Greenwoman Marlaina Donato

Summer's Turning Marliana Donato (2)

Summer’s Turning by Marliana Donato

Summertime is the ideal time for connecting with other green women, so imagine my joy when Marlaina Donato wrote, sharing her art, her poetry, and an essay about her green love. Today, I’m happy to offer these literary blossoms to you.

–Sandra Knauf

A Garden 

White iris, the brides of the garden,
Toss veils of shadow against the wall.
Our hands wrist-deep in soil,
Whisper promises of roots and flowers
While the tulips flare their Gypsy skirts,
And the fountain sings in a language
Only the lilies know.
Winters from now,
I will take these out of my bag of memories
And shake off the years
To taste dappled days scented with cedar.
And flowers, well-versed in their mother’s origins,
Will tell stories about ladies wrist-deep in soil
Who had faith in seeds.

* * *

A golden umbilical cord connects me to the natural world, one going back to my parents, especially my mother. My early years were cocooned in an enchanted corner of rural Pennsylvania with an organic garden, a compost pile, and a few acres of bliss dotted with birches. I can still see us—mother and daughter—one turning the earth and the other sprinkling the seeds; our hands securing the soil, pinkies touching as we disturb the earthworm in his cool, rain-fragrant bed. I see us pausing after our work with our backs against dark-chocolate earth, dusk closing in. Robins sing the day to sleep with their plaintive liturgy, and in the gloaming, we giggle and then whisper a prayer, too.

Those years and my loved ones are lost in the dusts of that old unpaved road lined with wild roses and blackberries; now it is just me, peering from this curious rock called midlife. I claim no portion of soil as my own, but the world is my garden. My kitchen herb corner is filled with dried treasures from the meadows and lakesides of my favorite haunts. Mama’s whisper is still audible when I infuse anise hyssop from a friend’s garden or bruise marigold blooms between my fingers. Dad is still with me when I catch a fire in the air on a winter night, the scent of oak his and only his. As the seasons drift higher, one upon the other, I am still a child with a drift of August daisies in hand, wealthy beyond measure.

* * *

Marlaina Donato

Marlaina Donato is a writer for Organic Lifestyle Magazine and the author of thirteen books in the genres of fiction, body-mind-spirit, and holistic health including Naked Soul (Llewellyn, 1998 as Marlene Marie Druhan), Multidimensional Aromatherapythe novel Broken Jar, Goddess Consciousness, and Spiritual Famine in the Age of Plenty. She is also a painter and digital photographer. She lives in God’s country of rural Pennsylvania with her beloved husband, Jos. C. Donato, also an author. Visit her website at

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Nature Connection – the Poetry of Earl B. Frederick

Allamanda by Biswarup Ganguly, via Wikimedia Commons.

Allamanda by Biswarup Ganguly, via Wikimedia Commons. “The garden flower, Allamanda cathartica, also known as yellow bell, golden trumpet, buttercup flower or har-kakra in Bengali.” Photograph taken in mid-monsoon at Kolkata.

I became acquainted with poet Earl B. Frederick and his work when I reached out to readers this summer on my Greenwoman newsletter. I told readers I wanted to make a deeper connection, asked them to share their work, their feedback, and I even put out an invitation to get together for a drink or garden tour if they were in town. Earl was generous enough to share his link on and his website, Rock Bottom Imagineering. What a treasure trove! I learned that Earl was not only a wonderful poet, but that he had a background at NASA, that he created his own outdoor brick oven, that he gardened and grew apple trees (he even has an apple press). In turn, I told US Represented editor Eric Stephenson about Earl’s work (I have a weekly Greenwoman column there), and Eric, an English professor at one of our local colleges, really liked it, too. Two of Earl’s poems have been published on USR so far, “Tree of Life,” and, this week, “Circle“. Today I’m finally sharing this poetry with you, interspersed with an interview about Earl’s work. But first, a poem!

Our Seasons

Unimaginable, for me:
a year without the harsh changes
of seasons, the cold, the heat,
the brown the green,
a time to sow,
a time to reap.

