All Shades of Green—-A Plant Perspective

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Book Review: The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man's Fear

As this is a plant blog, I will start with my plant reference.  Every book has them.  It can’t be denied….plants are everywhere! This scene is when the young hero, Kvothe, is wandering in the Fae.  He spies a tree…..

“It was no type of tree I had ever seen before, and I approached it slowly.  It resembled a vast spreading willow, with broader leaves of a darker green.  The tree had deep, hanging foliage scattered with pale, powder-blue blossoms. 

The wind shifted, and as the leaves stirred I smelled a strange, sweet smell.  It was like smoke and spice and leather and lemon.  It was a compelling smell.  Not in the same way that food smells appealing.  It didn’t make my mouth water or my stomach growl.  Despite this, if I’d seen something sitting on a table that smelled this way, even if it were a lump of stone or a piece of wood, I would have felt compelled to put it in my mouth.  Not out of hunger, but from sheer curiosity, much like a child might.”

It turns out to be an evil tree.  How can a tree be evil?  You’ll have to read the book to find out why.  Yes, I do recommend this story, but only after the first book, The Name of the Wind, because they are tied tightly together.  They are both subtitled, The Kingkiller Chronicles.  The Name of the Wind is Day 1 and The Wise Man’s Fear is Day 2. One story. Compelling. Well-written. Nice and long, the way I like a good epic fantasy.

I carried it close for a week, not wanting to put it down.  Until page 640 or so, when I suddenly stopped for two days.  I couldn’t take the Felurian descriptions anymore.  The most beautiful face, the most beautiful body, the most beautiful feet.  On and on they went and I thought, too much perfection, it’s the imperfections that make life intriguing.  And as a woman I began to dislike the portrayal of female characters. I can’t help but identify myself with the characters in the books I read, and I wasn’t finding much to work with here. Enough running around naked in fairy-land!  But then she made a cloak out of shadows and sewed it together with starlight and moonbeams, and things got interesting again.  Also, the main character stayed in each place a little too long for me.  This story is about his adventures and travels and when he was in the Fae and then again in Ademre I kept thinking, okay, enough of this, time to move on.

But he always did move on.  And had some great adventures.  I loved the part about names.  “There are two things you must remember.  first, our names shape us, and we shape our names in turn….Second, even the simplest name is so complex that your mind could never begin to feel the boundaries of it, let alone understand it well enough for you to speak it.”   I like how he describes the importance of knowing something or someones name, I quite agree.  When he captures the name of the wind, it’s fascinating.

“And then, my mind open and empty, I saw the wind spread out before me.  It was like frost forming on a blank sheet of window glass.  One moment, nothing.  The next, I could see the name of the wind as clearly as the back of my own hand.  

I looked around for a moment, marveling in it.  I tasted the shape of it on my tongue and knew if desired I could stir it to a storm.  I could hush it to a whisper, leaving the sword tree hanging empty and still.:

But that seemed wrong.  Instead I simply opened my eyes wide to the wind, watching where it would choose to push the branches.  Watching where it would flick the leaves.”

After reading this, I thought, maybe I could learn the name of the wind too?  I really enjoyed this book by Patrick Rothfuss and look forward to The Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 3 (please don’t make us wait too long!)


Dirr’s Trees and Shrubs are all Mine!

Thank you dear, sweet sister for giving me the gift that will last a lifetime.  My very own copies of these two classic books…I am soooo happy!  All that horticultural knowledge is at my fingertips.  My review?  They speak for themselves…

Two essential reference books.

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Book Review: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Normally when I’m taking a short ride in the car with my family, I never take along a book.  It would be rude to read when everyone wants conversation and attention.  Yesterday, however, while driving to our church, on a Sunday, with my family, I greedily carried along  The Alloy of Law.  I was at the end of the book, and the ending was that good.  How often have you read about a gunfight between the good guys and the bad guys where they use magic to to push the bullets harder, create speed bubbles to escape flying bullets, soar into the air while pushing off metal and other unimaginable tricks to win?  I’ve never read a book like that, and that’s what makes The Alloy of Law so good.  It’s new and it’s different.  A departure from the typical fantasy, but with a familiar setting and an intriguing magic system.

