Saturday, May 16, 2015

Happy (belated) Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

Swallowtail on pink verbena
Corsican Violets
I didn't know until this morning that yesterday, May 15th, was Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. I follow several garden blogs, mostly to ogle the gorgeous photos and to hunt for ideas. Two of my favorites are Rock Rose and Digging. I started my garden this spring from scratch. I mean there was absolutely nothing but native grasses, kidneywood and sumac, a few gorgeous old liveoak trees, a handful of redbuds, cedar, (ashe juniper) and rocks. Did I mention the cedar and the rocks? I've always gardened by the seat of my pants. Sort of the way I do everything, raising my kids, writing, cooking ... a pinch of this and a tablespoon of that, then stand back and see the result. Modify when necessary.

Monarda & Agastache
With this garden endeavor, though, I did try to apply a few things I've learned the hard way. I cleared out most of what I didn't want--the rocks, cedar, and other assorted misplaced greenery--and added hardscaping, first. David (my son and cohort in gardening crimes) used some of the cedar and some of the rock to build fencing, arbors, pergolas and walls, laying in the bones, at least as many of them as I've envisioned to date. Due to the slope of the land, the foundation for my garden shed had to be really high in front, 3 feet. I studied that for many months before finally deciding to dry stack stone walls and backfill them, essentially raising the garden beds to hide the slab. I've wondered since if I would have been just as happy leaving the beds ground level but that's gardening water under the bridge. Anyway, once the hardscaping was in place, and a few trees were planted down what I call the hell strip, which is basically a wide strip of land left bare by construction, David and I went shopping for plants. Austin has some fantastic nurseries. Hill Country Water Gardens, The Natural Gardener, Backbone Valley Nursery, and Barton Springs Nursery are a few. I'm not sure how many trips we made to each nursery or how many red wagons we filled. A lot! I could never have planted up the beds and the hell strip so quickly without David's help. He dug the holes and then helped me pop in the plants along with healthy doses of micorrhizal fungi and an organic, molasses-based fertilizer that we got at Hill Country Water Gardens.

David Austin - old rose: Munstead Wood
Natives & various succulents
Previously, I gardened in Zone 9A and dealt with hot humid summer days when the air lay on the garden like a damp blanket. Winters were often wet and mild but temps could plunge. Here in my Zone 8B garden, although it's not so far away, the climate is really different. I'm in the country so it seems there's always a breeze, everything from lightly ruffling to gale force. Although summer days are hot, the air is dryer. So far, I haven't lost plants due to fungus infestations the way I did in my Zone 9 garden. David knows nearly everything there is to know about building soil, so I'm sure his schedule of amendments, a couple of different fungal teas he brews, are part of why the roses, clematis, oak leaf hydrangeas, daylilies, phlox, bearded irises--essentially the fussier things I've planted in my raised beds--seem to be flourishing. Everything planted down the hell strip, all the drought tolerant toughies: assorted salvias, penstemons, rudbeckia, various sedums, agaves, assorted cacti, native daisies, betony, lavendar, rosemary and agastache looks good so far, too. Between the stones David laid to mark a wide path down the hell strip, I've put in a mix of smaller toughies: delospermas, assorted succulents including a favorite of my mother's, hens and chickens, tiny ground-hugging thymes, wooly veronicas, erodiums, dianthus and lilac flowered germander.

Dianthus & bearded iris
There are still bare spots everywhere, where things will have to grow some to fill in. The arbors and pergolas are naked, waiting for their respective dresses of passion vine, pink jasmine, sweet autumn clematis and climbing roses to cover them, and some perennials haven't exactly taken off like the verbascum and the strawberry foxglove. I've been warned those, along with my mophead hydrangeas I brought from my old garden and the lilac my sister shared with me, won't do here. Every time I hear that, though, I get my stubborn on and plant it anyway. I have to try. I do have a rule: if I kill it three times, I'm done. And sometimes I even follow it!

I'm cautiously optimistic, so far. Of course, it's only May. I'm waiting for August. How will it look then? Burned up? Gone to the grasshoppers? Who knows! I'll post as things progress.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Just do something! What writing and gardening have in common.

