Garden book stuff

Monet’s Garden at Giverny, that is.

Then we lay in the masking fluid:

This is the Grande Allee, of course, at Monet’s garden at Giverny (in September, when the walkway is full of nasturtiums):

Lately I haven’t been painting in sky so this means it’s done:

Full page illustration, 8″ x 7″.

 

Yes, I’ve been working on my flower-painting this week. All you have to do, in order to get better at something at which you stink (see last week’s post), is to just keep at it. I painted for HOURS to get the hang of this. I’m just saying what Thomas Edison said: Sweat It Out, Dude, If You Want To Invent The LIghtbulb.

I’m just saying, too, that there is no need to traipse all the way to Giverny to see a spectacular garden when chances are there is a treasure closer to home. And where I live on the north shore of Long Island, there is a wonderland that we call the William Cullen Bryant estate. Top Cat took us there this past Sunday, about an hour before sunset, to see the last of the magnificent Fall foliage:

I ask you, does this even look real? (Note half-moon bridge made of stone in background.)

As George Harrison, my favorite Beatle, said in the live-in-studio recording of For You Blue on the last ever Beatles album, Let It Be of 1969: “Elbow James is got nothing on this [something].”  I really should Google that line.  It’s been 43 years since I first heard For You Blue and all this time I’ve never had a clue what George was saying, except that it comes back to me at times like this:

Giverny’s got nothing on this corner of Long Island. Yes, that is a perfect little knot garden on a cliff high above the beautiful Long Island Sound, the view from Mr. Bryant’s back porch.

And this is his sunken garden, next to the parterre, which is a lawn for some kind of bowling game, or croquet, I believe.  Oh, yes, Top Cat and I love this garden at the Bryant Estate, in Summer, Winter, and Fall. (I don’t care for Spring so I’ve never been here during those tacky months.) I count this garden as just one of the many benefits of being Mrs. Top Cat, because without him I would never have known that such a darling acre of Earth existed.

But I ask you, why schlepp a whole two miles from your house when you can probably find beauty in your own backyard?

This is Dudley of the Backyard Cats, catching the rays at 6:14 am this morning.  In my backyard, the rule is: Wherever There Is a Sunbeam, There Is Probably a Cat Making The Most of It:

Candy, in camouflage.

Joined by her son, Taffy.

Oscar, in igloo #2.

Bibs, tosey in igloo #1.

Phil, our resident baby possum, enjoying the cat food buffet. We LOVES our Phil. But he shuns the sunshine, so I took this photo at twilight.

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving and avoided the dangerous topics of conversation that can torpedo a family get-together in these yappy, noisy, bloviating times. But as it’s a holiday of Thanksgiving I want to give thanks to you all who read this blog,week by week, giving me your wonderful feedback (see last post re: work-in-progress — I LIKE the “empty space”  advise you gave me — thank you!)

I am so very grateful for your company!

 

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This Claude Monet painting of his beloved waterlilies (1905) was sold at Christie’s New York last week,on Nov. 7, for $43,762,500. Yes, that’s 43 million, seven-hundred sixty-two thousand, five hundred dollars. This is of great interest to me because I just happen to be working on the “Monet” chapter of my Damn Garden Book (sketch, below, in progress):

All the ladies in this picture are versions of me.

Now, if you’ve read my book Le Road Trip you’ll know that I was not really thrilled with my last to Monet’s garden at Giverny — it was crowded and overgrown (in my opinion) and I was in a bad mood. Nevertheless, I have fond memories of the garden from several previous visits and it is those memories that I am trying to communicate. Also, hey — it’s GIVERNY. What garden memoirist can get away with writing a Damn Garden Book without including GIVERNY???    Here’s my illustration of the view from Monet’s bedroom window (a view he was particularly fond of):

Yeah, I know. I’m really crappy at painting flower gardens. Truth to tell, I’m not that crazy about flower gardens, and it shows.

I would much rather gaze at the Japanese maple tree in my front yard than at Monet’s waterlilies, to tell the truth, especially at this time of year:

And the Japanese dogwood tree on the patio is no slouch in the spectacular foliage department either:

If you look real hard you can see Bibs eating his breakfast from his pink bowl in the background, on the left.

Oh! Frost on Fall leaves is ten times more poetic than dew on a rose petal!

