Monthly Archives: November 2011

Next season, on “The Texas Triffid Ranch”…

As of Saturday night, the official Triffid Ranch show season ended for the year. This doesn’t mean that individual events and opportunities won’t open up between now and December 31, or that folks in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex can’t order custom arrangements. It just means that the next next big Triffid Ranch event, at ConDFW in Dallas, starts on February 17. As always, keep an eye on the main Triffid Ranch site for updates and revisions.

As for the MetroPCS Fair Park Holiday show last Saturday, let’s focus on the positives. We met a lot of very interesting folks, including one very considerate woman from Chicago (who unfortunately left without giving a name) who reminded me of why I miss Chicago at times. It may be time for a road trip up that way before too long.

Have A Great Weekend

And for all of the retail drones out there having “Santa Baby” and other obnoxious holiday tunes shoved up their noses for the next 29 days, the only obligatory shopping season music that’s endorsed by the Triffid Ranch:

Triffid Ranch events: MetroPCS Fair Park Holiday

For the most part, this weekend is the one I recommend as Dormancy Day for anyone keeping temperate-climate carnivorous plants in North Texas. Temperate carnivores, particularly Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants, are already battening down for the winter, and will remain so until at least the middle of March. Now’s the time to put them to bed, or at least a place where they can get outdoor temperatures and photoperiods, and leave them there until St. Patrick’s Day.

For the tropical carnivores, though, they get one more big show before the end of the year. This Saturday, look for the Triffid Ranch booth at the MetroPCS Fair Park Holiday in Dallas’s Fair Park, benefiting the Friends of Fair Park. I don’t know exactly where we’ll be located, but we’ll be in the Holiday Gift Market between 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.

After that, the next Triffid Ranch shows will be in 2012, starting with ConDFW the weekend of February 17. For the rest of the year, please feel free to keep tabs via the Upcoming Events and Past Press page on the main Web site. And now, back to getting ready for this coming Saturday.

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

The Czarina gives me grief about remembering all sorts of odd anniversaries, usually those involving the two of us. Here’s one worth remembering: as of tomorrow, November 23, 20 years have elapsed since we first met. Well, that’s the day I remember meeting her, because she relates my first meeting her six months earlier and making quite an impression. I think she just came across some other lunatic who looked and sounded just like me, because it’s either that or I was popping back and forth randomly through time in 1991 and I still really haven’t met her for the first time yet.

In any case, the plan is for us to celebrate a few more of these odd anniversaries, at least until sanity intrudes and she comes to her senses. With luck, that won’t happen for a while, because I let her know that I love her in the same way I did a decade ago: by asking “Does this rag smell like chloroform to you?”

Curse of the Frugal

As mentioned in the past, at times, my paternal Scot ancestry and the habits associated with it are a curse. An absolute curse. I don’t mean just in the traditional ways, such as competing within the family to see who could knit the longest Tom Baker scarf with one’s nose hair over the winter. (We Riddells not only beat out everyone else in the vicinity on this, but also being able to knit whole tocques from a single eyebrow hair. See, there’s cold, there’s COLD, and there’s “preparing for life in Canada”.) I mean as in coming up with ideas to use available resources that come off as just crazy.

By way of example, this year set off combat shock in almost everyone involved in horticulture in Texas. The summer finished the job started by the particularly long and brutal sub-freezing snap back last February, and we’re now chopping and sawing and pruning the trees that didn’t make it. This also means that a lot of enterprising individuals are out picking through the spoils piles for wood. With dead pecan and mesquite trees, this means smoking wood for grilles and commercial smokers. For everything else, it’s firewood in anticipation of another bad winter. Texas generally doesn’t have weather that justifies stocking up on firewood, or even using a fireplace for more than a few days out of the year. After this last February, though, I don’t blame anybody a bit.

ER doctors and nurses regularly relate how so many of their most interesting cases involve someone telling them “There I was, minding my own business, when Some Guy came up and shot/stabbed/sodomized/defenestrated me for no reason whatsoever.” Well, there I was, biking to the Day job, minding my own business, when Some Guy threw a particularly vicious idea into my head. No provocation or anything. That idea was “You know, what’s to keep you from using this bounty to heat your plants this season?” And one thousand years of ancestral Riddells, from both sides of Hadrian’s Wall, stood up and screamed “HURRAH!”

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the Czarina wasn’t there to save me from myself. Besides, give her an engineering problem, and she’ll spend the next six months researching every possibility and offering a plan that’s both cheaper and more efficient than anything I could come up with. Not that I’m complaining about this, but then she kvetches about how this took time away from jewelry design.

I’ll also note that using available biomass for greenhouse heating isn’t new, and the wonderful folks at FarmTek have a lot of commercial biomass heating solutions available for consideration. I’ve also been drooling over FarmTek’s radiant floor heating systems, too. The problem with having a very small nursery is that these solutions really aren’t all that practical, especially when most of my issues can be handled with a much smaller option.

