Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lipstick Latin

A lifetime ago (about 5 years), in a land far far away (California), I was an adjunct professor (Ph.D. without tenure) of Nineteenth-Century American Literature. I came to that life late, as I often do. I became a dancer later in life than most (17) and entered graduate school even later (36). For my doctorate, I had to demonstrate proficiency in two languages. French, I could test out of, but there was still the required second.  Much to my advisor’s chagrin, I chose Latin. “Latin is what you study when you're 9 or 10 and don't know any better,” sighed the Jesuit-schooled professor who had Greek as well as Latin at an even earlier age. But I had my reasons. Latin was for educated people, or so I believed. And I was still trying to believe in myself as worthy of a Ph.D. Yeah, yeah, I know. But we all have our insecurities. Just grant me the confidence-booster of a little Latin lipstick. There was another reason for my selection of a "dead language":  in-class “conversation” played no part!  I could get up in front of 300 students with the confidence of a seasoned Vegas lounge act, but answering simple questions in French in front of 20 reduced me to a mute, shuddering puddle.Since Classical Latin (as opposed to Church Latin) wasn't spoken any more, we just read and translated. Yea!  (Interesting instructional factoid:  as opposed to French, where most of our learned vocabulary dealt with food and furniture, Latin provided us the words for weapons and the body parts slashed, pierced, and or poisoned by those weapons).

There is a point here, I promise. And the point is that I'm a tiny bit of a plant geek. I really like taxonomy and the significance of naming. And that brings us to the subject for today: Lungwort! Great name. Sounds like the ugly duckling of plants. But take a look at this shade-loving beauty:

It got its name—as many plants do—from its appearance. The speckled leaves looked to early herbalists like the mottling of diseased lungs. Thus the “Lung” part of the common name and also pulmo for the Latin source of its genus Pulmonaria. “Wort” is used here and elsewhere for herbaceous plants (plants that don't have woody stems) that in earlier times were used for food or medicine. (The first written usage of wort or wyrt was circa 825—geeky or what?). Early medical practitioners believed that plants that resembled body parts could be used to treat illnesses of those same parts. This philosophy came to be known as the Doctrine of Signatures. More about that in another entry.

The 'Roy Davidson' here is a cross between Pulmonaria longifolia—narrow leaved--and Pulmonaria saccharata—sweet or containing sugar (probably for the white “sprinkles”). The pink buds and flowers that age to blue (and how cool is that!) gave rise to names like “soldiers and sailors” and “Joseph and Mary.”

And then there are those tiny hairs!  Guess that will also have to wait for another day.

Friday, April 20, 2012

My Macro Lens and Me

As I've mentioned before, I'm no landscaper. I grow plants not designs. Now don't get me wrong; I love well-designed gardens. I can enjoy a beautiful swath of colors and textures shaped by a meandering path that moves the eye in and out of the shadows. But the moment I pull my camera up to my eye, the scene flattens and even becomes a little sterile. Perhaps the camera comes between me and nature at that point. However, if I lean in, kneel down, and get intimate with one particular plant, the magic comes alive, and I get to see in a different way.

For example, right now it's Tulip time in the Northwest. Skagit county in particular has field upon field of crayon-colored flowers, waving in the breezes (when it isn't raining). Stunning, breath-taking, and all my wide-angle shots look like home-made postcards. The experience just isn't there.  

So when I shoot tulips, they look like this:

When I photograph daffodils, they look like this:

And, seriously, when I look through my lens at a plum tree in blossom, I see this:

Or, if I go really wild and take one step back, it will look like this:

I guess I shoot the way I garden:  one plant at a time. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Collector

I buy plants I want to photograph. I don't plan, I don't design. I collect. I know I should buy three plants, but I buy one. My garden is more like a menagerie than a landscape. I do try to plant my new acquisitions where they'll do well—right plant, right spot, etc. And just last season I realized that my new, bright yellow Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), looked awful in the bed with the various blues and purples that were blooming nearby, so I moved it. I do really want my garden to look nice, but I get caught up in the details of individual plants.
For instance, last year I saw some photos of a Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) on Flickr and went wild. I mean, the thing had HAIR! Well, I had to have one. And photograph it over and over again. 

I know, a little like mug shots.  But, once again, IT'S GOT HAIR!  What's not to like?  
But I confess I did go back to the nursery and buy a few more.  And this year I was rewarded with this beauty.

This sweetheart even has a touch of the creature about her.  And if the wind is low and I get very close, I think I can hear her murmur, "feed me!" 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I decided to start a blog because I wanted a place to bring together my words and images. And when I was waiting for the first flowers to appear at the beginning of the year, I knew that the garden would be the right place.
Confession: a dangerous word in public, however necessary.
Every word I type slumps under the weight of all the books I've read, all the authors I've admired, and every hour in the classroom (as student as well as teacher). And every photograph I take reveals the inadequacies of my equipment, my skills, and my imagination.
However, gardening is free. At least for me. I have few expectations of the garden or myself. Plants live and plants die. Some bloom one year and hold back the next. I go about my gardening by instinct and by books. It's science and it's magic. And it's life that makes my life ever so much better.