Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Venerability and vulnerability

I remember a few years ago an eminent plantsman from LA was visiting, and viewing our succulent collections commented that "there aren't that many venerable plants here": a put down if I ever heard one before. Venerability is not an American virtue, alas. I have always been so charmed and amazed at how the British value their homes the older they are: those with thatched cottages whose beams positively sag are the most envied of all. The Chinese and Greeks venerated the elderly (used to anyway: maybe they too have been corrupted by the fast, glitziness of modernity). I remember my middle aged uncle addressed my grandfather in the formal "You" (as opposed to the familiar thou one used almost all the time). There are still southern boys who say "Sir" to anyone a tad older than them, but that's not quite the same, somehow. A sense of respect transcending mere convention should be the dues paid to venerability.

I drove past this amazing Artemisia tridentata in a shopette close to my home years ago. Now each time I go nearby, I make a point of driving by it and admiring its hoary sculptural trunk--something you can't cook up in a day. If it were a tree, of course, it would take decades. one of the charms of sagebrush is that it hoaries up real quick. I have nearly a dozen pots around my garden with big sagebrush planted in them, waiting optimistcally for them to gnarl and age like this one, only portable.

Of course, there are ten trillion venerable sagebrush in the West: not exactly a novelty I know. Ranchers love to chain them down (just as they do the equally venerable pinon pines and junipers). Put a nice shopette on top of them, or sow to smooth brome, no doubt.

As I grow more venerable myself, I can only wonder.


  1. Thanks - this also speaks of peoples' various degrees of being spoiled by a gentle climate (like us in SW with many more cacti, esp the Sonoran Desert and So Cal). And anjoyed seeing a venerable plant further north, no matter the time to get character...we can't do that with that plant in the SW desert, either. Bullseye on macho ranchers and weak developers.

  2. Sounds like we're of a mind! Didn't realize Big Sage wouldn't do your way. Nothing is more venerable than the Chihuahuan desert left alone!


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