The story is about a former lawman, Waxillium, who returns to his home in the city after twenty years in the Roughs.  He quickly becomes involved in a robbery/kidnapping  operation.   With the help of his former partner, Wayne (Yes, we have Wax and Wayne as the main characters!) and a University student studying law, Marasi, the three of them try to get the bad guys and stay alive at the same time.  I really liked how this book was tied to the Mistborn world, with lots of references and connections to the original story.   I was wishing I had read Mistborn more recently, so I could remember more details, but this is a good opportunity to re-read it.  I liked the characters Wax and Wayne, they have a fun repartee.  Wayne was really interesting with the way he could impersonate people by ‘collecting’ their accents. Marasi however, I didn’t find as believable.  Something was missing, I felt that I didn’t really understand who she was and what her purposes were (sorry Brandon!).  But the story is excellent, the solutions imaginative and the ending, as mentioned above, is a page-turner.

Here is an excerpt from The Alloy of Law, and yes, it took some digging, but I found a plant reference, just for this blog  (Try and find a book without one, I don’t think that it exists).  “Well, they already knew he was Twinborn—that was  a matter of public record.  His disappearance wasn’t going to do much to help patch his family’s reputation. For the moment, he didn’t care  He’d spent almost every evening since his return to the city at one social function or another, and they hadn’t had a misty night in weeks.  He needed the mists.  This was who he was.  Wax dashed across the rooftop and leaped off, moving toward Demoux Promenade.  Just before hitting the ground, he flipped a spent casing down and Pushed on it, slowing his descent.  He landed in a patch of decorative shrubs that caught his coat tassels and made a rustling noise.  Damn.  Nobody planted decorative shrubs out in the Roughs.”

Don’t we love our decorative shrubs?  And thank you Brandon for not having him land in the ‘bushes’!  Read this book!  It’s great!   To find out more about The Alloy of Law and all his other works, check out Brandon Sanderson’s website.

Brandon Sanderson book signing....and me!

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Book Review—A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I liked this book.  Did it make me want to don a 50 pound pack and disappear into the wilderness for three months?  No.  Did it make me want to sit down with a can of cream soda and read about the wilderness?  Yes.  Actually, what I really want to do after completing this story is just what the title says, go for a walk in the woods.  I especially want to walk more after reading that the average American only walks 1.4 miles a week!  Unbelievable.

In this 1998 hiking adventure Bryson gives us the natural history of many parts of the Appalachian Trail.  He tells of the changes that inevitably sweep over a mountain, trail or town as people come and go.  About plant expeditions he states:  “The first people to venture deep into the woods from the East…weren’t looking for prehistoric creatures or passages to the West or new lands to settle.  They were looking for plants.  America’s botanical possibilities excited Europeans inordinately, and there was both glory and money to be made out in the woods.  The eastern woods teemed with flora unknown to the Old World, and there was a huge eagerness, from scientists and amateur enthusiasts alike, to get a piece of it.  Imagine if tomorrow a spaceship found a jungle growing beneath the gassy clouds of Venus.  Think what Bill Gates, say,  would pay for some tendriled, purply lobed piece of Venusian exotica to put in a pot in his greenhouse.  That was the rhododendron in the eighteenth century—and the camellia, the hydrangea, the wild cherry, the rudbeckia, the azalea, the aster, the ostrich fern, the catalpa, the spice bush, the Venus flytrap, the Virginia creeper, the euphorbia.  These and hundreds more were collected in the American woods, shipped across the ocean to England and France and Russia, and received with greedy keenness and trembling fingers.”    

People of the Northwest, don’t take your rhodies for granted anymore!   Someone, somewhere thinks it is a most valuable plant.  I was shocked to read about the chestnut blight, with a mortality rate of 100 percent.  The Appalachians alone lost four billion trees, a quarter of it’s cover in the beginning of the twentieth century.  A Walk in the Woods is entertaining, educational and a good read for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. I’m looking forward to reading more books by this bestselling author.

Appalachian Trail Map

PP  Oh deer!  

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Rhubarb Spray for Garden Pests

I like it when we use plants to help plants.  I am quite positive that all of our problems can be solved with plants.  Hungry?  Eat a plant.  Sick?  Medicinal plants.  Feeling blue?  Smell a rose.  Need fresh air?  Plant a tree.  The list goes on and on….but, here is an ingenious recipe from the book Great Garden Formulas by Benjamin and Martin editors.  Apparently it works for fungal diseases as well as pests like aphids and June bugs.  Rhubarb leaves are toxic, containing poisonous substances like oxalic acid.  Remember, it’s the stalk that’s edible.  I can’t wait to try it, here is the recipe:

1/2 cup rhubarb leaves (about 6) cut up
3 quarts water
Pot (for boiling)
Pump spray bottle

1. Cut or tear leaves into small pieces.
2. Place leaves in water and bring to a boil.
3. Steep the leaves for at least an hour, better overnight.
4. Strain the solution through cheesecloth or sieve and pour into a spray bottle.
5. Use at the first sign of disease or pest.


