Things have been a bit busy around the Triffid Ranch this week, what with Ice Storm Landru (hat tip to a dear friend for that crack) smacking the whole of Texas and all, but things are supposed to clear up by Friday. So far, this weekend’s Lunar New Year open house is still on: if you’re worried about getting out, that’s why you have the option of the open house on February 12. In the meantime, stay warm and safe, and make plans for Saturday.
Category Archives: Events
It may be a bit premature, but it’s been two years since the gallery has seen a Lunar New Year open house, predating the current nightmare by a month, and it’s time to bring it back. The next Triffid Ranch open house is scheduled for Saturday, February 5 from noon to 5:00 pm, and Arioch willing, I’ll be finished moving by then.
I’m not much for selfies, but the first Triffid Ranch open house of 2022 was a perfect time to debut the new look: as one friend joked, “New regeneration, new rules.” The harshness of the red dye back on New Year’s Eve has mellowed, as first dye jobs always do, into a much more mellow ginger, and it’s been sorely missed. (The first time was for a very short time in 1987, probably one of the greatest years of transition in my life, and rapidly replaced with albino white for the next two years. The second time started in 1995 and ended in 1999, when shaving it off famously freaked out Harlan Ellison. At this point, it may be permanent, as it suits me a lot more than my natural blond did.)
A lot about this open house was the beginning of one of Ellison’s Hour That Stretches. Among many other things, this show debuted a record six enclosures at once (photos and backstories coming along soon enough), with a crowd to match. This, however, is just the beginning. Over the next few months, expect a lot of changes to the gallery, including a major move to give a lot more room for everybody. You’ll love it.
For those stuck due to the foul weather, or those who want another chance to visit, the next open house is a special event tied to Lunar New Year: as always, admission is free and masks are mandatory. See you then.
January 15 started the way it usually does in Dallas: with massive gusting winds blasting out of the north, promptly dropping temperatures to within freezing. Inside the gallery, though, those who braved the winds found warmth, light, and, most importantly, green. The official start of spring may still be two months away, but the Triffid Ranch opened to general approval and a lot of good post-holiday vibes.
As has been the case for the last year, since indoor events started up again, we had a wide range of visitors from all over the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, and a few who came from much further out. In fact, the crowds kept rushing in until just before closing. The next issue isn’t with getting people to come out: the next issue is with having enough room for everybody who wants to get in.
To be continued…
A break from combined househunting and enclosure construction: the first Texas Triffid Ranch open house of 2022 goes live at noon on Saturday, January 15 and runs until 5:00. Expect lots of weirdness, as well as king cake and an opportunity to get out of the cold. And so it goes.
Since the gallery first opened in 2015, the Triffid Ranch has made at least some effort at being open on or very near to Christmas Eve for last-minute shopping opportunities. The first few times, this was in the evening: a few people make noises about needing the gallery open in the evening, but realistically everyone is home and unwilling to go out after dark. This year, it was a matter of keeping standard open house hours, noon to 5:00 pm, to make things easier for those off for Christmas Eve but not to get in the way of family obligations. Whether it was this, the recent interview in the Dallas Observer, or a general pent-up demand for carnivorous plants, the last Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas of 2021 was the best ever, and I thank everyone who showed up.
Among many other things, this show found homes for several enclosures designed and constructed during lockdown, along with others intended to be picked up after the holiday season. This, combined with a tentative rental situation throughout the Dallas area starting in 2022, means that if you haven’t been to an open house in a while, the lineup of enclosures has drastically changed. (This, incidentally, is why you won’t see another open house for a few weeks: constructing new enclosures takes time.)
Once again, many thanks to everyone who showed up, both purchasers and interested bystanders (the highest compliment anyone has paid in the last two years came from the very earnest and very considerate person who offered to make a donation for letting her come in, and I told her what I tell everyone: as much as it’s appreciated, getting the word out that the Triffid Ranch exists is a greater help), and I hope that the plants given as gifts made the recipients as happy as you were. For those who want to come back, as well as those who haven’t been here yet, the next open house is now scheduled for January 15, 2022, from noon until 5:00 pm. Feel free to spread the word.
Well, Danny Gallagher’s interview in the Dallas Observer drew some attention, and the crowd coming out for the third Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas open house was quite lively. It was a nice mix between old friends and new people who knew nothing about the gallery before now, encouraged by the unseasonably warm weather last week finally breaking and making the place feel like a typical Dallas Christmas for a day. (Not that it’ll last: after Tuesday, we’re going right back to temperatures more suited for April than December, but it’s not like I get a say in the matter.)
As a little aside, because of the way the gallery is arranged to maximize available space, most of the enclosures are set on shelves to allow maximum enjoyment by people of “average” height. Because there’s no such thing as “average,” because I’m abnormally tall in an extremely short family, and kids are definitely outside of an “average” height range, the gallery offers several stepstools and ladders to allow better access to enclosure details. If you don’t see one, or if they’re all being used at an open house, please don’t hesitate to ask for one. (If nothing else came from a year of lockdown, at least a deep research dive into museum display design opened up a lot of considerations. Unfortunately, the front porch isn’t ADA-compliant yet, but it’s a matter of doing what can be done in the interim.)
As for remaining Nightmare Weekend events, since Christmas is on a Saturday this year, a lot of people will be off on Friday, so we’ll be open from noon until 5:00 pm for the last open house of 2021. After that, expect a big announcement on New Year’s Day, because things are changing very rapidly.
This is now the seventh holiday season in which the Triffid Ranch has been open, and 2021 has been…interesting. Things have been remarkably quiet since before Thanksgiving, and this isn’t just about gallery traffic. Even the roads, and we’re close enough to Dallas’s notorious Central Expressway to hear the road noise, aren’t as frantic and frenetic as in previous years, and running errands on Sunday was a shock as to the small size of holiday crowds. I don’t know if it’s incipient concern about COVID-19 variants, a decided increase in online shopping, or if simply fewer people have any interest in going out this year, but for someone who grew up watching some of the best Dawn of the Dead cosplay on the planet at Dallas shopping malls through the Eighties and Nineties, this is almost surreal.