And I can tell you: there is nothing at Giverny to compare to the awesomeness of the American Elm tree near my house on Long Island:

I’ve never been tempted to pick a single flower on any of my visits to Giverny, but when it comes to a hundred-year old American Elm…

Here I am putting my crutches to good use to nab me an American Elm leaf to paint. (This photo was taken by my friend Melinda last month — my knee injury is healing just fine and I only use crutches now for whacking at stuff that is annoyingly out of reach.)

Even my dear husband, the Great and Wonderful Top Cat, knows better than to bring me roses. When he wants to be romantic, this is what he brings me:

This is what I love! A bouquet of beautiful fall leaves! My Top Cat gets me, he really does.

Monet had his obsession with the waterlilies  (he painted 250 canvases of his water garden at Giverny from 1899 until his death in 1926) and I have my obsession with Fall leaves:

One of the pages I am most proud of in my book Le Road Trip is page 56:

I am proud to be the first person to have calculated the going rate of a Monet waterlily painting down to the square inch, which was at that time  $23,319.00.

I think this is valuable information in quantifying pricelessness, in that a Monet painting might be so astronomically/mind bogglingly expensive to buy (see above, $43,762,500) that it might as well be priceless, but nothing is truly priceless. Remember, I used to be the Faberge expert for the same Christie’s New York auction house that sold this latest Monet, and I used to put price tags on all kinds of priceless stuff.

When I wrote Le Road Trip, the going rate for a Monet waterlily painting was based on the June 2008 sale at Christie’s London of a 1919 painting that sold for $80,451,178. Yes, that’s 80 million four hundred fifty-one thousand and change. And yes, that’s the record for a Monet at auction.

However, that Monet was big, 40 ” x 80″ , and the one that sold last week for $43,762,500 was about half that size at 35″ x 39″,  so:

The new going rate for a Monet painting of his beloved waterlilies is $32,060.4 per square inch.

And you are in luck! Because the going rate for a painting of my beloved Fall leaves is FREE — which is well and truly PRICELESS — and today I announce the winners of my 2012 Fall Leave Give Away:

Actual leaf not included.

This priceless painting goes to Nadine!    Nadine, send me an email at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and we will discuss shipping etc!

And the winner of this priceless painting:

… is Bobbi!   Bobbi, please see above.

I wish I could send all you dear readers a Fall leaf painting in appreciation for you all, but I would go broke if I handed out priceless paintings every week. I’m no Monet, after all! (Oh, wait. Even if he were alive Monet doesn’t get the millions… Jeeze. Being a famous artist as just as lucrative as being a priceless one.)

And now I have to quit painting Fall leaves so I can figure out how to paint a damn flower garden. See you next Friday — when I hope to have painted a less ugly Giverny..

 

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Since the world revolves around me, let me say that there are two kinds of readers in the world: Those who read my first book first

Scenes from When Wanderers Cease to Roam

…and think that When Wanderers Cease to Roam is the kind of book I should always write…

More scenes from When Wanderers Cease to Roam

…and those who read my second book first

Scenes from Le Road Trip

…and think Le Road Trip isn’t as bad as the first kind of reader thinks it is.

More scenes from Le Road Trip

Either way,  you readers are committed to books in a way that I totally understand. You depend on books to help you furnish a richly appointed inner life.

My lovely reader Janet B. puts both my first and second books to good use.

 

Now, I have heard from readers who read my first book first that my second book suffers by comparison, in that Le Road Trip is not as free-ranging a narrative as the one they enjoyed in When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

First things first, you know, in this book my first priority was France.

The most delightful criticism I have read, so far, from a reader who read this second book first (and obviously did not know what she was in for) is that half-way though Le Road Trip she got tired of all the cats, already.

I rarely burst out laughing while reading a negative review, but this one made me almost choke on my tea.  That is funny! Too many cats! AS IF there could EVER be too many cats!

This isa sampler for Dear Reader Joan, who requested some pix of the Damn Garden Book.

But I thank all you readers who have suggested that I go back to my Wanderers roots and be more of a roamer in my next book, which will be somewhat easier to do than with the Damn France Book since the garden book is a travelog of the ten most unusual, interesting, dopey, intellectual, idiosyncratic, overwhelming, romantic, and inspiring gardens I’ve experienced in Africa, South America, Europe, and the USA.

