Monthly Archives: October 2011

Have a Great Weekend


No sleep ’til Halloween

Just a tiny observation, based on a trip to the grocery store this morning. Back eighteen years ago, my friend Joey Shea kept calling and writing to tell me about a new movie coming out from Tim Burton that I simply had to see. I was still licking bus station toilets clean to get the taste of Batman out of my mouth (to this day, Batman, Girl, Interrupted, and Free Enterprise are my faithful reminders of why I’ll sooner put out lit cigarettes in my eyes than return to film criticism), but this being Joey, he’s rarely wrong when it comes to movies. Well, he hyped up Batman when we first met, but if you can’t forgive your friends, who can you forgive?

Naturally, the film in question was The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s hard to believe today, but that film at the time made lots of heads go explodey, if only because the monsters were the nominal good guys. It definitely made Disney execs at the time go berserk, and the film was the redheaded stepchild of the Disney empire for years. (Even today, I don’t expect to see Sally included with the Disney Princesses, much to the regret of several nieces.)

At the time, I walked out of the theater with only one particular beef about the whole film. Namely, at the end of the film, when Santa fixes the damage caused by Jack Skellington’s addition of Halloween horror to Christmas, you see all of the children given Jack’s special toys welcoming the traditional Christmas replacements. I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t one kid, somewhere, screaming and howling at the top of her lungs as Santa tried to take back the one decent Christmas present she’d ever received. Over the years, as I shared this observation, friends and cohorts agreed, especially since most of us felt the same way. Those of a certain age may remember the parental scoffing and cries of outrage over Kenner putting out an Alien action figure during Christmas 1979, but kids LOVED that stuff. The parental cries over how children would be permanently damaged by playing with “inappropriate” toys were especially funny: we knew those kids, and they could already taste-test specific brands of paste.

One of my regular comments upon seeing the changes in the world since my youth is “I love living in the future.” One of the reasons I say this so often is seeing how readily we as a culture have gone back to the old days of mixing horror and joy in everyday life. For far too many of us, our role models for stable and loving marriages were Gomez and Morticia Addams. Nobody’s bothered by the Monster High toy line as an alternative to Barbie. With far too many friends, I could suggest an evening of watching Clive Barker’s Nightbreed and they’d sniff “I didn’t know you were into documentaries.” I LOVE it.

And what does all of this have to do with gardening? Well, I was one of those kids who would have been demanding that Jack Skellington be allowed to do another Christmas now and then. I’m a bit too old for toys, but plants are a good alternative. I’m thinking it may be time to get more people together who feel the same way, and plan a garden show the likes of which this planet has never seen.

Because I’m vindictive, that’s why

Many moons back, I used to write a gardening and horticulture blog over at LiveJournal. I had a lot of reasons for shutting it down, and one of the particulars involved advertising. Spam comments were relatively easy to fend off, although you had some really clueless types who’d actually write to me to complain about how I’d removed their advertising and then blocked their accounts or IP addresses. No, I got tired of people trying to use me as a forum for selling their own stuff, whether or not I actually approved of it. I don’t have any problems with passing on word about venues and events that deserve wider recognition, nor with reviewing items I’ve purchased because I think readers might have an interest. I just refuse to do so without admitting the source, buying the product in question, and letting everyone know what’s up and why. Thanks to the dubious influence of one Dallas writer notorious for throwing tantrums about getting review copies and other swag, and then throwing larger tantrums in print because he didn’t receive enough swag, I generally decline review copies in general. If I’m writing a negative review, it’s because my own money was involved.

This is why I had quite a bit of fun receiving this letter two weeks ago:

Good afternoon,

I am inquiring about contributing a guest post on The website looks very clean and
well structured, I have specifically chosen you to reach out to as I am
looking to submit a high quality, professionally written guest post article
to place on your site based around living in Texas.

In addition to providing free, high quality content to your site, we also
perform a social boost through providing Facebook likes, Re-tweets, Diggs
and more to the post URL. We provide each one of our guest posts a minimum
of 50 social votes (a $100 value) which will help bring more visitors to
your site via these social channels, as well as provide social signals to
the search engines. These votes not only give your website more visitors,
but more authority and ability to rank as well.

