Wednesday, October 27

Book Review and Giveaway: Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire

Hothouse Flower cover imageI inadvertently became interested in tropical plants because that's what the man at the Union Square Green Market sold me. I used to believe that sentence, but now I know better. Now I know that it was meant to be. Here's how it happened.

And so begins Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire, the exotic debut novel by Margot Berwin.

I was about two-thirds of the way through the book when I finally figured out what it reminded me of: one of my crazy, technicolor dreams. You know, the kind filled with fantastical situations and outlandish characters where you blink awake thinking, How in the world did my brain come up with that?

The seed of a dream usually comes from reality—something that happened during the day, a childhood memory, a thought you had while drifting off to sleep. Then, helped along with a hefty dose of superfertilizer known as your subconscious, what grows, at least in my case, is often something along the lines of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Or if you're awake and have the imagination of Margot Berwin, that little seed of reality turns into a seductive adventure of a book. Says Berwin:

I was walking home from a party, it must have been around two in the morning, when I spotted an all-night Laundromat jam-packed with plants. I had an urge to go inside and look around. I was very lucky—the owner was there, and he spoke with me for a long time about where he was from, Colombia, and why his Laundromat was the perfect place to grow plants. He gave me a cutting, and I left. On my ten-block walk home, the structure for the book I'd always wanted to write downloaded into my head. Just like that.

In the heart of New York City, hidden in the back room of an old Laundromat owned by a man named Armand, are nine rare and valuable plants. Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire tells the story of this legendary garden, and the distance thirty-two-year-old advertising copywriter Lila Nova must travel—from the cold, harsh streets of Manhattan to the lush jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula—to claim what is hers.

Not only did Berwin create with this colorful, Indiana Jones-like escapade of romance and intrigue—which is filled with everything from snake charmers and spirit animals to shamans and sexy guys—she invented the legend of the nine plants of desire as well. And throughout the book, her smart sense of humor shines through.

Before each chapter, there's a short introduction to a plant, an idea, or an occupation. First is the Bird-of-Paradise:

Native of South Africa, member of the banana family, prized for its tall, highly colored structures. This plant is not for the easily disappointed, impatient, or bossy, as it can take seven years to produce a single bloom. Perfect for the person who gives and gives without getting anything in return. You know who you are.

The story begins on a frigid, late March day, when Lila decides to walk across the street to the green market and buy a plant for her post-divorce, plain white box of an apartment. The 'rugged country-sexual' plant guy, who turns out to be one of the main characters, decides she needs a bird-of-paradise.

"Six or seven years? My marriage didn't last that long. Do you have anything that flowers sooner, like in a week or two?"

"This is the plant for you," he said. "She's a beauty."

"How much?"

"Thirty dollars, and I'll throw in a brochure on rare tropicals so you know how to care for her."

"Three zero? I could go to the deli on the corner and get a dozen roses for ten dollars that have great big sweet-smelling flowers on them right now."

"You could, but they'd be dead in a week. You'd have to buy new ones every Saturday. If you do the math, I'm a bargain. And besides, this bird is tropical. Think balmy ocean brezes, swaying palm trees, cabana boys, and pina colads on white sand beaches near warm light-blue water."

I don't know whether it was the pina coladas, the cabana boys, or the sky blue of his eyes, but as a person who worked in advertising, I had to respect a good sales pitch.

"Come back if her leaves start turning yellow around the edges."

"They better not," I said over my shoulder. "For thirty dollars they better stay bright freakin' green."

When asked what she hopes readers will take away or learn from her book, Berwin said:

I hope that readers will take a peek behind the veil and notice the magical side of life. I hope that they become or remain excited about all the twists and turns life can take and that they feel maybe just a tiny bit more connected to the earth and all of its inhabitants.

Released in June, Hothouse Flower was touted as a sizzling summer beach read. As we head into winter, I would say it's the perfect snowstorm book. Cozy up with your favorite quilt and get ready for a sultry, wild ride.

