Month: March 2015

The Unkindest Cut

I hate pruning.

For a gardener, that’s a dangerous admission. Gardeners are always pruning, or at least always cutting. (“Pruning” usually refers to operations on woody plants such as trees and shrubs, with the artistic intention to shape and train). We are always cutting down old stalks, bushwhacking overgrown or unwanted vegetation, or “pinching” young plants to make them bushier and fuller. The garden tool I use more than any other is a set of secateurs, otherwise known as pruners or clippers. On any inspection trip around the garden it takes only a minute or two before I spot a job that requires this tool.

So what’s the problem?

Yesterday, for example, I finally got around to cutting down last year’s fern foliage before the new fiddleheads start unfurling.

March 23, 2015

I wasn’t quite so prompt with Epimedium x perralchicum “Frohnleiten.” The durable foliage of this useful plant lasts all winter, but should be removed so the dainty flowers and beautiful new leaves may be seen and admired. By the time I got around to doing that yesterday, tender bloom stalks with their yellow flowers had already unfolded, with others still bent over but preparing to rise.

March 23, 2015

Rather than the quick clip that would have been fine a few weeks ago, I had to do careful, stalk-by-stalk cuts. Accidentally cutting off new growth is sickening and guaranteed to make one feel like a Bad Gardener.

That’s what I hate about pruning — cutting off healthy growth. In the case of the Epimedium, it’s not desirable and happens only as a result of clumsiness or haste. But pruning, done by the book, often requires removal of new, leafy plant material. Many types of clematis require that the plant be cut to the ground every spring. Easy but brutal, because often there is visible new growth all over the old vines. The gardener must steel herself and snip, suppressing the thought that the plant will have to replace all that mass, not just pick up where it left off last fall. (And yes, I know that if you leave the old growth, in a few years you end up with a woody tangle and fewer blooms).

The healthiest and most vigorous growth on roses is at the very ends of the branches — and if you prune as directed, you cut it off, leaving stumps from which you hope and believe better new growth will come. At the plant’s lower height, you will be able to see and appreciate the flowers. That’s a good reason for pruning, but right after making the cut — reducing a lush mass of fresh, red-tinged leaves to a bare stub — I feel like like a vandal.

I’ve been gardening for more than 30 years, and I still have trouble cutting off healthy-looking growth, even when I know it will (eventually) improve the looks and performance of the plant. Even now, there are occasions when I simply don’t do it, which means the plant gets leggy or woody, needing more drastic treatment (including total removal) down the road.

“Strength follows the knife.” I mutter this gardening maxim as I stand in front of a plant, secateurs in hand, contemplating amputation. It’s what I think of as the Pruning Paradox — the weaker the plant, the harder you are advised to prune it, because pruning stimulates new growth. Like many maxims, it’s not 100%: once a plant is really weak, my advice would be simply to save yourself the effort of hard pruning its measly little limbs. The result will probably be the same, in the end. Once a plant is dead, there is no hesitation before cutting it down.

Epimedium "Frohnleiten"

Epimedium “Frohnleiten”

Dryopteris fiddleheads

Dryopteris fiddleheads

Guest Post by Charles E. Yallowitz: What I’ve Learned

Some great suggestions here by Charles. I especially like that he doesn’t ignore the negative aspects of writing and getting your stuff out there. It is tough. I see that with my series of 4 books I seriously broke Charles’s first suggestion. Each book has a different narrator, speaking in a different voice. Many readers possibly don’t like that, which would explain a few things. 🙂 It’s good to know others struggle with these issues, and very good to have access to the community of writers.

Nicholas C. Rossis

You probably remember author Charles E. Yallowitz, who’s become a regular visitor to this blog and fast friend. He graciously agreed to a guest post on the things he has learned since self-publishing his first book of his Legends of Windemere series. Take it, Charles!

Stuff I’ve learned since publishing my first book

Beginning of a Hero (CLICK FOR AMAZON SITE) Beginning of a Hero (CLICK FOR AMAZON SITE) Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

So, Nicholas and I were talking a while back and I said something that caught his attention. It was a simple comment about stuff I learned since I published my first book of Legends of Windemere back in February of 2013.

I’m gearing up for the 7th book of the series, Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue, and Nicholas suggested I write about what I’ve learned over the last two years — that happen to feel like a decade.

Though I’ve learned a lot…

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Don’t Kill the Dog!

I’m halfway through reading Nick Cutter’s The Deep, having heard a feverishly enthusiastic endorsement of it by a local radio commentator. For the most part I can’t argue with his opinion — the book has all the right stuff for a can’t-put-it-down horror/thriller:  a research station at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, a mad scientist and a crazed one, a lurking evil, and a couple of people who descend from the surface to find out what’s going on. And some experimental subjects — specifically two dogs.

So far, I’ve met only one of the dogs — a skinny, anxious chocolate Lab. Don’t know what’s happened to the other one, but I’ll bet it’s something bad. And I have a bad feeling about the ultimate fate of both dogs and all the humans. This can’t end well. It’s that kind of book.

