Writing Afresh as Summer Wanes

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The pace of days is different now. Late summer glides into autumn as easily as I slide my summer-tanned feet back into warm wool slippers. My eyelids close and I feel chilled air on my skin.

I’m fruit, crisp, ripe on the vine.

Iris domestic (red form) at Rancho Cistus. I just potted up a few flats of seedlings from this plant in the garden.

Waiting much longer for harvest seems an impossibility. My birthday comes soon, and I will be older.

I may begin to rot if I wait much longer. Let’s pick all the fruits of our labors, retreat with them down below ground, into the dark, into ourselves, exploring spirits, dreams, stories—and the silence of the cold.

Soon enough there will be laughter and warmth around tables. Fire will burst forth in homes, and we’ll curl up like grubs, in our own underground. It’s inevitable, and I’m not one to resist the call of the wild, the rewards of each season, the cycle of friendship, family, and life.

Stachys albomentosa ‘Hidalgo’ at Secret Garden Growers. We’re working on making a few more.

The sun rises at 6:30am and sets before 8pm. I feel the clipped days right now. My eyes strain to see as I drive again in the dark. Sweater shopping is underway. There is a sense of urgency. The air smells different each day.

Figs from a clone of the tree members of my Sicilian family brought to the United States over 100 years ago. I know the current owner of one our family homes in SE Portland and was able to take cuttings of it a few years ago.

We’re entering the days of umbra and penumbra. Shadows lengthen and I feel a craving for books and words.

As a girl I read constantly, daily, unceasingly. Nowadays, I’m often too busy, but my life is changing, and I am too.

My priorities are shifting back as I continue to receive treatment for my blood condition. My mind is unwinding and I feel the water rocking me gently as I write again. There is a stillness and a calm as I meditate with ease.

My heart is beating slower, stronger.

Nerine filifolia at work out in Canby. Time to divide the stock plants.

I take deep and looooooooong breaths. Breathe. And for me, I mean it.

While still sensitive to smoke and wildfires, my chest is yet open, and my mind is a treasure chest of memories and feelings.

As I move in the greenhouses and garden, I remember things, movements reveal strings to memories. I’m feeling feelings left unfelt.

Seemania (aka Gloxinia) ‘Little Red’ out in Canby this week. I love this John Boggan hybrid.

I experience them all—then cut the cord, and let the memories drift away.

Like saying goodbye to an old friend, sometimes I hold them close for too long, kissing them hard, and I straighten out to see myself holding a plant I once loved, but it’s faded and gone.

The fading bloom from a Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Esther Reed’ at Secret Garden Growers. We will have more available soon.

In spring, we emerge, reborn, and fresh again.

Our feet will emerge again, soft and pink.

It Only Took 30 Years…

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This blog has been criticized in the past for being too personal, and to be honest, it was started because I couldn’t work, was too disabled to work, and I longed to be working outside, to be free, and to be healthy. My feelings and personal life were bound to leak in. And yet, somehow, creating this blog has led to many opportunities over the years.

Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ in the garden at Secret Garden Growers. This plant was selected from seed by my other employer and mentor Sean Hogan. It is so great to work in a community that appreciates the skills and accomplishments of one another.

I wanted to live with dignity. I had spent a long time working hard to receive an education, to find flexible employment, and to be creative. It’s been a slog keeping it all together. There is A LOT of ugly that I’ve had to pass through. Through it all, I’ve become stronger and wiser.

Felix was a bit chilled this last weekend when it was cooler. He enjoyed having the frost cloth made available to him.

Several weeks ago my life changed in a big way. I didn’t immediately announce anything here, and it will take nearly 6 more months until we see the full changes, but I’m happy, and my body is changing.

Finally, I’ve been given the right pill to help that which ails me. It’s a new medication. “ORLADEYO® (berotralstat) is a plasma kallikrein inhibitor indicated for prophylaxis to prevent attacks of hereditary angioedema (HAE).”

So far, it’s helping me. 

Streptocarpus UA Tiramisu.

It is difficult to not be angry about losing so many opportunities, and to have faced challenges I failed at, and to not like what illness has done to me physically, but I ran out of anger 11 years ago.

Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ look great when planted in a large open bed with tons of sun.

My immunologist let me know that she’d be resubmitting a request for me to receive the new pill for my condition. It’s a very expensive treatment, and up until now, I was never ill enough for anything other than anabolic steroids and other meds that have acted like bandages.

I didn’t expect that I’d be approved immediately. Over the years, we’ve tried, and always had to resubmit, and I gave up any expectations.

So just to stay calm, I planned my trip ahead of time not knowing what would happen.

I wonder who the crazy lady is who lives here with all of the plants in her window…

I have a blood disorder and it causes me to swell, a lot. It has wrecked havoc on my life since I was 18 but it wasn’t diagnosed until I was nearly 30. No treatments have really helped, but we were able to reach the point where I could work in horticulture more and more. This has not been easy though.

Pelargonium ‘Xochi’ is a stunner.

There are no savings to take a month off, but I’m working like crazy so that I can go on a plant vacation soon. Right now, I’m adjusting to the new medication and I’m walking a lot at night to process how I feel. These last few months I’ve been flooded with emotions. I’ve had a lot of medical appointments leading up to this, all in the hopes that I’d gotten worse so we could prove somehow that I needed help.

We’ve been doing this for years, and it is not a process I’d recommend. This time, though, I got help.

Aristolochia fimbriata in the garden.

Overall though, I feel calm now. Swelling in all of us sets off alarm bells. I’m not dealing with that daily anymore. I’m taking one day at a time. I’m living in the present. I am enjoying a calm and quiet mind.

Yes, one of those Monstera deliciosa ‘Albo Variegata’ plants. I’m selling a few of these that I never got around to unloading after my LAST trip to California last fall. This is the most lovely one.

Each day now I’m just kind of letting things flow and I’m not pushing hard. I’m focussing on eating a large dinner so that the new pill won’t make me ill, and I’m sleeping a lot more. I am soooo tired.

I have fought so hard, and it has been a very lonely and isolating experience.

xGlokohleria rosea given to me by my friend Derek.

There is time up ahead to spent with my dad, I’m getting the garden under control before I leave, and I’m making plans with friends. I love and adore those who’ve been by my side for so long. They’ve helped me so much, and so often.

Seemania ‘Little Red’ aka Gloxinia ‘Little Red’.

At work I’m paying attention to the plants, but I’m also trying to notice if there are any changes I’m experiencing that I should tell my medical team about. No one is certain how this will change my other conditions. I’m hoping my lungs are better, and that some of the circulatory issues improve, but we need to wait and see.

In the meantime, I’m trying to buy more clothing and take care of me. I don’t know what I will do next.

“You shall not pass!!” Felix blocking Alfie from crawling up into his personal private area in the Seed Studio.

Spending time with the cats at home is kind of what I focus on now. I’m working so hard so I can travel and live my life, but I miss the cats a lot when I am not here.

This last weekend Felix, Alfie and I started to sort out the Seed Studio a bit for an HPSO Open Garden this next weekend. (It is Saturday and Sunday from 10-3 if you’re local.) I’m not at all ready for it, but I will do it anyway.

I seriously cannot believe that I’m at this point in my life.

I have cried so many times about not getting the medical help that I needed, and now, here I am, at 48, finally getting some help. They made the process for approval very easy and I was told that they were aware stress could cause problems for my health, and that they wanted to alleviate that.

Seems like something I would have loved to have heard for decades.

Me on a good day. Not all days right now feel this good. But this day, it was nice.

It only took 30 years, but here I am, unsure of what I’ll want to do next, but at least I have finally been given the medical opportunity I’ve waited so long for…

Monthly Top 10 Plants at Campiello Maurizio (August 2022)

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Ok, let’s do a plant post! I’m writing posts more often, so I should have started monthly posts like this back in January, but I didn’t, so I will now. It’s not like I don’t have enough plants, I think many just have not looked nice enough but I’m over that. The garden has looked pretty nice all summer other than my piles of unplanted things.

But that’s a whole other post…

Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’. This baby is parked on a little island in my back garden. I purchased it at Xera Plants at least a year or two ago.

1.) Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’

I kind of avoided Acanthus for fear of it eating the back garden, but then I was talked into this golden from since it’s allegedly not as vigorous. Well, so far, it’s been very well behaved and that flower stalk has lasted for months. It just won’t stop and it makes for a lovely display. I’m even ok with it spreading a bit more. There is only a small walkway behind it and I am tired of the weedy low Dicentra cultivar that’s been there. I blooms, looks great, and then it’s ratty and fried for the rest of the summer.

Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’. I planted this plant last year and it’s not yet fully established in the north walkway border.

2.) Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’

When I first started working at Secret Garden Growers I divided some of these plants. What settled into the pots was quickly sold, and there were no more left for me to purchase. When I divided some more, that second time I made sure to grab one for myself. While this doesn’t look like much, blame the gardener in this case, and not the plant. I kind of let this one get gobbled up by some weeds all of last summer so it’s only now really coming into its own. I was thrilled to see this white tip emerge just recently. (And yes, I will apply some Sluggo soon.

Columnea schiedeana. This is one of my gesneriads that’s really been putting on a show this summer. It hangs above my hammock in the living willow arbor.

3.) Columnea schiedeana

Gesneriads can take years to grow out from small starts. As they grow, you need to take addition cuttings to add to their containers just to bulk them up a bit. Little by little this work will pay off for you, but it requires a great deal of patience and skill. At any point, it’s not unusual for one of these to croak on you. In this climate, keeping them happy enough for this long takes some finesse so seeing this plant in full bloom right now makes all of the fussing worth it. I think this one came from a member of our Gesneriad Society chapter, Mt Hood Gesneriad Society.

Darlingtonia californica with other hardy carnivorous plants. These plants are in a plant bog planter on the south side of my house.

4.) Darlingtonia californica

While this little patch of Darlingtonia doesn’t look like a lot, they are the newest babies that have grown off of my older little colony. I started with one purchased colony from Sarracenia Northwest and then as second group came along when I was able to grow some from seed. Of all of the hardy carnivorous plants, these are my favorite.

It breaks my heart though to have seen poaching of them in Southern Oregon in the wild this last year. It’s one of my favorite native plants and I hope that you can see why. Please, if you want one, purchase them only from growers who are growing crops in cultivation. It’s my hope that eventually, I’ll be able to sell a few, but with this being of low priority, don’t expect those to be available from me anytime soon.

Lobelia tupa-orange. This is one that I was waiting for after having seen in in the garden at Heronswood. It can be purchased from Dan Hinkley’s Windcliff if you’re able to get to that location. They don’t do mail order.

5.) Lobelia tupa – orange

Well, this should look more orange I think. I haven’t had the time to compare it to the photos I have from Heronswood, but I will be patient with it. While it is not as red as the straight species, I don’t think that this division (what I can only assume it is) is as orange as the ones I saw when I fell in love with it there. This plant needs room and sunshine. I’ve sort of allotted it a nice spot in the garden. Even if the color is mediocre, I am sure that I will forgive the meh factor. This is a great species plant no matter what and I might just accept it. I have waited so long to have it here, it is a relief to see it in bloom.

Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Cistus Silvers’. Still in a container, this plant will get it’s own special location soon.

6.) Mahonia eurybrachteata ‘Cistus Silvers’

Well, here we finally have a lovely plant from Cistus Nursery that was grown by me. Seeds are sown at work by me (after I clean the berries) and only the best seedlings are selected out from the nursery crops. Our parent plants are planted in the garden. Sean is of course in charge of making all of the best selections but it’s a process I’ve most certainly learned from over the years.

This last year I’ve been better about planting my “babies” out in my own garden, and this was a plant I just knew I had to have at home.

Nicotiana sylvestris. I call this Nicotiana sylvestris ‘Badunkadunk’ but that is not its technical name. It is basically a reseeding annual.

7.) Nicotiana sylvestris

Not sure where the original seeds came from for this plant, but it’s been in my garden for years now. I just let it pour out seeds each year and it is enough for me to pick a few to keep once they germinate in the spring. Nicotiana always makes me think of Grandma Virginia. I keep talking about her own reseeding patch of the jasmine tobacco (Nicotiana alata), but I’ve not yet been able to establish a patch of it. But this, well, it has its spot on the south side of the house.

It’s part of the white theme I have to give off a bit of the whitecaps allusion. It’s the only theme I sort of keep in the garden. This area is part of the Venetian area so of course I need to have a theme to tie all of the garden areas together here. (The back garden is about my childhood and being in my raft beneath the native willows over the creek.)

Phygelius ‘Snow Queen’.

8.) Phygelius Croftway™ Snow Queen PP18366 or Phygelius ‘Crosnoque’

Whatever the name (see above), this Phygelius is a beauty. It’s also planted in the south side garden along with the Nicotiana sylvesteris. It’s my whitecap plant that blooms almost all summer long, and the gondola (hammock) is behind it.

This plant is very low maintenance. I need to water it and chop it back to keep it fresh, but that’s how some perennials need to be treated and that’s it. Freshening up with a nice chop is also how we make so many plants in containers look good. Not all plants need a nice chop at all, but it is a thing and I tent to enjoy it more now than ever.

It’s just that cherry on top of it all I guess when the plants grow back nicely filled in with fresh foliage.

Pittosporum divaricatum. This shrub is in my front garden, the most xeric portion of the property.

9.) Pittosporum divaricatum

Many years ago I had my first Open Garden with The Hardy Plant Society of Oregon. I had not been working at Cistus Nursery for very long, and I had not been strong for long after two rather invasive surgeries, so friends stepped in to help me. Sean and my former coworker John from Cistus suggested this Pittosporum divaricatum and I’m really glad that they did. It’s a beauty.

With so many great foliage plants at Cistus, I’m sad sometimes that I’ve not planted more of the unusual ones that we have to offer. I keep trying to add more of them, but if only I’d planted them all back when I started all of this I’d be so much happier now with how things look.

If you’re just starting out and want a great garden, and not just a good one, make sure to add some absolutely stunning foliage plants. These will be the bones of your garden throughout the year and you can use clippings from them in arrangements too. I love that I can make wreaths from mine.

The fun (and the hard work) never ends!

Punica granatum ‘Nana’. This older large shrub of mine greats folks near the sidewalk. I look forward to its cheerful color each summer.

10.) Punica granatum ‘Nana’

Back in the first days here at this house I ordered seeds for this small shrub. I know now that they are not supposed to be great from seed, and that most are propagated from cuttings, but this one worked out from seed for me. It was great for many years, and then I kind of neglected the front garden, then it was great again, then I neglected it again, but now it is back and it looks great this year. It’s a low water plant but it does better with some regular irrigation. Sadly, this is not the climate for growing pomegranate fruit, so I am not disappointed that I cannot eat lots of its fruit, but this is the climate for growing beautiful ornamental pomegranates so I suggest that you try one if you like them as much as I do. If I had more space, I would plant a larger one. There are several great ornamental cultivars.

How to Do “Cozy” in the Garden

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In my last post I showed where the willow tunnel once was that was my safe and happy place as a kid. Well, it’s funny that I essentially recreated that space and feeling in my own back garden. This only came to my attention when a woman came to an Open Garden a few months ago. It was not the original concept, but it has morphed into it as I’ve needed that space in my life again during the last 10 years.

I was kind of stunned when she walked in and understood me immediately. “You design cozy. You made this space cozy. How do you do that with plants?”

I stood there stunned.

For months I’ve wanted to include a photo of the creek just so I could write here that I’m more of a storyteller than a garden designer, and I AM a dreamer too. This is why I don’t design for other people—not unless they have a story to tell.

I can help anyone with dramatizing a feeling or a memory with plants, but I can’t do matchy-matchy.

I designed most of my garden around feelings, and safe spaces from my childhood. It’s likely why I feel so awkward when adults are here, but coming to realize this, it’s all kind of fun now.

Yes, I do design cozy! I’m going to stick to it too.

Then there are all of the plants. The number of unusual plants is an improvement upon my childhood. I now have my library of seedlings, a revolving collection, and a jungle full of sounds and creatures. Sometimes it feels like the stories of the plants are all alive around me, and yes, of course my plants all have stories of their own.

I tried to keep some of my favorites nearby this summer, but it’s never just the right way. I’m always moving things around.

I’m still happiest with a cat in the “boat” with me—just like when I was a girl. Like Maurice before him, Felix is fond of the hammock. He jumps up to snuggle with me.

My books now are mostly on my phone since I listen to them.

Yes, this is cozy in the garden.

I just about lost my mind when I saw the community garden plot this week. My husband wanted to be “in charge” and clearly, uh, someone had to come and discuss what to do next. We’re now growing summer/fall crops. I’m in charge again and he has promised to listen this time.

We will see how that goes.

It is funny how much better I felt after John cleared out this mess. I felt lighter.

Maybe even a bit more confident, and yes, kind of happy.

It almost felt like I knew what to do and got it done quickly.

I came home and cozied up outside.

The last supermoon of 2022 was tonight and I went for a long walk. I’ve been doing that a lot for the last month. It’s been a good thing. Walking is good for so many reasons.

Just seems like everything is aligning well right now.

I wanted to write about cozy this week and looked up the origins of the world last weekend on my phone before falling asleep.

And maybe a superstar has a hit on her hands, and it’s called Cozy too. (That showed up on the top of my search.) Synchronicity.

Again, the stars seem so be aligning.

And yes, I design “garden cozy”—with plants, and I’m a storyteller.

The Garden Gayle Grew

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Some time ago we visited this garden. It’s the only family home I’ve ever known other than the fishing “villa” at the coast. Mom and Dad built both homes, and Mom designed them both. I grew up here.

Yes, it was a charmed childhood.

This addition was added when I was a bit older. I envy the large covered porch area a lot.

In the case of this house, she also physically helped to build it. My mom is not shy with power tools and hammers. I was a toddler when she was working on finishing touches, but throughout my childhood, this was the 4th child. There was always something going on and there were many shenanigans with my two older brothers.

There were additions too, and various projects. It never seemed to end between the house and the garden—and us kids. There was always something going on.

I used to run around here with my cat Cleo in a baby carriage. She was the best cat. I know so few who’d tolerate that kind of thing.

To me this was my playground, my reading room, and my badminton court. We had parties here, we played so many games, slept outdoors, and played in the creek.

Dad was often away on business trips, fishing all over the region, in Alaska, BC, and for many years he visited Chile on a regular basis. So many authors stayed here too, or just visited. It was a busy and buzzing place. (Dad was a publisher.)

Unknown rose, she needs to look for a tag.

There are so many memories in a garden that’s decades old, and so many stories. People often ask if I learned to garden here, and to be honest, I really didn’t.

Mom did her own thing.

I was the child asking the never-ending why and how questions. This had me being sent off elsewhere. I usually ended up with my paternal grandmother and her neighbor. Asking them my strange questions worked well, and they showed me things that I needed to learn.

Mom pointing and asking me for the name of a plant.

But Gayle was entertaining. She kept me busy dragging me to nurseries. With no computers back then, I could spend a lot of time reading plant labels and learning about plants. We were rich with great plant shopping opportunities then, but it wasn’t as great as it is now.

Looking back I was bit of a sickly kid. I know now why. I often hid indoors and read a lot. My grades and getting into a great college mattered a lot to me. I would have loved to have had a little corner to myself, but when I gardened I kept potted plants, and they were in my treehouse.

There were houseplants too, but I often killed them.

Mom is 80 now and keeps up the garden mostly on her own. She’s a very strong and determined woman.

The spot where my treehouse once stood.

Long ago this was where my treehouse stood. Built for my brothers, I was the last occupant. Than one morning when I was 20 I woke up late and Mom was down in the garden with a chainsaw, cutting it all down. Today, there is this lovely sitting area there.

I think it was a nice change.

Where we played with our toy dump trucks and Hot Wheels.

This is the rockery. It is full of shade and always kind of was but in the 1970s Mom knew that a rockery was popular, so we had one.

This is where all of my questions began, and where I planted the space with plants in my mind when I was young.

I can’t remember when she decided to add on to the kitchen. That was a later addition but it makes looking out at the creek wonderful year round.

Mom always gardened with plants in mind that would not grow in the conditions she had and that’s the sad truth. But it kept her busy, and she regularly moved things around, or else replaced them.

Busy, busy, busy.

My badminton court.

She did well with what she had, but I always had other ideas. I mostly kept those to myself though and I dreamed of the day someday in the future when I would own my own home, and I could be free to do what I wanted—whatever that was…

I had a lot of dreams. Mom would have told you that I was a dreamer.

Where the native willow tunnel once grew.

When I was a kid, that area across the creek had large native willows, and they draped over the water. They created a kind of a tunnel, and I tied up my raft in there, with my books, and a radio. (Sometimes, I even had a cat with me.)

I would hide in there from my life and I would dream while the willows wrapped around me. It was my cozy safe place.

My childhood refuge. Couldn’t escape out of that window!

The other quiet place was my room. That dormer up there on the second floor was mine. It had a lovely view of the huge Doug fir, and I loved to watch it sway but was afraid of it during windstorms.

My other window looked out towards this camellia but when I was a girl, there was a native dogwood, a Cornus nuttalii. It was lost in an ice storm and I cried and cried. It broke my little heart since it (to my mind) was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

A shady sitting area in the front of the house.

Amongst the garden plants in Mom’s garden are a few oddballs. This Vitis coignetiae is one of them. Over the years though, she’s mostly simplified things. If a plant is too fussy, or doesn’t meet her performance standard, then out it goes.

She keeps nurseries in business.

For the love of foliage…

This vine though was one of the handful of plants she bought at Cistus Nursery long before I worked there. It was back when I first started to shop there.

She has it and a few other unusual vines that I still need to ID.


This was the lab where I grew, and I was safe in Mom’s space because she was vigilant.

I think that many mothers would love to be able to afford this kind of space and life for their children.

I can only say how grateful I am for it. If I’d had children, I would have wanted this for them too.

Wet A** Plants: To Be Plant Positive!

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I’m in a consensual relationship with my hoses. I suppose the hoses at both of my jobs consent too, but OMG, the disagreements we have and the neediness of the plants. It’s like they will DIE if I don’t do something for them. Talk about learned helplessness. I HATE being an enabler, but it’s my life. I’ve slowly been growing a career (of sorts) by keeping the little babes alive and well. But they’re thirsty—so thirsty trapped in their little containers. It’s key to keep them happy though, to live another day, and to keep them ALL looking perfect-o!

Sure, it’s an artificial system to grow plants in containers. It’s just as artificial as any other relationship we humans have with virtually anything else other than other humans, but hey, these are crops we’re talking about, inventory, so that makes this business!!!

This is the game I play during the summertime and sometimes I feel like I’m hanging on mentally by a thread. But I’m a team player and THIS, this is my sport, and it’s an endurance sport.

Only a few more days of extra heat around here. This honestly isn’t too bad, but the duration has been for a week.

As much as I love plants, and as meaningful as they are to the life I’ve made with them over the last few decades now, sometimes I feel like I want a divorce.

But maybe this is just my dramatic and operatic way of life. Yes, that’s it.

Seems likely since the climax of the year for me is just about now, and then we swing back down into the cool comfort of fall.

Before watering, after watering.

Something I learned during the heat dome experience of 2021 was the power of simply wetting down the floors and walls of greenhouses. We do this at both nurseries in the greenhouses when we have extreme heat and it makes a difference. How often it’s done depends upon the temps.

