July—in the Blink of an Eye (2018)


Garden life was a bit scattered last summer. By the time everything was blooming it was kind of obvious that I hadn’t exactly planned anything. This has been the way things have been around here due to owning and growing so many things. I just decided to embrace all of the color and to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Last summer my Pelargonium peltatum ‘Crocodile’ bloomed, Dahlia ‘Pooh’ reigned loud and proud in the driveway, and I discovered the bulky, fragrant, never-ending joy of Nicotiana langdorffii in full sun.

For the 4th of July, I took nurseryman and author Paul Bonine to the coast with our mutual friend Evan Bean (The Practical Plant Geek). We decided to do the peninsula tour in Washington State along with our professional gardener friends Skyler (Tangly Cottage Gardening) and her husband Allan.

Skyler is also a prolific blogger and has been reading, growing, and writing about plants for many years. Her knowledge is vast from her experience and because she knows her climate well. If you know Paul, you know that this made for great conversation. We discussed the existing plants in the area, took notes of potential new ones, and generally had fun with other gardeners.

On that first day though, it was fun seeing Paul and Skyler in her garden, standing in front of this Eryngium pandanifolium var. lesseauxii grown by Paul’s business, Xera Plants.

The visit and tour was only for a few days. We packed as much as we could in and topped it off with the exciting experience of watching fireworks for hours and hours. We dined at the restaurant at the Shelburne Hotel where we were able to see the work that Skyler has been doing in the garden there. She worked on the garden years ago but then work was suspended for a few years. Now she’s back and she’s redoing the colorful cottage look. Many of the plants included were grown from seeds she’d purchased like the sunset runner bean seen above.

The next day was the 4th and we toured more gardens near Oysterville and along the peninsula and we ended up being invited to an impromptu dinner by two talented gardeners at their home on the Willapa Bay. img_6382

Back at home my neighbor and I spent quite a bit of time enjoying the color of this Phacelia viscida I’d purchased for her meadow. A wildflower, we’re really hoping it will return this year and that it successfully reseeded heavily. We’ll have to wait and see. Stay tuned!

As the heat crept up, the cats became flatter and flatter, often hiding in the house near the A/C.

Felix clearly grew tired of my laptop, Oliver hid in the cat cave on the cat tree, and LuLu, the brave pretty girl, often sat on the cool pavement in the shade out in the garden with me.img_6406I continued to rearrange furniture too in the hope that it would inspire me to keep tossing and/or selling items I didn’t need. This mirror was something I picked up at a Goodwill in California years ago and it’s been kind of a nice addition to my office/tv room. Hopefully sometime soon I’ll be able to finish painting in here.

At work so many things were happening. The strange Babcokia platylepis I’d sown finally bloomed. Hmmmmm. It looked like a fancy baroque dandelion, ok. I took home a Rhambus frangula ‘Asplenifolia’ to plant. The Aristolochia fimbriata I’d planted the year before finally were filled out. (They should be available at Cistus next year.) I fell madly and wildly in love with Pelargonium ‘Bird Dancer’— so much so that I expect that I’ll have a lot of them in the garden this summer. I watched the Colletia bloom along the driveway, and best of all, a threatened conifer endemic to California located in a border suddenly set a lot of seeds. Yes, that funny striped fruit contained a Torreya californica seed!

The natural world is simply amazing.

There was so much more though! I love summer, don’t you love it too?

I spent the rest of July soaking up the beauty of these three plants. They all held my interest well into fall. The Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ had been a gifted cutting, but the Petunia integrifolia and Didiscus were grown from seed by myself. All three were so impressive and easy that I definitely will grow them again. img_6922At the end of the month I learned that my elderly neighbor and gardening friend was going to move back across the US. For years, many of the seeds I’ve sold in my shop Milton’s Garden Menagerie had been grown at her place.

On the day she told me of her plans, I was very sad, and had been eyeballing her incredible Ipomopsis aggregata. I actually took photos of it to remind me of that moment. It was a rough transition for both of us and I knew I had to buck up.

I took a deep breath and started to help her. img_6990While it was hot, hot, hot, I moved many of her gardening treasures to my home. She gifted me with so many things she’d gathered from friends and various places. I grabbed extra rocks, a pair of large terra-cotta planters, as well as all of her houseplants.

For the last few months I’ve been treating, feeding, dividing, repotting, and selling many of them. I didn’t both to count how many plants I took care of but it was a lot and now I have small babies of them all.

I’ve propagated many for folks who’ve purchased them locally, and I have a collection to ship to her when she’s ready to receive them. While it’s been really hard for me to lose her, and I miss her a lot, it created an opportunity to learn about a lot of amazing plants all at once. I am grateful for that—but I still do miss her.

Venezia on Foot (from April 2016)


(While going through my unfinished blog posts recently I discovered this one from my last trip to Italy back in 2016.)

