Monthly Archives: May 2014

Have a Great Weekend

Thirty years ago tomorrow was a day that will live forever in infamy. Namely, that was the day everything that Lewisville High School, in the expected North Texas town, threw at me failed to kill me, and they had no choice but to turn me loose on the general public. There was no love lost between the school and myself, nor with the rest of the town, and we keep our distance. Any closer interaction, and we’d likely end up like the famed Mongolian Fighting Dinosaurs.

However, there are, inexplicably, people who actually enjoyed their time at Lewisville High, to the point of inviting me and other LHS misanthropes to our next class reunion. Now, this could be just because I’m one of the few alumni to be on the teevee without someone in the background asking the obvious question. It would also be very easy for me to respond with the first thing that comes to mind: “If I wanted to blow a few hundred bucks and a perfectly good weekend listening to a herd of entitled reactionaries bitching impotently about how the universe changed without their express written permission, I’d go to a WorldCon.” (Actually, that’s not as bad a threat as it sounds, at least this year. London…The Colony, Texas…I can imagine which one would be more fun to wander if I got tired of the festivities and went for a walk. In fact, I know which one would have fewer meth labs.)

All of this brings on mixed feelings. On one side, I might actually have fun out there, especially with recreating the “Dick Dent” scene from the film Sid & Nancy with one character, and my best friend yelling “Go get ‘im, Sidney! Gooooooo!” behind me. On the other, speaking from experience, I won’t go until someone finally writes lyrics for our school song:

Dallas Interlude: Barry Kooda’s Garden

Longtime readers might recognize my constant plugging of the works of Dallas’s own Barry Kooda, and not just because he’s one of the biggest influences on Dallas music in the last 40 years. Oh, I could bring up his music, between his classic punk band The Nervebreakers, the Nineties-era Yeah!Yeah!Yeah!, or the country fusion The Cartrights, but I know him best for his art. Well, that and for the fact that Barry suffers fools barely, and he was really good at hanging me up by my collar and letting the wind blow the stink off me when I was in my twenties. Even today, I don’t think “What Would Barry Do?”: I just think about something really stupid that I’m planning to do, see Barry’s expression of sad disapproval, saying “I thought better of you” without uttering a phoneme, and decide that yeah, it was a really stupid idea.

Well, one of the many good things about having Barry as a friend for nearly half my life is that there’s no telling what you’ll learn by hanging out with him for all of fifteen minutes. A couple of weekends ago, for instance, he passed on word that he was hosting one of his classic “Clear out stuff to make room for new stuff” garage sales, and the Czarina and I rushed out at the best opportunity. Now, I both needed a Chinese fishbowl and a set of big window screens he was selling off (the fishbowl for a big project, the screens to help keep grasshoppers out of the greenhouse, where they’re feeding on my Buddha’s Hand citron tree), and I would have understood if he’d just taken money and sent us along so he could take care of other folks. Instead, he and his wonderful wife Laura gave us both a quick tour of their wonderful house in Oak Cliff (bought long before the current gentrification nightmare that’s doing to Oak Cliff what previously happened to Lower Greenville Avenue and Deep Ellum in decades past), and then showed off the garden. Oh, he showed me the front garden, and the big fossil slab in the front.

The Great God Pan

Those lucky enough to have read the Bob Slaughter book Fossil Remains of Mythical Creatures might recognize his skeleton of Pan. Even if you haven’t, and I recommend anyone interested in deliberate fabricated fossils should pick up a copy of this book NOW, the Pan pipes by the skeleton’s hand is a giveaway. This is how cool Barry is: it’s not just that he has a Bob Slaughter original in his front garden. It’s that he and Bob were friends before Bob died, and Bob’s wife asked Barry if he’d like to take this original home rather than have it destroyed. This is why I want to be just like Barry when I grow up, if he ever grows up. And as always, he’s inspiring me to big projects on the Triffid Ranch hiatus: those familiar with the Frederick D. Gottfried short story “Hermes To The Ages” might get an idea of the trouble I’m planning for my own front beds.

The Trumpetvine That Came to Sarnath

Scarlet Trumpetvine

I’ve commented elsewhere about Some Guy, because you can always connect the worst advice on the planet to Some Guy. Horticulturally speaking, Some Guy can be blamed for all sorts of concentrated vile, but one of the most pernicious involves spreading tales about effective use of scarlet trumpetvine (Distictis buccinatoria).

