Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Vegetable Adultery

Yesterday, at the Vegetable Garden where I volunteer, I worked with three volunteers, who are all master composters. They have been reluctant to let me discard my vegetable garden waste in their demonstration compost area at the Garden, because they don’t trust me to cut the greens small enough, or to sort out any diseased or pest-infected waste. So, instead, they helped me set up our very own composter in the veggie garden. It was hot, dirty work, cutting green clippings, chopping an old bale of straw to add as “browns” to contribute carbon, and mixing in some of their donated compost as starter – complete with worms and other creepy crawlies.

So naturally, as we’re all sweating in the hot sun, talk eventually turned to porn, specifically vegetable porn. Sure, compost can evoke noble metaphors of immortality, the cycles of the seasons, and the way garbage can be returned to the soil. But there’s a lot going on inside a living compost pile, so reproduction – and sex – is a big part of the equation. We joked that our spouses would perhaps be more interested in volunteering if they realized the topic of porn was so close to the metaphorical surface of what we do in the Garden.

Which is why, when I later began to pursue the topic on the web, I was so delighted to find the following, from a 1844 short story by Nathanial Hawthorne entitled Rappaccini’s Daughter. It seems to me that the author is pretty sure that gardens appearing too tropical, lush and exotic are bad news. The story doesn’t end well. It’s not exactly plant porn, but the graphic descriptions are still pretty explicit. My garden at home, alas, doesn't give off the same oninous vibe.

“Giovanni stepped forth, and forcing himself through the entanglement of a shrub that wreathed its tendrils over the hidden entrance, he stood beneath his own window, in the open area of Doctor Rappacinni’s garden…
“He threw a glance around the garden to discover if Beatrice or her father were present, and perceiving that he was alone, began a critical observation of the plants.
“The aspect of one and all of them dissatisfied him; their gorgeousness seemed fierce, passionate, and even unnatural. There was hardly an individual shrub which a wanderer, straying by himself through a forest, would not have been startled to find growing wild, as if an unearthly face had glared at him out of the thicket. Several, also, would have shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of artificialness, indicating that there had been such commixture, and, as it were, adultery of various vegetable species, that the production was no longer of God’s making, but the monstrous offspring of man’s depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty. They were probably the result of experiment, which, in one or two cases, had succeeded in mingling plants individually lovely into a compound possessing the questionable and ominous character that distinguished the whole growth of the garden.”


Annie in Austin said...

Hello Weeping Sore,

Your comment at Roamin' & Bloomin' Idiot sent me here and then to the original steamy and lush story online.

I might cherish my inter-species crosses like the Amarcrinum and Meyer's lemon more now because of their slight suggestion of Vegetable Adultery.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

walk2write said...

Ha, I love this story and its Italian ingredients. Whenever something "wicked" is afoot in literature, you can be sure the latinate connection holds it together. Must be something to do with the shape of the country.