From the Homestead: In Bloom This Week

This fragile-looking beauty–blooming all across the Texas Hill Country this week–is Centaurea Americana, the basketflower. And yes, if you’re thinking it looks a lot like a bachelor’s button or cornflower, you’re right on the money.  They belong in the same family. It got its common name from the intricate interwoven pattern of bracts on the underside of the blossom, which makes the pretty flower look as if its held in a basket. You can see that beautifully symmetrical pattern on this flower bud. (File under: Isn’t nature amazing?)

Centaurea has cousins all around the world and has been used for centuries in a salve to heal open sores. British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper summed up its European uses in the seventeenth century: “It gently heals up running sores and will do the same for scabs of the head.” Native Americans also found Centaurea a handy plant to have around, using it as a poultice for sores and a decoction for toothaches, stomachaches, and constipation. It’s an annual, but it self-seeds generously. If it finds a comfortable home in your garden it will not-so-subtly expand its territory. In fact, one of its less amiable kin, Centaurea stoebe (spotted knapweed) is an invasive that is outlawed in many states.  But outlaw or inlaw, the pollinators love it. Our basketflowers are hosting hummingbirds, bees (especially our native bumblebees), and butterflies–the Painted Ladies adore it.

From the writing desk. The current China Bayles mystery (Forget Me Never) is just a couple of chapters away from its ending. China knows whodunnit (of course) but I always have trouble finding a satisfying and believable way to nab the evil doer, with a maximum amount of threat and a minimum of bloodshed. For me, the wrap-up is always the hardest part of the book. Still, China insists that we will be finished by the middle of July, and that you’ll have the book in March or April 2024.

Also on the to-do list this week: completing the cover copy for Someone Always Nearby, the Georgia O’Keeffe/Maria Chabot novel that comes out in November. And writing a set of interview questions for Janet Tyson, who has done some fascinating research into the real Elizabeth Blackwell, whose fictional stand-in was a central character in Hemlock. You can read our interview here at the end of the month, a companion piece to my interview last week with Marta McDowell, the editor of the recently-released modern edition of Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal.

Noteworthy. I seem to be reading a great deal more nonfiction than fiction these days, maybe because of the pace and intensity of events on the national stage. On the top of my stack this week, a very good book by Michael Waldman: The Supermajority: How the Supreme Court Divided America. If you’re interested in the court’s current affairs, this look into its history will help you see how we got where we are. I’ve also recently read Nine Black Robes (Joan Biskupic) and The Shadow Docket (Stephen Vladeck). The three together have been hugely illuminating–lots to think about.

Update. Ali Velshi’s reading of the entire Trump indictment may be found here. Wherever you are on the political landscape, it’s important to be reliably informed on this issue. I urge you to read it or listen to it.

Your turn. Do you read much nonfiction? Any interesting titles to recommend? All civil comments welcome. I join in as I have time and something to add to the discussion.

69 comments on “From the Homestead: In Bloom This Week

  1. Good solution, Barbara–beautiful, too. Rosemary also works, and many of the artemisias (lad’s love, mugwort).

  2. We live in Washington state and have a deer family who loves my plants, especially my raised garden. I found that planting marigolds around the garden discouraged them. This year I didn’t get any marigolds planted and the deer found my garden again.

  3. Mary, according to Daniel Moerman in his Ethnobotany, both the Kiowa and the Rappahannock used a poultice of Centaurea leaves (various species) to treat cuts, scrapes, wounds. In Europe, it has been used for centuries as a salve/ointment. Here’s a modern recipe that includes plantain leave, also a wound-healer: And here’s more about salves from Mountain Rose (always a reliable source):

    Good luck! It’s interesting to learn to make plant medicinals!

  4. I’m about halfway through now, and really enjoying the book.
    I’m a hybrid birder, I think; I love to observe and study in depth, but I’m also a lister who will drive to see a new bird, and who maintains multiple lists. There’s room in me for both.

  5. Can you share instructions for how to prepare basket flower for wound healing, and the part used? I know you can’t take responsibility for use. Many thanks! Mary Powell

  6. Some of my deer-plagued friends build plant bunkers of various woods and fencing. I wonder if, for some of your smaller plants, you could place the top of a rabbit cage over the plant until it becomes big enough to withstand damage from browsers.

