Saturday, April 25, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/25/09)

"She should've kept her old nose," meine Überfrau opined as she inspected photographs of her fellow retired flight attendants from the glory "champagne and chateaubriand" days of first-class on TWA. When asked what she meant, she said, "She went too far." Apparently, the poor woman in her zeal for a pert, upturned nose ended up with a flute too small for her face, a puny button on a fine, full-figured, glamorous Mediterranean mug. "It's too bad. She was really a beautiful woman." So much for rhinoplasty.

H.L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore of several generations past, made the same point in The American Language about the Anglo-Saxon dominance of American culture, only about first names instead of noses, such as Wendy Liebowitz, Eric Balabanian, and Chauncey Gallucci, but not Ermentrude Smith or Yankel Johnson.

The theory behind the Anglo-Saxon cultural dominance is that immigrants, after the arrival of the initial British immigrants, wanted to fit in and tried to adopt the facial characteristics and names of the first-arrived, adapting by adopting. Ironically, we now have a mixed race president with three non-Anglo-Saxon names who speaks in elegant English and thinks with the sophisticated complexity of an Oxford don.

Gardening on the Colorado Plateau speaks to the same complexity, what fits in and what doesn't or the wrong horticultural nose on Flagstaff's cultural face. In extremis, a friend sports a plastic palm tree on his back deck, decorating it each year with Christmas lights. For him it's a memory of things past and, I suspect, a modest defiance of Flagstaff's horticulturally correct.

Pity the poor person who paid big bucks for a nose that didn't work cosmetically, and for the gardener who bought a plant that didn't work horticulturally. Rhododendrons come to mind. All that glitters is not gold.

Plants have minds of their own and are stubborn about it. If they don't like where they're put, they'll pull a tantrum, withering rather than thriving. Nearly everyone knows people who are inclined dig in their heels no matter what, suffering their own peril to prove a point, however modest. Lots of plants are like that, especially the ones we love.

Ponderosa pines apparently thrive in lots of places, but not
rhododendrons, camellias, and azaleas. I know, I bought a rhododendron five years ago and, since then, have watched it gradually wither while my ponderosa thrive. The ponderosa didn't cost me a dime, either.

As always, there are the purists who want nothing but native, opposed, as they are, to horticultural immigration. They want concrete walls topped with razor wire, and they have a point. Everytime a foreign plant is introduced into a balanced eco-system, of necessity, it changes the system for either ill or good, sometimes sending it into a tailspin. Of course, the irony is that if the purists really wanted to go native, they wouldn't be here in the first place because there is no species quite as invasive as human beings. Purity may mean "get outta town."

Oddly, many think of Hopi corn as a native because it has been grown on the Colorado Plateau for a several centuries which is to raise the question of the length of time it takes an import to go native or adapt.

Socrates in the Cratylus quoted Heraclitus to the effect that all things are in motion and nothing is at rest, comparing them to a river or stream, and saying that no one can go into the same river twice.

In Flagstaff, the first thing to consider is a native plant or a plant that can adapt to the High Country, no matter how much a plant has been loved elsewhere. Noses don't always travel well. Secondly, choose water-wise plants because guzzlers are threats to balance, sucking up everyone else's fair share. And, finally, don't mess around with plants that look good but insidiously want to take over. "Frienemies," they're invasive species, the opiates of gardening, invading, corrupting, and weakening a garden and with it the eco-system. As long as human beings have intruded, we're responsible to keep an eco-system in balance while it evolves.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009

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