Wish I could find a little pot holder just like this one.

It has been over two years since I was on this trip, yet seeing these photos quickly brings it all back to me. The devil really is in the details. The colors, curves, light, shadows, and the many kind people I met while there for two weeks warm my heart. I didn’t want to love Venezia, but I carry it with me now. It seems cliche to this cynical American, and yet, the place inspires! It’s a magical place and I wish I could have known it long ago…img_1345This was our front door for two weeks. We had the large apartment located on the top floor of this building.

Many times I walked past this shop nearby and admired these ceramics. I still think about these ceramics. While there I bought this book to practice my reading comprehension. I’m always amazed at how little I use my Italian and yet am still able to do ok with it when I need to read it. These are likely window boxes filled with Sedum palmeri. It felt like the entire place had all shared the same plant. While visiting there the first time, I’d admired this color on another building. It’s called Venetian salmon and seems fitting. After the second trip I loved the color even more. (This is Hotel Iris.)During this second trip I also learned quite a bit more about the gardens of Venice and the history of many of the plants there. (It helps to be included in a group of Italian Instagramers who know a great deal about Italian Garden History.)With so many tourists, it’s nice to hide the garbage cans with art. Many shops sell items for Carnevale. This shop caught my eye with its modern masks. On this trip I walked to see some art, but not as much as I’d hoped to see. I rested and read quite a bit. Traveling is still hard on me and this wasn’t really long after I’d had my back surgery and I was in the midst of terrible nerve pain from my old injuries. Being there made the pain better. It was even better when I saw plants. It’s a place where you always want to peek over walls. I spent a few days like this but was relieved when the tour took place on the last day there. Being invited into homes and gardens is always a wonderful treat. It seems possible to me that I loved this walk so much I could do it all over again in my mind. Then there was a cookbook store. Oh how I wish I’d spent more time lingering there!The best was saved for last. I stopped several times on my way back to the apartment to pick up this incredible sarde in saor from a vendor who served theirs on polenta. The two creamed together like this still makes my mouth water.

June 2018


After several years the Clivia miniata I grew from seed finally bloomed. 

Oh June and the happy days of summer are here again!


Cirsium occidentale beginning to bloom in the hellstrip. 

Ok, maybe not… It’s cold and raining outside and the winter holiday season is definitely over. I like this time of year though. It’s seed season around here and it’s still a great time to catch up on blog posts.

It’s always a big deal to set up the table in the garden for dinners. Last June I remember feeling really excited about it and about the many new folks I’d be meeting. Having a new kitchen helped me so much. I’m still not certain if I’ll be hosting underground dinners this year but I think it’s likely inevitable. My only thought is that I’d like a new table setup.

Seeing my little Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ makes me smile. Little did I know what incredible joy it would be and I have fellow blogger Alison to thank for that. Even now it’s in the garage giving off its fine fragrance. I can’t wait to plant it near my hammock this year. I’ll sit under it at night and evening-dream the dreams of champions.

(As a matter of fact this whole area is going to be changed quite a bit this year. Be on the lookout for posts on that progress. There will be a lot going on around here in the coming months.)

Last June I also went on a plant nerd expedition to find Iris tenuis or the Clackamas Iris. Luckily I’d mentioned wanting to see it in the wild to botanist friend Alexander Wright and we most certainly succeeded. It’s thanks to friends like him that I learn so much. If I’d had to do this on my own it would have been quite the search. It was such a fun day trip I hope to do more of them this year too.

Last year the back garden was good, but not great. It was a struggle for me to keep up with the grassy weed mess out front but Mona didn’t mind. She began to take over Mona-land again near the back fence. Even now, each and every winter day, she sits on her bench under a tree back there.

(I love seeing her out the kitchen door. Sometimes this part-feral friend even comes up to the back door to look in at us. Of course she runs away if I invite her in, but she’s at least finally bonded with the new cats and she interacts with all of us in her own way.)

I also finally added these great planter hangers to the back fence and I need to continue hanging a few more. They’ve been a great success and when you have such a small city garden the only way to go is vertical.

The view from the bathroom window upstairs is slowly improving. There are a lot of issues yet with what I see from up there and from down below though. Adding the hanging planter was a great idea, but then I got lazy about watering it so plants sadly did not flourish there. Hopefully this year I’ll improve the planting a bit. It gets a lot of sun so something that will bloom like crazy and still be a bit drought tolerant will be key. (I’m thinking Pelergonium may do the trick.)


Ipomoea ‘Pretty in Pink’. I think. It was from seeds sent to me by fellow blogger Grace. 

Due to the tree removal (and my life in general), I didn’t get to plant nearly as many seeds last year. Since I only work part-time, my guess is that I was exhausted from what I was accomplishing. Looking over the photos from June, I didn’t take as many photos as I usually do so I must have been working very hard. I think mostly I was promoting and arranging dinners.


