Hansen, Eric. Orchid Fever: a Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000.
Reason read: April is when everyone starts thinking about their gardens. Probably not orchids, though…I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a true non-violent crime. Groundskeepers at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, call the exhibits the largest collection of horticultural loot and with words like racket, exploitation, trafficking, plundering, smuggling, and pirating I think I found the right book..
Hansen knows how to get the reader’s attention. Orchid Fever opens with a human body falling through a rain forest canopy. His guide, Tiong, seemingly fell out of the sky. Hansen was on the island of Borneo to see help build an upriver plant nursery for the Penan people. How is this for a cryptic meeting time and place: “The message was for them to meet us at the junction of the Limbang and Medalam rivers on the full moon of the fourth month of 1993” (p 8)?
He approaches his subject of orchid crime with a sense of skepticism at first. He calls these orchid-obsessed horticulturalists, “orchid people” as if they are some kind of alien race and yet, he travels the globe to meet them and start using words like racket, exploitation, trafficking, plunder, pirating, and smuggling to describe their behavior. Soon Hansen realizes these “orchid people” are so passionate about their orchids some can be driven to actual violence if provoked. It also seems that every time a legitimate researcher gets a shipment of orchids no matter how lawfully or innocently, that’s when the trouble starts. But orchids are not just for flower shows and smuggling. Hansen travels to Turkey and learns about how orchid ice cream is made from the tubers of a specific orchid. A flour made from the dried tubers creates a chewy, almost elastic texture. He also learns of the medicinal properties of orchids with such claims as the ability to heal a damaged spleen, prevent cholera and tuberculosis, facilitate childbirth, and improve sex life. Orchis in Greek does mean testicle…Along those lines, you will be introduced to the term ‘phyto-necrophilia.’ It is the “abnormal fascination or love of a dead plant material. Yes, it’s a thing. Hansen also travels to Minnesota, an area you don’t readily think of for orchids, to meet a man who tries to save orchids from being bulldozed in developing areas.
As an aside, I thought about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolf a lot while reading Orchid Fever.
Quotes to quote, “It was about this time that I got into the habit of taping my comp disks to the backs of cereal boxes in the kitchen cabinets” (p 68).
A sense of Hansen’s dry sense of humor, “We also called on Kemal Kucukonderuzunkoluk (pronounced Kucukonderuzunkkoluk), who operates one of the oldest ice creams stores in Maras” (p 97) and “Sitting at the table, an uneasy feeling came over me as I realized it was quite possible that I was the strange one” (p 234).
Soundtrack: Rockin’ Dopsie and the Cajun Twisters.
Author fact: Hansen also wrote The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer, Motoring with Mohammed and Stranger in the Forest. All three books are on my Challenge list and I am looking forward to reading them.
Book trivia: Each chapter is punctuated with a beautiful black and white illustration of an orchid.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Orchid Fever other than to explain the plot and say Orchid Fever compliments Susan Orlean’s book of the same subject, The Orchid Thief.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 300s” (p 62).
I don’t know where to begin with trying to explain October. From the beginning, I guess. It started with a trip home; a lovely week off with lots of reading accomplished. Then it was a New England Patriots football game followed by two Phish shows and a political rally for a state in which I do not live. If that wasn’t weird enough, I hung out with a person who could have raped or killed or loved me to death. Take your pick. Any one of those scenarios was more than possible. It was a truly bizarre month.
But, enough of that. Here are the books:
- Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. Quick but cute read.
- Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (AB/print). Sad.
- The Chronoliths by Robert C. Wilson. Interesting.
- Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (EB). Boring.
- Oxford Book of Oxford edited by Jan Morris (EB/print). Only slightly less boring than Bridge.
- Always a Distant Anchorage by Hal Roth. Really interesting.
- African Laughter by Doris Lessing. Okay.
- The Race of Scorpions by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print). Detailed.
- Finding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB). Cute but glad the series is over.
- We Inspire Me by Andrea Pippins. Cute.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Gardening Under Lights by Leslie F. Halleck. When I set up the reads for October I didn’t include this because it hadn’t arrived yet.
I should add that October was a really frustrating month for books. I never really liked anything I was reading.
Halleck, Leslie F. Gardening Under Lights: the Complete Guide for Indoor Growers. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2018.
Reason read: this book was sent as an Early Review for the LibraryThing program.
