Years ago, I was trimming English lavender at a client’s house in Seattle. It was a sunny summer day, the kind of day for which I was thankful to work as a gardener. As the sun warmed my arms, I cut the fragrant stems with my pruners, shifting my kneepad a few inches at a time. The bees hovered and landed on the still-blooming wands, doing their little jobs of finding nectar. But as I piled my cut wands on my tarp, I noticed one bee struggled in the dirt, trying to buzz and lift off.
To Save a Single Bee
I slipped my hori hori, which is a flat Japanese trowel, underneath the little insect and gently tossed him on a nearby coneflower, thinking he just needed a little help. But after a few seconds, he seemed to fall asleep and lay there, clinging to the blossom’s center.
This was the beginning of a trend. In the years that followed, I noticed more struggling or dead bees in clients’ gardens. Then I’d come home and find the same scene in my own garden: a bee clinging to the blooming head of a veronica or bee balm, frozen and lifeless. Just last year, I walked onto my patio in summer and found a lonesome lifeless bee. It lay on the outdoor coffee table beside a vase of cut avens (or geum) stems.
These are signs of what scientists are now calling “colony collapse disorder.” A USDA report found that 33 percent of honeybee colonies died in one year alone. That’s a lot. Too much. Scientists believe the cause is the use of pesticides called neonicotinoids that agriculturalists use to spray crops. The problem is neonicotinoids get into the leaves, pollen and nectar of plants.
Our Food Supply Depends on Bees
As bees experience chronic exposure to neonics, it disrupts their immune and nervous systems. It’s almost if they’re smoking cigarettes constantly. Like humans, they die from this. When the European Union was presented with this evidence, they banned the use of neonics. However, the US did not.
Bees pollinate fruits and vegetables. They spread pollen from a plant’s stamens (male organs) onto the ovaries of pistils (female organs), creating a fruit. Without bees, there are no strawberries or avocados or peaches or over 140 other fruits and vegetables. Our food supply depends on bees. Not only that, farmers’ livelihoods depend on bees.
But You Can Help
Today, I’m asking you to do one of two things.
One. Get active. If you’re short on time, you can join an environmental advocacy organization like the Sierra Club. They’re working on this issue. Also, you can write the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) or your state senator. Here’s a list to find yours. Tell them how important this is to you, how concerned you are. And that you don’t support the use of neonicotinoids in agriculture.
Two. Plant the wildflowers that bees love. You can buy seeds from reputable retailers who raise organic, non-GMO seeds and plants. Renee’s Garden is one, Urban Farmer is another. Home Depot and Lowe’s may not be, I don’t know. You have to inquire. The thing to remember when buying wildflowers is, ask your retailer if the plants are organic. If their inventory has been sprayed with pesticides, you’re merely spreading the problem. And believe me, the horticulture industry isn’t perfect.
If you don’t have the time to find an organic retailer, you can pre-order my novel, The Forgetting Flower, and receive a packet of organic wildflower seeds. I’ll be giving away these seed packets to the first 25 people who preorder my book. Preorders will open soon!
The best thing about planting wildflowers for bees is you don’t even need a patch of earth! It can be done in a container on a balcony. And next week, I’ll publish a post recommending the best, hardiest, easiest flowers to plant to attract bees. In the meantime, enjoy your spring day!
One of the most beautiful features of Paris is its streets. I love the ornate buildings, I love the beautiful landmarks, I love the stately cathedrals, but I also love the streets. They are cobbled unevenly, smoothly paved, or somewhere in between, geometrically decorated with modern pavers. They are grand like the Haussmann-designed boulevards and averagely wide like the Rue Milton or narrow like the Rue de Nancy. They each have their own little personality in the decorative facades or foliage or parking or modern features.
My favorite streets are the tiny pedestrian alleys where you can cut through quietly while dwarfed by the stone cavern rising up around you. Those are secret and mysterious, especially at night. In fact, the passages are one of the reasons I set most of my stories in Paris.
A Real Life Street That Wasn’t Quite Right
So, as I began my novel The Forgetting Flower, I knew I’d need the perfect street for my protagonist Renia and her plant shop. I’d walked the Rue Saint-Placide, named after Saint Placidus who was rescued as a boy from a lake in an alleged miracle, and I liked it. Saint-Placide is jammed with businesses and had a deep terrace, which my character used a lot for displays. It even had a real life plant shop, thus inspiring me to use its name in the novel.
I also liked that the street implied the word “Placid” or “stillness.” It was a nice bit of irony to name a thriller that included a death and some nefarious incidents on a street described as “placid.” Recently though, in editing the book, I realized the street was too busy for what happened there not to be obviously noticeable and public. Also, the street is not technically in Saint-Germain-des-Prés though it’s very close. And my protagonist’s desire to live in chic Saint-Germain was integral to the story. So, I nixed it.
