January 7, 2009

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The garden reader:
Trowel and dagger

By William Scheick
University of Texas at Austin

Anthony Eglin. The Blue Rose: An English Garden Mystery. St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2005. $6.99. 320 pp.

Anthony Eglin. The Lost Gardens: An English Garden Mystery. St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2007. $6.99. 320 pp.

Anthony Eglin. The Water Lily Cross: An English Garden Mystery. St. Martin's Minotaur, 2007. $23.95. 304 pp.

Anthony Eglin. The Trail of the Wild Rose: An English Garden Mystery. St. Martin's Minotaur, 2009. $24.95. 272 pp.

It's January, a time for some of us to undertake garden-bed improvements. Others, perhaps, are planting asparagus, onions and cool-weather veggies.

A considerable number of us are resting a bit, even if we compulsively peruse plant catalogs. January is indeed the right time for dreaming about possibilities in the garden.

It's also a good time to enjoy mysteries staged in gardens. In January, we can lose ourselves in such gardening-related reading without feeling like criminals stealing valuable time from the many outside chores usually awaiting us during the growing seasons.

Gardening mystery-stories, we can honestly tell ourselves, aren't just about whiling away time. They also provide horticultural information — insight, for instance, into the intricacies of grape-growing or the long-frustrated botanic quest for a true-blue rose.

Murders in gardens also serve as cautionary tales about obsession. If there is one human trait many of us know up-close and personal — we're not identifying any names here, of course — it is certain gardeners' propensity for obsession (see Seeds, 4 April 2007).

Anthony Eglin has written four "English Garden Mystery" novels: The Blue Rose, The Lost Gardens, The Water Lily Cross, and the forthcoming Trail of the Wild Rose. Each can be read independently of the others in the series, though each features Lawrence Kingston, a retired university botanist who accidentally becomes an amateur sleuth.

The Blue Rose is set in a neglected walled 19th-century garden, where its new owners discover a hidden bush with "electric sapphire blue" flowers. They know that this mystery rose is valuable — a holy grail, of sorts — and they ask botanist Kingston to study it in secret.

But this garden's secret doesn't keep. The rose disappears and is, as well, far more dangerous than anyone imagines. Considerable mayhem soon follows.

The Lost Gardens, the second novel in the series, is set in an 18th-century priory garden, which has been abandoned for decades. Kingston is hired to restore this multi-acre estate, but soon makes unsettling discoveries, including the brush-covered ruins of a chapel with a pagan healing well.

At the bottom of the well lie bones of a human hand. Dire events ensue as Kingston applies his horticultural and his sleuthing expertise.

The Water Lily Cross features a giant hybrid plant capable of desalinating seawater. Such a valuable plant could help solve the global need for fresh water.

The breakthrough hybrid's creator, though, has gone missing.

Enter Kingston, asked by the missing man's wife to find her husband. As in The Blue Rose, a secret code and various twists and turns in the plot figure in the outcome.

Of these three volumes — the fourth is to be released soon — I found The Water Lily Cross the least satisfying and The Lost Gardens the most entertaining.

Don't expect deep characterization or Jeffrey Deaver-type plot gimmicks. Do count on satisfying conventional mystery devices, such as a hooded figure in the night, ominous ruins, secret chambers, cryptic messages and timely thunder and lightening.

Consider, for example, the sinister atmospherics of this passage appearing early in The Lost Garden: "Thick strands of trees, so close together as to form a black wall; trunks, limbs and branches arching and writhing in a futile attempt to escape the strangling embrace of ivy, vines and creepers that lashed them together. It was as if the house were under siege, about to be swallowed up any day by the diabolical mass of plant life. As the light began to fade, the sight became even more menacing" (p. 32).

Kingston shivers when he first sees this scene — and no wonder, with all its diabolical writhing, strangling, swallowing, besieging and overall black menace.

With an eye for good fun, Eglin apparently writes somewhat tongue-in-cheek. He seems to know that his readers are well-versed in stock mystery-story conventions, but also that many mystery fans are willing to be pleasantly beguiled again and again by these familiar devices.

Eglin's novels remind me of Rosemary and Thyme, the British television series which ran for three seasons (2003-2006) and which can still be seen on some local PBS stations. In this series two women run a landscape service but, like Kingston, they also become amateur sleuths. They routinely find their horticultural work encumbered by messy murders.

If you happened to see and enjoy Rosemary and Thyme (available on DVD, incidentally), you'll delight in Eglin's use of practical and historical garden lore blended with tried-and-true mystery-story thrills.

