Tag Archives: garden writing

The Game of Thrones Garden

Little Finger 100 dpi 001 (2)

 

In April I received a small seed order from Baker Creek. Now, I like carrots fresh from the garden as much as anybody but I wasn’t thinking about food when I ordered “Little Finger Carrot” seeds. I ordered them because I thought the idea of a Game of Thrones garden was funny. I’d heard of a Shakespeare Garden (where you grow the herbs and flowers he mentions in sonnets and plays)—and other theme gardens. In fact, Barbara Damrosch has a book about them and it includes medieval gardens, secret gardens, butterfly, moon . . . you get the picture. My family has been obsessed with “GoT” so I thought I’d pursue this idea.

 

Dragon Tongue Beans from the Hudson Valley Seed Library

Dragon Tongue Beans from the Hudson Valley Seed Library

 

I really wasn’t serious about making a GoT garden—at least not this year, but I needed a dose of humor. On April 27th I put up a Facebook event “Game of Thrones Garden Contest” on my Greenwoman Magazine page. People could post what they would plant in the garden and whoever got the most “likes” would receive a copy of the latest issue of Greenwoman Magazine. I didn’t get a lot of participants (maybe many were thinking, “What the ?”), but the ones who did participate were very much into it. One of the first entries was “Winter is Coming Kale.” Clever! I thought. Someone posted this amazing seed package for dragon gourds:

 

Dragon Gourd

I found out you could buy them on Amazon. (But now they’re out of them.) Others came up with interesting but perplexing entries, such as “Cersei and Jaime Incestuous Heirloom Tomatoes.” I’m guessing this one would require cross breeding of siblings from a “parent” tomato plant? Jessy Randall also entered “White Walker White Asparagus” which is creepy as hell.

 

White Walker White Asparagus by Jessy Randall

Another friend posted, “I’d choose ‘Wall’ flowers but my garden’s not cold enough.” Simple, yet brilliant!

My favorite entry was “King of the North Peppers.”

 

Another beautifully designed seed package from Hudson Valley Seed Library.

Another beautifully designed seed package from Hudson Valley Seed Library. Isn’t this perfect for a GoT garden? (All the tabs fold to make the back of the package.)

I also loved “John Snow Peas.”

Someone else suggested “Winter is Coming Strawberry Spinach.” I’d never heard of a strawberry spinach plant. Was this for real?

strawberry spinach plant park seed

 

Yeah, it is. It’s an herb, Native American, and apparently one of the “best kept secrets in the plant world.” (Hyperbole?) It’s available here from Park Seed. Those aren’t really strawberries, but they are berries (obviously) and the leaves are supposed to taste good in salads. And it’s pretty.

I also saw a blue shrimp plant when someone posted “Imp of Blue Shrimp.”

Blue Shrimp Plant - picture is from eBay where seeds are for sale.

Blue Shrimp Plant – picture is from eBay where seeds are for sale.

And, finally (of course!) someone mentioned dragon blood tree, Dracaena cinnabari.

 
By Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia, via Wikimedia Commons

While many got multiple “likes” for many entries, one Facebook friend outscored everyone, David King with his “Winter is Coming Kale” (kale is big right now, you know).

It was fun to learn that David King is the founder and first Chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles! (SLOLA) Upon winning, he humbly brought up the fact that he had an advantage because he was among the first to enter.

David is one fascinating green man. Here’s a few lines from his bio:

David King is the founder and first Chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles. From the beginning the mission of the Library centered upon the idea of clean, wholesome, non-GMO food for every one in the Los Angeles region, especially the under-served and compromised communities. With the ideas that food, uncontaminated with pesticides and questionable technologies, is a right of all people and seeds belong to humanity, he called for a meeting of like-minded people on December 4th, 2010 and from there, the Seed Library of Los Angeles was born.

I also learned David started gardening at age five with his grandpa in Kansas, and that he’s an educator (UCLA Extension classes), author, writer, gardener, speaker and activist. Needless to say I wanted to send him more than one magazine, so I sent off two boxes of magazines (and a few copies of Zera and the Green Man) for him to share with other garden lovers.

Once more I find that silly ideas can lead to amazing adventures.

—Sandra Knauf

P. S. Have you ever tried a theme garden? And if you started a Game of Thrones garden, what would you grow there?

 

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Fifty Shades of Green

The cover is a take on the Fifty Shades of Gray title, with the hose signifying . . . well, you'll just have to use your imagination there.

Our mock-up for the cover is a take on the Fifty Shades of Grey cover, with the hose signifying    . . . well, whatever your imagination wants it to signify.

 

It started last year after reading a Facebook post. Someone shared an article about how Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James made more money that year than any author on the planet.

Yes, the planet.

That was hard for me to believe. So I read the article. It was true. Then I thought, well, damn, I guess I have to read the book now. See what the fuss is about.

