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FINDING INNER KITSCH: AN ABRIDGED HISTORY OF LAWN JOCKIES

Nov. 30, 2016: I was originally going to write on garden statuary but, when looking at its breadth and diversity, I realized that within the space of a blog it's a bit like covering the history of the Roman Empire on the back of a postcard. Instead I will focus my efforts on two iconic lawn statues , the first and the focus of this article is the lawn jockey.

Jocko modelJocko modelNo lawn statuary has ever generated the strong emotions that the lawn jockey has. Many consider it to be overtly racist. I will leave that judgment to you, gentle reader, and will focus on how the lawn jockey came to be. Unlike the pink flamingo, there is no exact date of when the jockey came into existence. It's past is shrouded in myth. One of the most enduring myths is that the lawn jockey was first erected by George Washington at Mount Vernon.

The legend of Jocko goes something like this. When George Washington was crossing Delaware to attack the British at Trenton, he had a young black horse groom by the name of Jocko whom Washington had told to stay behind and take care of the horses. Jocko wanted to come but George said he was too Chinaman Jockey 1910Chinaman Jockey 1910young. It was very cold that night and Jocko froze to death while holding the horses. GW was so distraught that he erected a statute of Jocko at his homestead and named it 'The Faithful Groomsman". It's a pretty touching story however there is no written evidence from Mt Vernon or anyone visiting it that such a statue existed. Maybe it was hidden away behind that cherry tree.

Another legend has the lawn jockey adorning residences just prior to the Civil War. Some lawn jockey owners that were part of the Underground Railroad, helping slaves to escape to the North, would tie a red ribbon on the arm of the jockey to indicate it wasn't safe to approach the house and a green ribbon to say it was safe. Again, no historical evidence exists to support this legend either.

Cavalier modelCavalier modelLawn jockey historians (yes there are some! A great site for further edification is www.lawnjock.com ) somewhat concur that sometime during or shortly after the Civil War the first documented lawn jockeys appeared. There were several models of lawn jockeys but the most prevalent were the Jocko model and, in the 1940's, a Caucasian version called the Cavalier. There was once even a Chinaman version. Legend has it that a Chinaman accidently blew himself up while making gunpowder for George Washington's army and a distraught Washington . . . .actually I just made that up, but I think it has the bones of a good legend, don't you?

You can still buy both the Jocko or the Cavalier models today either in aluminum or concrete. Older cast iron models can go for thousands of dollars.

I myself do not own a lawn jockey but I believe it's time for a new lawn jockey. One without the taint of racial or ethnic bigotry. One that holds forth the lamp of progress while at the same time hearkening back to a more simpleton era when America was great. And so, I am developing my own new lawn jockey I call the Billionaire model.

Die makers, here's your chance to get in on the ground floor of America's newest and greatest phase of lawn statuary. Billions await!

Billionaire modelBillionaire model

FINDING YOUR INNER KITSCH: STUFF ON STICKS

BOTTLE TREES
Nov. 15, 2016: There are so many things when it comes to kitsch on sticks, I don't know where to begin. I'm thinking it'd be a book instead of a blog. But I've got to start somewhere and to me, there is no better place than the quintessential kitsch on a stick - the bottle tree.

Take a small dead tree, cut off the branches leaving 6-12" long stubs and jam bottles on those stubs and you've got a bottle tree. If you're handy with a welding torch you can make some fancy and realistic looking bottle trees with rebar. You can even buy premade or DIY kits for bottle trees. Colored glass wine bottles look best and it's also best to take the labels off. Otherwise people might mistake you for a drunk who can't recycle rather than the chic artist that you are.

I can't recall seeing a bottle tree in the Pacific Northwest but I have seen plenty in the Southeast. The bottle tree concept came to the Southeast with African slaves. I would often times see them at the rural homes of older African Americans in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

The bottle tree did not originate as a landscape design feature. It was employed as evil spirit defense. Evil spirits could be enticed into the colorful glass bottles (usually at night, when evil spirits are about) and then could not find their way out again. When the sun came up in the morning, it would then cook and kill the spirits, kind of like my yellowjacket trap on the porch. Cobalt blue bottles are reputed to be the best at catching spirits.