Recently, as I finished a final round of edits on CROOKED LITTLE LIES, my novel that is coming out shortly from Amazon/Lake Union, I was also putting in the major elements of the garden that has been in the planning stages since I moved out to the country a year ago, and I was thinking how similar the two occupations are. Either undertaking begins with a thought, an idea, an image, some whisper of something that sends you out the door or to the desk. Notes are jotted down. Sketches are made. Plans are put into action. Sometimes you hit a wall. Out here in the country, in particular, where there aren’t the usual parameters, like sidewalks, driveways and privacy fences, to define the area, I’m often stumped. How far should I take the limestone dry-stack wall? What, exactly, should the cedar rail fence with its adorable peaked arbor encompass? I go outside and stare, trying to decide. It’s very like sitting at my computer, wondering which way to take a plot or a character in a story.

Gardener’s block and writer’s block have a lot in common. There’s a certain despair, rising levels of frustration and anxiety. I can almost see this little person in my head pacing the floor, wringing her hands. Until a voice speaks up, yelling: Just do something! In the case of writing it means type a sentence even if it’s gibberish. In the garden, it might mean getting a few rocks, adding them to the existing wall and stepping back to evaluate. Or it might mean digging up that entire clump of daylilies, because they’re in the wrong place. It can get complicated with crafting a story, too, requiring of anything from ripping out an entire plotline to totally changing an ending.

Built from cedar harvested on the property, this little arbor
 in January looks pretty bare, but it has lots of potential.
And the two processes also share similarities in the method by which either one is created. Both start with good bones. In the garden, I begin with hardscaping, a wall, a length of fence, statuary or a pergola—some focal point to build around. In story writing I begin if not with a fully fleshed synopsis then at least I will have the bones of an idea. And in either case, for me, anyway, the bones need to be strong and compelling. I need an ocean’s worth of enthusiasm, because either way, I‘m going to be lost in this muddy, unknown territory for awhile. Either project is going to take time to complete, and there are bound to be setbacks, small heartbreaks and jabs of disappointment, never mind the odd bouts of confusion, the times I grope around wondering wondering where I am. It’s as easy to garden your way into a corner, as it is to write your way into one. 

But there is one difference between the two occupations, one that I discovered only now, as I sent CROOKED LITTLE LIES back to my lovely editor for the last time. I went outside to the garden, my go-to place. It’s always been my sanctuary even as it can be the greatest source for distress, and as I
This is Sophia, my beautiful garden muse,
found this spring. 
was looking over results of my early spring efforts so far, and feeling impatient that the perennials are so small, that the shrubs haven’t filled in, that the trees will need their canvas-strap supports for another six months and I hate how it looks, the word STOP! popped into my head. A voice continued: You’re missing it, the beauty now. The beauty of beginning, of watching something grow. It often happens that I’ll hear this voice, my higher self, the one that knows how to find the joy in life. And I’m so grateful for it, to have cultivated it so it’s usually louder than the voice of my frustration. It’s this voice, what I’ve come to think of as the voice of my joy, that sees me through the hard places in life. It’s there whenever I care to listen no matter what I’m doing, and definitely whether I’m writing or gardening. But back to the difference between them, standing in the garden that day, while I did slow down and let my vision fill with the beauty that is already in evidence, that little voice spoke up again to whisper that while the book was finished, the garden, like so many other gardens I’ve begun in my lifetime, never will be done. I will always walk outside and see something I want to do there. In fact, I will quite possibly die thinking of the phlox or some other clump of whatever flowers, how tomorrow I will move them as they have overgrown their place in the border. And perhaps that is a garden’s value, that one is never finished conspiring with nature over its creation. It comforted me, even elated me, having that thought. And I guess it does share a similarity with writing after all. I can’t see how I’ll ever be finished with conjuring plots, either, for the characters that continue to get up and walk around in my head.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A bouquet of good news

I am thrilled to announce that the publication date for my latest novel has been moved up from the fall of 2015 to July 21, 2015!

Since before Christmas, I’ve been in revision mode, working long hours and so absorbed that there have been days when I scarcely registered the sweep of the sun. I would look up and notice it was dark. The work has been intense, but I love it. There’s something magical to me in the editing process especially when you have expert guidance, which I do in my lovely editor, Tara Parsons. With the input from her lighting my imagination, the story has taken on added nuance and layering. Everything about the characters, pacing and plot has become fuller and richer until the story is real to me. I often dream about the characters or find myself wondering if they’re okay now, and on the heels of such a thought, I’ll be startled to remember these folks are figments of my imagination. And that’s the second bit of good news. The revision is done!

