The junipers were scattered, and the just greening grass didn’t reach the tops.

Our bright greens come from newly emerged leaves. Among the earliest and most brilliant are the globe willows that can be seen across fields and arroyos.

Now the cottonwoods are beginning, but the green isn’t the same. It’s partly the difference in species, but it’s also the difference in bark. The willow trunks and branches are dark, and the cottonwoods nearly white.

I was told all that green I was seeing in California would turn golden in a few weeks, and look just like our grasslands. That part of the state had warmed earlier than usual, and there had been recent rains.

Here, it’s not just the grasses that ripen and dry. The Siberian elms, whose flowers were so chartreuse a few weeks ago, are now tanned by their seeds.

1. Rainbow over the prairie, 14 April 2016.

2. Algae in a settling pond on the north side of town, 10 October 2014.

3. Coastal hills in Sonoma County, California, 7 April 2016.

4. Grasses growing on a cone and ridges down the road, 14 April 2016.

5. Globe willow across the arroyo, taken with a telescopic focus, 14 April 2016. Badlands along route 30 in the background.

6. Cottonless cottonwood in my yard, 16 April 2016.

7. Siberian elm seeds, 14 April 2016.

8. Another picture of California, 7 April 2016.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Capitol Corn Capitals

Weather: Warm, dry and windy when I went out of town; last snow 4/1.

What’s blooming: Siberian elms, volunteer cherries, sand cherries, plum, different peaches and forsythia than were blooming last week, daffodils, tansy mustard, western stickseed, vinca, moss phlox, donkey spurge, dandelions.

My peaches have abandoned their attempt to bloom after last week’s cold and snow. Bees have buzzed around the few damaged flowers that have opened, but the tree is dropping its buds and opening its leaves.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small birds, bees, small red ants.

Weekly update: In the early years of the American republic, artists and politicians sought appropriate symbols to represent their uniqueness.

In 1784, Ben Franklin wrote his daughter that a medal brought to France had been criticized because the eagle had been so badly rendered it resembled a turkey. He said he would have preferred the latter as "a true original Native of America. Eagles have been found in all Countries, but the Turkey was peculiar to ours, the first of the Species seen in Europe being brought to France by the Jesuits from Canada."

Thomas Jefferson wanted a new architecture that drew upon monuments surviving from the earlier republics of Rome and Athens. The designs spread west where they were reproduced in American materials, wood and paint.

This Pennsylvania house had an end that imitated a temple with the short boards in the gable suggesting a pediment. The building corners were protected by straight boards that kept out water and functioned as columns.

The entry was a pediment supported by pairs of columns.

The porch roof posts, instead of having corbels like those used to support vigas in this part of the country, spread the supported weight with broad, flat boards. The top area of the columns reserved for a design borrowed the plainness of the Doric.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe went farther with the American sentiment in the Capitol building. There he used details of corn ears for the upper support section, rather than the acanthus leaves of Corinthian columns.

His corn cob capitals, as they came to be called, "obtained me more applause from the Members of Congress than all the Works of Magnitude, of difficulty & of splendor that surround them."

American values changed in the late nineteenth century. Men with wealth bought European paintings and architectural elements to enhance their personal mansions. While commoners couldn’t hope to own such homes, magazines told them how they could furnish their homes with similar drapes and furniture.

Tableware manufacturers implied women could buy silver plated forks with the same designs as the Vanderbilts. As mentioned in the post for 13 March 2016, the Nobility Club advertised "opportunities to purchase a piece of the ‘better life’."

More English roses than native composites appeared on the pieces owned by my mother. A flower with many petals was used on her set of cake and pie servers.

She also bought a candle snuffer with multi-petaled flowers in both the middle of the handle and the end.

These two utilitarian pieces, plus the slotted spoon described in the post for 13 March 2016, were all she had that would fit Franklin’s desire for a "true original Native of America," and the snuffer came from Sweden.

