Saturday, May 28, 2016

...May Monster Madness **GARDEN** Blog Party...

   The monster was the best friend I ever had.

~Boris Karloff
Today is the 5th annual May Monster Madness blog party! I couldn’t think of a better way to feature some of my favorite outdoor monsters than a spooky garden party. I’ve opened my monster green patio umbrella, poured each of you a glass of ambrosia lemonade, and am ready to show you to the garden. 

Of course, many of you have visited here before so it isn’t a surprise to see some creatures of the night lurking among the flowers. 

Dracula has a few words of welcome.
"Welcome to my [garden]! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring."

All of the pictures except the melons were taken earlier today, a terribly sunny day and somewhat challenging for photographs. If you'd like to see some clearer pictures, please follow the links to previous posts where these little monsters have been featured prior. 
I’ve posted about liking, err LOVING, yard art before. Fortunately for me, I have a local store, ReFunkIt, which includes artists who turn *junk* into treasures. I have a garden monster, a couple of pieces transformed into spiders, an owl that once was a shovel, and some other oddities. 

I’ve purchased several of their yard art pieces that if you look around, you can see. I picked up other garden finds from various places including last year’s horror convention. In that post (if you follow the link) you’ll also see that I have a mighty strong obsession with whirligigs GWEE! (I have a hearse, skeleton on a bicycle, zombie, bat, and a vampire!), and you’ll see last year’s vertical pumpkin patch.

I love signage rather it be a message on a flag or written into the stone of a pot. It's a bit challenging to see in the picture above but beside the skull flowerpot is a stack of *books* with a gardening quote along each of the spines. I also love my silly vampire flag with martinis and bats.

The garden is probably my favorte place to be this time of year. It's probably my most important room until September. Before you go, enjoy a piece of melon carved by yours truly ;) 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

...World Dracula Day, the black bat flower, and other black plants *swoon*...

“Our ways are not your ways,
and there shall be to you many strange things.”
~Dracula, Bram Stoker

Happy World Dracula Day! Today marks the date of the first publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula! Gwee! 1897… 119 years ago!
My Norton Critical Edition copy includes annotations, wine marks and wax?!?
 A few days ago, the local botanical gardensblog included a post about the black bat flower being in bloom. I knew that this was the perfect excursion for me to take on World Dracula Day. 

Of course, here in Virginia we’ve had a chilly start to spring. Yet, within the last few days, the temperature has dramatically increased, the rains have cleared, and today it hit 93 °F to 34°C. Before heading to the gardens, my first stop was some sunscreen. Of course, I carried my hat and sunglasses. 

Here’s a side step to a bit of history. TheLewis Ginter Botanical Garden includes 50 acres in the northern part of Richmond, Virginia, land that was once owned by Patrick Henry. Yes, the “Give me liberty or give me death!” Patrick Henry. 

A wealthy businessman, who is known around these parts but most of you probably have never heard of him, named Lewis Ginter purchased the land. Ginter was born in New York of Dutch immigrant parents. He came to Richmond in 1842 at the age of eighteen and made a fortune in the import business before losing it to the Civil War. He served in the Confederate Army, and then returned to New York, where he made a second fortune in the banking industry and lost it to a recession. At age fifty, Ginter returned to Richmond and entered the tobacco business. He made millions marketing the pre-rolled cigarette and became a civic leader and philanthropist. He then sold his interest in the tobacco company and entered his fourth career, land development. Upon his death, he left a large portion of his estate to his niece, Grace Arents. Arents devoted her life to philanthropy and gave generously to many causes and institutions. Upon her death, she donated her inheritance to the people of Richmond and thus the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens continues today. 

Both Ginter and his niece Grace Arents are buried at Hollywood Cemetery. If you're ever there, go to the Ginter mausoleum and peep inside to see some Tiffany stained glass windows. Then looking away from the mausoleum between two overgrown shrubs you'll see a humble grave stone for Arents.

