Tag Archives: Gothic Beauty

Gothic Gardening: “Six Easy Steps to Kill Your Venus Flytrap”

(Background: this essay was one of several columns commissioned for the magazine Gothic Beauty between 2009 and 2011. Since the magazine hasn’t published a new issue in years, it’s time to drag up a few of these old columns so they can find a new readership.)

Previously published in Gothic Beauty #29

It’s a lament anybody who raises or sells carnivorous plants hears on a regular basis. Right after the inevitable Little Shop of Horrors jokes, after asking if they carry any man-eating plants, the comment is always the same: “I used to have a Venus flytrap, but it died.” Some people state it as if they were relaying the weather, figuring that all plants die and flytraps are just fussy. Some are almost accusatory, as if it’s the dealer’s fault that mere mortals can’t keep them alive for more than a few weeks or days. A lot of kids apologize, as if they’re going to get yelled at for the plant dying. It still translates to a basic assumption: no matter what you do, Venus flytraps always die. 

Now, it’s hard not to be fascinated by carnivorous plants of all types, and the Venus flytrap (Dionea muscipula) is the quintessential carnivore as far as the public is concerned. Ask ten people to name a carnivorous plant other than a flytrap, and you’ll be lucky to get one who might bring up “sundew” or “bladderwort”. Walk into any garden shop, hardware store, or general nursery, and odds are that you’ll see big displays of Venus flytraps in those little plastic cups or cubes, with a big sticker reading “Really eats bugs!” on the front. Nearly everybody encounters the heartbreak later, as that once-thriving plant gradually goes black and dies. What most garden shops won’t tell you, and what many of their proprietors honestly don’t realize, is that Venus flytraps are some of the most temperamental and fussy carnivores you can get this side of some of the really obscure varieties. Not only wouldn’t I recommend them to beginners, but I can point to a good dozen species that are both easier to keep and more interesting to raise. 

Now, I could tell you exactly how to keep your Venus flytrap alive and healthy, just like the one I have in my greenhouse that’s been thriving for the last four years. It doesn’t take any special care, and anybody can do it with a basic understanding of what a flytrap needs for survival. Instead, I’m going to give a good thumbnail guide on precisely how to kill your flytrap, and kill every other flytrap you come across. This way, not only do you know what not to do, but also you can take that same knowledge and apply it to other carnivores. If you can keep a flytrap growing and even blooming, there’s no reason why you couldn’t also raise American and Asian pitcher plants, butterworts, terrestrial bladderworts, and even Portuguese dewy pines. 

Step 1: Buy your flytrap at Halloween. About a month before Halloween, garden shops and grocery stores start carrying flytraps as impulse purchases, usually in a larger bowl with two or three other species of carnivore sharing the space. Even if the plants don’t die right away from other reasons, the flytrap will gradually go black and appear to die off in November and December, and it gets pitched or dumped on the compost pile as a bad job. 

The funny thing is that the flytrap, unlike the parrot in the Monty Python sketch, really is resting, and not dead after all. Flytraps are native to a small area in North Carolina, with a possible relict population just south of Tallahassee, Florida, and regularly deal with at least one to three months of freezing temperatures in the winter. When sunlight levels start to drop in autumn, the plant prepares by growing a bulb below ground instead of new leaves. If the winter is mild, then the trap keeps its existing leaves, and the traps are really just modified leaves, for photosynthesis through the winter before growing new ones in spring. If the winter isn’t, then the leaves die off and the plant looks dead. Wait about three to four months, until temperatures and day length increase, and it’ll come back, hale, hearty, and ready to feed. 

Now, that dormancy period is critical: if the flytrap doesn’t get it, it will die later, and usually with almost no warning. Almost all other carnivores from temperate climes also need that dormancy period. It’s not a matter of “may”: it’s a matter of “will”. If you absolutely have to have a carnivore on display in the depths of winter, consider an alternative such as an Asian pitcher plant (Nepenthes alata, for instance) or a tropical sundew (Drosera adelae from Australia is an excellent choice). 