  7. Now, if we could get Susan to do a book tour in our region, we could have a gathering of plant- and bird-loving readers to share stories together.

  8. i am almost finished with hemlock and am really enjoying it. i also just ordered elizabeth’s wonderful book. it just came out! what a coincidence! I too went to the University of Illinois and I grew up in Urbana which was such a nice place to live. My husband, who recently died, was also from Urbana. I so like the relationship of China and her husband. You must have a wonderful marriage to write so lovingly. I am also a lover of flowers and plants, but out here in southwestern Oregon with the deer and the drought I have some lovely old things that the people who built this place planted but I can’t plant anything. I have tried again and again, foolishly hoping… And then the deer chow them down to the soil. Heartbreaking!

  9. FWI – LOL Yep they do that! … BTW as Jan Karon’s Dooley would say, ‘Man! You guys sure know a lot of stuff and read some interesting books!’ 🥰

  10. You go girl! 👍 Only wish that we shared property lines, as I enjoy doing some of the same things up here on the Olympic Peninsula.

  11. Sandy, our waxwings are here in Jan/Feb when the pyracanthus berries are fermenting. They often get more than a little buzz. FWI? (Flying While Intoxicated)

  12. I am also PNW — Willamette Valley. I planted a couple of osoberries in an obscure corner when we first moved here. I think they succumbed to either the Himalayan blackberry or a neighbor who was using that corner of the property and failed to respect some of the existing plantings. Long story. Good to know that my favorite bird likes them! I will try again. There is a great deal that I lost track of during a period of relative infirmity (knee replacement fixed that!) and now that I am retired I hope to restore some order to this place.

  13. Palmrosen (above) mentioned Finding the Mother Tree (Simard)–strikes me that your planting arrangement creates the kind of natural symbiosis that Simard describes. Including the accessibility to humans, including them in the network. Lovely idea.

  14. MB, I am continually amazed by the range of historical work being done for general readers. Wonder-full. Inspiring. We need these stories!

  15. Hope your muse finds you in your garden, Virginia–the natural place for her to look!

  16. I loved Finding the Mother Tree–a reminder that the most important connections are almost always deep and invisible.

  17. I’m also a Richardson fan, Maralee. All, if you aren’t acquainted with Heather Cox Richardson, check out her excellent Substack newsletter here. Her subtitle: A newsletter about the history behind today’s politics. She gives us a frame to help understand the present in the context of the past..

  18. It is, isn’t it? And the 2 introductory essays give us the right context for appreciating this landmark work–one of the first efforts to realistically portray these plants.

  19. Patricia enjoyed your posts! Would love to see your yard and visitors. Goumi berries are all news to me. Very interesting how you are using it. Here in the PNW we have Oemleria cerasiformis, a shrub commonly known as osoberry, oso tree or Indian plum. Both robins and cedar wax wings love to get a little buzz from the berries when they turn dark blue and ferment. The birds are fun to watch as they tend to go from being rather competitive to being rather mellow and more companionable.

  20. Recently read Slow Birding by Joan E. Strassmann and can recommend it as a way to both learn more about birds and to see how one person now enjoys the birds around her after a life of teaching other about birds. I can guarantee you will be more than a little surprised at what she shares. 😊

  21. Thank you Susan for letting us know about the modern edition of A Curious Herbal! My copy came in the mail today and I just couldn’t put it down until I had seen all 500 exquisite prints! It is a masterpiece and
    anyone who loves plants and herbs would love it as much as I do!

  22. Hello from California,
    I have read and enjoyed all of the non-fiction you have written (what little there is). I’ve always read mostly non-fiction. Lately however, I have been reading my way through your Cottage Tales series. I just love it! I would like to recommend a book that will be published around mid September. Pre orders are open now. It’s called “Democracy Awakening, Notes on the State of America” by Heather Cox Richardson. Obviously I haven’t read it yet, but I have been reading Ms. Richardson’s daily “letters from an American” for the last couple of years and I’m looking forward to her historical perspective. I believe we will find it a valuable, enlightening and timely read.