Unimaginable, too:
a year-long season with the glossy
leaves, the on-fire blossoms;
Allamanda, santan, caryota,

I know six months of life then death,
You know life forever.

Flora’s Forum: I read in your bio that you’ve been writing poetry since your teens. What inspired you to start? When was the first time your work was published?

Earl Frederick: Doesn’t every teenager try to write poetry? Bottom line is probably “hormones” and the unrequited loves of the teenage years. So much romantic tragedy in your life. Also, I was a teenager in the 1960’s; there were so many role models for indignation regarding a wide range of social issues. And you can express anything in a poem.

Those years though, I was the closet poet, a “Dear Diary” kind of compilation. It wasn’t until my mid to late 20’s (1970’s) until I ever dared offering my work up for publication. I submitted some work to the poetry column of the Delaware State News edited by a E.A.Barrell (god bless him!). He was very kind to publish a few pieces, but was kindest in his encouragement to continue writing. I never met Mr. Barrell, but still think of him fondly. He knew that eventually a writer will find their voice. Time, and the continued reading of other writers, will guide you, but  persistence and practice are the keys. 

Flora’s Forum: Your bio says you were educated in earth sciences at college and worked for NASA. Can you tell us a little about that? Did you write poetry during your career?

Earl Frederick: Ha ha, I never let work get in the way of anything! Yes, my college education consisted of a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in  geology and meteorology, mostly. Both are sciences that emphasize observation. From 2007 until early this year, I had been posting poems to, of all places, a free blog site hosted by

I always felt obliged to keep some element of nature in my contributions, so that for the past 8-ish years, focus was fortuitously pointed in the nature direction . . . what a gift! How many poems have  been written about snow? About summer rain? Like shooting fish in a barrel. I put myself on a poem-per-fortnight (I always wanted to use that word in a sentence!) regimen. WUnderground removes your blog from active status after 14 days, so I tried to keep my blog visible by keeping to a schedule. 

My 37-year- (and counting, I still work for a contractor to NASA part-time) career was conducive to writing, affording me travel to “exotic” places: Morocco, Chile, Greenland (22 visits), and even Antarctica, and my work afforded me hours of solitude while tending equipment on the ground while my colleagues were flying about mapping the earth (since 1991, primarily ice caps in support of NASA’s climate change initiative).

Flora’s Forum: Your work at NASA’s a great segue into your next poem, one I especially loved.

Alexander Jamieson, Celestial Atlas Plate 2, ,via Wikimedia CommonsPlate 2 from A celestial atlas comprising a systematic display of the heavens in a series of thirty maps illustrated by scientific description of their contents and accompanied by catalogues of the stars and astronomical exercises

Alexander Jamieson, Celestial Atlas, Plate 2, via Wikimedia Commons.

New to the Night

“We never see this many stars”,
They said
As Venus, Jupiter, Antares winked down.
A hint of the Summer’s Milky Way
Still lay in mystery
Even after my hand waved across the sky
Tracing the path.
And then, finding Polaris/North seemed a miracle
To someone unfamiliar with dark nights.

A few days later…home,
I felt at ease in the ocean of distant light
Where two bears stood beside
A milky river of stars
Eternally waiting for a fish to jump.
The scorpion’s heart throbbed red,
Two sister planets had yet to rise.
Dark was the night,
But empty it was not.

The wailing sirens
Are now happily replaced
By screeching owls.

Flora’s Forum: What do you enjoy most about your art?

Earl Frederick: I love words! Etymology, sound, their malleability (make up your word if none exists . . . the hyphen is an amazing tool!). I always have something I want to say in a poem, but it might only be a two-word phrase that I read or heard. The fun begins when something more rises from so little.

Flora’s Forum: What is the most difficult thing about writing poetry? 

Earl Frederick: I somehow don’t find anything difficult about writing, it’s like if there is an idea, there will eventually be a poem. I wonder at times who exactly is writing, it’s like I’m holding the pen, facilitating the real poet. I’ll leave you to figure that one out, I sure can’t. Maybe that method of just waiting is the most difficult part: being patient, trusting.

Flora’s Forum: Do you have a Muse?

