The fan, the spathiphyllum, and the impressionist garden

Juan came by on Friday to replace the left fan in my laptop (it had reached airplane takeoff mode) and bring me small birthday presents: some mini-cheesecakes from Whole Foods (one berry, one espresso), an excellent but hard to pronounce houseplant, and a visit to the Gamble Garden to view ranks of gauzy late summer and autumn plants in bloom.

The computer repair took only a few minutes — I am now enjoying the silence of the fans — so I’ll focus here on the vegetative side of things: the birthday plant, a spathipyllum (say that three times fast!); and those seasonal flowers, which are gauzy only to a cataractive guy like me (but the Monet impressionist-garden effect is actually quite pleasing, one of the very few positive consequences of gradual vision loss).

Spathiphyllum. Into the land of spathes and spadixes, symbolic sexual organs, which I last visited here in a posting on calla lilies. Some peace lilies in bloom:

(#1) Spathiphyllum hybrid

(Of course, neither calla lilies nor peace lilies are lilies; their names are resembloid, not subsective, compounds.)


noun spathe: Botany a large sheathing bract enclosing the flower cluster of certain plants, especially the spadix of arums and palms. ORIGIN late 18th century: via Latin from Greek spathē ‘broad blade.’

On peace lilies, from Wikipedia:

Spathiphyllum is a genus of about 40 species of monocotyledonous flowering plants in the family Araceae [the arum family], native to tropical regions of the Americas and southeastern Asia. Certain species of Spathiphyllum are commonly known as Spath or peace lilies.

They are evergreen herbaceous perennial plants with large leaves 12–65 cm long and 3–25 cm broad. The flowers are produced in a spadix, surrounded by a 10–30 cm long, white, yellowish, or greenish spathe. The plant does not need large amounts of light or water to survive.

Earlier on this blog, on the related calla lily: from 4/19/17, in “Calla, calla, calla, California”:

The calla as erotic symbol. The spathe serves as a vaginal symbol, and the spadix as either phallic or clitoral symbol, so callas are pretty much drenched in sexuality.

(An earlier posting, from 3/17/12, “St. Patrick”, has more about Zantedeschia aethiopica, known as calla lily and arum lily.)

The other thing to be said about the peace lily is that the name of its genus, Spathiphyllum, is a tongue twister: the sequence of voiceless fricatives in /… θɪf…/ (from tongue and teeth to teeth and lip) is something of a challenge.

Easy to grow, hard to say.

Late season plants and the Monet vision. Great masses of things in bloom at Gamble Garden at the moment: especially dahlias, zinnias, runner beans, the first of the chrysanthemums — and the remarkable (pink) naked ladies, Amaryllis belladonna, which I posted about on 8/8/15.

I was pleased to discover that my failing eyesight  (to be repaired starting on the 27th on this month), which has mostly been a source of distress and despair, fuzzes up these masses of bloom into the perceptual equivalent of a Monet painting of his gardens at Giverney. What Monet painted (in 1900):


A comparable scene in the actual (restored) garden these days:


From Wikipedia on the artist (and his own visual travails, experienced well after the Impressionist revolution):

Oscar-Claude Monet (14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926) was a founder of French Impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. The term “Impressionism” is derived from the title of his painting Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise), which was exhibited in 1874 in the first of the independent exhibitions mounted by Monet and his associates as an alternative to the Salon de Paris.

Monet’s ambition of documenting the French countryside led him to adopt a method of painting the same scene many times in order to capture the changing of light and the passing of the seasons. From 1883 Monet lived in Giverny, where he purchased a house and property and began a vast landscaping project which included lily ponds that would become the subjects of his best-known works. In 1899 he began painting the water lilies, first in vertical views with a Japanese bridge as a central feature, and later in the series of large-scale paintings that was to occupy him continuously for the next 20 years of his life.

… It was during [the years 1911-14] that Monet began to develop the first signs of cataracts.

During World War I, in which his younger son Michel served and his friend and admirer Georges Clemenceau led the French nation, Monet painted a series of weeping willow trees as homage to the French fallen soldiers. In 1923, he underwent two operations to remove his cataracts. The paintings done while the cataracts affected his vision have a general reddish tone, which is characteristic of the vision of cataract victims. It may also be that after surgery he was able to see certain ultraviolet wavelengths of light that are normally excluded by the lens of the eye; this may have had an effect on the colours he perceived. After his operations he even repainted some of these paintings, with bluer water lilies than before.

My eye surgeon tells me that not only will everything be sharper after the surgery, but things will also be brighter. I’m looking forward to it.


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