But I do warn you that if you don’t like cats, you can not come with me to the special garden in Key West. Because (as I say in the Key West chapter), if you don’t like cats…





…you have no business hanging at in Key West. They are everywhere in the Conch Republic.

Thank you, Dear Commentors and Readers, for your get well wishes last week.  All the nuisance paperwork since the emergency room visit has been filed,  surgery is scheduled for next Friday, Top Cat has stocked the fridge with champagne and angel food cake for my recovery.

 

 

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On my bookshelf, Le Road Trip is between Beatrix Potter and Serious Literature

…speaking of Le Road Trip, if you’re not ca va with Amazon.com, please feel free to leave a review at Goodreads or the interweb/social media nexus of your choice (hell…go walk down Interstate 95 screaming READ THIS BOOK!!!!!) and email me  with your address so I can put you on my exclusive, coveted ChrisHanuKwanSolstice list!!!

(Hello First Time Readers! See two weeks’ ago post to decipher this.)

So, putting my work world problems on the back burner for now, do you all realize that this is the last weekend in AUGUST already???

Oscar and Taffy, seizing the day.

There’s only a limited number of days of that Summer Je Sais Exactement Quoi left.

It’s in that certain quality of light…

Amazing grace.

…that enlightens…

Notice the bonsai in the window box!

…even as it illuminates the ordinary.

PLEASE take a walk this weekend, and keep an eye out for something EXTRAORDINARY. You never know what treasures you might find out there…

…even if it only looks like some piece of tissue-paper trash that got blown against a neighbor’s fence that got rained on and that got baked to a crisp for a few days until it was totally disintegrated by the forces of nature…

…there just might be something special in that muck:

Oh, if only I could not read English and could imagine that this fine calligraphy which is melded unto this frail fallen leaf spoke of enchantments and longing and eternal devotion and stuff.

Anything is out there, in the last light of August.

 

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Yes, I suffer as a ham-handed paint scrubber artist.

Preliminary sketches, all of them totally wrong.

I don’t care how many times I have to draw it, over and over again, I am driven by despair and low self-esteem my ideals to get it right.

I don’t care how many times I have to paint it, and paint it, and paint it, and paint it, and paint it, and paint it again, I cry bitter tears over my inadequacies steadfastly pursue my  masochistic perversion artistic vision.

I don’t stop until I get it slightly less crappy right. And do you know why?

Because of you. Yes, YOU.

You, dear readers, are the best people out there in Book World . Thank you all for answering the call to give Amazon a piece of your mind re: Le Road Trip. I am deeply touched and profoundly grateful for your wonderful feedback and guidance to the millions of people who ave yet to buy a copy of Le Road Trip. You deserve the very best reading experience that this pea brained ink-stained egomaniac humble book writer can give, so I slave over every detail on every page that I offer to you, you thoughtful caring seekers of literature.

That goes for the bilge content of this blog too. So, today, I am going to share with you one of my trade secrets. I’m going to show you show you how to paint gravel, such as that which appears in the pathways (above) of my quaint knot garden in Edinburgh:

Let’s say you have a gravel path you want to paint:

The first thing you do is make a quick wash over the entire surface like this:

When the wash is dry, cover the un-painted bits with whatever is handy — anything will do, even scrap paper. For you, dear readers, I used my prettiest purple paper:

You’ll need an old toothbrush for the next step, and you’ll get a far better result if you use a float-topped brush, like the pink one shown here, rather than the fancy pointy one (which, despite its scientific appearance, did not have the necessary aerodynamics):

Dip the tip of the toothbrush into water…

… and scrub the tip of that brush into dark paint and load it up with pigment:

You can use dark brown paint, or deep blue, if you’d like — depends on the kind of effect you want. Feel free to experiment. You’ll notice I’m using my old paints here . For certain textures or color schemes, I like the slightly muted colors I get from these cheap paints.

Now you’re going to use your index finger to flick the bristles of your toothbrush and splatter paint:

Let dry, and reveal:

Now,  when I did this technique on my garden illustration (way above) it was a bit more complicated because the spaces that I wanted to cover with splatter were very intricate. Luckily for me, I had a false start when I first tried to paint this bugger (for the sixth time):

So I took that false start and I cut it up to make a stencil to lay over y painting before I let rip with the toothbrush splatter :

Voila:

Now, having finished painting this scene for the sixth time, I have recently learned that I might have to do this all over again.