You might think that we water the plants all day but at such high temps you can actually steam the roots. That’s a great way to kill plants! While it’s good for my asparagus harvest, it’s not so great for my ornamentals. Nom nom.

It seems like keeping them happy is a bit of an exact science tweaked by each nursery owner to fit the conditions of where plants are in their nurseries. I love the like microclimates created by benches, under benches, on a rack, under a rack, in this corner, or that one—it all depends upon where the sun is and at what time of day. Game on growers!

And this my friends is horticulture!

Me, yesterday, after standing under the overhead sprinklers. I dislike this experience most months but this time of the year I feel like a kid again and the water dump scene from the movie Flashdance seems fresh and new all over again.

As for tolerating high temps, I have a lot of environmental and food allergies, but my pale skin rather loves the feel of sun. As I age, the cold weather seems to cause a lot more pain than the heat. I guess I truly understand the snowbird phenomenon now. I physically understand it well.

Skin issues are kind of a thing in my family—especially for Dad and I.

But thank goodness I don’t have the rare allergy my great-uncle Fritz did. He was allergic to his own sweat and it was a challenge for him to work in produce with his family.

But I also like to say, “My pale skin betrays me. I’m Sicilian when it comes to my heat tolerance.”

So at least I have that.

My Rhododendron sinogrande is my biggest water baby back at home when it gets too hot.

My home garden was created with intentional watering zones. The areas where I spend the most time are watered the most. Out in front of the house is the driest zone. Each area differs quite a bit.

Sure, I expect folks to mention that they’d think I’d have irrigation, but it would be so complicated when I tend to use my chainsaw to edit (and add light) and change so much. In addition to my rearranging everything often, I’m one of those people who would break her own irrigation system too. I’m careless that way. I’m so goal driven sometimes I overlook the obvious dumb things.

Oops I dug in the wrong spot!

Maybe if my garden were larger I’d think about installing one, but it’s not. Maybe someday. I’d actually like to have that challenge. It tickles my virgo brain to organize things so it would be right up my alley.

Felix and Alfie. While Felix trusts that the sprinkler will not change direction to dump water on him, Alfie is still not so trusting.

So currently I have the indoor plants, the light garden plants, the propagated indoor plants for sales, the outdoor plants, the seedlings, the seeds to collect, the regular planted garden areas, the expected as-of-yet unplanted plants—and some plants at work!!!!

Columnea schiedeana in the garden tonight.

“Yeah, sure I’d love to hang out with you but I have to stay home and get some plant work done.”

“No, I can’t. I have to water.”

Oh! How unhealthy these relationships are and yet we enter into them anyway…

Some thigh and a mess of plants with a Begonia ‘Gryphon’ shining bright. Ok, maybe not as bright as my thigh but I’d like to think that you see the plant first lol.

Sure, I complain a lot now—after two separate weeks of vacation—and I’ll be leaving for another 2 1/2 weeks in the fall, but I’m ok. This is all consensual. I can say NO and leave at any time.

Yeah, I know, that’s not gonna happen.

See you next week!

A Few Days Away from Nursery Work and the Garden: Camping with Dad in Eastern Oregon

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Last week I was away with Dad in Eastern Oregon. Most of our days were spent alone in a rustic campground along the South Fork of the John Day River. It’s been years since I’d done this and it was a much needed break.

Dad and I going out into the middle of nowhere together is kind of hilarious. Neither of us is very healthy, and yet combined, we did great. Day after day we had a few laughs about the whole thing. At any minute he could have a fatal heart issue, and me, well, my swelling can become so severe my throat could close. And yet, neither of us was anxious about these things at all since we’d both planned so well. Besides, going out there always reminds us of our pioneer roots.

We didn’t do much during that whole week. Dad has a routine so we stuck to that as much as we could. We sort of tried to fly fish, but Dad is much weaker now after an infection he had after a stay in the hospital a few years ago. This meant that we mostly just ate, read, drove around, walked a bit, talked and slept.

With my current state of exhaustion I was pretty focussed on rest and figuring out how to manage my upcoming work and personal goals. I spent a lot of time just meditating on things. I rested on a cot and dozed off daily. I watched the clouds. I closed my eyes to listen to the wind, and I wandered all over looking at plants to get the blood and brain flowing again.

We really had no plans before we left other than to get me over to the Cedar Grove Botanical Area in the Malheur National Forest. It’s a unique grove of Alaskan yellow cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis formerly Cupressus nootkatensis) that really shouldn’t be there. It’s a unique island of trees left over from a period long ago. While I am just briefly describing it, I hope to return to see it again with friends. Then I can write more about it. (Defiantly go though if you’re curious! It’s worth the adventure!)

On the way back up to the car I found this Cypripedium montanum. It’s been a summer of native orchids I guess since we saw so many of them a few weeks ago on Mt Hood too. This was a pleasure to find as I climbed back up to the car from the grove down below.

The hike was not exactly easy for me. I left Dad in the car and was worried about him so I rushed. When I returned, panting, of course he was happily resting watching a field of butterflies.

Back at the campground we both agreed over and over that we’d not seen a stream so untouched by pollution and people in a long time. The plants at the edges were diverse. It was a bit like an ideal stream from long ago.

The area where we were is named after a man who was once Director of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. When Dad was young, he knew the name from published fish reports, and later, as a young business man, he got to know him better. One of the many stories from Dad’s life that I’d never heard anything about until then. Did I mention Dad talked a lot? Lol. It was wonderful to learn so much more about a man I already feel so close to.

It was touching to both of us to know we were staying in a location named after someone he’d admired. The area is part of a statewide program of conservation. This cheered Dad up a bit. To see our fisheries being cared for so far away from the more densely populated parts of the state gave us both some hope. I do love Oregon.

Yes, I was happy there. I was happy not having a shower. I was happy writing. It was nice to read. Better yet, I loved to have some time with Dad to discuss our lives and how we feel about where we are in life.

Both of us have had our struggles. It means a lot to me to have him in my life, and I’m grateful for the friendship we’ve had since I was little.

Wish I’d brought some ID’ing books with me, but nah. I could do this in the heat all day. (It was very hot during our days there.) It was nice to be unplugged.

I had the tent, and Dad had the lovely nice mattress in the Jeep, but the open sky, we shared.

As someone who hasn’t camped in many years, waking up at 3am to the moonrise each night made me happy. There is something very romantic about the night sky and I’d forgotten this and just how much it means to me to see the sky and to fall asleep wishing upon shooting stars.

Gesneriad Society Convention, 2022 (Tacoma, WA)

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For me the event began on the 4th of July. As usual, I was behind schedule, so I planted plants and watered the garden all morning and into the afternoon. I then loaded up the Jeep to head north and was excited to have a “working vacation” for the rest of the week!! Woohoo!!

Felix and Oliver helping me to plant more plants and weed before I left.

It’s not the kind of working vacation where I’m paid to go though. For me at least, this is more a continuing education as a horticulturist and it was important for me to learn as much as I could since I’m a chapter president too. I needed some guidance! I mean, I always do, right? The work really involved getting all of those plants to the sale while they still looked great. We wanted our goods to go to market and we wanted people to WANT them. I mean that’s what this is all about. WANT!!

Just a few of the 12 flats of plants I brought up for the sale from our Mt Hood chapter.

We also earned some money by being a local chapter that grew a lot of plants for the sale. We weren’t sure if they’d sell, but we took the call to propagate seriously and I wanted any funds back that I could earn to pay for the whole thing. (Yes, going to a convention is NOT cheap but you can do it if you plan wisely and share travel and hotel costs with a friend or two.)

To improve as a grower, and just out of curiosity, I decided to sign up for judging school. In all honestly, I’m thrilled that I did! While I’ve grown and cleaned many crops of plants at both nurseries, I’ve not yet grown to “show” and it’s a thing.

Lots of houseplant folks do this so that they can impress others online, but I think it means a lot more to have the guts to show in public. I enjoy competition, but I like for it to be fair, and I don’t think that social media or the internet is fair at all. A flower show, well, it can be if you know what you’re doing. Anybody can do it.

Culturally, it’s not something we seem to enjoy as much out here on the west coast, but I wish we could get more into it. I ended up just seeing the whole things as one of my favorite philosophical exercises.v”What is the Platonic ideal form of this plant?” It was not nearly as bad as I had expected it would be, and in truth, I had a lot of fun. By questions the plants, there was a lot of discussion about how plants grow, and that just tickled this horticulturist’s little soil-encrusted heart.

Good thing I met folks from the other chapters too so maybe I can join a show in Seattle or San Francisco sometime. That is the rough part about being accepted as a student judge. I have to participate to do and learn more.

Our example from a practice judging. We were given random sale plants to score and I learned a lot with the help of a more advanced judge going over the process with me.

Learning to follow the sheets for the different categories was an important practice run too. I’m so glad we did this and went over our sheets with the entire judging group so as to discuss different points. Being in person doing so was a huge help.

After that second session I took a test later in the day but I still don’t if I passed. I hope so! Even so, if I did, I will only be a student judge and I will have that status for a few years. (I plan to take the same class in Atlanta at the end of September at the Begonia Society convention too. Seems only fitting to compare how the two different groups do it.)

Back in the room I saw that there were two plants from another member of our group that I wanted to keep to buy. The one on the left is a Gloxinia perennis and the one on the left is a Kohleria hybrid developed by Derek Johnson now name Kohleria ‘Hummingbird Feather’. (More on them below.)

I kept taking flat after flat down to the plant sale room since that’s the big draw at the end of the week for participants as well as the public a day later. It was a relief once that was all wrapped up.

The next day I took a break in the afternoon to relax a bit and calm down. I went for a walk to see the W. W. Seymour Conservatory in Wright Park. It had been closed for renovations the last few times I’d been in the area so it was a lot of fun to see it open again. I even bought myself some jewelry to support their program. I just couldn’t stand the thought of buying a plant at that point. I really don’t need any more.

The handiwork of a new friend from the Puget Sound chapter. He sat in on talks during the event whipping little crafty things up with ease. I could never do this with my hands. I admire those who can.

Part of the convention is also networking and sharing stories about what you grow, where you grow, and who you are and what floats your boat. This part if fun for me. I love people if they’re nice, so I met lots of folks! (Turns out lots of plant geeks are super nice.)

Some of them I’ve only seen online, and I made several new friends from the Puget Sound chapter so I’m excited that we can join forces soon. I don’t know what that will look like, but I like the idea of us sharing resources and maybe having a combined show and/or sale.

On Thursday my friend Evan joined me and before we knew it we were plant show participants. A friend had seen the plants I’d kept in my room and he said they were “show quality” plants. Well, honestly, that was good to know. I had no idea.

Then another friend said that they’d like more entries, so I mentioned I might have some.

Well, it turns out, that was a great idea! Evan and I learned the process of cleaning and trimming the plants to make them look perfect, and Derek, the actual grower and hybridizer of one of the plants, was given some much deserved credit for his skills.

We had to wait though to find out. Judging occurs the day after the plants are entered, and the awards are not announced right away.

The sale came next on Thursday but it was late at night. This photo only shows half of the room! Of the many flats I brought up to the convention, I came home with only 1/2 a flat left. I was thrilled we did so well.

I was also thrilled to have spent so much money buying a lot more plants to divide and sell and also to share with our chapter. I really hope that we can begin to have a regular plant sale somewhere in town. It would be so nice to have a set regular schedule and routine for the group again. These last few years have been rough but Zoom has been good for the group nationally.

On Friday Evan and I went to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium to see the gardens but I will post about it separately. That day was quite a lot of fun, but a bit off topic for the conference.

Another benefit was having a McMenamins up the street from the hotel. While I loved where we stayed, my mast cell activation disease and asthma did not like the fragrance that they poured into the lobby. This meant that I could not socialize in the bar and going into the lobby meant running through it as quickly as possible.

I also cannot buy hotel food made in a banquet facility. My black pepper allergy makes that a serious crap shoot so I brought a lot of my own food with me and I supplemented it up the street at the pub. (I also had Japanese food a few times to round out my diet.)

On our second trip to McMenamins we knew we’d won something, and we tried to eat and run, but we returned to the awards banquet a bit late. In the end, it didn’t matter. No matter what, the three of us had won 2 blue ribbons for the plants.

Having known Derek for several years now, it means a lot to me to be a mentor and a student of his. I know talent, and I also know that many of us need to lift others up in horticulture when we see talent occurring. It happened to me, it still happens to me, and it’s what I need to do when I see it near me as well. Derek works with me, Evan used to work at Cistus Nursery, so in a weird way this was also a Team Cistus win. Heck, even Evan helps me all the time with ID work and others topics that we talk through. I am so happy that others there helped us to help Derek. The whole thing was just so amazing and it could not have happened any other way.

Then we stayed late and kept buying plants until the plant sale ended. We helped to clean it up. We met more people. We talked to more friends. Then we went our separate ways and drove home…

Of course I’m skipping a lot. I came home feeling revived, rejuvenated, and like I have a better understanding of what my role should be as a chapter president. I feel better supported too. Networking helped me to better know the folks I need to reach out to when I have questions. I kind of came out of nowhere when I stepped up to lead our chapter, and as of right now, no one else wants the job so I will keep at it until another volunteer wants to swap with me. Boy, I bet I am really selling you on membership right now.

Felix was happy to have his woman home.

So in closing, I still very much believe in plant societies that meet in person and which are the good old-fashioned ones. Why? Well, they really do have conservation and educational interests. There are people involved from many fields, and it’s a group effort, not just a pseudo celebrity influencer that I’m sitting and listening to as their captive audience, a number, a follower, just another passive number.

While there were not many horticulturists, there were more of us than I’d thought there would be, and we had a few professors. Most were hobbyists, but it was a community that felt a lot more like it had some purpose and direction with people coming from different parts of the country.

It was a ton of fun, and yes, if you’re wondering, you’ll likely find me there next year in Virginia.

For the Love of Seeds

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Sometimes I miss the early days of this blog and my life here at home playing with my own plants. With my bed nearby in the house I could crawl in and sleep, and my cats were always by my side. Back then I had little to no income, and my parents provided the monthly payments for the roof over our heads after my first husband and I married.

I wasn’t well and I was a mess.

Seseli gummiferum, or moon carrot, in the island rock garden at Cistus Nursery last week. I grew this plant from seed and we collect from it for crops of it.

I came into all of this with some serious privilege, but I was humiliated by it to the core of my being. I wanted nothing more than to be on my own and to be as strong as I could possibly be, and it is funny now to look back at how I got to feeling like this today. I’m proud of the journey and grateful for those I’ve met who’ve helped me.

But today, after 5 years, I’ve finally been released from physical therapy, and for me, this is a huge milestone. I will always deal with chronic ongoing pain from injuries sustained during two falls down stairs, but in a sense, this is yet another new beginning. I feel tonight like I get to try again at a few things.

Harvesting the Stipa barbata at Cistus Nursery this week.

But it is a struggle to earn a living doing what I do in the way that I do it. I have to do it this way because I’m still kind of handicapped although I don’t say that often. Nowadays my heart is filled with so much happiness and pleasure from being able to live as I need to live that I feel badly when I talk to friends and they’re feeling low.

My life though is always growing, changing, blooming, drying, being harvested, and germinated all over again. It keeps morphing into different things. I too am growing, changing, blooming, aging, and one day I will be gone like many of the thousands of plants that I’ve germinated.

Like my cats, I guess I needed routine.

My life revolves around seeds.

That’s pretty much the way it has been, is, and will be.

Digitalis lanata in the garden this week. The blooms are fading and I’ll have seeds soon.

Last year I closed my online seed shop on a popular site. It hurt to do so, but the company had advertised my goods on a third party site and I was flooded with people who didn’t understand that many of my seeds were not easy to grow. I couldn’t weed out the difficult customers, they wasted my time by repeatedly telling me they wanted all of their money back after telling me again and again that they had not followed the directions.

Next time around my shop policies will be stronger and clearly stated.

NOT MY PROBLEM. No Returns. Read the descriptions AND the directions next time.

Ferns grown from spores. I won’t be selling spores, but I encourage you to attempt this if you’ve extremely patient.

It was a time suck, and I’m not good at customer service when customers are NOT understanding that I’m a woman working hard, under unusual circumstances, to do what I do. I work more than full-time between the nurseries, seed sales, plants sales, and garden coaching/design work.

At the time that I closed the old shop, I knew I’d open a shop again, but it would be my own site. While I have not yet reached that goal, it will happen this fall. Once again, I will be selling seeds. They will be in small batches, but they will be fresh, harvested here at home, or they’ll be from gardens I know, or from friends’ gardens.

I really miss being a seed seller.

A chance seedling at work. When I first began at Cistus Nursery I tried to grow all of the seeds I found just so that I could learn. I collected batches of random Abutilon seeds just to see if there’d be a hybrid of some kind. Well, it turns out, this has been the only one. I asked to name her Abutilon ‘Victorian Vamp’. We should have many more of these ready to sell next spring.

Observing, collecting, and cleaning, can be a lot of fun if you’re like me. It can also be tedious if you’re not like me. Potting up my babies, after seed batches have germinated and been grown on for a bit, is empowering. It’s a skill that comes to us from the center of our being.

Sure, I don’t grow lots of food from seed, but my skills come to me from my relatives who worked on their own farms, or whom toiled on leased land. I spend my days feeling connected to their lives, and to the rhythm of my own.

Aristolochia sempervirens on the fence and up close while in bloom this week. This plant is one of the first that I grew large batches of at Cistus Nursery.

Moving forward I will continue to learn. I will continue to grow during ensuing seasons. Sometimes crops will fail, but it is life, and that is to be expected.

And while I don’t hybridize plants often, I’m learning from friends who do, and I intend to work harder at that since it’s not so difficult for me. I just need to try more often. And I intend to work harder to pollinate and collect seeds from rare and unusual plants in my own collection in an effort to better understand, share, and conserve them.

Seeds matter.

So let’s start the process all over again and stay on track.

Reap what you sow.

Don’t tell me that a garden is not political: My experience as a woman in horticulture

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Right now I feel a lot like many other citizens in the United States. We’re uncomfortable and horrified. Luckily I live in a state that has attempted to respect my privacy, and I respect the rights of others to do whatever the hell they want within reason, but I’m now a woman, thinking about my own status, and whether or not I have the rights that I feel I do. Being a woman comes up a lot in my work, but now, the woman question looms larger.

Remembering that there is no ERA Amendment I’m disgusted that my equality seemingly doesn’t matter. It disgusts me more that there are still women here who feel that this is ok. But what does my opinion matter, I’m just a woman.

This post is just a few things I’ve held back from the public about ugly issues we have in our field. (At least things I’ve come across.) Feel free to add your own in the comments about things you’ve seen or experienced. There is nothing unique about this stuff, but we should talk about it more in a productive way. (If you feel better messaging me privately, please do so.)

My Top 10

List of Uncomfortable Snapshots from my remote corner

in the world of horticulture!!!

Barriers.

1) “But you’re a girl!!!”

It’s happened more than once that after having introduced myself to well-known plantsmen or nurserymen stating that I’m “Sean Hogan’s seed propagator” their response has been to immediately respond with an exclamation about my gender.

“Well hey there plant genius! You ARE good at ID’ing things.” Though I’ve not yet said this, I will the next time it happens—and it will.

To say that this feels a bit disparaging and belittling is an understatement. There are other women in horticulture and I know it. If you’re a man and this is your reaction, then what are you doing as an ally to help us?

One plantsman who did this to me at an event followed up and apologized, but I let him know that he was not the first man to do this (and he wasn’t the last). He later sat with me, we had a very productive conversation, and he really just had wanted to say that it was great that I ran around “with the boys”. He actually apologized and I really appreciated that and the talk we had.

As someone who has spent her whole life running with the boys, having this conversation with someone so well-known felt odd, but it says a lot about our industry. He really did want to help me and he was happy that Sean had lifted me up.

An erect bloom.

2) The Cult of the Male

No one can deny that the consumer audience for most home gardening is primarily made up of women. Home is the realm of the woman and she likes to nest. This is a stereotype we know well. It’s one that’s been carried forward in new ways with younger generations. My generation was earthy and got into food, now we have pollinators and houseplants, but we have more gardening than ever and the field is getting more diverse in many ways.

Yet, many of the experts are often men—or sexy women. (Though not always! I know a few women online who are brilliant and they don’t have to show their midriffs and diamond tennis bracelets constantly.)

The filthier and funnier a woman is on social media, the more I believe and trust her. Creative content can be just as much fiction as non-fiction and selling lifestyles still irks me SO much.

Yet women want to see themselves out there, and there is plenty of fluff to aspire to and to identify with even though this mimetic process is just part of mimetic desire. Advertisers use this a lot. The masses don’t know what they want. Individuals will imitate others in order to find a sense of what they want. We begin to desire what others desire and we learn to imitate those desires to make meaning in our lives and to belong. These are trends folks. It’s part of the human experience. Keep that in mind the next time you suddenly find yourself following a trend that you keep seeing “around”. #plantparent #aroids

I still think that we’re getting better at this, but then again, I’m not quite sure how I feel about being a woman right now. Media literary really needs to be more of a thing and I think we’re realizing that slowly.

The mucky stuff.

3) “But you look too exotic to be descended from white people from the South.”

If you’ve ever looked at anyone and decided that they’re white after they’ve told you that they identify with another “darker” group (that they’re part of), or if you’ve ever asked someone “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” because they don’t look totally white, then you’ve crossed that line. I’ve spent my whole life being judged by people who apparently know more, or better than I do, about my own identity. Just stop.

Luckily it’s a lot better now in Oregon, but old people said dumb things to me when I was a kid. I’d forgotten about that until I went to the South. When an old man said the quote above to me, it brought back horrible memories of my childhood and how I felt ugly and not quite white enough. No one deserves to feel that way.

And yes, some of these people have worked in the same field as myself.

According to one local professional gardener I supposedly would “get along great” with her neighbors who were privileged white folks who had a second home in Tuscany.

Uhh, Captain Obvious here but, I can barely afford to travel and my culture is not the same as two Americans with no family living there as expats. (Ahhhh privilege. But what the hell do I know!?!) Oh and Sicilians are JUST LIKE Tuscans. Totally.

So long as I have people calling me “exotic” because I’m not quite white, that says we as a nation have some issues with prejudice. Two sides of my family stretch back to BEFORE the American Revolution, and yet, I love my Sicilian heritage because that family is NOT the one that treated us badly for being mixed. Yes, I’m descended from some of the whites from the South who came to Oregon to make this a slave state, and it’s complicated for me. Part of me actually LOVES the American South, but it’s complicated. I love my Italian heritage since it’s what was safe for me to know. I didn’t grow up with a lot of my other family around at all.

And neither I, nor anyone else, need not ever explain that to you.

Like the layers of time, overlapping greenhouse cloth on the floor. One gross layer leaks into the other.

4) Buzzwords like “Colonialism”

Before you go after my friend on Instagram for posting a photo with a palm tree in Portland, check your history. Online activism (and fanaticism) has run rampant and armchair activism is not exactly helpful. I mean seriously people, look at what’s going on while you’ve had your phones glued to your people paws all day long.

