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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!?!
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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!!!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
(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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you missed the other giveaways! There’s still one more!!!!!
When Loree announced to her friends that she was writing a book we were thrilled about it and for months we went through the process with her. Being part of a large online gardening community, many of us were already familiar with her garden and many creative talents. Loree has always written great posts and content. She is a big part of our local gardening community, she contributes her time to organizations, and all because she genuinely cares about gardening, design with plants, and supporting small businesses and nurseries.
Of course we asked her what her book would be about, but we were also left in a bit of suspense. I’m so glad it arrived in my hands around Christmas and what a fun surprise to open up the text and see how she handled such an exciting writing challenge! The book turns out to be an encapsulation of what Danger Garden is all about and it’s not just her, it’s about the community she grew in, the community she’s part of, the plants she’s both bought and seen in gardens along the way, as well as the people who’ve influenced her vision.
Fearless Gardening is about being inspired and it’s inspiring. It’s also a testament to a garden, a very popular garden in the city of Portland, Oregon one that I often hear about on social media or while I’m at work. Unlike many gardening texts, this one is very practical, personal, and dare I say it, fearless!
As a fellow garden blogger, one who met Loree years ago through that world, I very much enjoyed seeing the tenor of a book on gardening change. Tenor is the relationship between the voice of the author and the reader, and very often, too often, garden books have been written from a position of authority. This is fine if the writer is someone I already admire for their professional accomplishments, but it’s not something I get excited about reading. In the changing world we’re in, one where readers are more challenging to grab, the tone Loree takes is fantastic! I felt like I knew her, I mean I do, but I feel that even those who don’t will feel like they’re talking to, and receiving tips, from a really good friend who has them in mind. She’s genuine in her advice, and honest in how she got to the point where she’s at, and that to me is excellent garden writing.
During the pandemic it’s been a challenge to wait for the book’s release, but what a refreshing and great surprise when it finally arrived. To my mind, it’s the book that needed to be written after having seen so many visitors remark while visiting Loree’s garden, “How did you do this? I’d like to have a garden like yours.” As I read the book, I kept thinking, this is the answer to that question. If you want a garden like this, you really do have to be fearless… and reading this book will help to better understand her design process too. It’s loaded with great photos, fantastic quotes, rules to break, and it reads like a memoir. I really enjoyed reading it.
So for the next 3 days I’m going to be ripping up my garden—as we do—after we’ve been pumped up and inspired by a great gardening romp on the page.
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!!
It’s an honor to participate in a giveaway for Fearless Gardening generously sponsored by Timber Press. One lucky reader will receive a copy of Loree’s book along with The Art of Gardening by R. William Thomas. (It’s one of the many great texts mentioned in Fearless Gardening.) This giveaway is open to residents with a valid United States mailing address and a winner will be announced here in 7 days on January 22, 2021. To enter, please leave a comment below telling us all about a plant, small garden, or plant person who inspires you. Give us the details!
While it’s true that I had other plants earlier in my life, they didn’t make it this far. I often bought inexpensive gift plants for myself when I was young. They would live awhile on a table or a shelf and then die. I didn’t know what I was doing. Like many, my plant collecting began with what I now know of as disposable florist plants. I like to laugh now when I think about all of the good I did by helping to keep growers in business. I still can’t pass up a cute popular plant at the grocery store. Just the other day I found a plant for $1.99 after Christmas at the floral stand. When will I learn? Probably never. I snatched it up and sent a photo of it to two close friends. Now to see if I can keep it alive. (More on that in another post…)
My oldest plant is just a boring old Epipremnum aureus my Mom gave me when I moved into my second apartment. While I’d tried to live alone before, I’d come home after a month when I was 19. I moved out again when I was 20. The year would have been 1994 so this poor thing is 26 years old. I’d hoped to repot it for this blog post, but I’ve been working a lot and will do so this weekend. Poor, poor thing. It has lived in a vintage glass punch bowl, in the near dark above the fridge for years now. After I repot it, I will definitely give it more of a place of honor.
Overall it’s been an amazing plant. I’ve made babies for many people and it has survived some extreme neglect.
Houseplant #8: Epipremnum aureus
I had thought my original plant was the variegated golden pothos but after I double checked I realized that even if it had been, the plant had long since reverted to plain green. With some additional light and love it’s likely my original plant may change a bit, but just to be on the safe side, I acquired this one just to be sure I had it back in my collection.
And to be more honest, I’m on quite a kick now for Epipremnum. I’m like a middle schooler collecting Garbage Pail Kids. I want them all!
Golden pothos is likely one of the most common houseplants around. It’s the plant I’ve always given to beginners and as housewarming gifts since it is such an easy plant to grow.