There is even an outdoor bottle tree museum located in the desert outside of Barstow, California called Bob's Bottle Tree Ranch. I've not been there, but it's on my bucket list. So when it comes to evil spirits in the garden, let's be frank - you got them, I got them, we all got them. What's it going to hurt to try a bottle tree. It'll be a great conversation piece plus save you all the embarrassment of sticking your recycle bin out on the curb filled to the brim with wine bottles.

PINK FLAMINGOS
At some point, when kitsch becomes camp is it still kitsch? Not in my opinion and nothing is more campier kitsch than pink flamingos. First produced in 1957 by Union Products it marked the beginning of plastic lawn ornaments. Back then, there was a certain utility behind the tackiness. In a time of Levittown like subdivisions where all the houses looked the same, you might just be able to differentiate your home from the neighbors by the pink flamingos in the yard particularly after the office Christmas party.

Like much lawn art, pink flamingos faded in popularity until Sears, the major vendor of them discontinued sales in 1971. But then, like a phoenix rising, they were rediscovered by the baby boomers as a symbol of non-conformist rebellion. Pink flamingos began sprouting back up again as statement of chic bad taste. Flamingos became campy birthday and wedding gifts. They began showing up in art museums and galleries. They showed up at campsites! Just go to any Airstream camper gathering and I guarantee you'll find an armada of flamingoes. There is even a fundraising company that will "flamingo flock" a lucky neighbor for your charity. Evidently friends can choose another friend and buy a flock of plastic flamingos that they will secretly, at night, festoon their friend's (the victim) lawn with and the victim must then pay a daily ransom until they are removed. It's called "flocking a friend".

Pink flamingos are not native to the Pacific Northwest nor should they be when it comes to lawn ornaments. When it comes to Pacific Northwest lawn ornaments you can't get much local than the Garden Yeti (Sasquatch). From 2' to a lifesize 6' tall this hand painted all-weather plastic lawn ornament starts at only $117 and is available from most Bigfoot product vendors. Nothing says Northwest kitsch and you can always paint it pink, if you've a mind to.

There is so much more garden stuff on sticks I'd loved to cover such as Granny Fannies, Curious Squirrel, and my personal favorite and creation Edvard Munch's The Scream on a stick (Special web price: $1199.00). I'll just have to save it for the book.
Edvard Munch's Scream-on-a-Stick, $1199.00 website specialEdvard Munch's Scream-on-a-Stick, $1199.00 website special

WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS

Oct 16, 2016: It's the morning after a big storm here in NW Oregon. This early in the fall and with many of the deciduous trees still in leaf, there's going to be a lot of downed trees and branches. If you're one of the hapless souls in Oregon that has had tree damage in your yard, you may be looking for emergency tree work.

A WORD OF CAUTION, only hire LICENSED tree services. Major storms not only mean lots of work for tree companies but it also spawns a small host of what I call "pirates with chainsaws' that troll storm damaged communities looking to stop and offer their services. It's often a "great deal" they're offering because they just so happen to be in your area doing other work.

So why is it important to hire a licensed company in Oregon? By "licensed" I mean a company that shows a license number on their truck with the prefix "CCB" or "LCB". Those prefixes stand for Construction Contractor's Board and Landscape Contractor's Board respectively. Companies licensed by one of the two agencies are required to post their number on all their advertising (truck, business cards, ads, etc) and to be licensed they must annually post a bond and show proof of current liability and worker's compensation insurance. It is illegal in the State of Oregon to perform tree work (unless its logging) without licensing.