Gardening tips

"Here's a simple tip to get your sprouting spring bulbs to bloom in southern Texas zones," writes Sandeigh Barrett. "Blend up a banana in a the blender (like a smoothie) and pour this at the base of the flower. Be sure the flower already has leaves sprouting up from the ground. The nutrients and composition of the banana makes the plant flower within a few days! Works like a charm for me in New Braunfels."

Have a favorite gardening tip you’d like to share? Texas Gardener’s Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will send you a free Texas Gardener T-shirt. Here’s a chance to get published and be a garden stylist as well! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

Did You Know...

There are several different species of fungi, called mycorhizii, that help plants with different tasks. Many actually form symbiotic relationships with plants. Some mycorhizii help with water uptake while others make fertilizer more available, etc. To encourage these beneficial fungi in you garden be sure to add lots of organic matter and avoid the use of toxic chemicals.

Upcoming garden events

Austin: Travis County Master Gardeners Association will present "Rainwater Harvesting and Waterwise Gardening," 10 a.m. until noon, January 10, at the Zilker Botanic Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Road, Austin. This free seminar on capturing rainwater and lowering water usage in your landscape will cover all the basics of building a non-potable rainwater harvesting system. In addition, learn how to design beautiful gardens designed for lower water usage. Don't be misinformed, Xeriscaping is not "zero-scaping." Vendors representing tank and gutter companies will be available to answer specific questions. City of Austin representatives will be available to answer rainbarrel, permit and rebate questions.  For more information, visit http://www.tcmastergardeners.org.

Houston: Urban Harvest Fruit Tree Sale will be held Saturday, January 17, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. A class describing all varieties for sale, as well as providing vital information on how to plant and care for each type tree will be held January 10 (12-2 p.m.) and 13 (6:30-8:30 p.m.) at Urban Harvest's office on Canal Street. A nominal fee of $10 is charged for the class. Register for the class by calling Urban Harvest. The tree sale is at Rice University's Football Stadium, on the concourse. For detailed information about the sale as well as about fruit trees, check the Urban Harvest Web site www.urbanharvest.org or call (713) 880-5540.

Schertz: Do you have a love for gardening and want to learn more about horticulture? Then the next Guadalupe County Master Gardener training class is for you. Classes are on Wednesday, January 21 to May 13 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Schertz Civic Center, 1400 Schertz Parkway. Instructors include Texas A&M AgriLife Extension specialists, staff and local experts, including Malcolm Beck, Patty Leander and Drs. Larry Stein and Mark Black. Topics cover botany & plant growth, entomology, Xeriscaping, propagation, herbs and vegetables, tree care and pruning principles, composting and organic horticulture, water conservation and much more. Registration is $170 with a 10% discount if received by December 29. For more information and applications visit www.guadalupecountymastergardeners.org.

San Benito: The Texas Master Naturalist training program begins at 6 p.m. January 21 and will meet monthly through April 1. Registration closes January 14. The Texas Master Gardener Volunteer program begins at 9 a.m. January 28 and meets monthly through July. Registration closes January 16. Both will meet at the San Benito County Annex Building at Williams Road and U.S. Hwy. 83/77. To apply for the training, visit the Rio Grande Valley Chapter Texas Master Naturalist Webs site at www.rgvctmn.org or call (956) 364-1410. The class fee is $125. The Master Gardener classes that begin January 28 will be taught by AgriLife Extension specialists, staff and other local horticultural experts. Fee for the class is $140. In exchange for the training, students are asked to volunteer in local gardening projects. At least 50 hours of volunteer service within one year of training is required to earn the title of Texas Master Gardener. After that, there is a yearly requirement of 12 hours of volunteer service for recertification. To register for the Master Gardener program, call (956) 455-5358 or (956) 831-4547, or contact the AgriLife Extension office in Cameron County at (956) 361-8236.

Tomball: Arbor Gate will present a Fruit Tree Sale and Seminar, Sunday, January 25, at 15635 FM 2920, Tomball. A presale seminar presented by Heidi Sheesley, Treesearch Farms, begins at 9 a.m. The sale begins at 10:30 a.m. For additional information, call (281) 351-8851 or visit www.arborgate.com.

