May 1, 2021

Dutch iris, Descanso Gardens, 5/1/2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on Bristol board)

If I want to have a perfect Saturday day, I try to get an early start and head over to the Descanso Gardens. Usually I’m not looking for something specific to sketch there, but I usually find something I want to draw whatever the weather and/or the time of the year. My adventure today and last weekend was no different. I went with no idea of what I would see that would grab my attention. As is my usual I soon find myself walking around the rose garden. Lately I think I have been subconsciously looking for a perfect urban/non-urban vignette to sketch with my new/old art materials obsession—Prismacolor on Bristol board or acetate. As I walk around I find myself engaged in an interior monologue about how spring has been progressing at the Descanso, based on the flowers that are about to bloom, those at their peak and what’s on it’s way out. Most of the tulips are gone, and I don’t mean that lone stems, sans petals, are evident, but most plants have been extracted from the ground. The lovely orange clivia that marks many paths among the camellias and oaks has dried up and the lilac shrubs have more green growth than flowers. The cobalt blue forget me nots (Myostis) are not the sharp blue they were a couple weeks ago. But don’t despair! Lots of “lovely” is coming on. The huge gingko tree that inspired a winter solstice pastel (see January 1, 2021) is leafing out with bright green leaves. Bearded iris are still going strong in the rose garden with soft yellows, bright yellows, rust colors and everything in between. Planted beside many of the bearded iris are huge patches of tall and spiky Dutch iris. And many of those are the same colors as their bearded friends. I saw this Dutch iris, with a few more just like it budding up, as I was walking out of the rose garden. I had already done a sketch of roses and salvia and was heading toward the outer garden area. But when I saw this color, I stopped dead in my tracks. I knew I had that exact petal colors (Tuscan red and Spanish orange) in my Prismacolor set of colored pencils in my backpack. It was such a nice day that I didn’t even look for a bench, but instead stood before the flower and sketched it on the spot. 

With great “Tuscan red” satisfaction I put the finished sketch in my backpack and continued into the native CA section of the Descanso. Native mint/sage/salvia are in full bloom right now, as well as CA fuchsia. But the fremontodendron (see December 21, 2019) and the bright purple blossoms of the red bud trees are now quite subdued. I didn’t see many bright orange CA poppies either, but they are still going strong in my home garden. I noticed that the tall and lanky matilija poppies are budding up, ready to produce their large and unusual “white with yellow center” flowers. (Each flower looks like a sunny side up egg. I’m not kidding. In fact, one of the common names for this native CA flower is the “fried egg plant.”)

In the rose garden at the Descanso Gardens, 4/24/21 (Prismacolor colored pencils on Bristol board)

Last weekend’s sketching adventure also took me to the rose garden at the Descanso. Surprise, surprise…Not sure I noticed that many roses in bloom that day. But I found a charming red climbing rose that I chose to render—and it would qualify as an urban sketch because I included the human-made wooden arbor. Based on what I saw last Saturday, and today, the great rose engine of color has turned over and beginning to rev up with amazing color. Most of the roses at the Descanso have fragrance as well. And as those of us who have had the vaccine can now loosen our masks a little when outside, I took full advantage of smelling every rose I saw both last week and today. Maybe the roses in your neighborhood are also beginning to bud and bloom, sending out their scent. If not yet, I hope it’s soon. Or maybe they are all done and you have lovely memories of some recent roses. We can only hope!

Note about last week’s post

Last week I wrote about my dad sharing some of his music with me when I was pregnant with my son. And I specifically wrote about the Johnny Mandel, Johnny Mercer song, “Emily.” I forgot to mention that my dad often told a story about an encounter with Johnny Mercer while he and my mom were undergrads at UCLA in the early 50s. It seems my dad liked to do his math homework on the huge chalkboards that could be found in college classrooms in the 50s, 60s and 70s. So, one day he was working away, while my mother sat in one of the lecture hall seats doing her homework. As dad loved to tell it, all of sudden, Johnny Mercer opened one of the doors next to the chalkboards and walked in the room. I guess Mr. Mercer stood there for a few moments, watching my dad scribble all over the board. And then just as quickly as he had arrived, he walked out. I always thought this is a funny story as Mr. Mercer, the renowned lyricist of his time, never said a word. Of course, what’s really funny is that my dad recounted this story so many times to me and my brothers, and I don’t think he said a word either. Such a funny memory, right? My dad told that story over and over and somehow it is now my memory too. (As an undergraduate at UCSD I had classes in that same kind of lecture hall. They were huge rooms with 200 uncomfortable tiny wooden seats, and each tiny chair had a tiny desk you could open or close once you sat down. Oh man, I can picture that room.) And now, when I remember his “Johnny Mercer” story I am also in that long ago classroom, with the definite smell of chalk in my nostrils. But for the life of me, even though I am now in the room with my parents, I can’t wrap my head around why my dad would care if a famous person silently watched him silently write math equations on a huge chalk board. Funny…

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