Would you like to win a copy of Hothouse Flower? The Laundromat that Armand runs is a completely magical place, and as a gardener, I especially loved it:

I opened the door and stepped down onto something squishy. It was moss, velvety smooth, creating uneven hills of emerald green across the floor of the laundry. I slipped off my silver ballet flats, and my feet sank into the floor. . . Thick grass grew from squares of soil perfectly cut to fit the tops of the industrial-sized washing machines and dryers. Dense pockets of jewel-colored flowers on long, thin stems grew from the grass.

Plants were strung across the ceiling in between the tracks of fluorescent lights, stretching from one side of the Laundromat to the other. Colorful flowers sprang from the posts and hung down over the benches and folding tables. The pots were hung on invisible fishing line, so the flowers seemed to float in midair.

The Laundromat was like a jungle where washing machines had been dumped, or maybe a laundry where a jungle had sprung up. It was such a tangle of plants and machines it was hard to tell which came first.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this post and tell us either a Laundromat story (I know there have to be some good ones out there), or about a magical place you've seen, near where you live or somewhere in your travels. What is it like, and how did you discover it? And if you don't have a story because you've managed to make it this far in life without ever having been in a Laundromat, tell us that!

One entry per person, please. I moderate comments, so if I'm away from the computer it may be a while before yours actually appears. You can enter through next Wednesday, November 3rd, and I'll pick a random winner. Please make sure I have a way to get a hold of you to tell you that you've won; for example, if you have a Blogger profile, is it public and does it list your correct e-mail address? Sorry, but the book can only be shipped to a U.S. or Canadian address.

Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin; Vintage Contemporaries; paperback, 304 pages, $14.95.

Related links:
Hothouse Flower book website (includes the first chapter, a reading group guide, and a fun little trailer for the book—turn your speakers on!)
Contact Margot: on Twitter @MargotBerwin; on her Facebook fan-page; on her regular Facebook page

Other book reviews on Farmgirl Fare:
America's Best BBQ (I share my all natural barbecue sauce recipe and readers talk about their favorite 'cue)
Keeping the Feast (and how food helped readers through tough times)
The Laws of Harmony (readers share favorite food novels)
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant (and what readers eat when alone)
Local Breads (and my favorite Four Hour Parisian Daily Baguette Recipe)
Cooking with Shelburne Farms (& Lamb Burgers w/ Red Pepper Olive Relish)
Comfort Food (readers share favorite comfort food stories & recipes)
The Cornbread Gospels (readers share cornbread memories & recipes)
The Artist's Palate (a beautiful cookbook for food and art lovers)
Falling Cloudberries (Greek Leg of Lamb & readers talk food/travel)
The Vegetable Gardener's Bible (my favorite gardening book)

TLC Book Tour Host badge

© 2010, the plant loving foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres—and the publisher provided review and giveaway copies of Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire as a part of the TLC book tour.


  1. Wow ! What a great blog! I'm a little envious - I've gone from life in rural settings to navigating my way around a city. I'll continue to read your blog to get my "country fix"

  2. Well, I dont have any interesting stories to tell about laundermats except that I never liked using them. I guess this summer when we were in Minnesota, we used the laundermat because they had free internet access and I felt guilty about just using the access and not doing laundry. Do you know it costs $2.50 to wash a load of clothes and that is not a huge load either? The book sounds most interesting and I will check it out for my Kindle as I know I wont win. It does seem a bit short though at 304 pages and I like them a bit longer as it is hardly enough time to tell the story I think. I do like thoughts of tropical plants and places with white beaches, the ocean and cabana boys to bring you cool drinks. Thank you for sharing the book.

  3. The only funny thing I can think of about a Laundromat is when during college a friend had his underwear stolen from the dryer. Only underwear...used underwear.

  4. The book sounds pretty cool!
    Two things about laundromats. One is that in my hometown there is a laundromat that has tropical birds in a cage up high that runs the length of the building.
    The other is that I always like to see what people are wearing in laundromats, because you know more than likely it is the last clean thing they could find and sometimes is pretty funky.

