Monthly Archives: December 2017

Have a Great End of 2017

The eternal question facing us at the end of the year:

On 2017

2017. Oh, where do we start? Talking about the new gallery after having to move out of the old one is definitely an “Aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” situation, but it’s a perfect summation of the entire year for the Triffid Ranch. In fact, this is the first week since before the move that things are relatively quiet. Not that this will last. The synopsis:

The Gallery

Although the short moveout notice led to a bit of a panic in the actual move and then a long rebuilding, it actually worked out for the best. True, the new gallery is about 120 square meters smaller than the Valley View location and it doesn’t have the big industrial sink in the back, but it also has a much more central location for just about everyone in the greater Dallas area. It also has direct access to a DART Red Line station, several excellent restaurants across the street, a nice grocery store around the corner, and some great neighbors, including the porcelain mask and glasswork dealer right next door. Meeting clients for consultations and viewings is much easier for all parties involved, partially because the local traffic congestion is so much less than around Valley View. And should I mention again the DART stop that drops people off right across the street, so they don’t have to deal with traffic congestion at all?

Another factor with the new space is the closed-off main gallery area, which requires artificial light for both finished enclosures and new plants in propagation. That may sound like a disadvantage, but this cuts out light pollution that might affect germination, growth, and blooming. This is a roundabout way of noting that the exceedingly popular Manchester United Flower Show event from 2016 is coming back next spring, and with even more bladderworts than before. The better light and climate control of the new gallery also means that the much-promised expansion into ultra-hot peppers and exotic succulents such as stapeliads, delayed this year because of the move (quite literally, we got the moveout notice two days before the planned pepper seed potting extravaganza), will happen as scheduled. The ultimate plan, since 2018 has five weekends before Christmas, is to offer Bhut Jolokia, Dorchester Naga, and Trinidad Scorpion pepper bushes as highly unorthodox but pre-decorated holiday trees during the Nightmare Weekend events. We’ll see.


Because of the gallery move and the resultant unpacking and organizing from February to June, signing up for new shows and events moved to the back of the “Things To Do” list, and they stayed there for most of the year. That wasn’t an absolute, but as it turned out, focusing on getting the gallery open was advantageous.

Why? Lots of reasons apply, but one of the biggest was the ongoing shakeout of conventions and fairs in the Dallas area and elsewhere. Ever since the Triffid Ranch’s first show in May of 2008, science fiction, fantasy, and horror conventions have been an essential part of the show season, and that isn’t changing. However, with the exception of Texas Frightmare Weekend and its dedicated and prudent staff and crew, it’s been a really rough year for conventions. To be honest, considering the spectacular and financially devastating implosions of conventions big and small this year, it’s time to pull out the writing-days duster to go with all of the bullet-dodging. Even with existing conventions, numbers are way down for most. Anybody familiar with convention circuit cycles knows that the current downturn was inevitable: the same thing happened in the 1980s and 1990s with big media-related conventions, as new fans grew up and discovered that hitting every convention within the timezone was incompatible with day jobs and new families. The only difference between this cycle and previous ones was in the length, mostly due to the influx of new fans brought in by movies, television, and costuming. A lot of the current generation of congoers are too young to remember the previous crash in the mid-Nineties, so it’ll seen like the end of the world, but I promise that with every bust is the promise of another wave. The big question right now is how long things need to remain fallow before that next wave starts, and a lot of the pain will be felt by vendors at these shows whose entire business history lies within the current cycle.

(Incidentally, the current implosion is why shows outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex require a LOT of vetting these days. For the last three years, Galveston of all places has been the focus of a series of intended conventions and shows that made huge promises of giant crowds and wild events, only for everything to disappear about a month before the start date. The things disappearing include booth fees and deposits: without fail, vendors receive cryptic letters about refunds “eventually”, just before the show’s Web site and Facebook page shut down in the middle of the night. Again, bullet-dodging: several friends lost a considerable amount of money they couldn’t easily replace on one show that fell apart when a fellow vendor called the hotel to find out about loading access and was told the hotel had no knowledge about the show at all. Even worse, most of these incidents weren’t due to any specific malfeasance, but instead from not understanding that telling friends “Hey, let’s put on a show” and actually launching an event have a lot of steps in between that are lubricated with elbow grease and the occasional liter of blood. Combine this with an absolute certainty that somehow, magically, everything will work out all right in the end, and you get shows that create rueful new memes for attendees and financial disaster for vendors and guests.)

Alternately, besides plotting new events at the gallery (many of which may include the previously mentioned neighbors, depending upon their schedules), it’s time for more outreach as well. The move precluded a lot of lectures and events at schools and museums, and it’s time to get that back up and going. Among other things, I’ve needed a good excuse to bug the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History about getting involved with one of its adult programs, and it may be time to do a black light show with traps and blooms to show how they glow under ultraviolet light.