The Search Continues
That led me on a Google maps goose chase. I knew the Rue du Bac. It nicely captured the spirit of Saint-Germain with its boutiques and hotels and restaurants. It runs in a snug narrow lane. Fewer cars travel it but tourists do, which was in my story. It had great sunlight and one of the first acts Renia does is look up at her friend’s balcony against the sunny blue sky. It had the makings of the perfect size and culture of the street in my dreams.
But the Rue du Bac bustles with tightly packed businesses. In my novel, a certain liquid rolls down the limestone wall of a building. There’s little if any limestone wall space between businesses on the Rue du Bac. And that moment kicks off the story’s plot. Sadly, I ruled out the Rue du Bac.
I’d also walked the Rue Gozlin, whose quiet, tucked away feel at the center of Saint-Germain seemed unassuming and hidden. It had a lovely, out-of-the-way quality where tourists might not travel and locals would. And it had lots of stone with some businesses too. But the street is a single-lane street and throughout the story I describe vans and cars coming and going. Parking a car on this street would be impossible because of the iron posts lining the sidewalk. And the sidewalk was too shallow as well.
An Imagined Street
I continued virtually visiting various streets, many of which I’d walked and some I hadn’t. But with Saint-Germain at the heart of the story, I couldn’t find the exact street I needed. This annoyed me. I wanted the setting to be as true to life as possible, somewhere I could stand and point and say, “That’s where it all happened.” As a literary tourist, you can do this with streets in Flaubert, Balzac, and Hugo’s novels. I wanted the same true-to-life accuracy.
Still, I had a lot of true-to-life accuracy with other streets and sites. It was just this central location that dogged me. But it wasn’t meant to be. Not in such a tight neighborhood. So, I decided to create the street in my imagination. It’s a one-lane street like the Rue du Bac with lots of sun and has parking. It has a deep terrace and bustles with commercial activity like the Rue Saint-Placide. And it has classic limestone building walls. It’s in Saint-Germain and ironically named. The Rue Sereine.
The World of the Story
Though I now can’t pinpoint the exact location of Renia’s plant shop, I’m okay with my fictional choice. It’s always disappointed me as a reader when I can’t place a novel’s street in real life and so I hope I don’t disappoint my own readers. But it can’t be helped. And most readers probably won’t care anyway. They’ll be following Renia through her trials of the plot. Hopefully The Forgetting Flower’s words and characters and story will engage them so wholeheartedly that they won’t notice or care whether the Rue Sereine even exists in real life. Time will tell.
In Paris, there are plenty of grand gardens to visit: Jardin des Plantes, Jardin du Luxembourg, the Tuileries to name a few. But there are also small gardens that offer a respite from the city. One such garden is the Square Boucicaut in the 7th arrondissement. It’s notable not only for its wonderfully central location near Saint-Germain-des-Prés but also for its unexpected plant specimens.
First off, dozens of different trees fill this park. Of note are the warmer weather ones. Being in Zone 8, Paris’s climate can support trees that are often associated with tropical places but in species that are hardier. Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) and palmetto palm (Sabal palmetto) punctuate the landscape with their fan-like leaves and hairy trunks. Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) draws attention with its unusual scales and spindly form. A lovely curly leaved willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) provides interest and shade. In addition, I’ve spotted Austrian pine, black locust, cherry, London plane, and some cultivar of Cercis as well.
A Cacophony of Color
In summer, the park’s interior border explodes with color via annuals: dahlias, salvias, petunias, geraniums, coleus, etc. A sweet little pond offers a cooling view. Its bank is planted with water-loving shrubs like paperplant (Fatsia japonica). Grasses like Japanese sedge grass (Carex morrowii) and giant cane (Arundo donax) either border the water or happily pop out of it. Perennials like sweet flag (Acorus calamus), coral bells (Heuchera), and dark-leaved spurge (Euphorbia) add varying hues of foliage and contrasting structure.
A central courtyard with plenty of comfortable benches attracts both locals and tourists. A sand area and playground offer activities for families. At an impressive staircase, a massive marble statue of Madame Boucicaut with children stands. She was the wife of Aristide Boucicaut and the sculpture depicts her performing acts of charity. His store, Le Bon Marché, was one of the first department stores, and still overlooks the square.
A Dark Activity in a Bright Place
The Square Boucicaut makes an appearance in my novel, The Forgetting Flower. When my main character Renia needs to have a secret meeting, she chooses this park. Why? Because it’s near her plant shop and a plant lover like she would like it. Unlike other Parisian gardens, it features undulating borders and a naturalistic planting approach. A pond to attract birds and wildlife. It also boasts unique botanical specimens. She would be drawn to all of that and visit often to eat her lunch or simply take in the natural world.
If I worked near this lesser known gem of a garden, I would probably do the same.
