Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire

Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire

3.7 21
by Margot Berwin

View All Available Formats & Editions

Lila Nova is a thirty-two year-old advertising copyrighter who lives alone in a plain, white box of an apartment. Recovering from a heartbreaking divorce, Lila’s mantra is simple: no pets, no plants, no people, no problems. But when Lila meets David Exley, a ruggedly handsome plant-seller, her lonely life blossoms into something far more colorful.


Lila Nova is a thirty-two year-old advertising copyrighter who lives alone in a plain, white box of an apartment. Recovering from a heartbreaking divorce, Lila’s mantra is simple: no pets, no plants, no people, no problems. But when Lila meets David Exley, a ruggedly handsome plant-seller, her lonely life blossoms into something far more colorful.
From the cold, harsh streets of Manhattan to the verdant jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula, Hothouse Flower is the story of a woman who must travel beyond the boundaries of sense and comfort to find what she truly wants.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Berwin delivers a bangup debut packed with adventure, betrayal, love and, naturally, rare plants. New York ad woman Lila Nova, increasingly disillusioned with her job and the city, becomes enchanted by David Exley, a handsome guy selling plants at a green market. Soon, she's hooked on him, and her budding fascination with tropical plants leads her to a Laundromat that has a rare fern displayed in the window. Proprietor Armand quickly befriends Lila and gives her a trimming from the fern to take home, telling her if it forms roots, he'll show her the nine special plants he keeps in the back room. When Exley sees the fern trimming, Lila tells him about Armand's special plants, and soon the plants have been stolen and Exley has disappeared. Armand guilts Lila into coming to Mexico with him to find replacement plants, and there's magic, romance, greenery and greed as Lila and Armand venture through the Yucatan, hooking up with potential love-interest Diego and running into the devious Exley. It's a fun page-turner-escapist and wonderfully entertaining. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

At 32, divorcée Lila Nova discovers possibilities in her Union Square neighborhood when she buys a bird of paradise from David, the cute tropical plant guy at the farmers market. Later, Lila stumbles upon a Laundromat wherein exists a collection of nine plants that together supposedly allow their caretaker to achieve his or her deepest desires. Laundromat owner Armand warns her not to tell anyone, and rightly so: David steals the plants. To make amends, Lila follows Armand to his home in Mexico to replace the missing blooms. The oppressive heat and dampness, the odors of decay and rotting earth, the abundance of scorpions and otherworldly behaviors in Berwin's first novel will get under your skin, even as Lila's "adventure" leads her to self-discovery. What could have been a terrific New York novel morphs into an unconvincing tale of magical realism, where spirit animals roam the jungle and tree vibrations lead to mythological bromeliads. Readers made of sterner stuff might find the journey worth the effort. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/15/09.]
—Bette-Lee Fox

