A Present

rose_animation_jan_2014My mum has been visiting for the holidays. For her recent birthday I decided that instead of making a birthday card from a photo of one the roses from my garden (as I usually do) I would make her a drawing/painting of one on a card instead. The paper of the card has a ridged texture and I imagined that this would be an interesting component of the final piece. Using a photo of one of my roses as reference on screen in front of me, I sketched onto the paper [...] Click to continue reading this post

They’re Back!

…And this time they mean business…

That wonderful giant cactus plant in the back garden has done its trick of suddenly producing a host of lovely large flowers again. (Click to enlarge photo, and see below for links to earlier years’ posts on the very same phenomenon).

I saw them Tuesday morning, and I think they’ll be gone very soon (by Wednesday or the day after).

So lovely, so massive… and so sad that they last for so short a time.

But such is life. Enjoy and revel in things while they last, and then move on, holding the essence of it close inside you.


-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Sidewalk Colours

You see such lovely things along the side of the street if there’s time to notice. (Click for a larger view.)

This is one of the many reasons I often walk each day to and from the bus stop or subway station. You miss this stuff in a car (or sometimes even when on a bike).

By the way, I’ve updated my earlier post with photos from the LA Times Festival of Books, as promised.



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Tasty Salad

Saw these on campus the other day. I’ve forgotten what these are called, but I am always impressed with them.

They are part of a set of ornamental plants that in another closely related universe would (along with their neighbors) perhaps feature more on our dinner plates than in gardens, I fancy. I must try to find their name at some point.

But the point here is that I’ve never really studied their flowers before… They’re amazing and unexpected in form!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Looking Back and Forth

Somehow after Wednesday I lost track of time, in a sense, in the natural course of having another very busy week. There were several things competing for time, and some of them may be of interest to you. (Left: Some lovely pink gladiolus flowers that have sprung up in my garden.) The Nobel Prizes kept coming, of course, with some very interesting winners announced. In addition to the ones I mentioned already in two earlier posts, I’ve got to find some people among our faculty who’ll be willing to spend 10 to 15 minutes making some informal remarks about the Who/What/Why aspects of the prize at one of two lunches I’ll be hosting in the coming weeks about the Nobel Prize. I’ve mentioned this before. It is an annual event I’ve tried to get going as part of the Dornsife Commons (formerly known as College Commons) series. I’ve locked in Physics and Peace, and want to get people for all the others. This year I know that if I have problems with Chemistry, I can step in if need be, although I’d rather not have to do that – I want to broaden participation, not do everything myself. Look out for those lunches (see here) and come along!

Speaking of doing everything myself, I’ve been continuing the weeks long struggle to get support, interest, and participation for the Science Film Competition I told you about earlier. Having spent a lot of time meeting with many faculty and other parties to build support and understanding, getting lots of faculty to make announcements (one time even coming down from Santa Barbara to campus to give a ten minute announcement in a class at the film school and going up again after!) and so forth – and thanks everyone who has helped! – I decided to amplify my focus on tackling [...] Click to continue reading this post


After just having walked down a few minutes from Electric Pass Peak back towards the Pass (the peak is a fun 13635 ft / 4156 m elevation), I remembered to take this short panorama to show the surroundings. You can see the peak just descended in the middle of the film, and just before you’ll see Cathedral Lake in the distance, along with the meadow of wild flowers through which the hike to the peak takes you.

The 15 seconds of film is after the fold: [...] Click to continue reading this post


As you might guess from the flower to the right, I’m presently not in California, but Colorado. In fact I’m in Aspen, a place to which, you might have gathered from previous years’ blogging, I come to work for a while in the Summer. The Aspen Center for Physics is here, as well as some great mountain trails, river walks, bike trails*, several other organizations of interest, festivals, and of course, some good cafes. So I’m pretty well set up in terms of things I need to think and work on various projects.

The flower is the columbine, the state flower, and I encountered them (and a host of other lovely flowers of many types) on Saturday on my first hike since properly being acclimatised to the altitude and so forth.

I’ve already had some great conversations at the Center, which included catching up [...] Click to continue reading this post

Happy Mother’s Day!

It is Mother’s Day over in the USA today, and although my mum and sister (both mums) are over in the UK where they have Mother’s Day a bit earlier (no, not hours earlier, weeks earlier) I still try to remember to make and send them cards to arrive in time for the USA one. For the card I made for my mum this year I used these spectacular roses I spotted on campus (during the recent festival) in the garden next to the USC Alumni house (it used to be the original USC building some 131 years ago):

Stunning, aren’t they?

