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10 Jan The Last Roses

The Last RosesFor the past three or four years, our roses have been dying. We had so many beautiful bushes—the Peace roses I carried when Jim and were married, the dazzling white Margaret Merril roses my dear mother (herself a Margaret) gave us as a gift, the perfect pink Queen Elizabeth tea roses, dozens of fragrant antique roses from David Austin Roses, even hedges of anonymous red roses—probably something called Knock Out roses—which came with the house. And all of them have been dying.


It seems we have been having a scourge of something called the rose rosette virus in North Texas. It’s been spreading since 1998, and seemed to strike us here in Coppell three or four years ago. There’s no help or cure for it—once your bushes are infected, they just die and that’s that. It’s best to pull them out before they spread the infection. And there’s no point in replanting more roses as long as the rose rosette virus is so ubiquitous.


These beauties—on the last green stem of one of the anonymous red plants—are the last of all the beautiful roses in our back yard. Once spring is here, perhaps we can find something different to plant. But I hope some day we can put in antique roses again, not only for their beauty but for their heavenly fragrances.


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18 Oct White Violets


My violets are blooming their heads off right now. I think they love this south-facing window, which is immediately to my left as I sit here and type.

In The Flower Reader, white violets symbolize Mary Livingston, one of Mary Queen of Scots’ “Four Maries” and a good friend to my heroine Rinette Leslie:

Mary Livingston took my hands in hers. She had warm, strong hands. I felt a sense of white violets about her, simple and joyous, although with the deep purple of mourning in the center hinting at darkness to come.

Mary Livingston did have sorrow to come in her life. After Queen Mary was forced to abdicate (and fled to England, with disastrous results), she was accused of hiding away some of the queen’s jewels and fine clothing. Her husband was imprisoned and Mary Livingston herself was interrogated and threatened. Later a grant of land the queen had made to Mary and her husband John Sempill was nullified; John Sempill fought strenuously against this injustice and ended up imprisoned, tortured with the boot, and sentenced to death. A broken man, he was allowed to go home to die.

In the end, Queen Mary’s son James VI and I restored the disputed land to the widowed Mary Livingston. She last appears in the historical record in 1592, but the exact date of her death is unknown.

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09 Oct Saturday Round Robin I-3

I’ve made a big change in my schedule this past week, and it’s turned out to be a whole-life transformation. Isn’t it funny how small things can make such big changes?

Anyway. I’ve moved my writing time to first thing in the morning. I get up, let the doggies out, make my coffee, and start to write. Period. No email, no news, no journal, no morning pages (sorry, Julia Cameron)—just coffee and writing, pure and simple. I am a natural morning person and the Broadcasting Legend™ isn’t, so I even have solitude, with the sunrise gradually lightening my south-facing windows, coffee steaming and doggies curled up on their pillows behind me. I’ve been working till I get to five pages or ten o’clock, whichever comes first. And then, amazingly, I am free. I can manage everything else in the course of the day, because my real work is done and no matter what else happens, I have achieved something important (well, important to me) for that one unique, irreplaceable day in my life.

I know it sounds ridiculously trivial, but for me it’s been a revelation. It is such an enormous relief to have my work done and the rest of the day stretching out enticingly before me. Do I sometimes do more writing (or particularly research and editing) in the course of the day? Why yes, I do. But only because I want to. If I want to take a nap instead (with Nigella Lawson or Ina Garten rambling soothingly about food in the background) I am utterly free to do it.

What special rituals seem to make your creativity work for you?

In other news of the week: Cressie has also experienced a transformation—into a tri-color predator extraordinaire. This week she added a rabbit and another squirrel to her list of victims. You do not want to know the details.

I am reading Great Maria by Cecelia Holland. For about the leventy-leventh time, but I love this book so much and it is out in a beautiful new edition from Sourcebooks. If you haven’t read it, please put it on your list. You will not be sorry.