On a good side, that strange quiet meant quite a few people taking the risk of stopping by the gallery last Saturday, figuring that the relative lack of traffic meant that we and others wouldn’t be overloaded with visitors. That worked out exceptionally well, with many visitors just wanting to see particular carnivorous plants in person for the first time, and others wanting to take in the gallery’s unique ambiance.
One full weekend to go before the Christmas season ends, and we’ll be live on December 18 from noon until 5:00, and again on December 24 with the same hours. By next weekend, I should have news involving several of the enclosures, so make your plans now while they’re still available. And so it goes.
Now that the out-of-town shows are over, it’s time to get back into the gallery and open up for the rest of the year. The first Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas for 2021 ran without a hitch (other than discovering that a previous attendee had a fetish for swiping plant identification tags) on an unusually warm and sunny December weekend, even by Dallas standards. Unfortunately, some attendees learned for the first time that Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants need a winter dormancy, and that dormancy started last week, but that gave plenty of opportunity for the Asian pitcher plants and the bladderworts to shine.
One of the best things about ongoing events such as these is having the opportunity to debut new enclosures all month long, even as existing enclosures go home with clients and visitors. This includes the last-minute commission: anyone wishing a custom enclosure by December 24 needs to get in an order by December 12 to guarantee its completion in time for the holiday. (Naturally, anyone wanting a new enclosure after the beginning of 2022 has plenty of time, especially the week before New Year’s Day.)
For those who missed out this last weekend, please note that the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses are plural: the gallery next opens from 12 noon to 5:00 pm on Saturdays December 11 and December 18, as well as on Friday, December 24. Tickets are encouraged but not necessary: they’re mostly intended to get an idea of how many people might be arriving on a particular date, so we know how much we need to bring in snacks and the like. In the interim, it’s time to get back to the linen mines, because the empty spots in the gallery shelves need filling.
Finally, it should be noted that I’m always fascinated with fictional milieus based on real places, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the filmmaker Mike Judge lives in Austin. The Palmer Events Center definitely inspired one of his greatest films: between event security being absolutely absent other than at closing and a concession stand where payments for $4 cokes had to be made by credit card because employees couldn’t be trusted with money (and where the credit card reader didn’t work), I had to compliment some of the best cosplay at Horror for the Holidays that I’d seen in decades. To be honest, I was surprised that Center management didn’t get involved: it’s always good to see UT-Austin law grads and business majors doing what they do best. (It could be worse. For the first time in over 35 years, I had to sign a form confirming that I knew that smoking wasn’t allowed in my hotel room, because of the number of college football goofballs in town over the last two months who claimed they couldn’t read the “No Smoking Within 100 Feet of All Doors and Windows” signs on nearly every surface.)
That said, Blood Over Texas knows how to run a show, and there’s a reason why the Horror for the Holidays autumn spectacular has been doubling in size every year. Many thanks to the Blood Over Texas crew, fellow vendors, associated events (particularly the Bat City Scaregrounds crew, who regularly came by to keep people laughing), and all of the attendees who braved torrential rains and UT helicopter parents to make Horror for the Holidays what it is. Now to get ready for next year: I have a lot of peppers to get potted up to keep up with demand.
The next Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show is tentatively scheduled for the weekend of November 19, 2022. Details will be shared as they become available.
Most of Texas is still coming to terms with longterm damage from the statewide freeze last February, and that includes the Triffid Ranch. A lot of plants that gave every indication of surviving when things warmed up in June finally gave up in October and November, and we’re all a bit shell-shocked over what the upcoming winter might entail. We might get an abnormally warm winter, based on every indication, but those same indications gave no warning of the freeze, either. Based on previous experience, we probably have about another three years before we get anything approximating significant snow or ice, but with changes in weather patterns over the last 20 years, anything is possible.
One of the big near-misses involved hot peppers: the original plan when the February freeze hit was to get pepper seeds started, and this came very close to happening the Sunday the first storm hit. Because of other commitments, that didn’t happen, which meant that attendees at the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show last week got something other than carnivorous plants for their troubles, Both the Black Pearl and Numex Halloween peppers were extremely popular, and the current plan is to have a few more varieties from the Chile Pepper Institute available in 2022. This year’s peppers are going to get special consideration: after the holidays, any remaining peppers are going to become bonsai.
To Be Continued…
It’s all fun and games until someone gets a hernia. One of the many additional activities at the latest Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show was a silent auction to benefit the SAFE Alliance, and the silent auction included the Nepenthes spectrabilis enclosure Weintraub Gate. Next time, Horror for the Holidays gets a custom enclosure exclusive to the show, as Weintraub Gate was exceedingly popular, and helped Blood Over Texas gather a record amount for the SAFE Alliance. Next time, though, I’m going to promote that enclosure with the proviso “Be sure to bring your own cart and transportation,” as the last thing you want to consider after winning a huge carnivorous plant enclosure is “how the hell do I get this home?” More things for which to prepare in 2022…
To Be Continued…
If nothing else came from five years of trips to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays events, it’s an appreciation for packing. Every out-of-town Triffid Ranch show is a wrangle with making sure that everything that might be needed is there, because going back to get that one forgotten or misplaced item just isn’t going to happen. A cart with pneumatic tires usually needs an air pump at the worst possible moment, and being halfway through a show load-in is the absolute worst possible time to have to break to find a store with said air pump that’s open. Name tags get misplaced, shipping tubs break while handling, tables get left at the gallery, packing materials shift and allow fragile glass items to bump into each other for the next four hours…you name it, it’s been an issue.
(Many, many moons back, I came across a book on camping that instilled the most valuable lesson possible about long vendor trips. This book made a recommendation about backpack camping that started with doing lots of little campouts in the back yard or around the corner, and then pulling out everything and placing it into three piles. The first pile consisted of items used multiple times per day, the second pile of items used once or twice, and the third pile of items that weren’t used at all. The book continued, “If you’re smart, you’ll leave the contents of Pile 2 and 3 at home.” The obverse is also true: only with a lot of small trips can you recognize the items that you may only need once or twice a year, but that will completely mess up the entire show if they get left behind. That’s why the air pump always goes in the truck.)