D. buccinatoria doesn’t sound quite so bad upon first glance. It’s a very enthusiastic climbing vine, sometimes growing as big around as your leg, with a nearly fernlike thick foliage. Its name comes from its equally enthusiastic blooming habit, with bright red blooms that attract hummingbirds by day and hawkmoths by night. It also sprouts from its roots, growing a thick corky rind around an extremely tough and fibrous root core. If you’re looking for a tenacious and full vine that covers just about anything, you can’t find anything better in the Dallas area.

And that’s precisely the problem. Scarlet trumpetvine blooms lead to long, beanlike seed pods whose contents are gleefully spread by birds, so they end up everywhere. They don’t seem to have anything indigenous that keeps them under control, so while their leaves make excellent shelter for lizards and beneficial insects, they also transpire so much water during the day that any wood underneath them starts to rot very quickly. Since nothing seems to trim back that foliage, that means that fences, walls, posts, and sheds are rapidly buried under thick blankets of trumpetvine.

This sounds perfect if you want trumpetvine to stay, but just TRY to remove it. This is where Some Guy comes in, because the trope going through yuppie neighborhoods is that “you should plant trumpetvine around telephone poles so that it’ll cover the pole.” Not only does this make the local utility reps absolutely loathe you, as reaching the pole, much less climbing it, is impossible when sheathed in trumpetvine, but it also guarantees that the seeds will spread elsewhere. Chop it down, and it readily resprouts from the roots. Mow down the new growth, and chunks will reroot and spread through the immediate area. Spray it with herbicides, and the sprays wash off the leaves and kill off everything underneath. In my case, I made the mistake of letting trumpetvine get established along a wooden fence during the summer of 2011, and I’m still cutting it back every week from the roots from that summer.

Scarlet Trumpetvine

Now, Amanda Thomsen of Kiss My Aster repeatedly argues that scarlet trumpetvine is of the Devil. I’d argue that if confronted about trumpetvine, Satan would stand up and profess true innocence, arguing that some things are too foul for him to consider. You could go through other pantheons, and every possible suspect would do the same thing. Loki would swear upon Yggdrasil that he wouldn’t think of doing such a horrible thing. Set would set upon his heels and cry at the accusation. Tezcatlipoca would be found in the bath, repeatedly scrubbing himself with wire brushes. Camazotz would go back to his old cutting habit. Nyarlathotep…Nyarlathotep would just sit back, vomiting silently in utter terror that someone would give him credit for creating or developing scarlet trumpetvine.

This garden season, have some sympathy and some taste. When you’re saturation-nuking the garden to blast out trumpetvine, don’t randomly assign blame for something of such cosmic horror. Instead, just ask yourself “What did those gods of chaos and evil ever do to you to deserve that sort of insult?”

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Cat Monday

Leiber

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014 – 11

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

And that about does it for Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014. As always, many thanks to the crew and staff at Texas Frightmare Weekend for exceeding everyone’s expectations once again, and many thanks to everyone who came by the Triffid Ranch booth, either to buy plants or just to say hello. And just wait for next year: when the Triffid Ranch comes back out of hiatus, things are going to go BOOM, and in a good way.

Have a Great Weekend

Both congratulations to a niece graduating from high school this next week, and a tribute to the late Dave Brockie and Cory Smoot, for their parts in one of the best cover songs ever performed.

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014 – 10

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014 – 9

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Friightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014 – 8

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014 – 7

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Cat Monday, Guest Edition

Chloe in the Wall

Finally, running through the end of Guest Cat Monday, this is Chloe, better known to all and sundry as “Chloe in the Wall”. This was because when Madelyn first rescued her as a kitten, she somehow found a hole in her apartment wall and lived in the walls for years, only coming out to eat and use the litterbox. She doesn’t have quite so exotic a hiding space today, but she’s still very rarely seen, which is why this photograph was so surprising. The story among friends was that Chloe didn’t really exist, but apparently she thrives in the Heisenberg Continuum.

Additionally, take a look at the photo to see something particularly odd about Chloe in the Wall. When it comes to eyeshine, most cats have yellow or orange shine when their photos are taken with a flash. Alfred, as shown earlier in the series, has brilliant red eyeshine, as do many Siamese and cats of Siamese descent. Most cats have a yellow eyeshine. Leiber’s are the green of Coke bottle glass, and Cadigan’s eyeshine is as orange as her fur. When was the last time, though, that you saw a cat’s eyeshine that was bright sky blue?

