March 31, 2019

Peachy Canyon Oaks
Peachy Canyon Winery Oak Trees, Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles (24 by 32 inch oil on canvas)

(Sorry I’m late this week. I had to go to Santa Cruz unexpectedly this weekend.)

I don’t remember exactly when I painted this one, but it was probably in the early 2000’s, maybe in spring. It’s the Highway 46 side of Peachy Canyon Winery. I have painted the entrance side of the vineyard on Bethel Road a number of times, but only painted this side once. (See March 10, 2018 post for a mural I did in acrylics on paper of the front entrance.) At the time I painted this I was experimenting with rendering the rows of grape plants in unusual ways. I thought it would be interesting to curve things a bit. But I imagine that if it were real the vineyard workers would have a hard time maneuvering the curves as they disc down the weeds between the rows in the spring. In my head it seemed a pretty interesting idea. Actually, with all the rain we have had, I imagine that such work is being done, or planned to be done, as we speak here in our CA vineyards right now! Just have to wait until the soil dries out so the tractors don’t get stuck in the mud. I also remember loving the contrast of the trees and shadows up against the absolute yellow of the sod in the background. I was also thinking about the dark shadows and trees running horizontally and vertically through the landscape. And the blades of grass around the edges were also intentional. In fact, I still do that—trying to elevate the inevitable weeds that seem to float in the foreground of my current watercolor landscapes. I remember I was really interested in adding elements that weren’t there and removing things I didn’t like or things that I wanted to emphasize which obliterated the reality of other things that just had to go. I hope some day to get really good at simplifying elements of a painting like Picasso.

I think I have already written about the brilliant way Picasso simplified the subjects in his paintings, especially in his later work. But if I have it does bear repeating and here’s a great example of that simplicity: The Norton Simon had a great display of a series of lithographs he did from 1945 to 1960. The exhibit was called States of Mind and it ran at the museum from October 2016 to February 2017. It featured groups of images that came from the same lithograph stone beginning with a first iteration, or state, then changing over and over as he rubbed out certain parts and adding other lines and ink for emphasis. Picasso said he became interested in the moment of a painting (lithograph actually) “…when the movement of my thought interests me more than the thought itself.” So, he etched in an image, say of a bull. Then he inked it, printed it and then reworked it and printed it again in its second state. He would go through this process over and over until he came up with a final image. And what struck me so profoundly was the way he did that with that bull, for example, until the final image took about 10 linear strokes to create. And all of this came from images in his head. Very cool.

As I have said before, I would never compare my art with the likes of Pablo Picasso. But for this painting I did the best I could with my idea of what I wanted the Peachy Canyon Vineyard to look like. Because not only did I adjust the colors, lines and shapes, but I took out a very unattractive wine barrel with a blue and white sign. I get that it is a business and they were just advertising. But that is the great thing about being a painter; we can scrub out or look past things we don’t want to see. I wanted only the slightest bit of human activity shown here and that took the form of the wonky rows of vineyards in the background.

Sometimes I wish I could conjure up something as inspired and terrific from an image or scene that I can see only in my head. I have never felt very confident about doing that. A couple posts ago I mentioned that I had seen the recent movie (At Eternities Gate) about Vincent van Gogh. There is a great scene where he is talking with Paul Gauguin and Gauguin asks him why he needs to have something to look at when he paints. Gauguin tries to convince him he should not need to look at anything and that what he paints should come from his mind, or imagination. But van Gogh persists and tells him that he loves going outside and painting nature. Of course going outside to paint and just looking inward is probably the same because your mind sees what it wants to see anyway. Maybe some of us are better at taking the pictures we have in our heads and putting them down on canvas with paint. I can’t hold onto an image for very long. And if I try to make something out of a fleeting scene from my imagination, it always looks contrived or stiff to me. I think painting something that only exists in my brain is like walking a tightrope without a net. I crave the net like I crave sunlight. I enjoy the prospect of trying to capture something on canvas as the sun moves across the sky—deepening blues, adding dark shadows, causing bright white outs and changing highlights. That kind of slow moving scene gives me a net that I can count on, it gives me just enough time to study what I am looking at, making quick decisions (on canvas) and commitments for watercolor. Oil on canvas is a little more forgiving if you change your mind. You can’t turn back for watercolor—you can only start over. In fact, I have timed myself and know that if I have 30 minutes to capture a moment outside on paper or canvas, that’s all the time I need. I just want a net that lasts about 30 minutes; all the rest is smoke and mirrors. So, I guess I will never paint like Gauguin or Picasso. I am going to imagine that Vincent van Gogh had a similar sunlight sensibility. That’s right, it’s me and my friend Vincent all the way!

