Title.

A couple of weeks ago an editor e-mailed me a response to a piece I had submitted, of which the gist was: I like what you’re doing here, but your title doesn’t quite fit the situation you describe in your work. Either change the situation or change the title – it’s up to you.  Of course, I took the easier (but possibly more stressful) route and spent a day and a half agonizing over potential new titles, one of which was ultimately affixed to the published work.

Coming up with suitable titles is probably one of the most difficult parts of writing for me. If I’m writing an article – about composting, perhaps, or dividing perennials or buying garden tools – I tend to simply give a really brief statement about where I’m headed with the content. So far, I haven’t had to apply the heavy-handed sass that might yield that special click bait edge. “10 Deadly Secrets Your Lawnmower is Harbouring” isn’t really the sort of thing I write.  Yet.  These are lean times.

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I usually fare better when it comes to fiction, because the story tells me what it wants to be called (yeah, that doesn’t sound quite right now that I read that back but we’ll go with it).  Because I often write humour, my titles have contained puns (“Johnny Cache Steps Out”), snippets of clichéd sayings (“…If You Were the Last Man on Earth”), or slang (“Sheeple”). Still, the titles are usually coughed up at the end, when I’ve gotten the text down.  The only time it can get a bit shaky is when you have to scramble to meet a deadline and your story is ambiguous with its choice.  You don’t want your title to come across reading like a label hastily slapped on a shipping container (well, I guess it depends on the story).

Blog posts are even worse.  Take today’s title, for example.  It’s short and to the point, and definitely conveys what the writer wants it to, but it’s lacking a certain grittiness that would just nudge it over the top.  I’d chew on it a little bit more, but I’m suddenly inspired to write some horror flash fic about lawnmowers….  (Garden horror – that could seriously be a sub-genre, am I right?).

Are titles a struggle for you?

Clipart credit.

Fairy Gardening Book Reviews – and a Giveaway!

I’m reviewing a couple of really fun gardening books today!

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Fairy Gardening 101: How to Design, Plant, Grow, and Create Over 25 Miniature Gardens – Fiona McDonald (2014, Skyhorse Publishing, New York)

Need some ideas to get you started on making your very own fairy garden?  Or maybe you’re already well-experienced in the art of designing fairy gardens and you’re looking for some new inspiration – either way, Fiona McDonald’s Fairy Gardening 101 is for you!

This purposeful how-to book gives you all the information you need to create a fairy garden, with lists of supplies, suggestions for interesting containers or settings, and tips for successful long-term maintenance of your beautiful creation.  Easy to follow, step-by-step instructions cover the making of miniature furniture, fences and other garden structures – and, of course, even the fairies themselves! What I’ve always loved about fairy gardens is the use of recycled/upcycled materials and found objects (either natural or man-made) that you discover in your home, yard, neighbourhood…or garage or thrift sale!  The sky truly is the limit when it comes to sourcing materials for your mini-garden – and that’s half the fun!

Putting it all together is where you can really let your artistic side shine, and McDonald offers twenty-five whimsical, artistic designs guaranteed to delight:  you’ll find everything from hanging gardens to ferneries and terrariums, even a Mexican garden!

One of my favourite chapters in the book covers “Wild Fairy Gardens,” where an old tree stump is converted into a castle – so fun!  I am also pleased to see that McDonald covers how to grow and/or sustainably source mosses for use in the gardens.  This is truly an inventive and enjoyable book!

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Fairy Gardening:  Creating Your Own Magical Miniature Garden – Julie Bawden-Davis and Beverly Turner (2013, Skyhorse Publishing, New York)

Julie Bawden-Davis and Beverly Turner’s beautiful book Fairy Gardening doesn’t delve into specific fairy garden designs such as the ones you’ll find in Fiona McDonald’s Fairy Gardening 101, but it is more detailed in all of the crafting aspects needed to make your own amazing fairy gardens.  One of the most charming reasons to create a fairy garden is the way you can tell a story with your living work, and Bawden-Davis and Turner cover everything from developing a theme to establishing a focal point, developing your story, and creating a sense of movement, all discussed in accessible, practical terms, with tips and suggestions to apply these ideas to your own gardens.  Additional chapters include comprehensive information about choosing containers for your garden, and selecting the perfect plants to grow.  Delightful photographs and a friendly, approachable writing style make this book a joy to read – and a wealth of inspiration for creating your very own fairy garden!

(The publisher generously provided copies of Fairy Gardening 101 and Fairy Gardening for me to review, but I was not compensated for my opinion).