I think everyone’s heard of it. It’s a book that features a lot of sex between a handsome (but psychologically damaged) billionaire and a plucky and pretty college student. The title comes from his declaration, “I’m fifty shades of f**ed up, Ana.” And from the fact that his surname’s Grey.  The 21-year-old college student starts the story, and the relationship, as a virgin. Their names are swooningly romantic, the prince-and-princess-like Christian and Anastasia. 

So I downloaded the book from the library, read most of it, and realized two things. One, contrary to popular opinion among writers, the writing’s not bad. The prose is not dazzling, nor original, but it’s solid, and the protagonist is believable.

My problems with the story were the single theme (a troubled romance), and that there were no other plot lines. I also didn’t find Christian compelling or interesting (poor suffering, handsome billionaire just doesn’t resonate with me).

The second thing I noticed was that the sensationalism came from the abundant and explicit kinky sex that Christian persuades Ana to participate in. By kinky, I mean light BDSM, which I learned stood for bondage/discipline, submission/dominance, and sadism/masochism. Ana has mixed feelings about all this, but overall she enjoys it. She sets some sensible boundaries, so nothing is that dangerous or demeaning—in her opinion, anyway.

50shadesofgrey (2)

So there you go! Oh yes, it’s also a fan fiction from another disturbing (to me, anyway) 21st century relationship story written for teens, Twilight.

What was funny to me was the stories I’d hear about Fifty Shades. One seventy-year-old friend told me her book group read it and the ladies, all around her age, loved it. Diane, no prude, refused to read it. (Good for you, I thought.) My daughter Zora, who was in Ireland in school last year said the book was very popular on campus. Many students were talking about it, and someone told of a monk they knew who was seen reading it on the bus; even his curiosity got the better of him!

Such are fads.

I did have one connection with the book before I read it. I was in the store last Valentine’s Day when I spotted the cookbook parody Fifty Shades of Chicken. I looked through it, found it hilarious (it has recipes for Mustard-Spanked Chicken and Dripping Thighs) and bought it for my husband. If you haven’t seen the steamy trailer for that, feast your eyes here. And you’ll get a good idea of the prose in Fifty Shades of Grey.

What ultimately bothered me about Fifty Shades of Grey were the stereotypes: pure-hearted girl, smart and brave but dirt-poor financially in comparison to her love interest, mooning and swooning over her societal “better.”

She is in a powerless position in comparison to him, yet the overall message is that her love will save him!

There’s not even a twist with the whole BDSM thing . . . she’s, get this, the “submissive” in the relationship! Excuse me while I throw up. This is how far we’ve gotten? I mean, I know biology is biology, and love is love, but still . . . is there no progress?

I bitched about the book to a friend, saying something along the lines of, “I would like to write a parody of this book where the tables are turned. Where it’s an older woman who is the powerful billionaire and the guy’s the virginal college student, and she gets to tie him up and spank him! But I also want a gardening theme. Hmm. Okay, I’ve got it. She’s this powerful woman who is helping save the environment through her scientific work, yet she likes to do naughty stuff in her garden.”

My dear friend, whose imagination knows no bounds but is acquainted with bondage, immediately came up with some ideas for my new story. This is from a letter she wrote:

“Now you have my sick imagination working with your wicked theme. . . .The plethora of garden implements and tools certainly adds to the spice. ‘I remember a particularly effective lover who made me pick out my own switch from the garden bushes for my spanking.’ Yes, there is a lot of S&M potential in the garden but we could camp it up and add liberal dashes of sarcasm. Forcing a lover to wear stilettos when she was turning the compost. Creative uses for garden hoses. Making the lover into a ‘weeding slave’ who must stay on his hands and knees for hours doing your dirty work (now I might really advertise for that one!)”

Of course I was beyond delighted with Rebekah’s ideas. This idea could be fun! Yet, the more I thought about it, the more limiting I realized a parody of the book would be. Having no personal experience in . . . whatever that acronym is, I read up on the subject. Let me say I have no qualms with those who are into this kind of lifestyle, but it’s not for me. In fact, The Story of O left me cold. I find no thrills in pain (though, yes, I know about the role endorphins play, I get it). I find no swoons in that kind of vulnerability. Perhaps I have slavery in my genetic background as the thought of being handcuffed and under someone else’s mercy, even a lover . . . just . . . no. I wondered, is it just me or do privileged white people get into this stuff more?  (I just looked it up. Yes, indeed, that seems to be the case, but again, it’s “complicated.” I skimmed this scholarly article on the subject, if you’re interested.)

What does intrigue about the Fifty Shades phenomenon is the playful aspect. Readers testing boundaries. Readers liking to experiment with their literature.

I started to think of my idea for a book. I loved the idea of getting down (however you may interpret that) in the garden. Now that is sexy. And the garden as a place for lovemaking, really, it’s so perfect. Isn’t that where it all started?

But then, one story wouldn’t be enough. And why limit love to bondage, or one couple in particular?

I began to think about an anthology.

This was something I knew would be fun, but at the same time, I was reluctant to take on another project. The magazine and my young adult novel, both of which I cared deeply about, were taking all of my time. How could I add something else? On the other hand, I desperately needed a diversion. Something more frivolous and fun (and sexy!) where I’d get to work with other writers. This could be perfect. I had been wanting to work on another fiction book for two years, with two other writers, but hadn’t had the time to devote to it. This project could fill that need.