Kirkus Reviews
Berwin's debut sends a New York singleton south of the border in search of plants with magical powers. Recently divorced, 30-ish Lila Nova lives in a tiny studio apartment, works an unfulfilling job in advertising and wonders when her dreams of adventure, riches and true love fell by the wayside. In an intriguing and well-paced premise, Lila's life is turned upside down when she buys a bird-of-paradise plant on a whim from ruggedly handsome David Exley. Lila isn't too quick-witted, but she is quick with her heart; it takes about one sentence for her to fall in love. Shortly after, she stumbles upon an extraordinary laundromat whose owner, Armand, uses it as a greenhouse for his exotic plants. Lila's involvement with Armand and David leads her to Mexico to look for the nine mythical plants of desire. There, the story veers into bizarre chaos. Lila meets Diego, a walking Armani ad rather than a credible character, with about as much personality as a billboard. The heat of her attraction to him practically emanates from the page, which might have been a nice thematic touch, if Lila's obsessive behavior with men weren't too frightening to enjoy. In the Yucatan jungle, plants take on magical powers that both help and hinder Lila on her quest. Her journey wraps up before it even begins, making it hard to believe she's had time to learn anything. Lila herself offers the only evidence that she has changed, and since she's been a fairly oblivious narrator, readers won't want to take her word for it. Poorly executed magical realism.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) 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. I 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. I had just moved to Fourteenth Street and Union Square, into a small, newly renovated studio with absolutely no character. It was a square-shaped box with parquet floors, no molding, no details, white paint, and low ceilings. It was exactly the kind of apartment I wanted. Its newness meant that there were no memories trapped in the walls or the floorboards. No arguments or harrowing scenes of unrequited love staring at me from the bathroom mirror. It was brand-new. Just like I wanted my life to be. I thought a bit of foliage might spruce the place up, no pun intended, and add some much-needed color, so I walked across the street to the Union Square Green Market to make my purchase. The man at the plant stand was a throwback. He had streaky blond hair and a dirt-colored tan that came from being outside all the time. In his worn-out flannel shirt and beat-up Timberlands—worn for work, not fashion—he stood out in stark contrast to the manicured metro-sexuals perusing the market, wicker baskets in one hand, Gucci sunglasses in the other. This man was different. He was a rugged country-sexual. He asked me to describe my apartment not in terms of the square footage or the make of the stove and the fridge, but by the amount of light, temperature, and humidity. I told him that I had floor-to-ceiling windows, which was mostly true, although they were more ceiling-to-heating-unit than ceiling-to-floor. I told him that I had an unobstructed south-facing view, hard to find in New York City, and that as long as the sun was shining it was hot and sunny all day long, even in the winter. I hadn’t lived in my apartment through a winter, so I’m not sure why I said that, but I guess it sounded good to me, and also to him, since he bent down amongst his plants, head covered with purple flowers, butt in the air, and emerged with a big smile and a two-foot-high bunch of leaves. I was disappointed. “What is it?” “A bird-of-paradise,” he said, holding it up toward the sky and twirling the pot around with his fingertips. “A tropical plant?” I asked, zipping my coat against the late-March wind and picturing its imminent death. “Hawaiian, to be exact. Strelitzia reginae. A member of the banana family. She needs lots of sunlight, not too direct, and let the soil dry out between waterings. She’s tough to raise, and she won’t flower for five or six or maybe seven years, depending on the weather. And the love,” he added with a wink. I unzipped my jacket. 