In the garden…

Ah, the summer garden. A place that both calms and delights, soothes and stimulates.

Even a small garden or a simple window box brings pleasure and lifts the spirit.

The garden is the most accommodating of spaces — perfect for being along, or with others.

A place to read a book or share a cup of tea.

Or to enjoy a special dinner, with candles or little lights.

The garden is a space that reflects the gardener. It can be meditative, exuberant, peaceful — or all three.

Above all, a garden is a place that welcomes — and brings love and beauty into the world.

(All images from Pinterest)

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots are one of summer’s many beautiful flowers. They grow in clusters in varying shades of blue and are almost fairy-like in their daintiness. They are small and unassuming — yet packed with significance.

In my novel The Garden House, the flower, and more particularly, its name, takes on a special meaning. They are related to Miranda and her memories of when her children were young, and are significant to the secondary plot involving the mysterious William Priestly.

In preparation for the new tenant, Miranda plants flowers outside the garden house and then comes inside to clean it. 

Tired, she sat down on the floor, resting her elbows on her knees. Then with a sigh of fatigue she stretched out, the hardwood floor feeling good against her back.

She let her eyes wander over some of the details of her beloved garden house – the Dutch blue of the dresser and window trim, the pillows and curtains she and Clara had made. They had spent so many hours over the years down here – painting, sewing, transforming the run-down garden house into a charming, livable cottage. Clara had loved the profusion of forget-me-nots that surrounded the garden house, and decided to christen the cottage the Forget-Me-Not House. It had seen many tea parties and birthday celebrations, and Clara’s favorite, the fairy parties.

Later, Miranda shows the garden house to William who decides that he will rent it for the summer.

It’s all very comfortable. It feels – ” he looked around for the words to describe it. “It feels like – a real home.”

Miranda laughed. “It is a real home – an extension of the house.” She gazed lovingly at the garden house, the window boxes and potted flowers. “A lot of happy memories here.”

William stepped off the porch and looked at the garden house from a few paces back, clearly admiring it. He noticed the small hand-painted sign nailed above the door, and read, “The Forget-Me-Not House.”

“My daughter named it that when she was little. But somehow we always refer to it as the Garden House.”

Jane Austen and springtime

Spring seems to be the perfect season to read a Jane Austen novel, or one of the many books inspired by her work. Perhaps it’s because her stories end on a hopeful, spring-like note.

Perhaps it’s because milder weather allows the heroines to be out and about more, as with Elizabeth Bennet’s strolls through the spring countryside in Pride and Prejudice,

or Fanny Price in Mansfield Park enjoying a spring day in Portsmouth with its “mild air, brisk soft wind, and bright sun, occasionally clouded for a minute: and everything looked so beautiful under the influence of such a sky,”

or Persuasion’s Anne Elliot “hoping that she was to blessed with a second spring of youth and beauty.”

The fresh beauty of blossom-time and the promise of milder weather are just the right time to reread your favorite Austen book or to discover a new one.

(All images from Pinterest)

The Garden House – early planting

About this time of year I start to think of gardening. I look out at my snow-covered window boxes and imagine them filled with geraniums, petunias, and thousand-bells.

I see my brick steps covered by the latest snowfall and remember the year I filled terra cotta pots with flowers in purple, rose, and blue, one pot for each step, and how happy they made me every time I left or returned home. I look at my little patch of New York City garden, and wonder which annuals I will plant this year, how many I can squeeze in next to the perennials.

My novel The Garden House is set in Seattle, which has a nearly year-long growing season. In such a place, gardeners — such as the book’s main character, Miranda — would already be planting potted flowers and enjoying early blooms.

Potting sheds and garden rooms would be hubs of activity, crowded with tools and pots and packets of seeds, alongside open bags of potting soil and well-used gardening gloves.

However, for those of us still in the heart of snowy winter, a little armchair gardening is just thing to weather the cold.

(all images from my Pinterest boards)

Winter comforts

We all live with stress, disappointments, and worry — especially in these trying times. Yet there are always sources of comfort and beauty close at hand.

It might be something simple you see out your window or on a morning walk:

a winter sky, the designs of snow and ice,

a glimmer of spring in the heart of winter.

Or it might be a sense of warmth and well-being that you create around you:

cooking a favorite meal, or baking a special treat,

simple touches around the house that bring you pleasure,

a fragrant bath at end of day.

And, of course, there is always the satisfaction that comes from reading a good book — the pleasure of learning something new from a non-fiction book,

the joy found in a great work of fiction.

The world abounds in countless comforts and small beauties that nourish the spirit. My wish for you throughout this new year is that you may be surrounded by many.

(All images are from my Pinterest boards.)

May Day

May 1st –Maypoles,

floral wreaths and garlands,

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small vases of first flowers.

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Surprise bouquets.

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Bursts of color.

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“Spring — an experience in immortality.” – Henry D. Thoreau

 

 

January colors and the High Line’s “Four Arches”

Faded grasses, gray skies, a myriad shades of bare branches. The colors of January are, for the most part, soft and muted. Such colors lined the walkway of New York City’s High Line, an elevated park built on an old train line, on a recent early morning walk.

I was struck by how the earthy colors of the leaves and branches blended with the brick of different buildings.

Other times bursts of color stood out, as with the red berries against a bare wall,

the coppery branches set among the evergreens, and a few splashes of yellow.

An unexpected pleasure was coming across one of the “En Plein Air” art installations that enliven the Highline — “Four Arches” by artist Sam Falls.

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A simple walk through the four slender arches provides a subtle thrill, perhaps coming from the delicacy of plant life depicted on the arches. The colors of the painted leaves and flowers blended with the muted quiet of the day. Understated and elegant, the arches seem perfectly situated for the High Line.