Melampodium leucanthum, or Blackfoot daisy. 

The most successful plant in the garden in 2018 was something I picked up in Texas during the Fling. I’d never heard of this desert plant, Melampodium leucanthum. Native to the Sonoran desert it’s likely not going to survive a wet Oregon winter but I’m crossing my fingers. This little plant bloomed from June until October and it barely had any water. I think if it had been planted somewhere where it never would have been watered it would have bloomed and bloomed too. Even if it becomes an expensive annual for me I’ll include it again. I loved this plant and I highly recommend it.



May I continue? (May, 2018)


As is usual, I have not yet blogged about the annual Garden Bloggers Fling. Since I cannot afford to go to Denver in 2019, let’s hope that I follow through with my posts after I am finished with my monthly summaries. Maybe I could get around to posting about every other Fling I’ve been to as well. I guess some part of me has more fun attending these events then writing about them. I know, this doesn’t make sense. I just feel like everyone else who is actually a blogger does a better job of writing about the gardens. For me, they’re usual big health disasters that take a lot of work to prepare for, and recover from, so while I am there I am having as much fun as a human can possibly have while they’re in the moment.

All I can say is that Austin, TX did NOT disappoint and it was a great deal of fun to be there is such a large group of Portland friends. We showed up and we showed up strong!

(Funny family fact, the last known relative I knew about ever having been in Texas was my great-grandmother’s cousin and he was hung for cattle rustling. When I say I’m a spaghetti Westerner. I’m not kidding. Clearly this guy was not from my Sicilian side.)

After the Fling I was able to follow through on a little side trip to Peckerwood Garden. To say that it blew me away is not an exaggeration. I also plan to do a post about that in the future but let’s just say it was a business trip of sorts and I returned with a carryon bag overloaded with so many plants I can’t even remember what the final count was for cuttings, plants, and seeds, but it was a bit over the top. I also fell madly, and deeply in love with Clematis texensis while I was there.

I also realized that someone should name a begonia ‘Yosemite Ann’. Funny I’d never noticed the resemblance until I held one of those poor cane-like begonias up to my face. By this point in the trip I was delirious from health concerns, exhaustion, and excitement so if you see me doing this again, just be warned. I needed a nap pretty badly.

Upon my arrival home I was happy to see that my Beschorneria from Lance over at Garden Riots was kicking it and starting to bloom for me. I am sure in Texas this thing would have already gone to seed but hey!, this is Oregon, so I was thrilled to come home to this new surprise. Luckily I love hot pink and it sort of spared well with the classic giant pink Rhodie across the street.

The three cats continued to enjoy the quieter house and Felix continued to develop his odd quirks. He smooshed my seeds, sat in seed trays and on soil bags since he’s a house cat. LuLu wandered on her own and Oliver, well, he just loved life everyday with all of his heart. He’s just one big fluffy happy guy.

Life at Cistus Nursery had changed a bit while I was away. Sean had sold his house and had moved into the house at the nursery so basically all of the land was reunited under one roof so-to-speak. I also learned that the day Sean moved in Nigella retired officially from living in our retail area. I have to say it’s kind of amazing that she just knew she could do that. She continues to thrive in retirement.

Back at the house I think this was the point at which I was kind of amazed at how everything could explode at once. By the end of the month, I was pushing to get things in while it all just grew around me. That’s why I am doing more gardening this winter. I would have done this before but I just wasn’t well enough.

IMG_4185My neighbor’s meadow has continued to grow and develop. I help her with this a bit and I am trying to take more photos to keep track of what we add and remove. This is not a static place. For the entire warm season my neighbor puttered out in her meadow. She gets a lot of pleasure from spending time out here and it’s fun to watch as things grow and improve.

My other neighbor was someone I visited too. Little did I know then though that she’d be selling her place in just a few months. She’s already moved away so seeing these photos made me feel badly. I spent a lot of the summer and fall though working with what I was able to get from her place before the sale. Her houseplant collection was huge and that alone has taken me 3 months to sort and propagate. Once temps are warmer, I will begin to send her starts of her own plants. I’ve kept start of everything and have been selling the extras to pay off medical and/or personal debts. The process has only deepened my love of houseplants, improved my propagation, and I’ve learned to do some light retail work from my garage.

But back in May, I had no idea that’s how my year would end up. It’s still kind of amazing to think of how much I’ve done thanks to a balanced schedule, understanding folks, and anabolic steroids to help with my hereditary angioedema. I guess physical therapy isn’t the only miracle in my life.

Lastly, I had to leave these two goofy pets. On the left is my friend Paul Bonine’s pup Miles. He has a fondness for me and I for him so when he fell asleep between Paul and I like this I melted. He’s such a sweet dog too. Then there is Oliver. Sigh. Oliver is a terribly handsome cat but he’s a scared of everything. Most of the time he just wants to snuggle or sleep. Other times, he’s like this, and luckily when I laugh at him, he never even registers it. Can’t say that about there other members of the current kitty crew.

