Columnea schiedeana


I had a longer post planned for today but it turns out that I need to do more research on the subject. I arrived home late last night from the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival so have not had a lot of extra time this week to write.

So, in the meantime, let’s talk a little bit about a Guest Gesneriad that I like enough to recommend as an unusual plant to try out. This one is known for its pretty flowers and the fact that it’s fairly easy to grow. I think that it has handled regular indoor conditions well, but it needs to be kept moist and placed in an east facing window.

I have to say that my Columnea schiedeana languished for months but it was likely due to its change of residence. Last year I took on the care of a lot of plants when a long-time Mt Hood Gesneriad Society member sold his home and greenhouse. This was one of his plants that came home with me, and for a long time I wasn’t even sure it had the correct ID since nothing changed—but then this happened.

My plan now is to keep it where it is, and in a few more months I will grow it outdoors once we warm up a bit more. This is one of those plants that fits perfectly into my patio plant category.

(Columnea schiedeana is originally from Mexico.)


My Recent Interview on ‘In Season’ on KMUN in Astoria, Oregon


This week I returned from a brief extended weekend at the coast. I mentioned this in the last entry, but what I didn’t mention was that I was going to be interviewed on the Coast Community Radio station KMUN in Astoria, OR. I was so nervous but it ended up being tons of fun!

Since this is a busy weekend for me, I’m posting this blog entry a few days early.

Have a great weekend!

To Listen to the Interview CLICK HERE



Learn About Gesneriads this Sunday at Cornell Farm in SW Portland



Please come see me this Sunday between 3-4pm as I give folks a brief introduction to GESNERIADS!!!

Members of the Mt Hood Gesneriad Society will also have a few plants for sale too to raise funds for the club! We’ll have a few folks on hand to answer questions for you too.

(Be sure to RSVP through the link above.)

I hope to see you there!


Huperzia… Not the easiest houseplant!


This will be a brief post for two reasons 1) it’s late on Saturday night and I’m on vacation in the coastal woods and 2) only one of the plants in the pic above is still alive.

After purchasing the three beauties I learned quickly that their survival outside of a warm greenhouse would be tricky. The plant that has won so far is this Huperzia carinata. I cannot lie and say that it’s thriving, but it is doing well above my kitchen sink. I know a lot of folks really love these when I post pics of them from greenhouses, but I must add that as much as I want another one, I won’t likely add one until I have a large happy tank to keep it happy.

IMG_4120The first plant to die was this Huperzia sp. Of the three I purchased, it was the only one without a tag. A friend let me know that he’d killed it quite easily and wouldn’t you know it!?! This one died just months after I brought it home.

IMG_4119The tag on this one read Huperzia goebelii but it is not a blue form. This was definitely a very green plant. I am ashamed to admit this one only died because of a mistake I made by overwatering it. Yes, this is possible to do. I think if I hadn’t screwed that up, it would likely be the happy one right now. If I can afford to acquire one again, this is the one I would look out for and I think that I’d recommend it for advanced beginners.

Overall though, my experience with these plants is that they are not easy to grow outside of a warm, humid greenhouse.

Maybe this is why you find me visiting the PNW coast again (my home away from home near the mouth of the Columbia River) were tomorrow I will go in search of some Lycopodium clavatum, or stag’s horn clubmoss. They’re one of the closest things we have to these lovely exotics so I just want to admire them and go home to care for the rest of my plant hoard. It’s when the hoard gets out of hand that you have big losses and I have to admit that losing these two Huperzia during 2019 was rough for me.



My Top Ten Thoughts on Open Garden Events


These thoughts are solely mine, and will be rather random, but I have my reasons. The process of opening one’s garden is a bit nutty and can be really stressful—even though it doesn’t have to be. Most folks will be there to support and encourage you and what you’ve done. Embrace those people.

Okay, here goes!!!

1: Don’t make it too tidy. Gardens are alive and are always in the midst of a live performance. You cannot control life as much as you’d like to so let it be. Let it be free!

2: If you’re worried about people judging you, well, that’s their burden to carry as jerks. That’s not your problem.

3: Put your time into the work of growing your plants well. Open your garden a few years in a row to show the shifts, changes, mistakes, and lessons learned. The odds are in your favor. Something will always work whether you planned it that way or not. Build on the things that work.

4: Plant plants where they will grow their best—your vision will fill in from there. Let the plants fall into place instead of forcing them in to where you think they should go. Pick the spot that needs to be filled first and get to know your conditions well.