While I’m very much a liberal, and I love my native plants and likely know a lot more about them here in Oregon than the average online troll, I also know that not all plants were STOLEN. Believe it or not but there was this thing called the Silk Road, and once there was the Venetian Empire. They TRADED for plants. They did in Ancient Rome too. Not everything which is moved around is based upon Colonialist behavior. Here in the Americas it’s a different story, yes, but when you’re bitching at my friend for posting a Trachycarpus and you’re a millennial who is wasting jet fuel living your bicoastal life between Manhattan and Los Angeles you need to check yourself before you post.

Maybe next time you should read up on Asian-American history in California, Oregon and Washington and find out more about the history of nurseries here. What if these plants were introduced and sold by immigrants? People brought plants (on their own) from Asia too. My family brought a fig tree cutting with them from Sicily so that they could have food to eat and sell. Many immigrants brought plants here as a way to try and survive. It’s cute how angry and self-righteous you can be when you’re trying to harass and “call out” someone with a lot more followers than you have, but in so doing, you’re simplifying a complex and sometimes beautiful history of many peoples. No, I am NOT an apologist, I’m just trying to be a bit more rational. I’m a descendant of the Moors and the Spanish Inquisition so don’t even try your Colonialism bs with me.

Know your history! Do your research! And the world cannot be saved by replanting everything everywhere with native plants! My family farmed on that island called Manhattan. As much as I’d love to tell you to “get off my lawn” so that we can give it all back, I can think of a lot more pro-active ways to be using my free time while I’m at home.

I use a lot of sharp tools.

5) Status: the haves, the haves a lot less, and the have nots

Plant snobs. Rich people. Estate gardens. Botanical gardens with deep pockets and “tradition”. Aspirational gardening. Plant groups that focus more on status and travel than actual plants. This is my world.

I knew this going into my jobs, but when I work, I think about the great people, the supportive kind ones, the people who are plant people community builders, who care about plant communities and conservation. I think about the people who genuinely are building better gardens, responsibly. Most of all, I think of the horticulturists and botanical experts who just study and know the plants well and how and where they grow, and how to grow them best. Many of us learn our pests and diseases well. We’re nerds. We’re professionals. I’m proud of what I do.

But, outside of plant professionals, I’m the help. I should just shut up and make plants for the wealthy. Believe it or not, but I get treated this way a lot and it sucks. I’ve already voiced how poorly I’ve been treated at work in the past, and those individuals should be ashamed. But the garden is classist for many folks. It always has been. Think long and hard about the origins of “real estate” and consider the Western estates of the realm.

Once again, it’s just entitlement. Many of us are truly just serfs at heart but we pretend otherwise. While I have said aspirational, I can insert some of us are just pretentious.

I wish it were not so but to own land is a privilege. For some, they flaunt this powerful status symbol and demand esteem for their gardens. Sure, I get that you worked hard for what you have, but your “issues” are not welcome in my life and I don’t want to waste my time bowing down to you.

But at heart I’m a bit feral and a pagan so I just don’t get a lot out of they system to which many subscribe. Luckily, I’m privileged enough to state that I can do that and I’m grateful for the help I’ve been given by my family.

Kind of funny too how few Americans know anything at all about the estate system and yet it has a lot to do with what we’re living through right now as a nation. I wish we had legislators and leaders who actually talked about issues with some kind of historical content or factual truth but we get sound bites and lots of idiots pounding their chest (and robes) like the proselytizing freaks that they’ve become.

This is soil, not dirt, but you get the point.

6) Keep the politics out of the garden—throwing the dirt at one another

Yet another perspective on privilege comes from this attitude. Interestingly, many of the greatest gardens all over the world were created to show strength, power, knowledge, and intelligence.

Don’t tell me that we’re not political when we garden. Every choice that we make, from being an organic gardener to being obsessed with our lawns says a lot about our politics and our beliefs whether we like it or not. Through our gardens we often show the world around us the values which matter to us.

We want to keep traditions, or we want to break with them. It is all political but it doesn’t have to be—so long as we’re present and aware. Mindfulness can help a lot in this sense.

Gardens can be therapeutic too. I tend to think much more about this but don’t be deceived by your own anxiety. Arranging and rearranging to assuage your anxiety is not exactly therapeutic to anyone other than yourself. I grew up in that kind of environment and it was more traumatic to me as a child, but that experience has deeply informed my awareness as a horticulturist.

Self-Portrait. Plant Propagator after the Supreme Court Ruling. Ann Amato, Portland, OR 2022. (If anyone uses this ANYWHERE you must attribute it to me. Remember I used sharp tools and run with a sharp tongue lol.)

7) Yes, I birth the plants

Ok, maybe not exactly like this, but I’m pro-choice, and I’ve grown a lot of plants from seed. This includes sporing ferns—just not this one.

As a young woman in her early 20s I had an abortion. The father was a man I loved, and always will. He was my college sweetheart, the son of Christian missionaries, but we couldn’t be parents when I was on medications that would have given us a special needs bundle of joy. Years later I discovered I could have died if I’d remained pregnant since my swelling disease was not yet diagnosed. I made the right choice.

I do not regret my choice. It has been difficult enough having lost my health and my professional future at that age. I can only love the person that I was then, and embrace her now in my memory of that time. It is enough. I was enough. I am enough.

While I will always be sad about not being able to have children, my situation was my own. It made my parents think long and hard about their religious beliefs, and they were pro-life for me, since I was their daughter, and at the time I was physically not well. We made the right choice for our family.

But like many people in horticulture, many of us LGBTQ+ types, I’m still a nurturer, I’m an aunt, and I very much love and respect all life. To think otherwise is asinine.

And unlike many hypocritical religious citizens who feel that they have the right to force their beliefs on others rather than respecting our difference of opinion, I have been a foster parent. While I don’t want to inflict those judgmental zealots on the most vulnerable population in our nation, I know for a fact that they already do not want to help the children already living in our foster care system.

It’s just devastating to have slid backwards like we have as a nation.

8) Groups of White Male Planthunters or Otherwise

Just stop. Please. Check yourselves at the door and get some diversity in there. You are people in positions of power and leadership. If you’re in a group pic, and you notice that the only BIPOC folks are locals you’ve hired to carry your stuff and show you around, just DON’T. If you have the power to be representing this field for ALL OF US, then represent ALL OF US. If you don’t feel that there is enough diversity, then make it YOUR LEGACY to make a difference to change that.

Sure, a photo of a group of white men may have made the rounds on social media not long ago, and ok, some of them may have been gay, but I expect more from them.

When women commented about where are the plantswomen and the public garden stated that they would post their pic too if a group of them showed up it was another embarrassing moment for public gardens in this country. Any public garden administrator should know better and I hope that whomever deals with that account was given some training and that the garden rectifies and redeems itself by encouraging a more diverse field of BIPOC and female plantspeople.

I see photos of overseas trips and cringe. If you can’t see the nineteenth-century look to most of these images, then you’re part of the problem and not the solution. I know that other leaders will come forward, but many men have the opportunity now to make changes. Just by saying this I’m speaking for many others who fear speaking out. Doesn’t that say something? Can’t we set a better example? Isn’t that what leaders do?

Yes, I understand funding. I know about the history of white female heiresses acting as patrons. They loved to live vicariously through the adventurous males of yesteryear. Oh to be great white saviors!

Maybe we could just embrace this as having happened and talk more openly about moving forward in a more constructive direction. Sure, patronage still goes on, but a bit of transparency and honesty can go a LONG way.

9) Listen more, but use caution

While I’m known to be chatty, I love to listen and learn. As a woman, I’ve come to better understand how that can make me appear passive. It has allowed others to think I’m more pliable than I actually am. Maybe they see me as even more agreeable. A woman recently over-identified with me and seemed to become quite upset when I didn’t react to her request the way she obviously assumed that I would. I read and reread the exchange and her authoritative assumptions. I didn’t respond at all as she had wanted. It did not end well and I feel sorry for how she decided to behave.

Yet if I’d been a man. If I hadn’t been the help. Dear universe, I’m so sorry that I didn’t just put all of my life on hold for a request from someone I don’t know.

There is gatekeeping occurring. I suppose many are well-meaning liberals but the self-righteousness insistence that we be the inheritors of their ever-so-amazing legacy is kind of painful.

My generation, and those younger than myself, are being left with a cultural dumpster fire. If we’re not willing to operate in the same way, aspiring to an imaginary and generationally self-imposed way of doing things, than we are somehow ungrateful shits.

Listen more. Accept the way things are more—even if you don’t like them. Change is the way of life. We are not the inheritors of your great legacies. Please stop putting that on us and listen to what we want and what is happening to so many of us. Lift us up. Share more with us, but please acknowledge and accept, times have changed and our lives are NOT like yours.

Difference, diversity, AND adversity can all be wonderful and nourishing things. The constant call to “sameness” honestly freaks me out. Don’t place that anxiety onto us. We have enough going on already.

10) Appropriation and Otherwise

A few years ago I attended an Open Garden tour in a more rural part of the PNW. It was put on by the Master Gardeners in that area, and that program is overseen by a larger group that’s statewide. I’m not one to really complain on tours since I know how difficult they are to arrange, but in this case, I wrote a letter. I was that white woman who wrote that letter.

As someone who loves her region, and is more than aware of our history of racism, this garden ornament was one which I suggested could have been removed whilst the public was present. Controversial pieces chosen in private garden by their owners are fine, but as gardeners, many of us are often trying to seek more diversity and to be more welcome, and this sort of thing was not noticed before inviting us all in. I was disappointed by this.

With family who lived in this area, this embarrassed me. I knew how unwelcoming this would be to many of my friends, so I spoke up. Maybe the group was just kind to me, but in the end, they agreed that walk-throughs would be done in the future with more sensitivity towards inclusion.

———————————————–

Be the change.

Aspire to more.

Check your anxiety.

Give without strings attached.

Stop assuming that we all have the same life experiences, and better still, stop using the garden and your love of plants to silence others. We all belong in the garden, each and every one of us, even the ungrateful little foulmouthed shits.

The New Crevice Garden at Cistus Nursery

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Before the work began…

Last week there was no post so I’m doing two this week. Why was I so busy?

Well, it was a combination of working and meeting a lot of new people. I had to be alert and aware. (Usually I just get into the groove and start making more plants.)

We had a tour through the American Public Gardens Association 2022 Conference , a green-carpet party for a botanical garden project, oh, and then there was this massive crevice garden installation. I did nothing but chat with the builders, but we had some great conversations and all three are people I’ve wanted to meet so it was a lot all at once!

After the big rocks had been placed a bit more.

Two of the builders were Kenton Seth and Paul Spriggs. They’re co-authors of the hot new book The Crevice Garden: How to make the perfect home for plants from rocky places. While I’ve followed Paul a bit online since he’s in British Columbia BC (yes, it’s part of the PNW too), I had not yet met him or Kenton.

Kenton and I have a mutual friend in Panayoti Kelaidis, and when I visited Denver last year I was escorted by Panayoti to see one of Kenton’s great builds.

So in a sense, I’d done my homework before they arrived, but I was nervous. Rock gardens, alpine gardens, and crevice gardens all kind of make me nervous, but of course we hit it off. Besides, Baldassare Mineo, my good friend, is also a hero of theirs. I can’t imagine the connection. (Wink, wink.) Yes, he wrote a book that inspired both of them. Surprise! Surprise!

At heart, I’m one of their people, but sadly, my body has kept me from building anything. Luckily I have troughs for my plants, but after last week, I will try harder.

Luckily I was able to purchase a copy of their book during their visit and I highly recommend that you do so as well. You can pre-order the book here—or wherever you chose to purchase your books online.

It is a great book and you will not regret it!!!

Kenton and Paul beginning to move the slabs over to where they were being placed.

The third builder was Jeremy Schmidt, but in a way, he was the first. I cannot remember how it all began, but he was involved, and clearly Sean Hogan was too since it’s at Cistus Nursery. Jeremy built and maintains the largest crevice garden in the world (as Kenton called it) that he’s been in charge of at Plant Delights Nursery for some time now.

I’ve not yet seen it, but am happy that I’ll be visiting there soon. Hopefully after that visit I’ll have more to say about the space. There is much for me to learn in North Carolina, and I look forward to that.

Jeremy, like the other two, is an amazing guy. Like Kenton and Paul, I wish he lived closer, but we’ll all stay in touch now. It was an honor to have met them. We had some great conversations and they left me thinking about so many things. I love it when I have my mind tickled like that.

It’s one thing to make one new friend at an event with plant peeps, but to say I made three new friends is an understatement. Last week really was an amazing learning experience and plant cultural exchange.

Jeremy standing and taking it all in as Kenton and and Paul work.

This is a funny realization but the crevice garden touches me to my green core. I came into my being, into my “self” in a rockery. My first memories are of a rockery. Mom built a huge one, and while it wasn’t filled with rockery and alpine plants, I somehow figured out as a child what it was intended to be, what its potential was, and in my mind, I redesigned and planted it in my mind as a girl.

It’s kind of funny no one thought to show me around the plant world more, but I did NOT have helicopter parents. Luckily I was allowed to be a feral child so I figured a lot out and when I was 14 I announced one night that I wanted to go backpacking to climb a mountain. I’m not sure how we found the program that helped me to do this, but by the time I was 18, I’d already done quite a bit of hiking and backpacking. It’s how I learned about plants in the wild (at least here) and I observed their growing conditions—as one does.

Since I wasn’t allowed to garden at home much as a kid, and my curiosity ran deep into ecology and plant systems, I’ve been paying attention to how and where plants grow for decades. To masterfully achieve a crevice garden, this kind of observation is key.

I would not complain at all to have a giant crevice garden at home, but as Kenton told me, “We’re building you a Cadillac. You get to be one of the people who drives it.”

As a propagator at the nursery, it will be an honor to get to know the plants better. And as for the Cadillac, I bet Kenton says that to all of us old plant ladies.

Paul and Kenton posing as they work. I learned from Kenton that a slab can be placed in such a way as to look too “peaky”. Who knew? I just love new jargon.

When I started college I studied biology and I’d planned to keep climbing mountains. My body began to betray me. While I wanted to be outdoors in the wilderness doing studies, my body, heart and mind struggled.

The last mountain I hiked up was Mt. St. Helen’s and it’s also when my swelling disease flared up for the first time.

And yet, it took about 8 more years before I found out why the backs of my legs had turned purple that day and my blood vessels had behaved badly.

I know now, but the trauma of illness and the PTSD I still live with of having failed at a goal that would have led me down a different path makes me deeply sad. I still can’t hike well, and after going uphill a bit during the past weekend while hiking with the gang, I had pain and swelling that worried me this week, but I want to keep pushing myself to see if I can do more.

A little bit of shade for visitors and the builders. When lunch arrived, you can imagine how hungry they were since this is hard work!

This crevice garden will be a reminder to me—and others—of escapes to other environs. Different continents are represented and Sean will have many of his collections mixed in once he’s finished planting it up.

I can look at the plants from far-flung locations and feel transported again away from here. Even if I didn’t collect the plants, I will learn more about where they came from and I will appreciate how they survive. This will help us to provide pertinent growing information too.

Felix doing an inspecting of the big rocks a few weeks ago.

I’ve not participated in NARGS a lot since I’m pretty tapped out when it comes to free time and plant societies, but I will keep going with my plant propagation and will order seeds from them. NARGS rocks lol and if you’re interested in all of this, I suggest looking for a chapter in operation near you. Plant societies are important repositories of information and are a wonderful way to become more involved in the plant world if you’re lucky enough to do something else for a living in order to support yourself and pay the bills. If you can, give back to the world and volunteer.

I recommend that you be inspired by all of this too.

Learn about how to better plant those nooks and crannies in your life.

But most importantly, buy the book and learn more about NARGS and the many pleasures of dabbling in a different plant palette.

And best of all, ROCK ON!!!

Geranium palmatum and Another Open Garden

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Pelargonium ‘Antares’, a rather showy and compact plant.

I’ve been trying to keep up around here.

The back garden as she is tonight.

It’s difficult to keep up with tasks in the garden at home while working so much. Owning what feels like thousands upon thousands of plants I just can’t keep up. I sometimes feel like an ill-fated character in a Charles Dickens novel. What’s the moral of this tale? Why am I doing this? I dunno. By the time I get to this point I’ve fallen into hysterical laughter.

I know I have a lot of friends who love to live this crazy life.

Maybe you’re one of us too?

The potting bench on the south side of the house.

What wrong did I do to deserve all of these weeds? Why are we swimming through spring to summer? Why? Why? Why?

The north garden entrance. I prefer for folks to enter this way but most want to go through my pretty wooden gate.

At least I’m getting to some pruning. And I am removing and cutting back hard. Limbs from trees and shrubs are being cut. Gardening is maintenance but with an eye toward careful artful pruning. But you must be patient for things to grow. So many great plants take much patience.

We won’t talk about the front garden. This is like slamming my head into a wall. It needs to get back within my control lol.

But weeding… Oh I curse the heavens!!! I shake my small swollen arthritic and lightly clenched fists at you!!!

Some parts of the garden are much better though, and as things grow, I’m really happy.

The south garden as seen through a dirty window upstairs.

Part of that happiness comes from having made decisions. So much stress comes from worry. Life is short. Make a decision and make it happen. If it’s the wrong choice, choose again.

Geranium palmatum at Secret Garden Growers.

A happy plant this year is one that I wasn’t sure about how to plant. I had a few and the pretty one below is the one that made its mark on me. I can’t get enough of it. It’s taken some time to get to this size. Geranium palmatum is only hardy down to zone 8 so not all of you can grow it. This took a few years to look this stunning. (You can’t bring this one in easily to protect it.)

Geranium palmatum in my garden. It’s HUGE!

It’s a glorious bloomer. I will collect as many of its seeds as I can to sell in my new shop, but I am sure that I’ll be weeding a few of these along with the weeds.

It doesn’t give me a rash though like a few of the weeds.

Oh the weeds!!!

Geranium palmatum and friends in the south garden.

This Saturday I will open the garden again to Hardy Plant Society members, but I do so in the hopes that they can meet a horticulturist in her garden. My plant garden lab is lush and full this year.

I look forward to greeting guests again, and here’s to late summer! I’ll be open again soon and hope that things will be just right…

The Tiny Parking Strip (Hell Strip) That’s Now a PRIDE Strip

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Doesn’t look like much tonight, but let’s give it a few weeks to settle in a bit more.

This post has been in the works for many years. I have one of the worst planting strips I’ve ever seen in Portland. I think it’s about 10 inches wide—but that’s it. Honestly, friends and I have joked about it since I moved in, but I’ve learned a few things since then, and there ARE (at least) plenty of plants that work out there.

I trimmed up the needlepoint ivy this week after 2 or 3 years but it has to go. It’s time to rip it all out once and for all.

The heat dome last summer was the ultimate lesson. To my surprise, many of the plants there did great and showed no damage at all. Since the same cannot be said for a few others that I thought would be fine, I’ve spent some time mulling all of this over.

Felix is the king of his sidewalk. He was pleased that I was cleaning it up this week.

While weeding out there, I spent time thinking over what to write here. These are not complicated takeaways at all. I guess in a space this small, one that is the planting skirt to my garden stage, just a little ta-da is all that’s needed for this verbal fanfare.

So, xeric plants work well in this space. What a shock. That’s pretty much all I have to say about it. The only real issue here though is that both light and water have varied over the years. For the most part though, I don’t water this area at all. This is why there is ivy in the driest spot. I am going to replace it though soon to try something new.

Working on the “hell” strip had me associating words and immediately I thought about everything I was “going to hell” for, so then I thought, yes, my queer identity!

Perfecto!

The white nigella that I’ve grown for years. It just self sows there on the curb.

So the Pride Strip was born—and I had a great laugh. Why hadn’t I thought about this before? Now I don’t have to remove or change the colors, and I can ADD MORE PLANTS!

Nigella damascena white, Salvia gregii ‘Rossetto’, Erigeron karvinskianus, and Stachys byzantina.
Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Spice Islands’, Phlomis ‘Sunningdale Gold’, Salvia gregii ‘Rossetto’ and Aurinia saxatilis.
The mature part of the pride strip has really grown and the plants are weaving together. It’s really quite beautiful.

After I decided where I wanted to head with this little project I knew I had to talk to my neighbor friend to see if she wanted to extend my planting plan a bit to where the strip crosses over to her property.

The far end of the pride strip overlaps with my neighbor’s property. She and I talked it over last night and decided to extend the color display. She recently removed some ornamental grass we’d had here for a few years. It was time for something new.

Luckily, she was thrilled. Flowers are needed now and I want to see people smile when they see so many happy colors dancing.

Now we wait and see how it grows… Santolina chamaecyparissus ‘Grey’, unknown oregano, and a bunch of new things with a special Eriophyllum lanatum ‘Takilma Gold’ there in the foreground. This one was a 2011 Cistus Nursery introduction from the Siskiyou Mountains.

I will add more plants, and I plan to sow seeds out there to liven it up. Since I’m hoping to open a new seed shop soon, I need to have more seeds sown on the property.

Just a few more plants to color up my strip.

Some plants came home with me from work today too. I just had to get some plants in bloom since I have another Open Garden next Saturday.

Evan and I will be selling some plants so having the front area cleaned up seems like a great idea. I just hope that I will have enough time to clean up more. All of this rain is so depressing and it slows me down in the garden since I have to weed so much more. The weeds just won’t stop growing!!!

Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’ came home with me from work. These will bring me so much joy this summer. I just love that punch of color.

The Ugliest Part(s) of My Garden

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If by chance you’re wondering if I’m a Frank Zappa fan, the answer is yes. (“What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?” is one of my favorites.)

It’s my interest in ridiculous absurdity and playful creative juvenile responses to garden problems that led me here, so let me explain…

Sometimes I see problems and I just do my best, what I can, and what I’m physically capable of doing and this leads to well, more problems down the road.

This is what happens when your garden is your studio and you like to experiment with your medium.

But there are limits and limitations. Always.

Borrowed landscape opportunities in the urban jungle. The apartment building is just feet away from the back fence and the neighbor’s cluttered back garden space is beginning to show through the dead hedge that died because I planted trees that shaded out the arborvitae hedge. (No, not that clutter there in the foreground. Those are my eternal unplanted plants lol.)

It’s come to pass that I’m at that strange point in my life where I need to do something again. I think we call this “goal setting” but it feels a bit strange to say that out loud since I’m nearly 50. Horticulture is fun, but you need to keep acquiring skills by building upon those which you’ve only just mastered. I feel sort of stuck so I need to challenge myself. For once I’ve accepted the challenge of redoing things, but it’s been a slog.

The huge Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Fine Gold’ started out innocently enough. I planted it to block the apartment and to have a view of it from my bedroom since I was ill a lot back then.

The absolute worst part of my entire garden is this back corner. It’s kept me ill at ease for long enough and I am determined to improve it this summer. The plan is to slowly remove and replace the dead, dying, and sort of healthy arborvitae plants. It will be not-so-pretty for years but I need to wait for Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ plants to fill in. There are two there already, and I love them, but I wish I’d planted a whole row of them back when we moved in. (Sigh.) I will steady and add to the temporary bamboo fence this summer. It’s all that I can do.

Can you say, “Lipstick on a pig?” The hedge was installed by my mom and friend as a housewarming present when we first moved in. At the time I was worried about it dying out since arborvitae hedges are often ugly, but I really overdid the ugly on this one.