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 breezes, swaying palm trees, cabana boys, and piña coladas on white sand beaches near warm light-blue water.” I don’t know whether it was the piña 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. I paid him, and he handed me the plant, the brochure on rare tropicals, and his card, which said “David Exley, Plant Man.” “Sounds like a superhero,” I said. “Well, I do have a little something special with the flora and fauna, if you know what I mean.” I didn’t, but I nodded anyway. “Come back if her leaves start turning yellow around the edges. I’m here every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday from six in the morning till ten at night.” “They better not,” I said over my shoulder. “For thirty dollars they better stay bright freakin’ green.” I walked through the market with my bird-of-paradise held out in front of me like an offering. It felt good to be carrying around a piece of the earth. I thought it made me look like one of those women who cooked satisfying meals on a nightly basis for their Steiner School children while wearing Birkenstocks and reading from the Cabala, instead of the single, childless, plantless, divorced thirty-two-year-old woman that I was. Back in my apartment, I set the bird-of-paradise down on the window ledge. The base of the pot was too wide, and it teetered. I caught my thirty-dollar tropical right before it crashed to the floor. Not five minutes with me and its life was already in danger. No surprises there. The bird-of-paradise was the first living thing I shared space with since my divorce. No pets, no plants, no people, no problems had been my motto for the past nine months. I met my ex-husband at work. He was cute and smart and successful and he was a huge mistake. He was a man who drank like a fish and wanted lots of babies. I was a woman who didn’t want lots of babies and drank like a human being. I know that most marriages are complex and multilayered, but ours was not. Our four-year marriage went something like this: Year one—“I love you, Lila.” Year two—“I love you, Lila.” Year three—“I love you, Lila.” Year four—“I’m leaving you, Lila, for the producer at the advertising agency.” The producer at the advertising agency, aka the woman who brought him coffee and made his plane reservations. What a cliché. At the time I wondered how something that sounded so much like a made-for-TV movie could hurt so bad. But in truth it wasn’t the drinking or the producer. The problem with our marriage was genetic. My husband came from a big Irish Catholic family where everyone got married and had kids unless they were gay or terminally ill. I came from a family where no one ever got married unless they had kids first, and usually by accident. My parents, whom I love madly, divorced when I was young. Post divorce, they both dated furiously, like teenagers, without ever remarrying. My sister and brother, both older, had children but no spouses. A lot of people get married to keep with tradition. I was a rebel. I married to break with it. The strange thing was, against all odds, I loved being married. I adored the little rituals. The cute nicknames. “Honeybear” for him. “Wild Rose” for me. I loved shopping at Whole Foods, cooking beef stews and chicken soups in huge pots with lots of vegetables. I loved washing the dishes while listening to Curtis Mayfield. I liked washing, drying, and folding the clothes. For Christ’s sake, I even loved the vacuuming. I think it’s fair to say that during the years of my marriage I became the single most boring person in the entire world, and I totally loved it. Turned out, my ex, who by all external appearances and family history was the solid, marrying kind, absolutely hated it. He was a space freak. He grew up in a tiny house with lots of siblings, and he couldn’t stand the proximity to another person. He kept dragging me around to buy bigger beds and move into larger spaces. In the end, we were sleeping on a mattress so wide we could lie spread-eagle and our fingertips ?wouldn’t touch, and we were living in a loft the size of an airplane hangar. Just to make sure I wasn’t crazy, I took a survey on the bed. My friend Oliver, who was a well-known interior designer, said it was the largest piece of furniture he’d ever seen in a Manhattan apartment. My friend Lisa said it made her feel tiny, like a baby who’d crawled into her parents’ bed. My mother offered to have special sheets made for it. And my co-worker and good friend Kodiak Starr, who was a surfer, said that with its blue-green comforter it reminded him of the ocean. It was official. My bed was as big as the Atlantic. I was sleeping in New York, and my husband was all the way on the other side of the mattress, in London. My big Honeybear, my rock, turned out to be a piece of pumice stone. Flaky and crumbly under pressure, and unable to talk about or even know what he was feeling. In our giant apartment with the giant bed, he moved farther and farther away, until one day he simply never came home at all. No kidding. Just like that. Turned out my real rock was my co-worker Kodiak Starr. Kody was a bit of a philosopher/crunchy surfer for someone with such a glamorous name, and he was more beautiful than most of the women I knew. He used annoying words like “cool” and “dude,” and he was into things like transcendental meditation and lucid dreaming. He would probably be considered New Age if he hadn’t been born in 1984, eight years after me. Because we shared an office, Kody did most of the day-to-day heavy lifting when it came to hearing about my ex. We were supposed to be working