But would anyone connect to the idea?

Some of you may be thinking—are you kidding? All I can say to that is when you’re an author and publisher you are filled with self-doubt on a daily basis.

I asked some friends and they all thought the idea was hilarious.

I continued with the plan and in early April got a website up and a call for submissions listed on Duotrope. The incomparable Elisabeth Kinsey agreed to be editor. (If you don’t know Elisabeth’s work, you are missing out. She’s written six brilliant “Sex in the Garden” essays for Greenwoman Magazine. She is perfect for this project.) I wrote a few other friends who are writers and asked them to spread the word. Several of them (all extraordinary writers) said they wanted to participate!

As we talked, a few of us even thought of pseudonyms we might use. Rebekah said she’d always wanted to use a name she’d heard on an episode of Will & Grace, when Megan Mullally (who plays Karen) blurts out a fake name during a bowling outing with strangers.

Anastasia Beaverhouse.

I will leave you time for laughing before I tell you the one I came up with.

Mimsey Quimblossom. I liked the “mmm” sounds.

(And it got worse from there.)

So there has already been frivolity and the submissions are pouring in! The first two were from dear Rebekah, and they are astonishing. One is sweet, one is the funniest story I have read about sex. In the last few weeks I have received stories from people I didn’t know—well written, intelligent, captivating, lusty, garden-y stories. The project is well underway. I am really looking forward to sharing this book with you!

I wanted to tell you about it today as some of you may be writers and you may wish to delve into this subject matter. Isn’t it a well-known issue with writers that some have trouble writing about sex? Well, now’s your chance! It’s about a month before the submission deadline, June 15th. The book will be published in July on Amazon Createspace. It will also be available as a digital download.

If you’re interested in submitting a story, get the details here on the website.

So mark your calendars and tell your friends. This book will be this summer’s must-read.

—Sandra

 

 

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The Green Riddler

What type of book commercial would appeal to YA readers, I wondered. Readers who might dig a story about a girl with magical powers, a socially awkward but brilliant biotech scientist, some intense environmentalists . . . super-weird and scary GMOs  . . . the green man . . . and plants.

My self-published book needed to be promoted and I had to come up with something affordable (i.e. practically free) that would get some notice.

But what?

For our first commercial I found a young actor on Fiverr—for those of you who don’t know about Fiverr, here’s the description:

“Fiverr is a global online marketplace offering tasks and services, referred to as ‘gigs’ beginning at a cost of $5 per job performed, from which it gets its name. The site is primarily used by freelancers who use Fiverr to offer a variety of different services, and by customers to buy those services.”

Adam Russell freelanced there, creating videos for individuals who wanted to sell a product or send a humorous message to a friend. One of his specialties was impersonating Harry Potter. He was funny, creative, energetic, adorable, talented. I wrote to him, told him what I had in mind. He said he’d do it. I sent a copy of Zera and the Green Man to England. We sent him the first commercial, cleverly scripted by my friend, writer Rebekah Shardy. We  had great results—I promoted the post on our Zera and the Green Man page on Facebook and it received over 1,100 hits!

That was at the end of January.

Recently, Lisa Repka of the Innovation Team I’m working with at UCCS suggested more videos for our Zera and the Green Man website and Facebook page. She thought they’d be great promotional tools.

I’d thought that too, but had hesitated because of the time it would take to create a series of videos, and, always, expense was an issue. Having her bring it up convinced me to put it on the to-do list.

I wanted something fun, but educational. I came up with an idea. How about “green” riddles? Riddles about plants? If you solve the riddle, your name is entered in a weekly drawing for a book.

The first hurdle was seeing if Adam was up for it. He was. (He’s terrific in every way. 100% professional.)

I researched riddles and found a few in old books, but we needed more. Another member of the Innovation Team, Jordan Yee, came up with three good ones. Zora and I created several more.

I drafted six short scripts and then thought—wait a minute—I need to create a character for Adam. What kind of character should Adam play? What would he be comfortable doing? First I thought of “The Green Wizard,” then, aha, “The Green Riddler.”  “The Green Riddler” might be a fun character in the book’s sequel, too! Hmmmm. A film student that Zera meets in Britain while she’s trying to find out more about her family’s history. He could be a film student with a secret identity. Adam liked the idea and brought his own brand of comic zaniness to the mix.

Now, honestly, we don’t know where we’re going with this. It’s an experiment. We don’t have a market research team or anything fancy like that. It’s just a few people with a next-to-nothing budget coming up with the best ideas we can. We don’t know if anyone will even like these videos!

But we like them. We hope you will, too! And if you do, that you will share our little endeavor with friends—and have them go to our Zera and the Green Man Facebook Page and enter in the contest!