Sure, a more permanent fence could be added, but we need to replace one along the entire south side of the house so that one is more of a financial priority right now. (It liked to fall over a bit this last winter so…)

The view looking south. Nothing like looking into 3 backyards at once! The old Doug fir created a lot of privacy and I will always remember the smell of it that first summer when I moved in.

In addition to the ugly hedge, I didn’t plan well for the ugly apartment building with a sometimes busy walkway right behind me. I planted trees to block the view from many spots indoors, but the longer I live here, I wish I’d planted more of a hedge or hedgerow along the back fence. Luckily, I am working on this spot too, but it’s a lot of reworking the garden in strange ways.

My tree sort of caused the tree next door to get ugly as well. Oops. Probably should have brushed off that tree debris on the chairs before I took pics.

And it takes patience.

There is a also another tree that will be removed. A storm broke the top of my aspen a year ago, and it’s not well. I’m all for columnar trees at this point and shrubs. I want to keep this simple, but I will miss the sound of the leaves. It is noisy in my back garden and the leaves are lovely during the late summer. They are loud enough to distract you from the noise. It was a good idea, but…

Funny how when I don’t crop this photo you get to see what the space is really like. Not quite as serene is it with that bathroom and bedroom window right there…

This must make me sound like I really want a buffer from the outside world.

Well, I do.

Oh the serenity… At one point the bathroom used to have a window and before the new fence it was a low hedge and I could sit out back and watch apartment dwellers in the shower. It was quite the experience. One young man never had a curtain so there we were.

I want to have a beautiful garden in a beautiful city at the base of an extinct volcano on the edge of one of our nicest neighborhoods. This is not too much to ask.

This is not just a 1950s addition on an old 1911 house. It was altered again during the 1970s.

The other really big issue is the back window. All three sides of the back room have these 1970s windows but I’ve not yet “fixed” this situation to my liking. I still need to order a nice big European style wrought iron window box. It will definitely help.

But that is a lot of wall.

And it wasn’t originally like this.

Once you realize that huge windows were removed during the 1970s, it’s difficult to unsee the lines in the concrete stucco.

I always wanted an old home and could only afford this one because of these goofy changes that decreased the value of the property. The kitchen was HORRIBLE but I have no photos of it anymore because my photos were not backed up when my ex crashed my old computer. The bathroom will be the next financial nightmare and then the lowered ceiling but that’s another story.

Outdoor remodeling has been a bit slow. I would love a covered area out there, but I will have to wait.

And that ugly, ugly, ugly little itty bitty tiny window.

The lesson here is to tackle the problem and address it head on. These really are the worst issues left to deal with and all I can say is that the excitement of improvement is there, beneath my exhaustion. I’ve already been pruning things and it’s fun to see change. First you play with color and texture, and over time, it’s the light and shadows. I only wish I could win the lottery to get a lot done at once, but it will happen in time.

I love the challenge of the garden and gardening. It’s the goal now to challenge myself to improve upon what I’ve build from nothing. I’m ready.

Baldassare, Rock Garden Plants, Eight Dollar Mountain, the Pacific Ocean, and Car Camping with Felix (My Cat)

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Last Friday Felix and I awoke at 6 am so we could be on the road, driving to Medford (Oregon) by 7 am. Our first stop during our 4-day weekend was the home of friend Baldassare Mineo, also the former site of Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery.

The Medford Garden Club was having a meeting and tea there at noon so I knew I just had to get Felix there in time to meet new friends.

Felix feeling happy at Italio Gardens and Nursery. It’s also the home of his friend Baldassare Mineo.
Rhododendron occidentale, or western azalea, in the now retired nursery planting beds at the back of the property.

It was wonderful to briefly meet the group and to hear their speaker. Gardening community matters to me, and it was nice to be “on vacation” supporting others and hearing about their projects and interests.

After a fun time with Baldassare, Felix and I were off and on our way in the morning to the home and garden of Kathy Allen. While I am a NARGS member, I’m not exactly a rock, crevice or trough gardener, but I HAVE slowly been learning about these plants for both home and work. Visiting Kathy’s is always a treat and this time of year there are so many plants in bloom.

(Just be warned not to write to your friend Baldassare lol or he’ll remind you to reference his book. D’oh!)

Saxifraga longifolia being grown in a trough.
Penstemon grahamii also being grown in a trough.
Aquilegia scopulorum, another beauty being grown to perfection.

Mostly I shopped, but more on that later.

This trip was really more of a vacation for Felix than one of my usual botanical journeys. I didn’t want to admit that the Jeep had been purchased with the hope that Felix would enjoy camping and sleeping in it with me. If I could achieve that, I could feel safe sleeping in a campground alone with him. Yurts are great, but they’re rarely available, and I just cannot sleep in a tent alone and feel safe even if the campground is full as they often are this time of year.

Felix blissed out sitting in the car just above the Illinois River near Eight Dollar Mountain. “River” is one of his favorite vocabulary words and he associates it with driving and visiting Grandpa. He pointed out every river to me during our trip. He was very proud of himself.

Before we ended up at the campground, we did go to Eight Dollar Mountain. The other laugh about this trip was that Sean Hogan had joked with Dan Hinkley a year or so ago that Felix would go botanizing with them in Southern Oregon if they let him in the car. Honestly, while I thought that was funny, I wasn’t sure. I had just brought him in to work that day and was honestly kind of embarrassed that they hadn’t already left for their trip when we’d arrived. (Nothing like wheeling a cat around in a pet carriage when a famous plantsman is around. Talk about being taken seriously—as a crazy cat mom lol!)

Turns out though, that Sean was correct. And just like the rest of us, Felix arrived and immediately started to purr because he liked the area so much. I wandered about a little bit but we had to move quickly to get to Brookings and up the Chetco River to the campground at Alfred A. Loeb State Park.

I was nervous that Felix might begin to get more anxious. Nope.

Darlingtonia californica. Sadly I saw proof of some poaching at this site. Someone had not realized you can’t just rip this stuff out of the ground. Please don’t be stupid people and purchase plants ethically that are grown in cultivation.

We made it to the beach and it was amazing. Felix loves the beach already—especially when he can climb on nearby rocks. This allows him to feel safe since there are a lot of dogs off leash—even though there are signs saying that leashes must be used at all times. It’d be a losing war to fight anyone over this since most folks go there just to let their pups run free. All it takes is that one dog though to kill my cat.

So I use caution and love the beaches along the southern coast for these huge rocks. (We have a backpack carrier now as well and that was an extra piece of safety equipment for this trip.)

“What’s up there!?! Let’s climb higher!”

Car camping with Felix was amazing. He was not the least bit anxious and he enjoys people watching so he had a lot of fun. My only regret was not having a little heater for him in the morning. Luckily I was able to get a little attachment for a propane tank along our route. He loved it and so did I. We’ll be set next time.

The Umbellularia californica grove at our campground near Brookings was beautiful. During warmer days in summertime it smells nice too.

We stopped a few more times before we reached our next campground on Sunday. Of course I slid down a small hill I just had to climb in order to take a photo of a rhododendron. I kind of did end up sore from that but that only meant I slept well that night. With my cat. In my Jeep.

Visiting another beach after breakfast the next day.
Rhododendron macrophyllum and friends.

Bandon and Bullards Beach State Park were our next two stops. I avoided getting distracted completely by plants, and decided to just park it at the campground and enjoy myself “in the moment”. This of course meant buying firewood and hauling it back to our site.

I’d purchased a chair to sit in beside the fire and of course the cat took it. Felix stared at the other campers as they walked by—some with their dogs. Many of them absolutely loved him and he knew it.

Lots of people stopped to say “Hi” to him during our stops and I’m seriously proud of him. He travels far better than most people I know and now I know that I can take him out with Grandpa.

Speaking of Grandpa, tomorrow it’s back to Southern Oregon again to pay our respects to Frank Moore along with other fisherfolk or fisher-people.

Funny that this all relates back to my first trip to the Glide Wildflower Show last month but I haven’t posted about that yet since I wanted to wait until after the memorial service on Saturday.

The Week After the Open Garden

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On Thursday I waited until bedtime to write, and then I did the same on Friday. It’s called procrastination, but it’s also called self-care.

It’s been a long week. As many of you know, it’s continued to be cold and wet in the PNW and in addition to the long hours of gardening, and working, I’m recovering. My osteoarthritis is aching, I’m dealing with swelling, and in general I’m pretty tired.

Lathyrus aureus was the most asked about plant in the garden last weekend.

Until you’ve opened up your home to the public, it’s easy to think it’s no big deal. But it is! It’s scary. Yes, you’re opening yourself up for a lot of fun. Random sweet strangers may become friends. You’re going to laugh and chat a lot because you’ll be so tired—but by then you won’t care!

More than anything though, you’re going to worry about the jerks. There will be a few. They’re always there, like weeds. You’ll never be rid of them.

Viola corsica was my favorite plant in the garden this week.

Just know that you don’t need to go through life like them. If you need to visit gardens or judge others to gain some kind of self-esteem, that’s rough. “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” is all I can say to that. Life is short and precious.

Sure, not all gardens are for me, yet I always appreciate the time and energy it takes to open one for nearly nothing in return. It takes a lot of work, and in the end, you’ll have a guest like I did who appeared just before I closed the gate, describing and seeing my garden exactly as it is to me.

She and her young guest were a gift that cold wet day. Be that garden guest.

I told guests that the mirror under the table was used by the cats. When they go to drink water at the bowl, they have a rearview mirror. Here’s Felix just days later “checking his back”.

It was a long week.

It was a relief to have the event come and go.

It was a treat to have the prelude to the next event in a few more weeks.

Oh the anticipation. Yes, I’m a tease.

Pelargonium ‘Colocho’ cuttings paired with Sinningia ‘Shelby’ divisions in a flat at work.

What did I enjoy the most? More than anything I enjoyed telling people about my work. Lots of folks saw my racks of plants and assumed they were all for sale—but they’re not. I’m a propagator practicing my craft at home and it’s fun to share that with others even if they don’t always understand. I guess that’s what the blog is here for and for me to promote what one horticulturist does. Yes, I have collections of plants, and yes, there are breeding projects too. I just don’t advertise all of that.

Unknown Dutch iris I planted years ago. It pairs well with the new Jeep.

Once I get everything planted I plan to take more pics. I will write more about how watering has determined everything.

There will be charts, diagrams, and maps.

Kidding!

Maybe I should just have a few plant lists? Yes.

But now, it’s time to rest.

I just can’t stress enough how much it matters to not care about what other people think, and that if you want to share the work that you do, then go ahead and share it. Gardening matters. Growing plants makes us happy. If the sad people find their way into all of that, then so be it. Let them walk across that stage and exit left, or right, or whichever way folks leave your space.

Any which way works!

I just won’t be the one telling you how to design your space—but I’d happily sit and listen, letting you tell me all about it.

A Mighty Thank You: The Garden is Change

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None of these views of the garden exists any more. I’m just sharing photos of it from over the years since I’ve realized many gardens don’t have as many scene changes as this one has had. I’ve come to enjoy that quite a bit recently. I don’t even recognized these photos as the same place in a way. The garden is change. My garden has transformed many times.

I’ve lived in my home since 2006 and have spent a lot of time messing things up and rearranging everything again and again. I’ve screwed a lot up, I’ve killed a lot of plants, I’ve changed, I’ve grown, and my soft-opening Summer of 2022 HPSO Open Garden is upon me and I’m not completely ready for showtime.

The cat on the bench is Maurice. The garden is named after him.

Isn’t that the story of our lives? And while I like to keep my days in order, with a rather predictable routine, to be honest, I’ve come to better understand that I’m much more in flux and in movement, and performing—always.

Yet I’ve thought of myself as otherwise for so long.

I think of myself like this, kind of a lump, because I was traumatized at 30 by a primary immune disease diagnosis and I lacked the emotional support I needed for the first few years. That just snowballed into painful isolation. Many of you can relate now that you’ve been through the pandemic. I was living that kind of isolation long before COVID-19.

While the world continued to live around me, I just learned about plants while trying to ignore my difficult symptoms and the lack of available treatments. I had to wait and observe both the garden and myself.

I’m grateful that during both experiences I had a garden, but it feels to me like they were very different places. It as dark here during the first period of isolation, but during the pandemic, the second isolation, immense growth took place.

Preparing for an earlier Open Garden date this year was intentionally planned in order to get this place in order so that I could enjoy it even more this summer. While I’m not 100% happy with how it looks, I’m well on my way to being more organized, and I had a ton of fun working with friends to prepare.

After this, my next Open Garden is in a month so I intend to keep playing out there with friends for the next few weeks. It is beyond wonderful to have some help.

I’ve thought about the many lessons I’ve learned, and I’m less interested than ever in reviewing painful memories I’ve had here. I think mostly now of the love, the kindness, and the happiness of being with others. I look forward to having folks over for dinner and for the laugher and maybe even the unexpected tears to come. Life is always a series of challenges and we must take the good along with the bad.

And that mighty thank you I mentioned?

I feel filled to the brim nowadays with a genuine gratitude I’ve been savoring. I have it for life in general, for the little Annie inside of myself (since she so happily lived so that I could be the centered me of today), and for the friends and colleagues I have who bring meaning into my days.

Thank you for being you too.

Joy, curiosity, strength, and healing simply couldn’t be the same without all of you. We’re all in this together.

Our Vine Maple: a native plant reborn (Acer circinatum)

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The original tree is on the right. The new growth is that on the left.

Time to introduce my ugly vine maple, a tree that only this gardener can love and I can’t even tell you how old it is, but my guess is that it’s close to 15 years old now.

When we visit gardens, it’s easy to say that something looks bad, or even that it’s ugly. Many visitors will see this soon and say that it’s unattractive and maybe that it should be put out of its misery. I myself am a believer in plant-driven design, and this tree doesn’t look as if it’s in the right spot, but there’s a reason it’s so ugly, and that has to do with the additional light that poured in after the Doug fir was removed, and the shape it was already in. It was leaning and that just looked bad.

But, as the mentors of my childhood would have said, that’s the lazy way to think. Let’s not just jump onto the ugly train. Let’s dig deeper. What’s going on here!?!

The original tree was planted at least 15 years ago when it was part of the understory beneath the 7-headed Doug fir tree that was removed because it was dangerous.

Vine maples can lean and sometimes they lean hard and FAR. This one started to lean and it was stretching towards the light. It grew quite tall. After the Doug fir was removed, for years, it fried. Last summer it started to fail but I chose to hold off on cutting it down since it appeared to be regrowing, redirecting even the root growth. I wanted to observe what was going on and why.

This spring, it has very noticeable and strong new growth. I’m thrilled, but it means rethinking the area again.

I look forward to watching the new growth grow. In the meantime, it is likely that I will remove the old trunk soon.

The new growth looks good. The old trunk and its branches are alive, but it is clear that the organism wants that side to die as its energy has been focused elsewhere. In the wild, with a bit more time, the old trunk would just snap and break as it became more brittle.

I kept this tree going on purpose. It’s called a vine maple for a reason, and if you’ve never thought about it, well, it’s the only maple capable of layering itself and its behaving more like a shrub than a tree. Layering that can root is more like a vining shrub. While that is not what is happening here—these are much more like new shoots—it’s clearly a tree that has a different way of being in the natural world.

It’s for these reasons that I kept it around. Before I had several umbrellas for shade, it was a shade tree in summer. From indoors, it blocks my view of the neighbors’ homes for many months each year. I enjoy native plants, so I will keep this experiment going. (Yes, for the record, that tree needs water and it is in my more heavily watered garden zone.)

There are other trees planted near it that I’m hoping will grow more soon to help support more of a canopy, but a few of the other trees are struggling too. The strong winds from the east via the Columbia River Gorge are hard for trees in this area. So many of mine are always leaning because of the wind.

But that’s another post so more on that in the months to come…

The Clowder of Cats Supporting this Horticulturist

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This “fluff” piece has been on hold for months. You see, I used to blog about my cats a lot when I couldn’t come up with a post, but this week it’s different. Not only is our eldest turning 7, but I’m taking a little bit of a break too. (You’ll know more about that soon.) This post seemed both timely and on point. My life is both #allplantsallofthetime and #plantsandcats.

Our four cats are primarily indoor cats. What this means is that they are never outdoors when we’re not home, they only go out during daylight hours, and we use the roof as a catio as much as possible. (It is too high up to jump off of.) If I am home and indoors, they only go out for a few hours if at all. If I am home and outdoors, they’re able to be out there until they’re tired or hungry, but they’re allowed to snuggle up and sleep in the Seed Studio too.

LuLu, aka Piggy or Ms Pickles: LuLu is the Queen Bee, Alpha B*tch, and generally a rather serious cat. She’s our only girl currently and while she can be ferocious, she’s also a bit of a shy farm cat. You don’t mess with the Pickles or you get the horns if you know what I mean.

She mostly lives in the house. On rare occasions she walks outside when it’s warm and to find the catnip and whine at me until I give her some.

Felix, aka Handsome Pants or Bubby: It feels weird to say anything about him. I feel like this one is famous. He’ll be 6 soon and I cannot believe how fast time has flown. He’s my main man, my hand-fed wonder, and kind of an emotional fellow. He loves to go for car rides, meet need people, and he’s smart. Felix knows the names of at least 10 of his friends and over 10 places. He’s the kind of cat that should have been in film. He’s trainable and loves to eat human food.

Felix goes outside sometimes. He keeps dogs off of his sidewalk, and he goes into the homes of neighbors. They love him, but we have to keep an eye on his adventures. He’s a bit too curious.

Oliver, aka Yoda Bear or Snuggy: I’m not even sure where to begin with Ollie. He’s the sweetest, most loving, most snuggly cat I’ve ever owned. He’s primarily Norwegian forest cat and this makes him extra special. He loves to be up high, he loves to run at high speed to chase bad kitties off of his territory, and he’s just a bit shy.

Oliver goes outside but doesn’t wander like his love Felix. (Yes, he adores Felix.) He mostly hides under bushes and waits to chase others. If it’s a slow day, he flies by us when we take the garbage out. Soon he will be 5.

Alfie, aka Booger Butt or Kitten Man: Like Felix, Alfie is a character. Like LuLu, he’s a farm cat. Like Oliver, he’s sweet. The funniest thing about him is that he’s dying to be Alpha cat. Naming him Alfie was perfect. We often misspell is as Alphie. Our only complaints about this youthful wonder revolve around him picking on Oliver and knocking plants over while he’s chewing on them. He is clumsy and loves to throw his kitten chonk around. For some time I called him a no-neck potato, a linebacker, or just a bully. I’d insult him, pick him up to scold him, and he’d fart and smile at me with those eyes. He loves to be held, he purrs more than all of the others combined, and he’s the only one in the group that’s not anxious.

So that’s the team, the clowder. While I’m not talking directly about my work or my plants, these are the little furballs who work hard with me both in and out of the house. When I come home exhausted and am doing PT exercises, they are there for me. When I go to sleep, I’m in a cat pile with them. Maybe that makes me part of the clowder too.

Working at Secret Garden Growers Nursery (and a few of my favorite plants)

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My job at Secret Garden Growers began back in March of 2019. Since then, I’ve been there part-time year-round for 3+ years. My relationship with the plants began years before that though. I’ve long been purchasing beautiful and well-grown plants from Pat at local sales. I just killed them off and on. Hey, it’s what we do in order to learn and as we keep moving things around.

Some hibiscus “bones” last week. I love watching this view change throughout the year. It’s definitely a four-season garden.

Long before I worked out there in Canby, I looked up the nursery location on a map. I thought it was strange I’d never driven out there because I grew up in Milwaukie and I love to drive around Clackamas County. Back then I lived in my allergy bubble though here at home, and while I DID shop a lot, I tended to buy most of my plants at plant sales. So it took a few years to get me out there.

Boy was it worth it!

I think that was the summer before I started to work there. Evan went with me.

So many beauties just waiting to go home with you.

While my job title there is propagatrix, I pretty much do lots of production work too and keep track of plant health. This means lots of primping to keep things uniform, nice, and clean. We primp those plants so often we get to know them well. Most folks don’t realize it, but so much labor goes into beautifully grown plants in containers. It’s part of what makes the experience so fun, but it’s difficult and tedious work. Luckily I can listen to music and move my hips about or listen to audiobooks. There’s nothing quite like a beautiful flat of plants. Wow! Yummy stuff!

So the rest of this post will just have some pretty photos of some plants that I really like—at least this week. In the captions you’ll find descriptions from the catalog. Just click on the caption and it will take you to the catalog. This is not something I normally do but we have a new site. (Captions are all written by Pat and the photos are mine.)

I cannot promise that these items are even available currently, but I’m happy to show off some of the plants that we grow.

Saxifraga x arendsii ‘Rocco Red’. Not currently available online this is one we have a few of at the nursery.
Eccremocarpus scaber. Looks like we don’t have this color available right now, but we have others.

Hope you enjoyed “shopping” with me. I should have written more about each plant but as they’re added to my garden over time I’ll be better about doing so.

Hope you noticed the gesneriads too. You must have known I’d add them too.

The Stress and Anxiety of an Open Garden

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I’ve been gardening for two decades now and yet I’m not known to have much of a show garden. It’s been a bit of a joke for me really, since I’ve been experimenting with so many things for so long, but I’ve had a plan. I just have not had a lot of money to do much, or the energy to do it myself.

Back in the olden days when I was training the willow arbor. This photo shows why the garden is named Campiello Maurizio after Maurice, the chunky kitty in the foreground. The kitties have always loved the back garden.

So instead, I tinkered. I grew random plants in pots, and for over a decade I sold their seeds on Etsy. Plants were here and there and I was a seed grower. I collected seeds in others’ gardens, I cleaned them, and I offered them for sale and grew them here too. It was chaos, a mess really, but I learned a lot and grew a reputation as a seedsperson. I sold over 5,000 packets of seeds and/or glassine envelopes. It was a lot!

As my health has improved and become more manageable, I’ve worked to tame the place, and to edit it and make sense of it. But I miss growing seeds. I miss working at home. I keep trying to grow seeds again. I just don’t have the energy now. To be good at it you really need to have a keen eye for detail and I just am too tired and worn down after working all week. But like I said, I keep trying. This year is no different and seeds will be sown again.

The same benches as above. They’re all gone now, and Mona was the last cat in the photo above to pass away. We lost her last fall.

Only a few friends know what this garden home has looked like over the years. I never planned big, I only had things that made me happy for a spell, small dumb things that I could afford at the time. The amount of energy it can take to plan a garden project is often taken for granted. Editing is easier now since I basically just want to sit in a hammock, but I do have quite the collection of plants, and visitors will not be disappointed by them at all.

The South Garden before the Doug fir with 7 heads was removed.

With aching fingers now I can only write so much about all of this, but it’s worth the anxiety to open your garden once you get it in order. It by no means should be perfect either, it’s an unfinished story that visitors can begin, and return to next year if they wish, and maybe again later.

Like life, gardens are never the same. Change is a challenge, but change can be beautiful. I love this about gardens and gardening.

Sadly, yes, it can feel competitive, and you can feel like less than some other gardener, but what matters is your joy, the pleasure you feel from your own efforts, and the happiness you can share with others. We need one another and we need to feel and share joy.

The South Garden several years after the Doug fir with 7 heads was removed.

