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Snake oil has nothing on garden hyperbole

Snake oil has nothing on garden hyperbole

Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 8:01 pm

In my research for the 25, 50, 75 and 100 years ago feature, I find the similarity of the snake-oil peddlers’ newspaper advertising then and similar hawkers of today most interesting. In 1911 there were medicines on the market that claimed to cure virtually every disease known to man, but especially to women. To wit: the latters’ “monthly miseries.” A lot of the claims made then were eventually outlawed. At least I thought they had been. Pick up any magazine today and about a third of it is medicine advertisements, some taking four pages. The first page tells of the miraculous recovery possible by taking some product or other, and the next three pages warn, in miniscule print, of possible side effects. Though lesser of these include relatively benign maladies such as heart attacks or strokes, the most notable is “possible death.” If there is any other product line that can keep up with the pharmaceuticals in outlandish claims, it is the horticulture industry’s offerings. This is nothing new, but one would think that, after 100 years of insulting gardeners’ intelligence something would have been done about the hype that touts a plant that produces potatoes under the ground and tomatoes on top-growth. Another common joke is the Princess Tree, said to grow 15 feet in one year. Again, the devil is in the details and those details are hidden away in some inconspicuous part of the advertisement. The tree is the common Paulownia tomentosa, commonly, and mistakenly, called chinaberry tree here. It does indeed grow 15 feet or more in one year. In the process it produces weak, brittle wood, monstrous leaves that turn to black mush in autumn and, eventually, once it reaches blooming age, bland lavender flowers followed by trashy seedpods that litter up all beneath it. Not a tree anyone would want on their residential property, though the wood of a mature tree is quite valuable. Then there are the yard-long beans that produce, unfortunately, bushels and bushels of edible beans. Edible is not the same as good. You want good beans? Grow the butterpeas my country grandmother raised. Again, there is the doctored-up photo, or even crude artwork, of a man on a 20-foot ladder, picking another big bucket of tomatoes from his “magic” tomato vine, planted last April and, so far, yielding 600 pounds of delicious fruit. You can buy one of those “magic” tomato vines for “only” $5.95, plus, of course, shipping and handling. (A tomato plant retails at your local outlet at about 50 cents, no shipping or handling.) Way back last spring (remember it?) you received in your mailbox several catalogs from bulb companies with special (aren’t they all special?) prices on their fall-planted, spring-blooming bulbs, fully a half-year ahead of planting and shipping time. Their “special” prices were good for only a short period of time. Of course. They can use your money all summer while you dutifully wait for the bulbs to arrive in October. I’ve got news for you. It is not too late to order bulbs today, or a month from now for that matter. If you get snookered by such Madison Avenue holligans, you deserve it. ————— From Poor Willie’s Almanack — A man on about three or four different television channels at 4:30 a.m. said you have 16 pounds of material in your colon with the “consistency of old tires.” It also, he claims, has a foul odor (what else is new?) and by taking his miracle elixir for 2 or 3 months it will get rid of it. My questions: 1. What takes the place of the 16 pounds of matter after it is gone?; and 2. What is the difference in the consistency of old tires and that of new tires? Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column. Published in The Messenger 8.9.11

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