• Plants & Gardening

    How a Mild Obsession With African Violets Led to the Fantastic

    Pink African Violet, How a Mild Obsession With African Violets Led to the Fantastic, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/07/15/african-violets/ #AfricanViolets #houseplants #plants #gardening #indoorplants #pinkAfricanViolet #books #bookssetinParis #Paris #flowers #TheForgettingFlower

    I’ve grown African violets as houseplants for years. I love them because they like indirect light and don’t mind drying out between waterings. They bloom in lovely little pops of color and aren’t fussy about soil (lighter is better). So, it’s not too much of a surprise that as growers have diversified the plants via its flowers, I’ve acquired those new introductions.

    As a plant geek, you have to have all of the cultivars, you don’t know why. And you don’t question it. It just is. The good news though is through my deepening adoration for this simple genus (Saintpaulia) of plants, I created a kind of African violet that growers hadn’t created yet. One that only lives in my mind. And for me, a writer, the ability to play with that imagined plant was a thrill.

    Early Common Delights

    I started with the deep purple African violet most commonly grown. It has dark velvety petals and simple, cupped flowers. Its deep beauty hypnotized me. I couldn’t stop staring at its lush depth. I can’t tell you what cultivar it was because African violets are rarely marked at nurseries. But you’ve probably seen it. Most are derived from Saintpaulia ionantha. At any rate, I was able to enjoy it while it required so little to set flowers that lasted for weeks.

    As the years went on, I bought African violets whose flowers were a more magenta shade, or had rose-shaped flowers, or frilly petals, and on and on. They rarely died because their care was so low-maintenance (indirect light, weekly or biweekly water) but a few times the cat did get to its stalks and I had to toss a couple. But mostly, those fuzzy petioles didn’t taste good in the cat’s mouth. For the most part, the plants grew happily.

    The Oldest African Violet

    Later, that initial purple plant tripled in size. Because African violets don’t like their leaves getting wet with cold water, I often lifted up the plant’s green skirt of leaves and watered the soil. At one point, I noticed it was growing in two stalks that were beginning to look like branches. They curled slightly, kind of like a yucca or wild dracaena, but being herbaceous, weren’t true “branches.” They weren’t woody.

    African Violet Stalks, How a Mild Obsession With African Violets Led to the Fantastic, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/07/15/african-violets/ #AfricanViolets #houseplants #plants #gardening #indoorplants #AfricanVioletstalks #books #bookssetinParis #Paris #flowers #TheForgettingFlower

    But what if those branches hardened off to the point where the plant grew higher and its stems held lignin, the hard stuff that makes a woody branch woody. And what if it didn’t need to naturally mutate like that but was crossed with another plant that gave it that contradictory form? What if that other plant had a scent that gave the African violet its scent? As far as I knew, no one had successfully hybridized an African violet so that it emitted a fragrance. But what if someone could?

    A Plant at the End of the Mind

    These “what if” questions occupied my mind for a weeks. It was a fun botanical puzzle to imagine. One that couldn’t exist in the real world. It just couldn’t because of the difference between woody and herbaceous branches (one containing lignin, the other, cellulose). But my imagination didn’t have any bounds. I pictured what the plant would look like. It would be lovely and awkward at the same time: a jade plant with African violet blooms at the branches’ ends.

    I loved the idea, that it didn’t exist but could in a world that I made. I could create any situation I wanted. And I did. The world I made for my unique plant was in Paris: the most beautiful city in the world to house the rarest plant in my story’s world. And as I thought up who would take care of my imagined plant, I started spinning a plot, then I threw everything else I loved into the novel. And it became The Forgetting Flower.

    Purple African Violet, How a Mild Obsession With African Violets Led to the Fantastic, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/07/15/african-violets/ #AfricanViolets #houseplants #plants #gardening #indoorplants #purpleAfricanViolet #books #bookssetinParis #Paris #flowers #TheForgettingFlower

    Do I still grow African violets now that I’ve created the penultimate plant in my mind? Absolutely! I just saw this gorgeous beauty the other day (above) and had to have it. There was no reason behind it, there was no justification. I simply became entranced by its uniqueness. I’d never seen its kind before and wanted to incorporate that into my life. And that’s the thing about plants: their loveliness doesn’t have to fade and die quickly, it can expand and enlarge and delight your soul for years to come.

  • Books

    What Does The Forgetting Flower Look Like?

    Good morning, everyone! I’m thrilled to answer the question of what The Forgetting Flower looks like! And in more ways than one. The cover of the novel is now live and it’s a dream come true. In some ways, I can’t believe it’s actually happening.

    The Forgetting Flower Book, Karen Hugg, http://www.karenhugg.com #books #literarythrillers #bookssetinParis #Paris #fiction #crimefiction #novels

    You can now see what my speculative flower resembles in real life. I don’t want to give too much away but the flower is part African violet. And this cover makes it so beautiful yet menacing! I love the dark background, which makes the flower seem like it’s rising from a dangerous unknown place. And the scent streams from the blossom in that spooky way, evoking danger. In the story, that vapor isn’t anything you’d want to inhale accidentally.