Now before you get your libertarian hackles up about yet more government interference with the free enterprise system, let me tell you that licensing is in place to protect the consumer. Since a company is required to post a bond, it means that if you have a claim against that company for negligent or non-performance or breach of contract, you can submit a claim to their licensing agency and it will be reviewed by a board and, if the claim is warranted, monetary damages from their bond is awarded. The claims process is a free service to consumers (paid for by licensee fees). Without it you would be forced to go to court, which we all know is not a free process.

The fact that all licensed companies must have liability insurance means that if a tree company is trying to get a tree off your roof and drops a chunk of wood through the window of your Porsche or Yugo, then the insurance will cover the damage.

All licensed companies must have worker's compensation, the insurance that covers workers injured on the job site, which might be your yard at the time. Worker's injured without worker's comp in your yard can sue you, the homeowner, for their medical bills and any subsequent support. You may end up selling your home to pay for the care of a pirate without a chainsaw in a wheelchair.

If you google Oregon CCB or Oregon LCB, their websites have license search pages by which you can search for licensed companies or if a company is licensed. Most tree services are licensed with the CCB, a few with the LCB. A note: CCB licensed companies can do everything when it comes to trees except plant trees. LCB licensed companies can do everything. But when you're tree is resting upside your house, you're probably not thinking of planting right away.

Now you know the difference between licensed tree companies and the unlicensed pirates. If you choose the pirate, beware the financial plank you walk.

SWISS NEEDLE CAST: CAN WE REALLY TRUST THE SWISS?

Oct. 1, 2016: When people think of the Swiss and Switzerland, it's generally in good terms. The Swiss have their clocks, their cheese, their pocket knives and their chard and they haven't had a major war since 1515. They must be a pretty mellow and trustworthy people. . . or so you would be led to believe. I am here to tell you though about a darker side to the Swiss, a side of deception and decline and Douglas fir.

Dying inner needlesDying inner needlesSwiss needle cast (Phaeocryptopus gaeumannii) is a foliar disease affecting Douglas fir. In recent years it's become somewhat of an epidemic in the Oregon Coast Range. SNC (Swiss needle cast ) causes the inner needles, which are also the older needles (2-4 years old) , to turn yellow and drop. Infected trees have thin canopies. This may not kill the tree but it noticeably lowers it growth rate and stresses the tree. Coupled with other environmental stresses, such as drought , SNC can kill.

SNC affects mainly planted Douglas fir, such as in Christmas tree farms or planted Doug fir timber plantations in the Coast Range. It's estimated to have infected 590,000 acres to the tune of $128 million dollars in economic losses. SNC has grown exponentially and is 4 times what it was 20 years ago. It's postulated that some of this increase is due to wetter springs brought on by climate change.

There is not much that can be done treatment wise for SNC. It's a fungus. When its spores land on the Thinning crownThinning crownneedles it grows and plugs up the stomata, the openings that exchange air and water vapor. No air =- no photosynthesis = yellow and dead needles. Fungicide treatments are impractical and forest management practices don't seem to affect the spread of the pathogen. Planting seed and seedling stock that originate within the Coast Range seem to be the best long term strategy.

So what's the Swiss connection? SNC was first discovered in Swiss forest plantations in the early 20th century. Pathologists claim that SNC is native to the Pacific Northwest and not Switzerland, but I find that to be a very convenient argument. The Swiss are known for keeping their bank accounts secret. Why wouldn't they keep their involvement in needle cast secret also?

Swiss MissSwiss MissSince the disease is called SWISS needle cast, could the Swiss be actually spreading it? I did a little investigative research and found that in the Portland metro area alone there are 4102 Swiss. That's more than the combined Portland populations of Lithuanians, Slovaks and Greeks, none of whom have tree diseases named after them!! Coincidence or conspiracy? In the Coast Range, we have the hamlets of Helvetia and Swiss Home. Coincidence or conspiracy? In 2014, the Swiss pulled out of the Miss Universe contest, the very same Miss Universe that is co-owned by Donald Trump. Could this have been advanced attempt to influence our current presidential elections? Coincidence or conspiracy?

