Daily Archives: January 18, 2012

Review: The Evening Garden by Peter Loewer

(A bit of context. This blog features regular reviews of books, horticultural products, and interesting related items, under this proviso. All items reviewed will be purchased by the reviewer in advance, at full retail price, in order to prevent any conflict of interest. Information about upcoming releases is greatly appreciated, but receipt of advance copies or samples will be announced well in advance and will not influence the final review. The world has enough Jeff Craigs and Maria Salases as it is.)

The Evening Garden: Flowers and Fragrance From Dusk Till Dawn by Peter Loewer.
ISBN-10: 0881925322
ISBN-13: 9780881925326
Published: Timber Press (OR), 06/01/2010
Pages: 272
Language: English

Ramon Gonzalez of Mr. Brown Thumb recently tweeted “There are no new ideas, but when one comes around you’d find it easier to milk a turtle than to get a garden writer to credit its creators.” Speaking in general, I couldn’t agree more (back during my science fiction writing days, my articles were ripped off so often by Entertainment Weekly that my name should have run in the magazine’s masthead), but I wonder if we’re ascribing malice when mere ignorance is enough. Anybody who’s been writing for more than a month knows that ideas themselves are cheap, but it’s the implementation that’s tough, which is why anybody fussing about editors or publishers “stealing my ideas” automatically labels him/herself as an amateur. What continues to surprise me in the gardening writing market is the sheer amount of parallel evolution going on. We aren’t stealing each others’ ideas: we’re working with what we figure are original and pertinent concepts, only to discover that someone else, or several someone elses, was working with the same base material at the same time. It’s particularly disgusting to discover that someone else wrote about your oh-so-innovative idea or conclusion years before you ever entered the hobby.

I write this from experience. I spent nearly a year researching moon gardens. After wandering into the main Sarracenia growing area out behind the greenhouse during a full moon, I was simply stunned at how well Sarracenia, particularly S. leucophylla, fluoresces in moonlight. A bit of research with UV light sources led to a whole series of experiments with night-blooming plants and how well they stand out in both moonlight and UV, and I was so sure I was in new territory. Oh, I was smug, figuring that I had something that would stop all of my gardening friends for a minute and make them look upon my works and despair.

This was before I discovered the existence of Peter Loewer‘s The Evening Garden, and learned that he’d gone well beyond anything I could accomplish in my garden back in 1993. In fact, about halfway through, I was reminded of the comedian Bill Hicks’s routine concerning a Debbie Gibson/ Jimi Hendrix duet album, because all I wanted to do was scream “MOMEEEEEEEEE! I wanna go back to the mall! I suck! I suck!”

According to the author, The Evening Garden first saw print in 1993 through McMillan, and promptly went out of print in 1995 when the publisher went bust. This helps explain the format, because this is a book meant to be read, not just scanned. Loewer goes through a very impressive list of night-blooming plants, night-fragrant plants, and plants that look as if they should bloom at night, in a friendly, conversational style that covers a lot of growing conditions. All of the big hitters, including Datura, Ipomoea, and Brugmansia, are in the list, but so are a whole slew of surprises. I know just enough about Hemerocallis daylilies to be dangerous, but I had no clue as to Hemerocallis citrina, the citron daylily, being a night bloomer. Since I’m already an enthusiastic fan of the taste of its flower buds, either raw or cooked, this is going into the garden as soon as I know that the risk of last-minute freezing is gone.

Again, I thought I was so clever for inventing a modern moonlight garden all by myself, but Mr. Loewer beat me to that, too. Opportunities for encouraging fireflies and glowworms in that garden, too, on top of recommendations for night-blooming cactus and other succulents with which I’ve only started experimentation. I wanna go back to the mall. The only aspect of my ongoing research that didn’t show up in this book, and that was only because the technology wasn’t available at the time it was written, involves the use of LED lighting systems, particularly UV LEDs. I fully expect that if I started writing about it, and the sheer beauty of some flowers as they fluoresce in patterns normally only visible to insects, Mr. Loewer will finish an updated chapter on the subject that makes me look like more of an amateur than before.