Step 2: Plant it in your garden. Unless your garden is in a sphagnum moss bog, with incredibly acid soil that’s almost nutrient-free, planting a Venus flytrap in a standard garden is a good way to kill it. Now, there’s nothing wrong with making a bog garden specifically for carnivores and other acid-loving plants, but planting them alongside your tomatoes or chrysanthemums is a waste of good flytraps. 

Step 3: Water it with tap water. In the wild, flytraps get regular intense rainstorms, and those regular rainstorms over the last half-million years or so have left their preferred soil almost completely free of dissolvable minerals. Some individuals are lucky enough to have municipal water that’s sufficiently free of minerals such as salt or calcium that it can go directly onto their carnivores: both Chicago and Portland (Oregon) have municipal water that’s sufficiently pure to take a chance. Here in Dallas, though, the local water is best described as “crunchy”, and some areas have so much dissolved iron in their water that it stains the sides of houses and sidewalks. That’s why, for safety’s sake, I always recommend watering carnivores with rainwater or distilled water, and I have two 60-gallon rainwater tanks solely to capture water for my carnivores. That warning about tap water is important, because insufficiently pure water can and will burn a flytrap’s roots right off, killing it in days or even hours. A reverse osmosis filter can render tap water safe for carnivores, but boiling it does absolutely nothing to remove those minerals (unless you’re running a steam distiller), and water softeners merely replace calcium salts for sodium salts, which are just as dangerous. Likewise, stay away from spring water or drinking water, as they usually have salt added for flavor, and that will kill flytraps just as dead as watering them from the tap. 

Step 4: Keep it in a terrarium. Some carnivores can take life in a terrarium, at least for a while, but Venus flytraps are best raised outside. Not only do they need the winter dormancy mentioned before, but they weaken and die unless they get at least six to eight hours of direct sun per day. They won’t get this in a terrarium, nor will they get this by keeping them in a window. If you absolutely have to keep one indoors, for whatever reason, a sunroom or greenhouse that gets that level of sun will work quite well. A terrarium getting that much sun, though, will usually heat up and cook everything inside. 

Step 5: Set off its traps with your finger. Nearly everyone’s response to seeing a flytrap for the first time is to stimulate the inside of the trap with a finger to get it to close. The closing process is an interesting example of topography, but the plant’s re-opening of the trap is a regular growth process. Set off a trap too many times, and the trap will refuse to close any more and will become just another photosynthetic leaf. Set off all of the traps too many times, and the energy lost in re-opening the traps will weaken or kill the flytrap. 

Step 6: Feed it hamburger. Carnivorous animals capture prey for energy and for various compounds necessary for growth. Carnivorous plants capture prey to get nitrogen and phosphorus they can’t get from their soil. Therefore, they only need to be fed occasionally, and not as if they’re a dog or hamster. In the wild, a flytrap’s prey is going to be about the size of a fly or small spider, and very lean: hamburger is far too fatty for a flytrap to process, and dropping hamburger in a trap will invariably cause the trap to decay and die. If the decay spreads, it can kill the whole plant. 

Step 7: Keep it jammed in with other carnivores. Finally, flytraps are particular about their growing conditions, but that doesn’t keep some nurseries from selling them in cubes that also contain Australian sundews (which don’t need a dormancy period) and cobra plants from the Pacific Northwest (which need cooler nighttime temperatures). Usually, the stresses of keeping one plant alive will guarantee that the others will die, and the flytrap is usually the first casualty. If you’re feeling adventurous, or if you have prior experience with carnivores, feel free to separate all three and put them in separate pots, but please don’t keep them together in the same pot. 

Naturally, this isn’t a comprehensive list of requirements, but follow any of the mistakes above, and I guarantee that your flytrap will die in a horrible manner. If you avoid them, though, your plant will probably live, thrive, and even bloom. After all, what’s the point of buying a beautiful plant like a full-grown Venus flytrap if all you’re going to do is scrag it? 

