Monthly Archives: January 2012

“And some things that should not have been forgotten, were lost.”

I have to thank Annie Haven of Annie’s Annuals for sharing what could be a great feel-good story involving a long-lost wedding ring found wedged atop a carrot in a garden. Considering that the Czarina is constantly misplacing her wedding band and finding it again, this could be our fate, too. Of course, in our situation, we’d find it in the center of a Sarracenia patch, just before I’d discovered she had inscribed it with her wedding oath.

Reviews and why they matter

It’s been a little while since the last time any new book or product reviews (mostly due to some ridiculous issues with distributors on getting books ordered and paid for back last summer), but one absolute when I resume is that I pay my own cash for review copies or samples, and I never solicit responses to reviews. If a publisher or manufacturer wants to quote a review, fine, but I don’t expect a response, and under no circumstances will I ever accept or expect any kind of compensation for doing these. Not that my opinion is worth that much, but it’s a matter of setting ground rules early.

My insistence on setting these standards comes from my old film critic days, and exposure to the critics of Dallas and Fort Worth in particular. This is the area that brought us Michael H. Price and Todd Camp, two of the most forthright and honest film critics of whom I’ve had the honor to meet. This is also the town that brought us the television news film critic who’d stumble into a screening a half-hour after the movie started, and throw a tantrum because the projectionist wouldn’t rewind the film so she could see it at the beginning. This is the area that brought us the critic who’d throw fits about how he’d only review events if he got freebies, and then savage the events because he got everything he wanted. I won’t even start with the editor who’d rewrite his critics’ reviews because that director or that actress needed to be “punished” for early career choices, leave the original critics’ bylines on the review, and then hide when they understandably came for his head.

Nearly twenty years after the advent of the graphical Web browser, we really shouldn’t be surprised that just about any idiot can become a film critic, and many do. (One of the many reasons why I very rarely go to movies any more comes from the number of Web-only critics, all crying dark tears over the demise of GeoCities, literally tackling me in the hopes of snagging “review copies” of entertainment magazines now dead for the last decade.) It’s remarkably easy to turn one of these reviewers into a classic Roger Ebert quote whore: imagine slogging away on reviews and commentary, only to get a studio publicist asking sweetly “Would you be interested in attending a preview of this new movie?” A few previews, a few freebies, a couple of buffet luncheons at nice hotels where you might actually see the star or the director as s/he’s passing through, and the rationalizations begin. Oh, you don’t want to downplay the hard work that cast, crew, and publicity department put into a movie, and you’ll give them a break when they put out a dog. Oh, every movie that’s completed should be celebrated. Heck, there’s nothing wrong with giving blurbs based on early impressions, weeks or even months before the film sees release; in extreme cases, to plagiarize others’ reviews because keeping up with current releases is impossible.

The real reason for keeping up the charade, though, comes down to one basic instinct: keeping up “access” to that magic world. It doesn’t even have to be renumeration in cash, freebies, or escorts: you’d be amazed at the number of alleged critics who’d shiv their grandmothers just to see a long-awaited film two weeks before everyone else. (Or, in the case of one of the Dallas critics mentioned above, pitching a fit about not being invited to a super-special advance preview of a big film a decade ago, and namedropping that a family member was an employee at the publisher of the source novel.)

And how does this connect to horticulture? Only that with the increase in number and range of gardening and horticulture blogs, the glamour might not be as intense as with movies or television, but the temptation is still there to let one slide so as to keep up getting gifts in the mail. Most of these blog writers have never been within a time zone of a newspaper ombudsman, who lays down the law of what is acceptable and not acceptable in renumeration and compensation by and from reviewers. (That, of course, implies that many newspapers or magazines even have ombudsmen any more, as little things such as ethics and morality tend to get in the way of kissing up to big advertisers and friends of the editor.) It’s not that they deliberately decide “Hey, I’m going to grunt out blurbs for items or events I’ve never seen.” You can’t expect bloggers to stick with publication ethics rules when they don’t even know what those rules are. (Poor Todd Camp can appreciate that: he still doesn’t have full use of his feet after he and I attended one of my first critic’s preview screenings in 1989. I completely forgot that I was there as a member of the press, and when the publicists started a scavenger hunt contest for signed press stills, my having a roll of dental floss meant that I hit him and every other critic between me and the aisle like a charging indricothere. I very nearly crippled a good friend and compatriot solely for a Ghostbusters 2 publicity still: how embarrassing is that?)

