Tag Archives: gardening

“The Darling Dahlias Mysteries” by Susan Wittig Albert.

The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree
The first book in this series of nine novels

So far I’ve read two of these novels. I wasn’t at all certain that anything from the “cozy mystery” genre would work for me, but these books are great. Yes, chick lit. Yes, beach reading. Intelligent, lively beach reading!

To clarify, Darling is an imaginary small town in southern Alabama. The Darling Dahlias is a garden club with 12 members of varied ages. The series starts at the beginning of the Great Depression. Times are hard, and no one knows if improvement can be expected.

The Dahlias face a variety of (predictable) challenges and the occasional disruption of their quiet town by murder, embezzlement and organized crime. The local, two-person police force can’t always resolve these issues, but the Dahlias, thinking “outside the box” and using unconventional methods, have remarkable success. At the same time, they have fun and revel in mutual support. Darling is the (imaginary) small town we all wish we could live in!


“Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” by Novella Carpenter

Penguin Press, 2009, 269 pages.

This book presents a striking contrast to “The Good Food Revolution – Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities” by Will Allen, which I reviewed on January 29, 2015.

For starters, Allen farms in chilly Milwaukee, whereas Carpenter lives in sunny southern California. Allen is incredibly systematic and diligent, and good at using “the system” to get grants and organize groups. Carpenter is eccentric, rebellious and individualistic. Both manage to raise food in a city setting. Each has a progressive to liberal/radical political agenda. Other than that, they have little in common.

Carpenter did not own the urban land she farmed, describing herself as a squatter. She lived, by choice, in a neighborhood most of us would never consider – violent and poverty stricken, a marginal community full of marginalized, struggling people. To her, sharing was an integral part of being an urban farmer. She gated but did not lock her garden, and rarely interfered with people who helped themselves to her produce. She scavenged extensively, often in the dumpsters behind restaurants.

But these two farmers share a vision of a highly altered urban landscape, and I consider most of the changes they advocate to be highly desirable from an environmental point of view.

One of Carpenter’s especial goals was to raise meat on her urban farm, and the book plots her passage from poultry to rabbits to pigs. She raised two hogs (not pigs, but full sized hogs). Her monetary investment was minor, but the labor of feeding the fast growing hogs on dumpster sourced food sounded overwhelming. I wonder if she did it again.

One reason I can’t imagine living Carpenter’s life style if that it seems overwhelmingly dirty. She kept poultry in her apartment, rabbits on her deck, pigs beside her building.

Both Carpenter and Allen are well worth reading. I would love to see both cities and suburbs producing food (and flowers!) and supporting birds and other wildlife.

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts exhibition “The Artist’s Garden”

The full title of this exhibition was “The Artist’s Garden – American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920”. I was taken to this amazing show as a Mother’s Day treat! What a wonderful gift! I love flowers and gardens. I adore Impressionist paintings. What could be better!?

Where shall I begin? I’ve long admired Childe Hassam, and I was thrilled to see his painting Celia Thaxter in Her Garden. It was created on Appledore Island in the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of Maine in 1892. I have visited Appledore and seen the modern reconstruction of Thaxter’s garden! Other works by Hassam were also included in the exhibit.

One section of the exhibit was dedicated to “The Lady in the Garden”. Women and flowers were considered “ideals”, lofty and edifying. Some of the women shown are stylish and passive. Others are active, raking leaves, dining, writing, visiting…

Most of the works were oil paintings, but there was also a room devoted to color photographs created through the autochrome process, the earliest form of color photography. They are very vivid.

Most of the artwork was exuberantly colorful! I love the brightness of the Impressionists. A few wintry scenes provided contrast. At one point, I suddenly had music in my head (vocal music in two parts, if you want detail). This never happened to me in a museum before. One type of joy triggers another? Wow! Was this synesthesia? I’ve heard of this type of sensory mixup. In my case, I doubt it could be triggered intentionally. Just a random gift from the universe!

A significant number of the artists featured had some association with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as students, teachers or prior exhibitors. The Academy was founded in 1805. It is a cultural treasure.

The only downside here is that this particular exhibition ends on May 24, so if you want to see it, you must make haste! However, the extensive permanent collection would also make for a delightful visit, and new exhibits are offered regularly.

“Moonrise” by Cassandra King

I wasn’t sure whether I had gotten my hands on a mystery or a romance. Moonrise turned out to be a romance, one aimed at the “middle aged” demographic I am starting to outgrow. It’s a novel about attempting a new start. Taking place in the South, it is told from the viewpoints of three women. The protagonist is a forty-something dietician who stumbled into a career as a TV chef and then got passionately involved with a very high powered media mogul. The other two woman are part of the mogul’s circle of acquaintances, most of whom resent the fact that he remarried precipitously after the accidental death of his wife. It’s all about atmosphere and personality quirks. Enjoy!