Alex Summers Revisited
Saturday, May 30, 2009
In 1967 Alex Summers was turning the crank of a mimeograph machine inside the little office of the American Penstemon Society. He had been lured by some friends for the job. It ocurred to him that he did not like penstemons nor was he interested in publishing a journal on them. So he founded the American Hosta Society in the next year. He has not looked back. The AHS is one of the healthiest of the American plant organizations and their journal, The Hosta Journal
, is a glossy publication, thick and full of useful information and illustrated with full colour photographs of hostas at their peak. The once a year national conventions are attended by hosta enthusiasts from all over the world. In the 1992 convention in Columbus, Ohio I met Alex for the first time. It took me a while to figure out that his trademark mumble camouflaged intelligence, erudition and garden knowledge second to none. He took me under his wing and gave me advice that I have never forgotten and always apply. He said:
"A garden must have three important elements. They are elevation, shade and water. And you must make sure you can hear it."
"It takes a year to plan and design a garden. You need a year to build it. You wait three years for it to mature. On the 6th year you enjoy it. In the seventh it declines. You start from scratch on the 8th."
I photographed Alex in his farm in Bridgeville, Delaware. At the time his charming wife, Gene was alive. Alex here poses with a leaf of Hosta 'Aurora Borealis'
. He insisted that Hosta 'Frances Williams'
was this one and no other.
American Hosta Society
I wrote the above here
back in the first year of my blogs. A few weeks ago I received a communication from the art director of the American Hosta Society Journal that Alex Summers had died and that they wanted to use the picture you see here (a b+w version) on the cover. Of course I felt honoured while feeling sad for the loss of a friend. The last time I saw him in Washington DC his trademark mumbling was at its worst and nobody seemed to want to sit next to him on the bus tours of the DC hosta gardens. Rebecca innocently sat next to him and somehow they got along just fine. Since this happened five years ago Rebecca's memory of Alex Summers is beginning to fade. But I know that someday with a bit of reinforcement she will remember and know that she met a great garden man. It was only today that I pointed at a beautiful hosta in my garden and Rebecca said, "That's Hosta 'Alex Summers'.
The art director of the Hosta Journal chose the picture because, "Can you imagine? Alex is wearing an unbuttoned shirt!" We all knew he was a sexy man.
Rebecca Returns Thanks To The Rose
Friday, May 29, 2009
I think I obtained my first rose bush sometime in 1987 and I am sure it and a few more I bought subsequently died. I didn't give them enough sun and I did no have a clue how to prune or take care of them. Even today I am a tad unsure. I think I could explain most of the types of roses and their origins but that has taken all these years for me to learn. Roses, no matter how often you might be told to the contrary are complex plants. This may explain why my friends of the Vancouver Rose Society are having a World Rose Convention
at the Bayshore Hotel and a Rose Festival
at the new Vancouver Convention Centre. The dates for the convention are different, too! The convention will be from June 18 to the 24th and the festival from June 19 to the 21st.
But for me there is something good among all the confusion. At the Vancouver Convention Centre I will be one of a few who will be giving lecture/demonstrations for the general public on those three days, June 19, 20 and 21. I have spoken to garden clubs many times through the years about hostas, roses and how to photograph them. But what is special is that my topic is A Rose Through a Child's Eyes. I will be co-lecturing with my granddaughter Rebecca (11) who of late has gone bonkers over roses and in particular over the deep red ones like William Shakespeare, Falstaff, Charles de Mills and her very own favourite (I don't have it. I bought it for her some years ago) Tuscany Superb. Rebecca has informed me that she has no problem talking about roses to any group of people who might attend our talk. I will project my rose scans (the two here are Rosa 'Blanc Double de Coubert' which I cut this afternoon. The bloom had not quite opened yet.) and pictures of Rebecca and Lauren with roses. I will demonstrate with lights how I photograph my granddaughters by rose bushes or with roses.
I had thought that I had a very close relationship with my Rebecca since we started doing things together from an early age. We have traveled with Rosemary to Argentina, Uruguay, Texas, Washington DC and to Mexico three times. We have gone to dance, theatre, opera and baroque concerts. Then a couple of years ago she declared her independence and decided to become a teenager before she was 10. I was despondent and my friend Abraham Rogatnick told me to be patient and that she would come back. I had not expected this to happen so soon nor would I have suspected that the catalyst would be the rose.
Tomorrow after Rebecca's piano class we will label all the roses in the back garden (we did the front garden a couple of weeks ago). In her neat writing she will write the names of the new roses on the metal labels that we place next to each rose. She will write in a notebook the condition of each bush, the colour of the rose, the type of rose it is and she will describe its scent. By the time we finish and with her good memory Rebecca will have full knowledge of my 75 plus roses. As it is she knows more about roses, how to grow them and how to take care of them than I did back in 1987 when I killed my first rose! I look forward, with a great measure of pride, to sharing the floor with Rebecca in the forthcoming Rose Festival.
