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Installment #27: “Horticultural Thunderdome”
Living in an older neighborhood has lots of interesting challenges already, as witnessed when the water main that blew out and left the front yard a sodden marsh last summer decided to go out entirely this spring. We were reasonably lucky, as February’s Icepocalypse left neighbors up and down the street with flooded-out living rooms and garages as pipes froze and thawed, and others discovered what subfreezing temperatures tend to do to electrical insulation that’s not rated for that sort of cold. (No fires, thankfully, but we’re seeing a lot of mood and porch lighting being torn out and replaced.) For the most part, it’s been the same with animal and plant life: the cold apparently thinned out the local squirrel population, but opossums clamber onto the porch to yell at each other and the cats with no sign of being affected by the freeze, and by the way the anoles and Mediterranean geckos act on the side of the house, you’d think they were campaigning for a reboot of the Mesozoic.
Things were considerably rougher for flora, particularly that better suited for areas further south. Dallas is right on the edge of safe growing zones for palm and saw palmetto trees, and neighbors with pools all figured “Let’s put palm trees in the back yard to add to the Polynesian ambiance.” That worked well since the last big freeze in 2015, which was over before anyone really recognized that it had arrived, but a solid week of subfreezing temperatures left those neighbors trying to figure out how to remove a 15-meter dead tree without hitting the pool, hitting the house, or requiring use of a crane. At this point, they’re better off pooling funds (pun intended) and just run that crane down the alley, plucking out palm carcasses like weeds.
The real problem, though, lies with actual weeds. Invasive exotics, to be precise. Being an older neighborhood, birds look at everything as a place to eat, rest, and nest, and that means they bring in all sorts of seeds from all sorts of plants, and many get established. This gets aggravated by those invasives that someone decides are suitably pretty or potentially useful, thus exacerbating the seed problem. Every little gizzard-bearing flying dinosaur in the area, with the possible exception of the two red-shouldered hawks who land atop my garage to yell at me as I’m trying to go to work, drags in more than their fair share of seeds, all lovingly scraped and scarified and tumbled with gizzard stones and grit, and 2021 is a particularly good year for them to find new places to take over. We don’t have kudzu yet, but two of the invasives could give kudzu a serious fight.
The first, morning glory (Ipomoea spp.) is about as ubiquitous in Dallas as roses in Portland or Spanish moss in Tallahassee, but these aren’t the gigantic-bloomed cultivated and domesticated variety grown for their lovely flowers. These produce much more subtle, but still beautiful, blooms, and the energy they’d use on ostentatious petals goes instead into vines that cover EVERYTHING. Pull them off shrubs and lawn furniture and vehicles left outside, and they’re back in a day or so, and Arioch help us all if they ever get a taste for blood. Mowing and weedeating them just encourages them, and they have a wonderful habit of binding mowers and cutting blades.
And then we have the other green menace, scarlet trumpetvine (Campsis radicans), usually spread by yuppie homeowners told by Some Guy that a great way to hide telephone poles and other utility poles is to let them be covered by trumpetvine. Not only will the local lineman for the county want to set you on fire for doing so (trumpetvine sap causes contact dermatitis in many people), but the seeds are appreciated by a wide variety of birds, which then spread said seeds all over the area. Left unchecked, the vines collapse fences and squeeze between barriers, and most efforts to thin them back that don’t involve radioisotopes merely spread them further. Worst of all, since the roots spread through the toughest clay hardpan soil, new clumps pop up and start spreading meters from the original infestation, dislodging brick pathways and drowning bird feeders and barbecue grills with runners. As with morning glories, local garden centers sell trumpetvine to unassuming novices, thereby guaranteeing that subsequent residents curse their names years and decades after they’ve moved on and left their mess.