5: If you have nothing good to say about a garden you visit, hold your tongue until you leave. Beware of what you say to others. You do NOT own the definition of what a “garden” is and I can assure you that whatever the hell you THINK it is, I can likely argue that you’re wrong, and I’m not the only one. More than likely you like whatever YOUR garden is and maybe, if that’s the case, you should just stay home. Rudeness is not acceptable. It’s amazing what I’ve overheard strangers saying while on tours. Don’t leave your stinking opinion in the air for others.

6: Let’s all go gently with the plant names. Yes, I know mine, but when my garden is open, after having worked on it for months, I might blank on a name. If you cannot speak to the homeowner, take a pic of the plant. Reach out to the garden owner later. They’ll likely be more than happy to tell you what it is. I would never expect a catalog of every plant in a garden and to quiz you on it. If you’re hosting, maybe make a list of your favorites in advance to hand out and point out to people. Label what you can, but don’t sweat it. (Rope in a friend or two if you expect a large crowd. They can also help to field questions from visitors.)

7: Photos. Ah, yes. Never, ever take photos without permission and ALWAYS ask about posting photos on social media. As a blogger (aka garden communicator), this is Rule #1. There are a lot of pics out there in the world, I know, and some of them are of things like my cat going through the drive-thru at a coffeeshop, but those sweet kids who love him always ask if they can post a photo of him on social media. Plants are not pets or people, but folks are connected to the spaces they make and we must respect that privacy. Just ask.

8: Try to do as much of the work as you can yourself. I open my garden for the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon and it’s a very plant-focused group so many people are advanced hobbyist/amateur home gardeners. Know your audience. If it’s a plant group, or a neighborhood group, hopefully you can inspire some questions about your work, and not your real estate and how much you spent on what you own. It’s not a contest to show off your wealth. Don’t let your fear of not being enough hold you back from jumping in to include your passionate work.

9: Don’t bring your pets unless you know in advance that’s ok. Someone mistakenly walked into my garden with a fairly small leashed dog that immediately chased my cat and it wasn’t cool. Ask, don’t assume.

10: Drink. Drink water the night before you open your garden, drink whatever special beverage you need the next day. Drink coffee during those early morning marathons as you garden away for months in advance. Keep drinking water to stay hydrated. Make iced tea for your crazy friend who comes over in the summer heat to help you. Make cocktails for your friends who come over to listen to you at night. Drink and be merry.

Have fun. Don’t take this open garden rat race thing too seriously. You’re just a person who loves plants and you’re just opening your garden to share it with NICE people. Keep telling your self that they’ll all be the nicest people you’ve ever met, and you know what, almost all of them will be…

Got any great advice or a funny story about an Open Garden? Please post about it in the comments. #themoreyouknow

Working at Secret Garden Growers


Last March I started working part-time at Secret Garden Growers in Canby, Oregon. In addition to my job at Cistus Nursery this has meant that I’ve been working roughly 3-4 days a week but oftentimes it wasn’t nearly that much. For me, a middle-aged woman living with some serious chronic health issues, this was not only a huge hurdle to overcome, but it has been rewarding too. I’d call it an incredible opportunity.

To cover the 12 months I’ve made a collage of monthly photos below. I’m missing tons of great plants, and for some reason I didn’t find a pic I liked of the third dog, and the eldest, Gaia. (I missed the chickens too but I don’t see them nearly as often as the ducks, dogs, and cats.)

Like Cistus Nursery,  it’s a bit of a drive from where I live, but in the opposite direction. Located in Clackamas County, it’s very near to where I grew up and I very much enjoy my drives there although like Sauvie Island, it’s not easy to find a quick lunch. I get tired of packing my food, but over the last year, I’ve worked out ways of making it all work.

At the nursery I mostly propagate. I divide things, pot things up, and sometimes I do cuttings or sow seeds. During the busy months, I’ve helped with retail and weeded plenty. Like all nursery work, it’s important for everyone to chip in when and where they can.

I enjoy propagation work and I keep a nice clean space. To me it’s the writer’s version of the possibility of a blank page, dreaming of what will grow out of it. “Making the plants” as I call it, is more about the process than any vision I have but as I work, I consider the roots, how the plants grow, what I might do with them, and how I have seen them used.

My Virgo mind likes to analyze as I work with the plants and I take mental notes.

It also likes to rock to the beat to keep things from getting too serious. That’s a nice thing about working in a greenhouse. It means alone time with tunes blaring. I use my work time to stretch, to move, to help my hip out. Over the last year, my hip has continued to slowly improve but it’s been slow progress. But it’s progress!!!