I am making a lovely pan of Mexican Lasagna this week, since the Broadcasting Legend™ is going to be out of town and I’m free to eat casseroles every night of the week. (I love casseroles. The BL™ is a large-recognizable-piece-of-meat man.) I take the wonderful chili I wrote about last week, layer it with plain, lightly oven-toasted corn tortillas (the toasting makes a huge difference in the flavor) and a mixture of colby cheddar, monterey jack, and queso fresco tossed with lots of Mexican spices. Then I bake the whole thing till it’s brown and melty and crunchy around the edges. The corners are my favorite pieces.

And finally, did you see the story of Paris Japonica, the white flower that has been determined to have the longest genome ever discovered—fifty times longer than the genome for a human being? Can you imagine what my floromancer heroine Rinette would make of that? Unfortunately I can’t put Paris Japonica into The Silver Casket, because it’s a native of Japan and would have been outside the ken of anyone in sixteenth-century Scotland or France. But! Paris Japonica has a relative called Paris Quadrifolia, known to folklore as Herb Paris or True-Lover’s Knot, and that plant might indeed have been found in damp and shady places along Aberdeenshire streams. Rinette wouldn’t know about genomes, of course, but with her uncanny affinity for flowers she might sense something unusual about Herb Paris. I’ve already worked out just what part this enigmatic plant is going to play in the story…

See you next week!

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17 Jun More Lily Adventures

Last year we were amazed when a red Hurricane Lily popped up out of nowhere in our front garden. “Come back next year and bring some friends,” we cried. Well, ask and you shall receive. Yesterday afternoon we discovered an incredibly gorgeous orange double lily (still researching to find an actual name for it) right next to the spot where the Hurricane Lily appeared last year. We’re delighted but a little spooked—where are all these beautiful and exotic lilies coming from? And what do they mean? See the Photo Page for pictures.

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02 May One More Rose

I know I said I was going to end my backyard adventures for the time being, but I can’t resist one more rose. This is the first full-blown blossom on our new “Double Delight” bush. Ours seems more yellow-and-fuchsia than cream-and-scarlet as it appears on the David Austin website, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. The scent is classic rose—not terribly strong but then the bush is next to the Pink Peggies, which have a magnificent and sometimes overpowering lemony-rosy scent. So you have to tuck your nose right down into the center of the Double Delight petals to get the true effect of its scent.

Yesterday we introduced one of the darling two-year-old twin boys from across the street to the rosebushes. He was enthralled, and grasped big handfuls of petals (fortunately from one of the Neon Red bushes, which was covered with blossoms and could afford to spare a few) to offer to all of us as presents. I demonstrated throwing the petals into the air (“It was roses, roses, all the way…”) and he joined in with great enthusiasm. Why do moments like that always happen when there’s no camera close at hand?

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23 Apr Stripes Ahoy!

Remember last January when I wrote about the two new rose bushes we’d ordered? Well, after some uncertain moments during our cold, wet spring, little “Scentimental” has come through with flying colors. Here’s its very first bloom:

Incredibly fragrant, as one would expect from its name. Heh. Of course I couldn’t help expecting the scent of peppermint, but what it is, for me at least, is an intense, classic old-fashioned “rose” scent. Heavenly.

And I will end this series of back-yard adventures with this:

…because whenever one is in our back yard, there’s always a beagle observing!

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19 Apr More Garden Adventures

It’s a good year for roses, it seems, in east Texas. Here are some more rose pictures from our back forty:

These are what we call the “Pink Peggies.” They were a wedding gift from my dear mother Miss Peggie, and meant to be white—but when the bare-root bushes were planted and nurtured and started to bloom that first year, lo and behold they were pink. Much correspondence with David Austin Roses ensued. The true identity of the pink roses was never ascertained, which is how they came to be called the Pink Peggies.

The following year we received a trio of replacement plants, and these were indeed the beautiful white “Winchester Cathedral” variety Miss Peggie had originally chosen. At the moment they are just quivering on the cusp of blossoming—look at those dozens and dozens of buds! Later on I’ll post some pictures of the actual blooms.

