May 1st –Maypoles,
floral wreaths and garlands,
small vases of first flowers.
Bursts of color.
“Spring — an experience in immortality.” – Henry D. Thoreau
Lately, I’ve been thinking about a movie I’ve always loved, Enchanted April, based on the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. I remembered that I had bought the book a few years ago and decided to read it — and watch the movie again. Set shortly after WWI, the story is about two women who are unhappy with their dreary, loveless lives in rainy London.
After seeing an advertisement for “Wisteria and Sunshine,”
they become filled with the dream of renting a villa in Italy for the month of April.
The impetuous Lotty convinces her friend Rose to make the dream a reality.
They find two other women, who are also dissatisfied with their lives, to join them in order to help lessen the cost, and set off for Italy.
A month of strolling through the terraced hillsides, enjoying the rocky shore, dining al fresco, and resting in the tranquility of the gardens enables their spirits to heal.
The result is a reawakening to life, love, beauty, and newfound friendship .
To “wisteria and sunshine,”
and to healing the spirit.
The novel The Garden House is set in the Pacific Northwest, with most of the action occurring in Seattle. Other books in the fledgling series might be set on the Oregon coast, or perhaps the San Juan Islands, or even — if shop owner Paula gets her way — the flea markets of Paris.
I lived in Seattle for seven years and I visit my sister in Oregon once or twice a year. I’m always struck by the breathtaking beauty of the landscape.
One of the things I love most about the Pacific Northwest is that spring arrives so early in the year.
As I thrill at the inch-high green shoots of crocuses in my tiny garden patch, I imagine The Garden House’s main character, Miranda, already surrounded by spring’s beauty.
I see her out in her garden on a cool morning holding a steaming cup of tea, or on her hands and knees, turning the soil to plant a box of pansies or brushing aside a few dried leaves to uncover a cluster of grape hyacinths.
Or just sitting quietly on a garden bench, taking in the colors and scents of early spring.
The winds were wild the day you died
Pear blossoms scattered like snow.
First green tipped the thin tree branches
And your redbud flowered in purple.
Cold wind and sunshine embraced us
As we crossed from house to house.
And the grass and hedge surrounding your yard
Shone in an emerald green.
I knew you had a hand in it –
Delighting in the April glory.
A day of beauty and laughter
When Heaven touched Earth in joy.
“The snow has not yet left the earth, but spring is already asking to enter your heart.”
“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.” – Ernest Hemingway
“That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.”
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus
“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” –Percy Bysshe Shelley
In my novel The Garden House, the main character, Miranda, often takes a cup of tea out into her beloved garden and curls up on a bench as she takes in the beauty of her flowers. Her garden offers both solace and pleasure. It’s the perfect place to read a good book, to visit with a friend, or to sit quietly and enjoy the simple tranquility of nature.
“Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company” ~Author Unknown
“Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things.” ~Saki
“Tea is quiet and our thirst for tea is never far from our craving for beauty.” ~James Norwood Pratt
“You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ~C.S. Lewis,
“Where there’s tea there’s hope.” ~Arthur Wing Pinero
A story of love, family, and home set among the lush summer evenings of Seattle. When Miranda rents out her garden house to a mysterious new tenant, she begins to have disturbing dreams that someone is in danger. Is it mid-life crisis? Empty-nest syndrome? Or is something sinister lurking right outside in her beloved garden? There’s only one way to find out.
“Enchanting, beautiful and heartwarming.” – Amazon review
“I was completely swept away by this tale.” – NetGalley review
“A thoughtful narrative with a mystery at its heart.” – Goodreads review
“Inspiring, romantic and suspenseful.” – Amazon review
Passages from The Garden House
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.
[Miranda] loved every section of her garden, but this shadier and damper part always stirred in her a feeling of tenderness. It grew thick with hosta and ferns, and perennials that didn’t need much care – patches of bleeding hearts and shy lily-of-the-valley.
Paula stood and held up a potted flower. “Just look at this clematis – it’s as big as a saucer.” Miranda reached out to touch the pale purple flower. “It’s beautiful.”
A sigh released from deep inside. Home. She was home and everything would be all right.
Filling her arms and basket, Miranda carried the flowers and greenery into the house, and spread them out on the kitchen table. Then she began arranging the flowers in vases and jars, and floating them in glasses and bowls.