I wish all Mothers, far and near, Happy Mother’s Day!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post


flowers_at_joshua_tree_1_1I was in Joshua Tree for a couple of days on the weekend, camping and hanging with some friends. It was a very pleasant time indeed, with groups of us taking turns making meals, and with bouts of talking and walking here and there, and sleeping in our tents listening to the evening wind howling at times.

Here’s a closeup (click for larger view) of a flower bundle of the Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens ), which is just a stunning plant.

The whole bush is pictured below.

[...] Click to continue reading this post


fremont_pincushion_death_valley_2It does look a bit like a coconut macaroon, and a particularly tasty one, but I must report that it is in fact an example of a Fremont pincushion (chaenactis fremontii), a white flower blooming in the deserts of the South West. I took this one in Death Valley yesterday. (It is Spring break, and I decided to get away for a bit.) Click for a larger view. There’s a tiny little creature of some sort perched on one of [...] Click to continue reading this post

‘Tis the Season

There are a lot of silly, ill-informed things said about Los Angeles, mostly in the form of lazy clich├ęs. Sometimes said by people who are otherwise quite sensible, but the power and groove of a truism is hard to resist, even when it is an untrue one. One of them is that there are “no seasons” here. This is just a silly thing that people say in place of saying that they are used to seasons from a different climate and they have not taken the time to listen and watch for the march of the seasons that is evident here. (I think also that we have it amplified by popular culture that the standard symbols of the Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter cycle involving snow and red and gold leaf colours and bare trees and jack frost nipping at your nose and so forth are “the way things are supposed to be”.) A friend of mine has in her email signature the slogan “I have a life. It is just different from yours”, and so I will retool it here: “We have seasons. They are just different from yours.”

jasmine_in_bloomJust like anywhere else, the seasons wink or call (sometimes even shout) at you through certain combinations of colours, smells, temperatures, and so on. I think people miss a lot of cues in Los Angeles because they don’t get out of their cars and walk the streets very much. Even a few gardens or hedgerows passed along the way can show a lot about the mood of the season the city is in. For me, colours and smells are very big cues in Los Angeles, and there are times when large parts of the city seem to be dominated by a single plant’s smell or colour or sometimes both. For me, it is the Jasmine time of year now. This is when the night-blooming jasmine bushes (cestrum nocturnum, apparently) of the city all seem to work in concert and fill the air with a great scent, and lovely clumps of creamy [...] Click to continue reading this post


passion_flower_pairGreetings of the birthday sort to my younger nephew.

I made a card for him out of these lovely passion flowers (click for larger view) from my garden, and I posted it, but apparently there are postal delays due to volcano ash and so forth, so it might not get there in time.

So this blog post is to serve as a card and wish him Happy Birthday.

Happy Birthday!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Happy Mother’s Day!

It is Mother’s Day in the USA. The UK version was earlier, in March, but since my mother is there, she usually gets two greetings from me, one for each version of the holiday.

oleander_flowersMother’s Day for me means flowers, at least in part. I often (although not this year) make and send her a card featuring a flower from my garden. Roses are usually the ones that make it to the card (my mum loves them) but as I stood in the garden this morning and looked around, the Oleander caught my eye. The bushes are covered in pink flowers (click the image on the right for a larger view), with many more to come, and I was suddenly put in mind of the years I lived in the Caribbean. Oleander plants were very common, and I recall many of them (in a selection of colours, I think) in the grounds of St. Augustine’s where my family went to [...] Click to continue reading this post

Aloe Earth

aloe_flowers_2It is Earth day today, the 40th anniversary, in fact. Have you had it in mind at all? I was pleased, in following the leadership debate that took place today over in the UK, to hear very interesting and serious content in the answers about what the various party leaders were doing on environmental both personally and in terms of policy. Over the years we’ve rapidly come to a point where it’s no longer a trendy or fringy issue in front line politics, but a mainstream one with impact in all aspects of policy.

On the left (click for larger view) is the rather elegant flower (two of them) of one of my several aloe vera plants. They’re quite unexpected and rather lovely I’d say. Several different types of bird have been attracted to them and it is a pleasure to look over at them (and others) and see what birds are settling on [...] Click to continue reading this post

Calla Lily!

calla_lily I’m very pleased to see this flower (and always delighted to say the name out loud: Try it: Calla Lily.). (Click for larger view.) I discovered a patch of shoots growing in the shade of a tall tree some time ago, struggling against a thriving ground cover plant, and decided to clear some space for them and let them grow up, giving them a supply line off the drip system. That was a year ago. Now, they’re nice and large, and [...] Click to continue reading this post

A Spring Flower

wise2010-008-med It is Springtime, and it is not unheard of for me to have pictures of flowers, often from my garden, up on the blog (see here). This time, I have a picture of a flower from a different garden. It is the one you can see by looking up. If you look up with the right equipment, you can even see new growth (just like you can in Springtime gardens). In this case, the equipment is WISE (the spacecraft launched in December, recall) with its ability to survey the sky in the infrared part of the spectrum, and the new growth is a cluster of new stars, called the Berkeley 59 cluster. Looks a bit like a rosebud, [...] Click to continue reading this post

A Return

gladioliI find myself back in Los Angeles for a bit, putting Walkabout mode on pause. Perhaps to do my laundry, perhaps to chair the committee of the upcoming Ph.D. defense of my student, Tameem, perhaps to be able to sit outside in the early morning sun in a T-shirt and blog over breakfast.

