I’m moving, things are chaotic. It gives me a perfect chance to do some interviewing of gardeners I adore.
Let’s start with Paul Riddell of Texas Triffid Ranch. You can tease me about my "original" interview questions in the forum. Or start practicing your answers! You might be next!
KMA: What is your favorite horticultural word?
Paul: "Penjing". As a kid, I used to mix dinosaur toys with live ferns and weeds, and penjing displays (as opposed to traditional bonsai) stimulate that same sense of wonder with me. The trick is to keep a proper sense of proportion and balance to the entire arrangement, and I suspect that we’re going to be seeing a combination of Chinese penjing techniques mixed with Western diorama sensibilities to make interesting new art in the next decade.
KMA: What is your least favorite horticultural word?
Paul: "Terrarium". The concept can be a spectacular art form in its own right, but after decades of abuse, it usually invokes a collection of half-dead woodland plants trapped in an old spaghetti sauce jar with an old Smurf figure to keep them company into oblivion. That’s before it’s left on a windowsill to cook in the sun or dry out from neglect, where it’s promptly dumped into the garbage alongside summer camp lanyards and macaroni Christmas decorations. A terrarium worthy of the name should elicit comparisons to Gustav Dore or Ray Harryhausen, not Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.
(KMA note: Where can I buy one of those???)
KMA: What about plants turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Paul: For me, it’s that there’s always some new mystery or some new development in botanical research, so it’s impossible to get bored. For something as well-studied as Venus flytraps, we know that stimulating trigger hairs on the inside of a flytrap sets off an electrical charge, and the trap itself closes because of unstable topography in the shape of the trap itself. Bridging the gap between these two facts, though, is going to make somebody’s Ph.D thesis.
KMA: What about plants turns you off?
Paul: Urushiol. I spent a full day in October 2003 pulling rocks out of a streambed behind my apartment at the time, and didn’t know I was walking through a stand of poison oak for eight hours until I started having a reaction a week later. Between the itching and the lovely sensation of the skin on my ankles starting to split from the swelling, I wouldn’t wish that experience on my sister.
KMA: What is your favorite curse word you use when a plant dies?
Paul: That depends. I tend not to curse when one of my plants dies, because then it’s a matter of discovering exactly what happened so I don’t do it again. I save my cursing for willful ignorance, especially with a rare or exciting plant, and even then it’s a matter of screaming "I can’t control my hand! Get out of here before it kills you, too!"
KMA: What sound or noise, in relation to gardening, do you love?
Paul: That’s either the buzz of hunting and social wasps snagging caterpillars and cicadas in the foliage, or the strange slurping of soldier fly grubs in my compost bin. Either way, it says "All is right in the world."
KMA:. What sound or noise, in realtion to gardening, do you hate?
Paul: Leafblowers drive me insane, on multiple levels. It’s not just that you have some idiot deciding that he doesn’t want to expend the energy to kneel down and pick up lawn and garden debris, condom wrappers, and beer cans dropped by slovenly neighbors. It’s not just that the nearly universal response to said debris is to blow it out into the street, where the first passing truck just knocks it right back. No, it’s that the dolts using them decide that the best time to use them is at 7:30 in the morning…on your only day off in months…and waking up just when you’re filling in for Jimi Hendrix in that barbershop quartet and Joey Ramone and Buddy Holly are vouching that you won’t screw it up.
KMA: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Paul: Well, my great shame is that I wasn’t able to get my dream job: civilian science advisor for the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. Would you believe that they gave the job to some other authority-flaunting white-haired know-it-all?
KMA: What profession would you not like to do?
Paul: Going back to reviewing films for science fiction magazines. It’s not just that you never get back the hours you wasted from watching garbage like Battlefield Earth or Serenity. It’s that you waste even more time trying to get paid for that humiliation, only to have the editors lie to you about why everyone’s getting paid on time but the writer. It’s like getting a golden shower that lasts for months, and it’s coming from Pauly Shore.
KMA: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Paul: "That does it. I’m shutting down and retiring. Let Krishna or Quetzacoatl run this madhouse if they think they’re so damn clever."
KMA: So now, you love Paul too, right? You can read more of his awesomeness at the Texas Triffid Ranch Blog.