Most of my adult life has been spent hiding in my garden, dealing with health issues, and the more time I spend away from it, I realize how many challenges folks deal with daily and I see the privilege I have as the city grows around me and as homes get smaller, and so many have no gardens at all. Land is becoming more and more expensive.

So I choose to share my happiness and my fun collection of plants.

The front garden maybe 10 years ago.

It is a panicked time now working so hard at both nurseries, dealing with the usual stresses of the workplace, customers and coworkers all bringing their own stuff to the table, dealing with my own insane chronic pain, and having and an extreme need to find balance in my own self after having lived a life wildly beyond my control.

As I pull it all together, the garden is coming along too and I love it. I’m stinking exhausted, but I’m happy.

The front garden a few weeks ago after hiring the help of two coworkers. It’s amazing how far you can go when you have some help.

So please, open your garden, make new friends, share plants, smile, laugh, and enjoy the time you have here in this life to share with others.

Professionalism, Respect, Kindness: Life is short

How To Be a Great Plant Shop or Nursery Customer

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There are so many articles listing tips on how to work in customer service jobs, but there really aren’t many covering how to get the best results when you shop for plants.

The customer is sadly not always right. We all know this, and while employees sometimes hear this, it’s become clearer that a minority of customers have taken advantage of this kind of interaction. It bothers me a great deal to see a friend who’s been harassed for no good reason by someone.

To work retail, you really need to have thick skin. It’s bad enough when coworkers take their issues out on you, but it’s even worse when you’re trying to help someone—honestly enjoying finding a solution for them—and they do it to you knowing you have to “take it” since you’re essentially paid to service them.

Happily this is not something that happens a lot, but it can really be upsetting and it doesn’t need to happen. Customers should find help, and employees should feel like they’ve been able to do their jobs to the best of their abilities while working within the limitations of the business model.

The good news is that nearly everyone is great. So long as you do your research and are patient and nice, you can find what you need on your own and maybe even help someone you find along your way who is just standing in an aisle looking confused.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Do you work here? I need help.” I just have that look I guess…

Clematis macropetala ‘Bluebird’. (Sadly this is one of the few plants that’s ever been stolen from my house.)

Since the start of the pandemic, anyone who works in customer service is aware of how much anxiety, fear, and anger has been needlessly directed at them. Since I stopped working the retail area at my job in Canby I’ve only heard about it from coworkers, what I’ve had happen mostly are folks just stopping in the greenhouse to chat with me while I’m working. Lots of folks have been lonely and have felt isolated so I’m sort of a captive audience as I work at my station.

Oh the random stories I could tell lol!

Rhododendron occidentale, or Western azalea.

1. Just be nice.

Selling live plant material means that we have to keep them alive while at the same time providing customer service. So much work goes into keeping things fresh and making displays. It really breaks your spirit to be physically exhausted and then overhear “witty” or snarky comments about how things look.

2. Practice patience.

If you send an email asking about availability to a nursery, please don’t call them in a few hours if you’ve not heard back yet. Try to be understanding that many workers are wearing many hats at once and there is likely a line of customers ahead of you in their mailbox. They’re absolutely doing their best to take care of customers as quickly as is possible.

3. Know which services are provided before you go.

Increasingly, we’re seeing a trend. One stop shopping and saving time is popular. If you want to have an area of your garden designed, some employees can help with this, but it’s not always the case. Not all nurseries have the number of staff to spend that kind of time helping you.

Please don’t get angry with the person assisting you if this is frustrating. Often, this means others have to wait and then they’re upset too. If you want design help, it is best to hire and shop with a designer, personal shopper, or garden coach. This person can help you and give you the direct attention you need. If you don’t know how to find one, look online or call a nursery and ask. I know that in Portland gardening is very popular so many advanced gardeners seek to make a living at it and these kinds of gigs are perfect and can provide a higher wage as well. (For folks like me this is great!)

I think this quote from someone who has worked large garden center retail for many years nails what many friends said to me when I asked about this topic. “They want me to be a top level horticulturist and their personal garden designer and shopper, and also to treat me like an imbecile. That doesn’t work for me.”

This field of work, for so many of us, is a labor of love and there really is just so much that we can do. Sadly, there are a lot of factors that can go into how busy we are at any time. Sometimes we’re more free to help you. Maybe call and ask when a slow time would be so that you could get that kind of special personal help.

Fremontodendron californicum, or flannel bush.

4. Please put tags back into the pots and don’t steal cuttings or plants.

Lots of folks pull tags out of things to read their names and their descriptions. Just try to put them back. I can’t tell you how much time and energy goes into making sure things are labeled and priced. Primping those plants can take so much out of us laborers.

5. “There’s no price tag on this so it’s free, right?

Jokes like this are not funny. If you get a weak laugh, don’t be surprised. Also, please don’t grab stock plants from areas that are roped off and tell us you want them. Don’t ask us to dig things up from display areas either. Those are also our stock plants.

What that means is that it’s how we make more crops. We divide stock plants and the crops begin small so we’re sorry if you don’t like that size, but if no one buys them, we pot them up, so maybe next time you might find a larger one. That’s just how a production nursery works. (Some stock plants are also just there for cuttings. We need to keep them too.)

You’d be surprised, but these are all frequent requests. Sadly, I’ve witnessed individuals arguing with nursery owners and trying to bully them into getting stock plants.

I’ll never forget one man saying, “My wife doesn’t want your tiny hosta plants. She deserves better than them.” He went on and on. It made me so upset, but instant gratification cannot always be satisfied in the garden.

7. Suspicion or discount seeking.

If a plant has a few yellow leaves it means the staff has been too busy to remove them. This is normal and so is the fluffing. Many plants you purchase don’t sit around looking pretty. Many hands have made sure that they look their best so that you’ll take them home.

When there are discounts or sales, you’ll notice signs. Its fine to ask if we have any specials, but there are people who complain a lot to retail employees about the prices and that’s not part of their job to fix, so if it’s a real issue, send an email to someone or do what I do. Go to the internet and chat to your friends about it.

Some nurseries will replace plants that you’ve killed, but most won’t. The only issue is when a plant is diseased or infested with bugs. Most nurseries will work to resolve that with you since it has to do with horticulture.

If you take plants home and deer eat them, the onus is not on the grower. This goes back to the start. Always do your research.

A Ceanothus cultivar, or California lilac.

8. Don’t be an ask-hole.

These moments are time wasters and can be really exhausting. They’re conversations that go nowhere in my opinion. No matter what you respond with, it’s not enough, or not what they want to hear. I think once I may have even said, “I’m so sorry but I appear not to be helping you at all. How can we get that spot planted for you?” It felt so heavy and like I was performing some kind of therapy for them. I think we all respond to this situation differently, but they’re conversations that go on and on and in general, we employees often have other tasks to be doing instead of answering A LOT of questions.

This is one reason that I’m happy we have Question Desks at a few nurseries. If you don’t have one in your area, it’s a great volunteer position for a Master Gardener volunteer in the area and a way they can do their service hours. I think a nursery with one of these set up will attract business too. If the volunteer is aware of the different areas of expertise at the nursery they can also better direct more advanced questions to the right people. I believe an employee usually oversees things so you have a dependable “hive mind” on duty.

Buddleja globosa, or orange ball tree.

9. Have fun and smile!

Folks struggle. We all get tired when we work hard physically all day. Imagine doing it a lot. Some of us do it all year, others are seasonal employees. If an employee seems snobby, just know that they really love plants. Please don’t take it personally. Set up a problem for them to solve, and I believe that they will do their best to help you. Nursery and plant work is a labor of love. It’s difficult to make a living at it, and many nursery workers are just passing through but really want to work at something hard that they love for a while. Choose kindness and you never know, garden love may shine down on you and your garden may grow.

Illicium floridanum, or anise tree.

Cistus Nursery: Seed Grown Wonders Currently on Mail Order

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It has been a great week, but I’m exhausted, and I’ve not yet written posts in advance to make this weekly posting process easier. As usual, my commute back and forth to Cistus Nursery was pleasant and I continue to enjoy listening to audiobooks. There is so much change in the air this time of year.

One of the fun things happening at the nursery is that the City of Portland is regularly there for plants. I have no idea how or where they’re being used (most of the time), but I look forward to that tour in a few years once a few things have grown in a bit—especially the trees! Beginning there, let’s just say that there are many of our trees that I’ve grown from seed (or acorn) since I started. There are more than a few available now, but I cannot take credit for them all! We have so many wonderful things that we grow, and it takes a village to make that all happen.

Passiflora manicata Venezuela, a passion vine with a red bloom. It’s a zone 9 plant so for many of you it will need protection, or else it can be grown in a container.

Yes, online shopping at the nursery site is a bit old school, but we’re working on that. Until that changes, if there is something you’d like to order, sending an email works well, or else you can call directly to place your order over the phone. If we’re out, we can add you to a waitlist. For some of our very rare and super special stuff, it’s always good to get on those lists. Some crops are just small, and that’s the way it is, and this is how we’re able to offer so many incredible plant “flavors” at the same time.

Our waitlists also help us to decide what’s a propagation priority too! You ask and we listen!

Ferula communis ‘Gigantea’. If you’re like me and you like some dramatic foliage plants, this is the one for you.

Some of the plant crops we have are just plain A*M*A*Z*I*N*G. Nothing says: the gardener who lives here is just plain FUN—like a Ferula. Having seen these growing in the wild in Sicily I’m Forever a Ferula Fangirl.

Ferula communis ssp. glauca. If one is not enough for you, and you love to collect and compare, then here’s Ferula #2.

Nothing says “repetition” like a collection right? That’s why I have to have 10 of everything in completely different colors, right? #planthoard #gardenmaximalism #moreismore

And speaking of Maximalism, a design style that’s currently popular and one which I’m rather fond of, texture on texture, on texture, with colors thrown in, is what it’s all about. Cistus Nursery is a great place for the Maximalists out there!

Cercis occidentalis. A beautiful tree grown closer to home.

Folks sometimes confuse this native Southern Oregon/NorCal native with its more common relative Cercis canadensis. While it’s similar, it won’t do well being given regular irrigation during the summer. This tree wants to be a bit more on the dry side but you can irrigate it until it’s established. Just be sure to let it dry out between waterings.

Schefflera delavayi is not quite ready for mail order, but it’s close. I used to joke that I couldn’t keep this one straight with another but now they’re all straightened out in my mind. Growing these from seed has been quite an accomplishment and they’re simply stunning plants in the garden.

I jokingly avoided many plants from Cistus Nursery for ages because they were so popular with so many of my blogging friends. While I could have added them many times over during the last 20 years, I guess I’m a jerk and just needed to grow my own. It’s not meant as an insult to the other propagators that came before me, it just worked out that way! Once again I’m late to the party but I had to wait to fall in love with something. Being popular with my friends doesn’t always cut it for me but luckily we have something for everyone!

Sonchus palmensis is still available and they’re a bit larger than they were last year.

These seem a bit large for mail order, so keep that in mind. You’ll be getting a nice big plant. I grew these from seed last year, and they need some winter protection, but are otherwise a giant dandelion tree. No big deal. Kind of amazingly cool.

Aristolochia californica. We don’t have these in the catalog right now, but we have a crop of seedlings that was just potted up. We’ll have them again soon and I’d suggest keeping this vine in mind. It’s a wandering, scrambling, winter-blooming vine.

I’m adding a few photos of other favorite plants. I’ve been enjoying this vine in the parking lot for the last few months and soon I’ll be watching over its seed heads. We collect them there at the nursery, and then grow these plants from seed. Last year we lost the seeds to insects, but these are the wars we wage to do what we love.

Asparagus scandens var. deflexus. This one is not available, but we have a few different unusual choices for container plantings.

Lastly, I have this asparagus plant. I tent to love all of the ornamental ones, but this is a special favorite. It appears soft and fluffy as it tumbles out of containers. It’s a bit thorny though. I hope to have a new crop of it soon. I just needed to collect, clean and sow all of those berries.

No big deal. It’s just what I do.

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Hope you enjoyed this little greenhouse tour of a few of my favorites. There’s nothing new and earth shattering, but it’s fun to share the fruits of my labors with you.

Begonia Season Begins and Winter Ends!!!

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From now until November plants will be changing from week to week at both of my jobs. This is what I live for!! The rush of our spring “openers” (aka sales) is always like getting ready for a big opening night. We must make sure that our cast of characters are ready, even if this means it’s just their first year in the chorus. Serious shopping and plant hounding has already started. Hardcore collectors I know have somehow acquired many plants through the mail, and by visiting local nurseries—and yet it’s still winter! Folks are arranging for visits out in Canby before we’re officially open. I’m not sure yet what the hot plants of the year will be, but give it a few more weeks, and we’ll be able to tell what’s going on. To be honest, I’m not the gambling type, but this anticipation is exciting.

From what I’ve been seeing for the last few years, I think that the houseplant trend has edged us back to a love of tropicalismo, and a heightened concern about climate change and the future of native pollinators and wildlife has many still wanting regionally appropriate native plant options, as well as more xeric options. But what do I know? I just work at two nurseries and think about plants, and read about plants, all of the time.

Many of the hardy begonias we have at Secret Garden Growers.

While we industry folks do our part to inform the public about what we actually have, I tend to let the plants, the nursery owners, and more influential gardeners among us entice shoppers to purchase and own the many plants we’ve produced. Creating mediocre plant-related content is where I originally stepped into all of this (as a blogger), and it’s funny that I’ve not been great when it comes to posting about all of the plants now that I work with—and handle—them daily, To my credit, I know a hell of a lot more about them today, and yet… This is my own time, and I’m exhausted and yet… Here we go!!!

Just keep in mind as I say this, and before you read more, that media literacy should tell you that I’m not about to sell you on anything, other than a crazy AF lifestyle.

This is Begonia aff. sizemorea DJHV 13160. It’s a plant I loved, lost, loved again, lost again, and now I will try to keep it happy yet ONE MORE time. It’s not hardy at all. I just love it.

Begonias are a passion of mine although it’s often forgotten by many friends and peers since I’m so busy helping to run our local Gesneriad Society chapter. (I’m also a member of the PNW branch of the ABS.)

At my jobs, both businesses require that I know my begonias—and I do. At Cistus Nursery I’m a Begonia Boss, and with the help of several mentors, I began reacquiring plants for our extensive hardy to borderline-hardy begonia collection a few years ago. Articles written by Derick Pitman McDaniel and John Boggan have been helpful with this effort too.

Since I’m of an artistic and comical temperament, my breeding efforts have been slow and confused, but I AM a virgo after all, and I’ve now acquired almost all of the plants they’ve both suggested that I play with in terms of hardiness, as well as potential (possibly successful) breeding candidates, so the game is afoot.

Part of me wishes I could work solely with begonias full-time, but that’s not how the life of this horticulturist works. I need to know a lot about many plants, and so I work in spurts, am distracted, and move on to the next crop that needs to be readied to either be grown on longer, or else prepared for retail. It’s a wonder I can keep track of all that I do, but I like spreadsheets and lists, and it’s important to be able to take and keep organized and detailed notes.

Begonia ‘Ginny’ is a hybrid that’s likely borderline for us here in Portland, but I have my doubts. I guess it’s time to try it out and see what I think once and for all! If you live in a colder climate, this makes a great houseplant and it’s one that we have at Cistus on mail-order right now!

This weekend I will be planting out some of the begonia plants I’ve started over the last few years in my own garden. Since I couldn’t afford to purchase and lose my own stock plants for my own experiments here at home, I had to propagate them, and will need to keep additional backups after this summer.

Luckily, what this means for you dear reader is that you’ll be able to benefit from my need to make more of them at work too. Why is this ok? Well, it’d be great to have more folks playing along during the Great Begonia Hardiness Breeding Game! I’m not saying you need to purchase the plants that I’m working with from my employers (but you can). Rather, I’d like to find more folks out there who are doing this too! Which species or cultivar has worked for you?

If you’re already riding this same wavelength, maybe we should swap some plants for trialing? Yes, you folks who can grow them all year round are lucky ducks. If you want to share plants with those friends of yours (like myself) who live in cooler climates, let’s do it! Aren’t you wondering too about the hardiness of your plants? (Hahahahhahaahahaha. Yeah, I know. That’s a stretch.)

This is Begonia x erythrophylla or a beefsteak begonia. I’ve had this houseplant since I took this photo back in 2010. While Cistus Nursery is not known for selling houseplants, we sell patio or planter plants that often need winter protection.

A volunteer at Cistus decided to propagate A LOT of her Begonia x erythrophylla with us. This is not what volunteers usually do there, but many of our staff are currently in love with begonias so we just let her go for it. While not a hardy begonia, it’s one that we’ll have for sale this year, and I’m thrilled about it since it is stunning in a hanging container. Lots of folks will find it really satisfying and fun to watch grow. There’s nothing quite like those huge pancake-like UFO leaves floating above you.

Begonia ‘Smooch’ is a new plant for me. It is allegedly quite hardy and I look forward to trialing it more.

We have the super hardy species plants floating around at both nurseries along with some of their hybrids. Begonia grandis is the most commonly planted hardy begonia and it can become a greenhouse weed of some renown. Begonia ‘Smooch’ is hybrid of it and probably Begonia chitoensis, so I predict it will be a tough beast, but we won’t know until we see more of it planted in this region. I can’t wait to try it out. (The batch above it nearly ready for retail or the catalog at Cistus Nursery right now.)

Cuttings of Begonia ‘Taconite’.

Somehow, I forgot to take some photos of Begonia ‘Little Brother Montgomery’. It’s been a trooper in my garden for years now and I made two crops of it at Cistus Nursery as well. So instead, we have Begonia ‘Taconite’, a very popular houseplant, that’s also quite a toughie. Allegedly, it too can withstand life in the ground here, but I won’t believe that until I see it. Seems like a legitimate reason to trial it in the garden to see how it goes over the next year.

New growth on Begonia ‘Taconite’

So, if you’ve made it this far and are wondering yet if I’m crazy, let me tell you that the answer to that is, “Duh!”

Yes, I’m a crazy plant lady and I’m in this to have some fun!

How in the world though can I be so nuts as to suggest that non-hardy plants can be hardy? Well, that’s because this is all part of a hardiness game, one where you live in a borderline USDA zone, and you push the plants as hard as you can to survive. How you ask? There are only two very serious rules for begonia survival in the PNW USDA zone 8-ish (to 9) climates.

Summer wet. Winter dry.

Plant these plants under eaves, under evergreen trees, under limbed up shrubs, and water them during the warmer growing months. During the winter, the ground must be dry. If it is too wet, the plants will rot and die.

It’s a fun little gardening game to play, and it’s a great parlor trick to share with your gardening friends and plant allies.

Here’s to experimentation and gardening for one very good reason—curiosity! Have fun out there folks and hip hip hooray to spring being just around the corner!!!

Experiments in Potted Plant Hardiness—Winter Fun in the PNW

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Asplenium bulbiferum, mother fern. USDA zones 9-11. This plant was only taken indoors during two cold spells.

If you’re a hardcore gardener, you’ve likely learned a few lessons over the years about what will and will NOT survive in your garden. For most of us, that begins with learning about your USDA hardiness zone.

While we used to sit at USDA zone 8b, where I live in Portland, Oregon is now leaning more towards a USDA zone 9a. I’m conservative though, and chunky. So while I may wear a size 10 pant in ladies, I still tend to wear a size 12 just so I don’t feel too fat in tight pants. I like to feel comfortable, and to be honest, so do my plants.

But I DO like to go out on the edge. I very much like some risk. More than anything, I like to experiment. (I’ve been sporting a modern pandemic mullet so go figure.)

So, here’s what I’ve learned recently while living on the gardening edge!

Epiphyllum, epicactus hybrid. To USDA zone 10. This plant has not been taken inside for protection for 2 years.

Lots of plants are not quite hardy, but with some special attention, you can keep them outside longer. Some can even become hardier if planted correctly, but I’m really only talking about potted plants in this post.

If you want to experiment at your home, first I recommend that you get to know your microclimates. A thermometer system with multiple sensors can help with that. This will help you to better understand which corners of your garden are the coldest and the warmest.

A variety of plants. These plants spent the winter on the front porch. Rhipsalis was my greatest surprise over the last few years. So many are so tough!

Dry covered areas are the next best-kept secret. Like a greenhouse during the winter, this leaves you in charge of how much moisture plants receive. If plants are kept nearly dry, they don’t rot in the cold. Some of mine are now kept bone dry and they’re looking great!

The plants need some light, but I’ve been surprised at the dark corners where I’ve been able to stuff them. Leaving some of the hardier plants outdoors has allowed me some space indoors to work too.

Aporocactus sp., rattail cactus. USDA zones 9-11. This plant has not been taken indoors for two years.

Not all of them look fantastic, but I don’t either in my size 12 pants, so I’m not going to shame them. This is an experiment so that’s all that matters. It’s for science! Just like me!!

What matters is that they’re alive! I have more experiments like these too, but I’m just showing you a few, and I’m going to encourage you to experiment too.

Tradescantia fluminensis ‘Gold Wing’. To USDA zone 10. It’s been outside for nearly a year now.

My favorite surprise has been this Hoya carnosa. I actually have 4 of them outside now since I have kicked them out to make room for other plants indoors. We have very few freezing days around here, so as long as I can bring them in when we dip under 30F for too long, they’re JUST fine.

Hoya carnosa, wax plant. USDA zones 9-11. I leave these all outdoors now for most of the year.

Let me know in the comments if you have any oddballs out there living their best lives! Who’s alive that shouldn’t be thanks to your love and care?

Starting Seeds at Home with a Professional Seed Propagator, Former Seed Seller, and Seed Advocate

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First off, let’s just begin with the basics of what I do here at home. Long ago I started with a few packets, and then there were more. I disliked the disorganization, so I started a spreadsheet. Since I grow all categories of plants, this means that I have a library of most of what I’ve attempted to grow over the years. This also means that I can then toss away those seed packets, and you’d think this means my life would be more organized, but well, let’s just say that’s only sorta true.

You can see the basics of the sheets here. I have the botanical Latin name, the common name, the week they should be started, where they’re from, roughly how many plugs I’ve sown if they’re plugs, and roughly how many final plants I will have in the crop.

When you should sow the seeds is essentially found on the back of commercial seed packets.

In this case it’s at the Last Frost date, so I’ve written LF on the packet to help me know where to store them. (I should add that I typically start seed shopping early and sometimes seeds from last year, that have been stored in the fridge since spring, are pulled out and resorted in these drawers.)

Some of my seeds are stored here in my office, but others are in the fridge. Let’s just keep this simple though since these are basically where I store the seeds that most of you are growing and that are found at nurseries this time of the year.

The drawers are marked on their edges, and this is how I know which is which. I have them marked with Last Frost, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12. Those numbers coordinate to (blank number) of weeks before last frost date. For me, that means that I usually begin with the 12 weeks before the last frost date drawer in January or February since my last frost date is usually around Tax Day. With our regions being different all over the country, this can confuse folks but once you’ve got it down it will make more sense with practice.

I mark my personal calendar and I keep track of what I’ve sown on my sheet. This year I’m wildly behind, but this seems to be normal for me.

