Monthly Archives: January 2012

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.

Back to the linen mines

I’ve said before that I was goth back when the term still referred to Germanic tribes overrunning the Roman Empire, and it shouldn’t be any surprise that I’ve had lots of interesting dark gardening ideas running through my head for the last six months or so since the Gothing Beauty fiasco. Well, it’s time to go back to causing more trouble: as of today, I became the official gardening columnist for Carpe Nocturne magazine. Since the publication schedule is significantly more active than that of GB, expect a lot more in the way of pertinent subjects, including looks at moon gardens, sources for statuary, and prehistoric plants. I suspect that there’s room in the gardening writing community for one Turner Van Blarcum; come to think of it, I may have to talk to Turner about designing some drastically different plant stands for the Carpe Nocturne crowd.

Have a Great Weekend

Thursday is Resource Day

Gardening enthusiasts have different criteria for when they determine the beginning of spring. With some, it’s the actual vernal equinox. With others, it’s when nighttime temperatures go above a certain level. Here in the States, we tend to pay attention to February 2, when Sid Vicious rises from his grave, looks down at his shadow, and realizes that he has to wait six more weeks until spring. For me, spring always starts exactly 75 days after receiving the first R.H. Shumway Illustrated Garden Guide right around Christmas. That gives me about 70 days to stop drooling, contemplating buying 20 acres “just for experimentation, and making plans to become a gentleman farmer. Not that these are bad things (well, except for the drooling), but the Czarina might object.

Besides, R.H. Shumway is a perfectly reasonable and sane way to spend one’s income tax refund check, but you have to learn to pace yourself when buying new seeds and gear for the season. The trick is to buy enough, from enough varied sources, to keep the catalogs coming for the rest of the year. This way, you have extra reading material to drag to the Day Job, family gatherings, and oil changes. Dragging ordinary porn to these locales will usually get you fired, disowned, and beaten with tire irons. Drag out garden porn, though, and you’ll likely have fresh new gardening addicts at each one.

To start, we have the stalwarts, the heavy-hitters, the really dangerous catalogues. I’m talking, of course, about the Winter 2012 FarmTek catalog. This year’s catalog really illustrates the current resurgence in hydroponics, and I’m just idealistic enough to believe that the customers really are using it for tomatoes and lettuce. Me, I’m sorely tempted to pick up a few drip-line systems for Sarracenia propagation next season, and compare the growth of those plants to ones grown under standard methods.

I’m ridiculously loyal to FarmTek and its products, but I’m putting in an order with Gempler’s as well, because the Gempler’s crew carries a lot of items not carried by FarmTek. Between the two, the Triffid Ranch should be well-stocked.

On a more literary bent, my friend Joey Shea sent me a catalog for Woodburn Books in New Jersey, an antiquarian bookseller specializing in horticultural and gardening books. We’re talking classics from the Victorian period and before, kids. After realizing that I have a rather large list of obscure carnivorous plant references that need tracking, including lists and descriptions of some of the classic Nepenthes hybrids and cultivars that became extinct after World War I, I’ll return the favor, Joey. Oh, I will make you pay.

It’s not really the post-holiday catalog season without at least one new Fruiting, Rare and Tropical Plants Annual from Logee’s Plants, and this catalog makes me regret living in Texas from time to time. This is because Logee’s has a collection of exotic citrus that beggars the mind and lubricates the palate, and Texas is currently the one citrus-growing state in the US that’s free of the several particularly nasty citrus diseases rampaging elsewhere. No big deal, though, because the selection of Brugmansia, hibiscus, and orchid cactus dulls the grief a bit. I can’t get citrus that wasn’t already grown in the state and certified disease-free, but I can grow Maypop passion flower vines all year around, so that makes up for it.

In other sources, the British fantasy and science fiction digital art magazine ImagineFX might not be a regular gardener resource, but the January 2012 issue on art nouveau might catch a few. I say this because, as someone with very little formal art background, I had no idea how much influence the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) had on contemporary garden illustration and advertising. The name had never come up in my life before now, and apparently it came along at the perfect time for me to compare notes with artist friends about where to start with his voluminous collection.

Finally, one-half of the fun with playing with miniature gardens is being able to introduce gardening friends and modeling friends to a common ground, no pun intended. The other half is sharing common sources for building materials. Of all of the catalogues listed previously, the new Micro-Mark catalogue of modeling supplies and tools is potentially the most dangerous. It’s not that the prices are high, or the tools obscure. It’s that you find yourself mumbling “I’ve got that idea resting right in the back of my head,” and it’s suddenly reasonable to quit going to work and focus instead of making that idea happen. As I said, dangerous and just a little too tempting at times.

Well, that’s it for the catalogues: next Thursday, it’s time for interesting items gleaned from industry magazines. To quote one of the great philosophers of the Twentieth Century, you’ll boogie ’til you puke.

“Form blazing secateurs!”