Postscript: if this list looks familiar, it’s because it was the basis for the Absolute Surefire Steps to Kill Your Venus Flytrap series. If it doesn’t, then you have more flytrap care tips to read. Either way, we all win.

Gothic Gardening: Getting the Lay of the Land

(Background: this essay was one of several columns commissioned for the magazine Gothic Beauty between 2009 and 2011. Since the magazine hasn’t published a new issue in years, it’s time to drag up a few of these old columns so they can find a new readership.)

Previously published in Gothic Beauty #28

Just for a second, think about the two words “gothic gardening.”  Just for a second.  Did you get images of an overgrown cemetery or abandoned park, festooned with creepers and dead branches?  Do you have images of an herb garden where everything therein is medicinal or poisonous?  How about antique Wardian cases full of ferns, club mosses, and other antediluvian remnants of past life?  A pond overrun with water lilies amidst a half-sunken fountain?  Statuary and gravestones?  Topiaries? A greenhouse full of orchids and Borneo pitcher plants?  Roses?  Lilies?  Angel trumpets and moonflowers? Nightshade and privet, or Venus flytraps and butterworts?  Stark white marble ground cover to reflect the full moon, or narrow pathways between pumpkin patches and rosemary bushes?

Yes, you can see the problem.  No matter how inclusive one wants to get, any definition of what constitutes gothic gardening depends upon individual tastes, attitudes, climate and soil restrictions, and available free time.  Someone with independent wealth and time could reconstruct a scale Neolithic monolith site and festoon the area with raspberry bushes, but it’s no more or no less valid than the apartment dweller with a Vanda orchid that encircles a compact fluorescent fixture.  Just as how gothic fashion has plenty of room for variation and experimentation, gothic gardening offers plenty of opportunities to explore the darker side of horticulture.

Since we could argue all day about the particulars of gothic gardening, let’s start with a basic assumptive definition.  For our purposes, gothic gardening is any gardening style that emphasizes entropy, or at least more chaos than what’s normally found in a controlled garden area.  Japanese gardens tend to emphasize the natural while subtly emphasizing the harmony of the scene:  gothic gardening should emphasize the slightly unnatural, distorted, or disturbing.  Good gothic gardens are beautiful, yes, but they should also be subtly uncomfortable.

One of the great ironies of gothic gardening is that it requires the heliophobic to acknowledge the sun.  Without access to lanterns, there will be times where peeking out at the yellow hurty thing in the sky is unavoidable.  Speaking as someone who does a very good impersonation of Bill Paxton from the film Near Dark when exposed to direct sunlight, I suggest three options for the seriously sun-sensitive:  raise shade-loving plants underneath mature trees or along high walls, plant to do all of your work at dusk and dawn, or work indoors.  Greenhouses are perfect for this, as both glass and most plastic greenhouse glazings absorb ultraviolet light, thereby protecting the contents of the greenhouse from the worst of the sun’s wrath.  Likewise, many fascinating plants can be raised in sunny windowsills and removed at night in order to appreciate them, and many orchid and fern enthusiasts bring plants out for display in common areas well away from windows, returning them to the window before they wilt or fade and replacing them with fresh plants.  If worse comes to worst, while the term “terrarium” invokes cheesy grade-school accumulations of plants in old mayonaisse jars, the art is staging a comeback thanks to improvements in enclosures, lighting, and varieties of plant available.

The first question that should always be asked when embarking on any gardening project, even more than “Do I have the time to do this right?”, is “What do I want to accomplish?”  That may be a stumper for a while, but take your time.  Think about it for a while.  Look at your available area, and feel free to abandon the usual Better Homes & Gardens gibberish.  Some of the best gardens I’ve ever seen used back spaces behind former industrial sites to produce an impressive combination of post-apocalyptic and lost civilization motifs.  Don’t worry about having to spend a lot to get your dream garden, either:  some of those after-The-Bomb gardens cost less than $50 to pull off.

