Saturday, July 10, 2010

Walter Off, James Dodson, and the Hottest Thing in Horticulture

I'm about seventy pages into James Dodson's Beautiful Madness: One Man's Journey Through Other People's Gardens and I'm loving it.  It explores some of the same themes as Pollan's Second Nature, but from a very different perspective.  Dodson is primarily known for his golf books, comes out as a Republican by page twenty-five, and opens his book with a conversation about snakes.  So, I'm a little surprised that I'm enjoying it so much, but he has an undeniably engaging writing style.

Also, in contrast to Michael Pollan, Dodson shows Orchidaceae some love.  Beautiful Madness has a wonderful discussion of the crazy Philadelphia Flower Show where Dodson hangs out with a few of the important competitors during the set-up and show.  He talked to Walter Off, of Waldor Orchids, who told him "You should really try growing orchids.  They're the hottest thing in horticulture." Then Off told the familiar tale:
"The demand has never been higher, because once people buy one they immediately want to buy another... Pretty soon their kitchen window is full of orchids, followed by every windowsill in the house.  Then the basement fills up and pretty soon they're building their own greenhouse.  Orchids are that addictive" (pg. 46-47)
Dodson worked his orchid knowledge into the conversation, referencing the sexual meaning of orchids to Colonial Americans.  His contribution was sort of what I expected, given the self-consciously masculine tone of the writing up to that point (which I probably should've expected from a sports writer and a subtitle reading One Man's Journey...).  But, again, he showed the orchids a ton of respect and he demonstrated an ear for the orchid world as deft as Susan Orleans or Eric Hansen.  Dodson mentioned he had learned some things having "just finished reading a book about America's current love affair with orchids" (pg. 45).  So, was it Hansen's Orchid Fever or that other book?  Either way, the comment makes me think we're about five years overdue for the Next Big Popular Orchid Book.  Are you listening Michael Pollan?                      


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