That, incidentally, explains why the gallery exists. Above a certain size, not only do larger enclosures risk damage from road vibrations, potholes, and the Austin driver habit of rushing in front of eight vehicles to stop dead to make a right-hand turn, but that damage could turn deadly. A large enclosure full of live plants and wet sphagnum moss is ungainly under the best of circumstances, but if it fell apart during a move due to transport damage, that usually means irregularly sized sheets of broken glass. If that just happened in the truck, that’s an annoying and expensive cleanup. If that happens while actually moving the enclosure from the truck to a waiting stand or cart…well, the phrase “bled out before the ambulance arrived” runs through my head often enough that the enclosures brought to outside-of-Dallas shows tend to be smaller ones.
To Be Continued…
Five years ago, after years of sticking to events in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area, the Triffid Ranch took a big leap. After being introduced to one Bunny Voodoo of a new Austin horror-related gift market called “Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays,” it made sense to start taking the gallery, or a portion of it, on the road. Specifically, the first test involved getting a rental van and trekking the 220 miles (354 km) between the gallery and Austin, the Texas state capitol. The bright side: Dallas and Austin are connected by Interstate Highway I-35, requiring no major digressions to the destination. The bad side: I-35 is famous and more than a bit notorious for being in a perpetual state of repair, upgrading, and necessary maintenance, meaning that a “typical” trip to Austin uses a lot more white knuckles, gritted teeth, excessive stomach acid, and expanded vocabularies of appropriate profanities than someone outside of Texas would expect.
Mind you, all of this is worth it. The first Horror for the Holidays show with a Triffid Ranch booth (the second so far) was held in a local club with a reputation for hardcore shows, and It worked beautifully for several years. Problem was, it became far too small for the audience, so in 2019 it moved to a new venue on the edge of Austin. After that, COVID-19 hit, necessitating a virtual show in 2020, and then the new venue was claimed by the city for emergency equipment storage, requiring yet another move. This time, it really moved up, relocating to the Palmer Events Center in downtown Austin, the same location used by the Oddities & Curiosities Expo crew. In a half-decade, the show had gone from a one-day gig with maybe a dozen vendors to a major event.
This time around, the venue wasn’t the only change. In the beginning, Horror for the Holidays ran shortly after Halloween before settling in the weekend before American Thanksgiving. This time, because of venue availability, it ran the weekend after American Thanksgiving, a weekend not normally known for horror events. It’s a true testament to the Blood Over Texas crew that not only did they make it work, but they made it work even with a torrential downpour the morning of the first day, and thunderstorms in Austin tend to be as wildly overacting as Dallas ones.
To Be Continued…
It was quiet, and it was concise. The beginning of November is always a relatively quiet time, when cooler weather encourages everyone to stay in and bolster themselves before the holiday season starts. As such, the last autumn open house for 2021 went without major issue, and now it’s time to get everything ready for winter.
The main upshot of last weekend’s show is that Venus flytrap and North American pitcher plant season is now over. Between shorter days and cooler temperatures, these, temperate sundews, and the Australian triggerplants are going into winter dormancy, so they’ll be missing from Triffid Ranch shows until the beginning of April. The good news is that with a long winter nap, all of these are more likely to have a good blooming season in spring, so keep an eye open for the 2022 Manchester United Flower Show toward the middle of spring.
As for upcoming events, the next two weekends are going into a massive gallery renovation and rearrangement, including preparation of a slew of new enclosures that will be ongoing through the end of the year. The weekend of November 27, the Triffid Ranch makes its last road trip of 2021 to show plants at the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show at Palmer Event Center in Austin, and then everything comes home starting on December 4 for the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open house series. (By request, since Christmas itself falls on a Saturday, we’ll be opening the gallery on December 24 from noon until 5:00 for everyone who either has the day off or who wants to come out during lunch breaks if they’re working. Besides, December 24 is also Fritz Leiber‘s 111th birthday, and I imagine he’d have loved a party full of carnivorous plants.)
Momentary resurfacing: because of shifting schedules and upcoming developments, the next Triffid Ranch gallery open house is now scheduled for Saturday, November 6, 2021, running from noon to 5:00 pm. (Now that the risk of extreme heat is gone for maybe the next five months, there’s no especial reason to open in the early morning, and the later hours give more opportunities for people constrained by work schedules.) Admission is still free and masks are still mandatory: those factors haven’t changed.
So why the doughnuts? It’s a challenge to friend and Central Track founder Pete Freedman. Pete recently handed over daily operations of Central Track to a new crew in order to focus on a new job: I’ve been nagging him for five years to come out to an open house, and between schedules and pandemic, he’s never had the opportunity. The doughnuts are because at the roughest point in last year’s lockdown, Pete was having to lay off staff and shut down nonvital operations, and I asked if there was anything I could do to help out. “Send doughnuts,” he said, so I picked up a dozen and drove out to his apartment, donned a mask, and delivered them personally. The hope is that he’ll be tempted by the best from Donut Palace, the best doughnut shop on the east side of Dallas (and regular supplier for the crew at Texas Frightmare Weekend on Sunday mornings) and come out to say hello. Alas, it didn’t work at the last open house, so here’s hoping he’ll come out of his burrow like a bearded Gila monster and investigate further. And if any other members of the working press want to beat Pete to the doughnuts, well, that’s why I’m bringing enough for everybody.
After the events of the last two months, it would have been completely reasonable to assume that we needed a break and scheduled the next Triffid Ranch event later in the year. That said, being able to open up helped with a lot of issues, and a lot of new faces helped even more. Many thanks to everyone who came out this last weekend, because your presence really helped out.