Never let it be said that I don’t try to help. The folks at eFilmCritic just put out their list of the most obvious quote whores in film criticism in 2011, and I want you to study this list. Compare the names on this list to the big banner headlines on movie posters and TV ads, particularly for the films that made your eyes bleed. Note why they’re referred charitably as “benevolent blurbsters,” instead of merely enjoying films you detested and vice versa. Consider that it’s not enough to say that you enjoyed a new book or spotted a noteworthy tool at a garden show, but that you have to explain why other people should spend actual money on it. Most importantly, consider that if you’re giving out reviews solely so the flow of new swag continues, maybe you might want to quit doing reviews.

“A garden unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”

The office is nearly cleared, and all but two boxes out of fifteen are sorted. The Triffid Ranch now has two more growing spaces for Nepenthes pitcher plants, and a new “proofing oven” shelf arrangement for caring for tropical carnivore arrangements. One more spare weekend, and it should be Done, only a month after it started. Kids, when your parents tell you to clean your room, please listen to them. You don’t want to spend your holiday vacation chipping newspaper cuttings and magazines off your closet shelves, where they’d turned to diamond from the pressure of the detritus piled above them.

The last two weeks weren’t all work: the Czarina and I celebrated nine years of marriage the way we started. Namely, dinner, long walks, and a quiet night at home. Her only problem with this involves our choices of entertainment. Invariably, I end up watching my favorite film for staving off the holiday blues, and she has to deal with my bawling my eyes out when the best-developed and most likeable character in the whole movie gets blasted out a shuttle airlock by Sigourney Weaver. (I’m the same way watching the best alien encounter movie of 1982, right when Kurt Russell throws a stick of dynamite at it.)

It’s not so much that Alien is a great gardener’s movie, although it does make me look forward to the upcoming spring’s paper wasp and cicada-killer wasp populations returning. (When the ongoing cleaning and sorting of the office left me barely able to crawl to bed, I actually managed to get in a bit of light reading. Normally, I have precious little patience for fanfiction, but I confess a stout appreciation for Kim Newman’s new collection Moriarty: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles. Of course a man of such education and erudiction as Professor Moriarty enjoys a hobby of raising wasps when taking a break from his career as “The Napoleon of Crime”. In that regard, he’s a man after my own heart, even if he’s fictional.) It’s that it’s hard looking through the new crop of horticultural hardware catalogs without seeing references to the movie.

I mean, c’mon: if you’re spending your days spreading pesticides powerful enough that you need a powered pesticide helmet and suit, being dragged back with some sort of organism attached to your face may be only one of your immediate issues. Those who read Aurealia C. Scott’s Otherwise Normal People, about the world of competitive rose gardening, might remember one of the subjects needing one of these suits because her preferred mix of fungicides, insecticides, and mutagenic poisons was just a little too strong for humans to handle. This right here is why I get offended when I’m told that carnivorous plant people are weird. We may be weird, but rose people make us look well-adjusted.

And then there’s the obvious reminders. Most of the last week consisted of regular trips to the paper recycler and to the local Half Price Books (and when it comes to piles of back issues of Horticulture and Mother Earth News, these places are the same thing), with the difference being that Half Price trips meant waiting to see if you brought in anything worthy of payment. While waiting one one such expedition, I poked through the art section and came across a copy of WWW HR Giger Com, a retrospective by the Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger. Generally flipping through it, I found one very good reason to snag it. Giger related the issues he had as a designer on the 1995 film Species, and how he’d gone to a significant outlay of money and time to create a “dream train” sequence which was hacked to pieces by the studio. In response, apparently Giger turned the back yard of his house into a course for an electric train for his and his friends’ use. To complement the train line, he landscaped the back with artifacts of his own design.

Now, I wish I had pictures of this, so you’ll have to snag a copy of the book to see for yourself. I just need to reiterate: HANS RUDI GIGER BUILT AN ELECTRIC TRAIN GARDEN IN HIS BACK YARD. We should be either relieved or disappointed that he didn’t design a miniature golf course to go with it.

Again, I can’t find any photos of the train garden online, so you’ll have to trust me on this. It also gives me a very special goal in garden design. I don’t want to copy Giger’s garden, or even make something reminiscent of it. I want to construct a garden that makes him gasp in surprise and wonder. As can be expected, I have quite a long way to go.