Tyler: Smith County Extension's annual East Texas Spring Landscape & Garden Conference will be held February 14 at the Tyler Rose Garden Center, Tyler. It is an all-day program with a range of topics, including landscape design, tree establishment and maintenance, rainwater harvesting, and plants for the region. Cost is $15. For more information, call (903) 590-2980 or visit http://easttexasgardening.tamu.edu/programs/2009 Conference agenda 2 with agencies.pdf.

Houston: The River Oaks Garden Club's 74th annual Azalea Trail will take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 6, 7 and 8, from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day, and will feature four beautiful private homes and gardens. Tickets for admissions are $15 before March 6 and $20 during the trail. For additional information contact the River Oaks Garden Club at (713) 523-2483 or visit www.riveroaksgardenclub.org.

Nocogdoches: The SFA Mast Arboretum will host its annual Garden Gala Day on April 18 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the SFA Intramural Fields on Wilson Drive, Nocogdoches. This event features the annual spring plant sale fundraiser benefiting the SFA Mast Arboretum, Pineywoods Native Plant Center, Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, and their educational programs. All of the plants are produced at SFA by the staff, students and volunteers. The public is encouraged to arrive early and bring a wagon. For more information and a list of plants for sale call (936) 468-4404, or visit http://arboretum.sfasu.edu and click on “upcoming events.”

Fort Worth: The Greater Fort Worth Herb Society's Annual Herb Festival will be held from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., May 16, at the Fort Worth Botanic Center, 3220 Botanic Garden Blvd., Fort Worth. For additional information, call (817) 874-6405, e-mail festival@gfwhs.org, or visit www.gfwhs.org.


Kilgore: Northeast Texas Organic Gardeners meets at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at Wildwood Eco-Farm in Kilgore. For more information, call Carole Ramke at (903) 986-9475.

Allen: The Allen Garden Club meets on the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the little blue-gray house located at 102 N. Allen Dr., Allen. For more information, visit www.allengardenclub.org.

Austin: Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit www.main.org/aog.

Schertz: The Guadalupe County (Schertz/Seguin) Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) meets the second Tuesday of each month at the Guadalupe County Annex, 1101 Elbel Road, Shertz. A plant exchange and meet-and-greet begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by a program at 7. For additional information or an application to join NPSOT, contact guadalupecounty@npsot.org.

Friendswood: The second Tuesday of each month the Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold a free evening educational program for the public, called the Green Thumb Series, at Southeast Church of Christ, 2400 W Bay Area Blvd., Friendswood, about 1 mile west of I-45 and Baybrook Mall. For more information visit http://hcmgap2.tamu.edu or call (281) 991-8437.

Rockport: The Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group, founded in March 2003, meets the second Wednesday of each month, with the exceptions of June and July, to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including historical uses and tips for successful propagation and cultivation, meets at 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. Sometimes they take field trips and have cooking demonstrations in different locations. For more information, contact Linda (361) 729-6037, Ruth (361) 729-8923 or Cindy (979) 562-2153 or visit www.rockportherbs.com.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Herb Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels (corner of Funston & N. New Braunfels). For more information on programs, visit www.sanantonioherbs.org.

College Station: The A&M Garden Club meets on the second Friday of each month during the school year at 9:30 a.m. at the Exit Center, 1600 Rock Prairie Road, College Station. Expert speakers, plant sharing, and federated club projects help members learn about gardening in the Brazos Valley, floral design, conservation topics, and more. For more information, visit www.sallysfamilyplace.com/Clubs/GardenClub.htm.

Dallas: The Rainbow Garden Club of North Texas meets the second Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Meetings are held at member’s homes and garden centers around the area. For more information, visit www.RainbowGardenClub.com.

Sugar Land: The Sugar Land Garden Club meets on the third Tuesday of each month, September through November and January through April at 10 a.m. at the Sugar Land Community Center, 226 Matlage Way, Sugar Land. The club hosts a different speaker each month. For more information, visit www.sugarlandgardenclub.org.

Denton: The Denton Organic Society, a group devoted to sharing information and educating the public regarding organic principles, meets the third Wednesday of each month (except July, August and December) at the Denton Senior Center, 509 N. Bell Avenue. Meetings are free and open to the public. Meetings begin at 7 p.m. and are preceded by a social at 6:30. For more information, call (940) 382-8551.

Granbury: The Lake Granbury Master Gardeners meet at 1 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the Hood County Annex 1, 1410 West Pearl Street, Granbury. The public is invited to attend. There is an educational program each month preceding the business meeting. For information on topics call (817) 579-3280 or visit http://www.hoodcountymastergardeners.org/.