This time around, carnivorous plants weren’t the only options, and a plan to add hot peppers to the mix almost didn’t happen. (A Day Job trip to New Jersey delayed getting pepper seeds started at the beginning of February, and any seedlings started then would have died in the Great Icepocalypse of 2021. Everything worked out.) This year, the idea was to start off with dark peppers: the USDA-developed “Black Pearl” (black fruit when unripe, ruby red when ripe) and the Chili Pepper Institute-developed “Numex Halloween” (black fruit when unripe, orange when ripe), both recommended for your next batch of goth salsa. The initial experiment worked exceedingly well, and the plan is to move to several new varieties in 2022 to spice things up (huhr huhr)
Besides the peppers, the feeling was a little bittersweet, and only because of the shortening days. Right now, both Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants are at their height, both physically and figuratively, but this won’t last long. The next open house on November 6 will be the last time in 2021 where either flytraps or Sarracenia pitcher plants will be available, as both (along with several species of sundew and triggerplant) slip into a very necessary winter dormancy in November. They’ll be back, but not until April, when they wake up, start growing new traps, and hopefully bloom.
As for the next open house, we’re trying several different options. Firstly, because the heat is no longer an issue, the next open house on November 6, 2021 starts at noon and runs until 5:00 pm, and this will be the default for the foreseeable future. Will this change? That depends upon other events, such as collaborations with other galleries, and will be advertised well in advance. What we can tell you for sure is that this should apply through the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses starting in December, and we’re currently discussing having one last event on Friday, December 24 for everyone stuck until the last minute on gift options. Either way, keep checking back for more information.
One of the biggest surprises about the dealer’s room at Armadillocon 2021 is how much things have changed since my last visit in 2000. For the longest time, the main dealer emphasis at litcons (conventions where the main emphasis was on printed fiction and nonfiction instead of other media) was on books and periodicals: back in 2000, convention dealers were the main access to rare or obscure books and almost the only way to learn more about up-and-coming magazines. Obviously, a lot has changed in the intervening two decades: book purchasing is a matter of a quick Amazon search, and the crash of both traditional magazine and zine distribution in the early Aughts is why so many new short fiction outlets are online-only, with the occasional hard-copy Kickstarter so the publisher isn’t stuck with cases of unsold copies. Both of these developments mean that the current dealer pivot is toward art, reference materials, and inspirations, and carnivorous plants seem to be quite the inspiration.
As to what the future holds, that’s a really good question. On an immediate level, everything with Armadillocon’s schedule depends upon availability of Austin hotels, which are apparently packed every weekend with football-obsessed alumni this time of the year. The general response to the Triffid Ranch table was overwhelmingly positive, but the biggest issue involves getting down to Austin in the first place: if subsequent shows are held in October, this isn’t a problem, but if the 2022 convention runs at the end of August, unfortunately the heat risk to the plants is far too high, We’ll figure it out.
In any case, many thanks are owed to the folks who came out to Armadillocon this time around, particularly longtime online cohorts who finally had the chance to make in-person acquaintanceships. Special thanks to Lillian Butler for making the dealer’s room situation happen, and now it’s just a matter of waiting for a final 2022 schedule. As far as other litcons are concerned, the schedule for 2022 in-person and virtual lectures and presentations is currently open, and for those who couldn’t make it this time, make plans for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at Palmer Event Center in downtown Austin on Thanksgiving weekend. And so it goes.
For those unfamiliar with driving in Texas, the phrase “What a trip” has multiple levels of meaning, even if that meaning only involves transportation. Many moons back, on a trip in Massachusetts to visit Black Jungle Terrarium Supply, I overshot a bit heading west from Boston. Exactly how far “a bit” was came up when the radio station started running ads for a show at SPAC, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York. Without intending to do so, I’d come within a couple of kilometers from the New York state border, so I turned around and retraced the route, eventually discovering that while the turnoff needed to get to Black Jungle was very well-labeled with appropriate signage when heading east, it had NOTHING on the west route. This led to terrified shrieking from my hosts when getting back: “You went across the whole state?”, and explaining “Aah, that’s nothing. I go further than that to trips to Houston.” This was absolutely true: hitting the Arkansas border from Dallas at Texarkana is a 6-hour drive, and hitting either the New Mexico border at El Paso or the Mexico border at Brownsville is eight to nine hours of hard driving. Only north is a relatively easy trip out of Texas: eight hours of driving north can get you to Kansas City, Missouri or even the outskirts of Denver.
Thankfully, Austin isn’t that far, but it’s still enough of a haul, especially with a van full of carnivorous plants, that it makes you realize exactly how far away everything was before the advent of motor vehicles. Dallas and Fort Worth are practically sister cities, but they’re still at least a day’s ride by horseback from each other. Austin is nearly five times that distance from Dallas, and it’s a rough trip in summer even with cruise control, air conditioning, and cold drinks.
(Also for those unfamiliar with Texas, the midway point between Dallas and Austin is the town of Waco. Officially, the name is pronounced “WAY-co,” but you’re forgiven for the more obvious pronunciation. In the last five years since the first gallery made regular plant shows in Austin and Houston a practical option, the highway I-35 that connects Duluth, Minnesota to Laredo, Texas is the only practical path between Austin and Dallas. In the last five years, I-35 has been under perpetual construction through the middle of Waco, it’s no closer to being completed now than it was in 2016, and it’ll probably still be under construction when dinosaurs return and duke it out with the cockroaches over who gets to rule Earth after humanity’s big extinction event. Suffice to say, that construction means that Waco has a perpetual traffic jam in most hours, and any time and fuel savings on the increased highway speeds in Texas Hill Country are completely eliminated by sitting in Waco for an hour to two hours at a time, waiting for people to stop texting and drive. Some people argue that the logjam is very deliberate: considering that Waco is home to Baylor University, they suspect that the motivation is “If we suffer, everybody suffers.”
(Anyway, the one upshot to realizing that there’s unused space in the van and leaving the gallery late in order to fill it is passing through Waco at the only time when it’s not suffering from vehicular constipation: after dark on a Thursday night. The day of the Armadillocon jaunt wasn’t particularly hot anyway, but this is essential knowledge for future trips.)
Another advantage to Armadillocon switching its scheduled date from August to October was that when the hotel couldn’t allow setup until Friday morning, the plants could set outside overnight without the surrounding van turning into a convection oven at dawn. This made setup particularly easy, and the plants themselves meant that hotel patrons tended to move out of the way in a manner usually reserved for fire and radioisotopes. Either way, by the time the convention doors officially opened at 2 pm, everything was ready for the rest of the weekend.