If you have the time, we’d love some feedback, too. On Wednesday I promoted this first riddle on Facebook. I spent over $100 on promoting the post to a particular audience (young readers of fantasy, environmentalists, etc.). I’m sorry to say we had dismal results. Dismal! Completely opposite of that first video’s success. It’s a different look, yes, the Harry Potter vibe isn’t there, but the numbers should be better. I’m going to give it another go this next week (and instead of coming up with the new video on Wednesday, I may change that to Saturday). I’ll come up with a catchier one-line post, I’ll see what the Innovation Team thinks . . .

Wish us luck!

And, if you can, please visit our page.

—Sandra

 

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The Devil Wears Converse, Revisited

I'll admit that lately I've been wearing moccasins, but I''ll never lose my love for the Chuck Taylors.

Chuck  Taylors forever.

 

Let’s call it Throwback Friday.

This week I went through my first blog, Greenwoman Zine, looking for posts about starting my business. Words that described not only the process but my feelings about why I’m doing what I’m doing. By that, I mean sacrificing dollars, time, and sanity in an attempt to be a publisher in this genre of literature I love most—garden writing.

I found what I needed. Oh, how much more starry-eyed I was back then! Every victory was huge. Every discovery was full of sparkly-specialness.

Would I trade now for then? Today I would say yeah, probably. But ask me in a month or a year and it could be a very different story. I hope so. That’s why I keep on keeping on.

I’m sharing this old post because I thought you might find it amusing, and this week I’m revisiting the agony of straddling the gulf of business while wearing the hats of creator and “boss.” I’ve always felt I was a teacher, and at times a good leader, but being a boss is a very different manner. To be a boss, it sometimes seems that there has to be an inflation of ego (that I cannot muster) combined with a talent to firmly deal with those you’d prefer to tell to (insert imaginative insult here). That, too, is a skill I do not possess. So it’s a struggle and often I wonder if the Grace and Anna (you will read about them below) will ever be in balance.

* * *

 

(This essay first appeared in Greenwoman Zine on June 14, 2011.)

At the end of last summer I watched the documentary September Issue with my daughter Lily. While I’m not a huge fan of haute couture (and Lily is) I appreciate the art of fashion and I’ve always dug Vogue‘s articles.

I’d also seen, and loved, The Devil Wears Prada, so I had a preconceived notion or two about the subject of the documentary, Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour. The Devil Wears Prada portrayed her as 1) shockingly insensitive to others’ feelings, and, 2) cruel and boundary-less when it came to using employees for personal needs. If you think about it, those were her only “crimes;” but for a woman they are felonies.

After watching The September Issue, about the time I started my own magazine, I didn’t come away with a negative impression of Anna Wintour. I, instead found myself in complete awe of her abilities. She also seemed a soft-serve version of the icy Prada-lady, but, then again, who knows the “truth”? Like any art, films are subjective. Though I was in awe of Wintour, I identified with Vogue’s Art Director, Grace Coddington. Coddington, a brilliant photographer and stylist, was fun, a bit impish, and she didn’t give a shit about being a fashion plate herself (defiantly wearing her signature black clothing, which Wintour had declared “out,” and comfortable sandals instead of de rigueur high fashion high heels). Most admirably, Coddington was fearless about questioning Wintour’s editorial decisions. This is what I connected with most—that questioning of authority, as that has been a major theme in my life.

It fascinates me how the “establishment” and the “movement” work against (yet ultimately for) one another—the establishment seeking to thwart evolution, the movement always pushing for it. That dynamic is clear in the film. Coddington (and other artists) push, Wintour reigns them in, yet also engages in the process (and progress). She evaluates and edits the forward push, serving both establishment and movement.

My surprise, recently, was to see my own shift. I now identify more with Anna Wintour—though I actually shook my head while typing those words, as it is such a newly emergent part of my personality.

Here’s how my sympathy for the devil came about.  Now I’m doing basically what Wintour does, though, obviously, at a much different level. The point is I’ve become the person who must make decisions. I’m answerable to everything, which is, ultimately, the success or failure of my publishing work. As this enterprise has progressed I’ve come to the point where I’ve learned a single all-important lesson: I simply cannot, must not, fuck around. The magazine comes first. Emotional stuff gets in the way. Decisions must be made quickly and clear-headedly. If something isn’t working, it must be fixed, or dispensed with, immediately.

This is tough. In the last month I’ve had to 1) reject a small piece of art that I asked, as a favor, to be created from someone I didn’t know well—and then deal with a mini-temper tantrum from the artist; 2) find another writer, at the eleventh hour, to replace one who couldn’t fulfill her obligation; 3) make the decision to try to design the entire magazine myself, adding more weeks of training and work to my already overloaded plate, not to mention setting the publication date back a few weeks; 4) consider advice from a person notable in the garden/education field who wrote me suggesting that I should abandon my idea of a subscription magazine  and, instead, create a free online publication (having faith the advertisers will come!); and, most harrowing, 4) go through a grant interview in which I had to lay my last 15-20 years of of a life immersed in art, gardening, and writing soul-bare, in order to try to make this project easier on me and my family financially.