I'm not saying that the Swiss are a danger to our country but I'm not saying that they're not. They just seem too nice to be true. If you're like me, you'll be keeping a lookout for strangers with alpenhorns or yodels from the woods.

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JEANNE BARET: A BOLD, BODACIOUS BABES OF BOTANY SERIES

Sept. 29, 2016: In my continuing homage to women botanists, one of the most boldest was Jeanne Baret, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe AND ,since she did it dressed as a man, she was the first cross-dressing woman botanist to do so. Those are some notable firsts.

Jeanne was born into an impoverished family in the south of France in 1740. In her early years, she Jeanne as JeanJeanne as Jeandeveloped a knowledge of medicinal plants and collected herbs as a living. When in her early twenties, a job opened up as a housekeeper to a young nobleman, Philibert de Commerson, whose friends might have called him "Phil" for short and that's what I'm going to do. Phil was an amateur botanist and also a recent widower. What with being in the same house and a mutual interest in plants, Jeanne and Phil became an "item". Back in those days though, noblepeople didn't marry their housekeepers so Jeanne became Phil's mistress, collecting assistant, and nurse, for Phil was often not in prime health.

Several years into their relationship, the French government called on Phil to accompany an expedition being led around the world to expand French holdings. as their ship botanist. "De Comm", whose friends might have called him that too and that's what I'm going to do for variety sake, was reluctant to go without his sidekick, Jeanne. Since the French navy strictly forbad women on their ships, the couple hatched a plan whereby Jeanne would impersonate a male sailor and get a job on board the ship De Comm was on.

The ruse worked. De Comm had Jeanne, the "male" sailor assigned as his assistant and to share his Philibert De Commerson or PhilPhilibert De Commerson or Philcabin. Jeanne was now "Jean", whose shipboard friends all called her that and thought she was a man. She bound her breasts every day and was secretive about her bathroom habits. Her shipmates were a little suspicious of her shyness and, at one point, one of them noticed a lack of proper genitalia. Jean explained that away by saying she had once been captured by Turkish pirates and had been castrated in captivity. That's some quick clever thinking!

DC (short for De Comm) was credited with the collecting of many new plants on the expedition including the Bougainvillea (named after the ship's captain Louis Antoine de Bouganville, or" Lou B" to his friends). The bougainvillea is that sweet smelling flowery vine so quintessential to the Deep South. The truth may be that it was" J" (short for Jean, who was really Jeanne) that was doing most of the collecting, since DC was often in poor health.

BougainvilleaBougainvilleaThe ruse ended when the expedition got to Tahiti. Evidently in Tahiti, transgender and cross dressing is no big deal and the natives quickly recognized and thereby exposed that Jean was Jeanne. Her crew mates responded by gang raping her, or so one story goes. Nine months later, Jeanne (who was no longer Jean now) gave birth to a child and was dumped off along with DC on the island of Mauritius (near Madagascar). Lou B, the captain, figured that was less embarrassing than taking them home and explaining the cock-up. DC and J stayed on the island with the French governor, who was also a botanist, for several years until DC died. Jeanne, being now without any financial support ,married a French soldier (no name, so I don't know what his friends called him) and they both returned to France. There was no brass band awaiting this first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

Fortunately, Jeanne lived the rest of her 67 years in modest comfort. The estate of DC paid her small stipend and, oddly enough, the French navy paid her a pension, probably as hush money.

What of the many plants that J and DC collected and classified? Seventy species honor Commerson in Solanum baretiaeSolanum baretiaetheir names; one, Solanum baretiae, honors Jeanne. S. baretiae was only discovered in 2010 by botanist Eric Tepe. Bless his heart, Tepe recognized the nomenclature injustice done to Jeanne Baret and finally recognized her efforts with this Peruvian plant, that is related to tomatoes and potatoes.

It took one bold, bodacious babe two centuries to break the green glass ceiling.

For further reading, there is the 2010 book by Glynis Ridley, "The Discovery of Jean Baret"

F & P