Having an outdoor garden in which to relax is truly a lovely thing. But you may feel disappointed because you don’t have an outdoor space in which to build one. Maybe you see photos online and they look beautiful and serene, but then you feel lousy that you don’t have the space, money, or time to live your dream. Well, you actually don’t need any of those things. Because sometimes the dream is just as powerful as the real life experience.
Take me, for instance. I’ve always loved those tidy European potagers I see in gardening books, magazines and websites. They’re often similar. They have gravel or crushed lime for a base. They’re laid out in squares or rectangles in a courtyard formation. Sometimes they’re lined with boxwood shrubs or stone borders. At the center, they always have a lovely birdbath or triangular obelisk. I often see lavender and rosemary blooming. Tomatoes and beans tumbling around. Just thinking about it soothes my soul.
Well, studies show that imagining is highly effective at growing our happiness. Also, learning about the potager’s dimensions, materials, plants, and all else can boost a person’s mood as well. And so, while I feel a little sad that I don’t live in the countryside in France where I could walk out in the sun every morning and pluck a sweet pea off a vine, I know living the dream in my head is a positive healthy thing for my mind.
How I Build my Dream Garden
Years ago, the best way to create a dream garden might have been to create a board of photos and articles. Tack up newspaper articles, diagrams from books, photos from glossy magazines. And you of course can still do that. The tactile experience can’t be beat. But you can also create a Pinterest account in seconds. Pin your diagrams, articles on vegetables from that site. You can also get a Pinterest plug in that allows you to pin any photo you see on the internet. It’s an easy, wonderful way to collect your favorite ideas and images.
Yes, it only exists virtually, but that’s okay, because the dream garden is there to soothe you when you need it. I often go to my French potager board when I’m stressed. I read, I pin, I aimlessly look around. There’s no pressure, there’s no expectations. I just allow myself to relax into the joyous escape of a dream garden.
What is your dream garden? My potager is more about a lifestyle. Living in a sunny place where I can simply grow my own food and wander the cheery serenity of a garden. Yours may be a brick patio with a fireplace for entertaining, maybe a cozy bench nestled in fragrant rose bushes. Whatever it is, let your mind fill with anything and everything you’ve ever desired. Don’t hold back and enjoy the exciting possibilities!
Just a quick note to let you know my new novel, The Dark Petals of Provence, is now available in all formats: paperback, ebook, and even audiobook. As I mentioned in my newsletter, I was terribly disappointed when the physical book was out of stock for a while but it’s now available. Whew!
Dark Petals was inspired by the evocative yet sinister books by the French writer Marcel Pagnol. Pagnol grew up in Provence and created stories based on his childhood experiences for both literature and film.
One of the more famous of these is the book Jean de Florette, about a city lawyer who inherits his family’s country farm and decides to be a simple, gentleman farmer. But the small-minded prejudiced town blocks his progress at every turn until things come to a dramatic head. It’s a study in dark group mentality and revenge against the strength of familial love and personal dreams.
The Idea Behind the Book
I was inspired by how people behave when a newcomer arrives to disrupt things. And so, I created April Pearce, a modern-day American photographer who visits Provence to take photographs for a travel magazine. April’s in her late 30s and struggling to secure a permanent place at this company to prove to herself she’s not a career failure. But it seems all of the most fascinating shots she finds lead to trouble.
In the book, I tried to bring the hot weather, rough terrain, and alluring culture of Provence to life. I also tried to draw interesting characters whose secret pasts raise questions for the reader. April’s character reaches into my own past feelings as an outsider. And of course the story pivots on one particular plant. How else would I write a novel? haha.
Anyway, if you want more information, check out the jacket description here. And by the way, I do realize the paperback cover is not as beautifully saturated with color as the ebook cover, not sure why nor is my publisher. Regardless, you can also read tidbits on my Instagram feed or read the first chapter here.
And if you’d like to buy it, click here.
In the meantime, have a great day!
Just a short note to let you know the cover for my next novel, The Dark Petals of Provence, is finished and ready to go! It was created by designer Jessica Dionne who again expertly combined danger and beauty for a delicious atmosphere.