Most seeds are viable for several years so long as they’re stored well. If I don’t sow things because I’ve fallen behind, I store them in the fridge. I even have a separate fridge just for this, and I’d recommend this if you can swing it, and are obsessed with saving and storing your own seeds. I know I am but it is not for everyone.

The seeds above are from NARGS. These are primarily bulb and perennial seeds although I think sometimes there are a few annuals. Most of these seeds I try to sow in the winter when they arrive, but if I miss that window, I put them in the fridge and then sow them in the fall. Where I live, our climate allows for perfect winter stratification so I use that too in my efforts to germination every seed I can as successfully as possible.

Most perennials will appreciate a period of cold to cool weather. If I miss the fall window I will rush to sow seeds just about right now. This means that some perennials will sprout in the coming weeks, but it also means that if they don’t, I will need to tend to them over the spring and summer.

For some folks this will make their garden space ugly, and will create extra work and watering, but I garden to germinate plants, and I like to observe this process, so I do it all year for the most part.

Sure, you see greenhouses that look nice, and you may think that would be fun to have in the summer, but if I left these in one of them, they’d cook. I won’t go in to all of that, but for many plants, it’s best to do this outdoors when it comes to perennials and trees, and keep the greenhouse for winter protection and seed starting in winter. For me, that means working in my garage but I like nice cool and crisp late winter days a lot so I can be outside with Felix.

So to review, start the perennials outdoors, during a cool season, and start the annuals, veggies, cacti, succulents, and a few other things indoors using the 12 week to LF date method.

And just to confuse you more, fern spores, tropicals, and many other plants can also all be started indoors at any time of the year that you want under lights. I do that as well. I’m not kidding when I say, “I’m all seeds all of the time.”

During the pandemic I gave away free veggie starts from a table in my driveway. Folks donated to the effort and I had supplies and my time was covered for the most part. I learned by doing this that so many veggies can be started outdoors long before the last frost date here. You just need to be sure to protect them.

Birds and rodents can ruin all of the fun so be sure to cover your flats. You will be rewarded though for your efforts and if they do happen to get into your stuff, just resow the containers. I honestly was shocked at how easy and how much fun this effort was so I will do it again this year.

While I wish I had my own professional greenhouse to be doing this in, I don’t, but maybe someday I’ll have that little boutique nursery at the beach.

There are so many ways to do this kind of gardening work. It’s so much fun to grow seed crops and to transplant them and then watch them grow in the garden. There is not one right way, what is right is what works for you. If you can perfect it, then so much the better! None of this should be complicated or frustrating. If it is you’re expecting too much, and might be trying too hard. There really can be such a thing. Try to have fun with it and experiment.

You must be patient though, and you must wait sometimes for 2-3 years for seedlings to emerge. If you find seeds for a hard-to-find plant that is often why you can’t find the plant for sale. Nurseries simply do not earn enough to care for difficult crops for years and years. There’s only so much labor that’s worth it and crops can be lost so easily the longer you sit on them. It’s why you see so many of the same mass-produced plants at nurseries which are really just retail locations that have ordered plants in from other places. A lot of labor goes into just keeping plants alive and providing customer service. Many companies simply cannot add growing their own plants into their business model too.

While the new and the novel are fun, the truly rare to cultivation plants are out there. The waters are currently being muddied a bit by false claims in some plant marketing. A rare plant is not what it used to be and you need to ask yourself if it’s rare in the wild or rare in cultivation. It’s important for consumers to be aware of this and to be savvy shoppers. Ask how your plants are propagated and where.

Rare plants in the garden are not as interesting to me though as the overall feel and the benefit to wildlife. We all grow plants though for many different personal reasons. I grow them because I love to grow and save seeds so many of my plants are species plants and I grew far fewer cultivars and hybrids than most other folks—but I still have quite a few!

Lastly, there are the many systems for sowing seeds. While I WISH I’d been paid to say this, I wasn’t at all. Honestly though, I’m a big fan of the Park Seed Bio Dome seed-starting system. I only use it at home, and on shelves in my basement, but I love it for several reasons. First and foremost, it can be used for annuals, some perennials, begonias, gesneriads, and fern spores. Your starts are bottom watered and with the dome on you can go a week sometimes without watering. Lastly, I have reused the styrofoam inserts for years, and I purchase new plugs in bulk each year. I have a dishwasher to sanitize it, and it’s easy!

This is also a nice system and I use it for the slow growing cacti and succulents. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and I can grow a lot in it. Also, it too is a bottom watered setup.

Other than that, I only use seed starting mixes in containers outside. I don’t fill trays with containers and soil and grow plants indoors much unless they’re tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants. I used to grow more plants indoors, but then I realized it was just as easy to start them indoors, pot them up, and then keep them outside with some protection.

Hope this helps with some of the basics. Please feel free to comment with more specific questions about things. I wanted to keep this as simple as possible.

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So in closing, I’m going to share this park bench with you. Last week I stressed the importance of seeking out plant knowledge IRL, and plant people. There are many reasons to get away from what is being sold online—both literally and metaphorically. The most dangerous of which is the cult of celebrity and likes. It’s a recurring theme. Get out there and wrap yourself up in your own wild and creative intuition that can lead to all kinds of discoveries, improvements in your own satisfying projects, and build friendships, not followers.

Grow that wild inner garden! All it will take are a few packets of seeds and laughing through some dumb mistakes until you get it right. Grow and glow! I’m not kidding. Let that little damn light inside shine, and shine it hard out there into the dark unknown. That’s how to be seen.

Don’t “shine” to humble brag, but do it to try to help others who need to see a light to follow in darker times.

Seed Sowing and Pandemic Gardening

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This weekend I’ll be sowing seeds like a wild woman here at home. As has been typical over the last few years, I’m behind. So behind! I have two days to make a serious dent in this pile, and I know that I will. Then it’s back to work to do the same thing all next week.

Right now it’s GO time.

So many seeds need to be sown on time, or else plants just won’t grow into the best they can be during the season. Some seeds are old, so I need to sow them ASAP to get anything I can out of the batch. Then I will plant those babies and pray that I will have fresh crops of seeds at the end of the season.

I planted several packets a few years ago that were 20 years old and I still had an ok germination rate. You just never know! Fun, right? Experimenting is the best!

One of many seed hoards I’ve known AND sown over the years. I can’t wait to dig into this bag this weekend.

This year is different than others because I want to redo the seed garden I used to have where I was able to collect seed crops. My shop on ETSY is nearly closed now. I’m still debating if I want to ever sell seeds again, but I want to have that option. Oh to have more land!

It was a decade well spent, but I honestly, I lost a lot of money doing it. The amount of labor that went into sowing, growing, collecting, cleaning, and packaging was A LOT. My time is worth more now, and I plan to sell small batches of plants wholesale. We shall see though. I’m not rushing into that yet since I’m working nearly full-time as it is. To make it in horticulture though, you’ve got to stay on your toes and be open to getting creative.

Felix with the seed hoard from last year.

Some of the seeds will be sown in flats outdoors, on racks or on the ground. I lack space around here so I do what I can and I don’t mind that it’s not picture perfect. The good news is that I work at two nurseries and some of these babies wind up at either, or, I sell a few here, and there, or I trade with friends.

With more Open Garden dates this year I need to speed this up so that I can clean it all up in time for folks to walk through.

I’ll be starting seeds indoors as well. I can’t start as many as I used to due to the number of houseplants I currently own, but I’ll be doing what I can. It never stops. There is a reason I’m well-known for my seeds and seed work. I just love this process and work hard to learn more as I go. Each batch is a new recipe to me.

Begonia listada grown from seed.

So much of this reminds me of cooking and many of my kitchen skills are used. It’s especially obvious when I have to prep, clean and sort seeds and it can be mind numbing. Sometimes seed cleaning feels like peeling potatoes all day. Even sowing them can feel like slamming your head against the wall over and over. Reminds me of cooking 5-course meals with painful swollen legs. Gotta push through the monotony of it.

I love to make a large serving of plants though, a potted up tray of beautiful plants, and to see people smile as they walk through tables of flats. Potted up cuttings, plugs, and seedlings grown on, all ready to go home to be planted.

Delicious on the eyes, isn’t it? Just the thought of this image gets us excited. We’re fans of the garden performance and we want to orchestrate our own.

These are the art supplies of garden artists that I “whip up” for them. Dabblers, dreamers, and makers crafting up living spaces, property, and the ground around them, making previously dull space come to life. Magical green daily dances on spring afternoons grow into something more solemn and bold on hot summer evenings. The show folds in autumn of course. Stems lose their leaves, and yet they still stand. Nearby their friends fold over, tumbling in cold winds, taking their finally bows. The curtain of winter falls and the show is over.

When the rush of this performance is over, and you’ve come down from your high, if you find yourself craving to do it all over again, then you know you’ve fallen hard for gardening. You’re addicted.

Columnea sanguinea berries bursting with seeds.

I miss collecting seeds at home. I miss observing native plants around the region. I miss a lot of things because of the pandemic and working so much.

I’ve learned a lot though during the last few years. While many consumers are willing to pay more for plants, their reasons are changing. Consumers are brutal though. They judge the overall appeal of your entire look and setup. Social media and the internet have made the industry so much more public too, especially thanks to indoor gardening. It’s important for me to escape from all of this, and so I have my jungle home, my laboratory, and my other interests. It’s not all sunshine and flowers out there in the real world.

Times are changing and there is a generational shift occurring right now. It’s interesting (and a bit scary) to watch as it happens but change is good and I see it as growth. I’ll keep posting about this throughout the year. It’s too complicated to cover in one flippant paragraph. If you’ve noticed it too, feel free to comment.

Cleaning Pittosporum seeds at Cistus.
Iris douglasiana seedlings we potted up at Cistus a few weeks ago. Look forward to this Southern Oregon, NorCal coastal native soon.
This was my seedling bench last year. For some reason I can’t find the more recent photo I just took.
Seedlings of the pandemic celebrity “Monte the Agave” here in Portland. Owned by Lance Wright, the bloom drew people from all over town to his front garden.
You just never know what kind of special seeds will arrive at Cistus Nursery as fun gifts for us to sow.

I am at Cistus now 3 days a week and am working shorter days to make it all possible with my health issues. After 5 years there, I have a lot of crops that have grown up. I hope to share more of them this year here on the blog too as they’ve aged a bit and grown up.

So many of my babies have gone home with customers who’ve planted them and loved them. It thrills me to have been been able to help others garden. My goal is to provide these products to consumers, making the plants my employers need to sell, but in the coming months I hope to educate more readers and folks who land on my site about the importance of what I do, and why small batches of diverse plants matter in terms of creating a marketplace that is fun for consumers to access and enjoy.

I fear that we’ll have less and less plant diversity on the market unless we have more small nurseries opening. That’s my nightmare, and I fight it daily, sort-of in a not-so-quiet way, behind the scenes. Expect me to keep talking about this a lot around here.

If you know where your food comes from, and how it’s produced, I think it’s time we better educate consumers and one another about where our plants come from, and why they matter too.

My Mounted Plant Journey (and the Master of Mounts)

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Nothing like a little mounted Platycerium in the garden.

Long ago I saw my first mounted plants in conservatories and orchid collections. Even then I knew myself well enough to say, “No, Ann. Don’t do it. Don’t go there.” Then a few years ago, I did this. Nothing like buying some of the more difficult mounted plants…

The three Huperzia plants I purchased at Dick’s Greenhouse before the property was sold. Only the on on the far right is still alive. These are not easy to keep happy in average indoor conditions. They do best in a humid greenhouse or tank.

I’ve talked about Dick’s Greenhouse before, but it really was an amazing collection of plants and pottery created by a lifelong plant lover. While my friends and I often joked about mold inducing mounts in homes, nothing could stop me from wanting a few new babies to try for the first time. I pretty much failed with all of them, and should have transferred more of the plants to tanks when I had the chance, but that was it, I was hooked.

Who doesn’t want a greenhouse to keep their own collection in? Right? If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that many people want to hide in jungles in their own homes. Over the last few years I’ve enjoyed dreaming about what Dick’s collection of plants was like to visit. What a treasure to have known it so briefly. Personally, all I can do (and afford) is my space in the back garden so I move my plants in and out each year. It’s not quite as nice as an established greenhouse collection, but it works for me.

After Dick sold his home and greenhouse, I continued to play with mounts, and this year I finally spoke about them a few days ago at the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival. In all fairness, my mounts still tend to be a bit mixed with kokedama, but I love my moss meatballs. I intend to make more mounts though in the coming months, ones that I can enjoy all summer outside, but first let’s just look at a few more of my inspirations…

During the recent trip to SoCal and back with my plant partner in crime The Practical Plant Geek, we stopped at a few locations with mature mounts. One was the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate.

To say that seeing that many orchids was inspiring is an understatement. It was overwhelmingly beautiful and I bought a few of the plants posted above. Best of all, they can live outdoors for many months of the year here in Oregon if I place them just right.

Microclimate madness is a good thing!

Before that though, we’d also stopped in Los Angeles to see the home garden of a plant friend that I’d met online. His name is Carlos Cruz, but I’m going to refer to this fellow plant geek as the Master of Mounts. Like a true plant collector, he’s been at this for about 3 decades and he’s pretty much just focused on mounting anything that is available. I think it is safe to say that Carlos is up for experimenting and that’s a wonderful thing.

While for some folks this is a bit too experimental, it’s how we learn more about how to cultivate a plant, and we often learn a lot more about plants by putting them through this kind of thing. There are so many factors that can be altered, and growers in different parts of the country, and even the world, can compare notes. Carlos though, he is the Master. I’m so glad he responds to my inquiries since I’m such a newbie at this.

For tips from my presentation, you can find them on Sunday. I will have a permanent page setup and will also post a link to it from here. I was a bit late this week finishing this post thanks to traveling away from home. I am so grateful to have had that opportunity though. I love talking about plants so much.

To find Carlos on Instagram, click here. If you ever have any questions about epiphytic plants, especially rare and unusual ones, reach out to the Master.

Queering My Garden, Let Me Introduce Myself

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Funny how a pandemic has us all a bit numb now—and very tired. Some weeks I’m on the ball, while others, I’m just lost in thought. Blogging again has me seeing gaps in the stories I tell myself and others. It also has helped me to have candid talks with friends. So again, let me quickly re-introduce myself.

Hi, my name is Ann. I’m a bisexual woman who has chosen to be married to a man. I am still, and always will be, bisexual. My pronouns are she/her. I’m gender nonconforming. I’m queer. I’m in-between. Ann the Man is a nickname from childhood and I might actually swear like a sailor in my day-to-day life. I used to say I’m a gender bending tomboy but the stakes are too high now not to take this more seriously. This stuff matters and I want to represent.

My chosen family means too much to me to remain silent. I represent the B in LGBTQ and this can, and should be, read into my garden too. I’m the author of this space, the creator of my garden. Both of my families live their lives in my garden. It was made for all of them.

I’ve known that I was bisexual since I was quite young… maybe since the 4th grade. I was in church and I looked around at everyone and thought, “I could spend the rest of my life with a boy or a girl. I don’t see the difference.” It was a Catholic Church, and I attended Catholic school for 12 years, but I never felt badly once for who I was and I’m grateful my parents were friends with a gay couple, had a lesbian typesetter at our office, and later they remained in the care of a physician during her transitioned from male to female, as did my elderly grandmother. They wanted to be supportive and they were.

My grandmother always said, “People are just born that way.” She also added that back in her day people would commit suicide because of these issues and I knew she must have known someone who did, but I was a kid, so I never asked. I wish I had.

I learned the expression that people “swung both ways” from my older brothers and their pornography consumption before I learned the word “bisexual”. I remember that learning that word was a relief. It sounded scientific and not so pervy. It was a relief to know what I was once and for all. I found comfort in the label, but I was nerd and had learned many labels for many things. This one though, it was mine.

Later, after finding myself fully sexually attracted to both sexes, it was a relief and I knew then exactly 100% who I was, but like others, I’ve been quiet about it, saying it’s no one’s business but my own, but I’m part of a rainbow spectrum, and I know there are others like me out there, and it is important for us all to be seen and heard. The diversity amongst us all is something I’ve come to not only embrace, but I see it as wildly beautiful. There is so much diversity in the LGBTQ+ world.

I might be pansexual, but I would need more time to think on that one. My youth was filled with fewer options, so I am just going with what I have known. Currently, I’m just working at feeling more comfortable as myself, as I am, and as I need to be, and not as society has continually told me to be.

The pandemic has seen me embracing my boyish ways, getting a mullet, and buying a JEEP with 4WD. I’m sure that these were all part of the code used when young men broke off relationships with me saying things like, “You’re not as feminine as I’d thought you’d be.” Ok then, let me finally explore what that means to me in my own way.

The more masculine I’ve become recently, my aging and ailing father continues to tell me I’m more beautiful to him than I’ve ever been and that he’s proud of me. I’d expected that my parents would both suggest that I tone down the new me, but nope. They love it. I’m lucky though. Very lucky. This is so often not how a story like this ends up.

And, while this sounds like the most boring coming-out ever, it had to be done. Coming out to my family was a non-event. I still married men twice, so I’m not all that “radical”. If I happened to end up with a woman in a committed relationship later in my life, it might be awkward at first, but they are genuinely ok with who I am and I know that. All of my friends who are close to me know too. I have really just been putting this off. Part of it being the fear that doing it here would end up with another comment like, “But I don’t care about who you are, what does this have to do with gardening?”

And right now some of you are likely feeling that uncomfortable feeling. You know the one. It’s when you realize that someone you thought might be like you, is NOT, and you’re likely to not want to spend as much time with them anymore since you’re too “different” than them. I bet if you feel this, you’re likely female, but maybe not… No, I’m not like you and lots of other people, but if you’re a good person, I want to know you. If you’re shallow and self-involved, well… I doubt you’ve read this far.

You might even want to say something like, “But you know I’m not gay too, right?” That’s kind of the fearful approach and it’s likely I’m very aware of this if we’re friends and you’re likely not even my type and that comment can seem kind of homophobic actually but you might not realize it. (Insert the arrogant female friend here who thought I was hung-up on her due to her own self-delusion and huge ego. Couldn’t be rid of that toxic friendship fast enough.) So much fear of the unknown and other baggage can come into friendships with folks who are not comfortable with otherness. If I can accept heterosexuals, I would like the same respect—and some space. You can be friends with gays and not think that they always want into your pants. Folks need to get over themselves.

I have felt left out and unseen quite often while reading what we’ve been calling garden writing. I have participated awkwardly in the gardening community. Let’s just say it honestly though, I do not identify with a lot of the content out there, and never have, but as the houseplant folks online have run with accepting and loving all things LGBTQ+ and #blacklivesmatter I feel like people out there finally want to hear from the real me, and I can just be more of myself now. The pandemic has made me fully #wtf about it all. Who doesn’t want to feel INVITED though. That IS inclusion.

Of the many spaces that I live in, this one here has felt crushing at times. I have been TERRIBLE at this garden blogging thing for nearly 15 years. Don’t think it’s because I’ve been hiding in the closet, it’s just that over time I’ve been surrounded by more and more gay men and it’s funny how the pandemic has had me sitting back and examining this. Sh*t or get off of the pot, right? Well, I’m writing weekly for the next year and then I will decide if this will end or not. It might. For this reason, I’ve been giving it my all and I’ve been enjoying it.

I have been in a very good place for the last few years now, but I’ve not been open or honest about it all publicly. It seems like I should and see what happens before moving on to something else.

“For f*#cks sake though! I have to say something. But what?”

I suck at marketing myself, and always have been lousy at it because I cannot advertise a version of myself back to all of you that is palatable enough to make you feel like you want to buy into my lifestyle “brand”. I’m a writer that will always refuse to write things for you, flattering you, following the trends, mommy blogging, showing you soothing images, leaving you with a comfortable and happy feeling since I reflected you back at you, thereby giving you existential validation and a sense of belonging when we actually don’t know one another. I’m the friendly verbal slap on social media that no one asked from or even wants but I might be a refreshing glass of cold water in your face from time to time.

I do better leaving my readers with things to think about, maybe opening up a conversation folks might want to be included in. I’m good at being an outsider, sitting on the edge a bit, looking for the other misfits, helping them to find a way in too, showing them that it’s not all bad. Hey! If there are enough of us misfits in the same spot at once, maybe we can have our own party! I am always going to be in the minority.

As a writer, I might even want to upset you sometimes if it means that you as a reader might actually think about your own anger and where it came from since I’d rather change a mind than make more friends and get more followers. Make a difference or make a buck? Clearly, I also suck at being a capitalist but at least I work hard.

But again, in general, garden writing is very narrow and miopic. Juxtaposed with nature writing, garden writing is a comforting Marie Cassatt painting compared to a profound work by Helen Frankenthaler. I see myself in the bigger theoretical picture, but I also see myself crashing norms more and more in the small garden rooms of acceptability in the smaller one too.

And does this all offend? Do you want to censor me or ask me to tone my thoughts down to appeal to more people or a wider audience? Both have occurred to me in recent weeks and it’s been rather funny to me. That’s exclusion. Of all the voices out there right now blurting out personal opinions, it’s hilarious to me that gardeners have wanted me to muffle my own. THAT ALONE says that the community is NOT inclusive. I’m a privileged white woman and I will not deny that fact to anyone and yet I’m being asked to calm my tits? Satire folks. Chill out. I am both sarcastic and satirical.

There is nothing worse than a room full of privileged white people complaining about the issue of the lack of inclusion and how few people of color there are in their group when they can’t even deal with differing ways of existence amongst their own ranks. Conformity to societal norms is overrated and I can now see how that can infect gardening behaviors and choices. And DO NOT TELL ME that this is just about plants and about the subject matter of how you grow them. Plants didn’t invent garden writing and plant groups, people did.

This is about sitting down and listening in an effort to be inclusive. It’s about NOT taking up all of the space AND air in the room. It’s about being passive in order to learn from others, to give them the space and respect that says, I am here to listen and learn from you too. Don’t be anxious about change, embrace the change because it is always coming. Life is change. Gardening is change. None of us can control the plants.

I touched a nerve with some gatekeepers recently and it was an interesting experience. I hope you’re grateful for my experience lol.

No, I am not writing this to get a book deal. I’m not writing this to get more followers (although I got a lot more with my satirical one than I’ve had in a few years. Thank you.) I’m just here to rattle the cage and I hope in so doing to bring more voices to the table that feel like they’ve been shut down, cut off, or spoken down to over the years.

I write to be honest and because I honestly love plants. I also very much believe in the power of words, of communication, and of the power of people when they work together for a common goal. My goal as an outsider has always been to be accepted as an insider and to leave the door open to all, so long as they respect all others as equals.

But you can fact check me and make sure that all of this, every word, is acceptable. I crave nothing more than the approval of others lol. (Sarcasm)

Back in the 1990s, when I travelled between the biology and English literature departments, queer theory and ecofeminism were popular with the “crunchier” students. I was a radically minded cynical grungy punk so I kept clear of these schools of thought. As I became a bit less feral thanks to academic mentors, I gathered steam in other theoretical schools of thought, and so I now find myself returning to fields that I should have learned years ago, but hey, we’re never too old to learn new things. I am working again on ethnobotanical items as well to “fact check” the recent rash of #colonialism name callings that I’ve been seeing. (Yes, many of these are very accurate, but it’s been abused more and more and that’s not the kind of name calling that we should be bandying about willy-nilly. Words can lose their impact and power. I care about that.)

