More late spring wanderings

I’ve been thinking about Anita Brookner’s fine but disturbing novel Look At Me, which I finished earlier this week, but need to think about it a little longer before posting on it. I’ve moved on to another novel passed on to me by Mrs TD – post forthcoming on that one, too.

In the meantime, here are some more floral images from some recent walks. Flowers and shrubs are really thriving now, even in this unseasonably chilly, damp and windy May.

PelargoniumThe pelargoniums (or geraniums) in our garden are looking particularly lovely at the moment. This picture was taken just after one of the many showers we’ve had recently.

The etymology of this plant is interesting. ‘Geranium’ derives from the Greek, via Latin, for ‘crane’ (the lanky bird, not the building site machine), while ‘pelargonium’ follows a similar route from the Greek for ‘stork’. This is said, by OED online, to be because the seed pods resemble these birds’ beaks. An early English name for them was ‘cranesbill’. I haven’t checked to see why we use ‘beak’ and ‘bill’ – maybe another time.

Rhododendron My morning walk today took me through the grounds of Epiphany House, which I’ve posted about before HERE. Here the rhododendrons are also looking their finest.

This name is from the Greek for ‘of, relating to, or resembling a rose…rose-coloured, pink, red.’ The second element is from dendro-, Greek for ‘tree’. I recall using the word ‘dendrologist’ in my previous post about Richard Powers’ novel about trees, The Overstory.

The word in English could originally signify ‘oleander’ (from the 16-18C; aka rose bay); the secondary sense we use now dates from 1657. The origin of ‘oleander’ is uncertain; it comes from French via post-classical Latin ‘lorandrum’, an alteration of ‘rhododendron’, possibly by association with ‘olea’ – olive tree, or from ‘lauriendrum’ – possibly from the word for laurel, as the shape of the leaves was similar. OED includes this citation:

1526    Grete Herball cccxxv. sig. Siv/1   Oleandre or olipantrum is an herbe the leues therof is lyke to laurell but they be longer.

Pacific rhododendron I wasn’t sure if this beautiful shrub in the gardens was a rhododendron, so I checked with my plant identifier app: it’s a Pacific rhododendron, aka California rosebay or big leaf rhododendron. The app says it’s a species of azalea (rhododendron), suggesting the two names are commonly interchanged.

I’m not sure if this is right. ‘Azalea’ derives from the Greek ‘azaleos’ – ‘dry’, because of the sandy soil in which it thrives, or else for its dry, brittle wood.

Both shrubs apparently belong to the botanical family Ericaceae.

You’d think the naming of plants would be more straightforward.

I’m just delighted to see them in my neighbourhood while we’re still confined in our movements by pandemic restrictions. They brighten the day, and lift the spirits.


18 thoughts on “More late spring wanderings

  1. Beautiful plants, Simon! I’m absolutely rubbish at knowing most of their names (apart from the common ones) but I did discover this year that a lovely yellow shrub we have coming up every year is a forsythia – very stunning, particularly as it flowers at the same time as what I think is a yellow gorse bush and they rather wonderful together.

    Will look forward to your thoughts on the Brookner!

  2. Lovely px as always and, again as always, I enjoy the etymology. Like Kaggsy, I’m not very good at plants. For what it’s worth, my yard (I think the British term would be “garden”) had lots of azaleas and one, much larger rhododenron. Mine, however, was not a California Rosebay; its flowers were shaped differently and the flowers were deep pink.
    I, too, look forward to your Brookner posting. She was one of my favorite novelists for many years and I read her novels almost immediately after they were published (think I gave up after the ninth or tenth and began skipping some). So it’s been many, many years since I read “Look at Me.” I remember admiring Brookner’s skill but feeling rather claustrophobic with the novel.

    • Yard is one of those many words whose meaning has diverged since it left Britain and took root in the USA. It survives with something like your meaning in British English words like courtyard and graveyard, but yes, we do now use garden. I’m not keen on some azaleas – their colours can be amazing, but sometimes strident. I can see why Look at Me made you feel claustrophobic- ‘claustration’ is a key word in Fanny’s self analysis.

      • I really enjoy the differences in meaning & accents between the British & U.S. varieties of English (two peoples divided by a common language? Shaw isn’t it? Well, add in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and so on).
        I’m actually thinking about some Brookner re-reads, sparked by Jacquiwine’s great reviews of AB’s novels. I recently went back to Misalliance, which I still really enjoyed (or should it be “quite enjoyed”? LOL) I remember Look at Me as being one of the early ones that I struggled with more than most. I had forgotten the “claustration” reference, but I’m not surprised. I remember thinking at the time that the protagonist could do with a little less self-analysis.
        As for azaleas, I’m fine with strident colors (like Pappy with his too red tie in du Maurier’s The Parasites, “I must have color! Color is all”). The problem for me is, in my former area at least, azaleas bloom, then — poof! — the rest of the year they’re the equivalent of large green meatballs. Very boring.

          • That’s good to know. I think I associate ‘scruffy’ with dogs rather than cats – which tend to be, I don’t know, sleeker than canines. Just had coffee with friends who have two beautiful Siamese-type cats; I posted a picture of them a while back – Phoebe and Igor. They have that disdainful look of the truly aristocratic.

  3. Beautiful picture of nature, as ever, Simon. I’m eagerly awaiting the flowering of a peony in my garden. It’s very late this year, probably as a consequence of the chilly weather we’ve been experiencing lately, but hopefully it will be worth the wait.

    On the book front, Look at Me is probably my favourite of the Brookers I’ve read so far. That long, ghostly walk through the streets of London towards the end…it haunts me to this day.

  4. Lovely!

    Saw the notification of your posting during a frantic day of work while we are short-staffed and looked forward to reading it….now accomplished at 5:00 a.m. East Coast USA time. A TONIC. The rain glistening on the geraniums is freshness itself.

    Nice to know you are pondering Anita Brookner. I have never “vibed” with her for some reason but she is a gifted novelist. Will look forward to your review of “Look At Me.”

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Maureen. I find it soothing to share pictures of the natural world around me: it gives me a lot of pleasure and solace. I’ve read Brookner before, but so long ago I forget the titles, apart from Hotel du Lac. Our lockdown restrictions are easing here in the UK (possibly prematurely, as a new variant is on the rise, worryingly transmissible), so I’m preparing to go off for a meal with family, some of whom we’ve not seen for over a year. Post will probably not be finished now until early next week. It’s taking time for me to figure out what I think of the novel.

      • Yes, I heard this rather ominous term from the UK:

        “Variant of Concern” Yikes.

        It appears that a big portion of our population either never “believed” in the virus or has now “declared victory” and taken off their masks. If anything, the U.S. does LESS tracking of variants than the U.K. I see no reason not to believe that the most vicious of them will make their way here. I will not be surprised if we have outbreaks and retrenchment over the next year, if on a smaller scale.

  5. I’m rather envious of all those flowers that are already in bloom in your part of the world. Ours are taking their time about it – so far just one small bud on our rose bushes that this time last year were laden with blooms.

    • According to my diary there were swifts here this time last year – none so far this year, just martins. Our doorstep rose bloomed this week! It’s cooler here in Cornwall than the SE. Our hibiscus never thrived here, but we’ve seen them in profusion in gardens near friends in Chiswick.

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