on a new commercial for Puma sneakers, but mostly we worked on the much more pressing questions of my marriage. When I asked him why my husband left without ever trying to work it out, he answered in lilting, rolling, easy-to-digest surfing metaphors. He brushed his silky blond hair behind his ears, put his flip-flop-clad feet up on the desk, and wrapped his hands around the back of his neck. “Dude,” he said, “only world-class long-board surfers have the discipline to ride all kinds of waves, big or small, in all kinds of conditions. Your husband was a short-board amateur.” “But why me?” I asked for the hundredth time. “Why do I have to go through this?” “Because wiping out is like breathing,” he said. “Everybody does it.” After the death of my marriage, I was hell-bent on keeping the bird-of-paradise alive. I would take it slowly. Plants first. And if everything went well, then I’d move on to people. In the mornings, before work, I stroked its stems with my fingertips, because they were slightly fuzzy and felt nice to the touch, and occasionally I washed its big ?banana-?plant leaves with a damp sponge when they got too dusty from city living. I treated that bird like a houseguest, except I gave it water instead of wine and I tried not to blow cigarette smoke in its direction. I kept the blinds open all day, even when it was so sunny I couldn’t read my computer screen. I catered to what I imagined to be its every whim, and, much to my surprise, it flourished. New shoots grew out of its stems. I coaxed them along with hand-wrung drops of water and sweet talk. They unfurled into giant shiny pale-green translucent leaves with delicate visible veins. I wanted to go back to the green market to thank David Exley and brag about my progress (aka see him again and flirt mercilessly), but I was afraid: when it came to men, I was skittish and out of practice. So instead I called Kody. He answered his phone at the beach and screamed over the surf. “You gotta get back out there, Lila. You gotta get out there and catch some waves. Don’t come back till you have cramps in your calves from squatting in the curl. Free as a bird, girl. Free as a bird.” I hung up the phone and headed to the green market, squatting in the curl. “My bird is growing beautifully,” I said. David Exley, Plant Man, pointed his thumb behind him. “There’s a lot more where that came from.” “I’m not shopping, I’m just browsing.” “Fine by me, browse away. But if you have a minute I can take you into my tent and show you how to make that bird grow wings.” “I have some time,” I said. “Show me how to make her fly.” He dropped his voice and moved in closer. “Before I give away the special secrets of my tropical trade, I need to know who I’m talking to.” “I’m Lila.” “Lila, that’s nice. Lila what?” “Nova.” “A middle name, Lila Nova?” “Grace.” “Lila Grace Nova. The new Lila Grace.” He took my elbow and led me into the indoor part of his plant stand. It was a humid, dripping green tent the size of a small city apartment, and packed with plants. It was at least fifteen degrees warmer than the air outside, and it smelled like damp earth and rain and things that are green. On one wooden picnic table he had five tall birds-of-paradise. Their leaves were firm and pointing toward the sky. “Give me your hand, Lila Grace Nova.” He took my hand and ran my fingertips over a large leaf. “Feel that?” “It’s wet.”“Not wet. Misty. Can you feel the difference?” “How do you keep them like this? Misty, I mean. Without them turning into just plain wet?” He let go of my hand. It was covered with dirt from his gardening glove, as if he were still holding it. “Buy yourself a couple of ?extra-?large humidifiers. Don’t put ’em too close to the bird—you don’t want to soak the leaves—but not too far away, either—you don’t want them to dry out. Just close enough to keep them coated with a fine, delicate mist. She’ll love it. She’ll grow you right out of your apartment. Take my word for it, you’ll have to move to a new place just to keep up with that bird.” “I hate moving.”“That’s because you’re rooted. The sign of a true plant person.”I liked the sound of that. A true plant person. It sounded so much more alive, and warmer, and more female than a true advertising person.I looked at Exley. His eyes were the color of a faded blue workshirt, with wrinkles spread out in a fan design around the outer corners, probably from squinting into the sun all day. He made me feel like I wasn’t in Manhattan, and I liked the feeling. This man is a true professional, I thought. A real flower- selling flirt.“What kind of work do you do?” he asked.“I’m in advertising.”“Glamorous business, huh?”I gave it all I had. If he was going to play rugged country boy, I was going to play sexy city woman.“Yes,” I said, brushing my wavy blond hair off my shoulders with both hands and shaking my head from side to side, “it’s a very glamorous business.”