Press and Publicity

When it came to local news coverage, 2017 was much more lively than 2016. It started with the final ARTwalk at Valley View, with the Dallas Observer reporting on plans for the remaining artists, and then with the Observer coming back for the soft opening last July. Suffice to say, nobody was more surprised than I was to win a Best of Dallas Award this year, or eighth place in the best date spots in Dallas. This coincided with a serious reevaluation of the Observer over the last couple of years: the paper is no longer the smarmy, bloated mess it was at the beginning of the century, and it’s now the paper we all wish it had been back when competitors such as The Met and DFW Icon were trying to usurp it. (In particular, I exaggerate not a whit when I compare dining editor Beth Rankin to the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko, one of my childhood heroes. Her articles are a wonderful blend of serious, funny, and thoughtful, with a constant subtext of “I gave you enough rope to hang yourself, so thank you very much for surprising me” like Royko’s best columns. And if you don’t think Dallas needs someone like her, just look back 17 years to when the Observer was facing, and losing, actual libel suits for its dining coverage.) Now that the gallery is established, it’s time to get more word out, and buying advertising means that supporting the new Observer goes beyond lip service.

Elsewhere, a shot of the old gallery even showed up in a pictorial in D magazine of Black Friday 2016 at the old Valley View space.  I won’t even complain about it being run a year late, presumably spiked in favor of the monthly “76,233 Best Doctors Willing to Pay For a Full-Page Ad” cover story: I’m just thrilled to discover that someone at D has an interest in plants and plant byproducts that never comes anywhere near the term “levamisole toxicity”. Miracles abound.


Strange as it may sound, 2018 is going to be “more of the same”. Most of the plans for next year include lots of alternatives to the shows in which it all started, starting with more events at the gallery. This includes more involvement with groups such as the Arts Incubator of Richardson, as well as gallery tour events through the Dallas area. In addition, it’s time to return to events sadly neglected while getting the old Valley View gallery going: among many other things, it’s time for future Triffid Ranch tables at local reptile shows, museum events, and one-day pop-up shows. Everything, of course, depends upon the Day Job and factors completely uncontrollable, but it’s time to go outside, and 2018 is the year to start walking.

As a sidenote, the upheaval prevented attempts to keep up with everyone online, and that’s already being rectified. In addition to an increased posting schedule, those efforts include a new mailing list that starts up at the beginning of the new year, improvements to the current site (some of you may already notice that the ads that infested the old site are gone, and now it’s a matter of going through all of the external links and removing or updating the defunct ones), and maybe even a bit of video. Now to develop a vaccine for sleep so there’s time to do all of this.


As always, time and tide melt the snowman, so 2018 might end on a drastically different note. As if anyone expected anything different. The main thing is that 2017 epitomized “Hold my beer and watch this,” and barring a truly unfortunate accident with temporal paradoxes, we won’t have to go through it again. Now let’s go explore the new year.

Have a Great Weekend

Getting ready for the last Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas of the year, and always looking for something to establish the mood:

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas: The Fifth

For everyone else, it’s nearing the end of the holiday season. It’s now just cold enough in Dallas that coats in the morning are a necessity instead of an affectation, and we just might see sub-freezing temperatures by Christmas Day. Schools and universities are out for the year, and everyone not finishing up Christmas plans has a week to make plans for New Year’s Eve. Everyone at a job with use-it-or-lose-it vacation time is out and away, leaving the roads relatively clear of the worst drivers for those who still have to clock in. Next week will be more of the same: for all intents and purposes, the world returns to the eternal slog on January 8.

Well, that’s how it works everywhere else. The last four Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas are memories, albeit good ones, Now it’s time for one last Nightmare Weekend on December 23 from noon until 6:00. For those still seeking solstice gifts, Saturday gives plausible deniability to the idea that you just wanted to come by to look around, and it helps pay the rent, too. For those seeking solace from the madness of mall or big-box store crowds, it’s a safe harbor. For everyone else, if the newly updated Enclosure Gallery section doesn’t give you an idea as to what to expect, then come in and be surprised.

Not that things slow down after the holidays: far from it. It’s just that a lot of plans put off since the move from the old gallery space get to start up again. First and foremost is getting hot pepper seedlings established: the las Nightmare Weekend attracted several people asking about Bhut Jolokia and Carolina Reaper plants for bonsai, and last year’s batch were lost in a freeze the weekend of the final gallery move. This is in addition to getting ready for next year’s shows, starting with All-Con in mid-March, and finishing up commissioned enclosures. Want to have a hint as to what 2018 has in store? Check out the centerpiece for a new enclosure for an old friend and longtime customer, and consider that this is just the work in progress.