Houseplant #9: Epipremnum aureus ‘Glacier’
It’s hard to tell, but this plant has been in my house for at least 10 years now. It was purchased at Al’s Garden Center back when I worked in Silverton. It nearly died from neglect when I went through my divorce. It’s suffered from overwatering and poor indirect light for years. Only recently has it started to look better. I decided months ago that I had to do this post so I’ve been intentionally paying attention to it.
I could be wrong about the name. There are several that all look alike. Of course I have owned them all at one time or another. That’s one of the frustrating things about these lovely plants. They can all look a lot alike.
Houseplant #10: Epipremnum aureus ‘Jade’
Epipremnum ‘Jade’ is a new plant for me. Again, while preparing to write this I was plant shopping after Christmas and I of course had to purchase any of the plants that I didn’t yet own. I’m happy just to have something green. I will love it on my kitchen wall for it’s lack of variety. My Sicilian Orlando puppet needed a garden of his own. Now he can have it.
Houseplant #11: Epipremnum aureus ‘Marble Queen’
This plant has been even more of a challenge for me but I’ve overwatered it and neglected it too. For years it hung on for dear life in a vintage ceramic planter downstairs. I think for most of its life it’s barely had any nice leaves and I know for a fact that’s because I watered it too heavily and then let it dry out. Sitting is too much water for too long really chokes most plants to death. I am grateful that this one is finally growing well but it is so slow… so… so… slow…
Houseplant #12: Monstera siltepecana
As most folks know, I’m not an avid Monstera fan. This is mostly due to the fact I am not wealthy and am not the type of gardener who finds pleasure purchasing and collecting expensive plants. With my specialty being seed propagation, I tend to have many plants that I’ve been able to grow for much less money because I grew them from seed. Almost all of my expensive plants were gifts or hand-me-downs. This one isn’t even a really “expensive” plant but it was gifted to me. I’ve grown a few plants from the original cuttings to earn money for our Gesneriad Society chapter. I’m happy that I can keep growing plants from it.
Houseplant #11: Epipremnum aureus ‘Neon’
Of all of these, my Epipremnum ‘Neon’ is one of my most robust and happy plants. I have no clue where it originally came from but it has been in my house for well over a decade. The key to owning a happy plant like this is light, lots of care, and repotting it more frequently so that the soil stays nice and airy. To be honest, as time goes on, I’m seeing more and more that constant vigilance and repotting seems to make so many plants happier. It’s what I do at work so using the skills I’ve learned there here at home has really paid off for my plants.
Houseplant #14: Columnea ‘Shy Peach’
Last on my list is a gesneriad. This is the hybrid Columnea ‘Shy Peach’. I have no idea who bred this plant, or when that was, but I inherited it from Dick’s Greenhouse. After the bloom is over, I’ll be able to propagate it to make more for our group. This plant seems to bloom annually in the winter. It’s a nice addition to my other winter bloomers.
Well, that little visit was fun. I hope to add more Epipremnum to my collection soon. I have a friend who is sharing cuttings with me from plants I’ve lost, and I may break down and pay for a more special cultivar but I am weary of purchasing from eBay. I really prefer trades and meeting folks face-to-face but we’re in a pandemic so I need to roll with the times.
My interest in writing about houseplants diminished quite a bit after my initial post. It is daunting to consider how long it will take me to write through all of the ones that I own and care for now. Part of me is embarrassed by the amount of time required to care for this many tender plants. Another part of myself hates working so much with plants only to return home to play with more. All of this has led me to consider what kind of balance I need, and I’m working on it.
First and foremost I’m a plant geek with a strong sense of curiosity about the life of my plants. My houseplants are not for show necessarily, or even for decorating my home. Even if I have a specimen plant, you won’t find me calling it that. Plants feed my curiosity, and give me pleasure. I study and learn from them. Many people can identify with me, but is it a compulsion, an unhealthy obsession? Are many of us currently addicted to plants? I don’t know about others, but I do know that in part, my many plants stem from my not having been able to have children. Many have speculated that a need to nurture something is why indoor plants are so popular right now, but I’m not thoroughly convinced. I believe that for each of us, we all have our own complicated reasons, and for many, those reasons are personal.
Gardeners have buried their sadness in the ground for ages, and while my life has grown exponentially more wonderful in the last decade, I still tend to harbor a melancholy that’s best left tilled silently with my sore fingers into my plants here at home. My only compulsion is this act of burying and putting things to rest. I find closure and growth again and again. If I’m addicted to anything, it’s to the regular nature, the steady rhythm, the beating drum of the growth cycle. I’m a propagator, a horticulturist, and I find comfort in the assuredness of the lifecycle, the death and rebirth through the seasons. Houseplants for me are the wildcard, my steady friends, the plants that are not living naturally their best lives and they NEED me. They need my extra input, my help, in order to survive.