Earl Frederick: The easy answer is yes, Erato, the classic muse of poetry. If you mean a living muse, I’d say, not really. Was it Dante who had Beatrice as his muse or object of affection? The corniest answer would be yes, Mother Nature; things natural have given me most of my poems.

Flora’s Forum: You know I don’t find that corny at all! Do you have a favorite time and/or place to write?

Earl Frederick: I have written most poems in the evening. That said, my editing, the 2nd, 3rd etc. writes, are done at any time. As to place, even though I write in the evening, my ideas come anywhere and anytime.

Flora’s Forum: What’s your favorite season to write about, and why?

Earl Frederick: I’m not a particular fan of summer (except for home-grown tomatoes) so I’d say my favorite season is the 9 months around summer. If you scan through my summer poems you will find a recurring theme bad-mouthing cicadas, the summer ear scourge.

Flora’s Forum: What’s your favorite poem/poet? 

Earl Frederick: Early on I was captivated by Shakespeare’s sonnets and the poems of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and still keep copies of their works handy. I tried writing like them, but never could or would master their styles. Realizing that was important, I had to search for a style that I was comfortable with, settling on the much easier free verse form. No rules! No restrictions! Then, I discovered haiku, and fell in love (Basho is probably my favorite). Nature-themed, succinct, but still with the 17 syllable (17 English syllables, anyway) challenge. Another favorite poet is Laura Crozier.

My favorite poem? Though not my favorite poet, Robert Frost hit a homer with “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”  Who can compete with:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,….”

A close second is Mary Oliver’s “Red”; it makes me cry.

Flora’s Forum: Yes, the one about the foxes, and death. It’s poignant indeed. Who are your favorite prose writers?

Earl B. Frederick

Earl B. Frederick, photo by Thomas Overly.

Earl Frederick: My favorite prose poets: Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, Jose Saramago.

Flora’s Forum: I can see the economy of many of your favorites in your work. I’m going to switch gears now, to gardening. You live on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Tell us about that, and when you started gardening. Who taught you? What do you like to grow? Do you grow vegetables?

Earl Frederick: The Eastern Shore (of Virginia) consists of two Virginia counties separated by the Chesapeake Bay from the rest of Virginia. I live about 5 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the east and 10 miles from the Chesapeake to the west. It is rural in its nature with most of the economy depending on agriculture (animal feed grains or chicken production). To the north is the tourist island of Chincoteague (think “Misty of Chincoteague” by Marguerite Henry) and The NASA base at Wallops Island. Two hours to the south, and across a 16-mile-long bridge/tunnel spanning the mouth of the Chesapeake, is Norfolk, VA.

 I was very close to my mom’s parents, spending summers with them in the coal region of Pennsylvania (Shenandoah). My grandfather was responsible for so much that I am and do. He let me help him in his garden and greenhouse and thus got me interested in growing plants. His stories prompted me to learn apple tree grafting long after he had died. He was a carpenter in the mines and always let me work in his shop, encouraging me mostly to fear nothing new, to always try, to ask questions.

My parents, too, liked gardening, even though they (we) lived in a row house in a small city (Lancaster, PA , self-proclaimed “Garden Spot of the world”). Their postage-stamp-sized back yard was bordered by tomato plants, onions, peppers or whatever struck my Mom’s fancy, even a flower or two!

 I like to think that I am a good gardener (though this year in particular has me wondering about the “good” part) and grower of perennials, especially under-utilized native species. I dabble in bonsai (I have a 55-year-old grapefruit tree that my grandmother started from a seed!) or at least the Chinese version that doesn’t use wiring the branches to attain form.

Flora’s Forum: That’s a great history, and I have to say “Wow” on that 55-year-old grapefruit tree from your grandmother. That is cool! What inspires you in the art of gardening?

Earl Frederick: I see a general lack of interest in gardening, especially growing vegetables. My parents told me about the Victory Gardens that people were encouraged to grow during the second World War. There was a resurgence during the 1970’s with the back-to-the-earth movement. I’m hoping that we are just in the middle of one of the low-interest periods, but I see a growing trend toward hybrid species and a disinterest in the “heirloom”/open-pollinated varieties. I bet a lot of people in the past worried about the next generation, but my concern is a general loss in the need for independence . . . I don’t mean cut the wires, grab your gun kind of independence, just the kind that doesn’t let simple skills slip from our repertoire.