And for some additional fun, it’s time to remind everyone of Bat World Sanctuary in Mineral Wells and introduce them to adoptee Benger the Avenger, who came out of the womb more goth than any of us will ever be. If he isn’t a natural Nightmare Before Christmas stocking stuffer, I don’t know what is:

Dallas Comic Show 2017: The Aftermath – 3

And as far as the Dallas Comic Show is concerned in the future? That’s a very interesting question. The experiment in two shows in two weekends was a relative success, as in it didn’t kill me, even if the heat in the middle of September nearly did. The crew running it is professional, the fellow vendors were a lot of fun to have as neighbors, and the attendees are enthusiastic and very, very curious. These are all things to consider when the convention starts soliciting vendors for next fall.

Dallas Comic Show 2017: The Aftermath – 2

In an area where the the trend has been toward huge media convention extravaganzas in the last ten years, the Dallas Comic Show is an outlier. It’s still in the same venue as it was when I first encountered it in the early 2000s, and the only big change is the number of costume enthusiasts attending. It’s held at the Richardson Convention Center, which also holds the Richardson City Hall offices, so the loooooooooong hallway at the entrance is a bit surprising, but it works very nicely for both attendees and comics pros in the tables lining the hallway. The main dealer’s room is spacious and much easier to access than many at other conventions (having two separated doors that allow inflow and egress makes a huge difference), and said room blessedly has enough light that setting up lamps isn’t required. Best of all, since it’s not associated with a hotel, the convention only runs for two days, which means plenty of time on Friday to set up.

Dallas Comic Show 2017: The Aftermath – 1

It’s always good to remember your roots, and the Triffid Ranch got its start with little science fiction and comic conventions oh so long ago. That’s why, in a blast of inspiration partly fueled by sleep deprivation, it was time for an experiment: was it possible to run two shows on adjoining weekends? Part of the idea was to test logistics: with the gallery nearly open, was it possible to pot up, haul out, and set up enough plants for two shows? The other part involved friends asking if setting up a Triffid Ranch booth at the Dallas Comic Show was reasonable or sane. The experiment turned out pretty well, especially since the DCS locale was literally up Central Expressway from the gallery, and it answered a lot of questions about conducting more shows in the Dallas area. The biggest question: has anyone developed an antidote for sleep, and where can I buy it in bulk?

Have a Great Weekend

The fourth Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas is this weekend, with the gallery open on Saturday from noon until 6:00, with appointments available during the week. Until then, music.

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas: The Fourth

Coming into the fourth Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas at the gallery (and, as before, the gallery is open to one and all on December 16, from noon until 6:00), a little explanation about the lack of traditional holiday viewing on the monitor in the gallery. Listening to friends fight over whether or not Die Hard qualifies as a Christmas movie (which is like arguing that Near Dark is a Fourth of July film because it features summer sun and explosions), I just remind people of a forgotten holiday classic. Oh, it may not be listed as such, but anyone who has ever had to work retail in a shopping mall during the holidays knows the film, even if they’ve never seen it. As a last tribute to the old gallery space at Valley View Center, which STILL hasn’t been demolished, I’d like to encourage everyone to take some time this holiday season to watch the best documentary about Dallas in the 1980s ever made:

Enclosure Gallery: Weather Station 228 (2017)

Weather Station 228 (2017)

Description: Travelers in the Columbia Gorge separating the states of Oregon and Washington may note various facilities seemingly extruded from the mountain rock: half-seen gates, windows, and doorways, in many cases belonging to automated weather forecasting stations watching for sudden storms or blizzards that could close off the Gorge. While they may be automated, they aren’t abandoned, even if years or decades go by between maintenance visits, and interfering with their operation is met with severe penalties. Keep that in mind.

Dimensions (width/height/depth):  18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes bicalcarata

Construction: Glass enclosure, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $ 250US

Shirt Price: $ 200US

Enclosure Gallery: Emergency Support Bay 27B-6 (2017)

Emergency Support Bay 27B-6 (2017)

Description: When looking at fallout and other disaster shelters from the 1950s and 1960s, a comparison can be made to ancient tombs: collections of food, supplies, and furnishings intended for whatever lay beyond the valley of Death. How many caches of tools, weapons, and survival gear from the present and near future might be found hundreds, thousands, or millions of years later, either startlingly preserved or rotted away to uselessness?

Dimensions (width/height/depth):  18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes ampullaria

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, polycarbonate, found items.