  5. One of the most magical places I've been to was this large pond right across the country road from the house where I grew up. It was located in this expanse of empty rolling fields of alfalfa and smattered with large oak trees. Every evening blue herons would land in the pond with the sun setting against their blue-gray silhouettes with cat-tails all around the pond's edge. I will always think of that place and my old home whenever I see a blue heron.

  6. I had to use a laundromat in the winter to dry our clothes up until three years ago, which is when the first clothes dryer to ever live at Blackrock--a 20-year-old propane one that our friends found in the basement of their old farmhouse and didn't want--was installed. Hated the laundromat. Especially because it's 10 miles away.

    But what I REALLY wanted to comment on . . . "country-sexual"? Really? There's a term that comes from a diehard city person.

  7. Oh boy, do I have a laundromat story. When I lived in Syracuse, I went to the laundromat to do my laundry (duh) by myself, which I don't really like to do because it's in a sketchy area. I walk in, and this guy goes to walk out, then turns around and is like "Hey there good looking". I was like "Ummm, hi." And I'm pretty sure he asked if I had a boyfriend "YES!" and I remember he asked my name and I totally lied. He was pretty sketchy! That's the first, and hopefully last, time someone tries to pick me up in a laundromat!

  8. Daffodils in the woods... My daughter knows how I long for daffodils in the middle of winter. She found a secret clearing in the woods at Point Reyes Natl. Seashore along the California coast where daffodils bloom early in the spring. While on a visit from cold, snowy Pennsylvania she took me to see the magic.

  9. I'm just now getting back into reading after a long layoff.

    Sounds like a good book.

  10. Laudromats have never been one of my favorite places, and this was reinforced when I had to use a laundromat while waiting to have a new washer & dryer delivered. Just after finishing a load of laundry, a cute little boy went running by with a chocolate ice cream cone and . . . yup! you guessed it . . . dropped it right on my laundry basket of clean clothes!! Honestly, a true story!!

  11. This looks like a great book.

    I don't have a very good laundromat story. I frequent them all too often in NYC and once I even saw a car (with it's crazy driver) jump the sidewalk and plow into one.

  12. hahaha laundromat story. the best one i have is when i was an american student abroad in Poland (and had never visited a laundromat before). my polish roommates were washing their clothes in a bucket in the bathroom and hanging the clothes out to dry in the hallway of the apartment building(yes really) but i flat-out refused to do that. guess i've been too spoiled all my life? so, I had to carry my laundry about 2 miles to a little hole in the wall that was advertised as being the first and only laundromat in the city. the lady wouldnt speak english to me and my polish was horrible...but somehow everything worked out. she was kind enough to offer me tea while my clothes washed. many homes in poland (and throughout europe) dont seem to have dryers, but thankfully this place did have one, so i didn't have to carry wet clothes all the way back home.

    it was an experience to be sure!

  13. :-) The only time I really used a laundrymat was right after my son was born, 18 months ago.
    We use cloth diapers, but we were newly wed and all the extra money went to crib and stroller as opposed to a washing machine.

    So, every 2 days newborn baby and I would walk the rather pleasant mile or so to the laundrymat to do his diapers. We were usually there in the mornings, which lessened the creepy lurkers significantly. It was great easy exercise for me, and baby boy never complained.

    There were never any plants there though, just a loud tv playing soap operas. :-P

    jennie.erwin at


  14. Oooh! How about a laundromat AND a travel story?

    Back in 2008, my boyfriend and I had embarked upon an epic camping trip around southern Africa. It was summer and a wet summer. By the end of three weeks all our clothes and our towels were, shall we just say a little worse for (constant) wear? We found ourselves in the tiny Namibian town of Tsumeb; and decided that, as we were heading futher into unpopulated areas, it would probably be a good idea to get some laundry done now, rather than hand-wash our unmentionables under the next available camel-thorn tree (not that there's anything wrong with that). So we proceeded to drive around Tsumeb looking for a laundromat. Turns out, they're not that common in tiny Namibian towns. We eventually found a 'Wash Shop' tucked away down a side road. It was tiny. 2 plastic chairs, a big wooden counter and a doorway leading out the bag. Tacked to the wall was a hand-written price list. No washing machines to be seen. Filled with trepidation, we handed over the most critical items (towels, t-shirts & underwear). In return, we were given a meticulously handwritten receipt, and told to come back tomorrow, 11am. This was a little later than we'd hoped as we had a long drive the next day but eh, what can you do right? We left, had a wonderful braai (BBQ) and a sound sleep.