When considering what you want to accomplish, let’s start with a few possibilities:

  • Utility:  Is this a garden purely for your pleasure, or is it going to have to earn its living?  Are you wanting a cooking and medicinal herb garden?  How about garden for producing floral extracts, such as roses or lavender?  Do you live in a locale where you can grow exotic fruits and vegetables outdoors, or will these need to stay indoors for most of the year?  Do you want plants that provide habitat and feeding areas for your favorite animals (owls, lizards, opossums), or do you want vines and spines to keep everybody out?
  • Variety:  Do particular plants draw you more than others?  Are antique and graveyard roses a particular passion, or are orchids more your speed?  Do you want a bog garden full of carnivorous plants and bog orchids, or do you want a craggy rock garden?  Which works better for you:  bamboo, cactus, or moss?
  • Features:  Does your area have a particular aspect, such as a pond or a perpetually shady space, that automatically draws the eye?  A fence that needs covering, or a window that needs enhancement?  Is the area so overgrown and rugged that it may require everything to be razed and replanted, or is it so bare that anything would be an improvement?  Do you already have stone, statuary, or water features that only need accents, or will you have to bring them in from elsewhere?  Do you really want a Japanese garden, or do you only want to steal some of the techniques and take them somewhere new?
  • Seasonality:  Let’s face it.  What looks spectacular in the middle of summer is going to look threadbare or neglected in winter, and vice versa.  Do you want a garden that only reaches its peak for two or three months, or one that continues to show new aspects of its personality all year round?
  • Time:  Most gardening guides presume that we gardeners have nothing but free time to keep working on improving our sites.  Realistically, though, most of us have real jobs (and those who don’t can stop flaunting it, thank you very much), so the only time available for improvements are weekends and the occasional holiday off from work.  Do you want flora that look impressive but require a lot of babying, especially if it’s not quite appropriate for the area?  Or do you want nearly indestructible plants that only need to be planted and established and they do the rest of the work for themselves?

Think about these for a little while, and consider the below references for guidelines.  The important thing to remember is that gardening is supposed to be enjoyable:  if you aren’t getting pleasure from the experience, you probably need to go in a new direction.

Plantwatching:  How Plants Live Feel and Work by Malcolm Wilkins (McMillan, 1988, ISBN 0-333-44503-1).  More of a general guide to the plant kingdom than anything else, Plantwatching goes into the details of plant physiology and what distinguishes different orders of plant from each other.  It’s much more readable than a standard botany textbook, and it goes into quite a bit of detail on oddball varieties neglected in a world of carnations and hostas.

You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail (Fireside, 2005, ISBN 0-7432-7014-2).  An extension of the famed www.yougrowgirl.com site, this is pretty much THE guide for urban gardening of all sorts, and it gives tips on everything from tips on propagating seed to making your own garden gear.  The highest compliment I can pay to this book is that I snag every copy I can find from used bookstores and give them to friends for birthday gifts.  Anyone at a loss with what to do with their back yard or apartment balcony needs a copy on the bookshelf.  

Gardens of Obsession:  Eccentric and Extravagant Visions by Gordon Taylor and Guy Cooper  (Seven Dials, Cassell & Co., 2000, ISBN 1841880930).  Making basic decisions about what to do with your garden depend sometimes on seeing what others have done with theirs, and Gardens of Obsession catalogues particularly bizarre or fascinating gardens around the world.  Any book that catalogues Portmeirion in Wales (the shooting location for the Sixties-era television series The Prisoner)  and notes its horticultural wealth is particularly deserving of attention.

Gardens of New Orleans:  Exquisite Excess by Lake Douglas and Jeannette Hardy (Chronicle Books, 2001, ISBN 0-8118-2421-7).  Sometimes it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of the garden accoutrements and styles, and a new perspective is needed.  This book is heartbreaking when you realize that almost all of the gardens described therein were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but it’s also affirming in that most of these were done with little or no money in the first place, and that the people of New Orleans are building new gardens to replace what had been lost in the hurricane.  The next time you tell yourself “I can’t afford to do this,” tale a look at the gardens of the Ninth Ward and understand that it’s the drive, not the money, that makes a memorable garden.