All of these trials have had emotional costs, and my decisions had to be made quickly and on a single criteria—what I believe is best for the publication, and, by association, me.  I surprised myself on how efficiently and quickly I met each challenge. As I told a friend, I could not have done the things I am doing now ten years ago.

Some of those trials were painful but the only one that really shook me was the grant interview. Although the people conducting it were wonderfully friendly, receptive, and genuinely engaged in my story, and the questions put to me were perfect, I have never felt so naked and vulnerable as then, sharing my hopes, dreams, motivations. The hardest part was doing it  in a context that  felt, ultimately, like begging. Please approve of me, what I’ve put my heart and soul into for the last  two decades! Please consider my vision worthy! Won’t you slice off a little slice of that tasty philanthropic pie for my art? Later that day I wept while working in the garden, feeling angry at what I perceived as failure—that I didn’t have enough money myself to do things without asking for help. I was also angry that I had to expose my soul and ask for my worth to be validated.

My anger was soon replaced by defiance. At one point during the interview I was asked if I’d “accept less than I requested.” Immediately I chirped, “Sure!” Later, I thought, I’ve put in a lot of hours of work and have been through a lot of hoops doing this, endless weeks of waiting around, and I’m going to have to jump through more hoops if I get the award. My friend Edie once joked that we had the same personalities, we were like the little mouse that gives the hawk the one finger salute just as it’s about to be swooped upon and devoured. Hence my next thought: If I don’t get what I applied for, well, then, I don’t want any of it. It’s not worth it.

I know I may happily eat humble pie regarding that little proclamation. It won’t be the first time. Whether it would be selling out, or wisdom, or a bit of both, I’m not sure. What I do know is the very next day I went to the bank and took out a loan—and I felt better.

Last week my horribly unfashionable old pink Converse shoes were showing their wear. Faded, a couple of holes, unfit for wearing in public, though I was still doing just that. I have a weird attachment to this brand of shoes; it’s not just comfort—they also symbolize the girl-me who lives strongly still, who got her first pair (white) at age 11, and the whole rock ’n roll/Coddington-appetite for defiance. Lily, out shopping with me and somewhat scandalized by my lack of good taste (her inner Anna Wintour always in dominance), remarked when I gleefully spotted a new pair for $25:  “Mom, you’re almost 50, when are you going to stop wearing those?”

“When I’m 90.”

At home I showed my husband my new shoes and took the old ones to the trash. He asked, “Aren’t you going to save those, to garden in?”

“Hell no,” I said. “I’m wearing my new ones.”

Anna Wintour is rising, but I’m glad the Grace in me is still going strong.

—Sandra

* * *

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They Called it Poppy Love

A Bed of Poppies, Maria Oakey Dewing, 1909. Via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

A Bed of Poppies, Maria Oakey Dewing, 1909, via Wikimedia Commons.

This week my attention went to poppies when I read an article in Garden Rant and saw a Facebook friend’s photo of blooming poppies outside his office in California. Poppies, oh, yes—I remember them! With this long (long) winter I had nearly forgotten. Now on my to do list: scatter a few more of my saved ‘Lauren’s Grape’ seeds over the next snow!

With the beautiful poppy and its enchantment in mind, I couldn’t help but think of the enchanting Elisabeth Kinsey. She has written an educational and very sexy essay in every issue of Greenwoman Magazine. I have been so honored to publish her dreamy, steamy work.

So I thought I’d share the first essay Elisabeth published. About poppies. The one that made us fall in love. I hope you’ll enjoy it, share it, and share your stories about poppy love.

—Sandra Knauf

Poppies, John William Godward, 1912

Poppies, John William Godward, 1912. From Wikimedia Commons.

 

I never knew I could be the sort of woman who grew poppies. These women live in gigantic houses with terraced gardens, boasting dripping sedum and perfect bunches of perennials, color coded, tendrilling out of their hibernation in perfect cycles. These women, some sturdy with spiky hair, licking their girlfriend’s ear in public, some in long overall type dresses, tight curly hair never getting into their eyes, their hunky husbands, sporting tool belts, bursting out of the house with a glass of wine on a golden tray.

“Honey, why don’t you leave the garden for now?”

These women don’t sweat. These women hold the secret to colorful California poppies’ papery orange ecstatic fluttering, the virgin pink or dragon-red flames of corn poppies grouping around the walkway. These poppy women are able to survey their bursting gardens from a flagstoned patio glance, while sipping their Nebbiolo or Chenin blanc. These women were not me. I tried to grow poppies and failed.

A Colorado master gardener friend (I’ll call her Camille) pshawed this idea.

“Beth,” she said, “Your problem is that you want to coddle your plants. You can’t think of poppies as if they’re roses. You need to be like a dude and ignore them. You need to play hard to get.”