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014 – 6

Texas Frightmare Weekend spider

One of the underrated aspects of carnivorous plant research involves the number of animals that take advantage of the plants’ insect-attracting abilities. When I first encountered Sarracenia pitcher plants in the wilds south of Tallahassee all these years ago, I regularly spotted green tree frogs camped in the pitchers, waiting for their next meal. Here in the Dallas area, I’m constantly shooing baby Mediterranean geckos out of the pitchers when I need to repot plants. I won’t even start with the orb-weaver spiders building webs in the greenhouse and continuing their dinner theater rendition of The Battle of Gorash VII with the MedGeckos. However, although I’ve seen photos of spiders pulling prey out of Sarracenia pitchers, I’d never seen it myself, and come to think of it, I couldn’t remember seeing a crab spider in Texas since I moved here.

Well, there’s always a first time. A sharp-eyed customer at Texas Frightmare Weekend spotted this little guy camped on the lid of a Sarracenia flava pitcher, and “Sid” stayed there for the entire weekend. Before you ask, he’s back in the Sarracenia pools right now, chowing down on the explosion of insects practically raining down on the plants. (Next time someone dealing with an unnaturally cold Dallas winter chirps “Oh, but at least the bugs won’t be so bad this summer, right?”, please punch that person right in the heart for me. I’m having to clear grasshoppers out of the greenhouse from where they’re eating my Buddha’s Hand citron’s foliage, thank you very much, and I suspect the insect problem is only going to get worse once summer starts.)

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014 – 5

Dametria at Texas Frightmare Weekend

Another one of the joys of Texas Frightmare Weekend is seeing old friends and cohorts, such as Dametria of The Curiositeer, who always wants to come by and check out new plants. Between her, Robert Whitus of Drink With The Living Dead (who has finally forgiven me for being his roommate back in the Eighties), and Chris, my favorite Half Price Books store manager, who needs class reunions?

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014 – 4

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Looking back over the last five years of attending Texas Frightmare Weekend, the evolution of the venue is just staggering. It’s easy to assume that it’s all about the attendance, and attendance at this year’s event was tremendous. “Great flowing rivers of humanity” is probably the best assessment, at least from this angle. No, it’s that the attendees always expect to see each show top the previous year’s show. The Frightmare crew then reciprocates by shooting well past expectations. It’s the same with the vendors: every year, we get attendees who come back to see what we have this time. It’s a wonderful game of heightened expectations and nuclear escalation, and I suspect that by my tenth year, I’d better have real triffids for sale or else.

Because of that, new plants weren’t the only things needed. New containers and new ideas showed up as well. Both a pair of statuary heads and a set of metallic skulls incorporated several happy experiments in painting techniques, and they disappeared right away. I’m not going to say what the experiment entailed, but keep an eye on this space for developments.

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Have a Great Weekend

And now for a song that pretty much sums up the Czarina’s and my dating days. Especially the end of the song.

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014 – 3

Texas Frightmare Weekend

One of the many reasons I love showing plants at Texas Frightmare Weekend is because you honestly have no idea what’s going to happen next. Guests wandering around asking questions always make a show: I spent the first half-hour of Sunday morning having a great conversation with actor Mark Rolston about Roridula and other non-sundew sticky-trap carnivores. Since one of the many draws at the show was the advertised reunion of three of the actors from the film Aliens, he was out wandering the dealer’s room with Jenette Goldstein, and I jumped when I saw her, but not for obvious reasons. Instead, I saw her at my table and thought “What’s Pat Cadigan doing here? I thought she was in London.”

Another reason why I love coming out here is what I now call “the hotel room effect.” Namely, when you have multiple people traveling across the country, or across the world, to an event such as this, and they share a hotel room, everyone sees everyone else’s swag. Understandably, one sees something that another found and asks “Where the hell did you get THAT?” Time for another trip downstairs, where the new folks go nuts and the original purchaser figures “Why not get another?” And that’s how it started. One congoer comes by…

Texas Frightmare Weekend

…and then she comes back for another…

Texas Frightmare Weekend

…and then she brings friends.
Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend
Texas Frightmare Weekend

In fact, it’s now time for a group photo of the plants.

Texas Frightmare Weekend

You know, next year, I may have to sell carts just to help them haul their stuff up to their rooms.

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014 – 2

Japanese whisky bottles

At shows and events, I’m regularly asked “where do you get your containers?” I’m the first one to admit that a lot of the more memorable ones are serendipitous. Old aquaria, old computer monitors, modified shipping containers, and all sorts of strange things show up at the door. If they’re reasonably water-resistant or can be made so, if they can hold soil, and if they can admit sufficient light for photosynthesis, they’ve all got a shot. The trick is finding them. Thrift stores, pet shop closeouts, estate sales…there’s really no telling.

