Vegetable Garden by Joanne and Peter Durante

Blessed are they so humble and meek,

Who hoeth and planteth week after week.

They worketh, they toileth, they must not fail,

When all looketh perfect, uh-oh, here cometh hail.

-Old Testament, The Book of Planteth and Toileth

Joanne hails from a farming community in Kansas where tilling, planting, and harvesting were as natural as breathing. So it follows that she and her husband Peter have reserved a section of their property for a well-loved vegetable garden. With Joanne’s help, Peter designed and built the raised beds using railroad ties. Four-foot wide paths between all the beds enable easy access for planting and maintenance. A wealth of vegetables thrives in this garden: pumpkins, corn, squash, horseradish, kale, tomatoes, Swiss chard and zucchini.

Like all Americans of Italian heritage, Peter enjoys good food. And in Joanne he has found someone who not only grows the food, but cooks it to perfection. Her table groans under a Lucullan feast of freshly baked bread, soups, vegetable dishes, and salads.

This labor intensive garden keeps these two gifted gardeners busy all season–and the rewards are worth their efforts.

Here are some of Joanne’s tips for growing vegetables:

  • She makes the most of her compost and buys the rest from a brewery, which makes a special effective mix.
  • She grows most of her vegetables from seed. The exception is tomatoes because they ripen too late from seed.
  • Her garden is organic; no chemicals are used.
  • Mint repels cabbage worms, ants, and rats. But be careful: mint can be invasive.
    Horseradish, false sunflower against a background of corn

    Horseradish, false sunflower against a background of corn

    A beautiful array of mixed vegetables.

    A beautiful array of mixed vegetables.

    Kale, Swiss chard, and horseradish

    Kale, Swiss chard, and horseradish.

    The pond overlooks the vegetable beds.

    The pond overlooks the vegetable beds.

Host Your Own Afternoon Tea and High Tea

History of Tea and Tea Gatherings

Tea for Two

Tea for two.

One of the traditions inherited from the British Empire is afternoon tea. During the Victorian and Edwardian periods, the aristocracy gathered in the drawing room for this elegant ritual. Up until the First World War, ladies changed into fashionable tea gowns. The middle classes soon adopted this custom (though without the tea gowns). It was a civilized way to entertain friends. In the Regency and Victorian periods, exquisite sterling tea services were wrought by fine silversmiths in Britain. Plated silver soon followed, allowing those of more modest means to enjoy the same elegance. In nineteenth-century England, the pottery firm of Spode was the first to discover the formula for bone china–a mixture of bone ash and clay.

Pink tablecloth and tea set

Pink tablecloth and tea set.

High tea is not to be confused with afternoon tea. High tea was the working man’s early supper. The men worked long hours in the factories and mines, and when they came home they expected an early, substantial meal accompanied by their favorite brew-tea. This early supper consisted of some of the following items: shepherd’s pie, sausages, steak and kidney pie, hard boiled eggs, as well as thick slices of homemade bread. Fruit tarts rounded off the meal with a final “cuppa.” The mother presided over the teapot, which was replenished many times.

Tea in the Garden

Tea in the Garden.

The difference in the varieties of tea is determined by the region in which it is grown. At higher altitudes, the quality of the tea is superior because the cooler air matures the leaves more slowly. Below are some of my favorite teas and their corresponding regions:

  • Black fermented teas are grown in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and in Darjeeling, India.
  • Early Grey tea was named for the second Earl. It is a blend of Darjeeling and China teas, scented with oil of bergamot (a citrus fruit). This is the tea mentioned on Page 61 of my novel, Too Late for Regrets.
  • Ooling teas are a blend of black and green teas.
  • Green teas are unfermented and are the most delicate of all. They are never served with milk.

Great fortunes were made by firms importing teas. The most famous of these is Twinings, whose history goes back centuries.

Are you planning on hosting your own tea party? If so, it’s important to know the following:

Tea on the patio.