Plant hoarding exists and during my adult life I know that I have been a hoarder. My maternal grandmother was a serious hoarder, and my mother has issues with it as well. I was always the organized one tossing and sorting, sorting and tossing. When I became very ill, I started to hoard but didn’t realize it for many years. I saved far too many things for projects I would “get to” but was physically unable to do any of them. Only recently am I finally tackling the basement. The basement and the Seed Studio have always been the worst areas. Losing family, I over-inherited a lot of family objects. During my first marriage, I hoarded because I was in a marriage that was one-sided. I was told that I was loved for nearly a decade, but I knew in my heart it wasn’t true, and then he walked out one day and essentially told me he had finally realized he’d never loved me. I was crazily angry and raging. I wasted those years, knowingly living a lie, and then I looked at the hoarding around me. It has been a slow process to reverse that damage.
So many things had been accumulated by my anxiety because I was in a bad relationship. I’m not a psychologist, but from what I understand, I was surrounding myself, protecting myself, blocking myself off from the reality I did not want to face. It was emotionally too painful. Once he was gone though, it all stopped, and the clouds lifted. I had surrounded myself with a jungle of plants though, and it was my green armor, a shield, my scout badge, a status symbol.
Indoor plants now live in the spaces where I hoarded and stashed so many piles of things. It is taking time to get groups of plants setup in pretty vignettes so that’s why I only have two to talk about this week. My aim for months now has been to brighten these emotionally raw spaces with less stuff. I plan to fill more space in my home with happy and healthy well-grown plants from my collection. Honestly, I can’t imagine a better project to complete during a pandemic that has caused all of us to feel so isolated. I am aiming to connect in the only way that I can.
And if you’ve reached this point and are confused and befuddled by my TMI than remember that I’m a writer who it fond of breaking the rules, and I’m a gardener who is more than aware that these plants exist here, in my home, because of a strange human need to care for and collect them. That human need to possess and collect is part of their existence, and there is no reason why I shouldn’t describe (in detail) that relationship and arrangement between the plants and I. Plants are a commodity and are twisted into so many things thanks to our need to do so. Let’s just be very open about that.
While I may be the current leader of a local chapter affiliated with the Gesneriad Society that does not mean that I’m an expert grower of all gesneriads. (I don’t even know all of them.) While I can grow many well now, it has taken time. I still have A LOT to learn though and I enjoy the act of this plant practice. Gesneriads are tricky to grow, but if you’re in a chapter with others, they’re very easy to collect. We share plants, our growing experiences, and our losses. I have long joked that I’m terrible with Streptocarpus, and I have been, but I vowed to master them next and so far I’m doing better.
Houseplant #6: Streptocarpus ‘Bethan’
Once again I’m uncertain as to where my Streptocarpus ‘Bethan’ came from but I think it was a gift from my friend Evan aka the Practical Plant Geek. I believe it was given to me during a plant purge and that I was told something about the ease of its care. Well, this plant was tended to, potted up, and then this happened. I think it is an easy-to-grow Strep and I would recommend it to beginners. Like all good Streps, the blooms lasted for a very long time.
Bred by Dibleys Nurseries in England, this hybrid was introduced in 1995. Part of the joy of belonging to a plant group like the Mt Hood Gesneriad Society is learning about hybridizing. While I have not attempted to hybridize much of anything with purposeful crosses, I hope to eventually. In the meantime, I really just want to learn more about the parentage of plants while giving praise to breeders and voice to the process by which these captivating plants are created.
This plant was acquired through the donation of a collection of Streptocarpus from a collector who could no longer keep them. A member from our group took on the donation and cared for them, and before she sold her home and greenhouse she passed them along to us to sell at one of our plant sale fundraisers for the club.
I had grown Streptocarpus ‘Iced Pink Flamingo’ twice and both times the plants had failed to thrive for me. I had given up on the variegated plants but then this one crossed my path so I tried again. I’m so glad I did. This plant is growing in my basement, under lights, and it has a wick watering setup.
I’d avoided setting up a system due to a lack of energy, time and commitment, but it was worth the time. (Yes, I save time and energy now.) Some folks grow their plants over individual reservoirs of water but I’m using a humidity tray with grids so that I can water all of the plants at once. I’m very happy with the results and will include more on what I’m growing using this method in future posts.
Bred by D.Martens/S. Morgan, this plant was introduced in 2002. It’s parents are S. ‘Canterbury Surprise’ x S. ‘Winter Dreams’.
I’ve been sitting here for hours unsure of what to write about. Last week I was low. This week I’m just emerging slowing into December. I work shorter days in the cold but it is still difficult to recover from once I’m home. My body hates the cold. I’ve also decided to make Italian food each day this month so that has taken a lot of my free time and energy.
What’s left then? The cats of course!