    The next morning we returned. The shop looked completely different. There were drying rack standing on the pavement, colourful ladies folding, ironing, laughing talking. A HUGE ancient washer gurgling and thrashing. And, tucked in the corner, two neatly stacked black garbage bags. We stepped in side and presented out ticket. We were handed the garbage bags. Inside we found out laundry. Folder and dried. Clean (but not for long!).

    What an amazing experience. Funny how something as mundane as doing the laundry can become such a social event.

    The rest of the trip was uneventful, but we never did see another laundromat. Unmentionables were indeed washed under the tap under the next available camelthorn tree!

    I thought I should also share; I live in South Africa and I regularly pick Strelitzia flowers from the two bushes in my garden. They are gorgeous centrepieces!

  15. Along the same lines as r0ck0n, my husband and I went on vacation for 2 weeks in England, but only had enough luggage for 1 weeks worth of clothing. We believed we could just find a laundromat in one of our stops to refresh our wardrobe. Our first day in Glasgow, Scotland, we decided it was time to hunt down said laundromat. We were staying at an Americanized hotel in an very urbanized part of town and we looked up the nearest laundromat in the phone directory. Armed with a local map from the front desk, we wheeled our luggage out the front door for the fourteen block walk to the laundromat. It was the smallest space, about 200 square feet, packed with machines. No need for trolleys to get your laundry from washer to dryer, because there was barely any room to walk. We had to walk next door to a small dank pub (read dive bar in the States) to wait for the laundry to finish because there were only two seats and they were filled. The trip was a great success and I haven't thought about that part of the experience until reading these comments.

    Susan, I love your blog and I am generally not a blog reader. Thanks for opening up a portion of your life to us and in such an deeply personal way.



  16. This book sounds really neat.

    My fiance and I just moved to a small town in kansas, we didn't have a washer/dryer upon move in and used the laundromat a few times before we got our own.

    This laundromat had huge washers which was nice, but only about 4 of the 12 dryers worked, we started out wasting a bunch of quarters on the broken (unlabeled!) machines and finally a local gal came in and kindly showed us the only working machines.

  17. When I travel, I use the "Eiffel Tower" rule. I pick one thing (like the Eiffel Tower) that I must see, and then I let myself discover the rest of the city, without an agenda or a list of sites that I must run to, take a picture, and then run off to the next place. Using the "Eiffel Tower" rule, everything else becomes a wonder and more special. I used this rule when I traveled to Rome. I saw the Coliseum, and then just started walking. It was becoming evening, and I turned the corner and saw the most breathtaking fountain. I found out that it was the Trevi Fountain. A couple dressed in wedding garb was being photographed in front of the fountain, and the bride especially was the focus of everyone's attention. It was wonderment to have stumbled upon the perfect moment.

  18. The only thing about going to laundromats I can recall from my childhood was the interesting people watching. We went only on rare occasion, mostly to use the giant washer for big comforters and rugs, but oh was it fun to observe the customers. Sometimes hysterical, sometimes mundane, sometimes downright scary. What a place to be and be seen, right? Ha.



  19. I think the last time that all of my laundry was ever truly finished - washed, dried, folded, and hung on hangers was when I had to go to the laundromat. It had to be before leaving...Now, it is in a constant state of being completed because it is convenient to just grab what is needed.

  20. my earliest laundromat story is from when I was a wee child in Pomona, CA in the 1970's. I just remember being there with my mom and having fun on those HUGE baskets that stood tall on wheels, with a shallow, square and yellowish plastic basket. Then the basket cascaded high up with the metal bars for hanging laundry on. As a child, it was a magical place, lol :)

  21. A magical place is much more fun to talk about than the laundromat! By my old apartment I found an old stairwell in the woods. Just concrete stairs and the most magical and inspiring place to sit and think and be surrounded by nature.