By way of example, I’d been wanting to do a series of very small but still practical container arrangements, using small carnivores such as Drosera spatulata and various bladderworts as the main focus. The problem comes from finding the right container. You need a glass or strong plastic container with a mouth wide enough to admit plants and potting medium, that can accept water and the occasional fruit fly, and doesn’t look cheesy. Tough order, especially with the number of food and beverage companies moving to cheaper plastic containers to save weight and corresponding shipping costs. The best bottles for the job are liquor bottles, which can be a problem for someone who can’t drink.

In this case, sometimes the best surprises are themselves surprises. A couple of months ago, the Czarina was in a mood to wander around estate sales, and we came across a small yard sale on the way. The guy holding the sale was apparently moving to Seattle to “do something in music”, so he had a lot of music equipment that simply wasn’t of interest to anybody else. However, he had a thing for a particular brand of Japanese whiskey with distinctive bottles, and he thought he’d throw a couple into the sale for 50 cents each. When I bought both, he brought out a whole box full of them, and I bought the whole lot for $2. The Czarina thought I was insane, but that charge has been leveled at me before.

The reasons for grabbing these bottles were threefold. Firstly, they were good thick glass, meaning that the bottle wasn’t going to crack or break if someone looked at it cross-eyed. That’s a major consideration for any plant arrangement: moisture will actually encourage the expansion of cracks in glass, so it’s better to start with something that can handle the weight of plant and soil. Secondly, the mouth was more than big enough to admit plants, soil, water, and various tools without trouble. Thirdly, the bottles had two distinctive flat panels on each side, intended to hold the labels, that gave big clear panels for viewing the plants inside. How could you lose with that combination?

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Well, apparently a lot of Texas Frightmare Weekend customers agreed with me, because a lot of them went home with new sundews. I suspect that both plants and keepers are going to be happy with these for a very long time.

Texas Frightmare Weekend

Texas Frightmare Weekend
Texas Frightmare Weekend

And before anybody asks, yes, I’ll try the same thing with Crystal Head Vodka bottles, but only if you supply the bottles. Either that, or I find an estate sale where the deceased was VERY fond of Crystal Head.

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014: Introduction

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014 - booth front

Five years of attendance, and I thought we were ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014. We’d been through rough times and good times with the Frightmare crew, and figured that we had a fairly good idea of the crowds and the interests inherent in those crowds. Well, those crowds surprised all of us. Not only is this the biggest horror convention I’ve ever attended, but it’s easily the largest media convention I’ve ever seen, and it’s definitely giving Dragon*Con and the San Diego Comic Con some much-needed competition. And the sheer variety of that crowd? Off the scale. It’s times like these that I wish I knew more languages, because I desperately needed a bit more fluency in French, Russian, Japanese, and Portuguese that weekend. Yeah, it was like that.

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014

Since this was such a spectacular weekend, the photo spreads for this year’s show are going to go on for a while. Hope you have a couple of weeks to keep checking back for new ones…

Down the Throat

Sarracenia hybrid

Dallas’s weather has been all over the place this spring, and apparently this is exactly what the resident Triffid Ranch Sarracenia needed. Between some impressive gullywasher storms over the last couple of weeks and a remarkably high humidity compared to previous years, the pitcher plants are taking over. Not only are these some of the largest I’ve ever had the pleasure of growing, but they’re even larger than ones I’ve seen in the wilds of the Florida panhandle.

Sarracenia leucophylla

With the last show of the year already done, and a year of research ahead, I have no idea what the next 350 days or so are going to bring. If I can repeat these kinds of results next year, though, you really are going to see man-eating plants by 2015.

Sarracenia flava

Sarracenia flava

Cat Monday, Guest Edition

Bela

Seeing as how this is Cat Monday, you’d be excused if you thought you were viewing a photo of Leiber the FreakBeast. This is completely reasonable, and totally wrong. Our subject today is my friend Madelyn’s cat Bela, generally referred to by us as “the fake Leiber.” That’s only fair, as Madelyn calls Leiber “the fake Bela”. Aside from superficial looks, there’s nothing in common with them: even Bela has more full white in his fur instead of the peach undercoat Leiber sheds all over the house. It’s still surprising to walk into a friend’s home, see the cat on the bed, and ask yourself how your cat got into this house on the other side of town.