The Judge, The Lawyer & Mrs. Oakley Fisher
Thursday, May 28, 2009
When I read the Vancouver Sun today about maternity shop owner Susan Hayes winning her lawsuit ($600,000 plus court expenses) against Trans Link, Canada Line Rapid Transist Inc. and InTransitBC I thought of a tall and pleasant man whose office is very small. I wrote about Susan Hayes' lawyer Cameron Ward here
in December 2007. I took his portrait in his claustrophobic office in the Dominion Building. He looked less like a lawyer and more like an authentic Sam Spade waiting for a dame with a problem to suddenly walk in. I wasn't far from wrong in my guess.
That this man was able to win the lawsuit says a lot, not only of his lawyerly skills but a lot about our province's legal system where the small guy (small gal?) can sometimes beat the system and the big corporations. It is my hope that Mr. Ward does get some monetary recognition so he can splurge soon on a bigger office in his beloved Dominion Bulding.
I smiled when I read about the presiding Supreme Court Justice, Ian Pitfield. No matter what decision he would have come down with, I know it would have been carefully thought out and then read with his soothing voice and perhaps with a hint of a smile. Judge Pitfield is a happy man. He was a happy man when I photographed him as a laywer at Thorsteinsson's and he was a happy man when I photographed him in the Law Courts in March 1997 when he first became a judge.
Through the years I have run into the judge a few times at Southlands Nursery. Every time he has asked me to suggest a rose he should buy. The last time I took him to a single yellow tea rose, Mrs. Oakley Fisher and told him, "This is a good rose for you. It has class and personality." I didn't add what I was thinking, "And you have class and personality in spades."Mrs. Oakley Fisher
White Light/White Heat
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
White light, White light goin' messin' up my mind
White light, and don't you know its gonna make me go blind
White heat, aww white heat it tickle me down to my toes
White light, Ooo have mercy white light have it goodness knows
White light, White light goin' messin' up my brain
White light, Aww white light its gonna drive me insane
White heat, Aww white heat it tickle me down to my toes
White light, Aww white light I said now goodness knows, do it
Hmm hmm, White light
Aww I surely do love to watch that stuff tip itself in
Hmm hmm, White light
Watch that side, watch that side don't you know it gonna be dead in the drive
Hmm hmm, White heat
Hey foxy mama watchin' her walk down the street
Hmm hmm, White light
Come up side your head gonna make a deadend on your street
White light, White light moved in me through my brain
White light, White light goin' makin' you go insane
White heat, Aww white heat it tickle me down to my toes
White light, Aww white light I said now goodness knows
White light, Aww white light it lighten up my eyes
White light, don't you know it fills me up with suprise
White light, Aww white heat tickle me down to my toes
White light, Aww white light I tell you now goodness knows, now work it
Hmm hmm, White light
Aww she surely do moves me
Hmm hmm, White light
Watch that speed freak, watch that speed freak everybody gonna go and make it every week
Hmm hmm, White heat
Aww sputter mutter everybody gonna go kill their mother
Hmm hmm, White light
Here she comes, here she comes, everybody get 'n gone make me run to her.
In 1968 I married Rosemary Healey in Mexico City. There were student riots in Tlatelolco and many students were killed. In 1968 Mexico hosted the Summer Olympics. In 1968 my eldest daughter was born. In 1968 the Velvet Underground
released an LP White Light/White Heat
. I was not aware of the latter event as at the time I had no idea who Lou Reed was.
Around 1948, when I was six, I was playing with a little plastic articulated toy while bathing in our Buenos Aires tub. The toy was small enough that it went down the drain before I could retrieve it. I remember that I cried a lot and it seemed to be my first experience of feeling a loss. I was worried and saddened on how the little toy would manage without me.
When I went to the St. Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas I 1957 I had a cheap sheet-metal trunk. I kept my belongings in it. I could lock it. The first few months as a boarder were unbearable as I missed my mother and home. Brother Vincent de Paul would pass by our bunk beds in the morning and he would drop a silver Dollar. If it didn’t bounce he would tear the bed cover and sheets off and tell us to re-make the bed. I was always outraged by this. But I felt the comfort that the contents of my locked trunk were inviolate. The trunk was home.
In the late 70s I met and was paired to work with writer Les Wiseman who had a rock and roll column for Vancouver Magazine
called In One Ear
. In short order he gave me a rock education. It was an education I had never had. He set me straight and made me a musical snob. He convinced me that Lou Reed was God and that the Velvet Underground
was the church of the protopunk.