Houston: The Native Plant Society of Texas — Houston (NPSOT-H) meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except for October (4th Thursday) and December (2nd Thursday). Location varies. For locations, for more information on programs, and for information about native plants for Houston, visit http://www.npsot.org/Houston.

Rosenberg: The Fort Bend Master Gardeners meet at 7:15 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except December at the Bud O’Shieles Community Center located at 1330 Band Road, Rosenberg. For more information, call (281) 341-7068 or visit www.fbmg.com.

Seguin: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners meets the third Thursday of each month at the Texas AgriLife Extension Bldg. at 210 E. Live Oak at 7 p.m. For more information, phone (830) 379-1972 or visit www.guadalupecountymastergardeners.org.

Longview: The Northeast Texas chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas meets the third Thursday of each month at St. Mary’s Parish Hall in Longview. For more information, call Logan Damewood at (903) 295-1984.

Edna: The Jackson County Master Gardeners present their "Come Grown With Us" seminars on the fourth Tuesday of each month, January through October, beginning at 7 p.m. at 411 N. Wells, Edna. The seminars are free, open to the public and offer 2 CEU hours to Master Gardeners or others requiring them. For additional information, contact the Jackson County Extension Office at (361) 782-3312.

Fort Worth: The Organic Garden Club of Forth Worth meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month except July and December at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens main building. Refreshments are served. For more information, call (817) 274-8460.

Seabrook: The Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold an educational program at 10 a.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month at The Meeting Room (on the Lakeside) at Clear Lake Park, 5001 NASA Road 1, Seabrook. The programs are free and open to the public. For more information, visit http://hcmgap2.tamu.edu.

Dallas: The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 824-2448 or visit www.dogc.org.

Arlington: The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.

If you would like your organization’s events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events. To ensure inclusion in this column, please provide complete details at least three weeks prior to the event.

The Southern Kitchen Garden

By William D. Adams and Thomas R. Leroy

A kitchen garden, or potager, is a celebration of the seasons: brimming with vegetables, herbs, flowers, and even fruit trees, it’s our link with nature and a source for fresh produce. The kitchen garden has always been an important part of life in the rural South, at times meaning the difference between being well-fed or going to bed hungry. In recent times, the kitchen garden has become more fashionable and now more and more homeowners are reaping the delicious rewards of growing their own food.

A kitchen garden needs little more than a small raised bed, so an aspiring gardener with only a modest backyard will have plenty of room to get started. If you have more space on your hands, then you can include some produce requiring a little more space like fruit trees, corn or pumpkins.

In the book, the authors with take you through the process of starting your very own kitchen garden from location to soil preparation to planting and then to harvest. It is also loaded with useful information on propagation, pest control and is laced with mouth-watering recipes and beautiful color photographs.

$21.30 plus shipping*

Order online with credit card at www.texasgardener.com or call toll-free 1-800-727-9020.

*Or with credit card by phone and receive FREE shipping. That is a $3.50 savings! Visa, MasterCard and Discover accepted.

Wish you’d saved them?

Are you missing an important issue of Texas Gardener? Or, perhaps, just tired of thumbing through stacks of back issues looking for the tips and techniques you need to make your garden grow? Three new CDs provide easy access to all six issues of volume 24 (November/December 2004 through September/October 2005), volume 25 (November/December 2005 through September/October 2006), volume 26 (November/December 2006 through September/October 2007), and volume 27 (November/December 2007 through September/October 2008)*.

$16.99 per CD includes tax and shipping

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020.

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)

*Other volumes will be available soon.

Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac

Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac is a giant monthly calendar for the entire state — a practical, information-packed, month-by-month guide for gardeners and "yardeners." This book provides everything you need to know about flowers and garden design; trees, shrubs, and vines; lawns; vegetable, herb, and fruit gardening; and soil, mulch, water, pests, and plant care. It will help you to create beautiful, productive, healthy gardens and have fun doing it.

$26.63 plus shipping*

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020 or order on-line.

*Mention Texas Gardener’s Seeds when ordering by phone and we’ll waive shipping charges. (Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)

Fiber row cover valuable year-round

Grow-Web encourages plant growth and development, and also provides protection from insects, birds, diseases and frosts. It is also air and water permeable and allows for ventilation. Grow-Web provides excellent protection to seedlings when applied directly to the seedbed.

$30.64 per 12.3’ x 32.8’ roll (includes shipping!)

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020 or order on-line.

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)

Texas Gardener’s Seeds
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