I have one copy of each book to give away!  If you’re interested, please leave me a comment below – you can tell me what kind of fairy garden you’d like to create (or have created!), or just drop me a “count me in,” or “yes,” for your chance to win.  If you have a preference for one book over the other, please let me know that, too, and I’ll try to accommodate if you win.  Contest closes at midnight, MST, on Friday, August 28, 2015. (And yes, it is open to everyone!).  I will announce the two lucky winners on Monday, August 31, 2015.

Good reads.

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I’ve had plenty of time to read while I’ve been off work…I thought I’d share my impressions of some of the books I’ve been going through!

The New American Herbal – Stephen Orr (2014, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York)

Need a comprehensive (and I do mean comprehensive) herbal?  Look no further.  This may be one of the most detailed and beautifully-photographed books about herbs available to readers today.  Over 125 species from the common to the unusual are profiled, complete with growing tips and uses and a handful of recipes.  A must-add for the gardening bookshelf – I can see myself consulting this one over and over again.

Inchies:  Create Miniature Works of Art Using Textiles and Mixed Media Techniques – Peggy Donda-Kobert, Editor (2015, Search Press, California)

I am not terribly talented an utter failure when it comes to doing crafts and art: I can’t knit, crochet, felt, sew, quilt, spin, scrapbook, fold origami, tat, quill, draw, paint…well…you get the idea.  I do know how to embroider, though, and when I recently saw these “inchies” on a website, I was intrigued.  No, make that obsessed.  Once my wrist heals, this is going to be a dedicated pursuit.  The really cool part about inchies is that they’re adaptable to pretty much any art or craft discipline – which means that you quilters and lace makers and felters might really get a kick out of them.  Plus, they’re a fun way to use up fabric scraps, beads, and other embellishments.

The Flower Recipe Book – Alethea Harampolis and Jill Rizzo of Studio Choo (2013, Workman Publishing Company, Inc., New York)

Oh yeah, I failed to mention above that I can’t arrange flowers, either.  But that didn’t stop me from drooling over this insanely creative and inspirational book.  If you’re a florist, or just love to bring cut flowers indoors to admire, this book is chock full of breathtakingly gorgeous arrangements using 41 plants as bases “ingredients” for “recipes” that feature each individually as well as grouped with other flowers and floral elements.   One of the best things about this book is these are plants you’re probably growing in your garden:  sunflowers, roses, alliums, stock, carnations, hydrangeas, etc..

These ladies also have a Wreath Recipe Book using the same layout and staggeringly fabulous photography.

Green Art:  Trees, Leaves, and Roots – E. Ashley Rooney with Margery Goldberg (2014, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., PA)

This very cool art book features the work of primarily American artists of a wide range of disciplines, all interpreting the subject of trees (and tree parts).  From metal, wire, clay and wood sculpture, glass, paint, etching, light, outdoor installation – even fire and gunpowder(!), these works are as varied as the artists that have created them.  An absolute delight to pore through…and to be inspired by.

 What books have inspired you lately?  

 

 

Book Review: The Book of Beetles.

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The Book of Beetles:  A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred of Nature’s Gems – Patrice Bouchard, Editor (2014, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago)

I may be a gardener, but I pretty much freak out whenever I encounter an insect – it doesn’t matter if they’re beneficial or not.  I can handle lady (ladybird) beetles (and by that, I mean I can literally hold them) and butterflies – and for some reason ants don’t upset me unless they’re in my kitchen, building little ant condos and supermarkets beneath my dishwasher.  But everything else either sends me running or – in the case of a certain grossly oversized, hairy moth that once flew into the open window of a vehicle I was driving – to a screeching halt on the side of the road.   Sawyer beetles – you know the ones that are the size of a Honda Civic and sport antennae of a length you normally associate with the rack on a trophy elk – make me positively hysterical.

Still, even if you have only a fractional fondness for insects, it is extremely useful (I’d suggest necessary) to be able to identify them in the home and garden. I came across The Book of Beetles at work and thought maybe it would be helpful for me to properly ID some of the beetles in southern Alberta.  Actually, while some of the 600 beetles in the book do indeed inhabit the province, it’s not really that kind of book.  It’s actually a book about the fashion models of the order Coleoptera.  Every page sports a glorious full colour, life size glossy photo of beetles bedecked in all their finery,*  accompanied by a short bio that answers all of the important questions, such as country of residence and favourite foods.  (“Carpet fibres,” enthuses one, while several others tout the benefits of chewing tree bark).   These beetles are all so staggeringly beautiful and unique, this non-beetle lover paged through the book in complete amazement.  And if I was impressed, anyone interested in beetles would be quite happy, indeed. The photographs are absolutely incredible, and despite its size and weight, the book isn’t text heavy.  (This shouldn’t trouble beetle enthusiasts and scientists, as the intent of the book is clear.  And it will only serve to make people like me take an earnest look).   I don’t think a more enjoyable book about beetles has ever been produced.

