Monthly Archives: March 2015

Tillandsias for the Highly Creative

Tillandsia aeranthos

Tillandsia aeranthos

Browsing the new books at Timber Press this winter, I found a fix for my garden longings–Air Plants by Zenaida Sengo. As a fan of the horticulturally unusual, I’m attracted to these spiky-sculptural plants. (Carnivorous plants also turn me on, and the undersea creature look of succulents mesmerize me.) The tallandsias we usually see at the nursery can be quite small, miniature marvels if you will, and the fact that they don’t require soil gives them the ability to go anywhere there’s good light. Pictures in the book show them wired to screens and collected in frames, dangling artfully from fishing line, in sand terrariums surrounded by gleaming quartz and fluorite. This was exactly what I needed: plants, creativity, and FUN.

sieisiek

A confession: I’ve bought a few tillandsias over the years, but none lasted. Contrary to my life’s work and passion, I am not a natural green thumb–all my plant successes have been hard won, with many casualties along the way. In this book I knew I’d find expert advice to remedy my failing. I sat down to read Air Plants, and I read it straight through in one sitting. (You know it’s good when that happens).

The author of Air Plants, Zenaida Sengo, is a long time tillandsia guru at Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco. As an artist who fell in love with horticulture, this book is a perfect combination of her know-how and flair in both disciplines. It’s also a very beautiful book, thanks in large part to the talent of photographer Caitlin Atkinson.

I learned (in some cases, relearned), my air plant ABCs: that tillandsias are epiphytes (plants that anchor on other plants), but that they’re not parasitic, and they are of the family Bromeliaceae, kissing cousins to the bromeliads. Air plants come in two general types; xeric, those that can survive on less water, and mesic, those that need more moisture as they come from areas with moderate to ample rainfall. You can easily tell the difference between the two by their appearance: xeric tillandsias, like other xeric plants, have moisture-retaining leaves (called trichomes) that are more feathery or hairy in appearance, and this gives them a white, gray, or silvery color. Mesic tillandsias have smoother “slicker and greener” trichomes, because in their natural habitat, finding water is not an issue. Reading about their water requirements, I found out why my air plants had died. While I had been told “a dunk in a container of water once a week” would be sufficient, in Sengo’s book it says a soaking of 1-2 hours might be more desirable, up to 5 hours if the plant exhibits curved, dehydrated leaves. In Colorado’s dry climate, these plants need to be soaked. You can also hydrate air plants by misting them a few times a week (if they’re xeric, the mesic require more) or by holding them under a faucet for a couple of times a week.

Tillandsia regina, Curtis's Botanical Magazine, London., vol. 141, 1915, via Wikimedia Commons

Tillandsia regina, Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, London., vol. 141, 1915, via Wikimedia Commons

Those details will enable me to do right by my tillandsias next time. And there will be a next time, as I started hunting for specimens immediately upon finishing this book. That’s how inspired I was. Come to me tillandsias, I won’t hurt you ever again! The book is filled with exciting ideas for displaying these beauties in design and décor, and there are even crafts (I really liked the hair adornments). I’m thinking I’ll construct a screen structure that I can hang as an art object in our sunny east-facing dining room (perfect for winter interest), and I want to put together at least one “other worldy” terrarium.

Zenaida Sengo

Author Zenaida Sengo

To get a little glimpse of Senga’s air plant skills you can visit her website here (and here’s the page where the hair adornment is featured). And here’s the listing on Timber Press!

–Sandra Knauf

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Everything She Needs is at Her Feet—the Garden Poetry of Barbara Crooker

Small Rain by Barbara Crooker

I was happy to hear that Barbara Crooker, whose poetry has been read many times by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac and has also appeared in Greenwoman, has a new book out, Small Rain. Crooker’s sixth book of poetry, is described as “an exploration of the wheel of the year, the seasons that roll in a continuous circle and yet move inexorably forward. Here, gorgeous lyric poems praise poppies, mockingbirds, nectarines, mulch and compost, yet loss (stillbirth, cancer, emphysema), with its crow-black wings, is also always present.” I read her book yesterday and the writing is sublime, the themes deep. I recommend it highly.

Barbara agreed to share a couple of poems today, along with some insight into her gardening life. Thank you, Barbara!

—Sandra

Dianthus microlepis by KENPEI, via Wikimedia Commons

Dianthus microlepis by KENPEI, via Wikimedia Commons

DIANTHUS

My mother comes back as a dianthus,
only this time, she’s happy, smelling like cloves,
fringed and candy-striped with a ring of deep rose
that bleeds into the outer petals.  She dances
in the wind without her walker, nods pinkly
to the bluebells.  She breathes easily, untethered
to oxygen’s snaking vines.  Lacking bones,
there’s nothing left to crumble; she’s supple,
stem and leaf.  No meals to plan, shop for, prepare;
everything she needs is at her feet, more rich and moist
than a chocolate cake.  How much simpler
it would have been to be a flower in the first place,
with nothing to do but sit in the sun and shine.

