Our little vitex trees are in full bloom, to the delight of bees, butterflies, and a host of tiny pollinators. The uncommon common names of this plant, chaste tree and monk's pepper, come from the belief that was an anaphrodisiac, that it quelled sexual desire. I first ran across this use in one of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael novels, where a cook is putting some "monk's pepper" into the soup. Turns out that the little black seeds do have a peppery taste. For ancient Greeks, the leaves were the Vestal virgins' symbols of chastity. Modern herbalists use it to treat PMS symptoms. Steven Foster surveys the history and the contemporary research on this fascinating herb. I love the blossoms, which remind me of the lilacs on our Illinois farm when I was a girl--but no lilac scent. We have about a dozen of these pretty trees, grown from starts taken from one mother tree 20 years ago.
Garden report. Our weather has turned hot (96 yesterday!) and dry. The tomatoes (Porter and Roma) are still doing well--but an invasion of whiteflies has wiped out the eggplant. This is an unusual bug for us--we're mostly too dry for it. The last time this happened, I sprayed with a homemade dope: 1 tablespoon of liquid dishwashing soap mixed with 1 cup of vegetable oil. Dilute by mixing 2 tablespoons of this with a cup of water and spray on the leaves. Don't forget to dilute!
Book report. I'm working through the first full revision of The General's Women--the usual pace, about 20 pages a day. I should be finished by the end of the month. I'll go through the book one more time after this pass, but that will be more of a copyedit than a revision. I should be done by the end of July. This biographical novel is likely to be published via my imprint, Persevero Press early next year. I'm also starting to think about the next China Bayles mystery, Queen Anne's Lace, which is due next spring. I love to be able to look ahead to projects--having good work on the writing desk and in the garden keeps me moving forward, keeps me focused and centered and (mostly) sane.
If you're looking for some light summer reading, download a Kindle copy of China's short-story collection: An Unthymely Death and Other Garden Mysteries. The publisher has put it on sale for just $1.99. No complex mysteries, just easy reading peppered with some interesting herb lore.
Reading note. What keeps you going isn't some fine destination but just the road you're on, and the fact that you know how to drive. You keep your eyes open, you see this damned-to-hell world you got born into, and you ask yourself, 'What life can I live that will let me breathe in & out and love somebody or something and not run off screaming into the woods? --Barbara Kingsolver