Tea on the patio.

  • The host always makes and pours the tea for guests and should ask beforehand whether milk or lemon is preferred. A teaspoon of sugar further enhances the flavor.
  • Small children love tea parties. Dressed in their best clothes, the children’s manners are usually impeccable; even the youngest are somehow aware that they are participating in a special formal occasion.

    A lace tablecloth.

    A lace tablecloth.

As for the menu…

  • The sandwich, named for the Earl of Sandwich in the nineteenth century, is made from thinly sliced bread spread with a salmon or vegetable spread, then layered with thinly cut cucumbers. It is a staple of tea parties. The crusts should be removed and the sandwich cut into squares or triangles. Scones with jam and cream follow. A pound cake, meringues, or trifle can be added.
  • Pastries bought from a good bakery are perfectly acceptable, especially if they are arranged on a lovely plate.
  • All that is needed for a tea party is a table covered with a crisp linen, a simple arrangement of flowers, good china, and gleaming silverware.

What could be more pleasant than a tea party in the garden? Have you hosted your own garden party? What are some of your favorite tea party rituals? Comment below!

On Writing: Introducing a New Character

In Too Late for Regrets, I allowed Timothy and Elizabeth the luxury of developing their relationship in the first few chapters. Then I gradually developed Sir David Knightley’s character; the reader becomes aware of his importance in this story when he visits South Africa (page 97). Before flying back to the U.K., he sits in his hotel room thinking of Elizabeth. How he has adored her for so many years, his determination to marry her. He resolves to be more assertive with her when he next visits Hamilton City. Surely he will be able to persuade her and make his dream come true? When he meets Timothy and Elizabeth at the Botanic Gardens, it becomes obvious to him that this is no light romance. The sexual charge between Timothy and Elizabeth is palpable, and David mourns his loss.

“Elizabeth, why did you go for a walk that day?” (Page 112)

As he comes to know Timothy, David’s admiration for him increases. He admires Timothy’s keen intellect–his heroism and his devotion to his duties. When David realizes that Timothy is in danger of losing everything, he devises an ingenious plan to thwart the villain’s intentions.

David is an aristocrat and successful business man with a military background. He is a gentle man. What reader could fail to feel a fondness for him? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

A Stunning Garden Featured in My Book, “Magical Gardens”

Rich and Carol Lillard manage their 0.75 acre property in the suburb of Lakewood without any help. Rich mows the lawn; Carol takes care of the design, digging, planting, weeding, and pruning. Carol’s knowledge of gardening, her artistic eye, and–above all–her devotion to the garden are what make it so special. Her restrained good taste in her selection of ornaments–birdbaths, benches, containers, plaques, window boxes, statues, and fountains–all contribute to the peaceful atmosphere.

Carol relies on groundcovers to keep the weeds at bay: purple creeping veronica, blue-hued thyme, sedum, phlox subulata, white snow-in-summer and basket-of-gold. In spring, splashes of color appear; tulips, daffodils, white candytuft, and purple grape hyacinth. These are followed by waves of irises, peonies, yarrow, larkspur, garden phlox, and asters.

Trained against the pale-hued wall, a spectacular combination of glorious red climbing roses and purple clematis form a pattern around a wall fountain. Two equally stunning clematis “Jackmanii” planted against the wall of the house clamber to a height of 15 feet!

Window boxes ablaze with impatiens, petunias, and lobelia are positioned in between these purple beauties.

Carol’s sensibilities are evident in her design, color combinations, and flair in choosing just the right weathered ornaments to stage her tableaux.

If you had unlimited funds (and time) to spend on your garden, what would it look like? Daydream away in the comments below!

Candytuft blossoming in spring.

Snow in summer blossoming in spring.

How would you like to look out your window and see this sight?

How would you like to look out your window and see this sight?

A traditional stone statue provides a classical touch.

A traditional stone statue provides a classical touch.

