This shall be a long, long post, I can tell. I don’t often rant, but this hits me in three of my tender spots: as a gardener, a writer, and an intelligent and literate person. I got this…thing in the mail the other day. I’m pretty sure more experienced gardeners would have known to throw it away once they saw the name–Jerry Baker–at the top, but I’m still pretty new to this, especially the literature, and I picked it up. It provided half an hour’s amusement for Eric and me, but now it’s haunting me, like the memory of a grisly book or movie that passed my tolerance levels on gore, and I must disgorge it to have any peace. I’m hoping to bribe my stepsister-in-law with Asian pears (we have a good crop, and she discovered a passion for them last year) to help me dig up the potatoes I’ve neglected, so maybe there will something less vitriolic over the weekend.

I don’t even know where to start, come to that. “The writer must have been paid per alliteration”? “I would boycott whichever seed catalog sold my address to them, if I could find out which”? “I don’t want to know if this thing actually sold copies of the book because it would lower my estimate of the average intelligence in the US”? “I could do better”? “The only better deterrent to buying this thing would be a statement reading ‘Proceeds from your purchase will go towards the McCain/Palin campaign, the Creation Museum, and the Society for People Who Don’t Wipe Their Seats in Public Restrooms'”?

This could be your LAST ISSUE! the cover blared at me from the top of our mail pile. Moles driving ya’ (sic) nuts? Weeds gone wild? Sick of slugs? Never fear…JERRY’S HERE!

It was as thick as a small catalogue, or possibly a small magazine, which was clearly what the designer intended. Inside was a table of contents. “Fabulous Flowers” was one: “Yours will bloom their fool heads off if you use wine, ammonia, and steel wool……page 10.”

There’s a letter (purportedly) from Jerry himself, complaining first that “anyone and everyone is calling himself a garden ‘expert’.(sic)” That “most of them are spoon-fed scripts by scores of writers who rip-off (sic) experts like me. That’s right, they couldn’t tell a dazzling dahlia from a withering weed.” The rest of it exhorts the reader to buy his new book, which was actually mildly helpful because none of the rest of the ad clearly states that that’s what’s being sold. It’s just inference, from all the “continued on page X!” endings. Or maybe I was so blinded by each page that I was unable to discern.

The amount of alliteration in this thing was staggering. “Big-time brew banishes brown patch!” “Annihilate aphids with ‘great guns’–of garlic, that is!” “Bust blight with my baking soda solution.” “Towering Trees and Super Shrubs.” “Varmints victimizing your veggies?” And terrible old puns: “These big berries ‘leaf’ others in the dust!” “Fungus amongus your flowers?” “Oh, deer–be gone! This egg-ceptional tonic stops ’em cold.” “Miracle Mum Booster! My mums are always so doggone pretty. The secret? Dog food, oatmeal, and…”

As a perfectly literate consumer, the noticeable and completely inconsistent use of dropped Gs and ’ems and colloquialisms–“I mean they’re simply deeeelish!” turned me off very quickly–if the saturated italics and underlining and highlighting hadn’t already. I understand that emphasizing important elements of a sales pitch is a good technique, but when there are ten emphasized elements on each page I feel shouted at, not persuaded or informed.

A testimonial in the letter is written in exactly the style of the rest of ad: dropped Gs, alliteration, and all. This alone makes me completely disbelieve the veracity of anything in this ad. (Eric had a comment on part of another satisfied-customer description, “Bill and Carole never tire of the shocked expressions on their neighbors’ faces when they tell them they spray beer, tobacco juice, or urine on their yard.” His comment was, “Given the choice between urine and beer, why would they ever choose beer?”)

I haven’t even gotten to the content yet. This was, I eventually figured out, an ad for a book, Terrific Garden Tonics. The second-page insert (offering a second book, Garden Magic, which from the pictured cover seems to have exactly the same content) describes it as “the greatest Jerry Baker book of all time.” When I found the mail-in card at the back, I found–in addition to being expected to reply “Sure, Jer!” as an affirmative–note he isn’t called Jer anywhere else in the ad–that a) I’m expected to pay in “four installments of only $7.69 each” and b) it’s the first in a series. I’m not so convinced that this is the greatest Jerry Baker book of all time when he’s coming out with another. Either the next one will be inferior and there’s no point in having it, or they’re lying about this one.

The main part of this ad is 35 pages (not counting the front and back) of little blurbs. They’re teasers of home remedies, basically, and there may be 345 tonics in this book but most of the ingredients in the ad were repeated over and over: dishwashing liquid, pepper/hot sauce, milk, flour, vinegar, oil. Also beer, vodka, bourbon, and whiskey. Apparently it’s impossible to be a good gardener–or at least America’s Master Gardener®–without a fully stocked liquor cabinet.

Some of the combinations certainly make sense: bone meal and blood meal for bulbs, for instance, and Epsom salts as fertilizer. On the other hand, I’m going to need convincing to accept that sugar is going to help trees grow, considering sugar isn’t absorbed through roots. On the same page, dishwashing liquid is advertised both as a way to get rid of thatch and as an energizing tonic for trees (with beer). Ammonia is used both to help kill weeds and to make flowers bloom. “It’s the kissin’ cousin to corn syrup” is not a sufficiently rigorous scientific proof to conclude “so it’s safe.” (Also, if it’s the kissing cousin of corn syrup isn’t it also the kissing cousin of corn, which I’d think would be even safer? The material in question is corn gluten.)

I don’t see them being necessarily cheaper than more conventional methods, either (or those new-fangled ones like, say, compost). I don’t buy alcohol, but is bourbon really cheaper than plant food? (Or used coffee grounds, which is listed somewhere in there.) And not all households are going to have a lot of these ingredients–like dog food. I suppose with 345 to choose from it’s not a big deal.

My God, I’ve got a headache just reading through this thing again to quote things accurately. Who’s the poor writer who was forced to write in this style? Or was it his or her own style? That might be worse. I’m going to hope it was Jerry himself. This gives me further incentive to avoid the book, if I should ever happen to see it, but releases him from the charge of forcing this kind of copy from a writer’s hands, and I’m generous like that–I’d like to think better of him than that. Maybe his marketing team did it. All I know is, I hope they’ll make good on their promise that this is my last issue.

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