The idea kept eating at me, though, and I started researching what the Victorians did to keep small greenhouses warm during bad English winters. That led me to reports of people using converted Franklin stoves with water boilers for supplemental greenhouse heating, and from there to the Good Time Stove Company, and its collection of refitted and repaired gas, wood, coal, and electric stoves.

Oh, my. Who else wants a steampunk nuclear weapon?

This is an idea that may have to sit for a while, at least until the Triffid Ranch gets a new greenhouse solely for tropical plants. Several friends with expertise in wood-burning heating point out that the worst thing about going with wood in severely cold weather is the “one a.m. feeding”, but I’m also glad to note that our current climate means that nights like those are rare. Now, cooling a large greenhouse is a bigger issue, and one that requires a more high-tech solution for Texas summers. And so it goes.

Have a Great Weekend

“Poised, Keep Cutting Away”

Ken Thompson at the Telegraph recently wrote a column that hit a personal spot of white-hot rage in my heart: the constant portrayal of gardeners, horticulturalists, and botanists in fiction as dull and dowdy. Naturally, he’s absolutely right: even with the ones intended to be interesting, most characters with a passion for plants have other major failings. For instance, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple may have a brilliant detective mind, but she presents herself as a batty old woman much more interested in fussing over the garden and knitting. Nero Wolfe may be both a genius detective and an orchid fanatic, but he’s also a neurotic agorophobe who only leaves his townhouse when absolutely unavoidable. Freeman Lowell is insane, Edward Scissorhands is socially retarded, Tom and Barbara Good are summed up with a very evocative speech by Adrian Edmondson, and the less said about American botany student Perpugilliam Brown, the better. The only even remotely exciting horticulturalist in fiction in the last century? Well, I’m biased, but I’d have to say Bill Masen, for obvious reasons.

The reality is that Mr. Thompson is angry about this cliche, and for the right reasons. Anyone who thinks gardeners and botanists are a tweedy lot obviously hasn’t known a lot of them. Yeah, we’re obsessive and sometimes a bit scary, but I like to think in a good way. I just like to tell people about famed botanist W.D. Brackenridge, the first botanist to describe the cobra plant Darlingtonia. The story has it that he found himself in the area around Mount Shasta, California, chased by very hostile natives with an armful of Darlingtonia specimens, noting while running for his life that butterflies were very interested in the pitchers’ distinctive tongue. And let’s not forget John Gould Veitch: this guy was willing to take on samurai for his plants. Non-plant people might think carnivorous plant expert Stewart McPherson‘s obsession with tracking and photographing carnivores in the wild to be dangerous and risky, but there’s not one of us in the field who, if we got a call to accompany him on a new expedition, who’d say “Sorry, but I have to stay home and prune the roses.”

As a final note, think gardeners are dowdy and dull? Share the news that the US Air Force is open to bids on energy weapons for weed control. Just look at it at face value: energy weapons for weed control. Picture your next-door neighbor with a phase plasma rifle in the 40-watt range, and now picture the demented rictus of glee on her face as she sends hackberry seedlings and nutsedge back to Hell. You’ll never again wonder what she’s doing with that Garden Weasel, because she’ll probably go Akira Kurosawa on your liver if you give her any grief.

What has to aggravate Mr. Thompson and myself the most isn’t just that this perception continues. It’s that this affects not just the general public’s perception of gardening, but the perception by businesses that would sell to us. Science fiction enthusiasts rightly get bent out of shape over the presentation of Cat Piss Man as the archetype for science fiction fandom, but what do gardeners get? The assumption that nobody under the age of 60, unless s/he’s severely broken in some way, has any interest in gardening, so (with one very prominent exception) there’s no need to try to sell to anyone else. Walk into a garden center with a leather jacket or motorcycle boots, and the staff will tell you the restroom is in back and the other customers will tell you to put their purchases in the backs of their cars. (I say this from experience, and I even had one woman at North Haven Gardens in Dallas blow up on me when I told her that I didn’t work there, as if that was my fault.) While the gardening trade makes lots of noise about getting younger gardeners into the hobby, it’s still pushing books, magazines, and supplies almost exclusively to the septugenarians, even as I’m seeing more reptile and amphibian enthusiasts getting into horticulture by way of raising live bromeliads and ficus trees for arrow poison frogs and chameleons. The market is out there, and it’s as far away from the popular media cliche of the gardener as you can imagine.

Even better, it may now be time to push a bit harder and follow another respected English tradition. Not only do I figure that gardening needs a bit of a perceptual revolution, but it needs a full shakeout and the opportunity to go in strange and wonderful directions. I’m still collecting ideas and possibilities on where to go (I keep joking about starting a gonzo garden show called the “Arsenal Flower Show”), but it’s time to build a brand new Bromley Contingent for the botanically inclined. And what else did you expect from someone whose favorite gardening song is Ministry’s “Just One Fix”?