Barbara writes:

The garden is a source of deep pleasure, and is also a source for many poems. In the front landscaping (azaleas, rhododendron, mountain laurel, holly), I usually plant annuals. When my mother was in a nursing home at the end, a visitor brought her a pot of pinks (dianthus), and she gave them to me to take home. After she passed, I planted them outside, and was delighted to see them come back after the first harsh winter.  She’s been gone almost seven years now, but I feel her presence keenly when they open their pink skirts, and dance in the May wind.

Sumac Leaf Circle by Rebecca Siegel via Wikimedia Commons

Sumac Leaf Circle by Rebecca Siegel via Wikimedia Commons

SMALL STANZAS IN AUTUMN

Autumn returns, and again we are cast thistledown together
on the winds, wrote Tu Fu in 755 AD, and I feel the cold air
blowing, the years falling by like so many yellow leaves.
Down in the meadow, some larkspur, a few black-eyed Susans
still bloom, but it’s late in the season, everything
going to seed.  The afternoon sun licks strips
of gold on my arms.  A drowsy silence, hummed
by bees. The thunk of an apple, finally ripe, falling.
We tilt at the balancing point, between summer’s too-much
and winter’s not-enough; the sumac flickers red in the hedgerow.
Last sweet raspberries.  The old cherry tree turning orange
peach orchid gold, a sunset of leaves.  Small sulphur butterflies
dance on the lawn.  Who could paint a sky this blue?
The pages of my notebook flutter in the breeze.

This poem pretty much describes my back yard, or some of it:  the little wildflower meadow I replant every year (corn poppies, California poppies (another poem in Small Rain uses them as the subject), Icelandic poppies, cornflowers, larkspur, coreopsis, rudbeckia), the old apple orchard (on retirement, my husband added two more apple trees, two pears, two peaches, one plum, one sweet and one sour pie cherry), the sumac (and goldenrod, thistle, milkweed) in the wild hedgerow, and the raspberry patch we put in almost forty years ago. When we bought this house way back then, the developer put sod in the front plus five small shrubs, and gave us a bag of grass seed for the back.  Everything else we put in ourselves, using a pick axe to break through the shale. The old cherry tree in this poem was put in the first year we lived here, but it split apart in a storm and has been replaced by a newer one.

The parts of my garden that aren’t in this poem are:  an iris bed, six mixed perennial beds, a row of flowering shrubs (red twig dogwood, two butterfly bushes (on purple, one pink), bridal wreath, tri-colored spirea, two weigela (one red, one pink with variegated leaves), forsythia, hydrangea, pussy willow, mock orange blossom, Viburnum, flowering quince, Viburnum Juddii, and sand cherry), a row of Rose of Sharons and lilacs, two day lily beds, a foundation planting of roses and mums, an herb garden, and a vegetable patch.

And a dogwood tree.  Hundreds of bulbs are mixed in; I like to have flowers from February to frost.  And there’s a compost bin (also a poem about it in this book).  Of course, you don’t see the enemies:  voles, rabbits, skunks (the callas need bone meal to flower; the skunks love to snack on this), and deer. . . .

—Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker’s work has been read many times by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. Her other books are Radiance (Word Press), Line Dance (Word Press), More (C&R Press), Gold (Cascade Books), and Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems. She lives and gardens in rural Pennsylvania.

You can get a signed copy of Small Rain from Barbara at bcrooker@ptd.net, or via Amazon http://goo.gl/CvtA4W,

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To All the Lusty Gardeners: Fifty Shades of Green Interview with Publisher Sandra Knauf

Photo by Lily Knauf.

Photo by Lily Knauf.

Well, here I am, interviewing myself for a press release I put together for Fifty Shades of Green last fall. (When you hear self-publishers wear a lot of hats, that is the truth!) I was going to share this interview back with you then, but other things came up and it got stuck in the Drafts folder here on WordPress. Since the film of the other Fifty Shades book is out, I thought now might be a good time.

If you haven’t bought a copy of my book yet, you’re in luck. We have a special going on now – retail price is $15.95, sale price is $12.95 (and it looks like Amazon has taken another dollar off from there). Don’t delay; the savings will not get better than this! Here’s the link!

—Sandra Knauf

And Now . . . the Interview

What brought this book about? It started as a joke. I read Fifty Shades of Grey and was shocked. Not by the BDSM sex, but by the inequality in the relationship. I thought: This is what women find sexy? The story had no basis in reality and the heroine was the “submissive”—in bed, in experience, and economically and socially. What’s sexy about that?

I talked to friends and saw most had the same reaction. At first I thought it would be funny to do a parody, a novel with a female protagonist who was older and a billionaire, someone who had all the power in society, and in the bedroom, who would mete out discipline to a virginal, college-aged male love interest. But after exploring that idea, I found it didn’t hold my interest. So the idea changed to a collection of stories.

