Blogging Tom Thomson style at
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

May 29, 2011

Tom Thomson in front of a lovely blue spruce tree.

My old friend Tom Thomson, who was for years Horticulturist at Humber Nurseries in the Toronto area, is now writing a blog.

Some of my many listeners who used to look forward to the frequent ten minute conversations between Tom and I, first on CFRB, then TALK640, and latterly on AM740, might well be interested in what he has to say about plants on his blog ( ).

Tom tells me it was our mutual friend, garden writer Marjorie Harris, who called him an ‘Iconoclast’ that caused him to call his new blog (it started just last month) ‘Iconoclastic Tom’. When he told me about it I immediately went to it and reviewed the various posts and immediately knew that many of my readers here on would enjoy some of his comments.

Herewith some excerpts from Tom’s blog.

“Croton is a Spurge, a member of the Euphorbia family that provides us with a number of interesting perennials with their diagnostic flowers, Cushion Spurge, Euphorbia polychroma might be called a beginners' perennial, it has showy yellow flowers, is very hardy and easy to grow. Croton, (properly Codiaeum) comes from Brazil and elsewhere in South America. We use it as a house plant mainly for its bizarrely multi-coloured foliage.

“Checking as best I could to find out why it was considered poisonous, I went on the Internet. There was a response to the name Croton but the text immediately started to talk about other spurges, Icicle Spurge and Sun Spurge but not another word about Croton. In the American Medical Association (A.M.A.) Hand-book, Croton is mentioned only once; not as a poisonous plant but included in a list of plants that the general public had called the Poison Control Agency to ask if it was toxic. The office in Miami, Florida reported that they had this question. No it's not.

“Many spurges contain an acrid sap that could cause a blistering rash in some people. A friend who was weeding Sun Spurge by hand and then blew his nose on a tissue, immediately felt a red-hot pain in his nasal passages. Spurges affect some people but not others.

“The one spurge that is totally harmless and yet gets the worse press of all; is the popular Christmas Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima. It had been widely reported that in Hawaii a child had died from eating a Poinsettia. It is a story that should never have been given any credibility whatsoever. Children might gorge themselves on Plum Pudding but not ornamental plants.

“A long time ago when Hugh Downs was the main man on the NBC Today show the U.S. Department of Agriculture would put on an extravagant display of this very colourful Christmas plant. Each year the audience was assured that the story of poisonous Poinsettias was a myth and then to prove his point the presenter would eat one!”

Local Toronto garden broadcaster, John Bradshaw, did much the same at several venues annually and then later talked about it on his radio show.

I’ll quote you from two more of Tom Thomson’s posts. The first is about one of the most useful of deciduous (although a few are evergreen) shrubs, Cotoneaster.

“Cotoneaster has five syllables; not four. The E is pronounced and should carry an umlaut, those two little dots above the letter that are the diacritical marks that tell you to do so; thusly: cotonëaster.

“One other odd thing about Cotonëasters is that they are listed in all nursery catalogues as 'broadleaf evergreens'; more than odd, downright strange as they are not evergreen, not in these (Ontario) climes at least or not any variety that is sold in this area that I am aware of. They do however carry a display of red pomes (fruit) well into winter.

“Cotonëasters are in the Rosaceae family along with Apples, Cherries, Pears and Saskatoon Berries. It would be odd indeed if suddenly one member of this important family was poisonous as is claimed by this mean-spirited list (from Toronto Sick Kids Hospital).

“Supposing all along that Toronto Sick Kids were depending on the A.M.A. Handbook I discover that Cotonëasters are not mentioned; so I don't know where they got their information.

“Patient friends, I'm having lots of fun with the umlaut. I am using Windows 7. I searched for umlaut and the instructions were easy. For the two dots over the lower case e, Hold Alt and type 0235 on the number pad and you get ë. Other codes are there for other vowels in upper and lower case.”

Finally, here is Tom’s post on not only whether Clematis vines are poisonous, but also on the always controversial pronunciation of the genus.

“We do not need to be told that Clematis are toxic. I don't need to know. Parents, children and grandchildren do not need this warning. Eating a Clematis is the furthest thing from my mind. It would never occur to me.

“A physician needs to know that it can cause bloody emesis, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps; that there is initial polyneura, painful micturition and hematuria, which may be followed by oliguria. The folks at Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital should know but also know better than to list this attractive flowering vine as a plant “known to be poisonous to humans” and scare the pee out of everybody. Let us agree with medical evidence that Clematis are toxic but a most unlikely hazard.

“It will be much more fun to argue about the pronunciation of Clematis. Out of habit and long-usage, I say Klem-AH-tiss while I hear others saying KLEM-a-tiss. The fashionable trend in English is to bring the stressed vowel forward; so it probably should be KLEM-a-tiss and for me to be wrong for a change. In a polysyllabic name the stress is best when it lands on the antepenultimate syllable. (I am indebted to Alan Hickman who teaches gardening for much of this.) The ultimate is the last. Penultimate is second to last and antepenultimate the syllable before the second to last. Most times we follow this rule quite naturally as when we speak of an Az-AIL-ee-ah. Rhododendron does not comply with this rule as the stressed vowels are emphasized almost equally. It sounds really awkward when Hemerocallis is forced into the ante-penultimate mould. Hem-err-OH-cal-iss would be a silly affectation that is best when the vowels are treated equally, although I have a tendency to say Hem-err-oh- Kal-iss.

“Bluebells should be Camp-ANN-you-laz not Camp-ann-YULE-az. Sweet Coltsfoot, Petasites sounds best as Pet-AH-sit-ees. It is grating to my ears to hear Ah-ne-moans for Ah-NEM-oh-nees but am now quite used to KLEM-at-iss. Please just don't mess around with Astilbes. I like the way it has always been said and still is.”

Way to go Tom—I’ll be watching for regular updates on your new Blog!

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