The garden is full of weeds and flowers, and all is well with the world, albeit a bit blurry due to my jetlag.

Anyway, a few random things to note:

* * *

mourning_dovesAnother Spring is here, in full force. I once again snort in exasperated laughter at the bizarre claim so very many people make about Los Angeles (Southern California more generally) not having seasons, as I marvel at all the many signs of it screaming for attention. As a random example, I’m observing some mourning doves eyeing me up from nearby as they try to decide whether I’m a threat to their potential nesting sites that they are checking out. Seems that at least one pair is rather impressed with my cluster of strelitzia nicolai and want to move in. I want to tell them that I’m not the problem, but the fact that they’d be in plain sight of the crows/rooks/ravens/winged-Nazgul that pass by here a lot will be. I’ve seen them strike nests in those trees from previous years and scoop up a tasty warm meal.

* * *

Eight hours of jetlag means only one thing: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Combined Columbines

blue_columbines Aha.

For a while, over the years, I’d see them in only one colour at a time, and would conjecture that they are all related since the shapes were all similar (out hiking on trails, the wild varieties – not these). See an earlier post on this here where the conjecture was confirmed by a bit of research with helpful discussion and links from some readers.

Now I found a cluster of them all together in an Aspen garden that I just happened to be walking by. So, columbines in three shades below for you (Click for larger views): [...] Click to continue reading this post

Glad it is Mother’s Day

It is Mother’s Day in the USA (a few weeks after the UK one – this means I send two sets of greetings to my mother each year). This year, rather than a rose, I’m going to put up a member of the gladiolus family, since one of mine put on a stunning display two days ago and deserves to be shared.


I almost forgot to carry out my plan to do this post, as I’ve been shooting [...] Click to continue reading this post

They’re Back!

Wow! Almost to the day (see last year’s post), they have returned, perhaps stronger than ever! I had two big waves of them this year, one about ten days to a fortnight ago, and another new one starting a couple of days ago. Here’s one:

flowers from my san pedro cactus 2008

Flower from my San Pedro cactus (trichocereus pachanoi). (Click for larger view.)

I love these flowers dearly for many reasons. First and foremost, they are beautiful, but there’s an additional enhancement of my love brought about by their short-lived nature. They’ll appear all of a sudden, somewhat unexpectedly, and last just one day [...] Click to continue reading this post

Saturday Calm

october rosesWell, another super-busy week has gone by. Work has been crazy, life has been crazy, and so forth. It is so good to be able to sit here for a while on a sunny Saturday morning and reflect. I thought I’d take you with me on some of the reflections.

The Nobel prizes seemed to come up so much faster this year, and go by even more quickly. I’ve not had as much time to contemplate them as I’d have liked. It was certainly really good to see that the physics one was a celebration of some of the key ideas in my field (see here), of course, but I’d have liked to have had more chatter about all of them, as I usually try to do. It is good to learn more about other things – get out of one’s comfort zone. Two years ago while I was departmental colloquium organizer, I set aside one date to be a colloquium where the three science prizes were highlighted – “Who, What, Why?” There’s always going to be local faculty who can [...] Click to continue reading this post


morning glory The battle is in full swing, and it is a rather glorious one indeed. What battle? Well, I deployed some ground troops of legendary tenacity to do battle with some ground cover of relentless ivy. I don’t like the ivy much. Since it keeps coming back, and since there is no end to its inventiveness at returning and spreading, I decided to try a different tactic that I knew would have certain other benefits. Deploy the Morning Glory.

I remember my first true appreciation of the powers of morning glories. I was an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky living in a nice cabin with a nice bit of back garden, not far from campus, in Lexington. I’d spend my Summers in New York back in those days. One late spring I planted some morning glory seeds, and watched the little plants that resulted struggle through the dirt and face the sky. Then I was away for the Summer, on my usual (for the time) retreat to the excellent Morningside Heights neighbourhood, the whole of Manhattan my office.

Upon returning to Lexington, finding everything still in the clutches of the humidity that reigns supreme at that time of year, ready to begin teaching in the new [...] Click to continue reading this post