Archive for 'gardening'

Gittin’ ‘er done
by Jessa Slade on September 20th, 2010

Currently working on: Stand-off with Book 4 characters — Who will blink first? Me or them?
Mood: Clenched jawed

Autumn is a bit delayed here in the Pacific Northwest. Last week here at Silk And Shadows, I showed some pictures of my summer vacation (at left: the garden harvest we took with us for one-pot dinners) and normally, on our drive home from the high desert, when we pass into the rain cloud over Mt. Hood, we see the first signs of fall in the turning leaves.  This year, it’s still all green. Kind of like the tomatoes in our garden which are a month behind. Hurry up, tomatoes, we don’t have much time!

 This is the time of year when I like to finish up projects. It feels appropriate to batten down the hatches before winter. Here’s what’s on my list for fall projects:

1. Finish Book 4, come hell or high water
The high water will definitely be here. This is, after all, the Pacific Northwest. We do rain. As for the hell… I am not a peaceful writer. There is much kicking and screaming at my computer. I’m not proud of it, it does not serve me well, and I don’t recommend it as a technique to other writers, but it’s mine. I am currently in the kicking portion of this evening’s entertainment; the screaming will commence shortly.

2. Put the garden to bed
In a lovely dovetailing of deadlines, I will be done with Book 4 about the time the garden is done. I usually wait too long to strip the beds — hoping to wait for just one more red tomato — and end up having to do it in the rain, with my gloves drenched and full of mud. But whatever. Mulching for winter lacks the anticipation of spring planting, when you know you’ll get to watch the little plants grow all season, but there’s a certain satisfaction in covering the earth and wishing it good night.

3. Unearth my closet
The wild amokness of the garden can be productive, for pole beans at least. The same can be said sometimes for a wild imagination. The bedlam in my closet is not helpful in any way. Living in an old farmhouse has its pleasures, but the forehead-smashing, under-eaves closets are not among them. I wear whatever’s hanging closest to the door just to avoid going into the closet, for fear I won’t ever come out. Crawling into the way back… There be monsters. This fall, I want to at least be able to SEE the back wall.

4. Play with paint
I have an art project I’ve been itching to try, a multilayered abstract jewelry thing. I have the materials and just haven’t had the time. (I think I can sneak that in for Christmas presents, but don’t tell anybody ‘cuz it’s a surprise.)

5. Write something new
My ideas file is now 13 pages long. Truly, not every one of those ideas deserves a book, but some of them deserve at least a look beyond the cursory scribbling I gave them when they first popped up. The quiet of winter will be a perfect time to winnow through them — like next season’s seed packets to see what might sprout.

What’s on your list of autumn projects? Do you find that some tasks are better suited for some seasons than others?

It’s summer! How does your writing grow?
by Jessa Slade on June 14th, 2010

Currently working on: Book 3 revisions, due tomorrow! Aye!
Mood: Fuh-wreaking out

Summer is a terrible time in the Pacific Northwest.  Terrible for writing, that is. 

June through September, the Pacific Northwest offers some of the most spectacularly perfect weather on the planet (all the more marvelous when compared to the weather October through May) with outdoor adventures that range from ocean beach tidepooling to mountain biking to high desert rock hounding.  In other words, it can be hard—very hard—to sit inside, staring at a computer, getting words on the page.

As if jaunts to the coast or forests weren’t distracting enough, I’m also a gardener. Gardens can be as all-consuming as a 100,000-word work in progress. In fact, I learned a few writing tips from my garden that help me make the most of summer’s joys.


Time your fallow season

Like gardens, stories—and writers—often benefit from down-time.  In a small but hard-working garden like mine, that period of rest and recuperation is winter, when nothing else is going on anyway.  For my writing, I try to time my fallow moments—those times when I’m letting a story sit between revision, when I’m brainstorming a new story (which I equate to plowing under rich compost), or when I’m critiquing my writing partners—when I know I’m going to be distracted by things like sunshine, watermelon (it’s impossible to eat watermelon around a computer), and camping trips.

Work in concentrated bursts

Despite its small size, my garden has an amazing capacity to grow weeds.  The thought of tackling the whole space at once is daunting (and gets me itching for a backhoe and a load of quick-set concrete) so I pick one area and whack at it for a set amount of time, then relax.  For example, on a hot day, I weed the shaded north-side beds and reward myself with a popsicle in the sun.  Same with my writing.  I set myself goals that play to my strengths—and weaknesses.  Since I like to laze around on summer mornings, I don’t even pretend I’m going to write.  But in the hot afternoon when my black dog is begging to get inside out of the sun, I go up to my office with her and get my words in.

