Jun 28, 2007

Book Review: The Refuge by Sue Henry

Sue Henry has branched out from her Alaska mysteries featuring dog musher Jessie Arnold, and has begun a new Maxie and Stretch series, featuring a retired widow and her miniature dachshund, Stretch. The widow, Maxie McNabb, spends the winters with Stretch motoring outside of Alaska, driving around the Lower Forty-Eight in her 30-foot motor home, spending a lot of time in the southwest.

She solves mysteries in Taos and nearby locations in the first two books in the series, all while sightseeing and camping out in her motorhome.

But the third book in the series is all about Maxie, without Stretch.

In The Refuge, Maxie leaves Stretch and her motor home in Alaska to fly to the Big Island, Hawaii, to help an old acquaintance, Karen Bailey, who has been injured in an accident and left with a cast on her leg. She needs Maxie's help to help her pack up and move back to Alaska, where she is from.

There are myserious circumstances surrounding Karen and unexplained attempted break-ins to the house in Hilo, Hawaii when Maxie arrives there. There is a suspicious stranger lingering nearby the house, and later on, a search of the house that leaves packed boxes torn open and contents trashed.

Maxie meets and hires a young man to help with the packing and shipping of her friend's belongings. Intending to work faster without having to take care of Karen too, she sends Karen on ahead to Alaska and works with the young man, Jerry, to finally ship and sell Karen's belongings.

After the packing and shipping has been done, they rent a truck camper to tour the Big Island while they wait for Maxie's flight back to Alaska. But the mystery surrounding Karen follows them around the island, even as they visit tourist sights such as Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park, the park's Kulanaokuaiki Campground, the Chain of Craters road, and The Refuge, a place of cultural and historical significance, where the mystery comes to a head and Maxie and Jerry barely escape with their lives.

The book's best quality is the description of the Big Island and the places you can visit and see with a truck camper. From this point of view, the plot is really just incidental. I chose the book because of the setting, and I wasn't disappointed in the virtual tour of Hawaii, with some mystery thrown in.

Jun 12, 2007

Book Review: Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols

Be led down the garden path in a pleasant way with Beverly Nichols' 1932 original book on country gardening. I found Down the Garden Path, a hardcover, at a library sale and got it for about 50 cents or so. It doesn't have the original jacket cover but was printed in 1932, when the author was in his 30s. Yes, Beverley Nichols is a "he", and of course, he's British.

Who else but an English gardener would rhapsodize on every page about flowers and plants and pamper them to an extreme, to the extent of sheltering a foxglove with an umbrella during a particularly heavy rain (because, as he says, foxgloves don't like to be wet).

After buying a country cottage in the English countryside, Nichols proceeds to fill the garden with flowers and bushes, and goes on to plant a wood, build a great rock garden, dig a pond, and of course, hire a gardner. Nichols, in his gardening frenzy, competes with the neighbors, in particular a Mrs. M, who never fails to find fault with his landscaping and the health of his plants.

He gets his revenge when he catches her red-handed, unearthing pots of flowers she had bought and planted in her garden, pots and all - the flowers she claimed to have grown from seeds bought in a "penny packet."

Down the Garden Path is entertaining and informative, and at the end, Mr. Nichols promised to write many more books on gardening, and he did. He wrote this book in his 30s and he died in his 80s, so he had a lot of time to rhapsodize some more about the modernizing of his thatched cottage and the development of his extensive garden.

At the beginning of the book, the author is determined to find flowers and plants and even trees that will flower in the dead of winter. He finds the winter aconite, the Christmas rose, mimosa, and others with Latin names he doesn't give us the common names for.

I used Botanica, an Illustrated Book of 10,000 Garden Plants, to look up a few. Of course, the English climate is milder than ours and English gardens will have blooms in winter that we won't have here.

Would you believe that Down the Garden Path is often reprinted, in hardcover! The original is illustrated with garden scenes of cupids, garden tools, and country landscapes, and I think the reprints also have these illustrations.

This book was a lucky find at that library book sale!

Jun 9, 2007

Lion's Head Maple

Acer Palmatum Shishigashira

I can't believe I have a shishigashira in my backyard!

I bought the unusual maple many years ago (it was expensive! and there were only two in the lot). It's now about 6 feet tall and trying to get taller. I took a close-up shot of its unusual leaves this spring. You can see the leaves curl one on top of the other and give the impression of a shaggy lion's mane. A few of the stems are showing new growth.

The tree sits in a shady spot under a large overhanging oak, and only gets sun part of the day. But it seems to be thriving and is not at all straggly.

2009 Update: Recently, I found out that the tree should not sit in wet ground, but in well drained soil. Mine didn't do well in the heavy rains of spring 2009, and half of the tree died, with only the bottom branches showing leaves. I guess I'll have to trim it back later, but will wait to see how it recovers this spring.

Here's what I found about the history of this cultivar:

"After 125 years in cultivation, the famous Lion's Head Maple is still acknowledged as one of the best and most unique Japanese maple cultivars. It is a compact, slow-growing shrub, usually to around 6', though taller trees are possible with good cultivation. By 'compact', we mean that the leaves are closely packed on the twigs, and the twigs closely-packed on the branches. This leads to a tufted look: clusters of leaves alternating with leafless areas of branch. The leaves themselves are small, deep green, and crinkled, thickly textured. No wimpy sunburning here. The transition to fall color is like caterpillar to butterfly, with the deep reds and oranges completely changing the visual effect.This is a good tree for the landscape, container, or bonsai. The name is a reference to a mythical Japanese lion."
from World Plants

For more pictures of the Lion's Head Maple, visit Wood Water Garden, for Shishigashira, Lion's Head Maple


Jun 8, 2007

Out of the Nest

Backyard birds

This fledgling robin was hopping along on the ground under some hosta and daylily leaves, intermittently squawking. It tested its wings and made it a foot off the ground into this euonymus bush, which must have reminded it of its nest, as it calmed down and sat quietly.

The young bird allowed me to get as close as a foot away to take this picture. Soon, an adult robin flew in and began a loud squawking, which the young chick answered. I left so that the adult bird could approach, but stayed close enough to continue watching.
The parent landed on the ground and approached the bush, and the young bird hopped down to join her. It followed her as she gathered insects from the grass to feed it. Soon after being fed, the young robin flew through a gap in the fence into another yard, away from its parent.


An hour later when I went back into the garden, two adult robins were squawking away on the wires overhead, with no answering call from the ground. One of the adults suddenly became quiet and I noticed the pachysandra leaves (a ground cover) around a maple tree rustling and waving in a straight line. A baby robin soon poked its head out from the greenery and eyed me curiously. I supposed it was not hungry as it made no effort to answer the adults.

I've heard of newly hatched chicks bonding with the first living thing they saw after emerging from the shell. This bird had been out of the shell for some time, but I didn't want to take any chances, so I left just in case it decided it should follow me for food!

When I checked later in the day, the yard was empty - no adult or baby birds within sight or hearing. I presume they all went together where birds go in the evenings to shelter for the night.

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