RIP Lorene, 3/31/2019 (An Irish Lass)

March 23, 2019

tulips from St Patrick's Day, Descanso
Tulip Display at the Descanso Garden on St. Patrick’s Day, 2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

With all my complaining about our wet and cooler weather lately, it was in the mid 70s on St Patrick’s Day. (A friend who was in Chicago at the time said it was 28 degrees) So, no, I can’t complain about our weather except to say that if it stays warm the tulips you see here won’t last very long. They are native to places like the Netherlands, where it’s cool and rainy in the spring. Warm and dry sunny southern CA may not be the best place for such delicate and ephemeral flowers.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my mother. She passed away mid-August 2016. I know, I know, it’s not even close to August, but I started One California Girl the following March 25th–her birthday. As this is the two-year anniversary of that first blog I thought it would be fitting to exalt the tulip in honor of my mom’s birthday and the coming of spring. I had actually planned to feature irises, but saw only one in bloom that day. My mom had these amazing deep purple old-fashioned scented irises in her garden that I seem to remember blooming in early spring. I thought I would look for some purple irises. Of course that was in her Grass Valley garden, so I’m not really sure why I thought they would be around here right now. But the Descanso Garden tulips were so beautiful it took my breath away, and it was a “no brainer” to paint them for my mom instead. There were countless drifts of colorful tulips just outside the rose garden. Everywhere I looked there were lovely blobs of different colors perched primly on tall green stems. So, I found a lovely bench in the shade, and was able to capture this stunning swath of two different shades of red tulips. I normally don’t refer to myself, or anyone for that matter, saying they were ABLE to do something. I’m always of the belief that whether or not you are ABLE to do something can, at times, be purely subjective. But, the large rocks and path in front of these beauties was crawling with people looking for photo opportunities and it was quite a challenge to wait for various drifts of people, strollers et al to take their photos, move on and out of my view. There was one guy who laid sideways on the rocks in the foreground, twice, for what seemed a long time for each side view. It appeared that he was trying to capture some kind of other worldly photo of that mass of red. I mean, what kind of photo of flowers would you take lying on your side? He was wearing a purple Scientology T-shirt, so I wasn’t going to ask him anything. I just waited for him to leave…twice.

My mom used to say that she was the product of her generation. And when I heard her say that as a young girl I wasn’t quite sure what she meant. Sadly, it seemed to me then and even now, that there were things and/or people that made her unhappy a lot of the time. As I got older, I realized that she loved us very much and tried to be a good mom, even though there was some unseen part of her that doomed her to bouts of extreme disappointment and sadness. She was an excellent grandma to my son and it was nice to think that even though she often seemed unhappy when we were growing up, she finally got it right when she was presented with grandchildren.

If I think back on a time that she truly was the happiest, it would have to be when we lived in Saratoga. A builder helped my mom and dad design their house. They painstakingly designed every inch of that house. As my mom was quite a good cook she was especially keen to get her kitchen right. I remember her saying that she loved all the storage she had and she never had to work at putting groceries away because her pantry was just the right size. And if I think of several memories related to that house and kitchen, mash them all together, it paints a nice picture of a time she was happy.

During those years my parents would invite gangs of families to eat barbeque and swim in the pool during summer. I remember one particular warm evening when a friend was particularly enjoying a meal my mom had prepared. I don’t remember what kind of meat she cooked, but fresh corn on the cob was featured. I remember that we had had a bumper crop of corn in the garden next to our fruit trees. So, huge bowls of corn on the cob were prepared for that dinner. The friend enjoyed the fresh picked corn so much, that when the bowls were finally empty he asked permission go out in the garden and pick more. My mom was over the moon with smiles and of course said, “Yes!” She left a large pot of water on the stove, at a slow rolling boil, for him to cook his corn. He schlepped out to the garden countless times to pick the corn. When he came back in he shucked, boiled and ate every bit of that corn, one at a time with no butter or salt. By the time he had finally finished that amazing corn feed he had eaten 7 ears of corn. I thought my mom was going to die from happiness, so happy to feed a hungry and wonderful friend. Of course, the wine was flowing too and all were having a great time. Later, when my parents got together with that friend and his family, they often recalled the great ears of fresh corn that were consumed that evening.

