A funny thing has happened with Wicked Plants. It’s turned into a road show. A carnival of sorts. Social networking, nineteenth-century style.
A year before Wicked Plants was released, I was hanging out at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with director Scot Medbury, and I launched into a rant about what I thought botanic gardens ought to do to engage the public.
“You should tell stories!” I said. “This place is so much more that pretty scenery. These plants have a history. A backstory. They have secrets. Some of these plants have been used to commit crimes! They’ve started wars! They tell the story of colonialism, of piracy, of— ”
Well. You get the idea. Off I went. And the next thing I knew, Scot and I were cooking up an idea for an exhibit based on Wicked Plants that did just that—told stories. Human stories. Stories of how we, as a people, have interacted with plants, for better or for worse, throughout our long, checkered history.
What started at Brooklyn Botanic Garden has continued, in one form or another, around the country. The Boerner Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee created a themed plant walk based on Wicked Plants. The Tucson Botanical Gardens just held a winter-long exhibit based on the book, and they even created a fictional character, Dr. Ergot Ratbane, who led visitors through his mad plant laboratory.
And now the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers has opened a summer-long exhibit called Wicked Plants: Botanical Rogues & Assassins. They’ve created this crazy, over-the-top concept for the exhibit: at one end of the gallery, you peer through the windows of a Victorian house and see a man slumped over his wine glass, dead. His wife, the poisoner, is running away. You are in her backyard, where she has been tending a garden of poisonous plants to help her carry out her crimes.
Creepy! Weird! Fabulous! Honestly, as much as I love Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and all that, what I really love is this: People lining up to get a look at the real-life characters the book is based on. Bringing their friends. Asking questions. Telling stories. It’s a circus, and I love that. Some people dream about their book getting made into a movie, but I dream about it getting made into a traveling cabinet of wonders.
And guess what? That’s exactly what’s happening. The North Carolina Arboretum has been building a national traveling exhibit based on Wicked Plants that’s going to hit the road in 2012.
And Wicked Bugs? Looks like there will be some bug carnival action, too. A Wicked Bugs portable exhibit is in the works now.
Meanwhile, I can’t wait to get back to the Conservatory to see how their wicked plants are doing. In the two days I was there, I saw vines creeping up the pipes along the ceiling and flowers coming into bloom. It’s just going to get more lurid and verdant as the weeks go by. I’ll be back at the Conservatory on June 1 and again on October 6, and horticultural mystery writer Rosemary Harris will be there on May 4. Hope to see you there!
—Amy Stewart, author