  23. My copy of A Curious Herbal has just arrived – now that’s wonderful non-fiction!!
    Non fiction recently read included Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard and Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery. Thank you for the Story Circle link and everything wonderful you share with me. I love to see what’s blooming in Texas – seems everything is blooming right now in North Florida. Melanie

  24. Dorothy Sayers said it first, I think.
    About the universe being reordered, that is, not the flowers holding still.

  25. How did that extra two words get in there. I started that sentence over when it didn’t appear the first time. Strange….

  26. In my experience, the ones that DO fly away, and the wind, give the flowers a boost. When I pause to remember where I planted certain species of plants 13 to 15 years ago, and notice where they have established themselves, I am in awe of plants’ ability to relocate to suit themselves. I have also noted some species that like to move every few years. St. John’s Wort is one. Can’t keep it in one spot; it dies out and reappears in some other spot on our acre.

    when I

  27. One of the things I love about this blog — the reading suggestions! That one is going on my list. Thank you!

  28. When we were establishing plantings here, I spent time learning about nitrogen-fixing and dynamic accumulating plants. We made an effort to include some, hence goumi, in each area as we established it. Our goumi bushes are on either side of a fig tree and surrounded by a mix of native and imported herbs. They are also maybe 10 feet from a public sidewalk, so this time of year we get questions from passers by.

    Yes, privilege feels like the right word, at least in our Euro-centric culture. We have a lot of choices that previous generations of humans on the planet didn’t have, and each choice comes with consequences that we may or may not have anticipated. You’ve given me something to think about beyond the daily minutia. Thank you!

  29. The current world situation is causing me some anxiety and clenching of teeth with TMJ. I got a great self help book called The Trigger Point therapy Workbook. Working hard in my gardens and hoping for the muse to return for some songwriting. I always enjoy your work.

  30. I think that’s why we enjoy mysteries, Margaret: “because the world is reset to right in the end.” Where else in our lives can we find all the plot threads neatly tied up? Your remark about wildflowers makes me smile: “They can’t fly away.”

  31. Ann, good to hear from you. I enjoyed your Isadora Duncan book and have written to you offlist.

  32. Listening to Master Slave Husband Wife by Ilyon Woo. Amazing archival research of true events tied into a gripping story of a husband and wife escaping slavery by masquerading as a gentleman and his slave.

  33. Penny, I’m always impressed by your reading groups’ choices! They can take us places we might not go on our own. I’ll be curious to hear how you like Abrams’ latest. I tried her first but couldn’t get into it. Maybe I’ll do better with the second.

  34. I had to look up goumi! Thanks for the introduction. Yes, living in a place for a long time changes you–especially if it’s a place where you can be in close touch with the life of the planet. In earlier generations, that kind of dwelling was a given, don’t you think? For us (or for me, anyway), it feels like a privilege–especially coming to it after a couple of decades of travel and urban life. And you’re right about Beatrix Potter, whose commitment to the Lake District, its natural life and its people, reshaped her.

  35. Oh, good, Nancy! I’m sure others in your library system will be glad, too!

  36. Yes, she is! Every narrator brings a different kind of life to a book. Often, I barely recognize it as “my” work, because the voicing transforms it. And Helen is very special.

  37. Kathy, I felt the same way: Hanks’ book is a celebration of creative people doing difficult work under challenging conditions–and doing their best work. Lucky you. Your early experience with that TV production must have given you insights into that process that the rest of us can only imagine.

  38. Thank you so much for recommending the Tom Hanks book – I had been debating whether or not to read it and your recommendation helped me decide. I loved it. It brought back memories of the early 1960s when I worked in Hollywood as the lowest level assistant to a director/producer for a small t.v. company called Vantage Productions. We produced a series called The American Sportsman – 1/2 hour hunting and fishing programs with a movie or t.v. star featured on each program. It was fascinating to be part of the behind-the-scenes creation of a t.v. program. What an education about how much work goes into creating a 1/2 hour program, even one that very few people remember. I stand in awe of creative people – writers, artists, musicians, and the whole world of production.