It seemed those Saratoga summer dinners always included some kind of barbeque. I remember walking out onto the deck one evening to see my mom hovering over the chicken or tri tip or whatever, wearing one of my brother’s face masks from the pool to keep the smoke out of her eyes. My brothers and I thought that pretty funny as she was terrified of the water and wouldn’t get near the pool except to check the chemicals and briefly dunk in the water at the shallow end when it was just too hot to bear. She always had a swimming suit, but I don’t think they ever wore out from use. That’s OK mom, we all loved to swim, were very comfortable swimmers, and I know it made you happy that we were safe in the water.

small cookbook cover
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, 1981

Other happy times I remember for her involved a restaurant she worked at as a volunteer. It was called Village House and the money they made selling lunches and wedding receptions was given to the Ming Quong Home in Los Gatos. She was involved with Village House (and later Village House and Garden) while we lived in Saratoga and later after we moved to a Victorian in Los Gatos. Village House is no longer there and I imagine the building is probably gone too. After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, a lot of buildings in Los Gatos had to come down and maybe that one did too. I kind of hope the oak that was out front is still there. I think my mom was pretty happy in the house in Los Gatos, but she would often comment about missing her great Saratoga kitchen.

mulligatawny stew
A favorite family recipe. Did my mom actually add 1/4 cup of fat? Yikes! I use a couple tablespoons of olive oil.

Here’s to the Village House cookbook and one of our family’s favorite recipes, Mulligatawny Stew. My dad loved this stuff! My aunt’s birthday was yesterday, so I am making the stew for a family gathering for my aunt and mom’s birthdays tomorrow. Mom, I know if you were here, making one of your recipes from the Village House cookbook for the family would definitely make you happy.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

(March 25th)

March 16, 2019

Autry art, winter 2019
Two sketches of an outdoor garden, Autry Museum, 3/10/2019 (Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

As this is the last post for the last official weekend of winter 2019 in sunny southern California, I thought I would share some sketches I did at the Autry Museum of the American West last Sunday, March 10. The museum is in what’s called Griffith Park and is directly across from the LA Zoo. I don’t know if you know anything about Gene Autry, but he was known as the singing cowboy. He was quite a businessman as well and owned a television station, a couple radio stations in So Cal, as well as the Angels baseball team from 1961 to 1997. It seems the museum, with his name on it, was started in 1998 and it’s been crammed full of western memorabilia. If you like paintings of horses and the west, real western saddles, real guns and movie posters featuring the singing cowboy, this is the place for you. (The last time I was there they had a number of principal actor’s costumes from the movie The Hateful Eight. My son was with me and he had enjoyed the movie, so he was interested in all the gear those badass cowboy actors wore. The Hateful Eight was another of Quentin Tarantino’s violent movies and I wasn’t as interested.)

When I first arrived at the Autry on Sunday, it wasn’t raining, so I sat out front and sketched a monument to Native American women. If I finish the sketch, I’ll post it. Then I went inside to catch up with some fellow sketchers. One of my friend’s was headed downstairs to sketch one of the guns in the collection. She said she was looking for a Colt “something something.” I guess it has a pearl handle and quite a bit of etched detail on the barrel and other gun parts (I don’t know what those parts are called and neither did she…). I’d wandered around for about 5 minutes and noticed that in this downstairs area there was also a garden out the back door. I headed for that bit of sunshine. What you see at the top of the story are a couple sketches I did. The two side-by-side sketches are actually one continuous scene with the tree on the left and a waterfall on the right. I chose to do them separately, with the one on the left focusing on the tree and favoring tones of blue for the rocks. The one on the right centers on the waterfall and the rocks are more golden and brown in tone. Actually, I am not sure it looks much like flowing water, but more like flowing hair. Oh well.

