This blog tour celebrates the launch of Nightshade, the sixteenth China Bayles mystery.
If you’ve been reading the China Bayles series, you know how important the herb shop is to China. Like many of us, she had an active and demanding career that left no time for the simpler pleasures in life. She was doing well, but she knew that something was lacking: something that came from the heart. So she jettisoned her career (“People thought I’d gone crazy,” she says in Thyme of Death. “Me, I knew I’d gone sane.”) and headed for the Hill Country, where she bought an herb shop in a century-old stone building surrounded with herb gardens.
I’m sure (aren’t you?) that her shop has a great deal to do with the pleasure China has found in this way of life. I love the way she describes it in that first book.
Floor-to-ceiling shelves along the back wall hold jars and bottles of dried herbs, tinctures, salves, and ointments. Herb books are neatly racked in the corner, and shelves on another wall are full of potpourri and potpourri makings. A wooden display case houses essential oils, bottles, and perfume supplies. Other shelves hold various herb products that I make or buy from local crafts-people--gift-baskets, vinegars, seasoning blends, jellies, soaps, candles. Hand-made baskets are stacked in the corners and spill onto the floor. Dried flowers are everywhere, bunched in jars and hanging from the wooden beams, and braided ropes of red peppers and garlic hang on the stone walls.
It sounds almost too good to be true? It isn’t. This description is derived from the real-life herb shops I’ve visited all over the country, where the owners have put their hearts into their shops. Visit one, if you can, and see for yourself. In Pennsylvania, drop in at The Rosemary House. In Ohio, the Village Herb Shop is wonderful. In Indiana, stop at Carolee’s Herb Farm, where the shop is located in a big barn. There’s the Herb Bar, in Austin TX, where I used to sell the herbal wreaths I made from my garden. China’s fictional shop, Thyme & Seasons, borrows from all of these real shops—and more.
In the first three books, China’s shop is small, and she lives in an apartment at the back. But by Book 4, Rosemary Remembered, she has moved in with McQuaid and his son Brian and expanded the shop into what used to be her living room and bedroom. “Thyme and Seasons is just about perfect,” she says, looking around at her renovated space.
But not quite, for her friend Ruby Wilcox (Ruby rents the other half of China’s building for her own shop, the Crystal Cave) proposes that they open a tea room at the back of the building. Ruby has won the lottery, you see, and wants to make a good investment. At first, China doesn’t think this is a good idea, but she comes around, and Thyme for Tea is ready for business in Mistletoe Man (where there is a slight problem with the new kitchen help, who turns out to be a murderer). The tea room thrives, but by now (Nightshade), it is mostly Ruby’s baby, with the able assistance of a new partner, Cass Wilde, a gourmet chef. This leaves China a bit more time to spend in the gardens.
China’s Herb Gardens
When China opened the shop, she turned the grassy yard into display gardens, front and back, so customers could see herbs growing and blooming. Mentioned in various books are her apothecary (medicinal) and culinary gardens, beverage garden (all those wonderful tea herbs!), dye garden, fragrance garden, and the native herb garden. I know you’ve never been able to visit Pecan Springs (except in China’s books), but if you’ve been to the National Herb Garden at the Arboretum in Washington D.C., you have an idea of how beautiful herb display gardens can be.
Bet if you asked Michele, she’d say that China’s life as a fictional character may be fun (except, of course, for those dead bodies), but real life is a lot more work! And yet Michele has taken time away from the greenhouses and plant shipments to host me on her blog. That’s an herbalist for you—always generous and helpful.
Thanks, Michele. And thanks to all the readers who are following this blog tour through cyberspace. I appreciate your notes and comments—I’ll hang around today to answer questions. I’ve got to be out of town (really, not virtually) on Wednesday and Thursday, but I’ll check back at the end of the week.
About the book drawing and Susan’s blog tour
If you’d like to enter the drawing for a copy of Nightshade go here to register. But you’d better hurry. The drawing for Possum Creek closes at noon on April 10, 2008.
Want to read the other posts in Susan’s blog tour? You’ll find a calendar and links here.