Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Revelation on megabus and the 9 plants of desire

I was given the book Hothouse Flower and The 9 Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin to review. The publisher's synopsis is:

Lila Nova is a thirty-two year-old advertising copyrighter who lives alone in a plain, white box of an apartment. Recovering from a heartbreaking divorce, Lila’s mantra is simple: no pets, no plants, no people, no problems. But when Lila meets David Exley, a ruggedly handsome plant-seller, her lonely life blossoms into something far more colorful. From the cold, harsh streets of Manhattan to the verdant jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula, Hothouse Flower is the story of a woman who must travel beyond the boundaries of sense and comfort to find what she truly wants.

I'm going to talk about my own personal take. I enjoyed the book overall; it was an engaging, quick read. I read the first half on megabus on the way to Chicago and the second half at the Lurie Garden in Chicago.

In fact, I left the book tucked in some calamint at the Lurie when I was done, hoping it would make a nice surprise for someone else.

I liked how the book tied people's love of plants to their growth as people. I was amazed by how much in the book resonated with me and was struck by how many quotes really hit home.

One of the characters thought technology was superior to the natural world, and that nature was useless. When Lila's cell phone battery oozed and disintegrated in the jungle, she thought "The old nature kicked the new nature's ass." It reminded me of a caption to a photo a friend once took of grasses growing over an old tractor: "When the works of nature cover the works of man, that's progress."

In one scene Sonali tells Lila, "Once you make a decision, you must stop thinking about it and take action without any regret toward the outcome, regardless of that outcome" (emphasis mine). In other words, once you make a decision, don't waste time and energy focusing on what if. Own the decision. This really, really hit home and was just what I need to hear right at that very moment.

Sonali continued, "Regrets are for people who believe they could have done something differently. If you think carefully about your actions, and then you act, you will have no regrets because you will know that you were as careful as possible when you made the decision."

It was also cool to find out my last name is part of the Spanish word for seeds, semilla.

I really liked Armand and Sonali's deep love and passion for one another. It was nice to see such depth of feelings between older, outside-of-the-norm, squishy-around-the-middle people. That true love is not only reserved for the young, hot, and fit.

I also liked the idea of flower versus root people, with root people "drawn to the darker side of things, the underground or unseen aspects." I'm definitely a root person.

I love Diego's take on people losing their personal identity, in favor of being what society wants, a little bit every year like a zipper slowly closing the person up in one of those full-body, "mummy" sleeping bags. He was very much into knowing who you are and being that person.

He told Lila, "Believe me, when you know yourself, you never want to pretend to be anything else ever again because it is better than anything you have ever pretended, or dreamed up, or imagined, or become." That so resonated with what I've been working toward over the last 8 or so years, I got all misty-eyed, right there on megabus.

The book really helped me tie some loose ends in my mental ether, and for that I'm in Berwin's debt.

Edited: Frances asked what the nine plants are, and of course you guys are gonna wanna know that. How silly of me! They're:

Gloxina, Gloxina speciosa, love
Mexican cycad, Zamia furfuracea, immortality
Cacoa, Theobroma cacao, wealth
Moonflower, Ipomoea alba, fertility
Sensemilla, Cannabis sativa, female sexuality
Lily of the valley, Convallarria majalis, life force
Mandrake, Atropa mandragora, magic
Chicory, Cichorium intybus, freedom
Datura, Datura inoxia, adventure

And a tenth: the passion plant with no name whose form curls inward like a mandala.

Stop reading now if you don't want spoilers!

Being who I am with no regrets, I admit some scenes at the end of the book were hard for me to accept. I understand the book is light reading, escapist or fantasy but not literal, but I got a bit lost somewhere between the realistic beginning and the magical, mystical end.

I was on-board with Diego drinking with the deer; he is connected to the land in a way Lila is not, and getting a group of harmless animals to accept you, versus run away from you, is one thing. However, I did not buy that a black panther would lead Lila, an urban dweller with no animal whispering skills we knew of, to David's house instead of, say, dousing her in BBQ sauce (metaphorically) and having her for dinner (literally).

I was puzzled by how they got the deadly scorpions into the piƱatas without getting stung. I wondered how the scorpions survived for days or weeks, and why they didn't chew their way out.

I got the feeling I was supposed to like or relate to Lila, who consistently did more harm than good. I didn't. I wanted to kick her really hard for feeding the mandrake to Diego. Perhaps she was a metaphor for how developed nations perceive and impose their views on developing countries.