While sitting down late after work on Thursday to write this post, I found this article How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time, A lesson plan, and in many ways, it says everything I really wanted to say in this post tonight, about so many OTHER things. I jokingly called the process of this piece The Queerening with a friend this evening. (Yes, I’m a fan of Highlander.)

In all seriousness though, if you can keep up with this thought train I’m on, please give this a spin too.

Growing Ferns from Spores

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A photo from a private event at my home in February 2015 with featured speaker Richie Steffen, co-author along with Sue Olsen of The Plant Lover’s Guide to Ferns (The Plant Lover’s Guides). The presentation was ALL about ferns and it was after that talk I took the spore plunge. I’ve been quietly sporing ever since.

My first gardening job as a kid was to cut back Mom’s sword ferns each year. She had roughly 100+ of them. It was a lot of work but it ended up looking quite lovely once they’d all reemerged again. I never thought about how they were propagated though. They were just there with all of the other native plants. I took them for granted.

When Richie Steffen came to my house to give a talk to the underground Daisy Chain group, he really made me think about the wonders of hybridization. Many fern hybrids created during the Victorian era are long gone now. There are so many possibilities it seemed endless after this event so I decided to collect some spores at Cistus Nursery to see what I could come up with on my own.

My first crop of ferns at Cistus Nursery. This is Pyrossia lingua ‘Nokogiri Ba’ which came true from spore. Who woulda thunk it? You don’t know until you try it.

Several crops came up, and as they did so I observed them carefully. Sporing requires keen patience and some requisite knowledge as well as an understanding of how to coax fern babies along. After my first successful crops though, I’ve kept at it, and have tried a variety of different things. Each year I experiment with new plants to keep my skills sharp. This process takes a lot of time. At certain points it can feel frustrating, and you might want to just throw your arms up in the air and chuck the container. It’s easy to get the sporelings going, but growing them on has been the greatest challenge for me. You can ignore them initially, but you must keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t die out on you.

Clean containers are a requirement. I personally have fallen in love with the takeout containers of the pandemic. Many restaurants use ones now that are microwave and dishwasher safe. Whenever I can save time by sanitizing in the dishwasher, I’m a happy propagatrix.

As for a soilless medium, I tend to use whatever I have on hand. To be honest, you should sterilize it as well, but I often forget. You can do so in a microwave or oven.

Using a container with a tight lid is also important. You want the spores to be in a very humid environment and you do not want to open the lid frequently since it’s more like a Petri dish and can be contaminated far more easily than other seed trays. This can lead to sudden death so be cautious about sanitizing the area where you’re working.

Since I work with a nurseryman who also collects in the wild, I can collect at the nursery, and after Sean has collected elsewhere, I can prepare the spores after the fronds have been placed between sheets of paper.

(*I do NOT recommend that amateur growers collect in the wild. This honestly requires a license typically and we do this to keep plants in the trade to HELP prevent the poaching of entire plants. If you’re interested in purchasing spores, keep reading. I will get to that below.)

At the nursery, I collect spores as they ripen. Most ferns we grow though are primarily divided since it’s quick and easy, but not all ferns grow quickly.

When you collect in the wild—or even from the garden of a friend—you have to do what you can with what you have at the moment you encounter it. This might mean sowing them immediately, or you may have to press fronds by keeping them warm and dry for a few weeks more in a warm and dry basement.

I can’t say at this point that this part is an easy process. It takes observation and experience to understand when a fern is ready. I’ve collected many myself that ended up being duds. I have also collected from one fern only to have spores from another more weedy one appear. (Spores do float around on the breeze so it makes sense that there would be contamination.) It is not easy to isolate most ferns so you really have to simply wing it and try not to be disappointed if it’s not quite as exciting as you’d wanted it to be when you began.

Once I sow the spores on the surface of the medium I use a water bottle to spray them into the soil. (By the way, the medium is also moistened before I sow the spores.) After that, I slap the lid back on tightly and I wait. I usually leave them in a cool spot for a few weeks with a bit of light. You can stack them in a window and forget them too. It’s oddly that easy but it requires that leap of faith!

In the photos above, the two in the middle show what can happen when your soilless mixture has sphagnum in it. This is not a bad thing to have happen, but to a beginner, it might be frustrating and a bit confusing. Luckily ferns and sphagnum can coexist well together.

Additionally, notice how the gametophytes in the second photo look like liverwort. Folks might be confused by this I’m sure and at this stage the containers might be tossed hastily. But guess what? Before the sporophytes appear, you will have gametophytes. Be patient. Be observant. If you know liverwort, you’ll know it when it hits its next growth stage. Soon you will see antheridial and/or archegonium heads. At that point, you can prick that stuff out, but you need to wait.

If your ferns are to grow successfully, soon you’ll see those little tiny sporophytes. (They’re visible in the 3 photos above and to the right, but they may be difficult to see. The photo with the sphagnum has another kind of Pyrossia, and the photo on the far right is a tree fern.)

These are plugs I spored with spores from the American Fern Society. While many were very successful, I had a lot of spores that spread around, so pricking them out was a bit messier then expected. This Bio Dome system from Park Seed typically works well for me too when I have fewer spores to sow. Since it floats on water it is evenly bottom watered which allows me to spore them and forget.

Lastly, I want to help you to purchase spores by encouraging you to join fern organizations. I usually purchase from the Hardy Fern Foundation and the American Fern Society but remember that you MUST become a member in order to purchase from these groups. Individual collectors, independent growers, public gardens, and others donate their own time to collect and send in these spores and volunteers help to run these spore exchanges. Both are an incredible resource to us all, and we should support them as much as is possible.


I hope that this has helped a little bit. I skimmed over a lot of information but I know it’s available elsewhere and has been provided free online by expert growers if you search around. I’m just a propagator with knowledge acquired over years of practice at my craft at home and in the professional arena.

For a much more thorough description of all of this I recommend this article provided online from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden by Judith Jones of Fancy Fronds Nursery.

Thanks everyone for reading this and if you have any questions, please ask away in the comments section.

Come See Me at the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival (February 9-13, 2022) TICKET GIVEAWAY!!!

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Having attended this event for many years as a blogger, it was quite an honor to be accepted as a presenter for the first time this year.

It has been awkward promoting this event during the current pandemic, but I’m satisfied with the entrance requirements, and am excited to be attending. (I found this information on their site.) “Health & Wellness Update: As of November 15, 2021, and until further notice, the State of Washington requires each attendee and participant (12 years and older) to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or proof of having received a negative COVID-19 test conducted within 72 hours of the event, to attend the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival, February 9-13, 2022. Current regulations also require all attendees to wear masks in indoor public settings. We are continuously monitoring the situation and any updates to the rules will be posted here. For detailed info, please visit: Proclamation 21-16.

I’m traveling there with my husband and we’re staying next door to the event so I can come back to our room frequently to eat my snacks and meals. I’m accustomed to taking my own food with me everywhere because of my allergies, so this process is easy for me. We also know the takeout food options nearby, and there are quite a few. So let the fun begin!

Huperzia I’ve known and loved. Only one of these has survived for me.

If you’re needing to get out for a change of scenery, this should be just the ticket! My talk is early on during the lineup, but if if fits your schedule, come see me! I will be on the DIY stage at 1pm on Wednesday the 9th.

Loree Bohl of Danger Garden fame will be presenting on Friday morning. (Her talk is Create a Garden you Love.) If you can’t make it to my presentation, maybe you’d like to see hers! I have 5 tickets to give away and will send them by mail to the first five folks to leave a comment below about their favorite epiphytic plant.

Thanks so much and see you back here next week where I’ll be talking a bit about how to grow ferns from spores.

Plant People Terminology (From My Own Independent Perspective)

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Recently I started a social media diet. I never thought I consumed a lot of the stuff to begin with, but it’s like crack, so of course I did. With a social media timer on my new phone, I’ve started to accept and acknowledge just how much time I’ve been wasting. I’m tired of reading things that have not been peer reviewed, of seeing the same people taking selfies over and over, of content that is masked to look personal but it’s just marketing for a brand or persona, and worst of all, reading the same information repeated over and over by different people in different ways. It’s driving me bonkers! Does it appeal to anyone? It must since consumers just canNOT avert their gaze.

“Calgon, Take Me Away!” This is old person speak for (you guessed it), I had to escape the monotony of social media and do something healthier and more productive for myself.

It’s nothing personal, but I just lost an uncle after losing a friend last December, and like others, I’m realizing I’m really getting into my own life and I have things yet to do. I work a lot and need to rest.

Maybe this is my midlife crisis? I bought a new-to-me JEEP and I’m buzzing with excitement. I will be working as much as I can to pay for it and to get away.

I’m just going to be honest with you, I don’t heavily curate, and what you see is my process. I have ideas that I mull over and then I throw them at the wall to see what sticks. What don’t we talk about, those of us who work with plants on a daily basis? What can I say and what shouldn’t I share? It’s kind of awkward honestly.

Unlike online life, I have a lot of plant friends that I regularly chat with and talk to and these conversations feed into my ideas that I’ve wanted to post here.

So this one is simple. All it took was someone in an online group referring to one of my employers as a “gardener who sells plants” and my confusion grew as I wondered if this was some kind of “witty” insult or just plain ignorance. (Both of my employers are insanely talented nursery owners, designers, and plantspeople.)

And so I define a few words that I often see misunderstood…

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Arborist: This is not just a person wielding a chainsaw or handsaw. They come certified and you can tell if they’re good by their work. I came from a logging family, and I see many arborists as artistic loggers, especially when they dangle upon high with a chainsaw at their side. Don’t hire just anyone when it comes to the health of a tree. We had this 7 headed Doug fir beast and these professionals removed it. I love this company so we had them back last year to limb up the other Doug fir and once again the crew was great.

Small jobs are even more important. If you prune a tree incorrectly when it’s young you might as well cut it down because you’re not doing it any favors. Sad but true. A real arborist will prevent that. The Doug fir was likely topped at some point. I don’t know who or what did it but you don’t want to live in a region with windstorms and a 7-headed Doug fir tree.

Botanist: Too often the word botanist is being used when the word gardener is more accurate. I’m amazed at the ease with which folks just slap on hashtags. There is NO SHAME in calling yourself an indoor gardener. Just being a home gardener is something to aspire to since it means you’ve acquired some space. I know a few botanists and they are not all gardeners. They study plants, they look at pressed and dried samples of plants, but they don’t garden and grow monsteras. One even contributed a great deal to the most recent climate change report, and I respect and admire the work that they do, so I am always and forever an amateur bot-ann-ist.

Breeder: Hey, it’s not just a label for your friends with kids! There are also plant breeders. I know A LOT of plant breeders. I guess I hang out in the kinkier corner of the Hort world, but I know folks with massive breeding projects that are part of ornamental horticulture internationally, and I know basement breeders gardening under lights.

Florist: A career I admire since I’ve known a few and I know how hard the work is and how long the hours can be. I don’t see this career misused but I am amazed at the interest in flower farming and I know it’s become a huge trendy topic. It IS important to buy local and to support local growers.

Flower Farming: Flower farming overlaps with horticulture a little bit but the industry is considered agricultural work. When I think of the blooming fields I think of traffic on my way home from work. One farm actually cut all of its flowers down early just to stop people from trespassing on their land to take selfies and portraits. It was a fallow field that they’d then planted with sunflowers before planting a new crop of conifers and deciduous trees. The fact the people flocked to this “photo op” to get something for nothing by trespassing still amazes me.

Garden Coach: Not a job that requires much other than experience and gardening training. This is a job that I do on the side and I love it. Sometimes I just walk around and ID plants so that homeowners know what they have, and other times I work beside them so that they can learn how to do regular tasks and maintenance. To me, this job is one that means you’re just a helping hand and you’re there to encourage folks. If a coach isn’t willing to get dirty with you, they’re not a coach. (Simply my opinion.)

Garden Designer: Some are really great and some are not. I do think of them as artists. Some are more popular and “in style” while others are designing paintings over and over for office buildings and hotels. As a horticulturist essentially trained in art criticism, I will stop at this point. I could say a lot.

I personally struggled to design my own garden since I really had a nursery of plants that I was growing and learning about for years. I still call it my garden laboratory with an emphasis on labor.

I like to have one design client each year to help. My favorite thing to do is to take an established space that’s “meh” and to make it magical.

As with everything in life, you will get what you pay for… Keep that in mind.

Gardener: A person who tends to plants. Yup. This includes an indoor gardener. Some are likely life-long or expert, but again, this is not a shameful designation. Gardeners are G-R-E-A-T!!!!

Horticulturist: A professional trained in the successful growth of plant crops. Doing this all at once is like conducting an orchestra or running a kitchen during rush.

Laborer: The word I often hear used when an individual wants to hire muscle for cheap. I dislike the vagueness of this word and how it’s often meant to imply that the laborers are possibly undocumented immigrants in this country so you can pay them less.

* I knew a skilled laborer once who had once been on the Jerry Springer Show. He didn’t like to talk about it but it always made me laugh.

Landscape Architect: More of an architect than a landscaper, and definitely not a plant expert. It’s very common that plants are included in plans that won’t live long. It’s best when a landscape architect acknowledges this weakness and works with a plant expert. Most often, they have the ability now to hire consultants and that’s a good thing. You cannot be everything to everyone. Don’t waste the client’s money by planting the wrong plants in the wrong place. I see this all of the time and I know for a fact that some special native plants I helped to grow were used in a project by a hotshot landscape architecture firm and I bet they’re already dead.

Landscaper:  Meh. A necessary thing. When a new neighborhood is built, it is landscaped. When a new parking lot goes in, it is landscaped. Many of these projects are based on cost and they use the cheapest plants they can get in the largest sizes. It’s not designed, it’s just planned and planted. Pleasingly finished, but maybe not always a pleasure to look at.

Land-scraper: The name jokingly given to any crew that comes in and essentially destroys a landscape or garden that didn’t need that amount of “leveling”.

Master Gardener: This one is complicated. If you’re a Master Gardener because you seriously care about the community and gardening, then you can stop reading here. If you got your certificate so that you can whip out your big imaginary d*ck and slam it down on the table in front of a group of people, then you’re just an arrogant know-it-all ass. It is sad that individuals have tarnished a decent program, but the ego needs what it needs, and calling oneself a “Master” is a huge selling point for many people. I’m embarrassed for those who’ve suffered because of this. Working retail, I’ve personally been attacked by “Master” Gardeners quite often who’ve felt overly self-assured and it’s just sad. I feel sorry for them. Coming to a nursery to condescend to a person working on the weekend to make yourself feel smarter is a strange way to spend your time.

Don’t be a person who needs to get the certificate so you can go around correcting everyone. And if you try that with me, I might just verbally swat at you. You never know who the person working retail is that day, and no, the customer is not always right. Seriously. It’s impossible. Stop abusing retail workers because you think you can get away with it. Just be nice.

Mow and Blow: A landscaping crew needed for the very minimum of what you could likely do yourself on the weekend but instead you don’t in order to have more free time. (I don’t mean for that to sound mean. I get it. I just HATE the blow part. Luckily I don’t get a lot of that where I live but some areas have it all day.) Also, don’t expect a mow and blow company to do it all for you either. Sometimes, it’s ok to call in a specialist and you might really like the results.

Nurseryman, Nurserywoman: Any individual successfully growing inspected crops of plants for sale. I work for a nurseryman and a nurserywoman.

Plantsperson, Plantswoman, Plantsman: This is NOT a name you call yourself, it is a name you earn in the industry from your peers. It is an honorary name. It is something to aspire to and it should be a goal for many of us in the profession. To be considered for this, you must excel in multiple areas. Typically this means in horticulture, botanizing in the field, floristry, writing, teaching, speaking, any specialized area with trees, and work in public gardens or parks.

Professional Gardener: The person you hire and have respect for their skills since they know a lot more than you probably do. They’re worth the cost, and will leave your garden looking better than beforehand. I’m still shopping for one myself, but I need just the right person to work with since I am likely going to be what is called an “eccentric” client.

Seedsperson, Seedswoman, Seedsman: A professional horticulturist and specialist of seeds. One who grows seeds to collect seeds and who lives for seeds.

Ed Hume and I at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle a few years ago. As a child I saw packets of his seeds in my Grandmother’s garage and at the local Fred Meyer. He was someone I deeply admired for many years and it was wonderful to meet him in person.

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It is entirely plausible that I left out a lot of titles. I sort of worked on this and then forgot about it, and then once again today the term “plantsmen” came up on Instagram. The post had honest-to-goodness REAL plantsmen (two of them are people I know), and it is special when you have a large group of them gathered, but it was disappointing to see a bunch of dudes. Not much diversity, but they are plant geeks and hardcore experts and that can be a scary group to run with and I am sure it’s intimidating.

Only recently have I been included as a “plantswoman” and when my peers called me that in public during an online event, I honestly was choked up and had to pause a minute before I began. It is something that I will continue to strive to be for as long as I am able to do so.

Speaking as a woman in horticulture, as one that runs with a lot of the boys, there are not many women who are admitted. Many of the men have their fans, they have their own followers even, and ladies have often lifted them up in their writing and through their garden status. How often do women raise other women up though? How often do they congregate and raise up a female geek?

The few plantswomen I know seem to keep to themselves, and there are many other women who work towards being experts at one or two things because it is so hard to fight the tide of the patriarchal nature of the plant world. I grew up in the fishing world, so I was born into this kind of challenge, but I worry about what’s to come and if only the folks who are getting their likes online will matter. But who am I to say? I was one of the naive kids who thought that the Web would be used for good, but all it seems to be is a popularity contest, a money maker, a way to steal information…

And maybe the honorific “plantsperson” will someday be replaced by #plantinfluencer.

Sadly, I think that’s already happening.

“A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what.” To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

What’s in a name? Labels and words matter

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I left home with clean pants, then went to pick up some bags of seedling mix at Concentrates Inc. I’m filthy, this is my life, and I love it.

Part One

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is still about the origins of the name of my site. The simple answer is that the blog is named Amateur Bot-Ann-ist because I’m ACTUALLY an amateur at botany. To other folks in the horticulture industry this is obvious from my posts, but it seems that online media has confused readers about what we plant people do. As for my site name, there is actually a longer and thoroughly unrelated explanation for the name as well. I want to publicly talk about that.

This site will be 15 years old next December. This sounds old by American standards. Maybe like I’ve done a lot, but some years I’ve written very little, while during others I was more active. I feel like I’ve been running in circles online recently though. Maybe it’s the pandemic, and folks being at home trying to seek more “passive income” but I feel like more and more content is marketing and I’ve always wanted to do more when I communicate. I can’t just keep posting lightweight easy pieces to crank out content on here. If I want to get back on track with these promised weekly posts, it’s time to cross that bridge now. More plants to come, I promise, but first, I want to take you on a little ride.

My favorite bridge, just to illustrate the transition here in my writing. This is the Astoria-Megler Bridge at the mouth of the Columbia River. I feel clever.

When I started Amateur Bot-Ann-ist in 2007 I was older than folks likely know, and for the first time, I’m going to tell my whole story. Oddly, in so doing, it will also answer truthfully how and why I entered into horticulture. This too is something I’m asked about a lot, but I’ve not yet told the whole truth there either. I’m tired of being ashamed though. I’m getting too old for that. And this is my #MeToo moment.

If you’re the type of reader who is going to say to yourself, “What on Earth does this have to do with gardening?” Step away now. I, for one, am driven to garden because of my own very personal reasons, and I know for a fact now that I am NOT alone. This is a post for others like me, for others who know, love, and support people like me, and for others who just care about gardening and what drives some of us hard-core folks. I want to help, connect, and inspire others to grow. Folks who know my story already know that I mean that metaphorically, but I mean it when it comes to plants too.

I was about 33 years old when I started this blog. I had been mostly financially supported since I was 18 by my loving parents. It had taken me 9 years to complete my undergraduate degree. At the end of my time at PSU I was interviewing at different schools for combined MA and PhD programs in art history and critical theory, so, what was going on that I’ve been so timid to reveal publicly?

Well, to begin with, I was sexually assaulted as a 15-year-old teen by a stranger from another Catholic school who plotted to lure and rape me to get back at another member of his baseball team. I lost my virginity during this sexual assault and that’s because the young man I had dated had said in the locker room that we’d broken up because I didn’t want to have sex. Enter the privileged spoiled rich kid quarterback and his friends. He raped me on the floor of his little sister’s bedroom. I believe she was away at horse camp.

Support after a rape in 1990 for a teen was not what it is now. We have come a long way. I didn’t receive any therapy, and I became a more troubled and rebellious child as time passed. Let’s just say that I continued to fall for the wrong people, was assaulted and choked by a classmate I dated, a teacher at my school called me a liar when I tried to ask him for help, girls called me a slut, and my family life suffered. The downward spiral is a real thing if support is unavailable. I had none for several years.

My grades suffered and I struggled at my private school but I was admitted to Lewis & Clark College and was there for just over a year thanks to the sales from my book Ancient Forests and Western Man. Published by our family publishing company, of course I felt severe imposter syndrome, but I honestly started college fully intending to study plants, biology, ecology, and to become a researcher, educator and writer. Many great people helped me while I was there, and for years afterwards, I felt like a great disappointment to them. I was being mentored to become one of the new PNW nature writers and one day I just disappeared. I was filled with shame. So much shame.

I had high hopes and had tried to begin this new adult life on the right foot. Emotionally though, I stumbled and crashed. I became a college dropout and sought more help. I was unable to read, to write, and thanks to friends I’d met, I started to painted and became artistic for the first time in my life. There were a few good relationships during those years, but mostly I had loving friends who accepted me as the mess that I was. I kind of clung to the Portland music scene, drank and partied. I helped to edit books for our family business so that I could have insurance, but it was honestly the most horrible time of my life and I often contemplated ending it. I loved my little nieces too much to do so though, and they were incredible bright spots in my life.

Doctors diagnosed me as schizophrenic and later schizoaffective. Somewhere in-between those life experiences thought I was drugged, raped, and left to die in my apartment where I lived alone. I had met one of these two young men at work and I thought of him as a work acquaintance and another friend had told me he would never hurt a fly. We had planned to rent movies one Saturday night and when he showed up with a friend I should have known something was wrong.

The rapists slipped me a date rape drug without realizing I was on many psychiatric medications. I was dragged into my room, onto my own bed, like a dead animal and I had all of my clothing torn off. After the coworker raped me for however many minutes I began to have a severe seizure. To say that one separates from their bodies during and after this sort of thing happens is an understatement. He urged his friend to rape me too, obviously so he’d be incriminated, and this was while I was shaking and flopping around like a fish. The other refused and suddenly had a change of heart as he was beginning to fear they may have possibly been in the process of murdering me.

The second said to the first, “Should we call 911?”

“No, I’ve seen this happen before, she’ll be ok. Let’s leave the door open though so someone can find her.”

Football playing fraternity brothers from Oregon State University raped me and left me for dead. #MeToo

Life became more complicated and painful for a few years after that, and I can promise you, I really dislike football.