As I write this now I’m nursing another manual traction that was done on my hip by the physical therapist and I continue planning to be able to stand and contribute to my life—and the lives of others. I mean that because I know that the plants I help to make help everyone else to make their own lives and private and public spaces more beautiful and that makes me happy. I know gardening doesn’t always seem that important to everyone, but I know for a fact it’s therapeutic to many of us in many ways.

Secret Garden Growers does mail-order too so be sure to check out the current inventory. (We have a lot of gesneriads!) Pat Thompson—the nursery owner who is additionally a great source for information—will also be up in Seattle this month in the Cascade Nursery Trail booth at the NW Flower & Garden Festival. Be sure to stop in and say “Hello” to her!

(If you have any questions about any of the images below feel free to ask me below in a comment. )

Garden Dinners in 2020 and Why I Love to Host Them


If you want to know why I love having dinners in my back garden, all you have to do is look at the photo above. The woman is Rosaria Amato—my Sicilian great-grandmother—and she is helping to cook a family dinner in the back garden of her son Sam with one of her brothers. Over her shoulder you can see my grandfather’s veggie garden. He worked full-time as a produce man at a local grocery store and relaxed by growing food.

My Grandma Virginia cared for the garden that surround their house on SE Vernie Avenue and Grandpa Sam grew food next door. This way they both tended to their own space. The older generation came out from the city and enjoyed time in the suburbs. Once there, they were surrounded by many Italian truck farms which are all long gone. All of this was just minutes from where many of them lived in SE Portland. I didn’t experience these moments of course, but I was born into what I can only call the nostalgic era of the many memories of these dinners. (I was able to eat my great-grandmother’s food though but only at her home in Portland.)

My father recreated these feelings as best as he could during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. After we slowly lost the original Sicilian generation, cooking became more and more important to him. I’m grateful that growing up we had many guests who came to my parents home for meals. We often ate on the back deck, or in the kitchen, looking out over the large garden space my mother had created. Dad always served a healthy version of his pasta with veggies with either salmon or sausage. It’s his signature dish.

In the coastal woods, at his second home, for many years he cooked over an open fire. The first stove we had there was very similar to the fire pit in the photo above. Roughing it—peasant style—became something I was attracted to as well in my 20s when all we had was a trailer in the woods with a fire pit. I love the house that was eventually built, but I do miss cooking over an open fire. IMG_7334Dinners at my place are hosted by myself and I tend to arrive to the table with plates looking a bit tired. I hope this year to alleviate some of this exhaustion, but in the past, it has made for some funny photos. I cook in my kitchen, and luckily, I have a lot of signature dishes. To prepare for these dinners I’m usually cooking for two solid days in a row. I like to cook nearly everything from scratch—and this includes all stocks.

This year you can expect a lot more homegrown vegetables at my dinners—and some will be more familiar to guests than others. I’m not the vegetable grower that my Grandpa Sam and his father both were, but I’m not too shabby. Each year I get better at it but I’ve learned that the real secret is not being a horticulturist with a lot of other plants to tend to at the same time. Luckily, I can credit my husband John with the survival of our crops. His love of fresh tomatoes has him watering more regularly and tending to plants more carefully nowadays.

Lastly, I’d like to add that my dinners are fairly casual. Folks sometimes bring and drink a lot of wine, and conversation topics can vary greatly. The food I cook is Italian, and not Italian-American. I tend to cook regional dinners. If you know me, I can be funny and I love nothing more than to laugh and have a good time with warm and kind folks. If you have any questions, or are interested but want to know more, please reach out and ask me.

IMG_8025I don’t have any reviews to share, but I can share this one comment left on Instagram by a former coworker from Cistus Nursery, “I felt like I was in Martha Stewart’s wet dream.” (This is written underneath the photo of me above.) Now if that doesn’t whet your curiosity, I don’t know what else I can throw out there for you. 🙂 If you’re offended, I’m sorry. I thought it was a rather sweet compliment about her experience that evening. 

All proceeds this year are going into my savings for a European Garden Tour in 2021. In the coming months I’ll have updated posts too about the veggies I’ll be growing in our community garden plot, here at home, and at my place of employment out in Canby.

The menus are not yet set (but they will be soon). If you’d like to sign up for one of the two dinners I have scheduled already, please follow the link to the Garden Dinners page below. If these both fill up, I will post more dates with other dining options. Honestly, I’d like to cook a total of 4 dinners but we’ll have to wait and see if folks want to come. I really hope you do.

Thanks again for reading my post and I hope to see you here at Campiello Maurizio soon!

To see which garden dinners I’ll be having in 2020 click here.