Miranda led the way to the lower garden, where the tree-like rhododendrons and lower azaleas formed a sort of double wall.
Amazon Link: http://a.co/6NUjTZI
(All images are from my Pinterest boards)
Though most of the scenes in the Christmastime series (WWII stories of love and family that take place on the home front) occur in the month of December, there are a few flashbacks to spring, summer, and fall. The final book in the series, Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, will have two scenes that take place in the previous spring.
I often imagine what the rural scenes might look like — sometimes drawing on the memories of growing up in small-town Illinois. (A few years ago I took the photo below of a farm outside of town. The tractor had plowed all around the dilapidated house, leaving the poignant patch of history.)
Other times I search for images on Pinterest that to help set the rural tone — a few early spring flowers that bloom along the fences and in the meadow,
or signs of spring in the barnyard and nearby trees.
And always, I imagine the interior scenes that take place with Kate and her daughters, Ursula and Jessica —
warming up with a cup of tea in the farmhouse kitchen, a blanket reached for against the chill spring nights, a few notes plucked on the piano, the comforts of a hot bath and lavender-scented sheets after a long, hard day.
Life on the farm was hard, especially during the WWII years, but Kate and her daughters made sure to enrich their day-to-day living with small beauties and the comforts of home.
Amzaon Link: http://a.co/bZvcQIt
To be released later this year: Christmastime 1939: a prequel to the Christmastime series and Christmastime 1945: A Love Story.
March came in like a lion, roaring and pouncing upon us with several snowstorms. After yesterday’s March Nor’easter #4, the world this morning appeared soft and white, with the fences and tree branches outlined in snow.
Some of the trees looked like cotton bushes — fluffy white, and light as air. As if you could pluck a bunch of snow, stretch it thin, and spin it into cloth.
And yet — once spring has officially arrived, and April is close at hand, no one wants to hear about how beautiful the snow is. They’re ready for color and a bit of warmth, for signs of growth in the garden, and the first touch of green on the trees.
I’ve found a hint of spring in my garden in the small cluster of crocuses and a few green spears of hyacinth leaves — a welcome sight. All it takes is a bit of color to assure us of the promise of spring.
I love the irises I come across growing along old fences, or inside a garden, in different stages of unfurling: some still in tightly bound spears with tips of saturated color, others gracefully opened in full display. Like peonies and other spring flowers, their relatively brief appearance creates a sort of urgency to appreciate them before they disappear with the season.
Irises always remind me of a visit to my hometown many years ago. On a walk through the side streets, I came upon a small house with a startling burst of color alongside a fence. From a thick row of slender green blades bloomed bunches and bunches of irises — tall and elegant, in colors of ethereal blue, dusky mauve, yellow, and combinations of royal purple and apricot, white and watercolor rose, lavender and deep gold. I had to step closer to marvel at the rich array, so casually crowded along the fence.
The owner of the house, an elderly woman with a warm smile, caught me admiring her flowers and offered to show me her garden in the back of the house. It was even more breath-taking — tucked away from view, full of winding brick paths and interesting details set among gorgeous flowers. It must have taken her years to create such a work of art. When I told her how much my mother would love the garden, she graciously welcomed us to stroll through it whenever we wanted, even if she wasn’t at home. I had the feeling that the woman’s generosity and kindness came from the same internal place as her desire to create the beautiful garden — a place that takes pleasure in life and wants to add to the world’s beauty. I brought my mom back later that day, and the delight she took in the garden remains etched in my mind long years since.
I’ve often thought of that May garden, and wondered how many other secret gardens there are in my town, and in the cities I have lived in, and the places I have visited. How many people create works of beauty for the sheer joy and pleasure they bring? How many so freely and graciously offer their efforts to passers-by in patches of flowers, or window boxes trailing with color, or in potted blooms in front of a house? Like the best parts of ourselves, flowers require tending to be coaxed into being, to be nourished with love and sunlight and weeding and watering. The result is a sort of two-way gift that is offered back to the world in a communication beyond words.
Over the weekend, I took out my terracotta pots and planted them with rose and purple stock, pink geraniums, and scarlet carnations, and set them on my steps just outside the door.