Flora’s Forum: Maybe you’re not seeing it, but there has been a renewed interest in these skills in the last decade. A lot of people trying to go “off the grid,” and learning how to grow food, be more self-sufficient. On my urban street, we have two people raising chickens and one also has honeybees. These are people in their early 30s. Community gardens, which were big in the WWII area out of necessity, are coming on strong. So, don’t give up hope! We’ll keep those arts alive. Now, you mentioned that you might have a book project in the works. Tell us about that.

Earl Frederick: I thought that the book project was a secret.

Flora’s Forum: Nope, you mentioned it in an email. Cat’s out of the bag.

Earl Frederick: There is nothing definite afoot, though recently I attended a small book fancier’s gathering that featured a brief talk by a small, local publisher about the joys of self-publishing. I know that it would be a vanity publication, but will probably give it a try. Heck, next step is being named poet-laureate, right?

Flora’s Forum: I hope you do put your work in book form, and it is a joy to self-publish! I feel a tone of kidding around with the poet-laureate comment, but I can see it. You’re too humble. Thank you for sharing your work with us, Earl. It’s been great fun!

–Sandra Knauf


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The Garden by Jamie Beel

"Life Will Overcome Some Day" by Alex Brollo, Wikimedia Commons

“Life Will Overcome Some Day” by Alex Brollo, Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t put in a garden the year my mother was diagnosed with leukemia. Her phone call came in early May, before any planting had begun. I spent the rest of that summer traveling the 500 miles between my home and hers. She died almost one year later and when I tallied up my mileage, I realized that I had driven those roads between us 13 times in 11 months. There was little time or energy for anything else.

My mother was a self-taught gardener. Flowers were a passion, especially common, hard-working varieties like marigolds, zinnias and sunflowers. She called them “rewarding” because they gave so much for so little. She had little patience for fussy roses and delphiniums, but was always eager to give a Joe Pye weed or a butterfly bush a try. Russian sage, coneflowers, daisies, bee balm, lemon mint, sweet Annie and black-eyed Susans ran wild in her yard while pots of bright geraniums and fragrant rosemary filled her deck. There was always room for one more climbing vine, one more shrub, a few more limestone rocks hauled home from her beloved Kansas prairie.

But the year of her illness was a barren one. Between the long hours at the hospital and the time spent taking care of my father, who was in poor health himself, I struggled to keep her gardens growing. Exhausted and heart-sick, I’d water and weed until night fell. It seemed imperative to keep her flowers alive when she was struggling so valiantly to do the same. The thought of them dying was as unthinkable as the thought that she might die. But she did die. Easter was only days away and the air was rich with spring. I had expected to be numbed by her death, to be deadened myself, but instead the world took on a stunning vibrancy. I remember the brilliant early evening light as my brothers and I sat silent on the deck after returning from the hospital for the final time. I remember the smell of shoe polish as my husband gently worked on a pair of my mother’s pumps for me to wear to her funeral. Hundreds of white lilies glowed against the dark cherry wood of the sanctuary as we arrived for her service and a hundred voices sang “Home On the Range” as we left. I remember hot black coffee and the zest of fresh lemon cake; the quiet sound of weeping and of laughter; the heavy, warm weight of my little nephew held tight against my chest.

A month after her funeral, I returned to Kansas to visit my father. When I pulled into the driveway, all the gardens were in bloom and my heart was briefly tricked into believing that all was well, that my mother was home and that this terrible mistake hadn’t happened. I stood amongst the sweet Annie, overwhelmed with disbelief that the world could go on without my mother in it. But it had. And it does. Out of cold, harsh winters life continues, even when we think it cannot. It continues even when we wish it would not. And so, at my father’s request, we gathered family and friends to tend to my mother’s gardens one last time, working together and sharing a picnic after and letting the flowers serve as a final testament to my mother’s life.

