Monarda Bluestocking.

Hummingbird snack bar.

Ruby throated male hummingbird.

His heart beats 1 260 times per minute. His wings beat 80 times for seconds. While in flight, their metabolism is the fastest of all animals except insects. body makes it imperative for a ruby throated hummingbird to consume three times their weight in nectar. That is where gardeners can help by planting red, pink, yellow and orange flowers with deep calyxes, such as agastache, columbine, coral honeysuckle, monarda, pentas, and salvia.
My first effort to attract hummingbirds to my garden is very modest. I bought an inexpensive plastic bird feeder and mounted it on an iron shepherds hook tall enough to discourage predatory cats. Rather than the prepacked tinted syrup sold at stores, I provide hummers with a mix of one cup of water to one fourth of a cup of sugar. I added hanging baskets of red geraniums, salvia and petunias to the snack bar and lo and behold, less than a week later, the hummers found them. Next year I will try to offer them a larger variety of high sucrose flowers. Barbara Damrosch’s beautifully illustrated Theme Gardens includes a plan for a hummingbird garden. I can’t think of a better source of inspiration.

UPDATE– After two days of marvelously cool weather, the veggie garden has been weeded and all the miniature roses have been plant in the rose border. Casablanca lilies are in bloom and the summer squash has responded well to a good rain. Sir Thomas Lipton rose is re blooming, delphinium, rudbeckia and lychnis put out a modest show. Matchstick chrysanthemum makes an early appearance. It looks lovely next to lavender.



Barack Palinka.

Apricot tart with toasted almonds.


Prunus Armeniaca, Armenian plum, otherwise known as apricot, acquired many labels throughout its approximately 3, 000 years of cultivation. Ancient Romans called it Mala armeniaca, Armenian apple and praecocia, pre-ripened, from the Latin praecoquus, pre-cooked. Arabs called albarquq, which means plum, and in some parts of the Spanish speaking world it is known as damasco, which implies that a Syrian origin. Apricock, as it used to be called in English is, arguably, the sweetest fruit of the rose family. So sweet, in fact, that one of its latest varieties is called Candy.
Whatever its label, a basket of apricots is a scrumptious gift and its giver is a person of real generosity. To find such a git at one’s doorstep, as I did, recently, fills one’s day with all sorts of delightful possibilities. In my case, the first impulse is to take a mental snapshot of the contents of the basket, to fix the moment in my mind. The second is to sketch with the intent of painting a watercolor or making chalk drawing in velvety paper that approximates the texture of the fruit. All this must be done very quickly. Apricots do not keep well and that gives me license to eat one as I try to decide what to do next.
After consulting with the Infanta, who is a competent cook, I decide that we will make an apricot tart. She will be in charge of blending eggs, whole milk, flour, sugar, and vanilla bean paste for the creme patissiere. I will make the crust and blend apricot preserves with a goodly dash of amaretto, which is made from apricot kernels. The latter will be used as a topping for the tart, a process that is as necessary as as gilding a lily, since the fruit needs no enhancement whatsoever. The handful of toasted almonds added at the end adds texture, but it is really not required. If one has access to sweet apricot kernels, one could create an extra layer of apricot flavor of which only the truly decadent or the unreconstructed gourmand could approve. They would not be averse to finishing up with a small glass of Barack Palinka, a Hungarian apricot brandy made from apricots. I did that once, long ago, in a tiny Parisian restaurant in the Rive Gauche and reader, I have been a better person ever since.


Ivory pyxis, Moorish Andalusia, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alexandra Romanov’s favorite perfume.

Passionflower blossom.

Necklace by Alexander Calder, Metropolitan Museum.