To be continued…
It’s been an interesting year for out-of-Dallas plant shows, what with last June’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo and the upcoming Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays in November, both in Austin. Considering the size and spread of both of these, the decision to crash a small literary convention like Armadillocon might seem a bit counterintuitive, but I had my reasons. The first was that with the last 18 months’ cancellations and delays, this was an October event that didn’t directly conflict with other events. The second was that Lillian, the dealer’s room director, asked nicely, and Lillian is one of those people who brings out the best in everyone. The third was that as opposed to its usual date over the last 25 years in the middle of August, its rescheduled weekend in October meant that bringing a van full of live plants into Austin equaled “LIVE plants” instead of “random chunks of steamed and broiled charcoal.” (Yes, Austin in August, especially during the afternoon and evening, is that bad.) The biggest, though, had to do with back history.
Longtime customers and visitors to the gallery might know about your humble proprietor’s previous career involving professional writing for various now-long-forgotten magazines and other publications, ranging from the beginning of 1989 to the middle of 2002. The unfortunate side effects involved three books, including one written about Armadillocon 13 in 1991 (illustrated by the one and only Ernest Hogan) that didn’t rest well with certain elements in science fiction fandom at the time. Two subsequent books, full of gibberish written before and during the early implementation and popularization of the Internet, came out in 2009 to much acclaim but precious little sales, and aside from a few relapses, that’s all anybody’s going to get. The biggest reason to come out, besides aggravating an increasingly small group still grumbling into their Metamucil (thus explaining the phrase “I feel like Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah”), was to get back in touch with a slew of former colleagues, compatriots, and fellow pains in the posterior whom I’d only see at conventions such as this. In that case, this whole gig worked even better than expected.
Being away for so long had its own Cinema Paradiso moments. The hotel in which the convention generally runs has a long history, starting with the completely random reservation getting the same exact room where I stayed with my best friend and then-girlfriend when crashing the convention in 1990. Some things have changed (the grand piano in the lobby was replaced with multiple flatscreens sometime after my last visit in 2000), and others. well, were pretty much encased in amber from the early 1990s. Not that this was a bad thing: the hotel fit the convention and the convention fit the hotel, and everyone was happy.
As far as the plants themselves were concerned, they made quite the impression. Many of those aforementioned old compatriots hadn’t been able to stay in touch since 2002, so they were delightfully surprised to see what had happened since then. Others who had kept up via online sources finally got the chance to see so many of them in person. Best of all, other attendees were drawn in: if next year’s Armadillocon runs in October again, then they’ll probably be waiting at the door to see what’s coming out of the truck this time. And then there were the people just wandering in as the convention was shutting down on Sunday, who really lost their minds at the idea of someone selling carnivorous plants next to the banquet room hosting friends’ weddings and the like.
To be continued…
The Labor Day 2021 Carnivorous Plant Weekend was particularly bittersweet: both Caroline and I realized exactly how much of the gallery was a direct inspiration from her mother, who died on August 29. Lots of little things: the odd little frog planter in the front window was one she gave me shortly after Caroline and I got married, several pots we proudly put on display, ornaments and accessories in enclosures, and the constant reminder that Nancy loved seeing pictures of people and plants after shows, and this was one that we couldn’t share. A lot of friends and longtime customers felt the same way, having met Nancy at shows and events over the last two decades, and her memory will remain strong for a long time thanks to them. Many thanks to everyone who came out to share memories, because it really made a difference.
One of the bigger surprises of the weekend was the range and influence of the Community Impact newspaper, given free to residents of the Richardson area. Fully half of the attendees on Saturday and Sunday were Community Impact readers, following a mention in the September issue about the gallery opening, and the writer came by on Saturday night for a followup interview. This led to a lot of exclamations from neighbors, some literally from across the street, who had no idea that the Triffid Ranch existed, and they left assured that we weren’t a variation on Fritz Leiber’s Bazaar of the Bizarre. With luck, they’ll be back for further events in the future.
As for the next Carnivorous Plant Weekend, the calendar conspires against us. The next three-day holiday weekend facilitating a two-day Triffid Ranch event is in November, and it’ll be a great way to start off the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas through November and December. Just don’t ask us about New Year’s Eve: that’s something that’s going to require a lot of planning.
As for future events, the next two weekends are out, as Texas Frightmare Weekend is nearly two years late, and we have a lot of catching up to do. Details on the next Porch Sale on September 25 are now available, so the fun keeps coming.
Apologies for relative quiet on the site this week, but it’s been a bonecruncher this week. For those who haven’t heard the news, Caroline’s mother Nancy died last Sunday, the day before her 88th birthday. The backstory is better suited for the next newsletter, which is going out later this week, but without Nancy and her ceaseless support and love, the Triffid Ranch as it is today may never have happened. Everyone who knew and loved Nancy is invited to come out for this weekend’s Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5: she always loved to come to events and talk with people who had heard her stories via Caroline, and she was always tickled that friends and customers were willing to come to Triffid Ranch events to meet her and not her dingbat son-in-law. The family is having a formal memorial soon, but as a much-missed friend put it about his own mother, you should never go with too few words, and I know several friends coming out who will have great stories.
(And on an unrelated point, Nancy always got a kick out of news coverage about the gallery, particularly our 2017 Dallas Observer Best of Dallas award, and today is the last day for voting in the Dallas Morning News Best in DFW reader’s choice awards. We last talked with her just a few days before she passed, and she got great enjoyment over discovering that the Triffid Ranch managed to get nominated in the first place. I have no delusions that the gallery would win, but she had fun with the conceit, and if we did, I could say with a completely straight face that I couldn’t have done it without her.)
It’s last-minute notice, but today’s Porch Sale has to be cancelled: Caroline sustained a back injury, so it’s lots of bed rest until she recovers. She should be fine in time for the Labor Day weekend Carnivorous Plant Weekend, though: many apologies for today’s cancellation, but we hope to see you on September 4 and 5.
It’s been six years since a former clothing store opened up at Valley View Center in Dallas and presented “Dallas’s Pretty Much Only Carnivorous Plant Gallery” for the first time. For some reason, and not just because we were in the early stages of a pandemic this time in 2020, the sixth anniversary is more poignant than the fifth, if only because we’re still going after all of this. With luck, we’ll still be plugging on in another six, but right now is good enough.