*In the case of the reeeeeallly little beetles, there is also a magnified photo to show detail.

 

Face to Face with 11 Amazing Beetles (BBC World)

 

Book review: Apples of North America.

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Apples of North America – Tom Burford (2013, Timber Press, Portland)

Here is THE book for anyone who loves apples – whether that means eating and cooking with them or growing them. Orchardist Tom Burford has assembled a thoroughly-researched guide to 192 apple varieties found in North America, offering tips on how to successfully grow apples in both orchard and home garden settings, from seed to harvest and storage.  There are even detailed instructions for cooking apple butter, drying apples, and pressing and making apple cider (my favourite!).  The individual apple portraits are the best part of this book:  each page is complete with photographs (so you can see the variations of colour and striping), and a short blurb about the apple’s history, outstanding tree characteristics, interior and exterior descriptions, notes about disease resistance, and ratings for use (dessert, baking, frying, drying, cider, applesauce, vinegar, landscape design, etc.) and storage.  Not only informational, this book is a delight to pore through – I wasn’t familiar with most of the varieties in the book as few of them make it to our grocery or markets, so it was a treat to see how they all varied in size and colouration.  The breeding history of each one is fascinating as well – Burford goes beyond the science to tell the stories behind each apple.

Mmmm…now all I can think of is apple crisp warm from the oven (can you tell I haven’t eaten breakfast yet?).

What are your favourite apple varieties – and your favourite ways to eat them?

Saskatchewan snapshot: Sunset.

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Photographed 11 July 2014.

The field featured is almost in Alberta – it’s actually in Saskatchewan, at a place called Alsask (fitting, if lacking originality).  I initially thought that Alsask was like Lloydminster and Cypress Hills, and was partly in Alberta and partly in Saskatchewan, but apparently, only the former village’s cemetery is in Alberta.  Alsask was the site of a military base between 1959 and 1987 but it no longer even holds status as a village; rather, it is considered a “special service area” incorporated within the nearby town of Milton.  I rather wish we had stopped to explore; according to Wikipedia, most of the original buildings are gone, but one of the military radar domes and an indoor swimming pool (used in the summer to this day!) are still there.

Forest fires were burning throughout Alberta and the Northwest Territories at the time, so the smoky air lent an eerie glow to the sun.   I just loved the way that power lines looked against the sky; there’s something vaguely alien about the landscape to me, it’s a bit like something out of a science fiction novel.

Speaking of novels, what is currently on your reading list?  Anything that stands out for you – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, whatever?  I’m dividing my time between several excellent cookbooks (including Karen Solomon’s Asian Pickles, and Small Adventures in Cooking by James Ramsden) and Kimberly Elkins’ debut novel, a fictionalized account of the life of Laura Bridgman called What is Visible?.  (I’m barely into it but it’s captivating so far). 

 

Seeing flowers.

Okay, it’s time for a break from whatever you’re doing…or procrastinating about doing.  (Or is that just me?).

Grab something lovely to drink.  Maybe this ginger-lime refresher, or – in my case – a cup of hot chocolate (which may or may not have Bailey’s in it).

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(Photo may not actually depict real-time events such as ice and snow or million degrees below zero temperatures.  No one wants to see that). 

Then a treat.  Maybe a fresh-baked muffin?  I found this recipe for Honey Oat Banana Berry Muffins on Kitchen Simplicity the other day and just had to try them.  And, yes, they are as moist and tasty as you would imagine.  I paired the banana with saskatoons, but you could use any berries you like.  I just seem to have a lot of saskatoons in the freezer, which may be a sign that I got a bit carried away at the u-pick last summer.

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And finally, find yourself a good book.  No, wait – an EXCELLENT book!  How about Teri Dunn Chace and Robert Llewellyn’s Seeing Flowers:  Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers?  I looked, I sighed, I drooled.  (And now I’ll have to sneak the waterlogged book past my co-workers at the library).    😉    Seeing Flowers is truly a delight for weather-weary minds, and an inspiration to gardeners and artists everywhere.  The book is divided into chapters based on families of flowering plants, and author Teri Dunn Chace offers a fascinating science lesson for each one, concisely describing what makes each flower look the way they do, and how flower form benefits plants.

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But I really, really love this book for the photographs, which look like exquisite paintings.  If you’re not familiar with Robert Llewellyn’s work, you can see some of his images at this gallery.  (If you browse through the website, you’ll see more, such as some of the photos he did for the equally amazing Seeing Trees, which was published in 2011).

Are you seeing flowers in your garden?  (At this point, I’m thinking it might be July before the snow melts here, LOL).