Archive for the ‘Language and plants’ Category

Farewell to the trees

August 16, 2014

On Wednesday morning the tree people arrived to deal with the last stand of trees in back of my Ramona St. condo — a silk tree and a (Chilean) potato vine — in a neighbor’s garden on the south side. A long, astoundingly noisy, and rather dusty operation that completely removed the last of the trees (though I was expecting something a bit less drastic). Now there is (sun)light.

I’ve posted about the silk tree  (Albizia julibrissin) before, and also about the privet trees (Ligustrum) back there, but not about the potato vine, Solanum crispum, a pretty and not very large shrub, which had gotten a bit ratty and was obviously in need of judicious pruning, but was completely removed anyway (for good reason, as it turns out).

The potato vine in bloom:


(More on the plant below.)



August 4, 2014

A few weeks ago, I found myself having lunch next to a table of two men (speaking Dutch; this might be relevant), one of whom was wearing a t-shirt that said quite clearly


in large bold letters. Puzzling slogan; what could it mean?

Eventually, I got a closer look and discovered that there was an initial letter in each word, in a fancier, much lighter typeface. The slogan was


But what was Speed Devil? Something automotive, maybe.

But no: a plant variety. A strain of Cannabis, in fact. Marijuana, pot, weed. And very potent.


Japanese knotweed

July 9, 2014

My usual postings on plants are about plants that are ornamental or useful or both, but occasionally I look at invasives: recently, on privets and tumbleweed, and a bit earlier on monstrously invasive vines —  kudzu and mile-a-minute. Today, thanks to a piece in the 7/5/14 New Scientist (“Let them eat weeds” by Stephanie Pain), I turn to a dreadful pest, the Japanese knotweed. The plant will push aggressively through concrete, survive volcanic eruptions, and more.



July 1, 2014

First, the photo:


Men collecting tumbleweed. You assume that this is somewhere on the Great Plains, North Dakota maybe. But no. It’s Los Angeles.



June 24, 2014

It’s been privet week at my house. Behind my back patio are two of my neighbors’ gardens, separated from my space by a high fence. One neighbor has a gigantic privet tree, probably Ligustrum lucidum, or broad-leaved privet; over the years it has seeded a great many saplings on my side of the fence. These provided a pleasant green screen — until they too became gigantic, so surgery was called for. Slowly, but relentlessly, I chopped them down and up. (I’ve been physically in bad shape for several months, so my anti-privet project was a tribute to my gradually returning powers. Considerable rejoicing.) All that remains are some stumps that will need professional attention.

Things to know about this plant: it’s fast-growing, tough, and appallingly invasive, and its pollen (now being produced in huge amounts) is fabulously allergenic. I have not been a happy gardener.


Sunday jottings

June 22, 2014

Four items from the front matter in today’s New York Times Magazine: the compound poolside memoirs; the euphemism go to Spain; the term binky ‘pacifier'; and citronella for warding off mosquitoes.


Plant life by public transport

June 3, 2014

Now on my desk, a box of Pomegranate notecards, originally posters by Emilio Camilio Leopoldo Tafani for London public transport in 1915, now in the London Transport Museum. Art, plants, and advertising.

From the website:

Day trips to the ancient forests bordering London remain a popular poster theme. Landscape artists, such as Walter Spradbery and Gregory Brown, set new standards in the depiction of trees and woodland scenes. Many of the posters feature Epping Forest, originally reached by motor bus until the extension of the Central line in the 1940s.

In a previous posting, I looked at posters, by various artists, exhorting people to take public transport to the London zoo. Now it’s plants. But still public art for advertising purposes.


You’re Planting That Old Thing?

May 21, 2014

So went the head for a piece by Michael Tortorello in the May 15th Home & Garden section of the New York Times. It begins with a riff on the catalpa tree, once a feature of yards in much of the U.S.:

Almost no one appreciates the catalpa tree, and few gardeners have planted one since the financial crisis. The one in the 1930s.

There’s more of this jokiness, but then Tortorello gets down to business:

In a broad sense, American homeowners have stopped spending money on all types of trees and shrubs. Bruce Butterfield, the market research director for the National Gardening Association, recorded a 46 percent drop in landscaping purchases in the four years after the financial panic (the 2008 edition). During roughly the same period, food-gardening sales increased 40 percent.


sweet peas

May 5, 2014

Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky has been photographing spring flowers up a storm — recently, very heavy on irises of several types and a lot of sweet peas, both of which are visually interesting as they develop. As for the sweet peas, there are two species that are commonly grown; they are called sweet because they are scented, and peas because they are have characteristic pea-like flowers (and, like edible peas, climb on supports by means of tendrils). (The genus name, Lathyrus, is not very interesting etymologically: < modern Latin, < Greek λάθυρος a kind of vetch.)



May 1, 2014

Continuing a thread on flowering plants that don’t thrive where I live now (in Palo Alto CA) but do thrive where I lived before (in Columbus OH); the key is needing cold winters, with at least some freezing.

Earlier (6/20/13)I posted about lilac (Syringa) — for which the so-called (unrelated but physically somewhat similar) “California lilac” (Ceonothus) can stand in:

they are both ornamental flowering shrubs, and Ceonothus can fill much the same function in landscape gardening in Mediterranean or semi-tropical climates as Syringa, most species of which thrive only in places with decidedly chilly winters.

Then more recently (4/24/14) I took up forsythia:

We don’t see much forsythia in these parts, because they require a winter freeze to flourish. They do grow in California and elsewhere in the West, but only in areas with cold winters; the Sunset New Western Garden Book enumerates these.

Now it’s peonies.



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