Ever since Diego mentioned, when he first met Lila, that one of the nine desires was knowledge, I waited anxiously to discover what the corresponding plant was, but it was never revealed.

I also thought Lila going back to NYC the day Armand told her to was out of character after all she supposedly learned and changed. I suspect, in fact, she did not return to Mexico after all, and fell back into her NYC life.

On balance, I have no regrets reading the book and came away with a lot from it. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to review it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I broke up with my garden today

My garden has seemed a bit too big for a while now. Things that were initially mere blips on the garden radar have lately felt overwhelming and insurmountable. A very hot summer kept me inside a lot, and weeds have taken over. My tomatoes were a big bust this year due to marauding raccoons and suboptimal sunlight. There's so much to plant and transplant yet this fall, which I normally look forward to but which this year feels defeating.

Today I planned to dig out seven overgrown junipers that need to go to make room for other things I like more, which have been waiting to get in the ground since June. Five of the junipers are 4' tall x 6' wide, the other two are 5' x 8' feet, though I'd trimmed those back considerably already.

I normally like digging out shrubs--it's hard work but it's gratifying when it's done and it's a good way to get out aggression! First I cut off the branches of the first shrub, which filled two yard waste bags, so I could see where I was digging. Then I dug. This was extremely arduous because the soil is so dry and the roots are far down. I barely reached them at all. I get rashes if I touch certain evergreens and even though I was wearing long sleeves, long pants, socks and closed shoes, I could feel my neck and the back of my legs start to itch. The underside of my foot where you push on the shovel was a little sore. An hour and a lot of digging passed, but still no progress even finding the roots, and the base trunks were not loosening even an eeny beeny tiny bit!

To say I was getting frustrated would be inaccurate. I was swearing at random things (yes out loud), and even called a squirrel (my favorite wildlife friend!) an expression favored by residents of Deadwood. In a fit of fury I jumped down on the spade too hard, onto soil that was too hard, lost my balance, and toppled onto the adjacent juniper in a big flailing heap.

Before I mention what happened next I have to tell you that gardening has been my passion for many years and I have gardened in many different settings. I'm very much a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-stuck-in kind of person, a modern-day Rosie the Riveter. My arms, my energy, my determination, and my will are strong. I'm not afraid of hard work and I've always done my own heavy lifting. And, let's face it, I'm so goddamn stubborn that a whole army of buckthorn is no real match.

That being said, we return to me face down in a juniper (which would have been pretty funny if I hadn't been in a mood). I wasn't hurt, but I found myself balled up in a fetal position crying like a baby kitten who can't find its mama. Well, OK, not really crying because I think the sweating dehydrated my ability to produce tears, but that's not the point.

The point is, I cursed my garden, listing all its failings and all its demands, and everything I had ever done for it, and for what? What had it done for me? Huh?! I used a lot of sentences involving "you always" and "you never" and finally told it to get the hell out of my life, only in much more colorful language.

I squeezed my eyes shut, crossed my arms, and pouted, waiting for it to beat a hasty retreat or at least apologize. I fantasized about doing a major ecological burn and thoroughly enjoyed imagining certain things engulfed in flames. I envisioned an alternate garden, a kwoot widdle patio garden, so sweet and demure.

Feeling a lot better, I opened my eyes and was greeted by wonderful color. My garden gave me flowers, clearly as an apology and peace offering. Embarrassed, I apologized also and asked it to take me back. It smiled and said, "I'm not going anywhere."

Which is all very fine and good and smile smile smile happy, but... I still have one partway dug out juniper and six to go and, honestly, I'm tired. I don't know what the solution is. I don't know how to make a large garden smaller (I'm not ever going to convert beds to lawn and my plants are already low care, I never water!) or how to keep up with it more or how to regain some of the enthusiasm I once had.

I suspect it would help to do just a little bit every day, rather than feeling like I have to do perform big miracles all at once. And I think I just need to get back to work. Right after I have lunch.

P.S. My favorite ass-kickin' companion suggests 1) I learn to focus the camera and 2) to intimidate the problem out of existence! Easy peasy.

Added 9/18: Photo update. Three of the five shrubs in the first bed are dug out. Even though my BIL has a pickup and could probably get those chains for me, there isn't a clear path for a vehicle to access that bed. I found digging as far as I can and then soaking the hole for a few hours makes it possible to get at the deepest roots. A second bed has two really big ones and access to the street. I may ask my BIL for help but he has so many projects that I don't like to bother him if I can do it myself.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


How did I get here?
This is not my beautiful garden.

