Cambrian: Slice of Life

Cambria's 'Naked Ladies' weathering drought without a care

Naked Ladies — the flowers — provide a vibrant pink blossom and actually thrive when neglected.
Naked Ladies — the flowers — provide a vibrant pink blossom and actually thrive when neglected. ktanner@thetribunenews.com

Don’t tell Cambria’s “Naked Ladies” that we’re in the midst of a devastating statewide drought. They don’t care that we’re all hauling around buckets and tanks of water, enduring all the other rather unpleasant means of using less and doubling up on uses for the water we do draw from the tap.

The Tanners have buckets or bowls in every sink, bathtub and stall shower in the house. We save every drop we can to reuse elsewhere.

I pre-rinse dishes, pots and pans in the “waiting for it to get hot” shower water. Then I put the rinsed dishes in the dishwasher and finish washing the pots by hand with dish soap and a spritz of fresh water.

I keep the bucket water cleaner longer by using a tissue or paper towel to wipe the goo off each dish.

Then, in a final blaze of glory, I use the sink-rinse water and other bucket-brigade liquid to flush toilets, as outdoor rinse water or to irrigate the rosemary hedge or other plants.

But the Naked Ladies don’t seem daunted by our drought.

No, I’m not referring to exotic pole dancers, or women who gather at midnight under a full moon (although Cambria may have those, too). I’m also not talking about members of the local Native Daughters of the Golden West, who sometimes are saddled with that tongue-in-cheek nickname.

These Naked Ladies are plants, siblings of the bright red and brilliant white amaryllis we all love to display in December. Despite our drought-parched ground, the lack of recent rain or mist and the mandatory disconnect between outside hose bibs and our gardens and yards, Cambria’s Naked Ladies are blooming merrily away, their cheery, trumpet-shaped heads bobbing in the wind atop very tall stems.

The late-summer bloomers (get your mind out of the underwear drawer!) earn their nickname because those stems have no clothes (blush, blush) er, foliage.

Longtime residents

Naked Ladies pop up wherever they jolly well please, year after year after year, often in vacant lots and highway easements. Sometimes they are in a vibrant mass. Other times, they’re set off by themselves, or in a pair.

Fortunately, the South African lilies thrive best when neglected. My favorite kind of plant!

According to historian Dawn Dunlap, the amaryllis belladonna (also known as brunsvigia rosea) “have always been here, as long as I can remember. It’s a real old plant, probably brought here and planted by a pioneer in the 1880s or early 1900s.”

Since the Naked Lady bulbs arrived in town, they’ve grown, flourished and self-propagated through seed spread by Cambria’s fall winds.

Now at least once a year, the bright blooms are all over town, waving their bright pink heads in the wind, bringing a flash of summer brilliance to an otherwise browning landscape.

By the 1920s and ’30s, the Naked Ladies had notoriety and lots of floral company.

“Cambria was known for its lavish gardens and its art,” Dunlap said.

(Through the decades, those interests sometimes intersected, as they did in the works of such noted artists as the late Mary Cole or our modern-day mistress of light, Melanee Sylvester.)

Dunlap said early-day Cambria “also was known for its flourishing fuchsias, begonias and geraniums with little, dark red flowers. Also nasturtiums, which were known as ‘sewer flowers,’ because they grew around open cesspools.”

She added with a grimace, “I think of that every time I see someone serving nasturtiums as ‘edible flowers.’ ”

Floral attraction

Dunlap said that, especially in the 1930s, “people used to come from miles around to see the huge, spectacular flower shows” put on annually by avid North Coast gardeners.

The shows often were at the Cambria Pines Lodge, originally built to house prospective buyers of lots in the recently subdivided town.

The journey to Cambria was a long one, and the savvy Cambria Pines Development Company folks (the Jones brothers from Hollywood) knew people would be more receptive to buying land if they’d had a nice meal, some lively entertainment and a good night’s rest in a sturdy wood structure rather than a tent.

And who knows? At the right time of year, maybe those property shoppers also were enticed by a possible glimpse of some Naked Ladies.

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