With the end of August comes future plans, mostly involving being able to move back outside for at least a little while. That may be a problem because of upcoming shows and events through September and October, but we’ll still try our best to break out the tent and get out in the fresh air between now and Halloween. After that, it’s time to go back inside: the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas are now enough of a tradition that not having them in December would somehow be wrong.
And another reason to celebrate the sixth anniversary? Paul and Holly, the couple above, have been dear friends for a grand cumulative total of 73 years, and while they knew multiple mutual friends and cohorts, they’d never met directly until that original gallery soft opening in 2015. The big reason why we’re not having a Porch Sale on Halloween weekend is because we’ll be at their wedding: I’ve never been a bridesmaid before, but I can’t look much worse in a gown than anybody else.
For those missing the fun, the last August Porch Sale starts on Saturday, August 28 at 10:00 am and runs until 3:00, followed by the next Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5. After that, September is going to be full of shows outside the gallery, with Texas Frightmare Weekend on the weekend of September 10 being the most important. If you can make it in August, we’ll see you this next weekend.
As someone who can’t drink, going to bars and clubs can be problematic. Live music venues means dealing with dolts more worried about recording the whole show than the people whose views are obscured by their phones and tablets. Dance clubs always have that one jerk DJ who responds to patrons attempting to talk by cranking the music to levels that make communication other than semaphore impossible. Most other hooks to attract patrons involve copious purchase and consumption of alcohol, which gives no incentive for those of us who can’t imbibe, and Arioch help the involuntarily sober who turns down drinks from someone who insists “just have ONE.” After a certain age, it’s just easier to skip out than to deal with the aggravation, particularly in areas where blackout drunkenness was a badge of honor. (Thus, why I haven’t lived in northeast Wisconsin in 35 years and have no interest in returning.)
But what if you could mix both groups through a common goal? Like hard science, perhaps?
That’s not to say that mixing science and cocktails is anything new. Just in the Dallas area alone, the now-delayed Social Science exhibitions at the Perot Museum mixed the best of both worlds (pun intended) with open galleries and active cash bars. DFW Tap Talks goes in the opposite direction: instead of encouraging partiers to come out for science, why not encourage science to come out to the partiers?
The DFW Tap Talks formula is easy: invite a series of experts to an easily accessible alcohol establishment to expound on a specific subject for 15 to 20 minutes, followed by as many questions as the audience has, a quick intermission to allow patrons to stock up on both food and drink, This time, for the first Tap Talk since COVID-19 lockdown, the venue was Rahr and Sons in Fort Worth, where the science trivia competition started just before dusk, the conversations with and between physics majors was fast and furious, and the stage was filled with and surrounded by experts with much more robust educational credentials than I. It was the best open non-vending event to which the Triffid Ranch had been invited in YEARS.
For those unable to attend for various reasons, past Tap Talks are also available on YouTube for convenient viewing, with each new one being livestreamed in progress. As for new ones, I’ve already volunteered to put together something more Halloween-oriented in October, involving Nepenthes pitcher plants, and I’m just waiting word on particulars. Based on this one, I’d be honored to get up onstage alongside my presentation colleagues in the future and keep doing this for a while.
It’s not completely unheard of, but it’s rare enough that it’s newsworthy: rain in Dallas in August. Not just a little bit of rain, but lots and lots of rain. Instead of a typical Dallas August, where “hot and sunny and dry” is the default weather forecast until Labor Day and sometimes until Halloween, today’s word is “soggy.” Don’t get me wrong: it’s a delightful change of pace, and the Sarracenia adore it. The humidity is so high that you could mistake Dallas for Houston, and going outdoors risks being asked how badly you lost the water balloon war. If you’re a carnivorous plant, it’s heaven.
It’s not just rain in August, but a torrential downpour blowing nearly parallel to the parking lot, that explains why the weekend Porch Sale on August 14 wasn’t held on the porch. Things were a little quiet because of that anticipation (to be honest, a few attendees were waiting to hear tornado sirens at one point), but the gallery was still full of enthusiastic carnivorous plant advocates, which makes it all worthwhile.
This coming weekend is special: the Porch Sale not only stays inside, but it’s moving to the evening (4:00 pm to 9:00 pm) to celebrate the Triffid Ranch’s 6th anniversary. (Technically, that sixth anniversary is on August 20, but the Triffid Ranch goes to Fort Worth on Friday for DFW Tap Talks.) We’ll see you then,
Back in the days before quarantine, when we still thought that 2020 was going to be a typical year, the plan was to host a series of carnivorous plant workshops at Curious Garden in Dallas. Jason Cohen, the co-owner, has had to deal with me for 30 years as of this November, when we were neighbors in Exposition Park, and most of our encounters make him regret not killing me when he had the chance, so when he suggested the first workshops two years ago, naturally I jumped at it. Previous events offered the chance for participants to go home with a complete sundew or butterwort enclosure, and it was time to move up into Nepenthes pitcher plants. 17 months after the originally planned workshop, we still made it happen.
Then as now, the concept was simple: getting a group together, lecturing about the basics on carnivorous plants, and then putting together a step-by-step enclosure. Thankfully, practice and a lot of time to rework the concept during quarantine made perfect, so all of the attendees walked in to find a box with components, a cup on top, and a tub nearby full of Nepenthes seedlings. Everything else was negotiable.
While the audience wasn’t quite as big as at previous Curious Garden events, not only was this completely understandable due to Delta variant concerns throughout Dallas, not to mention the beginnings of a typical August heat wave, but everyone who came out was extremely enthusiastic. The greatest compliment an audience can pay a lecturer is to ask really good questions, and the folks at Curious Garden asked some really, really good questions.
As for future events, we’re still deliberating on the next workshop: right now, the tentative plan is for waiting after the temperate carnivore growing season ends in November and running a set of holiday workshops. Details will follow as they come through, but rest assured that Jason isn’t rid of me yet.