These are not my beautiful nasturtiums.

Letting the days go by, into silent autumn
(with apologies to the Talking Heads)

This is ostensibly a Seed GROW post, but it's also a Sundries Sunday post so be ready for random ramblin' ruminastions!


Well, my 'Spitfire' nasturtiums definitely look the worse for wear, especially after last night's low near 40! There isn't enough sun in this location; I've been needing to move a huge arborvitae. The hops is more or less gone, too, but look at the eeny beeny morning glory that popped up!


There are one or two more growing higher on the trellis.


The nasturtiums I planted to grow up my corn are doing somewhat better. To all the hatas who tried to tell me I wouldn't get corn with only one plant, neener neener! I got two corn cobs, but neener neener on me, they were both covered with corn smut, which was so gross I tossed them before even taking a photo. I suspect it self-pollinated (with the seeds above falling on the tassels below). Everything in my garden has to fend for itself, lol.


Pretty turtlehead I received in spring from my friend Joey.


There's something about the forming seedhead of the cup plant I really like.


On July 4 I direct-sowed some zinnia and sunflower seeds. Two months later things are blooming.


I didn't used to like zinnias, but holla!

Ready to bloom any minute now...


...There we go! I can't help but smile when I look at sunflowers.


My tomato crop was suboptimal this year, but I did discover an awesome plant tie: hair clips! Just make sure the ends don't pinch the stem. (These 'Great White' are high enough up to have (knock wood, toi toi toi) escaped the rascally raccoons so far.)


The obedient plant is kickin' ass and takin' names. Most of all mine for not dividing or staking it!

That's my girl!


This corner of my huge front bed is the first thing I planted when I moved into the house. It is now one hot mess, with weeds encroaching the bed. The other side is even worse but I couldn't bear to show it!


When the foliage of the goldenrod (I believe Solidago canadensis) came up, I thought it was native asters. It's not that I don't like goldenrod, it's just that there used to by be native asters in that space as well. The queen of the prairie is about to bloom, way later than the one in a sunny location out front.


I couldn't get the contrast of Big Bluestem grass against the buckthorn in the background to work, so I did an inverse and messed with hue saturation. HA!


Poison ivy growing up a stem of echinacea that the groundhog broke the top off of. Ah, nature. I have tons of small patches of PI like this and huge spreads. I've been hesitant to use Roundup because I often see American toads in this area and their skin is particularly sensitive to absorbing chemicals. Later in fall I'll paint it on.


We were talking on my facebook page about how some gardeners (volunteer at recent workday, left) seem to have a magic anti-dirt shield and others (me, right) very decidedly do not. Lisa pointed out in the comments that the woman to the left is holding pruners and so was likely standing while working. Which is a great observation and interpretation except that there happens to be very little to prune in that garden; mostly everyone was weeding and spreading mulch that day... and everyone finished clean, except me (though I was doing some more rigorous weed removal, lol!).


I got this sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) from my mom two years ago and this is the first time it's bloomed for me. I winter-sowed two native versions of this plant, virgin's bower (Clematis virginia), and will be interested how long it takes them to bloom. (Where to plant them is a whole 'nother kettle o' fish.)

large milkweed bugs

Large milkweed bugs on (surprisingly enough) my milkweed seedpods.

Big Box Shrubs, Yes I Do!

A while ago I won some cool stuff, including a $20 gift certificate to Lowe's, from Lisa. Even though I had every intention of spending the money on bird seed, I couldn't resist these $3.33 gallon shrubs: two false cypress, two different cultivars of chokeberry, a spirea, and a red-flowered potentilla. No, I have no clue where they'll go.


My elephant's ears 'Illustris' really came into their own this year; they about quadrupled in size. They're gonna need a new pot before they come back in for the winter. Eep.


I've shown Pinky a few times. These are Siegfried (left) and Gertrude. G is named partly after Ms. Jekyll (I chuckle to myself as she hated fuchsia) and partly after my grandmother.


I wonder if I can get Siegi and Gerti to balance on a tight rope like these two? I adore everything about this photo of the Flamingo Trailer Court on Middlebelt Rd. in Farmington Hills, MI.

I'm growing Nasturtium 'Spitfire' for the GROW project. Thanks to Renee's Garden for the seeds.