Autry photo, winter 2019
Back garden, Autry Museum, 3/10/2019

The Serendipitous Sketching Set up

But the coolest thing about making these sketches was this serendipitous sketching area. I didn’t have to sit on my sheet of bubble wrap on the ground or draped over a large boulder. I stood up at an easel that someone had thoughtfully left there for me. Actually there are two permanent easels stuck in the ground out there. They appear to be part of a few interactive things for kids to look at and touch. Each easel has a piece of slate at an angle with a small trough in front, and below that is a cup welded to the post. A couple paintbrushes were there and the cups were filled with water, ready for someone to make a water painting on the piece of slate. The water was pretty muddy and I suspect it was mostly rainwater, but I didn’t care. I put my watercolor paper on the slate and began to sketch the tree with my Inktense pencils. And when I was finished, I just added water that I didn’t have to fetch and carry. Now the brushes were not great and the water wasn’t clear, but it was perfect and I had the best time creating these. I decided the traces of dirt on the paper were all part of the experience. I was in the moment and nothing else mattered. Once I finished the tree I leaned it against one of the large boulders to dry and started the waterfall sketch with the same enthusiasm. It got so warm I took off my pink jacket (you can see on the rock).

By the time we stopped for lunch, the sun had gone back behind the clouds and I put my jacket back on. It was at lunch that I saw my friend’s gun art. Another artist had drawn western costumes and another had drawn a pair of western boots that were on display there.

All in all it turned out to be quite an art day. After I finished there I went to a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and sat outside, with my pink coat on, and I sketched a particular stretch of Brand Avenue in Glendale that I love. I love it because the street goes steeply up into the hills and it is lined with the most perfect rows of palm trees on either side of the road. Not exactly a western scene, I guess, but no matter. I was sitting at a table with an umbrella to keep out of the tiniest sun and the dark heavy clouds had dramatically collected above the mountains. I had my sketching paper, graphite pencils and ink pens at the ready. Oh, and of course I was also enjoying a double shot cappuccino. And it was all rather perfect until someone drinking coffee from a tiny paper cup he’d gotten for free at Trader Joe’s decided to sit down and visit with me. But I was having such a great day I didn’t care about the seemingly random conversation he was trying to have with me. As long as he didn’t block my view I happily sketched and sketched, while occasionally sipping my strong milky coffee drink. When I had finished I packed up my stuff and said goodbye to the strange stranger. I noticed that he then drifted over to another woman with a laptop who was sitting out front of the Coffee Bean. It looked like he had invited himself to sit down in a chair near her and was probably boring her with whatever… I was actually kind of amazed that he was still drinking from that same tiny paper cup of coffee that had not come from the Coffee Bean. Whatever…

Next, I headed for a friend’s house in Glendale and we watched the recent movie about Vincent Van Gogh. It’s called At Eternities Gate. What a powerful story, with some wonderful cinematic effects of color and movement that made you feel like you were traipsing around the hills of southern France with Van Gogh. The story really gave you a sense of him wanting to be outside in nature, quickly painting what he saw in the wonderful sunlight. Not that I am anything like him, but I love to traipse around, looking for something to sketch or paint in the sunlight. Of course the movie was sad because it seemed he was always alone and he wanted to be around people, but somehow only truly connected with a few people in his life. I found myself glad that I was an artist who had friends to hang out with, and maybe even a friend who was just as passionate about art as me, but not an actual painter. And that friend would invite me over to watch a movie about an artist we both admired.

Of course much has been written about Van Gogh’s revolutionary use of color. And as I watched Van Gogh moving about sunny fields and orchards I kept thinking of a color yellow that I love to use that seemed to be part of the color palette the cinematographer must have had in mind—my beautiful New Gamboge (made from synthetic materials). It appears that Van Gogh didn’t use Gamboge (new or old). Gamboge is a transparent deep saffron to mustard yellow pigment that was used to dye Buddhist monks robes. As near as I can tell Van Gogh used Cadmium yellow and Chrome yellow—both are pretty toxic.

