Miss Snippy Derides Again

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Oh, my aching muscles...

By Wendy Tweten

Once again Miss Snippy feels compelled to put down the trowel, emerge from the herbaceous border, and throw down the gauntlet. Yet another caller to a radio garden show has set Miss Snippy to ranting and waving the secateurs. This time the caller related how she’d recently noticed a strange, scaly growth on the bark of several shrubs in her garden. So, without hesitation—and without reading anything as dull as a pesticide label—she promptly grabbed the first chemical that came to hand and sprayed the entire garden with Malathion.

Now let’s break this down: First of all, the strange growth was no doubt lichen, which, you might remember from one of Miss Snippy’s prior missives, is nature’s benign and interesting little tree decoration. Lichen is a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and (usually) algae. They exist to photosynthesize, not to eat trees. In any case, lichen doesn’t deserve to die, so it’s good that Malathion doesn’t kill it.

The insecticide is, however, great at snuffing out honey bees. Miss Snippy lives in hope that the Malathion will cause the lichen to mutate into a big, fanged freak of nature that feeds upon homeowners who don’t read pesticide labels. Feed me, Seymour, indeed.

Think people; if the baby develops a rash, we don’t run for the cleaning cupboard and douse him in Lysol (at least I hope not). Here’s the drill: 1) find out what you’re dealing with, 2) find out if it’s hurting anything, 3) if forced to take action, choose the least toxic control, and 4) follow label directions.

Anyway, we haven’t yet finished with “Miss Malathion.” When the lichen survived the poisoning, she proceeded to peel it from the branches (I suspect it also bothers her that her garden is full of nasty dirt). “There,” she can say when her beloved azalea—now devoid of lichen —goes to that great compost heap in the sky: “I told you that scaly stuff would kill my plants.” Of course, the poor azalea will have died from having its bark’s cambium layer skinned off along with the tightly-adhering lichen.

The moral is this: when it comes to the garden, a bit of benign neglect is required. Also, some people should stick to plastic plants.

In other matters, here’s something that even a few gardening experts have trouble with: pampas grass. While the plant itself can give plenty of trouble —its saw-edged blades being so sharp that, as a little girl, Miss Snippy’s fingers bled if she so much as looked at them —the problem I refer to here is one of pronunciation. “PAMPAS” rhymes with “stamp us.” The plant is from the South American PAMPAS. It’s not pompous grass. It has nothing to be pompous about. For heaven’s sake…you can’t even touch it.

On the other hand, some plant names, such as wisteria and clematis (even dahlia and tomato, if you’re feeling British), have a spelling that invites more than one pronunciation, either of which is acceptable. If anyone tries to correct you, you have Miss Snippy’s permission to call him or her a pompous something-that-rhymes-with-grass.

The same is true for many botanical names that Miss Snippy sees listed with different pronunciations in different gardening resources (names such as agave, artemisia, ipomoea and gaura, to name only a few).

Botany’s nomenclature is all made up anyway. Botanical Latin isn’t a real language; it’s a mishmash of Latin, Greek, place-names, surnames, etc. So don’t worry about mispronouncing botanical names, but do make an effort with common names such as “pampas” and words like “foliage,” (not “foil-age”…don’t get Miss Snippy started on “foil-age”).

Until next time, gentle readers. Miss Snippy continues to listen to the garden shows with morbid fascination.


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