“Sidenote:  The Starter”

It’s the universal question faced by anyone  wanting to start gardening.  “But what should I get that I won’t kill?”  That’s one of the best questions you can ask, and it’s one of the hardest to answer.

One of the reasons why it’s so hard to answer is that short of sending someone to your house or garden and evaluating soil conditions, light, temperature, and the likelihood that you’ll have the time to keep up with your new charges, there’s no telling for sure.  Those with more knowledge may give recommendations based on their own experiences, but advice on plants that do their best in Miami is almost worthless to Seattle gardeners. 

This gets particularly touchy when it comes to intrusive species, which are plants and animals that grow out of control when introduced to new areas where they face no competition.  The more famous intrusive include the mongoose and coqui frog in Hawaii and the cane toad in Queensland, but plant intrusive can be even more damaging or dangerous.  For instance, Bermudagrass is one of the only varieties of lawn grass that can survive a typical Dallas summer, but it’s such a tenacious intrusive that deliberately bringing it elsewhere outside of its range is justification for fines, imprisonment, and the occasional savage beating by Customs and agriculture officials.  Before bringing in something new, check with your local agricultural division or ministry and ask if the plant you just fell in love with is the local Public Enemy Number One.  They’ll thank you later.

That said, picking a good starter plant for someone unsure about gardening ability spreads throughout the plant kingdom, and discussing the perfect starter plant among serious horticulture enthusiasts is a great way to turn a party into a recreation of the end of an Akira Kurosawa and/or George Romero film.  However, I can make one really good suggestion as a place to start, because it’s where I started.

The genus Kalanchoe is a member of the crassula family, which includes the suitably alien jade plant Crassula ovata, and includes about 125 species in various stages of cultivation.  The kalanchoes have the advantage of being very tough:  besides being succulents, they thrive in poor soils and with lots of benign neglect, and they’re extremely easy to propagate.  I currently have a community grown from a single broken leaf I scavenged from an old office, and K. daigremoniana is known as “Mother of Thousands” and “Pregnant Plant” because it grows new shoots from serrations in its leaves.  Most only need watering once per month and low levels of fertilizer, thrive under standard morning or evening sun, grow in standard pots without issue, and produce spectacular blooms.  They also grow in any number of disturbing forms, and many can be shaped, very gently, into bonsai, Under the right conditions, the question won’t be “Can I keep my plant alive?”, but instead “Do I have any friends who want to take my surplus?”

WARNING:  many kalanchoes are toxic in leaves or stems, although some varieties are used in their native habitats to treat medical maladies.  For this reason, research your species or variety for possible poisoning issues with pets and children.

Thursday is Resource Day

It’s been a while since the old Snail Mailbox was opened and cleared out, but oh the wonders therein. The periodical market may be coughing up blood after the demise of Borders, but I can still point to quite a few magazines that make the old model still worth paying for.

To start, yes, Facebook is now overloaded with single-subject obsessives with all of the depth and critical thought of a movie poster, and poking through a Timeline is a bit like being stuck in traffic behind that character with the station wagon held together with bumper stickers. However, sometimes you need to sift through a mountain to find gold. I can’t remember which friend turned me onto Florida Gardening magazine, but the first issue reminded me of everything that I loved from living in Tallahassee a decade ago. Of particular note is a cover story on the gardens of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, which was still under construction when I came through the area in 2008.

I also can’t recommend highly enough Jay (Jake) Carter’s end column, “The Exterminator”, because his certainty about the intelligence of local vermin matches mine. To quote, “I am ill equipped o do any real damage to the world’s pest populations. However, the image I am presenting to them is one of a crazed killer who will go to ANY lengths to get rid of them, even if the effort ends in my accidental poisoning or I blow myself up.” Oh, I empathize. The rat trap atop the roof, apparently carried there by a hawk that snatched the rat inside for an early morning snack, is proof of that.