This year, possibly because of the freeze, both morning glory and trumpetvine are determined to take over. It’s not enough to pull trumpetvine: you have to let it dry until dead if it’s to be composted or mowed, and it thrives on weeding regimens that would get poison ivy to give up and die. Morning glory at least makes a good hide for assassin bugs and anoles, and it’s kept somewhat in check by leafcutter bees that strip big chunks from their leaves. Trumpetvine, though, has no controls, and the phrase “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit” is a regular one from people fighting it for a decade or more. Then, when it’s finally held to a dull roar, that’s when an unknowing neighbor actually pays real cash money for the horrible stuff because “I hate that telephone pole out front, and I hear it attracts hummingbirds.”
That leaves the only real option: Thunderdome. Along one fence wall, I’m trying a little experiment, and letting trumpetvine and morning glory beat each other. So far, the morning glory seems to be choking out the trumpetvine, but the trumpetvine apparently discovered that hiding underneath rosebushes and behind hibiscus trees was a reasonable alternative, and it’s discovered a horrible trick of running tendrils underneath mulch and then emerging in multiple spots. Not that it’ll do any good: two weeks ago, when Dallas was getting unseasonable rains, I planted sweet potato, and so long as they don’t form an alliance to remove the animal scum keeping them from their destinies, the morning glories and trumpetvine are in TROUBLE.
Upcoming Gallery Events
Now that the heat has kicked in, the weekend Porch Sales have moved inside for the duration of the summer, but they’ll go back outside later in September. The holiday Carnivorous Plant Weekends were so popular for Memorial Day and Independence Day Weekends that we’re reprising it for Labor Day, with the next Carnivorous Plant Weekend running on Saturday, September 4 from 4:00 to 9:00 pm and then on Sunday, September 5 from 10am to 3pm. As always, admission is free and masks are mandatory.
In other developments, obviously the big show of the year is going to be Texas Frightmare Weekend at DFW Airport in September, and then it’s time to head back down to Austin for an extended weekend. Being invited as a vendor for Armadillocon 43 brings on all sorts of comments (mine is “I feel like Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah”), but it’s been a very long time since Austin’s premier literary science fiction convention ran in October instead of the middle of August, and Austin is lovely in October.
In yet more developments, the Dallas Morning News Best in DFW vote is now going, and keeps going until September 2, and the Triffid Ranch is on the ballot under “Best Art Gallery” and “Best Garden Center.” The gallery isn’t automatically on the ballot for the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Reader’s Poll, but it offers room for write-in votes, so do what thou wilt.
One of the many reasons why I live in Garland, Texas, besides its obvious film reference, is that my town is just loaded with interesting food options. One of the absolute best came from discovering a regular Vietnamese food truck outlet at the Cali Saigon Mall at Jupiter Road and Beltline Road: unenlightened people may scoff or laugh at the concept of “Vietnamese tacos,” and they’re welcome to do so, because that’s just that much more for me. Anyway, should you decide to trundle out to the Dallas area for dinner, let me put a bug in your ear about Em & Bubba’s Home Cooking: As someone with 40 years’ experience in the subject, let me say that Em & Bubba’s barbecue brisket is some of the absolute best I have ever eaten, bar none. For vegetarians, they have a lot of options as well, and that’s not counting the other food trucks right alongside. This Saturday, after recovering from the Porch Sale, we’re probably heading there for dinner, and anyone caring to join us is welcome to do so.
Since we’re coming up on the fifth anniversary of the gallery’s move from Valley View Center, I’m going to have to dig out photos taken from those final days and add commentary on the ultra-slow-motion implosion of the mall. In the interim, I recommend picking up Capital by Mark Hage: for those who have never started a venue in an existing retail or gallery space, there’s an odd sense of archaeology that comes from the dribs and drabs left behind by previous tenants, sometimes ones gone for decades (mine was the surprising number of pennies dropped on the floor in the back storage area, as well as breaker box labels from the mall’s food court expansion in 1998), and Capital hits on that sense of mystery quite well.
With the summer heat, pretty much the only way to get through August in North Texas is by dreaming of autumn. A touch of Emilie Autumn goes a long way toward that, as well as making a perfectly suitable soundtrack when the heat finally breaks.