  22. My most favourite and magical place in the world is Loch Lee at the top of Glen Esk in Scotland.

    Wild deer, foxes, rabbits and snakes roam the land. The sunset is magical and it's so quiet and peaceful.

    Having hiked up there nearly every weekend in the summer of 2007 I didn't think anything different when my boyfriend wanted to go walking up it one evening in July.

    He proposed to me on the evening of 20th July 2007 and we were married in July 2009. Although we now live 3 hours away, we still like to visit it.

    It's beautiful.

  23. A long time ago in a land and life far away in Hawaii, I didn't have a washer and dryer. In the little town next door was a tiny laundromat run by an even tinier little Japanese lady. After using her laundromat for several months and exchanging polite small talk, she offered me a strange fruit, prickly on the outside and sweeeeet on the inside... my first lychee! It grew on a twisted, lovely tree just outside the back door of her laundromat... I took home a whole bowl full! The memory is vivid to this day.

  24. no good laundermat stories - so i could dearly use this book to take me on that adventure.

    jacquieastemborski AT comcast DOT net

  25. I just remember not liking laundromats much. I used them frequently years ago as a college student. One time at the apartment complex I lived in, someone took all of our clean laundry out of the dryer and just threw the whole load on the floor! Very rude.

    I've been to many magical places. Forests and beaches are magical for me. My mother's garden was always a peaceful and magical place too.

    jennifer AT nobletouch DOT com

  26. I rarely used a laundromat but I did this last Saturday. I had to wash a lot of scatter rugs, pillows, and bedding for the cathouse we construct every fall in case a stray cat comes along during the winter. Since my washer cannot handle large loads, I went to the local laundromat with my book, with the intention of reading while waiting for the wash. To my surprise, there was a tv there and it was blaring. Since I was the only person in the place that early in the morning and could find no way to lower the volume, I unplugged the tv. Shortly after, a lady came in and proceeded to plug in the tv, use a screwdriver to change the channnel, but DID NOT reduce the volume although she could clearly see that I was reading and that I obviously had unplugged the tv. At that moment, I secretly wished to be Samantha in Bewitched so I could vaporize the harlot.

    Please enter my name in the giveaway for the book. Thanks!

    pboylecharley AT hotmail DOT com

  27. When I lived in some apartments in Arcadia, California, I used to go to the laundromat a lot. I noticed that there were a lot of short men coming in and was puzzled by that. Then it struck me, the race track, Santa Anita was just a few blocks from here, they were jockeys! Have another true story but I have saving that for the next time!


  28. When I was 25 I went to France and Italy by myself - was'nt planned that way - but that's what happened. Remember landing in Paris thinking what the heck am I doing!!!The lovliest place I saw on my travels was the back gardens at Versailles. I remember walking into part of it and being enveloped in a green fog - it doesn't sound that nice- but it was truly magically. I took many pictures but none captured the magic. Still have it in my minds eye though :)

  29. Have a good weekend! I enjoyed reading your blog. I like flowers too. I would like to find me some indoor greenery for the house.

  30. In the mid 90's, my best friend in college and I took a roadtrip around the US. That included lots of visits to different laundry mats along the way. Some very nice ones, some in some very tranistional parts of town. Great for people watching, that's for sure. We saw everything from moms reading books to her children, to fighting couples, to sleeping homeless folks. The other memory I have about laundromats is using them in college and alway hoarding the quarters when I got change so I would have them when it came time to do the laundry on the weekends.

  31. Thanks so much for being a part of this book tour - I'm thrilled that you enjoyed the book! And I agree, this is definitely the kind of book you want to read in the winter ... something to transport you to a warmer (and sexier!) time and place. :)

  32. I stopped for the night in Austin Minnesota (home of Spam, the kind some people eat, not the electronic kind). I asked the lady at the front desk if the motel had laundry facilities and she said in a heavily accented voice, "give me your clothes." Conversation was difficult because of her limited English, so I gave her a bag full of dirty clothes. In the morning, she brought me my clean folded clothes and when I checked out I asked her how much for the laundry. She said, "no charge!"