Likewise, the newest issue of Carnivorous Plant Newsletter arrived just today, and seemingly half of the issue is full of new carnivorous plant cultivars. That’s in addition to a study on bladderwort functions, and Nigel Hewitt-Cooper‘s guide to raising Drosera regia. The last is of particular note, considering my mistaking D. filliformis for D. regia, and it may be time to try raising this beauty under Texas conditions.

And then there’s vindication. My subscription to Gothic Beauty is nearing its end, but I still go through every issue from cover to cover. Of especial interest was a letter to the editor complimenting the “Gothic Gardening” columns in back issues: it’s just a real damn shame that the columnist was fired by the publisher in the most passive-aggressive manner possible, isn’t it?

Contest: The Saga of the Joey Box

The addiction started half my life ago, when I was a beginning film critic for a long-forgotten science fiction magazine at the end of the Eighties. I started up a friendship with one Joey Shea, better known as “Joey Zone,” a fellow contributor and general troublemaker, and he and his lovely wife Cheryl LeBeau rapidly became People To Talk To. Shortly after we first made our acquaintance, I received a big package from Joey. It was full of band fliers, old horror magazines, toys, and other New England exotica, with a little note reading “The best thing about moving is that you can give away crap and people think you’re such a generous bastard.” I still have that note in my files somewhere, along with most of the items in that big envelope. I promptly put together a comparable box of Dallas ephemera and dropped it off in the mail.

Unbeknownst to me, I’d received my first Joey Box. I’d also sent my first one, and the tradition stuck.

I don’t want to get into a “when I was your age” tirade, but there was a weird fire to the world during the zine period between 1984 and 1999. Any number of people discovered that publishing their own magazines was a lot easier than they’d been led to believe, and they further discovered that a market existed for their publications. The end result was a lot of bush-league rivalries, drama, tears, screaming, and attempted homicide. It was a wonderful time to be alive, especially when you’d meet people via one zine or another and they’d send you a huge box of stuff in the hopes of convincing you their home town was the best in the world. You’d then reciprocate with a huge box, and your friends and their friends would fight like Romero zombies over who got the best stuff left over.

Now, Joey and Cheryl are up in Connecticut, so they had access to club schedules, movie promos, and demo tapes from all over New England. I couldn’t match the variety, but I could match the volume. Dallas was a great place at that time for all sorts of promo materials, and the Joey Boxes only got bigger once I started working for a local weekly called The Met in 1994. By 2000, they were getting a bit ridiculous, as one had to be split into three separate boxes because the one was too heavy for UPS. I kept waiting for the notice that Joey had broken both of his femurs trying to pick up the latest box, or that Cheryl would call in tears because Joey was dead from zine poisoning.

In recent years, I’ve had to cut back on the size of Joey Boxes, mostly because so much promo material is online instead. Nobody puts three weeks of effort into a band poster any more when they can just start up a new page on Facebook. It’s the same situation with Joey, and not just because he quit zine illustration for a library science degree a few years back. We still keep up the tradition, though, and we try our best to keep it going.

So now it’s time to expand the Joey Box concept. I can’t guarantee you’ll need a forklift to get it inside the house, but it should make things interesting.

So here’s the contest. I have five separate packages awaiting the winners. Each one contains Triffid Ranch stickers and buttons. Each one also contains at least one issue of Gothic Beauty magazine, containing my gardening column, or the May 2011 issue of Reptiles with my article on carnivorous plants in herp vivaria. Each one will contain a gardening book out of my collection (I’m phasing out the book selection I used to carry at Triffid Ranch shows, so this is your gain). Other than that, each one will be different in its contents. Best of all, all are sealed up beforehand and selected randomly, so I won’t know which one is going where.

Now here’s your shot. Send an old-fashioned postcard or envelope to the contact address for the Triffid Ranch, with your name and mailing address. Out of the postcards received by July 30, 2011, five participants will each receive a randomly selected Joey Box. This is open to everyone on the planet, so don’t worry about not being able to play because you don’t live in the States. (In fact, I’m reserving an additional Joey Box for the person with the most interesting mailing address, so if you know someone at an Antarctic research base, send the addy.) Many may enter, and all will receive Triffid Ranch buttons and stickers for their efforts. And for those worried about their addresses used for spurious purposes, here’s the privacy policy.