What a day of art for One California Girl! I am looking forward to seeing the sun more, as spring is just around the corner. And I am excited to have more days outside painting and sketching with opportunities to use my New Gamboge pigment. I will be on the look out for more serendipitous sketching opportunities, I will seek out more chances to spend time with friends, I will look for more rows of palm trees, and of course, more opportunities to traipse around some beautiful California hills. Not sure I will be on the look out for someone who is traipsing about the Coffee Bean with a tiny paper cup of a competitor’s coffee. That’s a serendipitous moment I could live without…

March 10, 2019

Lady in White
Portrait of a Lady in White, Titian, c1561, March 1, 2019 (colored pencil, ink on mixed media paper)

As I was planning for the 102nd post for One California Girl, I decided to share my experience with the Portrait of the Lady in White that is currently on display at the Norton Simon Museum. The Norton Simon kind of made a big deal over her, so I decided to make a big deal over her as well. I don’t pretend to really understand what makes one Titian painting better or somehow more significant than another. But the Norton Simon thinks so much of her that there is a huge poster of the lady on the outside of the building right now. Apparently, she is on loan from a museum in Dresden. Of course, how a portrait done by a famous Venetian painter c1561 wound up in Germany is another story. Once inside the museum there are signs all around pointing you in her direction. She has one side of a room all to herself with lots of information about the painting written attractively on the wall on either side of her. You may wonder many things about Titian’s lady. I must say I was pretty fascinated by the dress she was wearing. It looks very uncomfortable to me. And who wants huge amounts of stiff looking fabric starting at the hips accompanied by a bust-squishing corset? It was noted on her wall that she was wearing a great number of important pieces of jewelry. Of course, I was most fascinated with the strange “stick” thing she was holding in her right hand. What is that, you say? It’s called a ventuolo and is a kind fan that I guess was common in Venice 450 years ago. But it also appears that this item was often used as a fly swatter as well. I’m not kidding! I didn’t make this up. This information was written on the left hand wall beside her. So it must be true. What kind of lovely lady would wear a stiff white unflattering dress (with expensive jewelry) while delicately holding a fly swatter? Drum roll please…no one knows who she was. How crazy is that? Maybe that’s why a certain segment of the art world has gone gaga over the mystery model in the portrait. Some Titian experts have speculated she was his mistress or one of his daughters. Some say she was some kind of idealized image of a perfect Venetian woman c1561, ready to kill a fly at a moment’s notice. Wouldn’t you want to keep the flies away from a white dress that must have been a bitch to keep clean? I guess there is some letter that Titian wrote that said that the “model was very dear and precious…” That’s not helpful.

back garden NS
Back Garden of Norton Simon Museum, March 1, 2019 (Ink and colored pencil on mixed media paper)

But I had no clue about any of this when I first arrived at the museum, as I went outside to do this sketch of the back garden. There had been so many days and nights of rain and grey skies I was determined to get out there before it got too cold and the sun went down. (I was sitting on my trusty sheet of bubble wrap on a slab of granite. That thin layer of bubbles only provides a bit of cushion, but does nothing to keep my tush warm.)

First lady
A Lady in White pencil sketch, March 1, 2019

As the outdoor lights started coming on, I went inside and plopped down on one of the warm wooden benches directly in front of a Lady in White. That’s when I got my first look at her. There didn’t seem to be much of anyone in the room, except another fellow sketcher and a dad holding his little girl. So, I sat there and did this pencil sketch. As I said there was quite a bit of information about the painting that also included how his Lady in White had been copied almost limb for limb by Rubens a bit later. They even had a sketch that Rubens had done of the painting, much like what I have here. But it’s kind of funny that I always seem to NOT capture the look on the face of the lady or whomever I am sketching. I always seem to capture some other kind of look that initially frustrates me, but later amuses me. And you can see what I mean if you Google Portrait of a Lady in White by Titian. She has a kind of unique enigmatic look about her. She’s definitely not smiling and might even have a look of surprise—I attribute that to the fact that you see so much of the whites of her eyes. (Later in the evening one of the sketchers I hang out with said that her eyes kind of bulged out a bit. I think I agree.) But by the time I had finished this first sketch it was time to gather together with my group.

We gathered and gabbed a little and decided to go back and sketch her again. Now normally I would not be interested in such a repeat of just one lady in a white dress, famous or otherwise. But I was determined to really capture her expression this time. (Oh well, I tried.) I mean, I like the expression I gave her, but it is not the same woman. Anyway, this time we weren’t alone in the hall. There was a rather large group of people who stepped in front of us, and some kind of expert began to talk. Normally, I would be annoyed at a group that blocked my view, but I had already started my study of the lady. So, I just looked at the backs of the people standing in front of me and tried not to listen to what the woman was saying. Of course I heard every word. Mostly she just repeated what was already printed on the wall. I was surprised she did not say anything about the ventuolo also being used as a fly swatter. She focused, instead, on the other things our mystery lady was wearing, spending a lot time describing her opulent jewelry. I assumed, that because she was wearing white that she might be a bride. But the woman giving the tour must have anticipated that others might think the same as me. She assured her group that brides only recently started wearing white. She added that brides of that period usually wore their hair down. So, I guess the painting was not done to commemorate a bride.