My first stop was the conservatory where I planned to find the Tacca chantrieri or black bat flower before doing anything else. In the East Wing in the shade of the red banana tree, the Bloodleaf Banana to be exact, the flower lurked. Named for its black bat-like flowery appearance, each flower can grow up to 12 inches with the long “whiskers” growing over 2 ft. long. 

In person, this plant is stunning. I wish that I had been able to get my pictures a bit more crisp but at a distance, I really didn’t want to fall into the bed or orchids and become known as the girl who squished the black bat flower.

After looking around at the spider orchids and entering the  Butterflies LIVE! exhibit where there were several black butterflies, I went in search of the Dracunculus vulgaris, also known as Dracula’s flower. This plant has multiple green stems that appear to be splattered with blood. Its flower is a deep dark red and has a ruffled edge. And like the Voodoo lily the fading flowers emit a smell that resembles that of rotting flesh, designed to attract flies and carrion beetles that pollinate it. Because of that, you will understand why I was not so disappointed that it was not in bloom.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens has an excellent picture on its blog that you can see here; today, it did not appear to be in bloom since we were not sure if we even found it. I was assisted by one of the gardeners who was able to take me to the place. So this picture may be the Voodoo lily on its way out or it may be the Dracula flower along with the Voodoo lily. It's hard to say since they are planted next to one another. I’m completely okay not finding the Dracula flower because in the novel, Dracula was able to elude his pursuers just like the Dracula flower was able to avoid me. Plus, no rotting corpses here;)
When I reached out to the botanical gardens this week, I was told that the director of horticulture has an affinity for black plants. No lie! The gardens are filled with beautiful dark foliage making this one of the most perfect places in town to get one’s gothic gardening fix. 

I hope you all had a wonderful World Dracula Day! 

I'm off to read the children's picture book Dear Dracula by Joshua Williamson and Vincente "Vinny" Navarrete staying inside where it is cool.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

...#Readathon2016 with a scary book twist...

If I cannot inspire love,
I will cause fear!'”
~ Mary Shelley

Reading to a bunch of ghouls and boys
On Saturday, I resurrected Mrs. Jeepers, the Transylvanian teacher who begins teaching at the Bailey School in the book Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots for #Readathon2016. Even better, I participated with the RVA Horror Book Club and Red Vein Army by being a reader inside the Fort of Fear, a giant blanket fort. With the raining days continue, I cannot imagine a more perfect time to be inside.

Keeping it thematic! My drink after reading ;)
I enjoy reading to young people partly because before becoming a professor I was a K-12 teacher. Fortunately, I still teach adolescent literature to future teachers so I get to keep up with some of the reading but actually reading to young people has become much rarer.  This was a super fun event. Not only did I get to read to young people but by the afternoon the tent became a PG17 (okay, that reads a bit too ominous) locale as the stories got a bit more scary. Although, I will note that Neil Gaiman’s Hansel and Gretel is pretty darn scary.

When was the last time that you were read to? Think about it. When was the last time that you sat on the floor, possibly inside a blanket fort with flashlights, and were actually read a scary story? 

It reminded me of middle school sleep overs when we would whisper tales and urban legends, and try to stay up for the entire horror movie. Unlike many of my friends, my dad worked night shift so he was always lurking (literally sometimes and figuratively others) in the corners. Once while my friends and I were watching a really scary movie, my dad had gone outside most likely to get wood for the wood stove, my family’s main source of heat. A really frightening scene in the movie happened while we heard fingernails scraping the window screen. My friend was so scared she *literally* peed on the floor. She seriously never lived that one down. Oh, Dad! He was always doing that.

Most of my childhood included my father rolling his eyes in the back of his head with his arms outstretched like a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and a Romero ghoul. I would squeal and run only to come back for more. Like those darn zombies, my dad just never stopped; he always kept coming.

Reading and telling scary stories in the dark, I hadn’t realized how much I actually missed that. I wish we had been able to set up a tent outside and continue reading into the night.
Listening to Mr. Scream Freak!
One of my favorite parts of the day is meeting Mr. Scream Freak himself! The group actually had to conjure him into the tent. This was the first time that I have met him and I have to admit with his demonic nature and a bit of a Southern accent I have a bit of a professional crush ;)