Long ago I found Mona under some bushes in a parking lot at a strip mall when she was a kitten. She was alone and it was a dark and rainy night. She was starving. I think she is around 16 now. Up until this year she liked to be outside a lot, but as of a few months ago, she is now a full-time housecat living in the basement with all of my plants and a lot of privacy. We used to keep her apart from the other 3 because she’s part-feral but she is no longer upset by the younger 3 cats and they all seem to get along.
Her best friend was the cat I named the garden after, Maurice, and he passed away several years ago now. Just before he passed away here at home, they spent his last few hours together in the garden. I’m still too sad to post the photo, but the garden is no longer hers. She has passed it on to the younger three.
LuLu is 5 now. I bought her off of the internet. She’s part small ferocious barn cat, part Turkish Angora, part linebacker, and part diva. She rules with an iron paw, will beat up the boys for treats, and she likes to have her lion cuts done at the cat spa. She has very soft hair and it gets into knots easily. She hates to be combed, she dislikes being held, she hates this, she won’t tolerate that, but overall, she knows she’s incredibly pretty so that’s all that matters.
Did I mention that Piggy is difficult? Did that come through clearly? She loves to snap her tail around and catnip makes her go psycho, but each night she grooms my chin and curls up under the blankets right next to me or above my head on her pillow. She’s our angel.
It feels odd introducing Felix. He is 4 and has a huge personality. He was hand raised and this makes him different. He loves attacking dogs that go by the house, he likes car rides, and he loves attention. He loves people. He wants to be in the action, on the go, in the middle of the noise. He likes to knock things over, eat my food, and keep an eye on me at all times. If I work too much away from home, he pouts. He wants each day to go his way and he will let me know that from the moment when I wake up and put on my pants for the day. He has a huge vocabulary. When he hears the word “work”, you can see his irritation. “I have to go to work today Felix.” Big eyes stare back at me and I can read in them, “Didn’t you do that yesterday? How dare you.”
The baby cat is the baby of the bunch. Oliver is now 3 and he is huge. Beneath the fur he’s rather skinny but he’s huge because he is fluffy and full of love. Oliver is nothing but love. He has a huge heart. First and foremost he loves Felix, but Felix does not return the love, mostly he picks on Oliver. Their relationship is complicated though. The dudes or the boys as we call them are buddies in the garden. Outside they protect the palace. Oliver does most of the protecting though while Felix wanders around his territory. Oliver doesn’t attack though. He flies at things. He has never been in a fight. All he has to do is run at another cat and they run away. His speed and size are intimidating and he is very fast.
In the house he is Snuggie. He loves to snuggle and is an aggressive snuggler. We call him Yoda Bear too. When he was a kitten his ears were so big he could barely hold them up. He looked like baby Yoda and a bear. He even knows that name. I love that cat.
Every so often the cats all come together. While this fall and winter season may be challenging, I have this crew to keep me going. I’m good with cats. I am a cat person. Believe it or not I can herd cats. It turns out you just need to give them treats and train them.
That means grow your own catnip too. All four of them love their catnip plants and I always have 2-3 plants growing year round. It’s another way to keep them in line.
This week it was a challenge to write anything. My energy has gone into staying in control, remaining calm, resting as much as possible, caring for all of the houseplants, and doing anything else (within my power) to keep an even keel.
Novembers are often foggy here, and this year I’ve driven back and forth to my jobs in the pea soup of PNW weather, and this led me to making actual pea soup. I’ve been on autopilot, continuing to keep my head up as I float through the pandemic, the continued isolation, and the work that I do. Most years, pea soup fog doesn’t inspire me to make pea soup. In 2020, I feel like grasping any meaning out of the smallest of things, will create meaning, and I crave meaning to find my footing.
Right now I’m losing my grip a bit.
In the last 2 weeks three people who attended my small Catholic high school at the same time as myself have passed away—one from a heart attack, and two others from COVID-19 related complications. Two of these people were barely known to me, the other was someone who bullied me in junior high and high school. As can be imagined, it’s torn open sores I’ve long kept buried. At unexpected moments I just start to cry uncontrollably and I’m not sure why but I know the tears must fall and time will pass and it will feel better.
And this week the United States celebrated the holiday of Thanksgiving. For the first time ever it was deeply reflective. I’ve never heard so many friends and acquaintances simply state that they’re happy to be alive and employed. The stunning honestly has felt good to me. It is nice to see the basics not being taken for granted.
Those who are having a more difficult time are grateful for their family and children. I live in a home with 4 cats and a man who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome only in the last few years, only because I insisted I couldn’t take it anymore. While the initial shock of that process of diagnosis is better, and things are better, less than a year ago we lost my mother-in-law, and we’re still processing that since the pandemic kind of swept us both away from that. He and I only have my family now.
