Monday, May 07, 2007

The Annual Mother's Day Pimp-My-Book Post

I am writing the annual pimp-my-book post to say that this

might make a nice mother's day gift, no? Although I managed to wait long enough that now you'd have to triple-fed-ex it, which means that for a mere, uh, 35 or so dollars you could send one person a paperback book detailing another person's waxing and waning anxiety, which, as I write this, seems kind of like a bad deal compared to a nice gift certificate for sushi or botox or, ahem, a massage.

And speaking of Mother's Day! Perhaps, if you live in the Boston area, you could take your mum to the DeCordova sculpture park, and the two of you could reminisce about how cute you were when you were just a wee thing (Big Baby, by Nina Levy)

So cute and tiny, in fact, that your mother might have felt more or less like flinging her head over the balcony (Headlong, by Nina Levy):

The new post over at Wondertime is here, and there will be another one up later this afternoon.

Happy spring to all of you! If you have any advice about hardy shade perennials, please write!


  1. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Who can resist an invitation to write about shade perennials? We're in Chicago (zone 5) and the plants that work best for us are Shooting Star (my favorite), Columbine, Bleeding Heart, Hosta (of course but a bit boring), I think Coral Bells will take the shade as will Rhododendron, Japanese Maple and some hydrangeas if you're looking for something a bit bigger.

    Thanks, as always for your wonderful writing. I'm currently reading The Penderwicks to my 7 and 4-year-olds on your recommendation and my 7-year-old practically laughed himself into an asthma attack over the puking dog.

  2. Holy krap, Catherine, I love that column!

    And I understand hostas are good.


  3. My goodness, I feel like that sometimes, like throwing my head over the balcony. On to read Wondertime!

  4. Catherine, I'm only at the toddler stage but you're right. I love seeing her push those boundaries as far as she possibly can.

    As I've been writing about recently, it took me many years under strange circumstances to feel that I had a right to do that, myself, and I love that I can give her the freedom to do that so early.

    But then other days I DO just want to throw my head over the balcony.

  5. i would just like to second the japanese maple. fantastic.

  6. There are SO many pretty things you can grow in the shade:
    Bleeding Heart
    of the Valley

    Black Cohosh
    And here is a site with a list of others! Happy Gardening :)

  7. Holy freaking cow, those sculptures freak me out. :)

  8. Hostas! I have one that smells absolutely heavenly when it blooms. And Columbine, and ferns, of course. there are some really cool ferns available here and here.

  9. I have a wildly invasive shade plant that is taking over my whole yard: you are more than welcome to it. Also, ferns work well. And lilies of the valley, which my children will tell you very solemnly "are about fairies."

  10. Anonymous3:17 PM

    Hey Catherine-
    I read your colunm and blog all the time but have never commented. I love your work (as do so many other people.) It's very brave of you to link to Michael's website....which includes your home phone number!! With so many adoring fans out there, you may find your machine filled before you know it!! I promise not to call.

  11. Hostas are always a good fallback.
    Barberry? Holly? Kinda pokey...heath?

  12. Anonymous4:25 PM

    I love your book. Mine is embarassingly dog-eared. Are you ever going to write another one? I'd buy it!

    And with the shade perennial question... are you reading my mind? I recently had a fit of stupidity and decided to revamp the landscaping in my front yard. All of the beds get about 80-100% shade. I'm using hydrangea for my long foundation border and lamium orchid frost (a ground cover but really pretty!). Then on the other side I'm using impatiens, but they're annuals and that's not what you asked for!

    I must say that your last post about Ben and his "sware words" was brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sorry I didn't comment over there... they want me to register so they can send me spam.

  13. Okay, Catherine, even though it's late (not too late!), I followed your advice and ordered your book from We have free two-day shipping (we buy a lot of stuff from them!), so I should get it on Thursday. I only paid $4.49 for the paperback. I hope you still make some money on my purchase!

    I've been reading your column since you started over at BabyCenter. I feel like I've watched your kids grow, right along with my 6 1/2 year old. Happy Mother's Day!!!

  14. My favorite shade perennials are trillium, astilbe, lily of the valley, japanese painted fern, and primrose.

    Now, off to Wondertime...

  15. Anonymous6:23 PM

    Ooh, shade perennials are my favorite! Skip the common hostas. I agree with the bleeding heart suggestion (so dramatic and old-fashioned) and the lily of the valley one (you cannot beat their sweet, sweet smell).
    If you want something interesting and uncommon, though, try these three: 1) Ajuga reptans (bugleweed). It is a rapidly spreading groundcover (a member of the mint family, and you know how that spreads) that sends up beautiful purple spikes of flowers in late spring, good for butterflies and hummingbirds. It is blooming here in the midwest now. 2) Polemonium reptans (Jacob's ladder). It is a ferny-looking plant that sends up purple flowers as well. Could be grown just for its foliage. I have it in clay soil in zero sunlight and it loves it. 3) Myosotis (forget-me-nots). Sweet little bluish (or white) flowers on a spreading groundcover. Re-seeds like crazy, so best not to plant it as a border or you'll find it growing where you don't want it. It has some romantic folklore surrounding it about true-love, something your sweet little Birdy might like.