Now back to sixteenth-century Scotland, and the flowers there…

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17 Apr Anniversary Roses

Today is the Broadcasting Legend™’s and my anniversary. At our wedding ceremony I carried a glorious bouquet of Peace roses from the bush in our own back yard, and so of course every spring the new blooms seem to be saying, “Hello again! Happy anniversary!”

We described our wedding day as “Babies, Beagles and Roses.” Well, the babies have grown up and sadly one of the beagles, my dearest Raffles, is gone—but the roses continue to bloom. May that particular Peace bush thrive for many more years!

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11 Apr Texas Mountain Laurel

What I saw on my walk today:

I would love to have some of this in our back yard. Trouble is, it has beautiful, shiny bright red seeds which are hallucinogenic (not surprisingly it’s also called the mescal bean tree) and very toxic. Not a good combination with two curious beagles who will eat anything!

But it’s so lovely. I’ll just have to appreciate it in other people’s yards.

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21 Mar Spring? Where?

Today is the first day of Spring, tra-la. We woke up to this—an extremely unseasonable blanket of snow. Brrr! Boudin, a sensible Cajun doggie, refused to go out in the nasty cold wet stuff. Cressie, on the other hand, with her Canadian heritage, bounded out happily. Here you see her sniffing those special snow-enhanced smells. (We did eventually coax Mr. Boo out for a brief pit stop.)

On the far right, note the white tubs we put over our tender new rose plants to protect them from this outrage. At the top leftish-center, see the little chartreuse balsa-wood birdhouse the house wrens love so dearly, heaped with snow on top. Poor shivery wrens. Ah, the joys of spring at Casa Loupas.

Our pear trees have been denuded of their blossoms and look so sad I couldn’t even bear to take a picture of them. Who knows if they will have the heart to bloom again this year?

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20 Jan A Rose by Any Other Name

We’re awaiting two new additions to our rose family this year—one of our venerable “Peace” bushes (we had two, from which I cut the flowers I carried when The Broadcasting Legend™ and I were married) gave up the ghost this past summer and we have a spot to fill. Enter “Scentimental” and “Double Delight,” from my favorite purveyor of all things rose, David Austin Roses.

“Scentimental” is the peppermint-striped one—beautiful and unusual, with no two flowers alike. The scent is a very rich rose-spice, ergo the name.

“Double Delight” looks rather like a “Peace” that’s gone over to the dark side—deeper crimson edges to the petals and a creamy-gold heart. It also has a fabulous fragrance (one of our requirements for roses), described as both spicy and fruity.

I’m looking forward to planting these and nurturing them along, although I must say that the names “Scentimental” and “Double Delight” are not as romantic or literary as the names of some of our other roses. How can they compare with “Jude the Obscure” or “Fair Bianca” or “Eglantyne”? Once we have them settled in their new homes, we may have to re-name them so they feel comfortable with their siblings.

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20 Nov Roses Roses

Antique roses on the kitchen counter, filling the whole house with their rose-y citrus-y fragranceOur antique roses are blooming like mad in these last weeks of the season (in Texas, anyway). We keep cutting them and bringing them inside, and as you can see we have half a dozen vases lined up on the kitchen counter. These are “St. Cecilia” and “Eglantyne” (the pinker ones) and “Jude the Obscure” (the gorgeous golden-pink-apricot one). The fragrances are simply stunning. There is nothing like an old-fashioned English rose for fragrance.

As you can see, we have a few (!) other plants as well. Sometimes I think it’s a tossup between the number of plants we have outdoors and the number of plants we have indoors!

My central character Rinette Leslie would have known roses somewhat similar to these—”Damascus and “Provence” roses—in the royal gardens at Edinburgh Castle and Holyroodhouse. In her unique (meaning that I’m mostly just making it up) system of floromancy, roses are classifed by scent and number of petals rather than by color as they are in the later Victorian “language of flowers.”