That being said, I am looking to contribute content at no cost to either of
us as the value-add here is pushing out intriguing and fresh content for
your website audience, search engine visibility and social reach as well.
In return for supplying the 100% unique content, images and the social
boost; all I would like in return is up to 2 links within the author bio of
the post.

I look forward to your response,


Confidentiality Statement –
By engaging in conversation through e-mail with representatives from, you agree not to disclose any confidential
information in connection to all negotiations and/or discussions with, or its subsidiaries and partners, to any third
party without the prior written consent of
Confidential information includes but is not limited to client identity,
marketing plans, forecasts, marketing strategy, financial information,
trade secrets, marketing materials, or any other information exchanged in
all present or future dealings with

I didn’t respond for a bit. I wanted to see if this was a blanketbomb solicitation, or if someone was planning to follow up to see if I was going to bite. I wasn’t disappointed:

Hey there,

A few days ago I reached out and sent you an e-mail about possibly
submitting a guest post for placement on your website. I wanted to send a
follow up e-mail because I had not heard back from you after I originally
reached out about the guest posting opportunity.

Please respond as soon as possible and I can either send over a guest post
article for review or we can brainstorm some quality topic ideas you would
be willing to host on your site.

Thanks again for your time,

[Slick] {slick}

Well, you can imagine my surprise when I learned about Hamilton Nolan’s solicitation over at to post links to advertisers. You mean 43a pays bloggers for advertising link placement, and GuestBloggingNetwork only offers 50 social votes (whatever those are)? What a cheapskate! Who the hell do these guys think they’re running: a science fiction media site?

Very seriously, I know perfectly well that many bloggers, either inadvertently or wilfully ignorant of conflict-of-interest issues, take regular payments. I also know far too many “reviewers” who are so thrilled to get any attention at all that they’ll give ecstatic reviews to anything that comes to them. (During a short stint as an editor, a good friend pointed out that one of my book reviewers was plagiarizing reviews from other writers and printing them as hers. Apparently, that was the only way she could keep up with the number of books she was receiving for review, and it was all so she’d keep getting more. She was fired on the spot.) It’s just that I know that my good word is the only thing I have here, so the general policy will be to as up-front as possible. If I plug an event or activity by friends, that’s because they’re friends, not someone offering money or “access”. And blatant, shameless pay-for-play is best reserved for SMU football.

Things To Do In Fort Worth When You’re Dead

I keep telling people that any excuse to go to Fort Worth is a good one, and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is packed to the gills with them. Of particular note is the latest installment in its lecture series, featuring Andrea Wulf, the author of Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation. Naturally, I’ll be there if I have to walk: I’m very familiar with George and Martha Washington’s contributions to horticulture, and I bow to nobody in my admiration for Thomas Jefferson’s horticultural experiments, but now I want to know what the rest of the US’s presidents were up to. I mean, if Richard Nixon was growing opium poppies in the White House’s Rose Garden, that would explain so much…

Absolute Surefire Steps to Kill Your Venus Flytrap: Step 7

Curious about the context? Check out the introduction.

Some of the content in this series appeared, in much shorter form, in Gothic Beauty magazine.

Step 7: Keep it jammed in with other carnivores.

If you’ve been keeping up with the series so far, you might think that I’d never recommend that anybody keep Venus flytraps. That’s not true in the slightest. I’d never recommend them to beginners, for the same exact reasons I’d never recommend green iguanas, Sulcata tortoises, or Nile monitors as pets for anybody who’s never kept reptiles before. Venus flytraps are just as fascinating as any other carnivorous plant, but they’re just so particular about their light, their moisture levels, their potting mix, and choice of prey. I don’t tell a beginner “No, you shouldn’t get a flytrap.” Instead, I point out the merits, note the limitations on care and husbandry, and gently note that I know of a couple of carnivores much better suited for someone who’s never worked with one before. That person usually goes home with a Drosera adelae, and when I see that person again, s/he’s moved to any number of exotic varieties, and then starts experimenting with flytraps.