Two years later, my father was dead. Fifteen months after that, my little nephew died unexpectedly. We had arrived into a decade of death, into a cold, harsh winter of the heart. I was afraid that those of us who remained would not survive intact as a whole. But out of this darkness roots deepened and a newly fashioned family flowered. Those of us who had been the children learned to be the elders instead. Phone calls became more frequent. Birthdays and holidays were celebrated and vacations taken together. Marriages were made, step-children were welcomed, and miracle baby Matthew arrived, born into the family who had lost their little boy.

On our final day at my parents’ house, I dug up violets that my mother had transplanted from her mother’s garden to carry home to mine. The wheel turns. The circle abides. The devastation of grief may feel incapable of growing anything at all, but in truth it is fertile ground if tended with kindness. It is all so precious and so fragile that I don’t know how our hearts bear it. But somehow they do. Somehow they are stronger than we think. Somehow they find their way back into the sun where they bloom and flower again.

* * *

jamie beel sandpainters3 (5)

Jamie Stevens-Beel recently relocated to a remote acreage in northwest Missouri where she tends to her animals, picks wild blackberries, hosts monthly locavore potlucks and writes both prose and poetry. Her work has appeared in the publications Wholeness and Healing, Country, When Smoke Filled the Sky, and the anthology A Crack in the Air. Currently she is at work on an adult fable about a little gypsy girl and the orphaned wolf cub she befriends.


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More than Pretty in Pink

Image by Valentin Hintikka (Finland), via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Valentin Hintikka (Finland), via Wikimedia Commons

It gives me great pleasure to introduce Stephanie Djock. Her work reminds me that interesting poetry is like an interesting woman . . . you always find a delightful surprise or two.

–Sandra Knauf


There is a message there,
Somewhere in the soft pink
folds of the peony—
Its up-turned princess skirt of
Hiding an army of ants.

* * *

Stephanie Djock is a writer based in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and an ever-expanding orchid collection and garden. She is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Hamline University, with an emphasis on speculative fiction. During the day, she teaches English to immigrants and refugees and edits educational materials.

Image from

Photo by Brian Schallhammer.



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Art in the Garden: An Interview with Deb Bartos

Deb Bartos

Deb Bartos – photo by Bridget O’Hara.

A few weeks ago in my Greenwoman newsletter I sent out a request–I wanted to get to know my readers better. My goal was (and is) a deeper connection with those who are, like me, in love with the wonders of nature and gardening.

Deb Bartos was one of the first who answered the call. I did not know that she’d been one of the artists to visit my garden last June when I was asked to host a Garden Artists’ visit. (Having painters in one’s garden, by the way, is a pretty humbling, and pretty heady experience. I wrote about it here.) Deb and I got to know one another a little better through some correspondence; I saw her beautiful paintings, requested an interview, and then we met at her art-filled home for some iced herb tea and cookies. Her garden is lovely and mostly xeric (except for the veggies, of course), a cottage garden filled with birdsong and even a charming magpie with an injured wing who is using the property as his recovery area. Her garden features raised beds for produce, lovely flower borders filled with roses, Russian sage, ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum, daylilies, annual flowers, and even a brick labyrinth that Bartos installed herself. With a backdrop of Ute Valley Park and it’s rugged hogsback ridge in the close distance it was a lovely visit–just the garden you would imagine a local artist creating. Of course the visit between gardeners would not be complete without a little trade of plants. Deb said I could give her a couple of rose scented geraniums I had started from cuttings, and a few cucumber seedlings, and I left with daylilys and cosmos.

–Sandra Knauf

Flora’s Forum: Tell us a little about yourself, Deb: What got you interested in art? In gardening?

I loved art in school and the field trips we took to museums and the art projects we got to do in class. It opened up a much larger world of possibility than our small town in Kentucky normally provided. As a child, I stayed with my grandmother on weekends. She worked full time and had many chores at home. She set me up at the table with paper she got from work and a pencil to draw with to keep me busy and out of the way. Nana’s neighbor was a commercial artist, who painted Native American children’s portraits. I was fascinated by the beautiful work he did and the idea of doing art for a living. In the 1960’s Dad received Arizona Highways magazines from his sister who lived in Coolidge, Arizona,and I marveled at the scenery.

