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“Occupy Green Street.” Satire on a garden catalog cover

Tree Nursery, Closter, New Jersey, 1924. John Marin, American Metropolitan Museum)

Once upon a time, I used to pore over garden catalogs. They arrived in the mail early every year, full of promises.  (One rose plant catalog scented its glossy pages hoping to fuel sales.) By the time Tony Avent’s Plant Delights Nursery set up business in 1988, my interests had changed.

Mr Avent’s nursery sells perennials and wildflowers. Here is its mission statement:

Plant Delights Nursery is a retail mail order nursery that serves as the public face of Juniper Level Botanic Garden. Our mission is to discover, study, select, preserve, and make available new hardy perennial plants for both shade gardens and sun gardens around the world. Since 1994, we have taken over 65 botanical expeditions and sponsored many more, both domestic and worldwide in our quest for great new plants. While we offer over 1600 different perennials at any one time, this represents only about 10% of our living plant collections.

What has brought Plant Delights Nursery into the news comes from its owner’s habit of putting satirical cartoons on the cover of his catalogs, instead of the typical photographs of brightly-colored blossoms.

Several have stirred at least mild controversy and earned the occasional mention in national media. Past titles include “Garden Jihad,” “Gitmo Plants” and “Securing Our Borders.”

The latest, titled “Occupy Green Street”, has a Wizard of Oz theme, with several politicians and public figures included. What’s fueling the outrage is the depiction of former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky as the Cowardly Lion in hot pursuit of three boys down the yellow brick road while a certain now-deceased head coach is on the sidelines dressed as the Scarecrow. Penn State officials are investigating the cover, looking for copyright infringement (although the cartoon has been altered to remove the blue and white oval on the Lion’s side), and various Nittany Lion alumni are threatening boycotts and posting negative messages on the nursery’s facebook page.

Avent says the real problem is that they don’t understand satire.

“They’re just nutcases,” he said. “That’s the thing about doing satire – people have to be smart enough to understand it, and these people are angry about everything. They’re angry at Sandusky, they’re angry at the university trustees, they’re angry at the police. And now we’re caught up in that.”

Now if I could just find a place for a few hostas or hellebores…

(And Mr Avent has created a special facebook page where people can comment as much as they wish.)

  • Douglas Hoskins

    The information in the article was out of date at publication. Indeed, the cover on the Plant Delights website no longer shows the picture you’ve described – changes began on 2/24 and were complete on 2/27.
    Mr Avent made the changes to the cover, after some discussion, out of respect for Coach Paterno and his family, and to make the satirical intent regarding child abuse a bit more clear.

    1. Paterno’s face was removed from the scarecrow
    2. The satirical version of the PSU logo was removed from the lion.
    3. A link to RAINN’s (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) website

    More details can be found in this article and the comments.
    http://www.centredaily.com/2012/02/25/3103096/catalogs-satire-lost-on-many.html

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