Flowers of Evil: Ask Charles Baudelaire

Frank Gannon wrote this column for New Yorker, if I’m not mistaken, back in 1987. I think it deserves another run. I wrote a year ago for permission to publish, but so far cannot find the copyright owner. It’s about flowers and gardens, so perhaps it’s appropriate for this Valentine’s Day.

(Frank found this page somehow and has kindly granted his permission to post the article, which appeared in Atlantic, not New Yorker. Thanks, Frank!)

Q: What annuals are suitable for planting near the ocean?
If sufficient depth of topsoil (seven to nine inches) is provided and you give them sufficient water in dry periods (which drag on and on, furrowing into your soul, often), you should be in pretty good shape to grow almost any annual that strikes your fancy. A tip: don’t get hopelessly drunk before you start, and don’t approach the project through the miasma of despair. Also, remember the gloves and stay busy.

Q: The crowns of my veronicas are rising above the surface. Can I do anything about this?
Veronicas tend to raise their crowns if they’re kept in the same spot too long. They’ve been stagnant and they’re starting to fester; like madmen in the dark, with great wild eyes they are coming to get you, because your corrupted hand should never touch beauty.

If your heart is set on it, move the veronicas in a large soil bag. Then return to your life of error and sin, until you, too, die and fester in a very large soil bag.

Q: Is it all right to trim trees in the winter?
Yes, provided the temperature isn’t too low. Also, check the trees. If black regiments of larvae flow out of the trees like a dense, ghastly river, and the stench of death is overpowering, throw the trees away; it’s way past trimming time. But bear in mind that you, too, will turn into a rotting mass, to be eaten by vermin. My Love!

Q: Which trees and shrubs are suitable for sandy soil in a sunny location?
With proper care, arcadia and tamarisk should do well. Since half of horticulture is visual, you might think about putting one or two vile, rotting corpses, their legs in the air like lustful women’s, out there somewhere. Use your own judgment, but I’d give the amount of shade more than a second thought for the corpses. Remember to mulch.

Q: How can I make a medium-size, manure-heated hotbed to get an early start on tomatoes?
Find some long two-by-fours and make a box. The size is up to you, but make sure that it’s square. If you can make it voluptuous, that’s a plus. Make it rich! Make it triumphant! Make it corrupt, rich, voluptuous, rich, and triumphant! Make it strange and untamed, and then wet it with your tears of anguish.

Grow your tomatoes earlier than others, and sing of their round red beauty. Sing of your depraved globes and know that they are your brothers! Brothers in pestilence! Oh, your mind and your early tomatoes spring from the very same vine! Use a 2-10-10 general fertilizer — unless you can live comfortably with the idea that you might need more potash.

Q: Should tulip bulbs be taken up each year and separated? Should they be covered with leaves in the fall?
It really depends on where you live. If you live in the Midwest, then I’d leave them where they are for two or three years, unless you’re going to use the land for something else — like maybe a few naked black rocks over which flow a great deal of painful personal humiliation, until you lie palsied in your loins.

That’s probably a long-term project. Forget the leaves, too. You probably have too much time on your hands, if you’re asking questions like that.

Q: Which plants, besides geraniums, can be grown in a small home greenhouse for winter bloom?
When you set out your plants, you will find that a lot of flowers you wouldn’t think of can produce winter blooms. But be careful. Studies at Cornell University indicate that if you’re like other amateur gardeners, you’ll probably wind up staring straight into the grim, still face of death. Go to your greenhouse without love or remorse, amateur gardener. Debud your chrysanthemums in sin!

Seriously, I’m always eager to help the amateur horticulturist, because I know his ambitions and his many sufferings.

As always, yours for good gardening and hideous suffering
– Charles Baudelaire

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Written by: Frank Gannon

Categorization: Articles, Classics

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