Right away, the first thing to notice about Gardening Under Lights is how gorgeous is the physical book. The colors, fonts and photographs are beautiful. The second thing to notice is Halleck’s humor and easy going language. The information is a mix of Let Me Break This Down For You and technical and expert information. The first chapter, Why Plants Need Light, offers a simple explanation for the premise of the entire book. From there, the information is thorough and detailed. Every aspect of growing plants is covered, from growing conditions to containers; from diseases to how deep to dig; from selecting the right lighting bulbs to sowing, watering, culling, cutting, rooting, transplanting, harvesting, and propagating. My favorite section was in the middle about edible plants like herbs (I struggle with cilantro bolting) and vegetables, but the section on diseases was a close second.
As an aside, I plan to loan this book to a friend and I have a suspicion I won’t get it back!
Perenyi, Eleanor. Green Thoughts: a Writer in the Garden. New York: Modern Library, 2002.
Reason read: April is traditionally the time when we New Englanders start thinking about gardens. Edited to add: as of this writing, it is snowing quite heavily…we’re supposed to get up to 6″ and classes are cancelled.
I need to prepare you. There is a lot of foreplay leading up to the main event that is Green Thoughts. There are 24 pages of other “stuff” to get through before you even see the first chapter, “Annuals”: first you need to read the title page, the “Introduction to the modern library gardening series by Michael Pollan”, the “Introductions to the text by Allen Lacy”, table of contents, the forward, and last but not least, a note on references. But! (dramatic pause…) But, once you get into Green Thoughts it is a delight to finally be there. Each chapter (in alphabetical order) is it’s own separate essays so feel free to jump around to the topics that best interest you. To be fair, some of the gardening instruction is a little labor intensive for the plant it and forget it, barely green-thumbed among us.
One of the best things I learned from reading Green Thoughts is that Cato (of Carthage fame) wrote directions for growing asparagus. That is awesome!
Quotes I liked, “I don’t subscribe to Prevention, which is dedicated to health, mostly because I haven’t the backbone to follow its precepts” (p 44), “A killing frost devastates the heart as well as the garden” (p 69) and one more, “When I look back on the long procession of incompetents, dumbbells and eccentrics, young and old, foreign and domestic, who have worked for me, I wonder how I and the garden have survived their ministrations” (p 80). She answers her own question wit “It occurs to me that I attract the mentally unbalanced” (p 81).
Author fact: Perenyi was at one time the managing editor of one of my teenage guilty pleasures, Mademoiselle Magazine.
Book trivia: You would think this book ripe for photographs, or at least illustrations. Be forewarned. There is not a one of either. Sigh.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Get On With Gardening” (p 96).
I don’t know where March went. I’ve looked under calendars and in date books and I still can’t figure it out. The month went by so fast! Here are the books finished for March:
- Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
- The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
- Family Man by Jayne Krentz
- Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (AB)
- The Brontes by Juliet Barker (DNF)
- Means of Ascent by Robert Caro (DNF)
- Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan (Fun)
- In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White (would have been an Early Review book a long time ago)
On tap for April (besides a little Noodle 5k run):
- A Considerable Town by MFK Fisher ~ in honor of April being the best time to visit France
- The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman ~ for fun
- Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi ~ in honor of gardening month
- Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot ~ in honor of April Fools
- Don’t Eat This Book by Morgan Spurlock ~ in honor of April being Food Month (AB)
- The Grand Tour by Tim Moore ~ in honor of Harvey Ball passing in April
I don’t care what anyone says. Summer officially started this weekend. To hell with the calendar. I’m ignoring the meteorologists, too. Summer wasn’t summer until the sun came out for more than an hour. For the first time in weeks I was able to weed the garden and the walk without dodging raindrops. I finally took up those giant prehistoric looks growths growing along side the driveway. I tackled the ground cover problem, too. Redistributing the gravel that has slid down the hill. This is Hilltop, after all. I moved rocks until my sun-bared arms ached. It felt good. I got in the pool for the second time this season and actually took a few strokes for the first time. Maybe I’ll learn to swim for real. It felt amazing. We got more of the back of the house painted. The gutter guys came. Progress is progressing.