Anyway, after being in the tunnel so to speak with this project all this time, I was elated to learn how quickly it will be out in the world. Just in time to slip into your beach tote. I’ve said it before and can’t help saying it again that I can’t wait to share this book with you!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Telling secrets

Oh, I've been keeping this one for so long it's been killing me! I have a new book coming out in the fall of 2015 from Lake Union Publishing. Tentatively titled ANYWHERE BUT HERE, the story asks this question: How well do you know your own mind? What if your family is convinced you're losing it? Maybe you want to believe it's not you, it's them. But how can you be sure? It's very scary when your reality, the life and routine you share with people you love begins to dissolve and become unreliable like a dream or a watery reflection. Then your sister shares her shocking secret, one that fits together the pieces of the mystery that has haunted you. It all makes sense now, and that is only the beginning of your nightmare.

I can't wait to share this novel with the world! And to add to my joy, I'm working with Tara Parsons. I got to know Tara when she was with Mira, and I'm excited to be working with her on this project at Lake Union. Heartfelt gratitude to her and to my lovely agent Barbara Poelle for everything she does, and a heartfelt thank you to readers of my books and all books everywhere. If it were not for you, my dream job wouldn't exist.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

3 novels you won't want to miss

I’ve read 3 good books just recently, all different and so good I have to share. 

Who could resist this cover, and I can tell you for sure that the story inside more than delivers on its sweet promise. Hello Love by Karen McQuestion is a heartwarming and poignant story with engaging characters that had me smiling around the lump of worry in my throat. I always admire when a story does that, makes you laugh and fight tears.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is a new author for me, but her novel, Take Me With You won’t be the last that I read. The story about a man sentenced to jail for the summer as the result of driving under the influence and the unusual bargain he makes with another man regarding the care of his two young sons is different and makes for a very compelling read.

The Missing Place, Sophie Littlefield’s latest is just flat-out good suspense. Two young guys go missing from their oil rig jobs in the booming fields of North Dakota and two moms, polar opposites of one another, combine unlikely forces, putting themselves in jeopardy, to find them. I read this in nearly one sitting, heart aching and hopeful for these families, and the suspense never stopped until the final page.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The sky is so much bigger out here....

I was outside on my knees in the dirt, building a retaining wall out of rock harvested from the property for the planned front garden of the story house when I heard the geese. A fiddly breeze lifted sounds to me: a barking dog, the drone of a small-engine plane, the faint base notes of the music Chris and David listen to when they work--and then the geese. I heard them before catching sight of them. Their song brought me to my feet, had me backing up, scanning the sky that was in late afternoon a shade of endless blue. The geese came over the roof peak, their flight pattern a wishboned white ribbon limned in shades of gray and silver. I was lost, watching, hearing their ancient cries. In awe, not thinking in words, really, of the eternality of their ritual, but feeling it more as a resonation ... that it has gone on since time began and will continue long after I am gone. Seeing them, hearing them, never fails to touch some basic note within me, one that is as deep as bone, deeper even, and I understand, if only in that moment, the concept that is inherent in the word "eternal" and all else, all other noise, whatever there is of strife, is stilled. I feel joined to them and to the sky and the breath of the breeze that is from the very air that we--the geese and I--share.

This poem, from Mary Oliver, is one of my favorites. That line: Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air. . . 

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Monday, November 3, 2014

It's curtains until spring

Today is a blowy day in the hill country. The sky is leaden, heavy with clouds. The wind whistles around the potting shed's corners. It's swept the porch clean, saving me the trouble. It carries David's and Chris's voices, up the hill from where they are working on David's house, the whinny of a horse, the cry of the hawk that's circling, riding the thermals, likely hunting, too. A front is predicted to move through in the next day or so, bringing rain and the colder breath of real fall. Somehow, out here, I feel it more than I did when I lived farther south. It's as if the wind is giving me notice to prepare, to brace myself.


The wind has made me think of curtains. I've left the windows of my little garden shed bare on purpose, open to the expanse of sky, the sweeping, tree-softened landscape ... a distant ridge of hills. While the weather was warm, I didn't mind it when night fell black against the windows. It was a thrill to look out and wonder at the moon sailing high amid the scattered luster of stars, so many stars. But now, somehow with winter coming on, I have ... not a wish, exactly, more like an instinct to cover the glass, closing out the wind and the night that falls so early. Even to see the cold face of the moon is not so compelling as the desire to feel tucked in, warm and snug. How it is that a wisp of fabric accomplishes all of that is beyond me, but it does. Curtains. In winter, its curtains ... until spring, I think....