Price: $ 300US

Shirt Price: $ 250US

Enclosure Gallery: Who Goes There? (2017)

Who Goes There? (2017)

Description: While 98 percent of Antarctica is currently covered with ice, much can be surmised of its natural history and paleontology from studying the life of both far antipodean South America and of southern Australia, both of which were attached to Antarctica before plate tectonics tore them apart. One of the most heartbreaking survivors is the Australian pitcher plant, Cephalotus follicularis, now found in the wild only in one small area south of Perth. Now isolated from all other flowering plants due to circumstance and mass extinction, Cephalotus may have had relations all over Antarctica…and there they remain until the ice melts.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant:Cephalotus follicularis

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items, thermoplastic cube,

Price: $ 150US

Shirt Price: $ 120US

Enclosure Gallery: Accelerator (2017)

Accelerator (2017)

Description: Famously described as one of the more difficult groups of carnivorous plant to keep in captivity, the Heliamphora pitcher plants of South America take well to enclosure life so long as they get a difficult combination in Texas: cooler temperatures with a lot of light. The backdrop’s framing of the central plant was accidental: in its previous life, it was a plastic insert at the bottom of a case of Valentine’s Day candy, intended to keep sampler boxes upright.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 19″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 48.26 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Heliamphora chimantensis

Construction: Glass enclosure, vacuum-formed plastic, nylon bolts, found items, stone.

Price: $ 200US

Shirt Price: $ 150US

Enclosure Gallery: Fortress of the Emerald Skull (2015)

Fortress of the Emerald Skull (2015)

Description: In the middle of painting the backdrop, the combination of elements gave the impression of a castle gate tall enough for an ogre, so the remaining elements were easy to add. An ogre-sized skull to warn off interlopers needed ferns to keep focus on the Nepenthes spectrabilis x veitchii growing from inside it, and the southern maidenhair ferns (Adiantum capillus-veneris) invoked ginkgoes so much that the samurai figure was necessary, both for mood and for scale. An additional bonus was that the ferns shed and regrow based on photoperiod, giving a drastically different appearance to the enclosure through the year if lighting light and dark cycles keep track with the seasons outside.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes spectrabilis x veitchii

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, resin, polyvinyl chloride figure.

Price: $ 200US

Shirt Price: $ 150US

Enclosure Gallery: Pumping Station (2016)

Pumping Station (2016)

Description: An experiment in a multiple-component backdrop, this enclosure contains two carnivorous plants. The upper terrace hosts a Nepenthes spathulata x veitchii hybrid, known both for large pitchers and a very tight leaf rosette. The lower terrace is the home of a surprise Cape sundew (Drosera capensis), most likely from seed that stowed away from the greenhouse.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes spathulata x veitchii

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed and extruded plastic, ceramic.

Price: $ 200US

Shirt Price: $ 150US

Enclosure Gallery: Weintraub Gate (2015)

Weintraub Gate (2015)

Description: The pitcher plant Nepenthes spectrabilis is best known for its narrow pitchers covered in burgundy and yellow-green markings. This specimen is old enough that it has started vining, displaying both upper and lower pitchers.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes spectrabilis

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, ceramic, wood.

Price: $ 200US

Shirt Price: $ 150US

Enclosure Gallery: Dimension Mask (2016)

Dimension Mask (2016)

Description: Based on experiences with the multiple coats on the mask, one can argue that all human art forms are ultimately derived from painting, if only to find something to do while the paint dries. This was necessary, though, with strontium europium luminous paint under multiple coats of clear sealer, copied on the ovoids surrounding a glass disk. The hybrid “Bloody Mary” combines exceptional pitcher color with a habit of multiple growing points at its base, causing it to spread outward instead of vining up.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes “Bloody Mary”

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, polycarbonate mask, polished fiber optic cable, tumbled glass, grapevine, found items.

Price: $250US

Shirt Price: $ 200US

Enclosure Gallery: Launch Bay (2015)

Launch Bay (2015)

Description: The Nepenthes hybrid “King of Spades” is best known for its large pitchers with huge flaring peristomes, but such large pitchers also lead to very slow growth of the rest of the plant. Because of this, in a suitable enclosure, at least four pitchers are visible and accessible, with older pitchers dying off shortly after new ones open. Because of its slow growth, this “King of Spades” is only now starting to obscure the enclosure’s backdrop, adding to the impression of a facility abandoned for unknown reasons.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 24 1/2″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 62.23 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes “King of Spades”

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, polyvinyl, glass.

Price: $ 250US

Shirt Price: $ 200US

Enclosure Gallery: Borne (2017)

Borne (2017)

Description: One of the more evocative images in the Jeff VanderMeer novel Borne (2017) was of what appeared to be three dead astronauts buried to their armpits in an open area by an abandoned office building: three individuals in biohazard suits, the suits so blasted by ultraviolet light that the fabric bleached white, with various plants growing out of their open faceplates. Combine this with the title character being mistaken for a plant in the early stages of its life cycle, and a centerpiece of a Nepenthes veitchii was necessary.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes veitchii

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, polyester cloth.

Price: $ 250US

Shirt Price: $ 200US

Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 4: The Aftermath – 3

Plans for next year’s Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show: more comfortable van seats. Finding a more regular source for Lava Lamp bottles. Explaining to the cats that we won’t be gone forever and ever and ever. Other than that, don’t change a thing.