Finally, they all left and I was able to complete the top sketch you see. I finished A Lady in White before the others and wandered through her room for a bit. As usual the portrait caused me to think of a number of things, but most of all I was reminded again how women in art over the years have always been just models and/or muses. There must have been some women artists. Yes? And it kind of made me sad that no one thought to write down the name of the woman I had studied so intently. Why didn’t Titian give her credit, give her a name? It seemed like he had painstakingly created such beauty and detail, but had not written her name down somewhere. Why didn’t Rubens make an effort to find out? He didn’t do his version until Titian had been dead (of the plague I might add…) for a little over 25 years. I know people didn’t live very long back then, but there must have been someone around who would have known her. Maybe even the lady herself was still alive when Rubens did his copy. Hey, maybe even that dress was in the back of someone’s closet and her identity could have been traced that way.

But take heart my fellow art lovers. I thought of a perfect end to this never-ending story of women being marginalized and discounted over time. About a week before I went to the Norton Simon, I finished reading a book about a now famous woman painter who had been painting in Holland just 100 years later. Her name was Judith Leyster, and she was one of the painters of what became known as the Dutch Golden Age. She was born in 1609 and died in February 1660. A wonderful author named Carrie Callaghan wrote a wonderful historical fiction about Ms. Leyster’s life. The book is called A Light of Her Own. I almost didn’t finish reading it because it seemed like it was always raining and cold, or blistering hot in her story. I wasn’t sure I could take the cold rainy weather we were having here in LA at the time on top of Judith’s constant worries about the cold and the damp. If you Google Judith Leyster’s self portrait, you will a see a smiling woman at her easel. I thought it interesting that these Golden Age artists often provided their models with humble props to make the finished piece more human and interesting. Judith Leyster did not have great jewels to adorn her models. And guess what? Her self-portrait hangs in the National Gallery. Of course the story definitely mentioned her male counterparts at the time, even one sentence about a young man named Rembrandt who seemed to be getting some attention. It took a while for her to get credit for her work and contribution to the Dutch Golden Age. It seems that her husband, also a painter of the time, and Franz Hals were credited for her art for many years. But eventually she got the attention and credit she deserved. I think if I ever find myself in DC again, I will definitely go back to the National Gallery and look for her self-portrait. I would consider it an honor to sketch her self-portrait. Maybe I could even make my sketch actually look like her? I know I would certainly try. No flies on you, me or Judith!

March 2, 2019

geraniums in a pot
Urn of geraniums, Glendale, April 3, 2017 (colored pencil and ink on toned paper)

I did this almost two years ago as a kind of art challenge. As a lead up to Earth Day, 4/22/2017, one of my sketching groups dared us to paint or sketch everyday until that Saturday. In April 2017 I was living in an apartment in Glendale and had noticed two huge urns of perky red geraniums up on pillars near the front of my building. So, for my April 4, 2017 art I sat on a wooden bench that was next to one of those pillars and sketched this. I have written in the past about using toned paper to achieve certain effects. And this soft grey paper is great to use when you want color to pop and I think the red flowers and bright green foliage make an even bigger impact when layered onto the grey. It can also add a kind of heaviness to other things. For example, the paper’s grey is an effective under color for the heavy urn. I think it gives the urn a head start by adding a bit of lovely darkness that’s in contrast to the flowers and foliage. I have used the same grey color to give a head start of darkness and weight to sculptures in the back garden of the Norton Simon. And toned paper comes in a myriad of colors. Next time you go to an art store, check it out.