Now, the particulars on this edition is that the illustrious crew at Timber Press brought it back into print, but as a print-on-demand edition. This means, among other things, that it can’t be ordered directly from the Timber Press Web site. However, it is available through a plethora of independent and chain bookstores for order, and I heartily recommend my friends at St. Johns Booksellers. I’m also thinking longer and harder on trying to organize a goth event comparable to Convergence with at least one panel on moon gardens, because I want to drop copies into the hands of a few fellow darklings and see what they can accomplish with a good resource guide.

In the meantime, the experiments continue. After learning about the new “Pink Lemonade” blueberry (Vaccinium), I’m picking one up this weekend. It’s not just because I’m already a blueberry junkie, that the ripe berries should complement the roses already in the back, or that the Czarina has been begging for a blueberry bush ever since she discovered they could be raised as container plants in Dallas. No, it’s because I have a sneaking suspicion that the unripe berries are very moonlight-friendly, and that the best way to tell that the berries are ripe is when they stop glowing under a full moon. I’ll let you know what I discover, because while The Evening Garden has a huge section on prominent blooms for a moon garden, it doesn’t say a thing about berries.

I get by with a little hemp from my friends

It’s been an interesting week, so I have no excuses as to why I forgot to pass on Black Walnut Dispatch‘s discovery of an essential horticultural tool. In fact, with a little promotion, this might be the biggest thing since that Interwebs thing.

*cue Ronco announcer voice* “Want to convince your neighbors that they need to get with the times, but they’re smart enough to see through your ‘but I waaaaaaant it!” arguments? Need to pitch the idea that ‘creative class’ solutions will save your town, but Richard Florida puts you and your pets to sleep? Convinced that you can grow food for fifteen off one 3×3 chunk of lead-contaminated street median in front of your Brooklyn loft, but can’t quite find the words to stun your friends and roommates into watering it eight times a day? Then it’s time to try the new (flash) Landscape Urbanism Bullshit Generator! Simply press the button, and effortlessly crank out mindless buzzwords all day! Why pay $50,000 and up for an MBA when you can grunt out official-sounding and almost plausible technobabble in the comfort of your home?

“Now, don’t just assume that this valuable and cost-effective tool just needs to be used to promote bioswales and rooftop farming. The Landscape Urbanism Bullshit Generator has a million-and-one uses. Use it to generate Viagra spam headers! Compose corporate memos on dress code and lunch breaks! Write your own letters to your local newspaper editor! Make urban trend story proposals for the New York Times! Explain the science behind faster-than-light in your science fiction novel! Press it ten thousand times, and generate Bruce Sterling essays indistinguishable from the real thing!

“Before, if you wanted a never-ending source of gibberish for verbally bludgeoning your local planning commission, you used to have to pay hundreds of dollars for subscriptions to Wired and Make and Urban Farm, and spend hour after hour clipping out malapropisms from the columns therein. With this SPECIAL ONLINE OFFER, though, you can get the linguistic clarity of a Faith Popcorn or Cory Doctorow for ABSOLUTELY FREE! Check out the Landscape Urbanism Bullshit Generator now, before it shows up in an episode of Portlandia!”

The definition of insanity

Okay, so last year’s seed experimentation didn’t work quite as well as I’d thought. Of course, you try predicting a “drought of record” back last January. Looking at the list of floral experiments from 2011, and it’s only slightly less painful than Bhut Jolokia-based jock itch creme. (Interestingly, the Bhut Jolokia plants were some of the only successes in 2011, and they’re going to make spectacular bonsai this summer.) Triggerplants, Nepenthes, Sarracenia, Drosera…on and on and on.