Could it be that I was overanalyzing the poppy? Expert gardener Barbara Pleasant claims the poppy to be the “Easiest plant to grow.” She writes, “You can grow them in Sleetmute, Alaska. You can grow them in Corkscrew, Florida. Heck, there was even a big patch of them just shy of Oz on the Yellow Brick Road!” Was I the only gardener around who had bad luck growing poppies? To understand the poppy, I had to get into poppy-mind. Not to plunge into its aphrodisiac qualities (we’re not allowed to grow that variety here), but to understand its wants and needs. Basically, Camille had me pegged. I was an overbearing drudge. Poppies held a grudge against me.

To lure this beauty from my sandy acidic soil, I had to stop planting it in the “normal” planting seasons. As I read up on this obstinate beauty, I learned what’s obvious to me now. Don’t grow this seed indoors with your herbs in February. Don’t even let its papery folds, its furry bulb head into your mind in the spring. No. This plant needs to be ignored, left alone. Which is so hard for me. Look at Le Coquelicot (yes, the root of this name is ‘Coq’) by Kees van Dongen (and now ignore the dong in Dongen.) It’s the over exaggerated red hat, the woman’s eyes looking off away from its viewer, confidant of the action she’ll be getting momentarily. The poppy is a primal need. This is what it feels like to be human.

Camille commanded, “Throw those poppy seeds on the cold ground and then they’ll want your love.” I didn’t even have to prepare my soil. When I was able to let go of this idea of seducing these almost-alien-at-first bodies out of my inadequate garden patch, it was almost too much for me. Nothing to coddle, watch under grow lights, no spring grace during winter in my living room, where I was all knowing, all seeing grower.

Poppies are actinomorphic, not zygomorphic, which, according to Ushimaru et al, means that in the world of flower sex is “easily pollinated.” Poppies throw themselves freely to any honey bee coming along to plunge into their open folds. To the sluts of the floral world, I was coming on too strong.

I took my Papaver rhoeas seeds when the wind held enough chill for me to feel like eating lentil soup and wearing slippers all day and threw them onto the cold ground in the corner of my garden I had previously tried planting something fluttering and pink. Yes. Then they came. The poppies rose up and out in a mild May, furry, wanton, curving bundles, obstinate, and soon to throw open color into my landscape.

Throw those poppy seeds onto the ground unabashedly. They need nothing more. Do this, and you’ll have the poppy’s heart forever. We can all be this sort of woman.

Le Coquelicot by Kees van Dongen

Le Coquelicot (“The Corn Poppy”)                  by Kees van Dongen, 1919.

Ushimaru, Atushi, Ikumi Dohzono, Yasuoki Takami, and Fujio Hyodo. 2009. “Flower orientation enhances pollen transfer in bilaterally symmetrical flowers.” Oecologia 160, no. 4: 667-674. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 7, 2011).
Pleasant, Barbara. 1995. “Poppies make the world go round.” Organic Gardening (08973792) 42, no. 5: 68. GreenFILE, EBSCOhost (accessed February 7, 2011).

 

Elisabeth Kinsey

Elisabeth Kinsey

Born in Northern California, Elisabeth Kinsey was raised amongst her Italian and Jewish families. Her parents converted to Mormonism, which is the basis of her memoir: The Holy Ghost Goes to Bed at Midnight: Half a Mormon Life, that she is now shopping around to agents.
     She has a BA in Writing from Metropolitan State University of Denver and a MA in Creative Writing from Regis University. 
     She teaches writing and composition at Regis University and writing workshops in fun environs. Her published works appear in Greenwoman Magazine, Ask Me About My Divorce, Seal Press, Wazee Journal, The Rambler, and Emergency Press among other journals.
     Elisabeth can be called upon to speak about: divorce, leaving a strict religion, zone 5 gardening, Italian cooking, and andragogy. 

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Daffodil-irious*

Photograph of Trumpet Daffodils by Nino Barbieri, via Wikimedia Commons

Photograph of trumpet daffodils by Nino Barbieri, via Wikimedia Commons.             What makes the genus Narcissus unique are their coronas or “cups.”

I have a case of the yellow fever.** I want to shout, “The daffodils are here!” (Here in the grocery stores, anyway.)

I eagerly wait for their arrival, not only as a sign that spring is almost here, but because they are a rare winter indulgence. Inexpensive daffodils = cut flowers for the home, cut domestic flowers! At the new Trader Joe’s in Boulder, Colorado, they were practically giving them away this week—$1.29 for a bunch of 10! Visiting the city for my daughter Zora’s birthday, I bought both daughters, my mom, and myself bouquets. Interior designer Alexandra Stoddard advises: “Always add a touch of yellow to a room, even if it’s just a bowl of lemons. Yellow is the color of sunshine and it’s important to your psyche.” To me, a small vase of daffodils is a spot of happiness.

Because it’s daffodil-icious time, I thought I’d share Noel Kingbury’s book Daffodil: The Remarkable Story of the World’s Most Popular Spring Flower (Timber Press). I have to admit I felt out of my element once I started reading this encyclopedic book. While I grew up in Missouri where country roadsides and even fields were splashed with these golden beauties, it’s different in Colorado. Here, unless you have the means to supply a wasteful amount of water to your arid landscape, daffodils, the true perennials, signs of rebirth and longevity, are short-lived.