  39. I’m listening to Death at Bishop’s Keep right now–it’s great company on the treadmill. I’m sure I read it years ago, but it sounds new–Helen Johns IS wonderful.

  40. I’m excited because I requested that our County Library buy the modern edition of Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal. They agreed.

  41. I am in the middle of re-reading the Robin Paige series that I read years ago. Also recently re-read the Beatrix Potter series. Someday I will have a go at the re-reading
    China Bayles. Love them all!!!

  42. The cedar waxwings have arrived for their annual visit, happily pillaging the goumi berries as they ripen. I look forward to their visit even though I get very few berries for myself. Every year I tell myself that I really need to propagate a few new bushes so there are more to share, though that might mean that the flock comes in larger numbers.

    It just occurred to me that the last 15 years are the longest I’ve ever lived in one place, and I really appreciate getting to know the annual cycles of plants and animals so well. This is making me recognize the deep knowledge of place that indigenous people have of their surrounding environment, and those who root themselves in one place for generations. How valuable that knowledge is!

    Susan, your deep knowledge of your region is obvious in your China books. I’m sure Beatrix Potter had that when she was writing. Thank you for sharing.

  43. I just watched both current Clarence Thomas documentaries on PBS Passport. View the one by Thomas first. It is autobiographical. The other documentary is written by others. My take is of the profound sadness I feel by realizing what extreme poverty and racism does to the heart and soul of a human being.

  44. Like you, Susan, I seem to be reading more non-fiction. Right now, I’m reading for two different book groups : David McCullough’s Brave Companions, a collection of his favorite articles about lesser-known significant people and George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, essays by a queer black man. It happens to be one of the most banned books right now which makes it appealing. I have reserved Stacy Abrams new mystery Rouge Justice while I’m waiting for the next China Bayles! Saw Bonnie Gamus on CBS Sunday Morning today talking about her book, Lessons in Chemistry which has been on NYT best seller list for quite some time. Also, would like to read Abraham Verghese’s Covenant of Water, but 750 pages is quite a challenge for me these days, but I remember his Cutting for Stone as such a good book. Enjoy “hearing” from you through these blogs.

  45. My reading list just keeps growing and growing! Will be looking for the Robin Paige and earlier China Bayles audio books. And, adding The French Lieutenant’s Woman (which I never saw or read!?) and The Shadow Docket. I am aware of how the Supreme Court recently used the shadow docket but totally ignorant of its history. I fear we all have a lot of catching-up to do, to stay abreast of our times. Like others have said, I also use reading to relieve that tension of what’s going on. It helps to be reminded of humans with a heart and a brain used for something other than evil. Many thanks for all you do in that vein.

  46. That centaurea is on my Wimberley wish list! Eager to see Someone Always Nearby. I’m working on a nonficition book on GOK, and dove headfirst down that research rabbit hole about Maria. Totally gripping. Ann Daly.

  47. Anxiously awaiting Forget Me Not. I do a great deal of rereading of books I find calming. That’s a number of mystery series (including yours); I think because the world is reset to right in the end.
    I also have an extensive personal collection of English and some American children’s books from the 1930s to the 1970s that I am always rereading.
    I read some nonfiction, but it skews towards my other obsessions (dog training, birds, knitting) although I read some history.
    I got back into serious birding a few months ago, and set myself the goal of 25 species I had never seen before last January. This morning’s Orchard Oriol is number 27.
    And birding is a great way to see wildflowers. And they can’t fly away

  48. We watch a lot of documentary, too. Rarely watch drama these days. There’s enough drama out there in the world!

  49. Carole, you could try Robin Paige–set between 1894-1903. The series is just now (after all these years!) coming out in audio, with a wonderful narrator: Helen Johns, a Canadian actor who has the most delicious British accent.

  50. Sandy, lucky you to have such an innovative and show-offy Centaurea. Sounds luscious. Re Quill. I’m using Q to do research on the signature herbs for this book (nootropics) but I don’t trust them (Q is nonbinary 🙂 ) on the question of stage management. Not yet, anyway. Smiling at the recollection of alternative endings. My favorite: The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

    The term “shadow docket” is genuinely interesting–and as ominous as it sounds.