I kind of thought not seeing them meant I could just work and keep my head down, but the work I do allows me to think a lot, and it turns out my family was thinking of one another a lot this week, and after 47 years, my mom finally retired from cooking a huge Thanksgiving feast. She has had a blast talking to everyone on the phone this week. My eldest brother even called me to talk, to apologize for things, to laugh about things, and Dad caught a salmon and ate fresh fish eggs alone on the holiday. I called Dad and we talked about a Sitka spruce I’d given him. My family got closer by being distant from one another.
It’s foggy in my mind as I plan now. This is likely how we all feel. My job is seasonal though and we spent the month cleaning, sorting, straightening, organizing, and it’s a draining process physically and mentally. I am not in charge of planning crops, but my input is always appreciated and I keep reminding myself that’s part of my job. I need to get off of autopilot soon and take charge of my direction. Part of working in horticulture is being in the right frame of mind during the correct season. I love that about this work, but I am just a bit off right now.
To that end I’ve been indulging in things I should have been enjoying for months now. I’m finally listening to podcasts, and am reading books I’ve wanted to read. It is helping. It is time to order seeds, so I am shopping, and I’m filling orders for my own shop.
It is sad for me to complain now about feeling emotionally drained when up until now I’ve handled the pandemic so competently, but the fatigue is really hitting me hard. What I avoided doing this week was writing a post that felt unreal to me, since I’m always the cynic making fun of the obviousness of many of us using plants and gardening as therapy. This kind of therapy is not always good and can often be seen as a way to feel in control when we’re emotionally losing it. (Believe me, it’s more obvious than you might realize.) I just couldn’t push beyond myself this week to write up something fresh but I can leave you with some gardener advice for this season…
1 – Read books that challenge you now. Buy books from local bookstores that need your business.
2 – Start buying seeds now. Purchase them from trusted domestic growers.
3 – Believe it or not, you can even shop for plants now from many small nurseries. Purchase from licensed businesses.
4 – Listen to a new podcast. Join a Zoom lecture. Try something novel and new.
And finally, of course I am thankful. I am thankful to be alive right now, but I am terrified with worry concerning who will be lost next. I can only focus though on what I can control, and right now I want to move forward into December with an eye on who is going into crisis and how can I help. As wiped out and exhausted as I sound, I know it is sound advice for myself. And I am thankful for my employment, my health insurance through my husband, and my plant community. I will continue to support small businesses in the city and state and I hope you can do your part to help them too.
Please stay safe, stay home, and if you need to go out, wear a mask.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been good for business. When folks stay at home, many turn to gardening to stave off boredom and anxiety. Inevitably, they wonder about growing things from seed. My online Etsy store (formerly Milton’s Garden Menagerie) ended up being slammed with sales last spring due to folks staying more at home. After the parent site decided to advertise some of our shops on third-party sites for increased traffic, I ended up with 8x the usual amount of orders and actually had to shut the shop for 5 or 6 months. The experience was exhausting and I lost money due to the amount of customer service that was required.
My shop is not exactly a viable business. To be honest, I likely lose money selling the seeds that I do because so many are grown and/or harvested by me. Cleaning them is a messy nightmare, and storing them takes time and energy. Then I have to pack them. Over the years, my eyesight has worsened, so I need a magnifying glass light in addition to glasses, and we are on the brink of ordering a new bonus fridge for the household so that my seeds can all be moved back out to the Seed Studio aka detached garage. That’s not an easy problem to fix when you’re earning a dollar or two here and there.
My shop is a labor of love, but I very much enjoy doing it when the customers are excited plant lovers like me. The selection is a bit random. I’m focussed more on growing my own seeds, selling seeds collected here at home or in the gardens of friends, and from some wild collection too but only in places where it is legal and there is an abundance of seeds.
What I currently re-listed is the good stuff for 2021. I will continue to add to it too as the months go on, and I hope that I won’t have the experience that I had last year. I’ve been selling seeds on Etsy for over a decade now and my experiences have always been wonderful. I just hope to be able to offer some plants soon as well, but there will be more on that in the future.
If you’d like to see what I have in my shop, please feel free to look. It’s not a lot right now, but I will be back at it all over again in 2021 with more new items. If you have fresh seeds of some kind that you think I could sell, please let me know. I am always looking to add interesting things but cannot afford to pay you for your harvest—unless you live nearby in Portland and I can trade a houseplant. I have plenty of those. 🙂
This is a post I’ve been avoiding for months—maybe even for nearly 2 years now. It’s time for me to write about an important topic because it means a lot to me. When the Covid-19 pandemic is done, join a specialist plant group. Heck, before the pandemic is over, start to learn about them and decide to commit some time to one to help keep it operating. Plant societies need us, and to be perfectly honest, the Internet doesn’t—except for us to continue to educate, preserve, and share.