  16. Anonymous7:59 PM

    I have nothing new to add to the perennial chat, but as always, wonderful column. A perfect Mother's Day gift to your devout readers.

    And do I ever feel like "Headlong", like, all the time!

  17. Anonymous8:07 PM

    Hi Catherine - when were you at the DeCordova? I only live a few miles up the road...and have never been there. Eek.

    As for my two cents on shade plants, hostas are great. If you want ground cover, myrtle also does really well in the shade...we have a huge patch growing under some white pines that get sun approximately 0% of the time.

  18. Those statues are oddly disturbing and reassuring all at once. I think I may have removed my head once or twice.

    I think everyone covered off the shade lovers, but my personal favourite are Lily's so pretty and smell divine.

    Off to Wondertime now...have a Happy Mother's Day Catherine!

  19. I just popped your book in the mail last week for a first time Mother's Day gift. I recommend it to everyone mom I meet. I am also a postpartum doula (just starting out) and I carry it in my doula bag and recommend it to EVERYONE involved in anyway with infant and maternal health and wellness. Your book is such a gift and it has made such a difference in my life as a mom that I really can't help but share it with everyone. Please, please, please write another!!

    I feel that we are living in a strangely parallel universe. Ben reminds me in many ways of my son. I loved his list of beginner and advanced "sware words". My son was whisper spelling his list of "unappropriate words" to me just the other day after overhearing some less than kind words spoken by someone else at the park. He's very phonetic in his approach and the two he knows at this point are "s-t-u-p-d" and "d-m". Which is actually his spelling for dumb.

    Anyway, now I'm rambling. But thank you for your words Catherine - they make such a huge difference. Happy Mother's Day!

  20. Anonymous10:40 PM

    Some shade perennials I've used with success: dead spotted nettle (it's pretty, I swear) which is a great groundcover; sweet woodruff, also a great groundcover; and geraniums (not the houseplant). Try Michigan Bulb company ( for good selection & great prices! Also want to mention if you are looking for a lovely shrub that will take some shade, try a flowering quince - beautiful in the spring!

    I love all of your writing. Birdy and my daughter Grace are almost the same age (she was 4 in December) and she is fierce and sweet like Birdy. Thank you for sharing your lovely family.

  21. I know that I am going to say "goat's beard" and you are going go picture some unattractive scraggly-looking grass, but it is really a pretty shrub, with white long-lasting tassles. And if it could grow at our dacha north of Moscow (what zone would that be?) and come back year after year despite dish water and chamber pots being emptied out onto it, well then it can grow in your garden.

  22. Well, I might want to toss my head over a balcony railing too if I were facing diaper changes that enormous.

  23. Oh, those statues are creepy.

    I'll be buying your book for a friend who is currently pregnant with #2. I've been a constant lurker and infrequent commenter since your Bringing Up Ben days at babycenter. Your columns did and still do speak to me. Thanks!

  24. We live in an apartment and have no garden or yard so I am no help there, though I have slowly killed a few window plants in my time.

    Ben's "swearing" made me think about how I very self-righteously told my Italian husband who speaks in traditionally colorful Florentine, not to be surprised when our 4-yr-old uttered his first "merda" or "cazzo" which he must overhear countless times a day between his father, school and the population in general. I guess I should be thrilled at how much of an influence I have on him because his first (and only) bad word was directed at his little brother in the form of: "I told you not to do that! Dammit!" Since all his English comes from me, other than the kids' shows he watches (typically not featuring vulgarities), I can claim responsibility for that one.

  25. Anonymous9:55 PM

    I love astilbe and bleeding hearts. Hostas may be boring, but they do provide a nice backdrop. Skip the barberry. They're all thorny. I had one that I wrapped a chain around, attached to the tractor and yanking it out of the ground. I was always getting those miserable thorns stuck in my knees or fingers.

  26. I like the periwinkle (blue vinca) that's growing like a weed in the shade here. Also some yellow flower that starts with C. Also ditto the bleeding heart and lily of the valley. We have some trout lily's that do well in the shade too, not sure if they are supposed to or not, I thought they were full sun flowers. I'm real helpful no? I have to say that I loved the whole column about feverish itchy Birdy this week (I hope she's feeling better..this must have been written a couple of weeks go, no ice now) but even more I loved the quote about spring and the red tips and ice and how it mirrors fall. My husband grew up here so he doesn't know that spring can be any other way, but it is so different to me than the sudden riot that spring is in NJ even though that is not so much further south. Thanks. I'm going to show him this column.

