“I never meant to give you mushrooms girl. I never meant to bring you to my world….”
The rain finally stopped as I drove up to the locally celebrated Dripulator Cafe in the small town of Black Mountain, but Eminem's lyrics stayed with me as I clicked the car door key and locked up the Mini.
Looking up from the driest outdoor seat I could find as I waited for a frotty iced Chai, I noticed a sign outside the local museum which read something like this:
“André Michaux, a French botanist visited the town of Black Mountain in 1794. He studied the flora of western North Carolina.” The puzzling question, to me obviously, is why? Why would someone come all the way across the globe and, in those days, virtually transplant themselves on foreign soil, merely to study plant growth?
There is an oft-quoted line in Forrough Farrokhzad's poetry where she writes about planting her hands in the garden so that she can grow. Many have interpreted this as a line about the “elemental qualities of gender politics and the unnaturalness of restrictions on women's lives.” She can grow as a woman in as much as she can plant herself on the uncontaminated soil of nature, out of the bounds of politics and patriarchy.
But does that mean that soil, and hence nature itself, is somehow neutral? Doesn't the soil in
which we plant ourselves leave its mark on us? Doesn't that soil change us? Does the soil that our roots share by necessity make us uniform, the same?
Kiarostami seems to think so: Speaking to Shiva Balaghi and Anthony Shadid, he says of his photography, “Photographs of nature are universal. A tree has no ethnicity, no birth certificate, no passport, no nationality, therefore what difference does it make where in the world the tree is?”
His remarks assume the gaze of the camera to be mimetic. A representation of a tree in a photograph is what really is. Then why would Kiarorstami bother capturing it? Why not hand the camera over to one of his film primitives who will unquestionably show up roadside once his car stops. Odd, his comments assume that a photograph is universal because its subject matter is universal…
But more importantly to us here, is his characterizations and emphasis on the non-specificity of nationality and ethnicity, which assumes the universality of nature. If nature is universal, then why would anyone bother traveling half way across the globe to study plants?
Another Iranian, Mirza Husayn 'Ali Nuri, Baha'u'llah, speaking of the fundamental unity of the human race writes in the mid 19th century, “Ye are all the leaves of one tree and the flowers of one garden.” On the principle of humanity' unity in diversity, he thus attributes a neutrality to the soil in which we grow, without necessarily assuming that that soil makes us
homogenous. We are one, not in spirit, so to speak, but in the materiality integral to our bodies.
But then, I wonder, when even Eminem's hallucinogenic mushrooms, bring us to a different world, his world, what is it about nature that makes us assume its unquestionable national and ethnic neutrality? This month's horoscope gives you an idea of who you might be if you were to grow your roots in the astrological soil of the heavenly stars, rather than merely transplant yourself into the earthly one.
Ruscus aculeatus (Butcher's Broom)
Part Sun to Shade, 24″ tall. Origin: England, Iran, Mediterranean
This strange poet's laurel relative comes from Iran and a few adjacent neighboring countries. The mature plant, upright, clumps to 2' tall and is composed of dark green stems and sharp prehistoric leaf-like structures. Ouch! Butcher's Broom was named Butcher's Broom because butchers used the branches to sweep the ground after they finished their work. Actually, it resembles a short-haired green porcupine after a close encounter with a tractor-trailer. It is a truly tough drought tolerant plant for the worst of garden conditions. A true friend, a confidant, a father figure, a P.I.M.P. when everyone else has tried to stab you in the back. Every grrl needs one of these in her garden.
Verbena 'Dorothy Burton' (Perennial Verbena)
6″ tall. Origin: Hybrid
From the wild and crazy Saul Brothers of Georgia comes this cutleaf verbena hybrid. The Verbena 'Sissinghurst'-like foliage makes a fine textured mat, topped consistently from late spring through fall with nice clusters of pinkish purple flowers Each flower has a dark purple eye that changes to a dark purple stripe down each petal as the flowers age… very cool! A
fighter it seems. Get the ice, you'll need to tend this one's bruises!
Verbena 'Mabel's Maroon' (Perennial Verbena)
6″ tall. Origin: Hybrid
I picked up this hot little number on a recent trip to Texas (ahm…). V. 'Mabel's Maroon' is one of the most unique colors I have seen in a verbena… sort of a fluorescent maroon. You can easily imagine this Texan verbena's tolerance to intense heat and sun. It looooves love! It flowers from midspring into early fall. And then when the winter hits, the love affair is all but dead. Watch for Mabel get all mercurial on you!