I took long walks in the woods behind my house in Kentucky, and loved the discovery of plants and animals in nature. My mom planted peonies, which didn’t do well around my father’s passive-aggressive lawn mowing, and she took me to the Conservatory in Cincinnati, across the river, where plants were protected and bloomed all year long in the greenhouse. My uncle grew tomatoes in a greenhouse and they tasted good all through the winter. He earned an award in the Kentucky Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Lavendar Fields, Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm near Albuquerque, New Mexico

Lavender Fields, Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm near Albuquerque, New Mexico

Flora’s Forum: What is your preferred medium and why?

I have tried many mediums and can paint in traditional oil, watercolor, and acrylic, but have found water-soluble oils to be my favorite for the variety of expression, the workability, and the easy cleanup of my brushes.

Flora’s Forum: Do you have a favorite artist/s? If yes, what draws you to that artist/s work?

So many. I’m drawn to the accurate and sublime color changes that occur in nature, the effects that only come from direct observation. Reflected light, detail in shadows, the brightness of contrast. Historically, I greatly admire the work of Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargeant, Joaquin Sorolla, Charles Sovek. I admire many contemporary artists, Matt Smith, Clyde Aspevig, Martha Mans, Deb Komitor, to name a few. I just discovered Don Hamilton’s work at the Governor’s show in Loveland, [he’s from Castle Rock, CO] and his work is my new favorite.

Flora’s Forum: Can you remember one of the first things you painted?

I still have a watercolor painting of a collie I did in grade school. This was a dog who met us in the woods and accompanied us on walks, and I always thought when I grew up I’d get a collie of my own, and I did.

Flora’s Forum: When did you know you were an artist?

In school. I won awards and got a scholarship to attend Baker Hunt Art Academy in Covington, Kentucky. I loved art and seeing what other people had created from their experience. I always wanted to be a commercial artist, like my Uncle Emil, who headed the art department at Dunlop Tire and Rubber, but was told this was not possible, as I would become a nurse like my mother and aunt.

Flora’s Forum: Younger readers may not understand that was the times back then, in the 1950s, not always having control of your vocation as a woman.

Bartos: Yes, career choices were secretary or nurse.

Flora’s Forum: Or teacher!

Water lily pond at the Denver Botanical Garden.

Water lily pond at the Denver Botanical Garden.

Bartos: I’ve enjoyed a long career in nursing, and also have been reclaiming my love for art over the years. Another passion of mine is in increasing the inclusion and importance of women artists in the history and ongoing story of art.

Flora’s Forum: Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your work?

Bartos: First hand, from nature. I am drawn by dramatic light and shadow on a subject. I love the masses and patterns of color in flowers and gardens. The dramatic transformation from backlighting gets me every time.

Flora’s Forum:Do you have a story for us about an experience involving your artwork?

Bartos: I’m a member of the Garden Artists group and of the Plein Air Artists Colorado, and go painting with them every chance I get. Last weekend, there was a marathon paintout here in the Springs where artists from across the state came together to paint all day, starting at sunrise (actually before sunrise) at 5 am. It was the first time (and maybe the only time) I completed 5 paintings on location in one day. It was a good challenge.

Deb Bartos - Monet's Garden, Giverny, France.

Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France.

Flora’s Forum: I love the Garden Artists group; it was a pleasure of having them over to my humble garden last year. I have to say I felt a little intimidated as my garden is not a fancy, expensive one with hired help!

Bartos: We love real gardens, ones that reveal the gardener’s hand and creativity.

Flora’s Forum: What, in your opinion, is the most difficult thing about art?

Bartos: The most challenging is balancing the marketing and sales part with the painting time. I’ve taken trips with my work to Taos, Pueblo, Denver, Loveland, and Evergreen so far this year. I go on these trips for both painting and marketing. [Deb’s work is in the museum at Taos, a Denver gallery, and in Pueblo at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center.] The biggest frustration I have is that no matter what, it seems there is never enough time to paint, as there are so many ideas I have for paintings, and I see new ones every time I go out the door, look out my window, or look at my photo files on my computer. I do think it has to be this way, as the experience of life adds depth to what shows up and how it shows up on my canvas.