  51. Yes, nature is amazing. Thanks for sharing your delicate pale pink Texas Centaurea. I have a rather bold blue Centaurea that is some version of ‘Montana Bluet’ but on steroids. Thigh high plant with a bold ‘stars and strips’ blue and pinkish-red at the center of each bloom. It just appeared in our field a few years ago. I brought it into the yard and luckily it behaves itself without setting seeds right and left, but just spreading out from the original clump. Very easy to divide and start new plants. Love that it’s pretty blue is around for the 4th of July. Also love that it is a good cut flower.
    Will look for your supreme court reading suggestions. Ya-know, calling anything to do with the legal world a ‘shadow docket’ is just too laughable!
    Ever think about having Quill whip up an ending for China’s latest adventure? I know nothing about AI. So, I don’t know how that might be done. Perhaps you could provide it as an alternative ending. Remember when that was a thing? That said, I am more than willing to wait for China to speak to you and us.

  52. Can’t wait for Always Someone Nearby. I read mostly mysteries, but also a few biographies, and other non-fiction. Loved Homework by Julie Andrews and From Scratch by Tembi Locke is in my top ten ever.

  53. Thank you for mentioning the indictment, Linda. I hope all of us have it on our reading or listening lists! I’ve just updated the post to include a link to podcast reading of it, which may be easier for some.

  54. Looking forward to another China Bayles mystery. Missing Ruby and China these days. But, in the meantime, plan to “dig” into other series a little deeper like the Darling Dahlias and Beatrice Potter. Am I missing anything else?

    I lean to cozy mysteries more and more – there is an endless supply. Kindle Unlimited has me going a little outside to some mystical areas – like the Magical Midlife series (probably midlife caught my attention – although technically past that!) and The Little Shop of Found Things…

    Also, reading through the Bible Cover2 Cover with a facebook group for the 5th time. Like Thomas Jefferson – I could not live without books. Thanks Susan for contributing to my reading joy! – Carole

  55. I’m reading Tom Hanks new book, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece. Starts slow but I didn’t want to put it down last night to go to bed. A fascinating look behind the screen as to how movies get made.

  56. Cannot wait for China’s bext adventure!! Good cozy fiction helps when the real world is so disturbing. I thank God for writers like you who brighten my world. Keep up the good work.

  57. I don’t read much non-fiction, but watch quite a bit on tv: BookTV on C-Span every weekend; history, science, and nature shows on PBS and elsewhere. Some are better done than others, but I always learn something.

  58. Lovely flower! At first glance it looked like a cousin to the dandelion.
    However the color makes it look fragile.

  59. I read aloot of cozies mostly but political book and autobiography are in the mix. I love historical fiction it leads to non_ fiction
    ❤️ all your books but miss Beatrix Potter

  60. I, too, have been reading more non-fiction, including mostly historical events and biographies. A few of the titles are His Majesty’s Airship by our very own fantastic Texan author, SC Gwynne, The Peking Express by James Zimmerman, Empress of the Nile by Lynne Olson, and Nimitz at War by Craig Symonds. Also Woman, Captain, Rebel by Margaret Wilson——a fascinating and wonderful book bringing a woman from the 1700 time period alive.
    Thank you for the Supreme Court suggestions.
    Am eagerly awaiting your book coming out in November with insight on a very complex Georgia O’Keefe.
    Currently rereading Joan: A novel by Katherine Chen for a book club, historical fiction by Katherine Chen.

    Happy Reading!

  61. I don’t read much non-fiction, but I love anything that Erik Larson writes. My favorite fiction authors are you and Rhys Bowen.

  62. Susan, thank you for the flower identification! I keep seeing it in the fields and wondered what it was. They are beautiful! Wish I had some in my yard!

  63. The only non-fiction reading I’ve done lately is the current 44 page USA vs. Trump indictment! Even though the news programs have hashed and rehashed it’s pages ad nauseam, I’ve still found some of the content to be revealing. In general though, I’m pretty much a fiction reader with a long-time love of adventure and mystery.

Comments are closed.