Lantanas. For Orlando

LantanaThey bloom every day ’til they die, year round, a good 10 years. They grow fast too.

Every lantana flower head looks like a little bouquet. They smile in single colors (yellow, orange, pink, cream) or in combinations (magenta and yellow, purple and yellow, orange and yellow). One multi-colored variation called Carnival includes blossoms that are pink, red, lavender and yellow – all in one little bouquet.

Lantanas thrive here in our beach climate and I pass them every morning spilling from front yards onto the sidewalk. Time to buy one of my own and nestle it into my balcony garden. It’s crowded now, since I potted a jasmine, but there’s always room for one more flower, especially a happy one that will keep the color coming, even if times are not happy.

Lantanas are a tropical and subtropical plant that arrived here from Central and South America and are popular in the warmer coastal regions of the world. They like sun and don’t need a lot of water. Because they grow so quickly, they are considered invasive when they take over open areas, as in Australia. LantanaThe flowers are poisonous to animals and can harm livestock. In gardens, they attract birds and butterflies.

Since I don’t have cattle grazing on my balcony, and my cats show no interest, I will focus on the birds and the butterflies. And how the lantana flower heads remind me of all occasions requiring bouquets.

Dances, graduations, weddings. Weddings across all ages and colors and genders. Celebrating the beauty of each individual and also the blending to create a whole. Saluting the welcoming, the bringing together, of divergent ideas to make us all stronger. The carnival of life for laughter and tears. Funerals, memorials, for those who sang and danced and are now gone but will not be forgotten.

In addition to Carnival, lantanas bloom in other varieties. Confetti. Pink Frolic. Radiation. Sunburst. Spreading Sunshine. Spreading Sunset.

 

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The Royal Gloom and Bloom

June Gloom we call it along the coast – the marine layer that hangs over us, dulling scenery and spirits for almost all of this month’s 30 days. Even worse, it drags directly behind May Gray, thus insuring a double dose of semi-drizzle and we are not sure if spring is really happening. It’s also hard to know what to wear during this gray and gloomy time. The sky is overcast and the air makes us shiver, so we put on a jacket and a scarf and then when we drive a mile inland, we roast. Away from the coast, people are lightheartedly skipping around in sandals and shorts or sundresses.

It is Spring, of course, but evolving slowly, not at all like springs in colder climates where there is snow and then bright pokes of green and sudden riots of color. When my family moved here from Montreal, gardens were thriving and it was warm and sunny back home. In our new home, my sister and I could hardly wait to run down to the beach. We froze. It was May. There was no golden sun in our California at all.

But now that I’ve lived through many such Mays, I’ve realized that there is a purple lining in our silver skies as our coastal spring unfolds, a royal glow as purple blooms everywhere. Jacaranda trees arching over the sidewalks. Agapanthus, lantana, princess flowers poking out from gardens. Morning glories climbing fences. Sea lavender standing guard over the ocean. Sage, daisies and mountain lilacs cloaking the hillsides.Jacaranda and agapanthus

The Jacaranda tree is May/June’s crowning glory and San Diego’s official urban tree. It’s a sub-tropical tree native to South America and was imported to San Diego and Los Angeles in the early 1900s by Kate Sessions, a California horticulturalist and landscape architect, also known as the mother of Balboa Park. The jacaranda also blooms in the fall, but not with the same periwinkle blue-purple brilliance that it does in the spring. The branches bend and bow over our sidewalks, dropping little trumpet-shaped blossoms. I’ll take walking on this magical purple carpet any day over a red carpet. And just as the purple jacaranda canopy fades, it’s July and the blue of the sky takes over.

Another purple flower that blooms here in May and June is the agapanthus. They seem to appear suddenly out of nowhere, big, round, purple balls poking scepter-like toward us from front lawns. (There are white agapanthus too, but they are outnumbered by the purple ones.) The agapanthus are originally from South Africa and are also known as lily of the Nile. They grow around the world, even in gray England, where they are called the African lily and mentioned in a Harry Potter book. It’s possible to see a royal connection, resembling as they do staffs of pharaohs and monarchs. They point the way to victory – the clearing of our skies.Morning glory

In Southern California, and especially San Diego, we have one of the best climates in the world. It’s usually never too hot or too cold, so you’d think we wouldn’t complain about the weather. But of course we do, especially by the ocean during spring when we crave some tantalizing, tangible evidence that summer is around the corner. When will this gloom and doom lift? Until it does, it helps to know that the hazy gray sky has a touch of royalty, in the richest sense of the word.

Aloha

Such a friendly woman once I got her to smile. I pass her for weeks in the morning, she walking two dogs and I carrying my mat to yoga. She is tall, with a limp in one leg, but she doesn’t let it slow her down, walks briskly and for miles she tells me, after we say hello and introduce ourselves. On Valentine’s Day, she surprises me with a chocolate bar, passing it to me like a baton in a relay as we move along. I eventually learn that she also swims and I tell her I write for the local paper and give her my card.

HibiscusOne morning I am headed in a different direction and I don’t recognize her as she pulls up in a black SUV and parks in front of my neighbor’s house. “You’re early this morning,” she says as she gets out. It takes me a few seconds to see who she is in this different location. And another few to realize she is not stopping to say hello or give me another candy bar.

She walks in front of her SUV and over to my neighbor’s hibiscus trees and starts yanking off the pink flowers. Handfuls of them. “I need these for my tortoise,” she says. “I hope whoever lives here doesn’t mind.”

I don’t know what to say.

Now, the hibiscus trees and flowers surround my neighbor’s corner house and flow over the sidewalk on two sides, so there are probably enough to feed a bale of turtles.

My neighbor is a yoga teacher, a kind and gentle man, and the hibiscus is the state flower of Hawaii, so it seems entirely possible that he wouldn’t mind sharing his bountiful blossoms with a hungry tortoise. I might be tempted myself to pluck one for my hair, just as I’m sometimes tempted to grab a lemon from another nearby front yard. But in the spirit of aloha, I think I would ask first before plucking. Or I like to think I would.