Flora’s Forum: What are your goals? You mentioned a book and teaching classes in one of our earlier conversations–can you go into that?

Bartos: I’ve been creating a Shutterfly book that showcases some of my garden paintings, and would love to have a large venue for a garden paintings show somewhere. I want to increase awareness of my work, and find the perfect homes for my paintings that are for sale. I want to keep on painting, learn and grow as I paint, and enjoy time with other artists painting in beautiful places. I taught Art Appreciation for 7 years at the university level, and would consider a low key plein air class here in my garden, but this is my first summer with just a flextime part-time nursing job, so am enjoying the ability to travel and paint.

Deb Bartos - Window Boxes, Murano Italy.

Window Boxes, Murano Italy.

Flora’s Forum: Where may we view your work online?

My website is, and my facebook page is Deb Bartos Fine Art. I list the most current events and paintings there sooner than on my website.

Flora’s Forum: Thank you for taking the time to share your work with us, Deb. It’s been a pleasure.


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Today in USR–the pleasure of the garden

Today in USR–the pleasure of the garden’s perfume.

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Cultivating Creativity: An Interview With Simone Martel

Simone with roses

I became acquainted with Simone Martel and her writing not long after I started Greenwoman. She’d heard about the new publication and sent me a story, “Almost Too Happy,” about her slightly out-of-control garden and how it reflected her life. I found the essay true-to-life and completely charming. I was excited to publish it in Greenwoman #3.

I think Simone and I have been on a similar trajectory with both our writing careers and our gardening. We’re about the same age, we both live in a craftsman-style bungalow, we’re both do-it-herselfers and self-taught writers of fiction and nonfiction (she wrote a book about her first garden, The Expectant Gardener, published in 2000).

Oh yes, she also wrote a story in my anthology of garden erotica, Fifty Shades of Green! I believe it was the first time that either of us had written erotica. That was fun, too!

Late last year, I heard that Simone’s short fiction had been published in a collection, Exile’s Garden. I couldn’t wait to read it. I found tales ranging from the humorous (one’s about a sentient water lily, another about a garden club outing that meets with several obstacles), to the profound and unexpected (lovers meeting after a war, and how inspiration and hope in life can come from a job in a tomato field). I found each tale a verdant-themed treasure. It was then that I asked Simone if she’d like to be interviewed for Flora’s Forum.

Giveaway: If you leave a comment on this post you’ll be entered in a drawing for one of three copies of Exile’s Garden. (Giveaway begins at noon on May 13th; ends at noon on May 23rd. Winners will be notified on the 24th.)

—Sandra Knauf

Flora’s Forum: When did you start gardening?

Simone Martel: I was an only child with a big backyard, so early on I developed a fondness for flowers and trees, worms and mud. I invented imaginary games, too, which is a form of story-telling. Then, in my early twenties, I bought a rundown fixer-upper in Berkeley and I’d go out into the neglected yard to get away from the smell of paint remover and spackling. I just started trying to make a space, pulling up wild onion grass, pruning an overgrown lemon tree. It was quite a natural impulse.  Since I had tiny budget, my first plants–bearded iris, clumps of Shasta daisies–came from my parents’ garden and then others, poppies and scabiosa–from seeds I gathered on strolls around my new neighborhood. When I work in my garden now, I’m reminded that many of the plants have stories behind them.

Simone's pond. You can read about it this week on US Represented.

Simone’s pond from those earlier years. You can read about it this week on US Represented.

FF: How big a role does gardening play in your life today?

SM: It’s a responsibility! And like most responsibilities, it can feel like a chore sometimes. On the West Coast we never get a break from weeding. On the other hand, hardly a day passes without a meal on the deck or at least some time hanging out with the cats. (We have four.) My garden is where I relax when I’m not writing–though I’m likely to start deadheading instead of resting. I go back and forth between the two activities a lot. I think they complement each other. When I start obsessing over details (whether it’s tying up floppy perennials or tinkering with sentences), I remind myself to see the whole shape of the garden or the structure of a story.

