Category Archives: Recommended Books

Gifts of Gold ~ In a Sicilian Kitchen with Sista Felicia

 

Amanda, Felicia, Pat Ciaramitaro.

Three Generations ~ Daughter Amanda, Felicia, and Mom Pat

My Book On SALE for ONLY 15.00!!! “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden”

Just in time for your holiday gift giving, my book, Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden, which I both wrote and illustrated, is on sale on my publisher’s website for only 15.00. The price is unbeatable as the list cost is 35.00.  Oh Garden! makes an ideal gift for the garden-maker and nature lover on your holiday gift list and at this price, I recommend you buy one for yourself and one for a friend!

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! .jpg

Praise for Oh Garden ~

Anyone who gardens along the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to South Carolina will appreciate Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! (David R. Godine, $35). This book is filled with design ideas and plants that work well in this coastal region, as author and garden designer Kim Smith relates her experiences with her garden in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The first part of the book, “Creating the Framework,” delves into trees, shrubs, and other elements for creating structure in the garden, while the second section addresses how to fill out the framework to create a harmonious living tapestry in your garden. —Viveka Neveln, The American Gardener

Oh Garden! is a 250 page hardcover book crammed full of the most excellent gardening advice you will find anywhere, guiding you through the four seasons, and woven throughout with over 85 illustrations, and fabulous plant lists. All week I will be bringing you excerpts from my book, with more praises from The Boston Globe and other literary reviewers.

The Dreamer by Luis Aira

I am dreaming of blue crabs that talk and dance...

The Dreamer by Luis Aira. Book review posted by guest writer Tom Hauck, “Luis Aira is a gifted writer and his prose is timeless and poetic. The Dreamer will enchant and inspire you to look at the world with new eyes.”

The Dreamer Luis Aira

Congratulations to my friend Luis Aira on the publication of his new novel The Dreamer. This richly imagined story begins in a place called Eden Orchards. Dozing under an apple tree is a local wino named Old Slim. A young stranger suddenly falls through, or out of, the tree and lands with a thump on the ground. This man who fell to earth is like a child with no memory: he doesn’t even have a name, so they agree that he should be called Apple. The stranger has no knowledge of human society, doesn’t know what dreaming is, and is able to talk to animals.

And so begins this magical fable that unfolds with a series of vignettes as Apple, curious to learn more about this world into which he has fallen, leaves Eden Orchards in search of answers. As he travels he meets people; from each he learns something and to each he gives transformative insight.

The underlying philosophy of The Dreamer is exactly what the title implies: that God or the Creator (call it what you will) is not a scientist or an uber-designer in the sense that most Western religions believe, but is a dreamer, and we are all part of a magnificent and ever-changing dream. As Apple proclaims later in the book, “The Dream lives through the Dreamer; the Dreamer lives through the Dream.” Time is not linear, and all things are interconnected – not physically, but by this vast cosmic dream.

One is reminded of the great poem by Edgar Allan Poe, “A Dream Within a Dream,” which evokes a similar if much more melancholy view:

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream. 

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

In The Dreamer, hope does not fly away; it is always in our hearts. The dream brings not weeping, only joy. Luis is a gifted writer and his prose is timeless and poetic.The Dreamer will enchant you and inspire you to look at the world with new eyes.

Fabulous Review for Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!

My deepest thanks and appreciation to Pat Leuchtman for her wonderful review. Pat has been writing a weekly garden column for The Recorder in Greenfield since 1980. She has been blogging for the past several years and has posted and archived all her columns on her blog Commonweeder. Read more of Pat’s review and spend time perusing her blog, which is brimming with useful information, book reviews, insights, and missives– all beautifully organized.

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!

Pat’s Review: Fresh Possibilities are just what I am looking for at this time of the year, so it is no surprise that I have been spending happy evenings with Kim Smith’s beautiful book that includes so many of her own delicate paintings of flowers, birds and butterflies.

Kim Smith gardens, and paints, in Gloucester.  Over the years her garden has grown, as has her concern about conservation and her delight in the roads to literature and art that her garden has opened to her. Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities: Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine Publisher) combines all these aspects of her life in the garden in the most beautiful way.