After two books that were the same trim six (9 x 8 inches), I began doing pages for my garden book in that exact same trim size.  But just last week my agent asked me to consider working in a new format.”Try making your new book smaller, like reading book size,” she said. “It’ll help booksellers [people who own book shops] shelve it, and display it.”

I’m all about making life easier for booksellers. I want to make it easy as pie for them to sell hundreds of thousands of my books. I need them to sell hundreds of thousands of my books or else I have no validation as a human being. ha ha.

So what that means is,  my next book might have considerably smaller pages. That is, the same size as 50 Shades of Gray, or Eat, Pray Love.

Hmmmmmm. I like the idea, but I don’t know if I can work in such cramped margins. This might seriously cramp my style. But, if it means more books will be sold

That black rectangle is the size of your average multi-million-seller, compared to Le Road Trip.  This might be the size of my next book.

What do you think?

 

P.S. My sister pointed out a flaw in my request for Amazon reviews last week, in that some people don’t like Amazon. I forgot to address that in this week’s post, but I will have a Plan B next week. Sorry for the inconvenience — we’ll make it right! I need everybody on the ChrisHanuKwanSolstice list!

 

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A professional artist has taken pity on me.

Carol Gillot, the artist behind the wonderful blog Paris Breakfasts.com, has sent me a selection of professional-grade water color paints in tubes to help me give my gardens the pizazz (that is, the saturation and the transparency) that I need. The reason I use hobby (child) quality paints in pans is because they are so easy to use — no fiddling with those itty bitty damn screw-top lids and stuff. And because I’m a Capricorn and we Capricorns are nothing if not creatures of habit. Once I find something I like, I stick with it. Capricorns are famous for being able to have the same thing for lunch every single day of their lives and for being excellent prison guards. We like routine and we like being bossy. We don’t like change.

 

But Carol also sent me some of her scratch pads and the colors she gets from the Windsor Newton paints she sent me are amazing.

You probably can’t see it in these lo-res scans, but the color is rich, subtle, and sparkling.

The greens! O, the greens! The greens are alive! So even though it goes against my basic nature, I will be diving into these new paints this weekend. That ominous rumble you hear, like a low thunder across the horizon, will be me cursing my ham-handed incompetence while I find my way with these new toys.

Luckily, the garden that I’ve been slaving over this past week is a Winter garden in the opaque city of Edinburgh:

In this case, I think the chalk-heavy pigments of my pan paints suits the dense, cloudy atmosphere of a rain-soaked Scotland:

Yes, these is something fitting about the overcast colors I can get from my simple kiddie paints as I paint these small walled garden rooms from various aspects (for the record, I’ve done two views of each parterre, facing East and facing West, behind tenements on the Royal Mile). Note, please the small (3-ich x 5-inch) picture on the right here:

It wasn’t until I’d finished this sketch that I saw what a blunder I’d made in being too literal as I looked at my referenced photos. Although this is the way it actually looked from the viewfinder of my camera, you can’t have trees growing out of the tops of laurel bushes like this:

So how do you correct it? One way would be to re-paint the whole thing.

Another way would be to just cut out the problem area:

…and paste a newly-painted corrected background in place:

I really didn’t think I’d get away with it, but I think it’s quite successful. If I hadn’t told you that this was a pieced-together illustration, you’d never have known, right?

One last thing: I am doing ONE book event this Summer. It’s a Bastille Day event in Nashville, Tennessee — on Saturday July 14, of course. I’ll be at  Parnassus Books in Nashville at 2 o’clock, and I’ll be giving out my tips and my advice on life, art, and travel writing. If you are in the Nashville area, please come! There will be wine!

Parnassus Books

4505 Harding Pike

Nashville, TN

www.parnassusbooks.com

 

 

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I’m not a billionaire — yet — but my editor told me this week that Le Road Trip has sold out of its first run and is going into a second printing so wealth and fame can’t be far behind. So I better take notes on how my soon-to-be-peers live — I want to fit in when we all get together and complain about the 99.9% who live off my job creation, those sluggards. Dim wits. Hoi Polloi. Hey! Not being rich is your own damn fault!

