"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, April 20, 2009

Telling my asters from a hole in the ground.

Peri Minneopa, the main character of my book, Freezer Burn, isn't necessarily my alter-ego, but she does have a few of my traits. She's both curious and impatient, which gets her into trouble sometimes. She loves old movies, Eric Clapton, and books. And she sucks as a gardener.

I suppose I could have made her some kind of green queen, able to grow orchids in asphalt, but I made the decision to make her Not a Nurturer, of flora or fauna. Here is an excerpt from the book to illustrate:

Peri sat on her patio, enjoying the afternoon sun while she worked on her laptop. Once in awhile, she looked around at her yard, wishing she had enough money to pay for proper landscaping. She thought about Kevin Conway's house, so beautifully lush. Her small space, bordered by walls of cinderblock, contained uneven patches of grass, surrounded by yellow-leafed rose bushes. In the far corner, a bougainvillea hung halfway over the yard, dripping hot pink flowers.

It's better this way, she thought. If I had it professionally landscaped, I'd have to hire a live-in gardener to keep things from dying. I don't have the extra room for that, much less the cash.

They say, write what you know. Here's a picture of my back yard:

See anything familiar? It may not be in bloom yet, but here is Peri's bougainvillea, growing amidst the uneven patches of grass. The difference between Peri and me is that I still have delusions of having a nice yard.

The structure you see is a swingset my hubby built for our son when he was small. It has a fort at the top, and a corkscrew slide - what fun! A lot less fun when you're a teenager, as it turns out. When I finally convinced myself that my only child would never be able to get his feet into the fort, much less the rest of his big, stinky-boy body, I started thinking about what else to do with it. Dale worked very hard building it. Yes, it was from a kit, but he didn't read the directions (does this surprise you?) so it was quite an ordeal. I remember one evening, standing in the dark and holding up one end while he tried to figure out which post went where. Did I mention I was holding the heavy end?

I didn't want to just tear it down - it represented effort. What else could I do (think-think-think)?

I got it! I'll make it a planter!

So there it sits with a big, honkin' bougainvillea (which I can't seem to kill), several star-jasmine vines strangling the wood, and the overgrown results of throwing a handful of wildflower seeds under the fort.

Yeah, I know. It's a hot mess.

I'm also apparently pretty good at growing Mexican poppies. They're these purpley-blue things:

I bought two little pots, brought them home and set them against the wall, intending to plant them. I didn't. The little devils grew through the pots and are spreading completely across the lawn. Soon I won't have to worry about the patches of grass, but I am wondering how my husband will mow anything.

On the downside, anything I try to put into pots ends up like this:

Gah. I bring them home from the nursery, put them in pots and they look happy for about two weeks. Then their flowers fall off and they start to semi-wilt, but it takes them another month or so to completely die. In the meantime, they taunt me. "We would thrive if you would just give us what we need."

I wish I knew.

And, can anyone identify this?

I've named it the Dominatus Yer Yardus. It grows in the front yard and the back yard and I can't kill it. All I can do is take the machete to it when it starts toward the house. It's got stickers, too, which makes it painful to clean up.

This is another problem with my lack of gardening skills - I also have no gardening knowledge. I read books all the time that detail what kind of trees or shrubberies are lining a street or blowing in the wind (Dean Koontz comes to mind), and I'm given a really solid sense of place. But I don't know a pepper tree from an oak, and I'm pretty sure Peri can't tell either. If most of the book is from her POV, is it okay to describe foliage instead of name it?

When you're reading a book, does it bother you when the author tosses in a reference to jacaranda trees if you don't know what those are? Or does it help you establish the scene?

While I'm waiting to hear your comments, I'll be outside, trying to figure out how to spruce things up for July's book launch. The swingset-planter may not be working.


Teresa M Burrell said...

I have the same problem as you and Peri, I fixed it by buying a condo. T

Morgan Mandel said...

I'm impressed you know all those names of plants. I've got some tulips and daffodils, plus a few other spring bulb plants coming up, but our lovely Rose of Sharons both kicked the bucket a few years ago, even though one was in the front yard and the other in the back. Very strange since they'd lasted so long.

Anyway, I may get some geraniums because they can take most torture.

Morgan Mandel

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