A Story Set in Provence
The book tells the story of April Pearce, an American photographer assigned to cover the countryside in Provence. On her first night, she sees a teenager running through a lavender field covered in blood. But when she investigates, the local town turns aggressive and threatening, making her job more and more difficult until the climax when April has nothing to lose and reveals the dark secret the village has kept hidden for years.
The Earliest Idea
I’ve always loved Marcel Pagnol’s books Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. They focus on a city family shunned by local country folks and their subsequent revenge. You may remember the movies, which starred Gerard Depardieu. They expertly captured the book’s tension and danger. Plus, you feel like you’re in the hot landscape of Provence. I love them. I thought it would be cool to write an updated version of that dynamic, of an outsider accidentally stumbling upon a local community’s nefarious nature and in effect blowing it all apart.
A Character Near to my Heart
I started with the image of a wounded teen boy running through a field as a photographer accidentally snapped photos of him from a distance. Almost like a Rear Window situation. Then a key character took on the personality traits of my daughter who’s the friendliest, most compassionate, cognitively delayed young person you’ll ever meet. And the plot unfolded from there.
An Alluring Setting
The book also grew out of my love of stories set in Provence. A few years back, I spent a bunch of time reading mysteries by Serena Kent and M.L. Longworth and others. They’re some of my favorite books in which to escape. So now, I offer my own mystery that combines my love of France, my wish to dream of Provence, and my urge to spin a compelling story. Plus, of course a unique plant! I hope you enjoy it. You can pre-order it through Amazon now.
Just a quick note to let you know my new novel Harvesting the Sky has a cover! Here it is above. I’m very excited. The talented Jessica Dionne, who created The Forgetting Flower, also designed this one. It’s ominous and threatening and mysterious and I love it.
Here’s the jacket copy:
Botanist Andre Damazy lands on the opportunity of a lifetime when he discovers a rare medicinal apple in Kazakhstan and brings back tree cuttings to his hidden greenhouse in Paris. Growing the cuttings into trees is personal for Andre since the apples can heal people with serious illnesses, like his sweet mother who’s suffered a stroke.
But a mysterious stranger constantly thwarts Andre’s work, sending harassing calls and menacing effigies, stalking Andre, and vandalizing his trees. Andre doesn’t understand why anyone would do this, but he wonders if it’s related to a project from his past that went all wrong and resulted in a deadly mistake. So with the help of his new friend Renia (The Forgetting Flower) and her street smarts, he works to outmaneuver his enemy while uncovering a larger, more dangerous plot that threatens the foundation of all that Andre holds dear, including the woman he secretly loves.
Harvesting the Sky is the second book in the Botanique Noire series that combines vivid literary prose and a thriller plot, while enticing readers with the wonder and magic of plants.
Recently, I interviewed mystery writer Paula Munier for the magazine,The Big Thrill. We had a fantastic fun chat by video that lasted well over an hour. We yakked on about her new book, The Hiding Place, her life in New Hampshire/Vermont, the doggie characters she puts in her stories, the writing life, and more. The whole conversation simply didn’t fit into my article so I thought I’d share a few choice bits from our conversation here. We talked about her dogs, why she puts all things French in her novels, and why gardening is important for one’s mental health.
A Dog’s Life
The dogs are one of my favorite aspects of these books. Can you talk about your canine inspirations? Obviously, Elvis and Susie Bear are actually trained search and rescue military dogs. But I know that Susie Bear bears a resemblance to your dog...
Yeah, my dog Bear. Here’s Bear… [Bear comes into view.]
What a good boy, I love Newfoundlands.
We were laughing because he’s about 85 pounds and my husband would like one of those 160-pound Newfoundlands. But we saw someone the other day who had a Newfoundland and he called his dog a “Pocket Newfie” because he’s only 85 pounds. A “Pocket Newfie.” [laughs]
Yeah, you need a giant pocket for that Newfie.
That was so funny. But during the pandemic, so we have three rescue dogs, and in Blind Search, the dog that Henry gets at the end, that dog he names Robin, who’s trained to keep him on track, that dog is based on our great Pyrenees Australian Shepherd mix named Bliss. She never moves, she’s on the couch. She only moves if there’s danger. Otherwise, she’s hanging out.