The plaque next to the installation explains why the design so resonates with its surroundings. Falls created “four ceramic archways supported by the steel tracks from the High Line’s original railway, each of which is dedicated to a different season in the park. For one year, Falls collected plants from the High Line, embedded them in ceramic, and fossilized them with colorful pigments.” 

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The linearity of the gray steel rails and the painted plant life complement each other in an unexpected way. The artwork is a collection of oppositions: the rails are durable, rigidly straight, industrial and functional; the depictions of plant life are delicate, airy, colorful, organic in shape, and decorative. The nearly hundred-year-old rails contrast with the seasonal ephemeral plants. 

The installation is so slender and unobtrusive that you could easily miss its intricacies, especially when the High Line becomes crowded at midday, or if you are engaged in conversation or taking in the views of the city. From a distance “Four Arches” is one thing — an angular walkway set among the other angles of the surrounding buildings.

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Close up, it becomes a seasonal garden of gorgeous colors and shapes,

full of individual compositions which must have involved countless decisions for the artist: How to present such variety? How best to portray the delicate flowers, leaves, and grasses? Which plants should be placed at eye level, and which will work on the top horizontal beams? How to represent the seasons? Which colors work best together?

“Four Arches” is a welcome garden on a gray January morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hollyhocks – summer’s flower

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“Hollyhocks are the epitome of cottage garden plants…
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Chances are you’ve seen them alongside a barn, in front of a cute cottage-style house, or gracing the front of a white picket fence. This old-fashioned pass-along plant has absolutely caught the hearts of many.” (/www.bhg.com)

 

hollyhocks Nantucket

Alcea rosea, the common hollyhock…was imported into Europe from southwestern China during, or possibly before, the 15th century…From Middle English holihoc (holy mallow).”  (Wikipedia)

As for marigolds, poppies, hollyhocks, and valorous sunflowers, we shall never have a garden without them, both for their own sake, and for the sake of the old-fashioned folks who used to love them. — Henry Ward Beecher

Certain flowers reappear in my book series, Christmastime, especially for scenes set on Kate’s farm in Illinois. Hollyhocks and lavender, in particular, make an appearance during Lillian’s visits to the farm. Below is an excerpt from the final book, which will be available later this year.

Excerpt from Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, from the “Epilogue: Summer 1948”

A beautiful summer day spread over Kate’s farm. A light breeze carried the fragrance of freshly mowed hay, honeysuckle, roses, and tiny green and floral scents released by the sun’s warmth. White butterflies flitted and landed among the flowers, along with a few dragonflies that briefly hovered and then disappeared. A perfect day, thought Lillian. She sat in the shade of the old oak tree, using her watercolors to capture the profusion of hollyhocks that grew alongside the barn.

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Lillian added a few more leaves to the hollyhocks, and then rinsed her brush. She saw Ursula strolling up the country road, returning from one of her solitary walks. Ursula paused to inhale the fragrance of the mass of honeysuckle covering the fence – then she picked one of the small yellow flowers, pinched the bottom off, and tasted the drop of nectar at its base. In her hand she held a bunch of wildflowers.

Ursula walked over to Lillian. “Hello, Aunt Lillian.” She tilted her head to study the painting. “How lovely.”

“I’ve tried to capture their charm,” said Lillian, standing back to view the canvas.

As always, Lillian was struck by Ursula’s beauty that only deepened with the years. Ursula wore a deep blue and purple floral dress that caught the color of her eyes and flowed around her slim figure. Her long hair blew in the summer breeze, revealing her amethyst earrings.

“Simple hollyhocks,” said Ursula. She offered to hold the painting as Lillian gathered her supplies and collapsed the easel. “You’ve captured them exactly – and yet added something. You’ve lifted them and made them even more beautiful. A piece of summer to be treasured.”

Lillian smiled at the comment. “I’ve always loved hollyhocks. An old-fashioned flower. Always leaning towards the sun and blooming in such happiness.” She looked again at the tall stalks abloom with color, tapering off to small buds not yet open. Rising from lush green leaves, flowers of pale pink with dark centers, soft yellow, deep purple, white, bright pink. “Quaint and lovely. Especially growing against the barn like this.”

pink hollyhocks barn

Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, the final book in the Christmastime Series, will be available in the fall.

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Blossom time

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“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

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“April… hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” – William Shakespeare

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“There is no glory in star or blossom till looked upon by a loving eye; There is no fragrance in April breezes till breathed with joy as they wander by.” – William Cullen Bryant

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“Break open A cherry tree And there are no flowers; But the spring breeze Brings forth myriad blossoms.” – Ikkyu Sojun

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“In the cherry blossom’s shade there’s no such thing as a stranger.” – Kobayashi Issa

 

April 2

“The April winds are magical.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

A blossoms table

“Our spring has come at last with the soft laughter of April suns and shadow of April showers.” – Byron Caldwell Smith

birdhouse sunset

Paula’s gift store – Valentines Day

In The Garden House, Miranda’s friend and neighbor, Paula, is the owner of several gift shops. They are filled with vintage jewelry, antiques, and old china from flea markets, garage sales, and estate sales, as well as a few hand-crafted items.

Throughout the year, Miranda contributes wreaths and bouquets from her garden to add to Paula’s displays,

and at certain holidays, like Valentine’s Day, she creates mini-bouquets to be given as gifts.

Valentine’s Day is Miranda’s favorite time of year to shop at Paula’s gift stores. She always discovers some small treasure to add to her home,

or to give as a gift, especially to her daughter, Clara.

Paula’s shops offer a sense of discovery, and delight in adding small touches of beauty to the home.

painted glass bottle