The Dissecting Room . . . June 1986
A Guide To Holmesian Horticulture
As anyone with refinement and intellect knows, the study of Sherlock Holmes is the worthiest hobby practiced in our culture today. It is not, however, the most popular. The last we heard, that distinction still goes to gardening.
Statistical evidence would have it that the majority of Sherlockians reading this column either garden, have a spouse or relative who gardens, or have at some time seen a garden on television. For those of you who have not had the personal pleasure of getting topsoil under your fingernails, we offer the immortal words of the Master: "With a spud (that's a spade to you), a tin box, and an elementary book of botany, there are instructive days to be spent. (WIST)
For the rest of you, we offer a strategy for combining two pleasant pastimes, as well as a way to prevent your Sherlockian faculties from wilting in the summer heat. Get your spuds ready, then, as we offer some suggestions for a Sherlockian flower garden.
A good starting point is a rose bush or two, for as Holmes remarked in NAVA, "What a lovely thing a rose isl" The specimen he was admiring at the time was a moss rose (Rosa centifolia moscosa), which bears fragrant pink blooms. Another obvious choice is a wisteria vine, in honor of Wisteria Lodge. And of course a Sherlockian garden, like the Canon, would not be complete without a goodly number of violets.
A close reading of the chronicles will yield other examples of flowers, vines, and flowering shrubs that you may be able to use in your garden-honeysuckle (YELL), myrtle (GREE), and perhaps many more. But if you don't like any of the choices available in the Canon itself, don't give up yet. The nice thing about flowers is that there are so many varieties, with so many poetic names, that it's not difficult to leaf through any fairly comprehensive gardening book and find a host of Sherlockian connections.
There's bachelor's button, for instance, suggesting the well-dressed Lord St. Simon of NOBL. Oriental poppy should bring the opium den of TWIS to mind. Columbine earns its place in the garden through the pseudo-drunken singing of Jefferson Hope as he returned to the murder scene in STUD (Look it up if you don't remember). What better way to represent Professor Coram of GOLD than Russian sage, or Professor Presbury of CREE than monkey flower? And for the weed-infested corner of your garden, some black snakeroot would be a fitting memorial to the late lamented Professor Moriarty.
What of Holmes and Watson -- what can we plant in their honor? The one is easy. Watsonia is a bulbous plant of the iris family, with sword-shaped leaves and red, Dink, or rose-colored blooms. An appropriate selection for Holmes is a bit more difficult; perhaps bee balm, impatiens (describing his frequent attitude toward Watson's deductive powers), or ornamental tobacco would serve.
Start with these suggestions and add more of your own. Select your plants according to climate, availability, and the characteristics of your planting site. Weed, water, and fertilize. The result should be a flower garden that a true Sherlockian can be proud of. If after that you're feeling ambitious and would like to move on to general landscaping, may we suggest an oak or elm (MUSG); a yew alley (HOUN); a privet hedge (NORW); a plane tree, being a type of sycamore (THOR); and, of course, some copper beeches ( Fagus sylvatica 'Cuprea, ' a variety of European beech).
But if all that sounds like too much work, and you still haven't figured out which end of your spud is the handle, you have one more chance. Plain old grass is canonical, too.
(Printed in Plugs & Dottles, June 1986)