Back about eight years ago, a very short-lived trend started with bulk carnivorous plant sales to home improvement centers, and I’m glad the collapse of the economy stopped it. At the time, several companies offered carnivores to Home Depot and Lowe’s in the famed cubes of death, but there was one assemblage that just chilled the blood of anybody who knew enough about carnivores to be dangerous. Heck, it even scared me. This was a three-pack sampler, almost always with a Venus flytrap, an adelae sundew, and a Darlingtonia cobra plant jammed together into a cube.

For those who don’t understand, let’s put it into pet terms. Picture walking into a Petco or a PetSmart and seeing a one-cubic-foot package that contained a puppy, a parrot, and a pacu. The only thing they have in common is that their names start with the letter “p”, and these death cube collections of carnivores weren’t much better. As explained before in this collection of essays, Venus flytraps need high humidity and high lighting, but also good air circulation. The adelae sundew gets by on more constrained air than flytraps, as well as much less light, and it doesn’t need a winter dormancy period. The cobra plant needs a winter dormancy period, but it’s native to mountain seeps fed by snowmelt; most botanists consider it an alpine plant, as it needs cool water for its roots and the distinctive drops in night-time temperatures generally found in high mountains. You couldn’t find three more dissimilar species of plant if you tried, and like the puppy/parrot/pacu death cube, you might have one survive for a few months before it finally gave up.

Even with species of carnivore that live in the flytrap’s native or introduced ranges, you’ll find that they don’t exactly live together together. In the wild, flytraps may be found with a few species of sundew, but while they grow in bogs, they prefer more drainage than Sarracenia pitcher plants. Depending upon the species, many Sarracenia have no problems with their roots sitting in water (the parrot pitcher Sarracenia psittacina actually thrives on being submerged for a time in spring and early summer, and its traps apparently adapted to catching aquatic insect and tadpole prey while dunked), which is something that will kill flytraps in a matter of days. Flytraps like their soil kept constantly moist, but they cannot handle being waterlogged. Try to keep a flytrap in the same planter that best suits a terrestrial bladderwort or a Sarracenia pitcher plant, and you’re going to have mush before long.

As always, there are alternatives. In a large bog garden, putting flytraps so they remain at least six inches (16.24 cm) above the general water level works well, and the bog soil can be shored up to keep it from washing down into the rest of the bog during rains. In a large planter, I’ve actually had good results with putting a plastic tube at least six inches wide into the planter so the end rests on the bottom, filling it full of flytrap planting mix (the usual “one part sphagnum moss to one part silica sand” mix), and planting the flytrap above the general soil level for the other plants. In smaller containers and pots, though? Keep it by itself, but if various sundews start sprouting around it, leave them be. They won’t necessarily hurt the flytrap, and they can always be separated during repotting when the flytrap goes dormant for the winter.

Next: Step 8 – Keep moving it around.

Pumpkins scream in the dead of night

Don’t get me wrong: I like Halloween. I like Halloween very much, and as far as I’m concerned, the year goes straight to pot right between November 1 and February 2. (For those who live outside the US, February 2 is the day Sid Vicious rises from his grave, looks down at his shadow, and realizes that he has to wait six more weeks until spring.) It’s just that for the Czarina and myself, Halloween itself has the same urgency that New Year’s Eve had for Hunter S. Thompson. Namely, this is the day where we back off and let the amateurs have some fun.

That’s why I’m actually glad to see Charlotte Germane’s thumbnail guide to Halloween gardening, and not just because the Czarina regularly impersonates Morticia Addams when she’s out working with her roses. We all have to start somewhere, and going with dark foliage and blooms as background or as particular highlights is the big difference between “planned horror” and “someone forgot to mow last week”. The only problem is knowing when to stop, as we both know far too well. When you’re buying the Crassula ovata cultivar “Gollum” just to see the expression on your mother-in-law’s face, it’s far too late.

Have A Great Weekend