With its delicate paintings of individual flowers, and butterflies, the book does not look like a how-to book, yet it includes plant lists to attract butterflies, of fragrant flowers and plants through the seasons, seasonal blooms and useful annuals. I can hardly decide which I enjoy more, the charming prose of chapters titled The Narrative of the Garden, Flowers of the Air and The Memorable Garden, the exquisite paintings, or the poetry that ranges from our own Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker to Li Bai (701-762 CE),  a famous Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. I enjoy knowing that Kim has found the same delight  in the connections to history and the arts that I find in the garden.

One of the two chapters I particularly found useful as well as beautiful right now is Flowers of the Air which includes information about a variety of butterflies, and the plants that they need for their life cycle. We have to remember that butterflies are not only lovely, they are important pollinators.

It is no surprise that I also enjoy Roses for the Intimate Garden. Kim’s climate is a bit more gentle than mine and she can grow more tender roses that I can, but we are both devoted to the fragrance that roses bring  to our gardens and to the uncorseted exuberance of old fashioned roses.

If you want information, but also want the kind of delicious prose you find in evocative essays, an aesthetic sensibility, and beautiful illustrations, this is the book for you.  Kim is an inspired gardener and writer, but she isn’t stopping there. Watch for more news about Kim and her latest project soon.

Director’s Series at the Arnold Arboretum

Tulip Tree (Lirodendron tulipfera) American native tulip tree on the front lawn of the Hunnewell Building at the Arnold Arboretum

A Darwinian Look at Darwin’s Evolutionist Ancestors

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Ned Friedman, the new Director at the Arnold Arboretum, speak about the early history of evolutuonary thought. Well-spoken, passionate, and comprehensive in his presentaion, Friedman answers the question “Is Darwin truly deserving of his place in history?” Although approximately fifty naturalists, horticulturalists, arborists, theologians, philosophers, poets, and medical practitoners had advanced evolutionary concepts for the diversification of life, it was Darwin who wrote about and developed the concept most exhaustively and comprehensively (most notably, On the Origins of Species, 1859) and conclusively, and it was Darwin who convinced the rest of the scientific world. Interestingly, we learn that Charles Darwin’s grandfather, the physician and naturalist Erasmus Darwin (a great friend of our forefather Benjamin Franklin– are you listening tea party creationists?) most certainly planted the seed and devolped the foundation for his grandson’s theories on evolution, through his own writing Zoonomia (or the Laws of Organic Life, 1794).

Erasmus Darwin writes “Would it be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and associations; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!”

It is not easy leaving my cozy home on a frigid New England evenning. I usually have to depart a full two to two and half hours prior to any event in the city when it is scheduled anywhere near rush hour. This makes for a very long evening, however, I find all the progams that the Arnold Arboretum has to offer entirely worth my while and last night’s presentaion was no exception. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming lecture topic Restoring Hawaii’s Marvels of Evolution, presented by Robert Robichaux, scheduled for Monday, February 7 at 6:30.

All programs in the Directors Lecture series are free but you must register ahead of time online or call 617.384.5277.

Tulip tree (Lirodendron tulipfera). Lirodendron is a genus of only two species of trees in the Magnoliaceae; both are known under the common name tulip tree. Lirodendron tulipfera is native to eastern North America, while Lirodendron chinese is native to China and Vietnam.

Round Robin Redbreast

Round Robin Redbreast

What’s that you say? A flock of robins, in winter?

Yes, yes! Sweetly singing liquid notes. A flock in my garden!

What does a hungry round robin find to eat in a winter garden?

Red, red winterberries and holly, rime-sweetend crabapples, and orchard fruits.

And how does a winter robin keep warm?

Why, blanketed together with air-puffed fluffed feathers.

How long will they stay, how long can they last in the frost?

Only as there are fruits on the bough and berries on the bush.

Round robin red breast, silhouette in bare limb,

Calling away winter, cheer, cheerio, and cheer-up!  

– Kim Smith

The widely distributed and beloved American Robin (Turdus migratorius) hardly needs an introduction. The American Robin is the largest member of the thrush family—thrushes are known for their liquid birdsongs and the robin is no exception. Their unmistakable presence is made known when, by early spring, the flocks have dispersed and we see individual robins strutting about the landscape with fat worms dangling. Unmistakable, too, is the male’s beautiful birdsongs, signaling to competing males to establish their territory, as well as to entice prospective females.