  33. When I first moved to Brooklyn, I didn't have laundry in my apartment but my building had laundry in the basement. Of course there were just a few washers for the many tenants in the building. One day when there was a long wait to do laundry in the basement, I took my laundry down the block to the neighborhood laundromat. And what a find it was! At about one'oclock, the laundromat seemed to get pretty crowded. The owner set out a long table in an area where people sat and read magazines & the paper while waiting for their clothes to finish washing & drying. On this table, the owner put out coffee and cookies, cakes, pie, cupcakes & pound cake, all homemade by various people in the neighborhood. People helped themselves and then sat and talked, getting to know each other! It was a wonderful afternoon and a terrific way to get to know my neighbors.

    After that day, I took my laundry to that laundromat every Saturday morning and then spent the afternoon having coffee and cake with my neighbor-friends! In a city as big as Brooklyn, this was a great way to feel like I lived in a neighborhood.

    I've since moved from that area, but I will always have fond memories of that laundromat!

    Thank you for a wonderful giveaway!
    ~ Amy
    Aimala127 AT gmail DOT com

  34. Not much of a story, but I sure was pleased in grad school (when my credit card and I were just barely getting by) to find a laundrymat with a trick dryer. The trick being that if I jiggled the start knob just right, the dryer would go forever without needing coins. I admit that I do feel a little bit guilty about it now, but at the time, I felt like I'd hit the million dollar jackpot in Vegas. I still think my washer and dryer have been one of the best purchases I've EVER made. Do not miss my laundrymat days.

  35. No good laundromat stories as it's been over 20 years since I've been to one. The story of the plants in the laundromat in "Hothouse Flower" reminded me of a magical place in a town near us. The town has a community college which has grown and sprawled and overtaken much of one end of town. In the middle of campus, though, is a shoe-repair shop with a yard full of tropical, vining, wild-looking, beautiful, lush plants. The man who owns the shop (he calls himself a "cobbler") has planted and tended the plants for over 40 years and will not sell his property to the college. They've left him alone, for some strange (magical?) reason, though they've used eminent domain to take over all the other nearby businesses and homes. We live in rural southern Indiana, so these kinds of gardens are not very common, which makes it all the more magical. :)

  36. Hi Susan - whatta fun bunch of reads! I will offer a magical moment - I was 17, an exchange student living outside of Paris in a teeny town and I went into the big city one day, just wandering about near the then new Pompidou Centre. I turned a corner and stood stock still as I stared with my mouth hanging open no doubt into a huge open courtyard filled with children and harlequins all dressed in white with amazing makeup and whirligigs, magic wands, fairy wings, organ music, and so much more and they were making art - glitter and glue, blowing bubbles - indeed, every possible imaginative gesture on earth, all utterly un-selfconscious and sweet and real. And it was as if I was invisible - they did not stop me from walking thru the crowd, they didn't speak to me or pay me any mind. It was like a total fairy fun zone and then I left! I had forgotten about this until reading some of these comments - so thanks for the memory! LOL

  37. My laundromat (across the street) from my 4 floor walk up was plant free and relatively boring. I always longed for one that was exotic, where you could haul your laundry in and some laundry fairy would do all the work for you and you could shop for a bit and come back and it would be all done. Sadly I used to perch on an extremely uncomfortable bench against a steamy window and try and read a book while watching that someone didnt' dump my laundry and steal my dryer time.


December 2015 update: Hi! For some reason I can't figure out, Blogger hasn't been letting me leave comments on my own blog (!) for the last several months, so I've been unable to respond to your comments and questions. My apologies for any inconvenience! You're always welcome to email me: farmgirlfare AT gmail DOT com.

Hi! Thanks for visiting Farmgirl Fare and taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

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Please note that I moderate comments, so if I'm away from the computer it may be a while before yours appears.

I try my best to answer all questions, though sometimes it takes me a few days. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

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