When asked, more and more rarely these days, why I gave up the glamorous and profitable worlds of science fiction writing and weekly newspaper journalism in favor of horticulture, I’m honest. I tell the interrogators that it’s all about the attitude. One of the less endearing traits in the skiffy community is to handle contrary opinions with a minimum of grace and aplomb. Express a reasonably informed opinion on any number of subjects that clashes with the declared wisdom of a Cat Piss Man, and a combination surly and whiny nerk of “Well, I liked it” is the lucky response. I say “lucky”, because most feel that this is the only response: instead of discussing the reasons why and therefore, thus leading to a conversation and possibly understanding, “I liked it pretty much says “Dare not question the word of God.” If you’re unlucky, it’s followed up with what they feel is an appropriate response: I don’t know who shot up the garage apartment I had 20 years ago, or what print or spoken comment about popular science fiction media at the time raised their ire (probably an idle comment on how while George Lucas had a better special effects budget, Ed Wood was the superior screenwriter and director), but I still have the two .22 hollowpoints I pulled out of the outside wall as proof.
That’s one of the reasons why I much prefer discussing gardening. Oh, sure, Amanda Thomsen and I may go Kurosawa on each other over the merits of asters versus chrysanthemums in winter gardens, but we can scream at each other why we have those preferences. “You don’t get it, do you? Mums can handle the heat better!” “Shut up! Mums smell like rest homes!” PARRY HA DODGE THRUST QUARTERSTAFF UP THE NOSE. When we finally put down the chainsaws and rubbing alcohol, though, we can shake hands, or at least stumps, and acknowledge that we can argue the merits of each in a thoughtful and reasonable manner. It’s when we get into discussions about horsetails versus Sarracenia pitcher plants that we start to recreate the climax of John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. (And before you ask, she’s the one throwing the dynamite.)
That’s why I worry when I read about the increasing problems with English allotment vandalism. It’s not that England doesn’t already have a tradition of horticultural hooligans, but what’s disturbing is what this means for the hobby. Dynamite fishing in the aquaculture tanks. The retired schoolteacher who stands over the water main valve, cheerily asking “Who run Bartertown?” Seventysomethings on dirtbikes wearing nothing but Mohawks and bondage pants. Chainsaw duels at 3 in the morning over the better potting mix recipe. If the trend continues, my suggestion for starting the “Manchester United Flower Show” might actually come true.
Okay, I kid. The real reason I worry about the grand English tradition of gardening going violent isn’t the concern over raging bands of tomato punks rampaging across the United Kingdom. My concern is that they’ll then come to Texas and presume that attitude alone will save them. Faced with regular tornadoes, fire ants, coyotes and armadillos, blistering sun, and hailstones the size of cats, they’d go catatonic within a week, and then I’d be the one to clean up the mess.