That Haunting Style

 , By Ronald Howard Livingston
on Thursday, September, 19 2013 05:04:00 pm   , 448 words  
Categories: Uncategorized , 42022 views

I LOVE ghost stories! I can't really pin point why I find them so fascinating. I'm sure it must be the folklore aspect, how people morph stories with each telling, each rendition reflecting the interests, values, and tastes of each storyteller.

Likewise, I love history (especially genealogy) and art. Thus architecture for me is a perfect integration of these sundry concerns. Have you ever wondered why we react in certain ways to certain types of art and architecture? Why is it that we have a preconceived notion or pattern of a haunted house for example? Why have once grand edifices built originally for the well-to-do become symbolic in their abandoned and dilapidated state of the gloomy and the foreboding, the haunts of "lost souls"?

Bill Still briefly addressed the basis of this symbolism in his documentary The Secret of Oz (2009), an examination of economic symbolism in L. Frank Baum's children's story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, explaining that the economic downturns such as the Panic of 1893 left many businessmen, especially rural and small town capitalists, broke. Many of the beautiful homes constructed during the height of the nation's Gilded Age for many such entrepreneurs became a burden, and many were thus abandoned.

Coinciding with the beginnings of the Gilded Age was the birth of the architectural style known as the Second Empire (though today often popularly referred to as early Victorian), in reference to the French Empire during the years of the rule of Louis Napoleon. Developed primarily as an ornate style for the urban structures of Paris, the style caught on and spread throughout Europe in a short time and thence to the Americas. Second Empire style became very popular for imposing governmental structures. Despite the effects of the panics of 1873 and 1893 upon the economy of the United States, many impressive Second Empire style homes have been preserved or restored.

Designed initially for elaborate groupings of structures along bustling city streets, Second Empire structures alone in rural locales seem somehow oddly out-of-place. Especially so were the imposing homes of successful farmers, built during opulence and then suddenly abandoned as a result of economic decline.

Here are a couple online articles that examine the history of Second Empire design and delve into the rationale for our continued impressions of haunted house imagery:

Horror Style: Why Second Empire Scares You by Samuel Scheib and Original Psycho House --- Found by Joel Gunz, both of which contain interesting commentary on Edward Hopper's 1925 painting House by the Railroad, shown here (above).

Illustrations: (Above) American artist Edward Hopper's 1925 painting House by the Railroad. (Below) The Heck-Andrews House, built in 1870 in Raleigh, North Carolina, is representative of the Second Empire style (photo from Wikipedia).

Native Plums

 , By Ronald Howard Livingston
on Wednesday, July, 31 2013 09:11:41 pm   , 217 words  
Categories: Uncategorized , 34240 views

I'm really pleased with the amount of fruit that has been produced this year by my native plum trees. Through some rather intensive research I have determined that these plum trees are Bigtree Plums, a.k.a. Mexican Plums (Prunus mexicana S. Wats).

Members of the rose family (Rosaceae) these particular trees are also known taxonomically as Prunus lanata (or Prunus americana var. lanata). Bigtree Plum trees are single-trunked, non-suckering, and grow within a range of 15 to 35 feet tall. They produce showy "clouds" of fragrant white flowers that bloom early in the spring before the tree leaves appear.

The coloration of the fruits of native plums helps considerably in species identification. There are nine species of native plums in Texas. The fruits of the Bigtree Plums are small and ripen from about late July (here along the Texas coast) and on into September (in some places). (Mine have just now started ripening and dropping fruits and will continue to do so over probably the next two or three weeks.) As they ripen, the fruits go from a yellow-green to mauve to purple. The fruits can be eaten fresh or made into jelly or preserves. Several websites give instructions for making wine using Prunus mexicana or other native plum fruits. Bigtree plums are also consumed by wildlife.

Turk's Caps

 , By Ronald Howard Livingston
on Friday, June, 07 2013 07:02:39 pm   , 557 words  
Categories: Uncategorized , 41674 views

Photo R. H. Livingston

If you're a Texas gardener who has been frustrated by extremes in weather conditions, especially the nearly-year-long drought of 2011, a native flowering plant may be just what you are looking for to add beautiful foliage and color to your flower gardens. The Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) is a hardy, drought-resistant, spreading herbaceous perennial shrub that produces a profusion of beautiful red blooms (though white blooming plants are sometimes found) that open in an attractive swirled pattern that has been likened by some gardeners to a showy middle-eastern-style headdress. Besides its variety name, drummondii, the plant is known by a number of popular names, such as Bleeding Heart, Sleeping Hibiscus, Drummond Wax Mallow, Red Mallow, Texas Mallow, May Apple, and Mexican Apple.

The Turk's Cap is a member of the hybiscus family of plants (also called the mallow family, which also include plants such as marshmallow, okra, cotton, and cacao).

The Turk's Cap variety native to Texas is named for and was first collected by naturalist Thomas Drummond, who was born in Scotland around 1790 and died in Havana, Cuba, in March of 1835 following twenty-one months spent in Texas (he arrived at Velasco at the mouth of the Brazos River in March of 1833), during which he collected 750 species of plants and 150 species of birds.

Native to the southernmost states, from Texas to Florida, the Turk's Cap, besides its heat tolerance, is also quite adaptable to a range of soil ph and fertility levels. In USDA hardiness zones 7 to 11 the plant is perennial but in zones 6 and north the plants are best grown as annuals.

Generally the hardy Turk's Cap grows as wide as it is tall (usually two to three feet, although stems can sometimes reach to nine feet in length). The Turk's Cap loves shade and is thus perfect for such sometimes problematic areas of gardens. (The plants can grow in any location favorable to shrimp plants, for example.) Turk's Caps also grow well in direct sunlight; however, in such situations they are subject to mildew damage.

Turk's Caps bloom from May to November. Though generally red-bloomed in their natural habitat, white-bloomed cultivars of Turk's Cap have been produced. Cross breeding the native Texas variety (drummondii) with varieties from elsewhere has in recent years produced some spectacular variations in bloom sizes and color. The Turk's Cap bloom never fully opens but unfolds in such a way that the inner edges form a tube through which protrudes the lengthy stamen.

It can be difficult to transplant Turk's Cap plants due to their deep and widespread roots system, so it is best to transplant late in the autumn or early in the spring and to water a plant well during its first year in its new location, after which the plant can pretty much tolerate dry conditions quite well. The plants can easily be grown from seed, which can be obtained in the fall from the marble-sized red fruits which resemble tiny apples, hence the popular names May Apple and Mexican Apple.

Though mostly grown for its beautiful, colorful and unusual blooms and medium to dark green, luxuriant foliage, the Turk's Cap provides a sought-after nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies. The red, marble-sized fruits are also a favored food source for many species of wildlife.

Photo Justen Williams

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