Most of the time, July in North Texas just drags on and on. The weather report is the same every day: “Hot and sunny.” The general response to outdoor events invokes the Ray Bradbury novella “Frost and Fire,” where everyone has eight days to live on a planet where staying to watch the full sunrise is an excellent way to die. The last weekend in July is usually especially severe, and smart people emulate Gila monsters and move deep into shelter until the yellow hurty thing in the sky goes down. Most of the time.
The last day of July kept up with tradition, and the afternoon and evening were torrid in anticipation of the brutal thunderstorms that passed through the area on August 1. That’s why everything started in the morning, with laudable results.
Sadly, no Porch Sale for the weekend of August 7: that’s the day of the big Nepenthes Carnivorous Plant Workshop at Curious Garden by White Rock Lake. However, the indoor Porch Sales continue through August starting on August 14 (with a special evening event on August 21 to celebrate the gallery’s sixth anniversary), and the two-day Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5. August probably won’t drag, at least based on the weather forecast, and the Porch Sales will move back outside before you know it.
Well, the inevitable finally happened: it got hot in North Texas. Don’t you dare laugh at me: two things get us through July in Dallas: the possibility that for the first time since the Pleistocene, we’ll get through a whole summer without a solid month of monotonous hot-‘n-sunny every day, and the opening of Spirit Halloween popup stores in long-dead strip mall spaces. (Well, for me, it’s the arrival of the first Spooky Town decorations at Michael’s stores, but you take your joy where you find it.) The fact that the heat finally hit at the end of July wasn’t unexpected, but we all enjoyed the delay for as long as we had it.
As to be expected this time of the year, this Porch Sale was more an opportunity of exploration, mostly to see either if enclosures could fit into a particular space or to see what options were available for outdoor plants. No big deal: that’s what we’re here for. I’m just glad that we didn’t NEED to be outside when the worst of the hot southern wind hit on Sunday afternoon, because that’s not fit weather for plants or people.
Anyway, as mentioned last week, we’re continuing to shake things up on the schedule, so the next Porch Sale is this coming Saturday (July 31) from 10 am to 3 pm Central Time, for those whose schedules preclude coming out on Sundays. After that, the Triffid Ranch moves to Curious Garden near White Rock Lake for a carnivorous plant workshop on August 7, so no Porch Sale that weekend. After that, we’re still working out the particulars, so keep checking back.
While not as hot as in previous summers (compared to 2011 or 1980, North Texas is almost chilly), the heat and humidity were oppressive enough to consider moving the traditional Porch Sale inside, so that’s what we did. We also shifted the schedule from Sunday morning to Saturday evening, giving opportunities for those having other obligations on Sunday to wander about and take everything in. It definitely worked: the gallery had an audience that would have been shocking during the Valley View days.
And that’s part of the discussion on plans for the near future: through August, just to stir things up, we’ve been contemplating alternating between Friday nights, Saturday mornings and nights, and Sunday mornings for Porch Sales, even when it’s cool enough to move the show outside again. We’re also contemplating inviting other vendors when the outdoor Porch Sales start again (probably in mid-September), but that’s a little ways off. Either way, things are getting busy all the way to the end of the year and beyond.
And on the subject of schedules, the Porch Sales continue through July, starting with Sunday, July 25 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, and then again on Saturday, July 31, also from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. After that, the Porch Sales get delayed to make room for the Attack of the Carnivorous Plant Workshop at Curious Garden on August 7, and then we go back to it. As the schedule changes, you’ll know about it first.
Six years ago this month, things changed drastically for the Triffid Ranch. That was when we signed the lease for what turned out to be the first gallery space, out at what was Valley View Center in North Dallas, and started to put together the first gallery. It took a while – nobody expects the effort necessary to get set up from scratch until they get started, which might help explain why so many art galleries shut down within their first year – but we went live two months later, and never looked back. Now, just over four years in our current location, things are busier that we ever could have predicted back in 2015, and the rest of the year is going to get even weirder.
To start, after years of only being able to squeeze one event per month due to day job schedules and learning curves on enclosure construction, we’re now at the point of having regular weekly events, which is about as much as anybody can handle. (Having the gallery open on a daily basis simply isn’t an option right now, both between day job demands and customer interest, but we have PLANS.) The Porch Sales that started last year have become so popular that we (that is, both the Triffid Ranch and Caroline Crawford Originals in the front) kept them going, and now they’re moving inside for the duration of the summer. Keep checking the schedule for all of the details, but through the rest of the month, based on customers asking for non-Sunday events due to work schedules, we’re alternating back and forth between Saturday and Sunday open houses. This culminates with the Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5: holding these on holiday weekends has been enough of a hit that they’re going to keep going through the rest of the year and beyond.
In slightly related news, thanks to a very considerate series of contributors, a brand new custom Nepenthes enclosure is going in at the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney, and attendees at weekend events get to watch its construction in progress over the next few weeks before it debuts. It’s simultaneously a brand new construction challenge and a concept that’s been rattling around in my head for the last three decades, and it should surprise everyone once it’s complete.
And then we have the traveling lectures. After discussing this with owner Jason Cohen (and boy howdy, is he regretting not killing me when he had the chance when we first met 30 years ago this October), we’re going to try another run of the popular Carnivorous Plant Workshops at Curious Garden near White Rock Lake. The first will be a limited run on August 7 (contact Curious Garden about reservations), and then we’ll attempt more through the rest of the year, schedules and COVID-19 willing. Keep checking back for particulars. (This is in addition to the DFW Tap Talks lecture on August 20: that really will be on the gallery’s sixth anniversary and two weeks after Caroline’s birthday, so we have to plan something impressive.)
As for going on the road, things are tightening up for the upcoming Texas Frightmare Weekend on the weekend of September 10, and I didn’t realize how many people needed Frightmare this year until it came out over and over at the last Carnivorous Plant Weekend. Well, we’re going to be out there, along with several new enclosures debuting for the show (including one specifically intended to horrify planned guests Clive Barker and David Cronenberg, both of whom unfortunately had to cancel due to other issues), and a lot of Sarracenia starting to produce their fall pitchers. TFW has always run in the end of April/beginning of May for the last 12 years the Triffid Ranch has had a booth out there, so this should be intriguing.