Where did the gardening theme come from? Gardening had to be a theme. It’s my personal passion and it’s the subject of all my publishing work. Plus, the garden is the perfect setting for sexual encounters. Non-gardeners may not know this, but the garden is a sexy, fruitful, lustful place. And besides, women and gardens have shared an intimate relationship since the beginning; starting, one could say, with Eve.

Can you tell us about the writers? I fell in love with all the writers. Most are seasoned erotica writers and avid gardeners, so they know what they’re writing about in both departments. Several are men, and it was wonderful to have that perspective; two of the writers are from Britain, and I found that thrilling as the British are known for their mad gardening skills. Another writer’s the editor for a regional gardening magazine, and one graduated from Harvard Law School. There’s an exciting diversity in styles and backgrounds.

Do you have a background in the erotica genre? No, and I honestly didn’t know a lot about the genre before I started this project. But I learned, and I read some of the best work out there, and the more I learned the greater my respect for the genre grew. This is my feeling on the subject: sexuality is one of the most important, powerful, and certainly one of the most beautiful aspects of our existence and the way it’s treated is sad. We have a culture where sex=porn and that is just not so. There needs to be a return to honoring sexuality and lovemaking. Placing sexuality in a dark, forbidden place breeds a lot of society’s ills.

How do you feel erotica fits into today’s literature and why is it becoming so popular? I feel that readers are looking for deeper connections, and when you have access to a character’s sexuality, you see the whole person. I think this is the reason TV shows have become more sexual—not for the titillation, though that can be a part of it, but because we want fully-developed characters. In a big way, A Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert validated this book project for me. Here was a story, from a respected author, about a virginal woman in the 1800s obsessed with studying, of all things, mosses. There’s a lot about horticulture and history and becoming a fully-realized human being, but Gilbert also explored her protagonist’s sexuality. It was enthralling, reading about this character’s sexual awakening and her desires.

What surprised you most about the stories you received? The imagination, and the heart. Eros is the god of love and where the word erotica originates, and there is a joy and a depth in these stories that goes far beyond the sex act. In pornography there is no heart; it’s only about the stimulation. I found myself moved by some of the stories, such as “Pulse of the Earth,” a healing love story between two men. “Love Lies Bleeding” is so beautifully written it took my breath away, and “Phallus Impudicus” is high comedy. “The Judgment of Eric” is a riddle. There are a couple of stories where love potions figure in and that’s always fun, both from an adult “fairy tale” perspective and from a psychological standpoint. The collection is a mix of many aspects of the sexual psyche.

Did you have a favorite? Yes and no. I hand-picked them all, and I love them all, but there are a few that are special to me. I won’t name my favorites, but what’s funny is they changed during the editorial process. One story I read aloud recently and just went, “Wow. I think this is my favorite.” I also find it interesting that there’s no consensus among those who’ve read the book. This tells me there’s something for everyone.

Do you garden? (And do you think gardening’s sexy?) Can I scream, “Oh YESSSS!”? I have been an obsessed gardener for over two decades, when we first bought a home that had a yard. I went through master gardener training twice, the second time as a refresher course. I remember the first cottage garden I saw. I was 19 and my soon-to-be husband and I were house-sitting for his brother and his wife. Victoria and Danny had little money but they had an amazing garden: chickens and flowers, a vegetable garden, fruit trees in barrels, a tiered strawberry bed. This was in Colorado in the 1980s and enjoying this humble yet wildly productive and beautiful garden I thought, “This is paradise. I want to do this one day.” And I did.

As far as sex and the garden go, there is no place sexier. Flowers are the sex organs of plants, you know. They are beautiful and many emit intoxicating perfumes. If you have a flower garden and a vegetable garden, you have an orgy going on during the spring and summer, right in your backyard! The bees and butterflies are pollinating, the flowers are cross-pollinating. It’s amazing. You’re surrounded by sex.                                                                                                                                                                                         

P. S. I thought you might find it amusing that the pose and setting for my press kit photo was inspired by one of my favorite garden writers—that true champion of organic growing, Ruth Stout! I love her so! It I wrote about her life last year in a mini-bio that you can read either in Greenwoman #5 or in the Kindle publication, The Whole Ruth: A Biography of Ruth Stout.

Thank you, Ruth. Your sexy good humor was just what I was looking for.

My sultry and sensual garden mentor, Ruth Stout. Did you know she enjoyed gardening in the nude?

I imagine Ruth Stout thought this photo funny and suggestive of a “roll in the hay” with the author of books on straw mulch gardening!
(Did you know she enjoyed gardening in the nude?)

And, once more, the link to buy yourself (or your lusty gardening pal/s) a copy. You know they make great gifts, too!

Poppy FInal June 17 copy

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Filed under Art & the Garden, Garden Writers We Love, garden writing, Gardening is Sexy