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Citrus Killer for Aphids

This is an easy and inexpensive aphid killer I found in the book Great Garden Formulas by Benjamin and Martin (editors, 1998). I couldn’t believe that aphids are already swarming my roses. They seem to know it’s the end of May, while weather-wise we are all still back in April. I tried it this week and it appears to be working; time will tell.
Ingredients: 1 pint water, rind from one lemon–grated, cheesecloth, pump spray bottle.
Directions:  Bring the water to boil. Remove from heat and add the lemon rind. Allow the mixture to steep overnight. Strain through cheesecloth and pour into spray bottle. Apply to leaves that have aphids, making sure the liquid comes in contact with the insects.

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Book Review—Enchanted April

This book was written in 1922 by Elizabeth Von Arnim yet it is still timeless in the description of people and plants.  I imagine that in any book I read I can find a plant reference.  I’m going to try, of course.  I enjoyed reading this tale of women, a medieval Italian castle, wisteria and solitude.  After finishing it I was swept up into a world of light.  A place that I remembered from my past.  How could one forget such a place or a time?  Following are two excerpts.  The first from the book Enchanted April.  The second from a piece I had written in 1988 after attending a friends wedding at a Vineyard in central California.  There are times and events in our lives that create memories, and often plants and flowers are woven in.  The wheel weaves, but not without plants, right?

Enchanted April (upon arriving in Italy):  “She stared.  Such beauty; and she there to see it.  Such beauty; and she alive to feel it.  Her face was bathed in light.  Lovely scents came up to the window and caressed her.  A tiny breeze gently lifted her hair.  Far out in the bay a cluster of almost motionless fishing boats hovered like a flock of white birds on the tranquil sea.  How beautiful, how beautiful.  Not to have died before this….to have been allowed to see, breathe, feel this…She stared, her lips parted.  Happy?  Poor, ordinary, everyday word.  But what could one say, how could one describe it?  It was as though she could hardly stay inside herself, it was as though she were washed through with light.  And how astonishing to feel this sheer bliss.”

“Wistaria and sunshine….she remembered the advertisement.  Here indeed were both in profusion.  The wistaria was tumbling over itself in its excess of life, its prodigality of flowering; and where the pergola ended the sun blazed on scarlet geraniums, bushes of them,and nasturtiums in great heaps, and marigolds so brilliant that they seemed to be burning, and red and pink snapdragons, all outdoing each other in bright, fierce colour.  The cherry trees and peach trees were in blossom—lovely showers of white and deep rose-colour among the trembling delicacy of the olives; the fig leaves were just big enough to smell of figs, the vine-buds were only beginning to show.  And beneath these trees were groups of blue and purple irises, and bushes of lavender, and grey, sharp cactuses, and the grass was thick with dandelions and daisies, and right down at the bottom was the sea.  Colour seemed flung down anyhow, anywhere; every sort of colour, piled up in heaps, pouring along in rivers—-the periwinkles looked exactly as if they were being poured down each side of the steps.”

The Romantic View.  March 13, 1988 Sal and Anke’s Wedding, Santa Cruz California. “Color and light, a garden, a dream.  Light.  Bright light, tremendous waves of visible light giving everything a glow, a shimmer, a vibrancy, a life.  Shimmering colors.  Blue blues, red reds, yellow yellows.  Balloons and bows, my teeth ached from smiling so.  Our world was everything, like the garden of Eden.  It was peace, purity, loveliness surrounding us, like a warm permeating sense.  Words of joy and unfailing trust.  Friend, lover, companion.  Wandering blissfully through sun-drenched fields.  Beautiful smiles.  The breezes laughed in uncontemplated happiness.  The hill tops uncovered all their secrets and the sky did the same.  Light colored doves and birds in blue came softly.  Mountain greeness shone upon the hills.  Color and light, white light, visible light, bathed us.  We swam merrily, without reserve.  Careless, having love just re-awakened, looking through new eyes, clear light eyes.  More real than reality.  Purer than school days.  Sweeter than dreams.  Blissful living.  A pause in the natural order of time—the final dimension.  Fun-trailing cake, 4 seasons of Vivaldi, water and wine.  Inhaling scents of roses and becoming entirely incapable of rational thought.  Breathing roses until they were throughout the head and heart.  Like hyacinths!  Like Rhapsody in Blue!  Overwhelmed in nature’s perfume.  Absorbed in smell, astounded with sight, entranced with touch, refreshed with taste and startled by sounds so fresh,  light and lovely.  For everything there is a season.  This time exists as poetry, thought, feelings  unnumbered, remembrances, visions and contentment for having lived in this sparkling world.”