Still, I have dabbled with daffs. Once I planted a few dozen in the parkway (here we call it a hell-strip). They lasted a few years. I planted some adorable miniatures, ‘Minnow,’ and ‘Tête-à-tête,’ and ‘Hoop Petticoat’ in the front garden. They, too, along with some fragrant Tazettas that barely made it through the first winter, eventually expired in my Darwinian landscape.

Narcissus

Everything you ever wanted to know about daffodils is here. I promise you.

How different it is across the pond! There, with the ample moisture, they grow everywhere and in abundance. The first thing I learned in Kingsbury’s book is that daffodils are beloved by the British. They are immortalized in poetry. The Irish even wanted them as their national flower (but the shamrock prevailed). Further, they are an “imperial” flower which means they originated in Great Britain and were brought to countries where people of British descent settled (like the U.S.). Kingsbury explains how they are also a true “cult” flower. This means those in the daffodil cult often grow only these flowers, and sometimes exhibit strange behavior surrounding this passion, such as secretiveness about their hobby and a certain clannishness.

I knew daffodils of a single variety were genetically identical (from one original bulb) but I didn’t realize the great diversity held within the seeds. Daffodils from different varieties readily cross-pollinate, and while many hybrid seedlings are sterile, some are not. That is why the genus Narcissus contains 27,000 cultivated varieties. Of these varieties there are 13 Divisions, or Classifications, which starts with Division One, Trumpet Daffodils. There are also Large-Cupped, Small-Cupped, Doubles, Triandus, Poeticus, Jonquil, Bulbocodium, Miniatures . . . and on it goes.

Kingsbury covers the divisions and many other aspects of daffodils in detail. By the time I read through the divisions I was over-stimulated by all the lovely photos by Jo Whitworth, and overwhelmed with information. This is a book that will be the Bible for the daffodil-obsessed, and that person is not me. Maybe one day, if I move to a different climate where daffodils can actually thrive, but for now the best I can do is promise them a stay of execution.

Even though we are not a match in the garden, I enjoyed this exceptional book. And I relished the history. One creepy-cool tidbit was that Tazetta (fragrant) daffodils were found in tombs in ancient Egypt. In fact, Kingsbury reveals that “. . . the greatest of the Pharaohs, Ramses II, was buried with daffodil bulbs placed on his eyes.”

When railroads came to Britain, and flowers could easily be shipped to city markets, wildflower daffodils turned to cash crop daffodils. First they were grown underneath fruit trees, providing a two-for-one opportunity, but soon they became their own product. From cheery flowers for hospitals patients to bouquets for Mothering Day (what Mother’s Day is called in Britain) cultivation got serious.

My favorite stories took place during World War II. All the land and facilities formerly used for flower production were shifted to food production only. Daffodil bulbs were dug up and thrown out, though due to their hardiness, many survived. They can still be found blooming under the hedges and in ditches along the rural roads where they were dumped. During this time it was against the law to personally transport any ornamental crop (which included having them found in your luggage!), so when two men were caught carrying 138 boxes containing flowers, including daffodils, they were arrested. They received prison terms of 6 and 12 months respectively. A public outcry ensued and some Scilly Isles growers sent daffodils to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill reportedly responded: “These people must be allowed to grow their flowers and send them to London, they cheer us up so much in these dark days.” The ban was lifted, but then growers had to deal with finding boxes to transport the flowers. One type of container they recycled were wax-coated cardboard boxes that had originally supplied meat to American soldiers. Often these boxes would be vile with the stench and scraps of rotting meat, but the flowers were shipped in them anyway and they sold well!

Besides the things I have told you about (and barely scratched the surface of) Kingsbury provides chapters on portraits of “breeders and conservers” in Europe and the U.S., daffodil cultivation (indoors and out), wild colonies and “hot spots,” heirlooms, and a lot more. Daffodil: The Remarkable Story of the World’s Most Popular Spring Flower is itself a remarkable work.

Maybe my most valuable takeaway was gratitude for the annual treat of cut flower daffodils. Through this book I was reminded that field flower harvesting is physically difficult, poorly-paid, and often takes place in cold, wet weather. Each daffodil bud must meet exacting specifications and be cut to a particular length, 11 inches. As if that wasn’t enough, the sap contains a toxin that can cause a nasty rash, so protective gloves must be worn. In Britain, most of the labor comes from seasonal eastern-European migrants. I am sure it’s a similar story here, but with our farm laborers from Mexico. It is good to think of them, and what they bring to us, as we enjoy these harbingers of spring.

—Sandra Knauf

* “Daffodil-irious” is a chapter in Henry Mitchell’s book The Essential Earthman.

**”Yellow fever” is apparently a cute British term for daffodil infatuation.

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Posters, a Riddle Contest, and More

Johannes Florentius Martinet (1729 - 1795)

The image above is an antique Dutch print (c.1799) of seeds including rosemary, chicory, dandelion, sundew, geranium. The artist is Johannes Florentius Martinet (1729 – 1795).