But I digress.

Once a year, a certain hedge fund billionairein Westchester, New York opens his garden on behalf of the Garden Conservancy. So I moseyed up to Katonah to get a look at my soon-to-be-neighbor.

The first thing I noticed was the zebras. Note to self: Billionaries need zebras in the back yard.

Note to self: Also, find out where to buy a zebra saddle.

And then there were the camels.

These are the two-hump kind of camels which, I think, only come from Mongolia. Note to self: start thinking of cute names for pet camels. Ullan and Baator? Marlboro and Kent?

I was told by one of the 20 attendandts who were there directing traffic that they average 750 cars every time this garden is open to the public. Don’t worry: there’s room for 750 cars here. This billionaire has a 55-acre backyard. Plenty of room enough for all these nosey parkers, plus a flock of flamingos:

And monkeys: 

And kangaroos (red and white):

Now, when it comes to kangaroos, this is money well spent. I do love me them kangaroos. So having a dozen kangaroos romping in my backyard is just like being in Australia without all the bother of a 20-hour plane ride.

After the kangaroos, all the emus and ostriches and black swans and other rare birds that were wandering around the backyard didn’t really grab my attention. For the rest of my walk around the property, I only have pictures of the really, really cute pets.

Like this guy:

We weren’t allowed inside the greenhouse where the billionaire grows rare tropical fruits from Asia and India, but we were permitted to stare…

….at the adorable tiny monkeys eating all the rare tropical fruits from India and Asia:

This fella is the size of a Barbie doll.  Cute!

This guy was the size of a very fat Labradoodle:

There was a woman who, upon catching sight of this little piggy ( a capybara, the world’s largest rodent, from South America, weighing about 40 pounds), exclaimed to her husband and kids: “Look! A hippopotamus!”  Secret note to self: It’s worth devoting great sums of money to keep morons away from me and my capybaras.

I almost missed this guy, who was napping with his herd in the Westchester savanna:

It took a half hour, but he finally revealed his full cerval self.

This kitty took an interest in me, and wandered over to my side of the fence to sniff my camera. I tried to get a close up of those infinitely beautiful and hypnotic cat eyes…

…but I only got his chin.

I know, I know:  You want to know what a billionaire’s garden looks like.

For one thing, there aren’t many flower beds except in the one-acre cutting garden (roses and tulips this time of year). Mostly the estate is a series of beautifully landscaped rolling hills to create habitats for the living lawn ornaments. But there is a spectacularly original garden that expresses the billionaire soul; It’s a 5-acre maple grove planted with every species of maple tree.

There are wonderful paths all through this space. And several bridges — this one is the Moss Bridge:

And this one is the Japanese Bridge:

Japanese bridges are usually painted vermillion (Monet either didn’t know or didn’t care about this when he painted his Giverny bridge that blue-green color) and the use of that Japanese maple tree is outstanding. Japanese maples are prized in Japan for their intricately gnarled branches, and this tree has maximum visual interest plus it mimics the arch of the bridge. This exquisite tableau is the mark of a true connoisseur, and represents a very high taste level.

It takes about two hours to walk around and take in a 55-acre garden, for your information. I was very satisfied with the day, having learned quite a bit about the de rigueurs of the Billionaire’s Club.

But there was one last thing I  had to check out. I walked all the way up the quarter-mile long driveway, all the way to the quaint dirt road that this billionaire lives on, because I had to find the answer to a question I’ve always had about billionaires.

Q: What does a billionaire’s mailbox look like?

Now I know.

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I’m still at it. Still flummoxed by gardens. My paintings of them still look like crap. If you remember, when we last left off I was trying to do justice to a small walled garden off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh called Dunbar’s Close:

In the past two weeks I’ve actually tried TWICE to re-paint this, but the results were even worse so instead I went back and made certain necessary corrections to make this illustration a tad bit less crappy:

 

Having failed so miserably, I decided to take a break and go back to my comfort zone, garden-wise. I did a miniature painting of the secret doorway to Dunbar’s Close on the Royal Mile (miniature being my preferred canvas):

This secret entrance is almost totally camouflaged as just another alley between nondescript buildings on the Royal Mile:

There are 83 “closes” on the Royal Mile such as this one that leads to Dunbar’s Close. BTW, I know some of you, dear readers, like to see Where I Get My Ideas From. For this illustration, I plagiarized this reference photos:

Another wonderful garden that I love is in Key West. And when it comes to Key West, I’ve always been very fond of this picture I took in 2005 when Top Cat and I spent a long February weekend there (this is our guest room at the Conch House Heritage Inn, built in 1885):

I love the monochromatic effect of this picture, the long afternoon shadows, and how the orange cat is the only spot of color. So let’s PAINT IT!