Meet the Author

Margot Berwin earned her MFA from the New School in 2005. Her stories have appeared on, in the New York Press, and in the anthology The Future of Misbehavior. She worked in advertising for many years and lives in New York City.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Jennmarie68 More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book only because the title sounded interesting. I didn't read any reviews on it, nor did I read through the description. They say not to judge a book by it's cover, but I did, and I'm happy. This was a very good book. It has love, romance, lust, greed, passion, death, spirituality, and just about everything else. For a debut novel, I'd say that Margot Berwin did a great job. She's left me with high expectations for her next novel. The story takes place in New York and Mexico, the Yucatan to be specific. As Lila, Armand, Diego, and Exley are all on the hunt for the illusive Nine Plants of Desire. Oh what a tangled web Ms. Berwin has weaved... This story was exciting. It was pretty fast paced and it kept me wanting more. The stories behind the nine magical and mystical plants are great. Even with all that Lila went through I want to find these plants. I did do some research on some of the nine and they really do have stories just as great as they are given in this book. (I LOVE when an author does great research!) I was captivated from the first line to the last. I will be looking for a second novel for sure!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely LOVED this book.  I had read The Language of Flowers and that stated the flow of flower novels.  I felt this was a great book and is worth reading.  I did feel like the end was a bit "happily ever after" but it has action, love, romance, sex, drugs and adventure!  Great read!
Printique More than 1 year ago
Margot Berwin brings her protagonist's NYC world alive and meets intriguing mysterious characters who lead her on an adventure where she becomes someone new. The plant magic seeps in gently as the heronine discovers herself and her own magic in the Yucatan. I didn't want Lila's story to end and I don't think it will. Hopefully this is a series and a sequel is in the works?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eh...not so good. Characters too self absorbed in all matters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There is absolutely nothing positive to say about this book. My book club read it and everyone agreed that it was a complete waste of time. It's mindless. The only redeeming factor was that it was a very fast read. No character development, lousy story, and horrendous writing. I'd give it zero stars if that was possible.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you think you will find another Castaneda here, you will be sorely dismayed. The book's main female character is weak, uninteresting, and boring. She has a one track mind and ambition, which does not include growing plants. The male characters are somewhat more intersting, but not much. The only character in the book that could be very interesting is Armand's wife,Sonali, but she is not allowed to fully evolve. If you are looking for a short chapter, quick read, that leaves you feeling rather empty inside, than this is the book for you. I give it two green thumbs down.
tropicalgirl29 More than 1 year ago
A friend recommended this book to me-it wasn't my usual read, but she was raving so I gave it a turn. Now I can't stop talking about it either, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to read it again. It starts off in New York City, and I loved that part. A young divorcee who hates her job in advertising, quits, and finds love with a plant dealer from a green Market. she calls him a "country sexual" because he's a rugged outdoorsy type -(I've used that term all over the place now!) The book brings the two of them from New York to the yucatan penninsula in Mexico, where they begin their search for the nine most rare plants on earth. They are guided by a mysterious shaman named Armand, a plant dealer simply called "The Cashier", and another love interest, the beautiful Huichol Indian, Diego Pinto. the quest for the nine plants of desire leads the main character, Lila Nova, to a much closer understanding of herself. The Journey is erotic and exotic. it's got lots of interesting plant facts and plant mythology. This is honestly one of the best books I've read in soooo long. There was a review in the Daily Mirror, but I'm not allowed to post the link here...If you can find it, it pretty much sums it up! Simply a great read.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Thirty two years old New York career woman Lila Nova used to enjoy her advertising job, but lately the divorcee is finding it tedious. However, she perks up when she meets David Exley selling tropical plants at the local farmer's market. She already enjoyed plants, but until now never bought any; she purchases one of his offerings. She notices at a Laundromat a rare fern in the window. The owner Armand makes friends with Lila and gives her a trimming from the fern. He promises her if the fern grows, he will show her his special nine plants. David sees the fern in her apartment and Lila tells him about Armand. Soon afterward, Armand's plants are stolen and David has vanished. Using guilt and remorse as motivators Armand persuades Lila to accompany him to the Yucatan to obtain new magical plants. There she meets Diego. This is an intriguing thriller that takes an unexpected magical spin from a New York adventure into a Mexican semi-fantasy tale. The story line is fun in spite of Lila being too loose as she leaps on one man after another and the plot never deciding which genre is on top. Still HOTHOUSE FLOWER AND THE 9 PLANTS OF DESIRE is an engaging odd thriller with one wild twist that takes a bit of adjusting, but worth the effort for those who relish something radically different with their New Yorkers. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jessica Livengood More than 1 year ago
This book was impossible to put down. Sensual and colorful
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
lilmika More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful quick read! I really enjoyed this book. I am an avid gardener, so it was a fun book to get away with. My girlfriend passed it on to me, and I have also. I would definately read another book from this author. -Mika
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was so much fun to read. I could not put this book down. If you want an engrossing book to take to the beach or read any time, I can't imagine anyone beginning this book and stopping till this book is finished. I want more books from this writer!