Speaking of returns to old friends, the forms are filled out, the booth fees paid, and plans made for a return of the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays two-day weekend in Austin on November 20 and 21. Three trips to Austin in a single year: maybe it’s time to try setting up a show outside of Texas for the first time…um, before the Chicago Worldcon in September 2022, anyway.
And now the last bit of news, which was only confirmed today. People who remember my sad excuse for a literary career between 1989 and 2002 have reason to chuckle about my getting confirmation as a vendor at Armadillocon 43 in Austin: most use the term “Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah” when they aren’t laugh-crying about the hotel room. Well, it was a request by an old and dear friend planning to revitalize a longrunning literary convention getting everything in stride after its forced shutdown last year, and it’s also an opportunity to get back in touch with old friends in the science fiction literature community who lost touch after I quit pro writing. Yeah, and it’s also an excuse to show off plants and enclosures and talk everyone to death about carnivores, so it’s time to pull ALL of the stops. Best of all, this is scheduled for October 15 through 17, when Austin is at its most comfortable before the blue northers start blasting through in November, and I’ve desperately missed the days of October Armadillocons for precisely that reason. (Well, that, and a lot of people who couldn’t attend for business or health reasons when Armadillocon would run in the middle of August, the weekend before classes started at UT-Austin, now have an opportunity to come out for the first time in decades. We’re going to boogie ’til we puke.)
This time of the year, the weather in Texas can be wildly variable: it’s still possible to get rain, or we can fall right into a summer inferno that doesn’t relent until October. This time, July 4 weekend in Dallas coincided with some of the coolest and rainiest weather seen in decades, which definitely made the first July Carnivorous Plant Weekend all sorts of special. Of course, this means that we’ll be getting the same temperatures Portland and Seattle had last week, but here that’s expected.
With impending and expected heat, things may change with the Porch Sales compared to last year. All through 2020, the idea was to have SOMEthing open and outside to help relieve the monotony of quarantine: between masks and vaccines, it’s now safe enough to avoid the worst of July and August and move everything inside for the summer. We’ll probably go back to outdoor events in September and October when the air stops smelling of burning flint, but for right now, both plants and attendees probably appreciate access to air conditioning.
Another major change instigated by the Carnivorous Plant Weekend is that we’re going to try stirring up the schedule a bit. In 2020, Sunday was the default day of the week, mostly for the severe cabin fever cases, but now a lot of people can’t attend because they work Sundays. Hence, we’re still trying to nail down the whens and wherefores, but the idea is to alternate between Saturday and Sunday mornings for the rest of the year, only interrupted by outside events. (For instance, anyone coming by the gallery the weekend of September 10 is going to be horribly disappointed, because both people and plants will be set up at Texas Frightmare Weekend.) This way, since having the gallery open every day isn’t an option, most folks will have an opportunity on one day or the other.
As for next weekend, the secret words are “rest,” “recuperate,” and “restock, so look for us the weekend of July 17. Until then, keep your eye out for more enclosure debuts and backstories.
And now we hit the end of June, with the real summer heat still to come. Unlike last year, the outdoor events may have to come to an end for a while, or at least move inside, just because this summer could go in any number of directions, and “dangerous levels of heat by 3:00 pm” is usually at the top of the menu. That’s not to say that we’re stopping: it’s just to say that customer safety and gallery owner safety are very tight Venn diagrams.
If we needed a swan song and separation layer between “beginning of the year” and “end of the year” Porch Sales, June 27 summed it up. Thanks to unusual but not completely unheard-of rainy weather, the air was best described as “too thick to breathe, too thin to waterski on,” and getting close to optimal hot tub temperatures by the end of the day. That didn’t keep people from coming out to visit, but it definitely made the bicycle trip to the gallery that morning just a little less effortless.
It may have been hot and sticky for humans, but the plants seemed to love it. Compared to the usual Dallas blast furnace, a bit of Tallahassee crock pot was exactly what they needed. Right about now, the Sarracenia will slow down on growth and get ready for an explosion of new pitchers when things start cooling off in October, and that’s worth the wait.
Anyway, time to get back to the linen mines: the rest of the week is dedicated to getting everything ready for this weekend’s Carnivorous Plant Weekend event, starting on Saturday, July 3 from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm and continuing on Sunday, July 4 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. After that, the subsequent weekend is one for resting, recharging, and repotting, so keep an eye on the schedule for announcements on new events. And after THAT? Let’s just say that September, October, and November are already booked.
Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.
And in the end, the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo was over. Eight hours after the doors opened, the gigantic crowds finally trickled out, and all of the vendors took assessment of what we had left and what we had to replace before our next shows. I just looked at one neighbor and said “If I’d sold just a little bit more, I could leave the van and fly home.” Slight exaggeration, but it came close.
Obviously, everyone who came out was VERY happy. It wasn’t just a matter of people wanting to get out of the house: The Expos keep proving that not only is there a market for the macabre in Texas, but that audience keeps growing. Between these and Texas Frightmare Weekend, Halloween really will be that day when we let the amateurs have their fun. As someone who took decades of grief over “why can’t you just be normal?”, vindication is sweet, especially when it’s shared with friends, cohorts, and fellow unindicted coconspirators.
With such a massive show, many thanks are in order. Obviously, the crew behind every Oddities & Curiosities Expo deserves accolades for pulling off such massive shows without so much as a hiccup, but the fellow vendors do as well. (A tip: go check out Nicole Pangas Ceramics not just because her work is fascinating, but because we Michigan kids stick together. Meanwhile, I’ll always plug The Curiositeer because you always take care of your little sister, even if neither of you share common DNA.) An additional plug for Green Mesquite BBQ on Barton Springs: I only survived breakdown on Saturday evening because I knew I had a few kilos of sausage and pork ribs waiting for me at the hotel once I was done. Most of all, thanks to everyone who came out, whether or not you bought anything, because your interesting and unexpected questions are why this whole shebeen goes on tour. Now to get back to work and finish restocking, I haven’t come back from a show with so little since Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018, and this was after just one day, not three. I don’t think any of us would have survived if the Expo had run on Sunday as well, although I’m willing to test that in Dallas next year.