First had to draw it:

I had to leave out that second rocking chair — waaaay too complicated for my skill level and I didn’t want to make myself any crazier than I had to.  Of course, there is only one way to paint this drawing: illuminated on my light box:

I really shouldn’t paint without supervision. Thank you, Coco cat.

By putting my 90-lb Canson watercolor paper over this drawing and firing up the light box, the outlines of this sketch show through to guide me as I “color in” the shadows that I see in the photograph. It took me about two hours to paint this:

Yeah, I had to ditch the French door and the window entirely — there was no way I had the manual dexterity to pull that off. It was the rocking chair and the cat that I most wanted to paint any way and if you had not seen the original concept you would think that this was a pretty completely realized composition, eh?

Thank you, one and all, for all your garden book recommendations last week. I’m still searching for the garden artist that I can steal from…I have a specific viewing experience in mind when it comes to garden art, and hoo boy some of the garden books I’ve come across miss it by miles.

Last Sunday I journeyed to the wilds of Westchester County to visit a billionaire’s garden because I wanted to see what a man with an undogly amount of money puts in his garden. Stayed tuned: I’ll  show you, right here, next week.

 

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You might remember my friend Robert from pages 190 and 191 of my book When Wanderers Cease to Roam, where I talk about how Robert operates the drawbridge over the Eastchester Barge Canal off U.S.Route 1.

He spent 30 years there, planting trees and creating art from the debris that floated his way, hanging hundreds of his “collages” (they looked like wind chimes to me) from the branches of his trees because, as Robert said, ” God put me here to straighten out this part of Earth.”

Robert retired last year and yesterday I went to visit him at his home in Westchester County, on the shore of the Long Island Sound.

No, this isn’t Robert’s yard. This is Robert’s neighbor’s yard. I’m just showing you this for a sense of contrast because Robert’s been as busy in his own acre of Earth as he was at the drawbridge — Robert’s yard looks like this:

Robert’s made his yard into a wonderland garden, sculpted the landscape by installing a staircase, railings, statues, more “collages” set into the ground, etc.

These photos make the place look a little more chaotic than it is — I just love the way Robert adds all these different shapes (like the fans) into the scenery.

And the sinks.

You can get lost in the scale of the surrounding installations here —

—and I didn’t bring a tea bag so I’m pointing to this particularly lovely little vignette to show you that some of Robert’s work is quite diminutive.

This is one of the more elaborate “collages’/wind chimes hanging in Robert’s home garden.

Robert surprised me with a very special gift — a wind chime of my very own!

These keys used to hang at the Eastchester Barge Canal and when a county supervisor made Robert get rid of “all that trash in the trees” Robert saved this one and gave it to me!

Oh! I almost forgot to tell you about the most fantastic part of Robert’s garden! I saw something that I’ve never seen and never could have hoped or dared to see with my own eyes right there, in Robert’s garden. I saw this:

This is a mother blue jay sitting in her nest in Robert’s garden (giving me the hairy eyeball).

As for Le Road Trip, I must give thanks to the kind reviews that have appeared this past week in the Sunday Mail in Brisbane, Australia ;and the Oklahoman of Oklahoma City; and the Roanoke Times of Roanoke, VA.

Thanks also to all my dear readers, who are reading both Le Road Trip and When Wanderers Cease to Roam in original hard copy (since neither book can be Kindled), putting up with my old-fashioned idea that a reading experience must include a real book-shaped object.

P.S. I’m looking for good garden books — ones that have great illustrations and stories about gardens and their gardeners. I’ve already ordered , sight unseen but just because I like the title, an out-of-print book called Remembered Gardens…does anyone know of any other good books that get to the heart of the garden experience? Or will I have to write that one myself?

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