    Pre-orders Are Now Open
    Beekeeper Seeds, Renees Garden, News, Karen Hugg, www.karenhugg.com/news #bees #wildflowers #TheForgettingFlower #KarenHugg #plants #gardening #savethebees
    Free Seeds for Bees!

    The other thing to know is that preorders for the book are now open! At the moment, you can order the ebook at Amazon. It will soon be available at several online retailers. The paperback is coming within days. And as a thank you, I’m giving away a seed packet of wildflowers that helps bees thrive to the first 25 people who preorder. I wrote about the bees recently. What’s happening to the declining bee population is serious and it’s so important we do something about it. I’ll be talking about the flowers in those seed packets in the next few days.

    Oh, and the release date for The Forgetting Flower is June 18, 2019.

    Expressing a Story in an Image

    I’m so excited about the spooky danger of this cover. How the letters fade (and weave) in and out of the smoke. How the bloom rises up into the viewer’s consciousness from somewhere below. And how the words come at you with more force, expanding as they scroll down the cover.

    Who’s behind this alluring artwork? Magnolia Press‘s book designer Dionne Abouelela, a talented entrepreneur in her own right. She’s not only a book cover designer, she’s an author as well. She really captured the spirit of the book and has done that for several authors. If you check out my fellow Magnolia Press author, Autumn Lindsey’s novel, Remaining Aileen, or Dionne’s portfolio, you’ll see what I mean.

    So there it is, the beginning of this journey. If you are a book blogger or know of anyone who’d like to receive an advance reader’s copy (ARC) for review, please let me know! The book is a literary thriller about a woman who hides a dangerous plant and finds herself in difficult circumstances. You can read the description here. You can also mark it as Want-to-Read on Goodreads here! Lastly, you can preorder it here. Thanks for your time, everyone!

  • Plants & Gardening

    How to Care for Houseplants in January

    How to Care for Houseplants in January, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/01/08/care-for-houseplants #houseplants #caringforhouseplants #tipsforhouseplants

    Right now, most gardens are dormant and cold. Mine is a rainy mess of wet leaves and mossy lawn. (Amazingly, in the Pacific Northwest, weeds still thrive in winter, unfortunately for me.) So it’s a good time to look indoors for gardening fun. Here are a few tasks I’ll be doing to care for my houseplants this January.

    Maximize Light

    In winter, most of the United States suffers from a lack of sunlight. The days are brief and clouds dim the sky. When there is sunlight, the light is weak and slanted. So if you have plants in corners, on shelves, on fireplaces, or against walls, reposition them so they are directly by a window, preferably a window that faces south or west. Another idea is to use a grow light.

    Of course, each plant is different and some plants like rubber trees and peace lilies don’t like a lot of direct sunlight but unless you live in the Southwest or Southeast, you probably won’t have a problem with scorching their leaves. If you do, move the plants to north-facing or east-facing windows where the sun is either indirect or cooler morning sun. Regardless, they need to be close to a window.

    Tidy Up

    Trim off leafless stems and old blossoms. Look for the brown. Oftentimes because of lack of light, lower more shaded stems die off. If you leave the stems on the plant, they may lay flat on the soil and retain moisture, which creates a swamp effect you won’t want in winter.

    I use a pair of large indoor snippers (pictured) to do this and I have a little bucket with which I collect all of my trimmings. It actually feels great to prune away the dead tissue on plants. I also make them shine again by literally wiping the leaves with a wet paper towel. Note, look up your genus of plant online to see if they like that. African violets, for instance, don’t.

    Don’t Overwater

    Watering is tricky in winter because plants don’t grow so they only need water to retain the leaves and roots they already have. However, homes are usually overly dry from forced air heating and become like deserts. If you have a dry home, consider running a humidifier in the room where your plants live. Another solution is to fill a pot saucer with pebbles and water. As the water evaporates, it puts more humidity in the air. African violets like this kind of situation.

    What I usually do in winter is water every 10 days. I water on Saturday mornings, but first I check the soil with a finger. If it feels moist, I push the watering back until Tuesday. If it’s dry, I flood the soil’s surface area. Either way, make sure you have good drainage holes on the bottom of the pot.

    Cool But Not Cold Nights

    Most people turn their heat completely off or down low at night. That’s a good idea but if your plants are on a sun porch or near a drafty window, they may die from cold. Houseplants, after all, are tropical plants. They like warm air. They also don’t mind and sometimes thrive on temperature drops but if you can keep their area above 60 degrees, they’ll be happier.

    Transplant

    In working with gardening clients over the years, I noticed that houseplant owners almost never transplanted plants into larger pots. They sometimes asked me why the plant turned yellow and sagged despite their care. It was usually because the plant had outgrown the pot. The roots were being strangled inside. Houseplants need to be repotted every two-three years, depending on how fast they put on new growth.

    I take the start of the new year as an opportunity to not only tidy up but repot my plants. I recommend buying fresh potting soil. Fresh soil gives them aerated material that hasn’t compacted yet and more nutrients. It also gives them a clean start, especially if pests or lichen or any disease has moved onto the plant.

    Lastly, transplanting gives houseplants space to really stretch out come spring. When plants have access to water and food, they take off and bush out and grow into the healthy green beauties we love!