It was then that I met a lovely exotic dancer who asked me to photograph her. At the time I was pretty ignorant in that sort of photographic thing. I remember I used umbrellas. I was too shy to ask her to completely disrobe. Portable soft boxes had not been invented yet. Even though this woman was important to my life in a way that Les Wiseman would understand I have forgotten her name. But I have retained her negatives and you can see some of the pictures here.
At the time Wiseman and I frequented th exotic dancer bars. He drank beer and I drank water or cokes unless (he did sometimes) he convinced me that beer was the only way to understand what we were watching on stage. Beer made me rapidly sick or gave me terrible migraines. I do remember that this girl was soothing in voice, sophisticated in manners and she had the most beautiful breasts we had ever seen. We used WWII fighter pilot lingo to describe her sort of breasts in those politically uncorrect times. We called them "one o'clock highs
". Fighter pilots would indicate where the bandits (enemy fighter planes attacking them) were in the sky using the clock as a model. One o'clock highs indicated planes that were high up. Her nipples pointed up to the sky.
By the late 80s I had a collection of rock T-shirts that was close to 100. They ranged from the Dead Kennedys, D.O.A. Art Bergmann, Poisoned, Young Canadians to really obscure local bands. All were in Wiseman's estimation in very good taste. The problem was the protocol of which of these shirts we would wear when going to a concert at the Commodore, the Smiling Buddha or some underground club. You would not wear a Paul Anka T-shirt to anything! An Art Bergmann T was adequate for any other Vancouver alternate scene band. Wiseman and I would laugh at the poor idiots who did not have the good sense and style that we had. We would have never ever worn a Motorhead T-shirt to a Motorhead concert!
In the end I always wore the same T-shirt. It was T that was a one-size-fits-all-occasion even though I could not possibly wear it today. It has shrunk. It is a black T-shirt that reads White Light/ White Heat. I told Wiseman, "Those who know will appreciate what I wearing and f--- those who don't know any better."
The girl with the one o'clock highs gave it to me. I cannot find it.
Dancing on the edge with Lou Reed
Addendum May 28
I found it. Such joy! Now if I could only remember her name.
James Mason & Charles de Mills Under A Loupe
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
It seems it was only just a while ago, but it really was at least three years, that Rebecca ran in from the garden with a squished fly and told me to scan it because she wanted to know what it looked like real close. The fact is that my scanner outperforms just about any high quality microscope I might have used in high school. Thanks to it and my plans scans I now look at my garden differently. I still look from my living room windows at the garden or walk near the flower beds to inspect the state of our garden. But I also get close.
I get closer and I look at the details. Unfurling ferns are beautiful. I inspect the peeling bark of some of the trees that Rosemary insisted we plant because they had that feature. Roses in bloom are beautiful to the eyes and to the nose and I believe they have no equal in the plant kingdom. But I have to point out that a rose bud that is forming (the first and second images here are of the Gallica rose, Rosa 'Charles de Mills') is just as beautiful even if it has no scent. But that is not entirely true as some of the moss roses have a pine resin scent to them before they open that is quite attractive.
The two buds shown here are quite small. The bigger one (not quite two inches long) on the left is the modern Gallica Rosa
'James Mason' and the other, again is of Charles de Mills. Do remember that if you click once and then again on each of these images they will fill your screen.
The First Of The Season - Rosa sericea pteracantha
Monday, May 25, 2009
Late May is very exciting in our garden. Things happen from one day to the next. A hosta can almost double in size as it unfurls it leaves in a day. The hostas have no holes or any kind of damage. They are perfect. The lawn is as pristine as it will ever be. Some vigorous roses may grow almost a foot in height. At about this time there is a red rhododendron that begins to bloom. When it does it signals to me that if I look in the direction of Rosa ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’
there will be at least one open, pure white and extremely fragrant flower.
We arrived from Lillooet and I immediately went into the garden with Rosemary and my visiting first cousin Willoughby Blew and his wife Chris. I was disappointed to not find one single open rose. Rosa
‘Blanc Double de Coubert’ had many buds. None were open. The other rose also had a myriad of buds, but no flowers. That was the case until Chris asked me to point out the rare plants in the garden. That took us immediately to Rosa sericea pteracantha
or Rosa omiensis pteracantha
. The botanists cannot seem to agree on the name of this species rose which is really one species in the Rosa Subgenus Eurosa Section: Pimpinellifoliae
. I signaled the oddities of this rose which has fern-like foliage and very large translucent prickles that with back light turn blood red.