(I swear this is a garden blog.)

April 2018, a Month of Action!

IMG_1815Highlights from last April include the publication of this piece I wrote for the HPSO (Hardy Plant Society of Oregon) Bulletin.

There was also a much needed trip to the coast. I was able to walk in the ocean a bit, and later I ate some fresh oysters. I also got to see the alder tree at Dad’s house that had fallen into the river during the winter.

A few plants were purchased. At the annual Portland Orchid Society sale I found an Anthurium scherzerianum ‘Rothchildianum’. At another local plant sale I discovered Iris ‘Kinky Boots’. At my Gesneriad Society group I was able to get some seeds. At Hortlandia I volunteered at one of the HPSO booths and I bought the new edition of the PNW butterfly book by Robert Micheal Pyle.

Back at Cistus Nursery there was much going on. Year round there are plants blooming but in April things really begin to take off. We still had Aristolochia californica going and the Trillium kurbayashii were showing their beauty in the garden border. The Gasteria glomerata you see blooming was likely the one at Sean’s old house but these bloom off an on at work in the greenhouses. They’re one of my favorites. Preparations were made for seed germination. I continue to learn as the months tick by. There is still so much to learn and there are so many seeds out there to germinate. I propagated some Bergenia ciliata, and sniffed the most gentle of Mahonia. I potted up a Claytonia parviflora ssp. (I think) and that Ceanothus arboreus ‘Powder Blue’! Wow! Wow! Wowzers!

The garden at home suffered a bit due to my busy schedule. The Eccrecarpus bloomed all winter. The Darlingtonia californica found a perfect home. The front area of the house was still a mess. (Much as it is now. I just cannot tame that area.) Geranium phaeum ‘Sambor’ continued to impress. The Dodecatheon I’ve had for years continued to bulk up and the community garden plot definitely needed some love after months of neglect.

Lastly, there were the cats. Oliver really started to enjoy his spot on the back roof overlooking the living willow area, and Felix finally got to get out on his leash a bit. For the first time he visited the nursery while a group of us were on a plant-shopping field trip BEFORE Hortlandia. Yeah, I know, I’m bad! I don’t think I bought anything that day—or did I? A shout out to meeting an online friend too for the first time. Jason Chen is a designer and wonderful person who lives down in SoCal. I had no idea I’d be seeing him in Portland for Hortlandia and imagine my surprise when Felix jumped into his lap and fell asleep.

Last April was a really fun month.

Let in the Light! (March 2018)


In March, the nursery really comes alive. Last year was no exception. Since I’ve been helping with the Instagram account I’ve come to know many of our plants well. I also know Nigella the cat, so I continue to post pics of her because she’s now retired, but more on that soon…

In March the flowers begin to burst in the display garden, and inside the greenhouses, many plants begin to grow rapidly. At this point I don’t have to look for seeds much so I’m an observer. Typically, we’re potting plants up like crazy so it’s nice to have a little break.

From there we take the freshly prepped babies into the greenhouses to continue their growth. When they look especially lovely, flats are moved to retail. That’s where the lovely plants come from, and it’s amazing how much work it takes to keep this cycle going. Working at a nursery has really taught me to respect all of the work done by those who run small specialty nurseries. It doesn’t get more artisanal or bespoke than this… Handcrafted plants. That really should be a thing.

Back at home, I continued to play with houseplants, and I watched many of my own plants grow from seed. Seeds were sown, plans were made, and I worried…

It was time to take down the multi-headed Doug fir, and just like that, before I knew it, it was gone…

The process was quick and honestly painless. I think one paver was broken but I chose not to move it so it wasn’t an issue. It was no big loss because I barely noticed. Suddenly, the south side of the house was flooded with light.

The house and garden felt very different. It has taken months for me to adjust to the change. I’m used to it now but it’s been quite a shift.

Felix Freedom Fridays began in March and I started to take Felix places that month. All year he made frequent visits to Xera Plants with me and this was the first of the season. He loves to meet his friends there, although sometimes he’s a bit distracted by the noises of the city.

That was also the month when Greg from Xera Plants had an Open Garden. I decided to walk over for the physical therapy and I didn’t stay long. It was pretty though but I think that day I was still fairly stressed out about the tree removal. (It hadn’t happened yet.)

On the way back I stopped to admire this kinda fun house near mine. It looks like it could be pretty amazing with a little bit of work. The plants that are there at least fit the look. I’d never seen the house before and thought it was kind of interesting. Part of me would love to have a second story patio like this. I think they’re fun in the city. IMG_0543My favorite bloom that month was definitely my houseplant Huernia zebrina and I still need to propagate this beauty.