Alas, the flower in the center of the pie server handle was mounted on a trellis, which meant it could have been a clematis. They came from China and Japan, and were widely bred in Europe some 200 years after they ate the first turkey.

Phillip Durham, "History," website.

Franklin, Benjamin. Unpublished letter to his daughter, Sarah Franklin Bache, Passy, France, 26 January 1784; copy available on the Franklin Papers website sponsored by the American Philosophical Society, Yale University, and the Packard Humanities Institute.

Latrobe, Benjamin Henry. Letter to Thomas Jefferson, Washington, 28 August 1809, reproduced on National Archives website.

1. Remains of peach buds opening after last week’s cold and snow, 4 April 2016.

2. Peach buds rejected by the tree, 4 April 2016.

3-5. House in Buckstown, Somerset County, Pennsylvania, taken in the mid-1970s.

6. Latrobe’s corn capital, from collection of the Architect of the Capital, on US Capital Visitor Center website.

7. Handle of pie server, no markings; handle was made in two parts to accommodate the stainless steel blade.

8. Handle of candle snuffer, Extra Primo NS.ALP Sweden. Nickle silver is the Swedish equivalent to American silver plate. This was lightweight and stamped. It probably was new when it was purchased in the 1960s.

9. Peaches are passing from attempts to bloom to leafing; 4 April 2016.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Spring Snow

Weather: High winds Tuesday, with cold temperatures Thursday morning and snow before dawn Friday.

What’s blooming: Siberian elms, some types of crab apples, peaches, cherries, sand cherries, forsythia, daffodils, tansy mustard, western stickseed, vinca, moss phlox, donkey spurge, dandelions.

What’s coming up: Daylilies, peonies, Maltese cross, ladybells, tansy.

What has new growth: Elm seedlings are betraying their locations with leaves; Bradford pear, Bridal Wreath spirea leafing.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small birds, small red ants; can hear buzzing around the fruit trees even though no flowers are open yet.

Weekly update: We got our spring snow Friday, and like most such downfalls, it was gone by 10:15 am. In fact, it was disappearing as it came down. When I got up at 6:30, the gravel in the drive was bare and temperature was above freezing, almost 35 degrees. It had been 22 the day before.

The flakes kept their points as they landed to interlock in clusters of leaves and on any branch that wasn’t nearly vertical.

These are not the dormant plants of winter whose branches bend under weights of fluff or ice. The ones that have leaved already have stored heat in their photosynthesizing cells. As soon as the snow landed, it was being warmed from below.

The snow turned to ice, then to water.

Water gravitates to low points. The privets, whose berries are ignored by local birds, directed the melt water to seeds. Perhaps, it softened the exo- and mesocarps so the seed could fall on wet ground.

Plants that haven’t revived generate no heat. The Queen Anne’s lace seed heads are built like the prongs that hold a stone in a ring. Their seeds often need cold stratification to germinate. If seeds hadn’t dropped, they were treated by the snow.

Unfortunately, nature is an ingenious engineer, but a careless production scheduler. It may have mastered the dynamics of heat, but it sometimes neglects the necessity of order.

Photographs: All pictures taken Friday, 1 April 2016; some were taken around 7:15 when white or translucent snow was falling. Others were taken at 9 am, after the snow had fallen, but before the sun was out.

1. Globe willow melting snow and sending it down its branches at 8:57 am.

2. Looking south toward the Jémez and Los Alamos at 7:30 am.

3. Snow on Dorothy Perkins rose leaf clusters at 7:15 am.

4. Snow on Jackmanii potentilla at 7:25 am.

5. Same Jackmanii potentilla at 9:05 am.

6. Melting snow on privet leaves and berries at 9 am.

7. Snow trapped in a Queen Anne’s lace seed head at 7:23 am.

8. Peach buds under a burden of snow turning to ice at 8:55 am.

9. Same general view as #2 at 8:53 am.