When I started to think up ideas for the Greenwoman Bookstore, one idea was reproducing some interesting prints into posters, so I could share them with other plant & nature/paper/antique freaks. The store still has very few offerings. It’s hardly fair to even call it a store, yet, but I have managed to get three posters printed. I’m debuting them this week and offering a one-week-only “Grand Opening” special: All three are half-price, $7.50 instead of the regular $14.99.  See them here!

Here’s another poster. It’s French and the image came from a turn-of-the-century dictionary:

 Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle  (Great Universal Dictionary of the 19th Century) Artist i H. Millot

Champignons from Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle (Great Universal Dictionary of the 19th Century) Artist is H. Millot.

I have a cool egg poster (German) as well. You can see them all at the Greenwoman Store and read about them there, too.

* * *

Now for the riddle contest. Which is connected to the posters. Backstory: Zora and I are working with a team of students at UCCS (hi Courtney, Lisa, Lohitha, and Jordan!). They are in the Bachelor of Innovation program, where students work with businesses and come up with innovative ideas. They’re helping us with marketing this semester.  They meet with me and Zora every couple of weeks.

We’ve only just begun, but already we’re hearing some great ideas. One was holding contests on our Zera and the Green Man‘s Facebook Page (if you haven’t “liked” it, I hope you will today). I loved the idea of contests, but I wanted to make sure they’d be something unique, memorable, fun, and educational. I mulled it over and the next morning I woke up early with an idea.

What if we came up with some entertaining botanical riddles, videotaped someone reading them (I’m trying to get Adam, from our first commercial), and then gave away prizes for correct answers? My daughter Zora, who just studied riddles in a class on Old English literature last year, loved the idea. She shared some rather bawdy riddles that monks wrote back in that time (check these out, from the famous Exeter Book. Quite shocking! Yet entertaining. And goodness, I just took a closer look at that embroidery!).

Of course I needed something rated “G” for a general audience, so we did some research and are working on creating some ourselves.

Then just yesterday, I had another brainstorm—maybe you, clever readers, would like to try your hand at . . . riddling?

As a bribe, I’ll give anyone who writes an original riddle, that we accept and publish, a free poster. (And, of course, attribution.) Come up with three great riddles, get three posters. Or maybe more if you want to do more—heck, I see no reason to impose a limit. My mind even goes further—maybe if the idea takes off, I’ll put them all in a book!

The deadline for this contest will be next Friday night at midnight, March 14th, as we want to get the contest going soon. We’ll contact winning riddlers (ha, Batman reference) the next week and will have an update on the 22nd.

Send riddles to sandra@greenwomanmagazine.com.

What should the riddles be like? Well, not too long. I’d say four to six lines, though I’m flexible. We want high quality, maybe funny, leaning toward the poetic more than the one-liners, though one-liners can be cool, too. Here’s a Hawaiian riddle I read this week:  What is a man with three eyes and yet can cry out of only one? (Answer below.)

Coconuts, photograph by Tahir mq, via Wikimedia Commons

Coconuts photographed by Tahir mq, via Wikimedia Commons

This particular riddle was a little confusing to me as I don’t have a lot of experience with coconuts (couldn’t the milk come out of all the holes?) so I looked it up on YouTube  and learned two of the holes are harder (they have ridges or “eyebrows” above them), and the third eye is softer. So soft it can be pierced with a paring knife or corkscrew.

That one’s fun, but our ideal riddles would be more educational. For example, a coconut riddle could include clues that the seed contains both “meat” and “milk,” and that the seed can travel great distances, floating in the ocean, to plant itself at other lands. I also read this week that coconut milk was used in World War II as “a sterile intravenous drip for the wounded during WWII.” Fascinating stuff.

Here’s another example, that I took from a longer riddle/poem. It’s over a century old:

Emblem of youth and innocence,
With walls enclosed for my defense,
I boldly spread my charms around,
‘Till some rude lover breaks the mound,
And takes me to his breast.
Here soon I sicken and decay.
My beauty lost, I’m turned away.
What am I?

If you haven’t guessed, the answer is a rose. This style of plant riddle is rare; most that I found were one- or two-line children’s riddles.

As far as finding information on a plant, fruit, vegetable, etc. that you’d like to write about, it’s easy as the Internet chock-full of plant lore and information. If you want to read more and learn more about riddles, a great site to visit is Good Riddles Now.

I do hope you’ll enter the contest!

* * *

One last thing. I would really like to share my novel, Zera and the Green Man, with all of you. As many of you know, it’s a self-published work, it’s received some good reviews, and I’m trying very hard to get the word out. So I decided to offer another download promotion (Kindle) for just 99 cents. This special (click here) will be going on only through next Sunday, March 16th.  Check it out, tell your friends. Many adults love YA (young adult) and this is a book that plant lovers especially will find appealing.

And, if you read it, please consider leaving a short review on Amazon. As I said before, self-published authors need all the help they can get!

Thanks, and I hope to hear from you soon.

—Sandra Knauf

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