One of the learning-experience projects involved trying to see if the South African protocarnivore Roridula will do well in Texas. For those unfamiliar with the genus, Roridula superficially resembles a sundew or rainbow plant, in that its leaves are covered with sticky adhesive threads intended for trapping insect prey. The difference between the two species of Roridula and all other known species of sticky-leaf carnivore is that Roridula secretes resin instead of mucilage as its trapping adhesive, and digestive enzymes can’t pass through the resin. In the wild, Roridula compensates for this with a symbiotic relationship with at least one native species of ambush bug. The plant traps prey which is then fed upon by the ambush bugs, and the ambush bugs reciprocate by defecating on the plant’s leaves. The leaves have special channels intended to capture said feces, so it’s carnivorous by proxy thanks to that foliar feeding. Considering that stories circulate about the larger species of Roridula, R. gorgonias, capturing small birds, both bugs and plants seem to flourish under this relationship.

Not that I’m wanting the ambush bugs (although I’m intrigued as to whether Texas-native ambush bugs, such as our famed wheel bug, might fill the niche), but I’m very curious as to how well either Roridula species might do in Dallas once established. Hence, I ordered a small bundle of seeds of R. gorgonias and sowed them under recommended soil and light conditions. Unfortunately, this was right about the time the drought really set in and the relative humidity came awfully close to negative numbers, so no seedlings. I still have hope, though, that maybe the seeds needed a bit of cold treatment, so the pots remain outside for the winter, and if they don’t sprout by May, then I’ll give it up as a bad experiment.

The real danger is with doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. As Mark Twain told us, that’s the definition of insanity. That’s also the definition of gardening. Since the cold outdoors is just enough to make me a bit stir-crazy, it was time to put in an order with Silverhill Seeds in Cape Town and see how well the smaller species, R. dentata, might do this summer. Results to follow.

Render unto Rick Perry what is Rick Perry’s

The Christmas decorations are finally put up. The trees were hauled off during Large Trash Day two weeks ago. The grocery stores are full of Valentine’s Day candy. Dallas fluctuates between just-about-freezing north winds and warm, humid south winds that tear up the greenhouse and bring the palmetto bugs out of hiding. Yep, it’s winter, all right. Next on the agenda: tax time.

I’ll derail any arguments about taxation by stating that I don’t think anyone likes paying taxes. Even the swot in high school who swooned over getting homework over Christmas vacation doesn’t like paying taxes. That said, I understand that this is the price for having an advanced technological civilization. I also understand that most of the complaining about taxation comes down to whining about paying for things that you don’t necessarily like. Myself, I figure that if at least some of my federal income tax money goes to the National Weather Service, the National Science Foundation, and the Global Positioning System, I’m coming out ahead. When it comes to these and other government agencies and services that directly affect my life and livelihood, I just wish I had some way to give APHIS a bit more.

It’s the same situation with state sales taxes. Because of our wideranging oil and gas industry, Texas is one of the few states in the US that doesn’t charge a state income tax. To cover additional charges above and beyond the oil tax, though, we have a rather hefty sales tax, as well as state “sin taxes” on liquor, tobacco, and gasoline. Again, I could fuss about some of the silly and aggravating things on which the state spends its money, but I also figure that it’s a fair trade for decent roads, an exemplary Dallas mass transit system, public schools and libraries, and the Texas Department of Agriculture. If I have issues with how the rest of the money is spent, well, that’s why you keep an eye on your legislators.

About the only thing that I truly hate about tax time isn’t the money, or the people allocating it. It’s the actual process of filing. No matter the prior preparation, no matter how early you file, the process itself dredges up horrible memories of school essays and oral exams. Successfully defend your Ph.D thesis once, and you’re done. Tax time is that Ph.D defense every blasted year, no matter how kindly the folks at H&R Block. Sort the receipts and itemize the deductions to where even the most determined IRS auditor whistles in appreciation, and you’re still channeling your internal Dylan Moran: “‘What is your mother’s maiden name?’ What’s her first name? I just knew her as ‘Ma’! ‘Ma (Possibly Deceased)’.”

Oh, and did I mention that my sales taxes are charged quarterly? Every three months, the Czarina has grand fun shrieking “WHAT? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?” at me. The scary part is that this never gets old.