Nature knows nothing of vulgarity. It fashions flowers of such barbaric richness the crassest arriviste would hesitate to wear them. Take the passionflower blossoms in my garden. In order to reproduce it, Faberge would have needed tanzanite, Rose de France amethyst, rubies, imperial topaz, alexandrite, rock crystal, paparadsha sapphire, raw emerald and the palest peridot. The result would be gaudy and ostentatious bubble, in the style some of the Romanovs favored. Poor, poor Romanovs. Their last Czar, Nikolai, was never as happy as when he grubbed in the dirt of his little garden in Yekaterinburg. Fixed by the cold eye of Soviet kulaks, he dreamed of cabbage, not jewels. His wife, Alexandra was of another mind altogether. Though she she was fond of roses–Frau Karl Drushki was one of her favorites–when she wore corsages, she added yards and yards of pearls to set them off. Somewhere there is a painting that shows hear wearing pink roses, perhaps her beloved Baroness Rothschild. Prior to Yekaterinburg, She had massive flower arrangements brought from her greenhouses to her mauve bedroom, turning it into a garden. If those were not enough, there were always the Faberge baubles to add to the illusion that nature itself could be brought to heel.
We each made our garden to suit our style. Long before the Romanovs counted for much, the Moors created splendid gardens in Al-Andalus. They grew lazy and fat, married Iberian women and raised children who spoke romance languages better than they spoke Arabic. When the hard core Islamic fundamentalism decided to whip the Al-Andalus crowd into proper shape, the Moorish empire fell apart. Needless to say, so did the Moorish gardens. Today, we catch glimpses of how they must have been in the few surviving objects, such as the cylindrical ivory pyxis–a container for aromatics such as ambergris– seen above.
Alexander Calder, who has nothing to do with either Russians or Moors, is one of the artists who capture the essence of passionflower vines in simple metal jewelry that seems more alive than anything Faberge ever made. I find it enchanting.


Van Gogh’s Child with Orange.

Fantin Latour’s Nasturtiums

A Candy daylily on the wane.

Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly weed is one of the joys of July.

Prince Truffaldino does not visit my garden in search of oranges, as he does in Prokofiev’s Любовь к трём апельсинам opera. Just as well. Neither butterfly weed, day lilies blossoms nor nasturtium blossoms secrete the princesses Fata Morgana’s spell compelled him to seek. They are orange all right, but they serve a purpose other than providing a mate for ill behaved princes. Aptly named butterfly weed’s function is to feed the larvae of Monarch butterflies. Day lilies and nasturtium blossoms must be shared with humans who add them to salads and fritattas.
Gardeners are known to fall in love with certain colors, as painters occasionally do. At the moment, I happen to be in love with orange. ”Everyone knows that yellow, orange, and red suggest ideas of joy and plenty. I can paint you the skin of Venus with mud, provided you let me surround it as I will,” said Eugene Delacroix. Van Gogh relied on the blue color to provide chromatic balance in paintings lavished with his beloved oranges and yellows. Oranges and yellows and blues are the colors of the Midi, of the Indienne textiles of Provence, of lavender fields dotted with poppies. I think they may also be the colors of paradise.


Speaking of roses or rose trellises, Tintoretto’s painting of Susannah and the Elders is part of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice” exhibit, which ends in August 16, 2009. Visit the museum to see to learn how the rivalry between these three Venetians master helped shape the “Venetian style” “through loose technique, rich coloring, and often pastoral or sensual subject matter. These elements inspired countless later artists, promoting a Venetian current in painting up to the twentieth century.”


I suppose one can be too rich or too thin. These are not my areas of expertise. One thing I know for sure is that one can never have too many roses. As I have made abundantly clear in previous posts, my preference is for the French roses of the Victorian era. That is not to say that I am indifferent to all other roses. The coral and yellow roses that blend so well with the blue of delphinium, geranium, lavender and perovskia and are somewhat rare among the older varieties. I am particular fond of Alchymist, but it blooms much too early in my garden and since it is not remontant, there is no hope of matching it with my favorite blue perennials.