I’m currently the President of a local chapter of the Gesneriad Society, and have been for nearly 2 years now. It has been an absolute blessing and so much fun but even I need more help, and more members to become involved. It’s a challenge though when folks can sit in the comfort of their own homes and not have to commit. Instead, we can all share online, and we do. Sharing virtually has taught me so much and I have learned from people growing in different climates, living different lives. Over time, I’ve come to consider some of them very good friends.
Many plant societies need us, and they need more of us to become involved in new and engaging ways. In this post I want to write about some of the highlights of my involvement, why these groups matter, and the challenges I’ve faced.
Over the years I’ve been involved with, and have joined, many plant groups. There are a lot out there, and for the most part, they serve different purposes. Some are national, we have professional groups, some focus on conservation, some focus on a singular type of gardening, others are mostly social, or even based on travel, but my heart will always belong to the specialist plant societies. These will be the center of this discussion. These are often where some hardcore plant nerds flock to and I’m happy to contribute to several groups.
My experiences with all of these groups didn’t really begin until I owned a home. If I’d known before that many groups are great for folks in rentals or apartments, I likely would have signed up earlier. Like many in my generation though, I associated most plant groups and societies with some contempt and cynicism as a Gen Xer. I got over that though as I craved more and more information about specific plants. I didn’t have the energy to reinvent any more wheels, and from the outside some groups may seem elitist and/or classist, and maybe some are, but if you’re there for the plants, you’re there for the plants, and that’s what the best groups focus on.
Lots of folks think of most garden clubs or plant groups as an activity for retired folks. While this may seem like the case, it’s not always so in every group. Call me an idealist, but I think that if the group offers something to everyone, then everyone will want to be there. While many retired folks offer their time to these groups, they need help too in the form of our input, our cooperation, and groups are best supported when they can say that they have several generations working together to achieve the mission and goals of the group.
And that is how I came to join several different plant societies. Here is Portland we are VERY LUCKY to have lots of societies to choose from and I hope that remains so. Without continued involvement from plant lovers though, we’d lose this IRL community, and I hope that we don’t in the coming years.
I really dove into groups durning my 30s because I was essentially disabled and couldn’t work due to severe chronic health issues. During that time, it was a way to meet people, it cut costs on plant materials, and I joined groups in order to learn from folks who’d been growing plants for decades. They tended to be a lot more geeky in terms of plant information, and overall, their focus has always been on education, preservation, and sharing.
At that time I was angry about my diagnoses, and not being able to work to pay my bills off quickly, but learning about plants led to jobs eventually and many other opportunities as my health improved, so I entered into the clubs hoping that it would expand my growing experiences—and it did! (Bye bye chip on my shoulder! Hello plant therapy!)
While I’ve enjoyed learning about plants via the Internet since its creation, over the last few years I’ve become more and more disinterested in its content due to the same information repeated ad nauseam in different ways and by the fact that it’s mostly marketed material provided by influencers who are there to capitalize on the popularity of their repeated content.
I don’t like being used as a tool in the capitalist process, and it is sad watching the process evolve. Information literacy has become an issue in many parts of our daily lives and lately I’ve been cutting back on my online “consumption” of social media. I’m returning to adding content to the Internet in the hopes that it might reach someone else, but I’m 100% committed to being me, and not someone that others would prefer for me to be. (Personally, I think that’s why my blog aka site is still living on happily.)
Online plant groups are popular though and have become increasingly so with younger members of the plant hobbyist world. It is often a stark difference to the gardening lives of my older friends. During COVID19 we’ve all been using it more and then sometimes less or not at all. What I miss most about our group right now is actually meeting and talking to them in person. We range in age, gender, life experience, and career paths but we share a love of gesneriads and I think that’s fun.
One reason that plant societies are so important is because we basically share plants with one another. Historically, we host fundraisers and sell plants for lower prices because this is intended to share the love and the bounty of what we’re basically preserving and keeping in circulation. As my anonymous botanist friend said, “There is no scheme for conservation of cultivated varieties in the US, so continuing to cultivate plants that would not be commercially viable is vital.”
Additionally, plant societies are known for their seed or spore conservation, sharing a diversity of seeds, and as a teaching ground for plant breeding and growing. This is part of what leads us to supporting conservation efforts in the wild as well as scholarships for additional study to be done by academics.
Folks have discovered the Gold Rush of selling houseplants online and I’m sure that all I need to say is, “Have you seen the most recent price for a variegated Monstera?” (Should I even breathe the word Araceae?) Gesneriads are not popular though, and I’m ok with that since our plants can more easily be bought and sold thus making sharing of our materials easier. (I think Sinningia leucotricha is the most popular plant in our realm.)
