Cb Here are Charlie and Billy with my recent books, but I'm going to be writing about somethng connected to my MIP. (A wonderfully all-encompassing term. Manuscript, masterpiece, monster-in-progress.) It illustrates the little problems that can trip us up on the way, but I'm also hoping that by some wild chance, someone reading this can help.

I enjoy gardening, and what's more, I'll soon have a garden to play with. We take possession of our ne house tomorrow. Yay! We won't move in until some work's been done, but the garden will need care, and it's only a 15 min. walk from our rental.

That's not relevant to the MIP except that when I'm writing, plants automatically fill in my vision of countryside and gardens, but they sometimes trip me up. Willow

For example, in An Unlikely Countess, Cate's brother collected exotic trees, a popular hobby in the 18th century. Among a few others, I tossed in a weeping willow, liking its connection to mourning. I think that's a weeping willow in the picture. It's gorgeous, anyway, and that's Buckingham Palace behind. (You can click on any picture to enlarge it.)

I thought I'd check how new the willow was at the time…. Whoops! It had only just begun to be imported, and specimens were regularly failing in the south of England, never mind the north!

I made lemonade out of lemons, however, and made it a dying weeping willow. How very metaphorical or something.

In the MIP, A Scandalous Countess, I wanted a plant that gives out a perfume in the evening, and the obvious choice was nicotiana, or flowering tobacco. If you've never grown it, give it a try, and if you have the space, go for the tall, leggy sort.  It's not pretty, but my goodness, the perfume in the evening is gorgeous.

Nicotiana That's what I had in mind, and from there I got a nice little word play between Georgia and Tom about tobacco, pleasures denied ladies, and other matters. But I asked myself, was flowering tobacco known at the time? And I can't find out. I found a gardener's dictionary from 1754 in Googlebooks that describes a number of nicotianas, some of them sounding like the one I mean, but no mention of perfume.

I was intrigued, even bemused, by this bit. "The two smaller Sorts of Tobacco are preserved in Botanic Gardens for Variety ; but are seldom propagated for Use. The first Sort is found growing upon Dunghills in divers Parts of England. These are both very hardy, and may be propagated by sowing their Seeds in March, upon a Bed of light Earth, where they will come up, and may be transplanted into any Part of the Garden.

The first of these Sorts is the most common in England, and is generally raised by the Gardeners near London, who supply the Markets with Pots of Plants to adorn Balconies and Shop windows in the City. This Sort, when raised early in the Spring, and planted in a rich Soil, will grow to the Height of ten or twelve Feet, provided the Plants are duly watered in dry Weather."

Ten or twelve feet! On balconies and in shop windows? I'm having trouble forming the picture, but I'd like one of those plants as a show-off specimen!

S1 cute Chiffchaff in orange tree, from Nerja flat Talking of showing off, here's another lovely bird photograph by my husband.

There are many articles about tobacco, but I've found nothing about the introduction of the ornamental sort, in my books or on line. My gut feel is that the leggy, perfumed kind did arrive early, but it'd be great to know. If anyone can come up with something definite, I'll acknowledge it in the book. Out next February.

Adding this, supplied by a reader on my yahoo chat list. "A native of Brazil, Flowering Tobacco was introduced into garden cultivation in England in 1829."

There's no source, so as it's not what I want to hear, I'm still looking. After all, a plant collector could have had some earlier, couldn't they?

If you haven't bought your copy of An Unlikely Countess yet, hurry, hurry, hurry! I'm delighted by the reviews. Readers seem to really be enjoying Cate and Prudence, and many have also picked up on the way it touches on the roles of women at all levels of society in the 18th century. I didn't plan that, but I thiAncountsmrnk it is interesting.

If you're having any trouble finding it, in print or e-form, I've put together a page of suggestions. What a complicated world we live in! 

All best wishes from sunny Devon,