November 9, 2019

paperwhite black and white
Black and white Paper-white, habit lower right, 1990 (pen and ink)

This post starts with a pen and ink drawing of a favorite flower in my then holiday garden—the Narcissus, or Paperwhite. I did this during my days when I worked as a scientific illustrator for the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. This layout of plant parts, complete with habit, is very typical for a botanical rendering. I was never commissioned or paid to draw this one. I just happen to love them and wanted to do one on my own.

color paperwhite
Paper-white in color, habit lower right (gouache and colored pencil on toned paper)

Fast forward 10 years for this smaller color version of the exact botanical. I had taken a class at the Academy where we learned to use gouache on toned paper. I like the idea of using toned paper that either has some connection with the subject (green paper for a green plant). Or I like to use grey toned paper as most colors you layer on heather grey or blue grey will pop with great contrast. 

narcissus story
Narcissus story in the Tribune, SLO, 12/5/1999

I can’t remember if I did the above art for this article or not. But one way or another it was used here. I do remember that I was disappointed when I saw the finished article in the paper as an editor scrubbed out most of the green background. I’ve always thought it looked fuzzy or out of focus. Looking back, I should have submitted the pen and ink for this story. I was trying to be so agreeable back then. I was trying to do these wonderful color renderings of plants…There was a lovely editor that seemed so pleased to print my work. And the publisher of The Tribune, himself, had told me how much he liked my art and stories and had promised that he could make me famous (not rich) with my work. So much for that!  

And even though the image doesn’t really show the art in a great light, rereading the story got me thinking about the subject matter. I’m not sure I would give someone Paperwhite bulbs to be planted on top of layer of small rocks in a saucer. Oh, it works alright. If you keep the saucer just filled with water, the roots will take hold of the rocks and the stems, then flowers will follow. But then what? Once you force a bulb to bloom like that, it will never bloom again and you might as well throw it away when the flower and stem dry up. You also have to extricate the roots from the rocks, which is kind of annoying. I still like the idea of giving such a “thoughtful” gift to a friend. But if I were to write that story today I would suggest to the reader that he or she might change the ultimate action for the person getting the gift, telling the “gift receiver” to plant the 6 or 8 bulbs in the dirt in the garden. Then the thoughtful gift becomes more sustainable. The card I would attach to the gift would then remind the person they had received a “pass along plant” that will hopefully bloom and expand production over the years. Paperwhites are pretty hardy. I like putting them in because deer and gophers don’t usually bother them. I have had moles dig around my narcissus, but they are carnivores and won’t eat the flowers. They can sometimes ruin a perfect row of daffs. But that’s ok with me as I never plant them in perfect rows anyway. I think it’s always a good idea to throw them out in drifts. Oh, and they for sure should be in a spot that does not get summer or fall irrigation as the bulbs can rot. So, these are pretty good little things to give as they are sustainable and drought tolerant—everything we need here in CA anyway. Maybe where you live too?

There is something else in this article that I would expand upon. Can you guess? I mean, who thinks of such obscure songs (A Garden in the Rain) to even include the lyrics of something that seems so random. My dad told me that his mom, my grandma, used to sing it as she did many of the songs in the 30s on what was called the “Hit Parade.” She didn’t have it easy as my grandfather was an alcoholic and she had to get various jobs to help put food on the table during the depression. She went to work at various laundries and when WWII started she worked in the shipyard in Long Beach as a riveter. Yup, she was what was known as a “Rosie the Riveter.” Dad said she would sing in the kitchen before dinner, probably with the radio on, peeling potatoes. She would do this, it seems, before she really had plans for dinner. There are other singers who have performed “A Garden in the Rain,” but those performances were from long ago. I happen to have a Diana Krall’s rendition of the song on a CD.  My dad loved Diana Krall…

So now I am wondering what my next 20 years of art will look like, and what updates I might have for this story. If I am still around and haven’t lost too many memory marbles I hope to revisit my take on gifting Paperwhites. Maybe I will have spread more of them around me and in my friend’s gardens. I’ll be like “Miss Rumphius” (picture book by Barbara Cooney). Miss Rumphius said that in her life she wanted to do three things—live by the sea, travel to far away places and make the world a more beautiful place. And to make the world more beautiful she planted lupines. So, maybe my narcissus will spread like so many lupines in her story. Only time will tell.

In Remembrance of my dad

I meant to post a story about my dad nearer the day he passed. (October, 14, 2012) Uh oh! Maybe I’m already loosing some of my memory marbles. Only time will tell. (Hey, didn’t I already say that?)

Miss you dad. You’d be glad to know that Henry bought a turntable and has been listening to Nat King Cole and Jack Teagarden. 

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