As always, feel free to pass this on to friends and neighbors. Half of the fun of something like this is the sharing.

EDIT: For those on Facebook, you have the option of another contest entirely for a Joey Box via the Triffid Ranch page. Look at it as Christmas in July, with Jack Skellington driving the sleigh.

July through October, in the heat

I know it doesn’t help, but I speak from experience. Earth hasn’t been launched into the sun, so things WILL cool off in the Northern Hemisphere. They’ll even cool off in Texas, as heretical the idea may seem. True, we won’t be down to temperatures conducive for carbon-based life for another three months, but it’s something. In the meantime, you can either complain about the heat, or you can sit down, take a nice deep breath of granite vapor, and think about something else.

Now, you could do something to distract yourself, such as watch a nice, tranquil art movie in an air-conditioned theater. Considering the source, though, you have plenty of options for gardening opportunities that don’t directly involve being withered into dust by the big yellow hurty thing in the sky. For instance:

Get in some reading. After you’ve come inside after a hard day at work, and slogged through the pools of molten concrete in front of the door, there’s a lot to be said about doing something that requires you to move nothing but your eyes. With that consideration, I could be self-serving and mention that Gothic Beauty magazine now offers digital subscriptions, and the print subscriptions are ridiculously cheap for the value. However, I’ll also point out that a lot of unorthodox publications tie directly to summer gardening, such as the article on natural vivarium substrates in the current issue of Reptiles magazine. And if your brain is frying in your skull, get into the shade and put in a few orders with Timber Press‘s extensive collection of horticulture books. That should cool you for a while.

Consider something smaller. One word: bonsai. A few more: penjing and Hon Non Bo. When you find yourself feeling like a character in Ray Bradbury’s story “Frost and Fire,” it may be time to reevaluate going outdoors to garden. In that case, consider talking to the folks at Dallas Bonsai Garden for tools and equipment, or peruse the Bonsai Bark blog for ideas. If you’re looking for something more encapsulated, there’s no reason why you can’t consider vivaria, either. (To friends in Massachusetts for various onerous reasons this coming weekend, I’d tell you to head out to Black Jungle Terrarium Supply in Turner Falls and stock up on vivarium goodies, but the whole Black Jungle crew will be at the New York Metro Reptile Expo in White Plains at that time. Do NOT let that stop you. I’ll be at the DFW Lone Star Reptile Expo in Arlington for the same reason.)

Get an early start on the fall season. While the summers are brutal, one of the best things about living in Texas is that the autumns go on forever. I’m only slightly exaggerating, as I’ve gleefully harvested tomatoes and Swiss chard out of my own garden for Christmas dinner, and most citrus, ranging from oranges to Cthulhufruit, isn’t ripe until the end of November. That’s why, when the heat threatens your sanity, start making plans for autumn and winter right now. Considering how well Capsicum peppers work as container plants brought indoors before the frosts start, take a look at the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University and run that Mastercard dry. (I currently have a back growing area loaded with NuMex Halloween peppers that are getting big enough to demand UN membership, and Arioch help me when the Bhut Jolokias start bearing fruit.

Combining all of the above. And what’s wrong with Capsicum pepper bonsai? Add in a suitable recipe for jalapeno poppers, and you won’t be worrying about the heat outdoors. Instead, you’ll wonder about what happened to the time when New Year’s Eve hits and you’re up to your armpits in fresh potting mix.

“When there’s no more room in Hell, Datura will walk the earth.”

The Web site doesn’t include more than a pre-order form, but the newest issue of Gothic Beauty magazine arrived yesterday, complete with the newest “Gothic Gardening” column. Want to learn more about the one plant that connects “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Manson, and George Romero? You’ll need to snag a copy.