Janis Ruksans

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Mon, 08 Oct 2007 08:42:49 PDT
Janis Ruksans was in town yesterday to speak to our local rock gardening
He was to have given two presentations, but it became apparent during the
first that his voice was not going to last; the decision was made to cancel
the second talk. The first, on the bulb collecting areas of the former
Soviet Union, was certainly generous enough. Lots of members went home with
autographed copies of his book Buried Treasures. 

I was particularly lucky this time because I was asked to show Janis around
after the talks; out of consideration to his failing voice, I tried to keep
my chatter to a minimum as I showed him around. The meeting had been held at
the US Botanic Garden which is across the street from the US Capitol; in
other words, we were already surrounded by a million and one things of
potential interest to visitors. But it was an unseasonably hot and humid
October day here, hardly the sort of day to be traipsing around outside.
Janis mentioned, by the way, that Latvia had just come through a June (or
was it a July?) when the high temperature was 17º Celsius! So we opted for
one of the air conditioned art galleries (for anyone interested, there is a
great exhibition of the works of Turner currently running at the National
Gallery, although Janis and I didn’t make it to that one). 

After a bit of picture viewing, we had a long, slow lunch – more opportunity
for bulb talk. Then I dropped Janis off with the Nicolsons, his hosts during
this visit. 

Later that day, the Nicolsons hosted a dinner in his honor, and of course
this provided yet more time for bulb talk. Since everyone at table was a
gardener of one sort or another, and since all of us have traveled, there
were some fascinating discussions of stories we’ve heard (always
second-hand, of course) about the art of bringing undocumented plants (and a
lizard or two) across international borders in these days when even the
ordinary tourist is apt to be subjected to precariously intimate searches.
This discussion became hilariously raucous after a story about a silver
lining associated with mastectomies and the artful simulation of false
pregnancies; not to be outdone, one of the gentlemen mirthfully recounted
some instructions on how to stuff one’s underwear in such a way as to not
only allow the unperceived transport of plants but also to give a very
favorable impression of one’s virility to snoopy provincial inspectors. 

After dinner, a computer was available, so Janis and I sat down and started
looking at pictures. First, I showed him – by way of confirming the names -
some images of arilate irises he had sent me. I sensed that he was pretty
well revived, and before long he volunteered to show the slides from some of
the other presentations he was giving on this tour. The other guests, not
all of them enthusiastic bulb growers, were drifting off by now, but Janis
and my friend Bobbie (my sister mysteriously separated from me at birth; we
are so much alike that we’re convinced that we are brother and sister; we
also decided that Janis is also our long lost brother) stayed for more.
There followed another hour or maybe more of enchanted slide viewing on the
computer: the program Janis has put together on the bulbous irises of
central Asia is the stuff of dreams. I felt a bit guilty about monopolizing
the guest of honor for so long, especially since our hostess, Alice, who is
an enthusiastic grower of choice bulbs, was tied up with postprandial clean
up. I hope I live long enough to see (and to afford!) some of these amazing

I also enjoyed the program on how Janis grows his bulbs. I had seen the DVD
version of this (he provided this last year when he had to cancel because of
his accident); but seeing it again, with Janis sitting beside me and making
lots of comments and answering lots of questions on my part made this a very
special experience. 

Janis is a wonderful resource and a delightful companion.  I hope the other
chapters which have scheduled him have the chance to take full advantage of
all he has to over. And for those of you who will not get the chance to hear
him speak, there is always his new book Buried Treasures. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, 7 where October has morphed
into late July.
My Virtual Maryland Garden http://www.jimmckenney.com/
BLOG! http://mcwort.blogspot.com/
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin http://www.pvcnargs.org/ 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society http://www.potomaclilysociety.org/

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