Modern miniature roses provide the perfect solution for my problem. They are sturdy, unfussy and they bloom almost non-stop. Their range of color is extraordinary. It includes wild red and yellow and red and white combination that would be intolerably ugly in larger roses. Most are unscented, but geneticists are hard at work to change that. Scentsational roses are said to be intensely fragrant, something I cannot confirm since my own mauve Scentsational became the rare casualty among the many mini roses I have grown throughout three decades.
At the moment I have approximately three dozen minis–a gift from a good friend–waiting to be potted. Ideally, I would place them in containers that can be brought indoors for the winter. Exiguous space and the objectionable behavior of two feline hooligans preclude that option. I will just have to find the best way to prep them for our erratic winter.



Alas, for the garden. I spend my time sending interview requests to writers I admire. My interview with Canadian author Louise Penny is up at love her crime fiction books. They are richly layered, dense with yummy tidbits and surprises as the most delicious cake. Plus, she is a woman of elegant manners and wit. I feel lucky to have had the chance to communicate with her. Next, I will be talking with author Sujata Massey whose Rei Shimura novels are vastly entertaining and delightfully fresh.

The news from the garden is that the round Italian zucchini from Thompson and Morgan has actually gone into production. Bambi must be slipping. In the flower garden, a glorious cobalt blue delphinium is in bloom along with deliciously cotton candy pink roses. Daylilies, black eyed susans, perovskia, catmint and lavender put forth an abundance of blossoms. The paintbox geraniums that looked so umpromising when I bought them have caught up with the double petunias and verbena. Annual baby’s breath I grew from seed has finally come into its own.
Tomorrow I will be unpacking an enormous order of miniature roses and mowing the lawn carefully to preserve the clover blossoms that have attracted three honeybees to the the garden.


Agatha and Mccavity awards winner Sujata Massey at home.

Sujata Massey writes well researched, entertaining mysteries that feature Japanese-American Rei Shimura, a sleuth at large on a Japanese landscape not usually accessible to westerners. Young, resourceful and sassy, Shimura morphs from English teacher to antiques dealer to international spy with aplomb and wit. Whether revealing aspects Japanese culture as complicated as kaiseki dining and as straightforward as anime drawing, she does it with an outsider’s enthusiasm for new territory and an insider’s depth and sensitivity. Her cross cultural appeal is cross generational. My daughter led me to the Shimura series and I would hesitate to reccomend it to my mother.
1. Which part of you, if any, does Rei Shimura represent?

I would say the spirited, curious side; I love to travel and research and meet new people.

2. Both you and Rei Shimura seem to share a sense of dislocation, of not being completely at home anywhere. Is this a hindrance or a help for a writer

I do wish I felt more comfortably in sync with the places I live; it always seems that only after I leave a place, do I fully appreciate it. I don’t think this is a hindrance necessarily. What does hinder me is not having a desire to write about the places where I have permanently lived in the US because I see them as comfortable but rather pedestrian, without any particular history that I feel compelled to explore. The US of course has a fantastic history, it’s where you look for it that matters, but I think there are a lot of writers already delving into these topics.

3. While Rei does not feel rooted in either the United States or Japan, her family in both countries anchor and sustain her. Is this contradictory?

I think it is quite common for people with relatives abroad to hunger for those places and to be treated warmly by those relatives, although they may not understand one’s “foreign” ways. For instance, in India I eat a lot less than most adults, even though I enjoy the food, and that troubles people.

4. Do you have a particular audience in mind when you write?

I had originally thought my audience would be primarily female, but it’s likely 40% male, which is great. I have a lot of teen readers in Europe; I like to think because the education system there is so good! I also have wonderful senior citizen fans who travel a lot and can comment directly on their own experiences in wartime and post-war Japan. These people are treasures whose stories must be recorded.

5. Rei has grown from self-involved shopaholic to a more rounded, other-oriented character. What do you foresee for her as you continue the series?

Two answers to this question. First of all, there are a couple of books in which fashion itself forms the mystery; these might make her seem like a shopaholic, but I was interested in presenting how otherwise people can binge shop. If you read the whole series you will see she wears a lot of vintage clothes from her mother and fleamarkets in Japan, and in the end is sewing her own clothes from vintage yukata kimono fabrics. There is a section of books in the middle of the series–I’d say The Bride’s Kimono through The Pearl Diver–which are very much about her relationships with others and growing as a woman. The most likely final book in the series was Shimura Trouble, which came out in 2009–though I reserve the right to pick up and start writing about her again if the fancy strikes.