The boundaries of the American Robin winter migration areas are not clearly defined. The robin’s winter range covers southern Canada to Guatemala, compared to their summer nesting range, which extends from the tree limit of Canada to southern Mexico. Robins that nest in Massachusetts, for the most part, migrate further south. Robins nesting in northern Canada migrate to their tropic-of-New England get-away.

During the winter months Cape Ann often becomes home to large flocks of robins and we have had the joy of hosting numerous numbers in late afternoon and early morning. I can’t help but notice their arrival to our garden. Their shadows descend, crisscrossing the window light, followed by a wild rumpus in the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. This pair of hollies is planted on opposing sides of the garden path, alongside my home office. I have learned to stealthily sneak up to a window, as any sudden activity inside startles birds that are investigating our garden, and they quickly disperse. Dining not only on berries of the ‘Dragon Ladies’, but also the ‘Blue Princess’ Meserve holly and winterberry bushes, are generally speaking dozens of noisy, hungry robins. These winter nomads flock to trees and shrubs that hold their fruit through winter, feasting on red cedar, American holly, Meserve hollies, chokecherries, crabapples, and juniper. Robins traveling near the sea will comb the shoreline for mollusks and go belly-deep for fish fry. Depleting their food supply, they move onto the next location. Gardens rife with fruiting shrubs and trees make an ideal destination for our migrating friends.

The garden designed to attract pairs of summer resident robins as well as flocks of winter travelers would be comprised of trees and shrubs for nest building, plants that bear fruit and berries that are edible during the summer and fall, and plants that bear fruits that persist through the winter months. Suburban gardens and agricultural areas provide the ideal habitat, with open fields and lawns for foraging insects as well as trees and hedgerows in which to build their nests.

Robins in New England breed from April through July, often bearing three clutches. Nests are built in the crotch of trees and dense bushes, five to fifteen feet above ground, and some are occasionally made on the ground or built on protruding ledges of homes. The female robin weaves a cup-shaped foundation of coarse grass, twigs, paper and feathers, and then lines the bowl with mud she smears and packs firmly with her breast. Later she adds soft fibers such as fine grass and downy feathers to cushion the egg. The first nest is usually placed in an evergreen tree or shrub; for each subsequent clutch a new nest is built and generally placed in a deciduous tree.

The following plants, suggested with robins in mind, will also attract legions of songbirds (and Lepidoptera). The list is comprised primarily of indigenous species with a few non-native, but not invasive plants included.

Trees for nesting ~ American Holly (Ilex opaca), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).

Summer and autumn fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines for robins ~ Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Gray Dogwood (C. racemosa), Red-osier Dogwood (C. sericea), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Apple (Malus pumila), Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Wild Grape (Vitis spp.).

Trees and shrubs with fruits persisting through winter ~ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), Crabapple (Malus spp.), Sargent’s Crabapple (Malus sargentii), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Meserve Hollies (Ilex x meserveae), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! for Holiday Giving

Music to my Ears: The following note is from my dear friend Kate Hines who built a beautiful home on a lovely piece of property—former farmland that borders the lush and fertile Rhode Island coastline. Thank you Kate for sharing!





“I was so inspired reading the section you wrote on hollies in Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! that I went to the local nursery and ordered 2 – a female 6′ and a male 5.’ Now they are mixed in with the evergreen grove to the north of the house. They were costly, a big project but soooooo satisfying! Ill send pix.”

XOXO KH

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! makes for a very useful gift for the gardener (and loved-ones dreaming of creating a garden) on your holiday gift giving list. Last year at this time Carol Stocker, the Boston Globe garden columnist wrote the following about Oh Garden:

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!

Boston Globe Best of 2009

For Armchair Gardeners Pining for Spring

“Bleak and snowy outside? These lush reads will have you dreaming green. January and February are the reading months for gardeners trapped indoors. Here are some of the best garden books from 2009. “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes From a Gloucester Garden,’’ written and illustrated by Kim Smith (David R. Godine, Publisher), is a treasure, and perhaps the best garden gift book. Why? Both dream-like and practical, it captures the rapture of a gardener’s journey through her own evolving quarter acre by integrating Smith’s personal essays, hands-on advice, and paintings. I was charmed by her listing of specific scents of favorite peony varieties accompanied by a painted sample of their petal colors…”

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Written and Illustrated by Kim Smith. Available through your local bookseller, David R. Godine, Publisher, and Amazon.