Here’s the thing: suspecting a bad end for those dogs gets in the way of enjoying the story. I’m fine with the scientists going crazy, with the humans encountering everything from claustrophobia to terrors behind closed hatches to depth-induced nightmares. That’s the whole point of reading a book like this — experiencing terrible things vicariously while reclining on your couch with your favourite cat and a bag of snacks. But expecting to share the experience of an already frightened dog suffering and dying is too real to be enjoyable. When I get to that part, I will skip over it, or just close the book and put it down.

Weird, isn’t it? In a world where millions of factory-farmed animals die every day, where small children endure terrible conditions in refugee camps, I can’t bear to read about the suffering of fictitious dogs (or, even worse, cats). Maybe it’s because I’ve witnessed the illness and deaths of three cats in the past 20 years. Maybe because unlike humans, animals don’t have any concept of hope for the future or self-sacrifice for a good cause. They are simply swept up in humanity’s projects and become unheeded debris along the road to… whatever. (But then, so are those kids in the refugee camps).

Conclusion? Horrors are great to read about, as long as they aren’t too real. As long as reading about them doesn’t bring us to a place where we don’t want to be, reminding us of the sadness and tragedy inherent in our mortal lives. Which is why many readers simply avoid the horror genre altogether, and some of us read it with relish only if we know no animals will be harmed in making the mind-movie.

Just Give it Away: Does Free Work?

I’ve been contemplating a post about indie authors giving away books for free, but Nicholas has put forth some very good points here.

Nicholas C. Rossis

From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books From timashton.org.uk

The very sweet Toni Betzner asked me for a guest post for her blog, My Write of Passage. Having noticed how I do a lot of giveaways and offers, she suggested I discuss the benefits of free.

This got me thinking. I keep reading contradictory information on this. Jack Eason complains that it attracts trolls. Effrosyni Moschoudi – and many others – have told me that free doesn’t work – in the sense that it fails to generate subsequent sales.

Also, this is a question that has troubled me a lot lately, As you all know, I’ve decided to keep Runaway Smile available in its entirety for blog visitors, wishing to both thank my followers and gain reviews.

So, does free work?

Quick answer: yes and no. It does as part of an overall strategy, and it can do wonders to put a new author on…

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The Garden Goes On… Not Sure About the Gardener

Readers may have noticed an absence of garden-related posts recently. Well OK, it’s been winter, but here on the Fortunate Coast you could have been fooled into thinking spring came very early — or winter cancelled itself soon after Christmas. For the past three weeks I have been checking for emerging blue poppies (looks like 10 or 11 of the 16 plants have survived) and pruning shrubs. The cotoneaster, ceanothus, one of the barberries and the magnolia have undergone well-intended amputations. I’ve cut down old perennial stalks left over from last summer and pulled up some of the invasive grass from the perennial bed that is slowly being taken over by it.

But I feel disengaged from the garden and I’m not ready to embrace spring. Part of me would be happy enough to have a couple more months of winter. The reasons for this are clear — some challenging family issues and the presence of The Dog. I have less time and energy for the garden. Moreover, I’m still coming to terms with sharing the space with a large, bouncy puppy who chews sticks and fallen branches and occasionally does some unauthorized digging. Fences around the beds protect the plants but are visually jarring.

Nelly the Newf

Nelly the Newf

 

The New Look

The New Look

I have no ambitious plans for the coming season. Maintaining the status quo will be the name of the game, and I’ll be quite pleased if things don’t deteriorate. No new beds will be dug (except by Nelly), no exciting plants introduced. I may even skip the long-established ritual of growing tomatoes. The fewer pot-confined plants I’ll have to water every day or two in the dry months (May or June through September), the better.

This is one of the dark secrets that garden writers don’t reveal — a garden can’t be put on “pause” while the gardener takes a time out, unlike a hobby using inert materials. Plants will grow and seed and die quite happily on their own, unsupervised by the gardener. But many of the features the gardener values will be lost or diminished — integrity of plantings, clear edges around beds, and survival of delicate or fussy plants. One reads of the disheveled charm of abandoned gardens, but it’s different when the garden is your own and you get to witness the dishevelment creeping in.

So I hope the 2015 gardening season isn’t one where chaos reigns and the gardener (that’s me) throws in the trowel.

 

Hellebore "Ivory Prince"

Hellebore “Ivory Prince”

 

Zeke the Cat

Zeke the Cat

 

Rosemary flowers

Rosemary flowers

 

Blue is the colour of hope.

Read An Ebook Week 7 is Upon Us!

 

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For the seventh year running, Smashwords is participating in Read An Ebook Week. Authors who have published through Smashwords can offer their books at discounts from 25% to 100% (i.e. free) on the Smashwords site. The discounted books are featured in a separate catalogue from March 1st (12 a.m. Pacific Standard Time) until March 7th (12 p.m. PST).

Anyone who has downloaded my free ebook The Friendship of Mortals (or anyone else for that matter) can purchase the other three books of the Herbert West Series at a 50% discount.

What are you waiting for?

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