Veronica spicata 'Royal Candles'
15″ tall. Origin: Europe
From Heather and Mike Philpott in the UK, comes this amazing hybrid, that is unlike any veronica I've ever seen. The 3″ tall, tight clumping rock-garden-sized plant, is topped starting in May with dozens of thin but sturdy 15″ tall flower spikes (resembling those anorexic runway models). The spikes begin opening with blue-purple flowers at the base, and move steadily upward like a lit fuse, ending their flowering cycle at the uppermost tip in
mid-October…yes, that's five months of flowering! Can you imagine? No, let me rephrase that, can you take the heat?
x Zephybranthes 'Norma Pearl' (Rain Lily)
Sun to Part Sun 6″ tall. Origin: Hybrid
“And now for something completely different…” to borrow a Monty Python line. This is probably the first of the rare bi-generic cross of Zephyranthes 'Labuffarosea' x Habranthus robustus. 'Norma Pearl' was created by the rain lily guru Paul Niemi and named after his mom. The fast multiplying bulbs form a robust clump of thick grey-green leaves, topped
throughout most of the summer by 3″ wide nearly pure white flowers. Ah! Breathtaking! But…. did I hear oedipal mutant?
Phormium (New Zealand Flax)
Sun to Light Shade 72″ tall. Origin: New Zealand
You've seen it in books, you've marveled at it on posters, you've lusted after it on calendars; now you can have one of your own or be one. Your pick. Of course, I'm talking about phormiums. While they don't look quite as grand as they do in the UK or the Pacific Northwest around here, there are a number of phormiums that can tolerate the heat, moisture, and cold of middle America and the southern States. They're nice to look at, but, frankly, you can keep them off my soil. Prick(ly)!
Hedychium coronarium (Hardy White Butterfly Ginger)
Sun to Part Sun 60″ tall. Origin: Tropical Asia
This is the real attention getter in late summer and fall as the rich honeysuckle-like fragrance pervades the evening air from the 2″ butterfly-like white flowers. An internet charmer, the stalks emerge from a thick, slowly growing rhizome and grow through the spring and summer until they virtually grow on you. In late summer, the pinecone-like buds form on top of the stems and you know you're a goner. The flowers emerge, a few each day, to perfume the air until the first heavy frost… ooh la la!
Agave bracteosa (Bracted Century Plant)
Sun to Part Sun 6″ tall Origin: Mexico
OOOOOO! One amazing agave! I was fortunate to see this in the wild near Monterrey, Mexico, where it precariously hangs off high cliffs. This 2' wide plant with the bromeliad-like clump resembles large grey-green spiders. I recommend you planting this one, or rather, yourself on a slope so that you can live like you do in the wild. Don't jump! No, jump!
Pinellia tripartita (Green Dragon)
Part Sun to Light Shade 12″ tall. Origin: Japan
This unusual Asian aroid with tripartite leaves resembles a Jack-in-the-pulpit. Beginning in late spring and continuing all summer, the clumps are topped with spathe and spadix flowers of medium green. The 10″ long tongue emerging from the center of the flower and stands at
attention… utterly cute, thoroughly bizarre and very easy to grow in the garden. Green Dragon seeds around a bit, although nothing on the order of the one night stand. It takes to you slowly, over time. But what a deal!
Alocasia cucullata (Hooded Dwarf Elephant Ear)
Part Sun to Light Shade 36″ tall. Origin
Burma, India This is a feel-good plant, just like you! Alocasia cucullata is a small elephant ear with thick, shiny, green heart-shaped leaves resembling little elf hats…each with curlicue, twisted tips and upturned leaf margins. The flower spathe is hooded with the whole flower structure hiding below the leaf. The real focus, however, is the cute leaves…cute yes, but missing teeth. Smile you're on candid camera…
Polygonatum kingianum,Orange Flower Form (Solomon's Seal)
Light Shade 60″ tall. Origin: China
In my wildest dreams, I never thought I'd see anything like the rare orange-flowered form of Polygonatum kingianum. Forget everything you know about Solomon's Seal, except that it grows from a rhizome in shade. In spring, the stalk emerges, clothed with whorled sets of narrow dark green foliage. Each leaf ends in a curled loop that it uses to climb above its neighbors… and peep over the fence and into garden next door. There you have it, this is the original social climber. At each whorl of foliage are small bright orange bell-like flowers that make for a tongue-dropping show. He… he… Solomon's Seal stands erect for the rest of us, unless it sets a good crop of large green berries, correction… I meant babies. How monstrous!
Hemerocallis 'August Flame' (Woods 68)
40″ tall Origin: Hybrid
In August, when most daylilies and spring flings are just a memory, there are a few that stand alone… in full flower. One of my favorites is the '60s hybrid (you remember the '60s… free love, ban the bomb, get outta Nam), the 'August Flame'. From mid-July through August, the 4' tall flower stalks are topped with clusters of large bright red flowers, each centered with a dramatic yellow-orange blotch. Because of its height and late season of flowering, 'August Flame' is an excellent choice for the perennial border or to put it in human terms…a long term, stable, lasting and colorful relationship. Witness our Iranian.com editor. Now tell me I'm wrong!