Photo by Guilhem Vellut, Paris, France.
I’ve always thought owning a plant shop would be a fun job. I wouldn’t want to manage a full-on nursery, that seems too complicated, but I wouldn’t mind owning a small store that specializes in rare and unusual plants.
An Oasis of Greenery
This is because I’m convinced plant shops are dreamy. I can think of one in particular in Seattle I love to visit: Ravenna Gardens. They have unusual (and usual) plants along with tools and fun gifts. Outside, the plants stand in alluring arrangements while inside, dreamy displays of lotions and books surprise shoppers. It’s a place of discovery. I walk through and delight in finding paper coasters decorated with flowers or wall art made from sawed off twigs. Physically it’s a snug space but I can spend a long time there.
In Paris, there are plant shops every few blocks. They are little stores where Parisians buy bouquets for the table or houseplants for the window or annuals for outside planters. They almost always have lovely displays and fun French gifts. Whenever I walk through Le Marais or St. Germain-des-Près, I suddenly encounter one without expecting to, then have to pause and examine all of the colorful flowers and soft foliage. They draw me into their oasis of greenery. While I browse, I find myself swallowed in a heavenly dream.
The Ancient Allure of Paris
A few years ago, I started thinking about what would happen if a person grew a flower whose scent you couldn’t inhale without some severe effect. We’re always happy to inhale the scent of a lilac or rose but what if the fragrance was dangerous? So I started writing a story about a flower whose scent can make a person forget the last thing they think of. That story eventually became a novel called The Forgetting Flower.
Anyway, while these ideas were spinning in my head, I knew I didn’t want to set the story in my home town of Seattle. Seattle is a city nestled in unmatched natural beauty: forests and mountains and rivers. For instance, there are two tiny stands of forest in the front and back of my home. But Seattle itself, its architecture and people, reflect the hi-tech wealth of modern West Coast culture. I respond more to cities steeped in history and ancient beauty. Maybe because I was born and raised in Chicago, I don’t know. It’s just how I’m wired. I love the old and romantic. And of course, there’s no city for me more steeped in history and romanticism than Paris. So I set the story there.
Putting Passions into a Story World
Plants and Paris are two of my passions. I found writing a novel that featured them fun and tiring and frustrating, but never uninteresting. You could say The Forgetting Flower was a labor of love.
In late 2018, I received the gift of being able to share this story with the world via Magnolia Press. Now, my new labor of love is to polish it into the most beautiful and entertaining book it can be. When it’s released in spring, I hope it makes readers feel as if they are in a mysterious dream of discovery, as if they just set foot inside their own favorite plant shop.
I’m not really a New Year’s resolution kind of person. I try to keep little resolutions throughout the year like exercising every day and not spending too much time on social media. But in reviewing my 2018 year, I realized I did have one resolution: to change my intention. It wasn’t anything big but, like a weird kind of magic, it changed my writing career.
A Year’s Journey
I started out 2018 realizing that though I was a writer, I didn’t have a book to offer readers, I didn’t have a product. I had enough short pieces published but those lived on other websites and in journals and anthologies. I also had a gardening blog but that was full of how-to articles. They didn’t feature the one thing I was aiming to share with the world: my ability to entertain.
So, I shifted into a new gear. I put my writing more front and center and myself truly out in the world. For years, I’d been quietly writing and editing and submitting to agents. But in 2018, I decided to publicly declare myself an author and publish a book, whether with a press or by myself. I created a plan and jumped into the game.
I spent the better part of spring writing Song of the Tree Hollow. By summer, I furloughed my gardening website and focused on creating a site that featured my writing. I researched branding and hired an author coach. I educated myself about marketing and created a strategy for growing my readership.
In fall, I edited Song of the Tree Hollow and published it with KDP. As I mentioned earlier, I priced it low, hoping to attract readers. I did giveaways and promotions. By mid-December, I had a healthy amount of downloads. Things were buzzing along. I was satisfied. I finally had a book to offer readers.
Then something happened that I didn’t expect. Throughout 2018, I’d continued querying my longer, more polished novel, The Forgetting Flower, to agents and small presses. All to rejection. But in November, I received an offer from a small press to publish it.
Intention or Hard Work?
It was such a surprise. I had the strangest feeling in my gut, as if as soon as I’d decided to truly reveal who I was and what I could do in the world, I received a response. What?!
I can’t prove that my 2018 intention of jumping into a more public game aided me in getting a book contract, but it made me happy to follow through on a plan. It was as if once I’d decided to truly go for it, with or without the universe’s help, the universe then helped! Weirdly magical.
Now, in early 2019, I have a new intention: to make The Forgetting Flower the highest quality and most successful novel it can be.
Do you feel rumblings to change your intentions? I’m curious to hear people’s thoughts as we go into 2019. Tell me in the comments below.