I had had this rose 15 years ago but in one of those moments of botanical stupidity when I was pruning it, I somehow did not think and pruned it to the ground. No new shoots ever came up. This year Rosemary asked me to find one. I found one at Robin Dening’s Brentwood Bay Nursery
on Vancouver Island. He shipped it three weeks ago and I immediately planted it.
It was Willoughby who spotted the one flower. Unique in all roses this rose has only four petals. All, single roses; with this exception have at least five petals. Later in the season as the rose matures the prickles will be in evidence. Meanwhile Rosa sericea pteracantha
has beaten out ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’ for the glory of being the first rose of the season in our garden.
I could not scan Rosa sericea pteracantha
last night because the flower had closed for the night. Today it opened and I have scanned it this afternoon. As I write this I can spot from my window two open Blanc Double de Coubert flowers. I will have to go and sniff them!
Juicy Sex Passages - Not
Sunday, May 24, 2009
I guess it’s human nature to keep good things for oneself. It can be a little restaurant off the beaten path or a particularly hard to get rose like Rosa sericea
ssp. omeiensis f. pteracantha
. When people see its huge blood red translucent prickles I sometimes feel inclined to answer, “I don’t remember. I got it so long ago,” when I'm asked where I bought it. But gardeners, at least most of us, like to share our plants, or at least their provenance. I draw the line when somebody asks me if I ever split my hostas. I never split my hostas but I would like to share this book that came into my life for only fifty cents.
It was three years ago that I rummaged inside a book bin near the verboten cigarette counter of my Oakridge Safeway. I found a hard cover book that looked interesting and I paid $0.50 for it. I took it home and put it on a pile and then forgot it. About a month ago I received an e-mail from AbeBooks. Because I buy books from them I get infrequent but interesting “spam” ads. This one was about ten forgotten novels that had won the Pulitzer Prize. The only one in the list that I had ever read was Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent
. All ten novels had the jacket covers shown. One looked very familiar. I ran up to my book pile and found Guard of Honor
by James Gould Cozzens. My copy had been part of the King Edward Branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
The AbeBooks blurb on Cozzens was this one:1. Guard of Honor
James Gould Cozzens
First published 1948
Highest price on AbeBooks - $850
Cozzens became immensely popular in the 1950s and was nominated for a second Pulitzer for By Love Possessed. However his popularity waned in 1957 when he was branded as an elitist after being interviewed by Time Magazine. Statements like “I can't read 10 pages of Steinbeck without throwing up,” didn’t win him any friends. Guard of Honor takes place over three days in 1943 at a Florida Airbase featuring a new hapless commander.
This intrigued me to try the book. It was an unexpected surprise. I savoured this remarkable book for almost a week. I didn’t want to finish it. While the book is about what happens in a Florida US Army Air Force base (the US Air Force was not yet an independent entity) one Thursday, Friday and Saturday, very little happens. It is 1943 but the war seems to be a faraway theatre. I met its commander, a flashy youngish hot shot pilot called General Beal and many more protagonists from colonels, female lieutenants and sergeants to privates. A black officer, from a soon to be all black bombing squadron and plays the literary McMuffin when a white officer punches him in the nose. The most interesting character is Captain Nathaniel Hicks who had been a magazine editor before he was drafted but was made an officer because of his experience. In the novel he works for what would now be called public affairs. Captain Hicks is an expert spin doctor. His character is based on the author himself.
During World War II, Cozzens had served in the U.S> Army Air Forces updating manuals, then in the USAAF Office of Information Services, a liaison and "information clearinghouse" between the military and the civilian press. One of the missions of his job was in controlling news, and it became Cozzens’ job to defuse situations potentially embarrassing to the Chief of the Army Air Forces, Gen. Henry H. Arnold. In the course of his job he became one of the best informed officers of any rank and service in the United States. He was made major at the end of the war. These experiences are key to the feeling of authenticity when I read Guard of Honour
The novel is not all that easy to read. There are many characters to remember and the writing in some parts is dense. But it is all beautifully written. Consider this passage which follows General Beal’s humorous reminiscence on reasons why his wife was finally “compelled” to marry him.In this joking relation were elements of complacence, and other elements of sentimental or self-interested reminiscence, the mind’s flat lie about the past; but also, ingeniously full-hearted, wistfully it gathered a true tenderness around the more or less distorted fact. Unmixed with anything but sadness, fond feelings could live there, secure from the minute by minute test of verifiable truth and observable fact, unspoiled by the moving instant’s irritabilities of sense, the separate discomforts, the incompatible wishes that greatly moderated, in any present, men’s appreciation of one another, let alone of their women
And then this is the novel’s juiciest sex passage:“Come in here, “Nathaniel Hicks said. She was now, he realized, shaking no more that he was. She made a slight resistance. She said: “Yes. I will. I’m going to. But could you put that light out first?"