Inspired by the weather I decided on a grill dinner. Pork marinated in lime, garlic, cilantro, and cumin. But, that wasn’t the best part of the mean meal. The salsa/salad was. Try this for yourself – play with the ingredients and measurements:
- black beans
- grape tomatoes
- grilled corn
- red onion
- chili powder
- red pepper flakes
- olive oil
- champagne vinegar
- sea salt
- tri-colored fresh cracked pepper
Throw everything into a big bowl and let marinate for a few hours. Any ingredient can be left out or substituted for something else. Think about it – red beans instead of black, how about rice? Vidalia instead of red onion, scotch bonnet instead of jalapeno, red wine vinegar instead of champagne…these switches aren’t a stretch, but the options are limitless. Then, to really blow your mind, there is texture. Mince everything small and you have a blended salsa, puree it and you have a killer sauce for grilled chicken. Leave it super chunky and sprinkle it with tortilla chips and you have a great side salad. Add lettuce and grilled beef (sliced paper thin) and there’s a whole meal. I love meals like this.
This weekend felt like a holiday. We worked around the house and enjoyed the sun. Grilled on the deck and savored sweet cherries for dessert. Danced around the living room to Coldplay drums. Later, from our living room window we paused a movie to take in the second fireworks display of the holiday. Bedtime brought a book to bed with me. But, before long my eyes grew too heavy. Sleep came easy. A perfect ending to a perfect day to good to keep.
Who would have thought I would enjoy digging in the dirt so much? Hand me a house complete with a hoe and I’m a happy girl. Who knew? Every morning I find myself standing on the stoop, checking the vital signs of my transplants, keeping tabs on the roses. I pluck wilting blooms from the hanging planter, willing more flowers to take their places. Bring on the color. Every night on my way to check the mail I double check my geraniums. My fight-breast-cancer pink blooms. Check for bugs. Check for dry soil. Do you need anything, I ask them. Water? Bug spray? Food? There is peace in all this puttering and pampering.
In the middle rhododendron bush a mother robin had built a nest. I had a perfect view of her from my window. Over time as I watched her sit on her eggs I would myself just how many babies did she have? I spied every day, hoping to catch a glimpse of her skyblue family. They hadn’t hatched by the time I went away, but when I came home three loud mouthed, scrawny, bald babies squawked from their cozy perch. Strange how a family of common birds could fill me with such caring. I kept a careful watch over them until one day the nest was silent. Empty. The babies had flown. Or so I hoped.
Out in the back there is a spindly dogwood (“It’s a tree and a bush, sir.”) that I have been mothering. When my mother was in town we noticed a strange vine had wrapped its tendrils around its fragile limbs. Invasive and attacking, this vine was literally choking the life out of my dogwood. We, my mother and I, set to work with a fierce counterattack. Armed with sharp (pink!) clippers we chopped and slashed our way through the vines and freed the dogwood tree from captivity. Since then I have been diligent in keeping the vines at bay. I hack anything that comes near.
A good friend has a garden of herbs on her front steps. I envy her because she grows all my favorites: cilantro, italian flat leaf parsley and basil. Could I do the same? the thought crosses my mind nearly everyday. What about the cats? The rabbits? And someone said something about a wild boar…something I need to think about.
So for now I will tend to my dusty miller, my roses – trees, bushes and flowers. This garden that has brought me a different kind of relaxation, a separate peace, if you will. Who knew?
For LibraryThing: Anne Raver is a writer and gardener but it’s hard to tell which came first. Her enthuasism for growing things (outside for she doesn’t deal with indoor plants well) shows in every word she writes in every essay. In the beginning I wanted Deep in the Green to be one of those nonfiction journals about a gardener making a life for herself after divorce. Diving into the growing after a relationship dies. Instead, Deep in the Green is best described as a series of essays that barely connect to one another but have a central theme…gardening & growing. As a columnist for the New York Times I guess it’s easy to string a bunch of essays together and call it a book.
“You know how the army is. they send you here , they send you there. Vietnam. Ohio. ‘I learned Thai no trouble, but I never did figure out what language they were speaking in Cleveland'” (p 24).
“Still we are drawn homeward, unable to erase our bloodlines” (p 42).
“I like to learn this way. Like learning to float or ride a bicycle. You can’t imagine doing it before you do it, but you have to imagine it in order to do it. And then you never forget” (p 155).
“I’m not sure what their religion is. Food, maybe” (p 173).
Thanks to this book I learned the latin name for a favorite flower I never bothered to look up (clematis jackmanni) and an interesting fact about poppies being illegal to grow (makes me think about how many times I’ve seen the federal law broken). Probably my favorite part about reading Deep in the Green is that once I got over the disjointed essays I read it with a salivating imagination. Anne Raver writes like I eat – straight from the garden, the bush or tree. I’ve tried to describe that foraging feeling – that satisfaction which comes from eating off Earth’s plate.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Gear Up For Gardening” (p 96).