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04 Nov Attracting Butterflies

The other day when I was out taking pictures of the flowers, I saw several butterflies fluttering over the ageratum bed. I didn’t have time to set up a shot so I just held the camera out toward the flowers and clicked away a few times. A little cropping, and here’s what I ended up with:

A butterfly in our ageratum bed

As I worked with the picture, I thought, “Isn’t that just what I feel like? I’m the ageratum, partly fresh and richly colored, partly frazzled-y and gone to seed. But you know, the butterflies don’t care. They still flutter and light, like the strands of my new story, intrigue and death and passion, hovering just beyond my reach and then suddenly landing and connecting themselves to me.”

I suppose I’ve been particularly open to flowers-as-symbols lately, with my research into floromancy for The Silver Casket. Who would have thought I’d find it in my own back yard?

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02 Nov Micro-Walks

Need inspiration? Need motivation? Exercise is one of the best ways to kickstart one’s energy and creativity. (So are showers, but that’s another post.) Walking has been my exercise of choice ever since I adopted my first beagle Raffles, my much-loved companion and personal trainer for eleven years. Today I walk with Cressie and Boudin, and very inspiring and energizing it is, too.

Roses in our backyard, reveling in the cooler days of NovemberHowever, sometimes my fingers hover over the keys with the next words tantalizingly close, and a long walk would actually be too much. That’s when I employ my new technique of the micro-walk—getting up from my desk and walking through the house for a minute or two, or going out into the back yard and smelling the roses (literally—our roses are blooming like crazy now that we’re having cooler weather). The trick is making the micro-walk just long enough to refresh my mind and shake my thoughts loose without being long enough to completely break my focus.

Sometimes less really is more.

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15 Sep Plumbago

The plumbago, or skyflower, growing just outside our back door

Because Rinette, the central character in my new book, is a floromancer deeply connected to flowers and their properties, I find I’m becoming fascinated with everything I can find out about flowers as well.

Take the plumbago bush in our back yard. What a strange name for such a lovely flowering shrub, with its masses of bluish and lilac-colored blossoms, so sweet and irresistible to butterflies. The name comes from the Latin “plumbum,” the metal lead, as dull as dull can be. How on earth did it get connected with such a beautiful flower? (It’s also called skyflower, because of its color, but that’s a modern invention.)

The stories differ. Some say the plant—called for centuries plain “leadwort,” and only given its Latinized name in the eighteenth century—was used to treat lead poisoning, which was recognized as an affliction as early as the second century BC. Others say it was associated with lead because it was used to treat conditions that turned the skin a leaden color. Still others say the plant itself is toxin-loving, and where it grows there is lead to be found. Traditionally it’s also been used to treat warts, wounds and broken bones; made into a powder to be sniffed for headaches; and brewed as a tea to ward off nightmares. Sticks of leadwort were woven into thatched roofs to ward off lightning. In French it was called dentelaire, and the chewed root was said to relieve toothache.

So in the sixteenth century Rinette would have known it as leadwort. How to work it into her unique personal scheme of floromancy? With its association with nightmares, perhaps it could bring on a vision of bad things that might happen if one makes a particular decision. That would certainly fit into the plot. Heh.

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07 Apr No Cucumbers Yet, But…

We have lilies:

Backyard lilies on a cool, overcast morning

And we have Peace roses:

A full-blown Peace rose

My beloved Robert Browning’s Pippa knew of what she sang:

The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearl’d;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven—
All’s right with the world!

Although here along the Elm Fork of the Trinity, it would most likely be a mockingbird instead of a lark.

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07 Mar Spring has Officially Sprung

Our Jessamina


Our jessamina vine (at least that’s what the Broadcasting Legend™ calls it—officially it’s a yellow jessamine or Carolina jessamine) has burst into bloom, and who can look at its tumbling waves of bright yellow flowers without feeling cheerful?

When I was growing up in Illinois we had forsythia to give us sunshine-yellow flowers in the spring. For some reason nobody seems to grow forsythia here in Texas (or lilacs, which I miss), but the jessamina is just as lovely. It has a sachet-like, faintly lavender/rose scent which reminds me of small hard candies I sometimes ate as a child.

What heralds Spring for you?