Participating in the Gold Rush is off-putting to me. I’m a horticulturist and I work for two small nurseries and they work hard to stay viable. I see a market more and more turning away from small business ownership with customers underselling (or overselling) them. All I can hope for is that this will inspire many more to build great businesses that will compete with one another. I would love to see more plants in cultivation that are not, and for collectors to see plants more as vital living organisms that share the plant with us and less as investments.
I’m a naïve idealist though, and we have to wait this out to see if more specialist nurseries arise out of the current houseplant era. Will folks be inspired to learn more, and dedicate more of their time to small specialist plant societies? Again, we have to wait and see how this all shakes out and continue to educate, preserve, and share. In a time when people talk about building community, I’m doing it and am right where I want to be. Is this a dying activity though?
Plant societies are my ideal kind of plant community. This is why plant societies have always shared cuttings, held raffles, traded and sold inexpensive plants to one another. It’s what plants-people do and it’s key to helping us to better understand the growing conditions for different plants. Our practice with growing certain plants that are not widely available is what growers actually look to before releasing a plant through a nursery. Horticulture, and small growers like the ones that I work for, benefit from the preservation of varieties of plants that have come and gone from the market and sometimes need to be reintroduced. Plant societies are important. It’s where growers often go to find heirlooms to reintroduce. Sometimes too, they may find a new hybrid to try out on the market, but the societies need to be there in order for this process to work.
I just hope that more folks are inspired enough by their love of plants to help to continue these groups, and yes, discuss Colonization and all the other —isms that are part of the necessary conversation that we’re living through right now. I myself have issues with the racism, classism and Anglophilic center of gardening culture as we often see it in the US. But rather than bitch about it, I just made a vow to myself to be myself, dive into horticulture, speak up when it matters, and slowly make the change to create the plant world I want to live in.
While I do love to talk—and clearly write too much—action will always speak more to me than words. So sometimes when my blog has gone silent, I’ve been out in the field acting upon my conviction to be the change that I want to see.
I have hope and am looking forward to seeing the change that will likely come in the years ahead.
(Hush now you inner cynic, hush child.)
(Photo at the top of the post is of the table set-up outdoors at the nursery during the Covid-19 pandemic during the summer of 2020 for members of the Mt Hood Gesneriad Society to meet. Currently, we’re meeting via Zoom.)
Not long ago I realized that many online houseplant lovers count their plants. Honestly, I’d never thought to do so because it seemed like a lot of effort. Then I thought, what the heck? Well, after what felt like hours, I stopped counting at 500 houseplants. How did that happen lol? I have a lot of growing areas in my home, in the basement, and outdoors in the Seed Studio. I don’t have a light stand, I have multiple light stands. Additionally, I place plants all over the house during the cooler months—with many going out into the garden during the summer. Making some sense of them little by little will be fun as I post these lists once a month or so.
We’re going to begin in my bedroom. This is how it currently looks but in the coming weeks I intend to change the lights and make a few more improvements.
Houseplant #1: Unknown Cane Begonia, possibly Begonia ‘Flo Belle Mosley’
We begin this long journey with my favorite kind of plant. It’s one that I purchased at a Mt Hood Gesneriad plant sale years ago. It was an inexpensive start of a cane begonia and it was cheap since it was a NOID. Even wonder what the means? Have you heard it before? All is means when you see it on a tag is the it is No Identification, NOID.
The woman selling it assured me it was a beauty and I have to agree. It was worth the purchase and the wait.
Cane begonias are notoriously challenging at times. I learned this at one of my first gardening jobs where I was a garden assistant to private homeowners with a large houseplant collection. I have to admit, caring for their canes was no fun but I sure did learn a lot about them. For instance, I learned to lightly bottom water and to regularly feed them while they were putting on new growth. I also learned that you had to diligently check leaves for powdery mildew so as to not spread it in your collection. Letting them dry out between waterings is always a good idea too.
To grow cane begonias to their absolute best, they really do enjoy being able to summer outside. To my surprise, this one loves lots of light. They can take lower light indoors, but it is not sustainable year round.
Houseplant #2: Pregnant Onion, Albuca bracteata or Ornithogalum longibrachteatum
Once you have one of these plants, you’ll ALWAYS have a plant gift to share with others. Some may find this kind of an annoyance with it setting so many babies but I like this plant quite a bit. (See the little bulb above. These grow out of the mother bulb and are pushed up and out as the plant peels. This plant produces lots of these and hence it’s always pregnant.)
Not a true onion, this South African plant is actually in the Asparagus family. Mine first came from a fellow garden blogger at one of our plant swaps, although a friend later delivered it to me since I was unable to attend that day. Peter of The Outlaw Gardener http://outlawgarden.blogspot.com had been keeping the original mother plant in a hanging basket in his greenhouse and it had outgrown its container. I was able to break it up into many babies and this is one that’s left. (I sold and passed along the others.)
