Daily Archives: May 21, 2011

“No tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering.”

As an aside, an otherwise dreadful week was made immeasurably better by the arrival of a new package on Thursday. My personal collection of carnivorous plants is now enhanced with my very own Nepenthes hamata from Sarracenia Northwest. Having just learned about the Nepenthes hamata x truncata hybrid “Predator”, I swear right now that if I ever develop any N. hamata hybrids or cultivars, I’m naming them for Clive Barker and Doug Bradley.

There are people who make you so happy that you wonder how you got through life without their radiance. There are people that make you wish you could win the lottery just so you could give them the money. Then you have people who make you want to break into their houses while they sleep, take tissue samples, and clone them in the millions. Jacob and Jeff at Sarracenia Northwest have that effect.

“You have two choices. You can weed, or you can fight.”

A bystander for Billy Goodnick’s Crimes Against Horticulture: When Bad taste Meets Power Tools Facebook page brought up the Web site Plant Amnesty. I can’t complain about the sentiment, but after years of watching crape myrtles get coppiced half to death, more resembling overly inbred toy poodles than anything botanical, it’s time to get the word out. You WILL hear us coming.

The importance of being concise

Gardening beginners often wonder why so many of their elders use Greco-Latin binomial nomenclature to describe plants. While it may sound pedantic or snooty, they often have good reason. It shouldn’t be any surprise that Carolus Linnaeus, the founder of modern binomial nomenclature, was a botanist, because he would have known firsthand that depending upon common names of plants is for suckers.

You may ask “Why is it such a big deal? A carrot is a carrot is a carrot, right?” Well, not precisely. The problem with English and other living languages is that they change constantly, picking up memes and fragments from other languages, mixing and melding parts from those languages to make new words, and giving new meaning to those same terms over the years. Latin and classical Greek are static or “dead,” as nobody’s making new Latin slang terms. (The Czarina and I once made the acquaintance of a very nice waitress who was majoring in classical Greek, and she noted that the difference between the Greek she’d learned at school and normal contemporary conversational Greek today was comparable to the gap between Chaucer‘s English and what I’m belting out right now.) Different areas, people, and eras may give the same common name to plants with roughly similar features or habits, but the end results can be horrifyingly different if the “moonflower” you plant in your back yard is Ipomoea alba or Datura stramonium. The Latin never lies.

When I get scoffing expressions as to why meanings can be important, I just relate an incident that happened several years back, when the Czarina and I were at a huge antiques mall near her parents’ house. This was a converted supermarket that was just packed with interesting antiques, all mapped out into a grid and each grid square rented to a different tenant. We were near the front of the store, and passed by a booth run by two brothers. One of the brothers had brought his grandchildren out for the day, and they were helping him rearrange the booth, setting up new items and moving others so the display didn’t look stale.

At the time, we didn’t know that the term in the antiques and flea market trade for this was “fluffing”, and the person doing this was called a “fluffer”. Apparently, it’s nearly universal, as antiques storeowners in England and Australia use the term as well. Our problem, though, was that we’ve made the acquaintance of some very interesting people in our lives, so we knew a completely different meaning for “fluffer”. I’m not even going to link to a definition: just Google up “fluffer” and read the first excerpt that comes up. After you come back and you finish screaming in either horror or laughter, we’ll continue.

Got that out of your system? Good, because it only gets worse from here. As stated before, we were passing by, and we heard one of the two brothers talking about how “every shop needs a good fluffer.” The Czarina and I looked at each other with shock, not sure we’d heard what we’d heard. That’s when the other said “That’s why I brought the grandkids. They’re excellent junior fluffers.”

Squelched laughter. We could not believe what we were hearing.

“Oh, but your great-uncle here? He’s a MASTER fluffer.”

It just kept getting worse and worse. We couldn’t move, we were holding in the belly laughs, and we literally had to support each other to keep the other from falling onto displays. It was like something out of a Monty Python film, with Michael Palin playing Pontius Pilate. All they saw were two loons in leather jackets and boots, getting great amusement from a completely innocent conversation, and they were getting more and more peeved as our faces got more and more red. We finally had to excuse ourselves and staggered into the parking lot, where we laughed for a solid ten minutes.

It was the next day that we discovered the antique shop meaning of “fluffer”.

And why bring this up, you may ask? Just keep this in mind when you start wondering “Mommy, how did the Venus flytrap get its common name?”

Of course…

Fifteen years ago Monday, I packed up an 18-foot Hertz Penske truck, three cats, a savannah monitor, and a now-ex-wife and trekked across the continent to Portland, Oregon. Almost eighteen months later, I was back in Texas, swearing that (to paraphrase General Phil Sheridan, governor of Texas during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War) if I owned Oregon and Hell, I’d rent out Oregon and live in Hell. For years, I referred to Portland as “Innsmouth West”, and promised that I’d never go back, and the hipsters whining that I was wrong only cemented my resolve.

Well, my mistake was that I was looking at the wrong places, with the wrong emphasis, and I only discovered the interesting people and venues in and around Portland after I was already gone. Sarracenia Northwest, among other things. It’s bad enough that I only learned about Rare Plant Research in Oregon City this morning, but to learn that it’s hosting an open house this weekend? That sound you hear is of my intestines tying themselves into knots. (For those folks in the area, apparently Rare Plant Research is hosting a reservation-only garden party on July 9. Go have fun, because I’ll be trapped here in the Texas heat.)

Appropriate garden sculpture

With many thanks to Darren Naish, THIS is what I call appropriate garden sculpture. The only way I’m working with garden gnomes if if I’m allowed to recreate the outdoor morgue scene from The Walking Dead.