    Oh and those statues made me laugh, if my baby was that big I'd want to throw my head too.

  27. Can I just say real quick and not in a guilt-inducing way: if you are interested in buying Catherine's book, you might consider doing an extra-special-service-for-women by ordering it from here:

    or your own local, woman-owned bookshop? The one I link to, here in Chicago, is excellent, and needs our support. Then, when you are in town, you can go nurse there in one of the rocking chairs.

    Just a thought!

  28. Anonymous6:10 PM

    Dear Catherine, I hope you have a memorable and worry-free Mother's Day! You realize that if you were not a mom (and a writer, naturally) all your readers wouldn't really have bonded with you in such a profound way. Thanks to you, my journey through motherhood the second time around has been graced with your humor and wisdom and a sense that I'm not alone -even with all the worries. You have a great talent! Big Thanks.

  29. Catherine, your writing is beautiful. I feel nostalgic about the passing of time, when I read your words. I also feel a little bit saner. Like there’s someone out there who understands me. You write with such humor and love and I feel like if I read you every day, maybe I’ll become a better mother. I have a 5-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter, and sometimes I feel heartbroken that I have days where I seem crazed and stressed about being a parent. I’ve always tried to be honest with my sisters who have no children, so they’ll know what parenthood is really like. Sometimes I feel like maybe I’ve shared too much. Maybe I should have pretended, like so many others do, that everything is great. Oh, well. They know the truth of the joys and struggles and I have two beautiful, happy children, so I must be doing something right. Also, this is the first year we are attempting to grow food in our garden. Wish us luck!

  30. Happy Mother's Day Catherine!

  31. Anonymous3:48 AM

    happy mother's day Catherine - I always read your column with great anticipation and am never disappointed.
    and how about bulbs? I planted some fritillaria in a shady corner and they looked lovely and woodsy - the white ones and the purple-checked ones.

  32. Funny new post - weird, and messy, and ... bilingual? When and how did that happen?

    When it comes to your idea of a normal family I think your imagination might be a little over-active ;-) Laughing? Tact? That is funny. I don't think either would apply when it comes to copious amounts of liquid and a white carpet in my house - especially if it was just us!

  33. Anonymous7:53 PM

    Laughing, still laughing. That image of you "headlong" amongst the Valleygirl chatter and mulling over the perfect piece of pizza. Just killed me!

  34. Thank you so much. I needed that! I was laughing out loud from beginning to end! I will try to keep my patience from now on when something like that happens and try to find the humor in it. Your story reminded me that when Susan was a few days old and Xander was 3, we all got in the car to mail letters and go through a drive-through. Susan started crying and then Xander started crying, in a panic-stricken way, like “why aren’t you doing something to help this baby”. It was so heart breaking, but funny at the same time. Actually, we almost started crying too. That was our first real introduction to life with two children. It’s been an adventure, that’s for sure!

  35. Thanks for the uber-fantastique pictures! Nothing like shooting coffee out of your nose first thing in the morning because you're laughing so hard!

  36. That big baby is terrifying. If I were its mother I might also fling my head off the balcony!

  37. Hi there,

    I would like to invite you, and your readers, to be part of my challenge.

    I'm trying to post 1 Million Love Messages From All Around The World in my blog.

    I hope that you can help to promote this challenge... and, of course, i'll be waiting for your message :)

    Best Regards From Portugal

  38. Catherine...another great post!

    about the shade perrenials..i highly advocate for native plantings. even shade tolerant varieties do better than non-natives. they also become quite drought tolerant as well...better for the environment (and your water bills)

    i live down the street from Garden in the here are some of my favs, procured from there....

    zizia (golden alexanders)
    maidenhair fern
    trout lily
    tiarella (foamflower)
    northern sea oats
    wood aster
    solomon's seal
    ... and so many native new england woodlanders

    happy planting!

  39. Anonymous12:05 PM

    Hi Catherine,

    I just wanted to say how much I love your book and your blog. I took me a month to read your book because every few pages I was laughing so hard that I had to stop. Then my husband would come in and demand to know what was so funny and I'd try to catch my breath but I'd start laughing again when I tried to explain . . . and so on.

    A pregnant friend of mine went on bedrest a couple of weeks ago, and I lent her Waiting for Birdy to cheer her up, but I honestly worried that she would laugh so hard it would induce labor. She loved the book, and I'm happy to report that she had a healthy boy.

    : )