Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest Post: Confessions of a Serial Plant Killer by Wendy Wax

I would like to give a warm welcome to Wendy Wax today, the author of Ten Beach Road as she shares with all of us her personal struggles with gardening!  I can't help but love this guest post as I join her in what I call having a 'brown thumb' rather than a 'green thumb'.

Confessions of a Serial Plant Killer
Wendy Wax

One day I want to ‘garden.’ I will have a green thumb. In the sort of magical realism that’s so popular now, flowers will bloom as I walk by. Perennials will be…perennial. Nothing will wilt or die.

I’d like for ‘one day’ to come soon, because at the moment my yard is a place where only the strong survive. This forces me to choose plants and flowers with a will to live. The kind that can handle erratic to nonexistent watering without throwing in the towel. I’m on the lookout for the ‘peasant’ sort of plants that can drop a pod or a seed and reproduce on the spot, without relying on me to feed and fertilize it.

It seems unfair that someone who loves fresh flowers and a rainbow hued garden as much as I do was born with such a brown thumb. Nothing makes me happier than a bouquet or vase of fresh flowers. An arrangement or centerpiece delivered to the door is a total day-brightener. The time I won ‘yard of the month’ in our neighborhood was thrilling, and I did my best to ignore the fact that the honor had already been bestowed on every other lawn in the neighborhood multiple times.

I’ve tried to overcome my lack of green-thumbness, but I remain a serial plant killer. Each time something dies in my yard or in the house, I vow to do better. But I can’t seem to stop the slaughter.

I tell you all of this so that you’ll understand the thread of panic I felt when I realized that Ten Beach Road, my new novel about three strangers who lose their life savings in a Ponzi scheme and are left with only co-ownership in a dilapidated beachfront mansion, was going to require some knowledge of gardening. In my story, the once fabulous home that characters Madeline Singer, Avery Lawford and Nicole Grant spend a sweat soaked summer nursing back to life, is a Mediterranean Revival style mansion named Bella Flora (Yes! It means ‘beautiful flower!’) This meant I was going to have to have at least some idea of what might be planted on its grounds, not to mention the ability to describe it.

As I often do when in search of information, I threw myself on the mercy of my gardening friends as well as the kindness of strangers. One friend, to whom I will be forever grateful, came with me to view the piece of land where I planned to place the fictional Bella Flora. Together, we mentally moved the condo building that stands there (it was heavy!) to make way for the very special house that had already taken shape in my imagination.

We studied Bella Flora’s situation between the Gulf of Mexico and the bay (it commands a very real and spectacular view) and she patiently explained to me what might have been planted at the time the house was built in the 1920s and what would look good where. We talked about the walls that might surround the front garden, its fountain, how it would lead to the front steps and the home’s columned arcade. I wanted the garden just as derelict and dilapidated as the house it surrounded—a jungle that would make Nicole wish for a machete the first time she saw it.

I sketched out where things would go and over the next weeks my friend sent long emails describing the grounds as she envisioned them and referring me to photos when I was unable to picture the plants, trees and flowers she suggested.

As a result of her input, a Reclinada Palm in the backyard features prominently in the story and Bella Flora’s grounds boast triple hibiscus, birds of paradise, frangiapani, bougainvillea and confederate jasmine. I was so grateful that I not only thanked her in the acknowledgments, I gave the fictional head of the fictional local garden club her name.

Each book presents a host of things that need to be researched and understood. The garden and grounds at Ten Beach Road weren’t quite as hard to understand as the countless details necessary to make the renovation of Bella Flora believable (another challenging bit of research for someone who belongs to a family that can’t use tools without requiring medical attention) but in the end, I learned what I needed to know.

Although I don’t expect to be winning yard of the month again anytime soon, I’m really pleased with Bella Flora and the gardens and grounds that were brought back to life along with her. The next best thing to having a green thumb is having a good friend who does.

Thanks so much for sharing with us today Wendy!   I would also love to have a green thumb, but my plants never come out good in the end.  Since we have such a short growing season here in Northern Wisconsin I really don't have much time to practice either!  I am finding it easier to just put flowers in pots as I just need to water them for them to survive...and hope that the deer won't eat them also! 

If you are interested in other books that Wendy has available or are just interested in finding out more information about this author you can view her website here.


Liz V. said...

My friend and I are charter members of the brown-thumb club but we went to the gardening center on our kill-the-plant excursion nonetheless.

bermudaonion said...

I have a brown thumb too. Southern women are supposed to know the names of all kinds of plants, and I know very few. I think Wendy and I could get along very well.

Green Thumb Gardening said...

Wow! Very informative and useful tips about how to keep our green gardening beautiful and to keep it green all year round. I think putting up some flowers, barbeque grills and fountain also helps our garden more perfect, and some more types of vegetables. Thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

I'm a brown thumb family member too :)