Since I worked for roughly 15 years as a gardener, it’s no surprise that a plant nursery figures prominently in The Forgetting Flower. Renia’s uncle owns a wholesale nursery in the French countryside. I modeled his nursery, Les Racines, in part on a local nursery I’ve shopped at for years. Here are a few photos.
The Wholesale Shopping Experience
Home gardeners sometimes think buying plants wholesale is a sweet perk of being an industry professional. In some ways it is because you get a discount on plants. However, the time it takes to drive around the giant growing operation and gather healthy specimens makes up for the money saved. In other words, it often takes hours. And after those hours, sometimes of frustration, you may not find a quality specimen that meets your standards.
Today, I went with my friend Angela, a container designer, to shop for a client. We were on the hunt for perennials. This is what you look like when you’re examining plants for robust foliage, buds or flowers, pests, or any hint of disease.
In the novel, I describe a sprinkler system somewhat based on the system above. They have an arm of emitters and a long heavy hose. They also move at a steady eerily robotic clip. Oftentimes as I’ve searched for plants, I’ve had to suddenly outrun these sprinkler monsters as they suddenly begin spraying a monsoon of water.
In the book, Renia, not necessarily by choice, has to drive a tractor and trailer combo like this. Workers driving tractor-trailers comb the nursery as workers pick orders and rearrange stock. Plants are sold and added everyday.
While you have dozens of one kind of perennial to choose from, you have to doublecheck every pot to make sure the cultivar you want is the cultivar listed on the price sheet. This takes extra time as well. For instance, today astrantias were listed on the price sheet as being in one field but were actually in a completely different field. So in essence, shoppers often play location detective.
Lastly, while paying for your plants, you never know who you might find atop a copy machine. This was the scene in the office while clients paid for orders and people chatted. This kitty wasn’t terribly interested in any of that and snoozed peacefully instead.
Last November, my cat Madeleine had a heart attack and died, but she was revived by the emergency hospital vet. It was, to say the least, a traumatic experience for me, no doubt for her too. I couldn’t get over it. I wondered if she had had an out-of-body, or as my husband and I joked, an out-of-kitty experience. So I did what a writer does. I wrote about it.
Maddie had had a urinary tract infection for awhile that we thought we were treating but the antibiotics didn’t work. One Friday, she vomited her dinner and gave up eating. So I took her to the emergency vet where after a routine examination, she went into cardiac arrest. Luckily, the doctors revived her. Afterward, the experience stayed in my mind for weeks. How could I have let this happen?
The artistic outcome was I started writing a story about it and couldn’t stop. It’s now a novel. It’s about a young gardener who’s just finished graduate school and comes home to care for her family home while her mom’s away in rehab. The working title is Sophie and the Tree Hollow. And here are the first few paragraphs. If you like it and want to read more, let me know. I may self-publish it, I may shop for representation, I’m not sure yet. The good news is Maddie’s infection-free and as healthy as a thirteen-year-old cat can be.
If you are a creator, chances are you want folks to see your work. Creative people know what I’m talking about. (Of course, we’re all creative in some way.) Yes, we paint, we write, we knit, we make stuff because it pleases us, because it sends us into a zone where we lose track of time, but we ultimately want to share our creations with the world. We need to take on that dirty word “self-promotion.” But how do artists who are usually solitary souls engage in self-promotion?
Promoting Yourself Feels Weird
It’s difficult to shout out about yourself to the world. It feels weird. It feels false. I have felt this way many times as I promote my blog and my writing. I am not an outgoing salesperson. In fact, I do two of the most solitary jobs I can think of: writer and gardener. At the same time, what I produce entertains and educates people so I do want them to know about it. How to get the word out sincerely and without annoying people is the question.
I got the answer this winter when I discovered Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work. It’s a book that teaches people how to self-promote when they don’t want to self-promote. It’s a book about how to keep working in private while sharing what you’re doing with the world. Quietly, nicely, and most importantly, passionately. Kleon’s asks, What are your passions? Share them because people will respond to that passion. They may not be into everything you’re into, but they’ll be into some of the stuff you’re into. And those folks will pass the word on.
So Promote Your Work
In light of this, I’m embarking on a series of Show Your Work posts. I’ll write about what sends my heart soaring. The things I love. Kleon talks about the idea of a cabinet of curiosities. The cabinet that cultured people kept centuries ago to show off their interest in the world and intellectual curiosity. We all have a cabinet of curiosities, Kleon says. It’s the modern day bookcase. We usually keep our most favorite stuff in that cabinet. Our favorite books, boxes, knick knacks, travel souvenirs, whatever. When I looked at my bookcase, I was shocked at how right he was. There, in just scanning it, I thought of at least three posts I could do about the coolest stuff on there. My favorite gardening books, a favorite box I got from far away, little recyclable coasters I love. So much of me is in that bookcase.
Your Work Is Interesting
So without further ado, I’m sharing a photo of my favorite bookcase. It’s made of pine wood by a Seattle company called Ballard Bookcase that no longer exists. It sits beside two paintings I bought for their Parisian feel. One features a flower shop, the setting of my novel, The Forgetting Flower, and one of a bicycle, on which my protagonist rides around Paris. They warm my heart. What also warms me is the green chair beside the bookcase. This is where I write most days. It’s the brightest room in the house and right by windows that face the back garden. I love that chair and I love that room. The best of me is there. I work and dream there. I also drink tea there and snuggle with my kids and squeeze in when my cat Aleksy has taken it over.
Do you have a favorite bookcase in your home? Where is your favorite place to sit?
I’m in the thick of revision now. I’m living inside the world I’ve created in my manuscript. I sit for hours on my comfy, corner chair with the blanket on my lap and Madeleine or “Maddie,” my cat, on my legs while I edit, hitting the delete button and inserting new words and phrases here and there. I mull over logic. Worry about melodrama. Make sure everyone has a motive, or a wound that propels their behavior. I read big chunks of text and realize, with a fallen heart, that they need to fit better into the overall plan of the story. Sometimes those big chunks get highlighted and moved to the Leftovers file. It’s harsh, and sometimes painful, but the result is much better for the story. I go on to other chapters that need my attention.
After doing these sedentary but mind-sucking tasks, I read the rest of the novel. Two-thirds of it is still a mess. I go to my 25 Questions sheet, a handout I received in graduate school, that forces you to answer vital questions to your plot, setting, characters, emotional arc, etc. Some of the answers I gave in October when I was prepping to write the first draft make me wince. Then I put my face in both hands and rub it hard. I have to reset my clock, forgive myself and rewrite with those answers in mind — as best as I can. Will it ever be in presentable shape?
I run my hands through my hair again and again, I take a deep breath. Sometimes two, or many during an entire half-hour. I meditate. I come to terms with the draft being a mess. After several deep breaths, I’m surfacing into logical thought again. I have ideas. Get to work, I think. I open my eyes. I set the computer on my lap. I type, I think, I’ve released it all. I’m on my way.