FF: When did you start writing? How did you get into garden writing?

SM: I started writing in high school and college. My now-husband and I met when we were both editors on the high school newspaper. After college, when I started gardening, I also began reading garden literature, falling in love with words as well as plants. Garden writing fed my love of gardening and gardening itself changed the way I looked at the world. Again, the two are so entwined! In my mid-twenties I had an organic tomato farm that inspired “Calle Del Veneno,” the longest story in my new collection.

FF: Tell us about this latest book, Exile’s Garden. How did it come together?

SM: I’d sent the publisher, Edwin E. Smith, “The Garden Over the Hill,” a short story based on a disastrous garden club outing to Sonoma. When Ed asked if I had enough garden stories for a collection, I was surprised to see that, yes, gardening and farming crop up a lot in my writing.

FF: What is your favorite story in this collection, why, and what inspired it?

SM: The title story, “Exile’s Garden,” is the most romantic in the collection and a sort of love letter to my husband. It evokes the tough, bleakly romantic “film noir” world of the post-World War II movies we enjoy watching together. The young couple in the story, a soldier and a journalist, reunite after the war in a Mexican border town to start their new life together. The funny thing is, I wrote an early draft of this story before I’d started gardening, but the story wasn’t really complete until I had the couple come together at the end, in a cottage garden the woman has created during her lonely exile.

FF: Who are your favorite writers, fiction and garden, and why?

SM: Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Iris Murdoch, E.M. Forester are some favorites, and, with reservations, Hemingway and D.H. Lawrence. In their different ways, they all evoke the natural world, sensuous, romantic or dangerous. I love Chekhov’s stories, too, and Elizabeth Bowen’s strange short work. As for garden writing, to me the best of the genre is beautiful, inspiring and maybe a bit political. David Mas Masumoto’s farming memoir Epitaph for a Peach, and Second Nature by Michael Pollan (before he became a foodie), both come to mind. Mirabel Osler’s A Gentle Plea for Chaos is lovely, too.

FF: List three books you’ve read more than three times.

SM: More than three times? Those would be children’s books: The Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web, all the “Little House” books. My favorites almost qualify as garden writing. My mom was a children’s librarian and I often spent my Saturdays at the Oakland public library. The library was a retreat for me–like a garden, only filled with books instead of plants.

FF: Where is your favorite place and time to write, and why?

SM: Usually I get writing business over with in morning, then in the afternoon I do creative work on a laptop in the kitchen or in my son’s old bedroom, depending on the sun and the light. Both rooms look out on the back garden, so I can gaze out from time to time. I can’t actually write in the garden. Too distracting.

FF: What’s your next writing project and your next gardening project?

SM: I’m expanding “Calle Del Veneno” into a novel about a brash real estate developer who sweeps into town to develop the land around Gloria’s farm and who clashes with the locals, including Gloria, the fieldworkers, and her own illegitimate son who lives on a commune forgotten by time. In the garden, I’m considering ripping out the cracked driveway to add more vegetable beds on the sunny side of the house. The rest of the garden has grown up so much that I’m mostly editing now, making choices about what can stay. The lawn keeps shrinking. The climbing roses are so happy, I probably should rebuild the old pergola under them.

FF: What are your dream projects in both areas?

SM: I’ve always fantasized about having a bigger garden in Italy or France, maybe, with grape vines, old stone, chickens and ducks. Lately, I’ve been joking about a condo with plants in containers–and no weeds! I know I’d miss a real garden, though.  Probably I’ll stay right where I am and continue to fiddle with what I have. It’s gratifying to look at my mature fig tree and remember planting it out of a one gallon pot twenty years ago. Time seems to move slowly in a garden, but still it moves…  There’s another book I’m itching to write, this one set in Silicon Valley, about a magic house, and the natural world at odds with the tech world. It would be a departure for me, although plants would be involved. Maybe talking plants.

FF: What a fun idea; I love it. Thank you so much, Simone!

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Giveaway: Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for one of three copies of Exile’s Garden! Winners will be announced on May 24th.

exile's garden


Filed under Garden Writers We Love