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From Godmother Python's Bestiary of Wonderful Flowers: Vice Gardens

by Susannah Mandel

The Vice Garden, as many gardeners know (and many more do not), is commonly found tucked into the corner of a temple or monastery’s vegetable plot.

Unlike the sections put on show to the inquisitive public, the Vice Garden is reserved strictly for the use of the monastic community. While the species commonly found here (e.g., the fameflower, the beauty bush; loosestrife; rue) may seem out of place in such a setting, the abbots have a purpose for everything.

Consider, for example, the fameflower (genus Talinum, numerous species). These plants bear small, star-shaped blossoms of a pleasant, if unassuming, lavender or pink. Their leaves are thick, fleshy, and, in some species, edible. The various cultivars of the fameflower have long been prized in certain kinds of “social magic,” mainly in spells intended to attract renown or to enhance personal prestige. (Effects that have largely, in the past, been handled through summoning demons; the herbal approach is considered more ecologically friendly, and avoids questions of exploitation.)

As one might expect, the cultivars found in Vice Gardens are of the less potent varieties. Most commonly, according to the closely-guarded gardening books of the Abbots (to which, nonetheless, Godmother Python has her methods of access), their flowers, when picked and eaten in salad, create the mere hallucinatory illusion of being famous and well-known.

The theory of the Abbots is this: once the vivid tactile fantasies -- which include the usual accoutrements of fame, including its opportunities for sexual and chemical overindulgence -- have run their course and worn off, their users will awaken having been reminded why they decided to retire from the world in the first place. The principle, as the informed reader will recognize, is that of aversion via over-indulgence.

There are, of course, some among the cynical who raise questions about the uses to which the fameflower is actually put. On the other hand, in line of defending the monks, one might mention a secondary use of the plant – one with, perhaps, more convincing benefits to a melancholic initiate. This takes the form of a salad composed from the plant’s leaves alone.

When consumed, it invokes no fantasies of overindulgence; no hallucinations tactile or otherwise. Instead, it has the mere and simple property of convincing the eater that -- however isolated one’s cloister may be, on whatever far-flung mountaintop or spumey sea island -- out there in the world, however far away, somebody, somewhere, knows your name.


Nice story, Susannah. I was wondering where you were going with it.

Posted by: clelie rich | May 4, 2009 4:16 AM

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