In which I explain how gardening and writing are EXACTLY alike

When I first started gardening seriously, about six years ago, I planted what I liked. I bought lupine seeds because I loved the book Miss Rumphius. Needless to say, my hot-and-sticky D.C. garden did not transform into the  cool, Maine seaside field of lupine flowers shown below.


I did not learn my lesson.

I went on to plant mophead hydrangeas in the sun,  french noisette roses in the shade, jam too many strawberry plants into a tiny bed and generally ignore that which I was able to grow well in favor of what I enjoyed looking at.

All this became crystal clear to me this afternoon as I made a brutal assessment of my garden and ripped anything that was underperforming. I am undergoing a similar process with my writing. I love Graham Greene, Zadie Smith, David Lodge, Cheryl Mendohlson, Michael Robotham etc.

But I don’t write like them.

I can enjoy their respective styles, without attempting them in my own, err, garden. Now this may seem an obvious point, but I admit that recently I had allowed voices into my head that actively discourage following one’s own instincts. These voices are not disembodied, they belong to “experts” who speak publicly, write books and fill the internets with their advice. They are cut from the same cloth of the gardening experts who wax poetic about the magic of delphiniums (delphinii?) even though anyone living in the South will tell you the chances of successfully growing a delphinium run about the same as winning Powerball.

(But they’re so beautiful, you can see why many gardeners are tempted to try.)bluelacedelphinium

There’s no shame in acknowledging limitations, because doing so then clears room to focus on one’s strengths. Just as I have cleared my beds for the fall — tossing a feeble, low-blooming hibiscus, an underwhelming weeping cherry, and scads of overly assertive tiarella — I am also clearing my head. Clearing it not just of voices that treat writing like a paint-by-numbers exercise, but also of my own sometimes outlandish expectations.

I am making room for what works.








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Congratulations to my friend, Ann.


Her new book is to be released by Tuttle Publishing on October 11, 2016. Ann will also be speaking around D.C.

Saturday, October 15Aki Matsuri at the U.S. National Arboretum from 10 am to 5 pm, Free.  For more information:

Saturday, October 15Otsukimi or Moon Viewing sponsored by the Japan-America Society of DC at the U.S. National Arboretum from 6 to 9 pm, children under 15 free.  For more information check the Japan-America Society of DC website under upcoming events.

Saturday, November 5DC Author Festival hosted by the DC Public Library at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, from 10 am to 5 pm, Free.  For more information:

Friday, November 18National Press Club Bookfair, 529 14th Street, NW, 5:30 -8:30 pm. Tickets are $5 for National Press Club and Politics & Prose members, $10 for the public. For more information:

Wednesday, November 30University Club of DC Meet the Author Night and Book Fair, 1135 16th Streets, NW, 5:30 -8:00 pm, Free.  For more information,

Thursday, December 8DC Public Library, Tenleytown, Joint Talk and Signing with Stephen Voss and Sandra Moore, 4450 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, 7 pm, Free.



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