When I chanced upon the photo I took of these flowers that day, it struck me how much I love geraniums. It’s not everyone’s favorite flower. But as I am writing this week’s story I have quite a show of bright pink and orange geraniums up against my toned golden house and toned grey stonewalls. Geraniums have a kind of “smell” that is probably not meant to be anything special, but I love it. I even have one that smells of mint when you gently stroke your fingers across the leaves. I have noticed over the years that the scented variety generally doesn’t have the lush bright flowers and leaves. The flower petals tend to be smaller and/or paler in color with somewhat spindly stems. And the mint one I have right now has not blossomed yet, so I have not idea what color that flower will be. For some reason that one hasn’t sent up a flower. Hmm…But I have such a profusion of color on my front porch right now, I hardly notice the mint-scented slacker…

I was born in Santa Monica, but have spent most of my life living in northern CA. And I remember my mom planting geraniums, but I seem to remember they were usually on the porch in pots, where they might have some protection from the frosts and freezes that can occur on a crisp Santa Clara winter night. Geraniums seem to be OK with hot weather, but not the cold. I’ve noticed that northern CA gardeners kind of let them fend for themselves or treat them more like coveted colorful annuals. But down here they grow and grow and grow and can be propagated by just lopping off a bit of a healthy stem and plopping it a pot with well draining soil. I’m not kidding; they actually root and thrive that easily in SoCal.

Even though I just said I have spent most of my life in Northern California, my love of geraniums began when I lived in Long Beach for a short time more than 30 years ago. I had family in Belmont Shore and had decided to see if the kimonos I was making up north would sell in SoCal. (Came pretty close to selling them to Neiman Marcus, but that’s another CA girl’s story…) One of my first memories of the Shore (as it’s known by the locals) was the amazing front yards filled with geraniums of every shockingly bright color you can imagine. I mean, they had been planted in the ground and were not in pots to hide away during winter. It almost hurt my eyes to look at those intense purples, reds, crimsons and oranges in the yards of white washed Spanish style stucco houses set against the bright blue sky. But I was hooked. I tried to grow them when I got back to Northern CA, but I knew they would not make it hanging out bare in the ground. So, I put them in pots. (Nothing so disheartening as once perky geraniums turned to frozen popsicle stems and flowers that soon turn a slimy ghoulish black color when they thaw out). I just sort of gave up on them for a while, just too much disappointment.

By 1995 I moved again from Northern CA and went to live in Central CA, specifically Paso Robles. My son’s Great Aunt Ruth gave me many cuttings of geraniums and I propagated them in pots and enjoyed them as bright annuals. I liked the more old-fashioned ones with the rather strange smell that I described earlier. Thank goodness Aunt Ruth gave me a number of scented ones as well. That’s how I learned that there could be varieties of geraniums that smelled nice to other people. In the early 2000’s I began working as a freelance editor and writer for Sunset Garden books. It was at that time that I began my interest in plant taxonomy. It was really great fun to learn about ornamental grasses, how to construct a greenhouse, old varieties of Southern apple trees, plants that do well in pots, plants that do well in the Pacific Northwest etc. And it kind of just happened that one day I was talking to an editor there and she reminded me that what I was calling a geranium was actually not a geranium. In fact, if you Google geranium you will find that “there is some general confusion” about this particular plant and you shouldn’t call a geranium a geranium if it is in fact a pelargonium. Who knew? And maybe who cares? I got into it, just as all the other kind of snooty plant people do. But now that I have been away from that little world of words for almost 20 years, I don’t correct people when they call a pelargonium a geranium. I mean, how rude? I figure that if I am talking about something, and you know what I’m referring to, who cares? Right? I think there are way more important things to consider than who seems to know more than someone else. I think the real question here should be, if you could have a pot of something lovely on your sunny porch, what would it be? Don’t get hung up on telling someone about your amazing pot of pelargonium. They might think a “pot of pelargonium” is code for cannabis and wonder what you are doing. The cannabis plant flower doesn’t look like much, and of course the palmate leaf is what most people recognize. That plant certainly has a distinctive smell that I do not like. I think I would rather smell geraniums on my front porch. How about you?

How should I celebrate my 100th post?

Crazy to imagine, but as of Feb 23, 2019, I have posted 100 pieces of art with CA stories. My first post/story was March 25, 2017. So I am actually coming up to my 2-year anniversary date for One California Girl. March 25th also happens to be my mother’s birthday. So, there are many things for me to celebrate, remark about, or possibly ignore. And it does make me think that I should maybe do something special for my mom’s birthday this year. I’ll think about that one…So, where did I go last evening to celebrate 100 posts? To the Norton Simon of course! Stay tuned for Titian’s Portrait of a Lady in White.