6. You are an Agatha award winner. Does that influence your work?

I won once and lost it 3 other times, so I don’t think it’s played much of a role in my career or the type of books I write. The Agatha is a fan-nominated award based on popular vote, and usually the book’s lead character is female, and she doesn’t swear and there is no excessive violence. There’s also not supposed to be graphic sex in the books, but I’ve “gotten away with it” in every book, almost!

7. Who is your ideal reader?

They are living breathing and have: library cards, relationships with independent booksellers, and B&N and Borders member cards, too!

8. Who is your toughest critic?

I think I and every other writer would tell you that they themselves are the critics. The critical self keeps one from stretching, daring, and chancing–which is unfortunate. I fight my inner critic almost daily.

9. You are balancing family life with a demanding career. How has motherhood affected your professional life?

It has definitely slowed down the time I take to write; and has kept me from the book promotion trail. However, it has helped me make choices about what’s really important, and I would rather not write, than not have a family. I am thrilled to have both.

10. If you could have one wish, as writer, what would that be?

To write something that changes the way people think.

11. Joyce Carol Oates sets great store by the opening sentence in a book. What is the opening line in your favorite book?

Don’t know. There have been so many great lines. I usually take a very long time writing the first line and change it two dozen times before going back to the original.

12. Mono no aware, translated as the ah-ness of things or a sensitivity to ephemera, is said to be the essence of Japanese beauty aesthetics. How does your Rei Shimura series reflect that ?

Rei adores small things, whether it’s a cup of tea with an unfolding cherry blossom in it, or a cute phrase on a child’s backpack. Little treasures make daily life worth living.

13. How does she relate to Miss Marple?

She would be happy to take Miss Marple on a tour around Tokyo!


Fantin Latour’s Hydrangeas

Playwright John Guare told me not to ” a lumpen, my dear” when I asked him a question he did not like. Joyce Carol Oates was graciousness personified when she I interviewed her for a provincial newspaper. Two writers, two different stytles, two different approaches. I remember Guare’s cowboy boots more clearly than I remember the lecture he delivered at the local university, but i cannot forget the comment he addressed to one of the students in the audience whose mind he compared to worn out jockey shorts elastic. During one of her lecture, Oates contended courteously with the high pitched wailing of a baby whose parents thought he was old enough to begin his career as a culture vulture.

I realize that none of this has to do with gardening, cookery or art. It has to do with my new blog, in which I will discuss writers and writing. I wait with baited breath to conclude an interview with Chandler Burr, whose title of perfume critic of the New York Times does him no justice. He is much more than that. See my new blog for details.
Meantime, the garden enters its slow phase. There is a second, more modest floraison of the heirloom roses. The rugosa Sir Thomas Lipton seems to have synchronized its blooming with the waxing moon. Pale daylilies, remnants of two subsequent plantings of White Flower Farm mixes and Klehm’s Song Sparrow farm specialties keep pace with lavender and china blue delphiniums. Bluestocking monarda thrusts its coarse blossoms among Seafoam roses. Casablanca lilies are in bud. Hydrangeas and nasturtiums compete in number of blooms.
In the vegetable garden all but half a dozen strawberry plants defy the voracious deer as do a few tomatoes, snow peas, okra–planted for the unsurpassed elegance of its flowers–summer squah and pumpkins. A terrifyingly repulsive worm has attacked the radishes and no doubt it will also devour the purple Dragon carrots. Season after growing season in the garden, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.
Thinking of ruined gardens, I pull Daphne du Marier’s Rebecca out of my bookshelf. It rereads marvelously well. I read recently, probably in Burr’s You or Someone Like You that “All paradises are paradises lost.” Max de Winter and the de Winter villainess in The Three Musqueteers’ each lost paradise due to the serpentine convolutions of adultery. In real gardens and in gardens of words, the more it changes, the more it remains the same.