And during the pandemic, we were lucky enough to rescue a Malinois like Elvis. And although they said she won’t get much bigger, because Malinois are smaller than Shepherds, well, she’s enormous. [laughs] She’s also crazy athletic and super smart.
The biggest difference between my dogs and the dogs in the book are my dogs aren’t that well trained. It’s harder during the pandemic. Blondie may end up, there’s a great trainer in Massachusetts, he trained all kinds of dogs, so Blondie may go to boot camp at Mike’s to get her in shape. She’s pretty good but she’s insanely strong and so athletic. But she’s so much fun. It’s so nice to have a living breathing Elvis in the house. I’ve never had one so…
All Things French
I’m a total Francophile and I really like that you have a lot of references to France and French people in your books. What’s your relationship to France?
Well, my dad was in the military so I spent half my childhood in Europe. We were stationed in Germany and my mother took me to Paris when I was 12 because she loved Paris and we have a good French name, Munier. All my family, most of it, are all from Alsace-Lorraine. I went to high school in New Orleans so that sort of compounded the French thing. And I studied French. Now, my daughter and granddaughters live in Lozon. My granddaughters are native French speakers. So I have every reason to keep up my French. And I love the French. I’m an Anglophile and a Francophile. I watch all the Britbox and Acorn TV. And I watch all the French mysteries on MHz. So for me and my mother, we’re half-French, half-German.
Yes, my husband is the same ancestry. His family name, Hugg, is from Alsace.
Oh, yeah! My mother is French and my dad is German. My mother has a highly evolved French aesthetic. She loves French food, French art. It’s part of our lives and part of our loves. And I love putting in art and French stuff [into the novels].
Gardening During a Pandemic
I’ve been working on a book about plants and mental health. I know from Twitter that you’ve recently gotten into gardening so I wanted to ask, what does gardening do for you in terms of mental health?
Oh, interesting. Yeah, a few years ago, I wrote this little book called Happier Every Day and one of the things to do is grow a garden! Plant a garden because all these studies show that people who garden suffer less depression, are more physically active, and all those things. There’s something about playing in the dirt. It’s like when you’re a kid. It’s fun! You forget! I mean for me gardening is just me being three years old and playing in the dirt. That’s basically what it is with fancier tools. But that’s the appeal of it. I think that’s why more people have taken it up during this pandemic.
I’ve always been a gardener but I grew flowers and shrubs and I didn’t grow vegetables or fruit to eat. So, during this pandemic, like a year ago, I said to my husband, “What if there’s no food?” because we were already having shortages here. I said, “I think we better build” — we have 19 acres here and most of it’s woods — but I said, “You know I think it’s time we put in a potager garden. We’re going to have to have it just in case. We better grow some vegetables.” So he built me this spectacular big, rectangular garden with raised beds and arbors at each end and … just beautiful and I thought, “Oh no, now I have to plant something in there!” [laughs] And I wasn’t convinced I could do it.
But we got some good soil from the guy down the road, amended soil, and my neighbor said, “Oh, the soil’s so good here everything will grow,” and everything grew! I ordered a package of vegetable seeds, some of them I didn’t know what they were, some were vegetables I’d never heard of, but they came from this artisanal seed company in Vermont. It was 50 bucks worth of seeds and we had radishes and okra and tomatoes and chard and lettuce and beans and peas and squash. I mean this goes on and on. It was insane. And we got Blondie not long after we built that, and I would just spend the summer out there, in the garden with the puppy.
It’s like a form of meditation really. I do a lot of yoga and meditation and it’s a form of meditation to be out there in the dirt, digging away in nature, in the sun. I think that’s what a lot of people are missing. We were lucky because you know, we couldn’t travel, we couldn’t go to the movies, couldn’t go to dinner, couldn’t do any of those things, but I could go out in the garden and dig for a while. And that’s what really saved me.
And all we did was cook because we live, as my son says, in “Nowhere, New Hampshire,” so having the garden and all these new vegetables and new recipes, it even made cooking more fun. I would encourage everyone to grow something.