While I know my chances of being allowed to join are right up there with G.G. Allin being inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, I keep tabs on the site Great Garden Speakers, mostly because of the number of friends, cohorts, and role models who show up there regularly. (Yes, I actually have friends who aren’t the human equivalent of the Burgess Shale fauna. Shut up.) Even better was discovering that Great Garden Speakers has a listing solely of Timber Press authors, including Fern Richardson and Debra Lee Baldwin. For your next gardening event, hire one or two to discuss horticulture. Hire them all to watch them merge into Voltron.

The Doom That Came To Dublin

I have to admit that, in my advancing years, I get increasingly tired of the foofarol concerning defunct cultural institutions when said institutions died for rational reasons. Namely, the crying and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over restaurants, stores, and other venues that died because potential patrons were being sentimental about them instead of, say, actually buying something. Much of this hatred comes from my science fiction writing days, where every magazine that shut down was greeted with the hysterics expected from the deaths of rock stars or celebrity chefs. Never mind that if the magazine’s fans actually bought a copy, or read anything other than the submissions guidelines page before defecating into the slushpile mailbox with their latest Absolutely Fabulous/Farscape fanfiction, said magazine might actually still be around.

In a few cases, not only do I understand the urge, but I join in the mourning. Today is the day Dublin Dr. Pepper stopped production.

It’s hard to explain to non-Texans why a carbonated soft drink should be such a big deal, except for the fact that it was everywhere. For a very long time, the company was a major employer in the Dallas area, with its main bottling plant on Mockingbird Lane. Dr. Pepper was hyped as a hot as well as cold beverage in the Fifties, and you could still find little electric cup heaters with the logo (for dunking into a coffee cup) in garage sales when I moved here. Just about every venue that featured a soda dispenser had Dr. Pepper as a selection, and until about 1982 or so, asking for a “Coke” really meant you were getting a Dr. Pepper unless you said otherwise. It was even an official sponsor of the Dallas Cowboys, long before current Cowboys owner Jerry Jones turned that credit into a joke.

And yes, I bought into it as well. When Coca-Cola went into its ill-fated fling with New Coke in 1985, I became a Dr. Pepper junkie. One of the many reasons I moved back to Texas in 1986 was because of Dr. Pepper: I was so miserable in Wisconsin that I spent many an hour in a horrible Burger King in downtown Appleton solely because that Burger King had Dr. Pepper on tap. Friends wanting to make bar crawls or concert runs just had to deal with the fact that I wasn’t drinking anything stronger than DP, and I think I managed to evade getting stomped at one of the last shows at the famed Theater Gallery in Deep Ellum outside of downtown Dallas because the skinheads saw that I was more straightedge than they were.

Times change, and they didn’t necessarily get better. The Dr. Pepper plant on Mockingbird was shut down shortly after the company was bought by what is now Dr. Pepper/Snapple/Cadbury, with lots of promises to renovate the historic landmark as a shopping mall or other general attraction. Those promises were lies, and the building was demolished in 1997. (I’d make all sorts of snide and perfectly accurate comments about the apartment building that went up in its place, but that always leads to at least one SMU brat crying about how mocking rich cokeheads, particularly with words of more than one syllable, is “class warfare”.) Long before then, the recipe changed from using actual cane sugar to the omnipresent high-fructose corn syrup, with a corresponding loss of flavor.

Six years ago, the Czarina’s family and I made a summer vacation trip to Banff, Alberta, and everyone was shocked at how good Dr. Pepper tasted in Canada. I explained that it was because it was bottled in Canada, a country that neither subsidized its corn industry nor tried to embargo Cuba. The vast majority of the supply of this ambrosia in the US uses the loathed HFCS, but the tiny town of Dublin, Texas was allowed to sell Dr. Pepper with real Imperial cane sugar. It shouldn’t be any surprise that locals and visitors, given a taste test, were willing to pay premium prices for Dublin Dr. Pepper, and it should be even less of one that we addicts were willing to travel to get our hits. For one niece of mine, she forswore most birthday presents so long as we showed up with a six-pack of Dublin Dr. Pepper, in glass bottles, so she could ration it out while back in college.

And how does this involve a horticultural blog? Well, aside from the Texas history, it came down to a personal issue. Considering extensive and deep budget cuts to Texas schools and libraries, I understand all too well that lecturer speaker fees take money from already nearly nonexistent budgets, and I’d rather have that speaking money go into books, supplies, and teacher goodwill. Hence, when it comes to public schools and libraries in the North Texas area, my speaking fee for Triffid Ranch lectures was always the same: one bottle of Dublin Dr. Pepper, preferably cold. It’s not quite on a par with Iggy Pop and the Stooges’s concert rider, but I like to think that I’m paying back just a little bit for the terror I inflicted when I was a student.

That was then. With the announcement that the Dublin bottler is shut down, with the corresponding loss of jobs to the Dublin area, I’m not just cutting out Dr. Pepper consumption in general. I have to find a new currency for school lectures. I’d go back to an old friend but the Eighties, but Jolt Cola is now made with HFCS instead of cane sugar, so what’s the point?