A landscape shot of the same statue surrounded by lovely flowers.

A landscape shot of the same statue surrounded by lovely flowers.

The pale-hued wall fountain that provides the perfect canvas for colorful flowers.

The pale-hued wall fountain that provides the perfect canvas for colorful flowers.

Bright purple colombine.

Bright purple colombine.

Orange tulips.

Orange tulips.

A rustic gate.

A rustic gate.

Purple iris.

Purple iris.

Window Box

What would you plant in your window box?

On Writing: Villains in Novels

As in most novels, there is a villain in Too Late for Regrets. I don’t want to reveal the plot, so I’ll say no more. But the reader will spot this villain immediately. At the top of my list of  favorite villains in literature is Mrs. Danvers in Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca.”

Mrs. Danvers is the embodiment of evil; spiteful, manipulative, and filled with hatred for the second Mrs. de Winter. This innocent and inexperienced young girl is thrust into a situation which she is unable to handle. Mrs. Danvers, soft spoken and persuasive, convinces the girl that Max de Winter was obsessed with the beautiful Rebecca and is brokenhearted at her death. However, it is Mrs. Danvers who is obsessed with Rebecca. She wants to oust the young girl from Manderley, thus keeping Rebecca’s memory alive. Mrs. Danvers’ last tragic act destroys her and Rebecca’s legacy.

Can readers share with us their favorite villains?

“Potager” or Vegetable Garden

I spy with my little eye,

A hungry rabbit two feet high.

He ate my carrots for his lunch, 

Not one or two, but the whole damn bunch.

The French word potager translates to “kitchen garden”–a combination of vegetables and flowers. In medieval times, crops were grown for the table and successful crops were a matter of survival for families.

It was in the great gardens of the aristocrats of continental Europe and England that the idea of a potager evolved. The vegetables were interspersed with perennials, while a separate herb garden was always included.

A combination of flowers and vegetables satisfies the soul as well as the appetite. With the renewed widespread enthusiasm about organic and homegrown food, you might be seeing more and more potagers springing up in your neighborhood.

If you could grow any fruit or vegetable in your backyard, which would it be? Comment below!

It's not a dog's life if you're surrounded by vegetables and flowers.

It’s not a dog’s life if you’re surrounded by vegetables and flowers.

Yellow squash and petunias.

Yellow squash and petunias.

Dahlias "H.G. Hemrick," larksour "Carmine," yellow squash, beans "Derby," and oriental cabbage "Joi Choi"

Dahlias “H.G. Hemrick,” larksour “Carmine,” yellow squash, beans “Derby,” and oriental cabbage “Joi Choi”

A Magical Garden: Sandy Weigand

In Too Late for Regrets there are descriptions of Elizabeth and Timothy’s gardens. Many readers wonder whether I conjure these gardens using my imagination or whether they are inspired by actual places. As I viewed Sandy Weigand’s exquisite garden, I was inspired to write those descriptions.

Sandy is a leading real estate broker in the Denver area. She has made an enchanting garden full of harmony and charm. London gardens such as this are often featured in English gardening magazines, and the Weigand garden could easily grace those pages.

Sandy has created a superb and serene garden that has inspired my writing. Do you readers have anyone in your neighborhood who inspires parts of your writing? Is there a person who you look to for character inspiration? Or a place that especially inspires your vivid settings? Comment below!

Weigand Garden 4

Sometimes the best garden ornaments are the soft, furry ones!

Weigand Garden 1

Flowers from the Weigand Garden

Weigand Garden 2

Beautiful brick walls shelter lovely beds.

Weigand Garden 3

Ivy-covered tree trunks provide a serene shade.

Weigand Garden 5

Creative containers are a great way to house flowers anywhere.

Sandy's beautiful fountain  provides the perfect backdrop for a writing session.

Sandy’s beautiful fountain provides the perfect backdrop for a writing session.