My parents were able to support me financially, but they were not prepared to meet my emotional needs. Life continued to be rough for years. I was accused of asking for it. I was toxic. I was shamed by other women. I was shunned by good people for being a failure. I was self-destructive. I drank way too much. I cut myself a lot. I was told I would never be normal again. But all through this, somehow, I told myself, they were all wrong. I wanted to change. I had a difficult time working, so I returned to college, but the second time around I was at Portland State University. My best friend during those years had me move in with him, and the plan worked. My life started to very slowly stabilize. We lived in a large basement apartment, with friends upstairs, and we had a large private garden we shared.

I fought hard to get back to where I had started, and while it took over 2 decades, here we are. I didn’t study science or plants in college because I did not feel well enough to do so, or maybe even innocent enough. The edginess of literature and art made me feel safe, and the people there were kind to me, and I learned to be kind to myself. At each new home though, each rental, I had plants, or a garden. In times when I needed peace and quiet and calm, I entered the garden and came back centered. Portland has many gardens and I visited them often.

What helped to heal me was love and support. In addition to many amazing friends, I had a romantic partner who kept me at arms length for well over a decade because I wasn’t safe enough for him to really trust any more, but he didn’t want to be one of the people to give up on me, and he stayed with me until it was time to say goodbye. I had the most amazing therapists. My intelligence helped to lead my emotions. I set goals. I specialized in the study of schizophrenic language in modern texts, and I went from being diagnosed as schizo-affective to being a young woman who’d suffered a mental break with extreme PTSD caused by severe trauma.

Nevertheless, at that point of success, I still felt like an outsider around others, and I tried to avoid talking about my past. Even now it is not always easy for me to connect with others. Not everyone understands and can empathize with what I have lived through.

In 2002, just as life improved, and once I’d gone through the withdrawals from the psychiatric medications, I started to have strange physical issues. It took several years to find help, and eventually, just before I started this blog, I was diagnosed and began to work with the team of physicians that still helps me today. We are not certain, but it’s quite likely that some of the psychiatric symptoms I experienced had been caused by swelling in my brain. That’s a whole other long story, but we know I had issues with that since I had some language issues as well that improved with treatment.

So, this blog was started at the point in my life after I’d been diagnosed, and during the time when I was in the process of mourning once again the life I didn’t have that I’d wanted badly. To be honest, I never gave up on wanting to work with plants, botany, horticulture, science, anything. I just was not healthy enough to do any of it and had to sit in my house for a few years because of the primary immunodeficiency and mast cell disorders. Oh the irony to love the outdoors but you can’t go outside!

So, like others on the internet, I made up a name and title and I began to pretend to be an expert beginner at something I actually knew more about than I let on. I picked amateur SPECIFICALLY to not stand out. I didn’t want people to ask me about my past, my training, my education. Just remembering losing my ability to write and speak well in addition to everything else was just too much.

The good news here though is that I was able to become a horticulturist. I feel a lot more like an expert after all of this time. In the nearly 15 years since, I think anyone who knows me knows that I have worked twice as hard just to catch up. I am always talking about this with my friends. What can I do next to do better? How do I improve my skills? What should I practice more?

I’m proud of who I am now, of my profession, and of what I have been through. I ended up right where I needed to be and even though my route was not easy, I feel a bit like a bad ass. I’m a survivor and if anyone is rooting (ugh!) for those itty bitty little innocent seedlings out there, it’s me. I’m their plant mamma and I aim to protect them. You might even have one of my babies in your home or garden. I’m not a conventional mother, but I’m an unconventional one, and I love that.

Part Two

Cistus Nursery in the dark of winter after the sun has gone down and I’m heading home for the night.

The other tough question I encounter is when a well-educated person confronts me in a haughty and arrogant manner asking my about my formal education with plants. Here’s the hard truth that I’ve discovered. You may want something, you may study something, you may become an armchair expert even, but there are others who will have a natural aptitude and that’s the way it can be in horticulture too. I’m not saying that a formal education is a bad idea. I’m slowly working on an Associates Degree, but with college loan bills on my back that have mounted to a rather considerable amount, I can only take courses with scholarship money and when I feel well enough to do so. What you do with your work is what matters and others will know and your skills will show.

I became a Seedstress though thanks to my friend Sean Hogan at Cistus Nursery. After my divorce started in 2012, and after I was prescribed pills that dramatically lowered my swelling, I was exploring nurseries, getting out more, meeting lots of different people, and I could explore the potential of actually working towards a career for the first time in ages. Sean saw the potential and he saw my aptitude with seed propagation and wild collection. He talked to me about the activity I’d quietly been enjoying at home for a decade or more and it was amazing to be seen. Through him, I met others like myself, and over the years I’ve been blessed to have met some of the most amazing mentors. Horticulturists learn so much from one another. That teamwork and quiet is what I craved for so long.

It took time for me to feel like I really fit in and I still have plant badges to earn. It is all hard work in various weather conditions and it is not easy for me medically, but I’m passionate about it.

I often whined to Sean and would say I was confused about why I was there in the group and he joked with me that I fit in like a delicate rare plant that needed a bit of glass and protection. I was surrounded by others who passionately observed and nurtured plants. I have to say, he nailed it. I’ve felt safe and happy for years now. I worked on getting healthier and have a more balanced medication and exercise routine for the osteoarthritis I’ve developed. This has all helped me with my second nursery job which came about a bit later.

And guess what, field botany with a botanist is coming up too.

All good things come to those who wait.

Never give up on your dreams,

and never give up.

Me with some of the boys visiting Xera Plants back in 2015.

Happy New Year!!! And Hello 2022!!

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The living room as it is today.

Wish I had more time to write this evening, but the cold air that pushed through with a few snow flurries had me working hard here at home moving far too many plants indoors. Many are outside again, but I’m tired, and I wish this process could have waited until after the holidays.

Amaryllis ‘White Christmas’

While I was down in California recently I was able to purchase this lovely Amaryllis ‘White Christmas’. I planted it a bit late, but this is the 9th day of Christmas so we’re ok. To be honest, it was a lovely surprise. I can’t get over how big and beautiful it is and I keep walking past it just to see if it’s opened more. (It’s been opening up for me all day today.)

Felix helping me to cover some flats with frost cloth before the cold arrived. During the warmer months, he nests in this material in the Seed Studio so this was “personal” for him. “How dare you woman?!? This is my bed!”

The only news from Campiello Maurizio for 2022 is that there will be weekly posts on Friday mornings. I’m working on a creative non-fiction memoir so writing is easier for me. Work is good and steady. I feel like my life is more in order now than it has been in the past. I’m in a good place.

Online plant and gardening content is becoming worse and I’m tired of consuming it, so to find relief, I’m creating content of my own and am limiting my time on most social media. I have said for years that I will get back to this, but I mean it now. I’m a horticulturist and there is much to be said for what I do.

If there is a topic you’d like me to cover based upon my experience, please let me know! Even if I’ve never done it, or don’t know much about the topic, I’m sure that I can at least give you an educated guess or even an informed opinion—possibly peppered with some humor!!!

There will be more news to come too, but I just wanted to say that all is well, the seeds are being sorted, and plans for the garden are being made!!!

RIP Sweet Monabelle

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RIP Sweet Monabelle

Mona in the garden—her favorite place.

Before I get back to blogging more regularly this winter I needed to pay homage to Mona. She left us in late August after a short bout with cancer. I rarely mentioned her here on the blog because she was the mostly feral ghost cat. This meant she lived in my garden, but to be honest, she loved it more than any other creature.

I found her as a kitten in the parking lot of a large mall nearby. She may have been a feral kitten, or an abandoned kitten, I don’t know. She was alone under some bushes, starving, and it was a cold and rainy night. I had to bring her home. This was years ago when I first moved into this house.

A few years back she gave up the garden and moved into the house. Most of the time, she was in the basement, surrounded by my plants—or else sitting on a ledge looking out of the window. She was happy with us, but she just couldn’t always get along with the other cats. In her final months, she came upstairs more and spent time on the bed with them though. They developed an understanding. Like Maurice before him, Felix also bonded a bit with her. They’d often sit together in the basement.

It’s been difficult for me to write this. It was a complicated and quiet relationship I had with Mona. Part of me wants to say so much more, but another part of me wants to respect her privacy. She was my wild love, my garden cat, and sometimes we were a bit feral together. I’m going to miss that.

Summer 2021 (so far!) at Campiello Maurizio in Portland, Oregon

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The plants near the sidewalk are fried from reflective heat. Our record-breaking days of heat were not kind to the plants I’d not watered deeply before the heat spell arrived.

Well, I might as well begin with the news everyone knows about. We lived through a heat dome and at my house it reached 116F, but I only caught our temp here after it had fallen a degree.

Before all of that though, I learned that my blood sugar had spiked and in general I wasn’t doing well overall. With my new gray hairs I had to sit back and take a good, hard, and long look at what I needed to do to make myself feel better. I decided to work less, help my family more by spending time with my elderly dad, and I went on the KETO diet. I am still tired but I did lose weight and I have started to feel better.

Grey hairs are adding up. This is my usual hairdo after a day at work. It’s exhausting to do what I do but I really love it.

We still don’t know if I am any better. Like everyone else, I am trying to get medical help and the system is a bit clogged up because of the pandemic. Luckily I can wait, and I am able to keep myself busy. This doesn’t mean that I do it well though. After a few hours of potting things up last weekend I looked down and realized why my feet felt off. At that moment, I definitely was feeling my age. Next month I turn 47. This may come as a shock to some of you, but I’m feeling it. I am a bit drugged too so that doesn’t help to keep me sharp at all.

Whoops!

I’ve continued to keep at my work and have been gardening too. It still is difficult to bend over and down so I don’t get much done but this summer I am determined to get this place into a more sustainable spot. I have had issues maintaining things so I’m working to simplify things. So far, it’s paying off and I feel so good about that. I hope to really have things in order by November when I begin to bring the last plants indoors. I hope to hire a gardener to help me monthly, and an online acquaintance is volunteering a bit to help me get things in order. With HPSO Open Garden dates in September, she is really giving me a great boost.

Mahonia piperiana ‘Spoonleaf’.

Thanks to random conversations or messages with friends I still learn about new-to-me plants at work all of the time. Not long ago my botanist friend mentioned this plant that we have at Cistus Nursery and I had no idea what he was talking about. Then I looked it up after I located it in the garden.

This is what it says about it in our catalog: “Selected in Oregon’s Northern Rogue valley by plantsman Frank Callahan, growing in dry chaparral country. To 4-6 ft and dense, with leaflets nearly round and very shiny. Late winter and early spring flowers are peach tinted, maturing to yellow followed by attractive masses of powdery blue berries. The plants are burnished red with winter frost or drought. Full sun to dappled shade with good drainage and preferring west coast summer dry conditions. Frost hardy to USDA zone 6.”

Now don’t go calling Cistus Nursery to ask about it! It’s our policy that we employees always mention if a plant is not available, and yes, this one is not yet available again, but thanks to a conversation with my friend, I hope that it will be soon. I am just so smitten with it and I want one too so that means I MUST make more.

Seseli gummiferum, or moon carrot.

Another plant that I’m enjoying is this Seseli gummiferum at work. I walk by it a lot and can’t recall if this is one from Evan’s seeds from his garden, but I think that it is. I have grown a few batches of these and while they were wildly popular a few years ago, I think they fell out of favor a bit due to their floppiness. I adore them and all of their imbalanced-ness. They’re definitely quite attractive to the pollinators.

Begonia listada, grown from seed.

Here at home I continue to care for my houseplants and tropicals. I have been potting up so many plants in my own collection during the last few months. It’s exciting to see things mature.

By staying home more, working a bit less, I have been able to rest more and this is important after the experience of working at two nurseries during the pandemic. I wish I could have stayed home, but it was not possible. Now that the variant is running around, I am still vulnerable. I cannot deal with the common cold or a flu virus. At 40 I started the process to receive both pneumonia vaccines. (There are two and you must take them a year apart.) Physicians don’t ask you to do this usually until you’re 65 but I am very vulnerable to anything that attacks the lungs so they brought it up after I turned 40.

A gift to me from nurseryman Dan Heims.

So I have tried to remain positive while earning less money. I cannot keep at this forever and I need to think about my health. I still love what I do but I need to remain open to what I want to do, and what I dream of being about to do even when I am down. I don’t want to give in and give up. I’m just not that person.

Dan Heims gave me these textbooks on running a nursery. It was an honor to be gifted them. I have no clue if I ever would want to own or run a nursery, but I suspect I could help do so with a team of others. No matter what I do, there is no reason not to learn more. I can’t wait to spend more time with these texts over the winter.

At Cistus, Sean sometimes runs off to get us ice cream treats on hot days. Discovering the Choco Taco has been fun this summer. While I mentioned above that I was becoming more diabetic, I have stuck to the diet, so one of these once every two weeks can be a real treat.

My coworkers and I seriously giggle about it when we bust these open. There can be a playfulness amongst friends while working hard together in crazy hot weather during the summer. Ice cream can bring us together and Sean knows it. We all feel like kids again on a hot summer day.

On a recent trip to the Estancia (near the coast) with Dad I found this stump and rolled it up to his car. While he thought I was a bit nuts, my friends thought otherwise. I’m very proud of this find.

Felix has been having fun where he can find it. As expected, he acted like a King of the Jungle when given the opportunity to ride on our cart at the nursery.

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Summer is definitely afoot but it’s far from over. Stay tuned!

More adventures are coming soon! Be sure to check back since I’m traveling 3 out of 4 weekends this month!!! Yes, this seems dumb considering how vulnerable I am but that’s what masks are for, and I for sure am calculating my risk. I still need to live my life, and so long as I feel like I am being safe, and that others are safe, I can proceed. I just wish that others felt this way too.

Be careful out there friends!! We’re not out of this yet!!

Help Send Ann to the Garden Bloggers Fling in 2022!

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(Back in 2014 I helped to organize a Fling here in Portland, and of the 11 others, I’ve ever been able to afford attending three. Each time I’ve had a complete blast, and I wish I could say that I’ve attended them all, but I have not. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure that I’d be able to attend this next one, but I think with some planning, and some promotion, it’s going to be possible. (Read about the 2022 Madison, WI Fling here.)

These events take a lot of work and while I said I helped to organize one, that’s not totally accurate. As you can see from the scar in the photo below, I had some spinal issues and a surgery just before the event so mentally I was a bit checked out during everything. But planning these events is a lot of work for volunteer committees, and the folks who’ve been doing them over the years have made them so much fun!

What is the Fling? Just imagine a few days of intensive garden touring, some plant shopping, and exploring places with other garden communicators. Yes, it reads “bloggers” but anyone on social media who loves to add content to the internet is invited. You like Twitter? Then Tweet about it along your way! Is Instagram more your jam? Great! I love it too! Post away! FB? Your own site? Then come with us and share with gardeners in your neck of the woods what others are doing in other parts of the US or Canada. Just make sure you add content to a blog too!!! They’re easy to start and most content you’re already making can easily be adjusted to a blog format. You just need to start and keep adding content regularly to gain more readers! (To read more about eligibility click here.)

International guests are welcome to attend too. This is basically just a crazy fun way to meet other people who’re really interested in gardening and gardens. Over the years I’ve made some very great friends and I’ve networked and made connections too. So help me make it to the next one!!!

To help me make it to the Fling event in 12 months I’m pre-selling cuccidati cookies for the holiday season. These are very special Sicilian cookies that my great-grandmother Rosaria used to make and they’re so good… that is if you like fig and date cookies.

If you’d like to pre-order some cuccidati cookies for the holiday season please click here. Once I’ve sold enough for the trip, the links will disappear. Grazie mille and I hope to see you in Madison, or else back in the PNW at the 2023 Fling.

From Houseplants Back to Seeds…

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As pandemic life changes, and we begin to move around the cabin a bit more, it’s clear to me that many of us are reassessing our lives and how we live them. As a childless middle-aged woman it has meant helping my elderly parents a bit more. I have older siblings, and they’re dealing with their own lives, and for once in my life, I’m well enough to help out a bit with basic things they need. That was an easy and clear choice. I’ve enjoyed shifting my priorities to help them since they helped to support me for years when I was very ill. I can never pay them back for that but I am beyond grateful to have been helped.

When it comes to my work/life balance things are more murky. I think this is something all of my friends are thinking about too. From the start of the pandemic I was considered a necessary worker in my state. I work in agriculture basically and Oregon has a large ornamental horticulture industry. Unlike many people, I was not laid off, and I did not work remotely. Going through all of this was a learning experience, especially when coupled with the fact that my industry has been booming. I cannot make plants fast enough, and when it comes to buying in starts to pot up, well, many wholesale growers are out of everything, and when I say sold out, I mean for at least another year or two. Gardening has become very popular during the pandemic and that has made me quite pleased.

Being hired to give Zoom presentations was a wonderful surprise and it’s a great change as an additional revenue stream. Horticulturists need that extra boost and we do have a lot to say about what we do. I have teaching and speaking experience and I very much enjoy communicating about what I’m passionate about. I look forward to doing more of it and having more contact with consumers. I just never would have imaged that this is how it would start for me. With houseplants being so popular, and my having grown so many for years, I have a lot to say about them. I’m happy that being chronically ill my indoor gardening has become such a positive thing. Long ago I started growing the plants indoors to make me feel better, to help with depression, and to feel like I was part of the horticulture world even when I couldn’t function as well as others my age. Sometimes the number of them seemed embarrassing but it turned out to be a good thing for me in a way I had never expected.

Well, not long ago I had to transition back more to my normal life of propagating with seeds. Between the two nurseries where I work, as well as my home, it’s a lot of information running around in my head. I grew free veggie starts for folks in my neighborhood this year, and I also committed to growing seeds again at home in a more organized fashion, but it seems as though everything I do is more complicated and messy than simplified and organized. I have a lot of delayed maintenance to do and that’s part of the mess I’m experience but I’m getting things done. I think the pandemic has helped many of us with that.

I changed the name of my Etsy shop to the same at this blog not long ago. As my friend Paul at Xera Plants has said over and over, branding must be simplified. It’s been disheartening though at times doing customer service in addition to everything else during the last year. I sell seeds because I love them so much, but I don’t make much money if any when it really comes down to it. Receiving rude customer messages during the pandemic, especially from beginners who bit off more than they could chew, was sometimes really painful. No, I cannot refund your money if you didn’t follow the directions and do your research. This all happening at the same time folks online were sometimes making thousands of dollars selling houseplants in the underground market. It made me want to pull my hair out. Honestly, I’ve felt a lot like the naive idealist. How thinly can I sow myself? How poor do I want to be? Why am I even bothering?

I’m committed now to do better. It’s important for me to be responsible and professional in the industry that I love. This summer I scheduled an Open Garden with the HPSO in the hopes that it would help me get my garden in order. I’m also getting my seeds back in order too. Sowing new crops, I’ll be collecting from friends again, and I’ll try for another year to make the Etsy shop (or just online seed sales) work for me. In addition to two other jobs, this may not work out, but I am going to try.

My shop will be closed from June 1-September 1 so that I can reassess it further. I look forward to less harried and slightly more social summer. Stay safe out there and please get a COVID-19 vaccine!

Houseplant Count #15-21

Sticky

Recently I’ve been asked to give some online presentations covering houseplants and indoor gardening to different gardening and horticulture groups. In an effort to prepare, I’ll work more on listing everything in my collection in the weeks to come. I have a page on this site just for that. I’ve been updating it as I post but it might help folks before or after my presentations if they’re curious, or want to ask me questions about a certain plant we both might be growing.

Now let’s continue with the individual listings…

Begonia ‘Grey Feather’

Houseplant #15: Begonia ‘Grey Feather’

Begonia ‘Grey Feather‘ is a vintage hybrid I’ve wanted since I first saw it. Just a few months ago cuttings of it ended up in a bag of surprise cuttings I purchased from another Begonia Society chapter plant friend and I squealed a bit when I saw them. As of right now, this is currently one of my favorite plants. I love the leaves and it’s been very easy for me to grow. I’d definitely recommend growing it if you can find one.

Kohleria ‘Snakeskin’

Houseplant #16: Kohleria ‘Snakeskin’

This Kohleria hybrid is one that I originally acquired from Dan Heims of Terra Nova Nurseries and it’s a John Boggan hybrid. Kohleria ‘Snakeskin’ is a wonderful example of how pretty the leaves can be in gesneriads. It’s not always all about the flowers, but they’re a bonus.

Peperomia prostrata

Houseplant #17: Peperomia prostrata

For the last few months my husband has been asking me to add more plants to his office area. During the pandemic many folks have been working more from home and while I knew it would make him more comfortable, I’ve been taking my time setting him up because I’ve been working so much.

Well, once I started to acquire a few new plants, this led to a sudden burst in needing to shop a bit more, and before I knew it, he was all set up. One of the fun plants I added to his area was this Peperomia prostrata. I know from online that it’s a popular plant right now, and I thought that he might enjoy having one to admire. I’m not really sure what he thinks about it, but I was able to pick it up locally at Marbott’s Greenhouse & Nursery so it was fun just to get out to shop and support a local nursery.

Asparagus falcatus

Houseplant #18: Asparagus falcatus

One thing I’ve not said a lot about yet (or recently) is that I love ornamental asparaguses. Yup, I love them so much I may have a bit of a collection of them. It’s one of those funny things Sean Hogan and I have in common. I guess we both like the fact they’re textural and that they can be great container plants. Many of them are borderline hardy in our climate though so I mostly leave the bulk of my collection outside until we have a freeze. This is the only one that’s indoors right now mostly because I like to look upon its soft and prickly visage so much. Yes, this one is soft with big fat thorns.

This Asparagus falcatus is definitely the most beautiful one in my collection. It wasn’t much to look at when it first arrived from Glasshouse Works but it’s had some time to grow and as it’s filled out it’s definitely become more lovely to look at.

Begonia ‘Little Miss Mummey’ (L) and Peperomia ‘Pink Lady’

Houseplants #19 and #20: Begonia ‘Little Miss Mummey’ and Peperomia ‘Pink Lady’

Begonia ‘Little Miss Mummey’ has been in that same pot for way too long. I think it’s time to give her some more room to grow. I found this rooted cutting at one of our local plant club sales and it’s a great example of the sorts of cool plants you can find when you go out to support clubs. So many of the best plants in my collection came from fundraisers. This one will be amazing once I let it grow some more. It is an award-winning Brad Thompson hybrid. It won the American Begonia Society’s Alfred D. Robinson Award for an outstanding cultivar in 2001.

The Peperomia ‘Pink Lady’ came from a small nursery in southern Oregon just north of Ashland. I found it hanging out with a few other pretty plants and I knew I had to have it because the price was right. It has been a bit picky to grow, but once it had pebbles in its cachepot, and it was no longer sitting in any water, it started to reward me with pretty growth.

Schefflera arbicola ‘Variegata’

Houseplant #21: Schefflera arbicola ‘Variegata’

My last plant for this post is a very slow grower. I’ve had it for so long now that Evan forgot passing it on to me at some point during one of their plant purges. I have three different indoor scheffleras and they’re all at different stages in their lives. One was just a small cutting not that long ago and now it’s huge, this one, hmmmmmm, it might grow a few millimeters each year, ok, or maybe an inch or two. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

As someone who works at Cistus Nursery I should be more jazzed about this plant, and I am now that it’s gotten larger, but the indoor scheffleras experience still confuses me. Part of me just wants to plant this outside but I can’t, and I just need to accept that it’s indoors for good.