Experiment, have fun and get dirty

In the more sober and contemplative months of winter, snuggled in at my desk, I find it easier to concentrate, kind of like my winter garden pared down to evergreens and stark branches.  But all work and no play…  Summer in the garden, with its bright colors and sweet fruits, is a great time to try those fabulous tropical annuals, to yanks things out and move things around, to go a little wild.  Like a solar charger, I read more in the summer, get excited about new stories and take that energy with me back to my writing.

And never worry about excessive summer distractions.  Trust me, the rains will return.

Quite contrary
by Jessa Slade on July 27th, 2009

Currently working on: Something new
Mood: Tender (in a poke-it-with-a-skewer-to-see-if-it’s-done sort of way)

My life is neatly broken into three parts: Day job, sleeping, writing.  Sometimes, one or the other or the other will take over for a bit: Sleeping on weekends; writing when I’m on deadline; day job when rent is due.  But all work and no play makes for a psychotic writer, or so I learned from THE SHINING, so I also try to keep up on a few hobbies.  And summertime is for gardening.


I’d never had a garden of my own until I met my XY.  In the small Colorado mountain town of Minturn, he decided he wanted fresh, garden-grown tomatoes.  We turned a coffin-sized patch of the duplex parking lot into a planting bed. After we’d pulled out an almost ski-able hill of rocks, the neighbor hung over the fence and announced, “You can’t grow tomatoes in the mountains.”

Ha, little did he know.  The neighbor didn’t understand that enthusiasm and love — and a hearty dose of beginner’s luck supplemented by Miracle-Gro — can make up for a lot, even in a ridiculously short growing season.

hobby-coneflowerSince then, I’ve always had a garden with flowers, fruits and vegetables.  During the good weather, I use the garden as an excuse to be outside puttering, but I’ve also learned a lot about life and writing from my garden.

Productive:  Over the years, we’ve learned to trim, thin and cull the non-producers.  With limited resources — time, space and money — every plant must justify its continued existence.  Same thing goes for chapters in a book.  If the tension isn’t growing and the conflict won’t bear fruit… snip.

Practical:  Although we managed to grow tomatoes in Colorado, we’ve found sometimes it’s better to recognize your limits.  The Pacific Northwest makes amazing berries so we’ve lined our fences with raspberries, marionberries and blueberries, but we’ve given up on melons.  We don’t have enough light and heat to make them sweet.  Kinda like my writing voice, which isn’t sweet either.  It wasn’t until I found my dark heroes that I really settled in to the kind of stories I was meant to tell.

Pretty:  Despite the hard-line approach above, not everything in my garden is grown for food.  Sometimes, beauty is enough.  I don’t have much room for stargazer lilies or extended metaphors, but if there’s an untended corner where one can bloom in secret, until it bursts out in all it’s glory, too late to deny… Well, that corner wasn’t doing anything anyway.

hobby-blueberryPatience:  Waiting for a garden tomato to flower, swell greenly, and finally ripen to gleeful red is — as far as I can tell — the one time that patience as a virtue is actually rewarded.  So while I don’t necessarily condone it as a virtue, it is a useful skill elsewhere in life since the pursuit of most dreams — writing included — seems to demand a generous top dressing of it.

Perseverance:  The garden is hard work.   From spring compost spreading to harvest to tilling under, the buckets of produce come at a cost.  Even during the waiting time in the middle (which happens to be about now) when all the plants are prepared but the big push hasn’t quite arrived, there’s plenty of weeding and watering.  Sometimes we debate whether it wouldn’t just be easier to get everything at the farmer’s market.  We could show up on a Sunday morning, sweat-free and undirtied, and pop everything we want into our cute reusable bags.

But it wouldn’t be our tomatoes, our blueberries, our roses.  So we keep at it, rotating crops, trying new things (corn, this year, and a lovely Mexican feather grass in a hot, dry part of the yard), always learning, enjoying the fruits — and vegetables — of our efforts, however small and tart they might be.

After all, there’s always next year.

Are you a hobby gardener?  I’d love to hear about your favorite plantings, especially if they’d flourish in the Pacific Northwest.  If you’re the kind of person who makes even silk flowers wither, I once heard having a brown thumb can’t be all bad since brown is the color of dirt.