I smile and laugh to read what I wrote when I was twenty-something.  But I am glad that it’s written because that time comes swirling back into my life and I remember my friends Salvatore and Anke from Moss Landing Marine Lab and their beautiful wedding day.  Where are they now?  Who knows, but it’s always fun to have an enchanted April….

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Kid Stuff—Cabbage acid indicator

This is a fun way to test the acidity of everyday materials by using cabbage.  The more I learn about plants, the more I see they hold the solutions to many of our problems—plants rock!  This experiment is from The Curious Boy’s Book of Exploration by Sam Martin, a book packed with entertaining challenges, puzzles, experiments, tricks and riddles (a red house is made of red bricks, a yellow house is made of yellow bricks, what’s a greenhouse made of?     glass!!!)

Some of the earliest experiments on acids and bases arose when farmers noticed that cabbages grew red in some soils, but purple or blue in others.  Chemists later discovered that cabbage juice contains a pigments which changes color at different pH levels.  Acidic substances will turn the cabbage juice red, neutral items will be purple and basic or alkaline will be greenish yellow.  Use the following color scale to test some everyday items around the house for their acidity.
pH (low number is acidic)
2 red
4 purple
6 violet
8 blue
10 blue/green
12 yellow/green

1. Boil 2 cups water
2. Finely chop half a head of red cabbage and pour boiling water over it. Let it stand for 10 minutes. The liquid should be a purplish/blue color (neutral). This is your indicator.
3. Pour this liquid (strain out all the cabbage pieces) into small bowls. Add a small amount of household items to each bowl and watch how the color of the liquid changes. Them match to the above scale to learn the acidity level.
4. Try things like lemon juice, baking soda, soap, ammonia and of course some soil from your garden.
5. Acids and bases also react together and cancel each other out. Try mixing a little of each type of indicator liquid and watch the solution slowly change back to neutral.

Have fun!



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Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Yes, this is a fantasy novel.  Yes, this is a plant blog.  Yes, I will find a place where the two coincide to satisfy my love for a good story and my appreciation for plants.  Right on page 425 our hero Kvothe is comparing the elusive Denna to a flower, as she is tired of receiving  perfect red roses from her suitors, and wants to know of which flower she reminds him.

“Daisy is a good one…tall and slender, willing to grow by roadsides.  A hearty flower, not too delicate.  Daisy is self-reliant.  I think it might suit you…But let us continue in our list.  Iris?  Too gaudy.  Thistle, too distant.  Violet, too brief.  Trillium?  Hmmm, there’s a thing.  A fair flower.  Doesn’t take to cultivation.  The texture of the petals…smooth enough to match your skin, just barely.  But it is too close to the ground.”   Finally he decides on the fictional (I think) Selas flower.   “It is a deep red flower that grows on a strong vine.  Its leaves are dark and delicate.  They grow best in shadowy places, but the flower itself finds stray sunbeams to bloom in….There is much of you that is both shadow and light.  It grows in deep forests, and is rare because only skilled folk can tend one without harming it.  It has a wondrous smell and is much sought and seldom found.”

A botanical reference can actually be found in many fantasy stories, as the characters usually end up traveling through forests and over mountains.  In this book Kvothe chews on willow bark as a natural pain reliever  (willow=salix, aspirin=acetylsalisylic acid).  Regardless of the plant references, I loved this book!  It kept me up late and left the dishes piled in the sink, it was that kind of story.  Similar to Harry Potter, the 15 year old Kvothe is attending the University, making friends and enemies and learning magic.   He also has an interesting run-in with a dragon near the end, but who wins?  You’ll have to read to find out.  The words in this book take you on a mysterious journey, revealing tantalizing parts about the characters and their world, yet holding back information, leaving the reader wanting more!  Fortunately, the second book in this series was just published this month:  The Wise Man’s Fear.  I can’t wait to get my hand’s on it.  Happy reading!


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