As for the care of this plant, it seems to take a lot of abuse. It can take sun, low water, lower light, no food, and yet it keeps going.
Houseplant #3: Chinese Money Plant, Pilea peperomioides
Yes, of course I have one of these. It would likely be a lot larger if I hadn’t propagated so many babies from it. Funny that it doesn’t like that. Come to think of it, it doesn’t like a lot of things. The light must be just right, the feeding must be just right, watering must be done properly.
This is a plant that will not reward you if you give it wet feet. It does not want to ever stand in water. If this happens, it gets ugly fast. I left this plant outside all summer and am just going to let it keep growing. As it is positioned in my room right now, it needs more light. For now though, it is doing well. The plant has actually never looked better.
My baby was purchased back when they were impossible to find. I purchased it from a fellow horticulturist who had a few but it wasn’t overly expensive. This was the first plant craze that really had me scratching my head. It was definitely a plant that went viral and it is cute—but not all that cute.
Houseplant #4: Begonia ‘Gene Daniels’
During the month of September in 2019 I took an extended road trip to California. In addition to attending the 2019 Begonia Society Convention in Sacramento, I visited many places and met folks I’d never met before. It was such an amazing experience and I came back home with a rental car full of plants and cuttings. This is one of those plants and I am so glad that it made it home with me.
One of the impromptu visits during that trip occurred because my friend Derick Pitman (aka Mr. Impatiens) and I ran into Landscape Designer David Feix while at Annie’s Annuals. A fan of his designs, it was an honor to have him ask me back to see some clients’ gardens after we toured his garden and plant collection in Berkeley. He also gave me some plants but we’ll get to them later. (If you’d like to see his garden, here’s a great post by my friend Gerhard: https://www.succulentsandmore.com/2019/09/david-feixs-tropical-jungle-in-berkeley.html )
After I saw the designs on Sunday (which were amazing and kind of unreal looking in the perfection in real life), David suggested that I visit the Dry Garden Nursery and then the garden of artist Marcia Donahue. Since she was open later that day for guests, I went for it.
While there she passed along a few pieces of plants to me. I had never met her and yet I felt like we’d known one another for years. (We have many mutual friends and one just so happens to be my employer and friend Sean at Cistus. She has known him much longer than I.)
This Begonia ‘Gene Daniels’ is one that I had seen at the nursery just before meeting her and I was so grateful she passed some of her plant of it on to me. It is a technically a shrub and will likely be a bit of a beast in no time but I can’t wait. It may grow up to 6′ x 6′ so that should get interesting. At that point it is more of a greenhouse plant, but I’ll do what I can for it.
Houseplant #5: Begonia ‘Angel Glow’
This rhizomatous hybrid begonia was developed in Australia and it was one of the plants that I picked up at the convention in Sacramento. It was offered by Kartuz Greenhouses and I couldn’t resist. I just love those leaves.
Rhizomatous begonias have been easy for me to grow. When they start to look “not so fresh” I’ve found that they just need to be divided or potted up. It works wonders. They just keep growing and making more of those lovely leaves. Just let the plants dry out. They really do benefit from not sitting in water. (Do you see a pattern here yet? Yes, do not overwater houseplants.)
Hope you enjoyed my little houseplant stories. Since cultural information is available all over online I didn’t go into detail about how to care for all of these plants. If you have any additional questions about them, please feel free to comment. I’m a horticulturist and can likely give you some pointers based on my professional experience.
This cocktail came about late one evening. I’d planned to chat with friends via Zoom and it was a “cocktail party” but I had nothing made to drink. Having had back pain all day (and back pain for about 2 months) I grabbed what I had on hand and it turned out to be quite a tasty drink!
I now make it with a smile whenever I’m experiencing severe pain. I’ve spent many months over the years curled up into a ball because of my back problems. It seemed like it was high time to make the most of slipped disks, spinal stenosis, and chronic neuropathy coupled with chronic sciatica.
Recipe: On Your Back
8-12 ounces hot Celestial Seasonings Lemon Zinger tea
1 shot limoncello
1 shot bourbon whisky
1 Tablespoon simple syrup
There are no fancy directions. Just mix all of the ingredients in a mug and enjoy. (I mean, your back hurts. I don’t want to prolong standing at the counter to make this. You need to lie down and rest a spell.)
Since I’m already prescribed over a dozen medications daily for chronic conditions, my primary physician, immunologist, and physical therapist have all agreed that one cocktail is healthier for me to use for severe pain than prescription pain pills which can lead to addiction and other undesirable side effects. So, when I have terrible pain, for the majority of the time I just live with it, but when it gets to be too much, I have a drink. They tend to change with the seasons though and this one is definitely my new favorite for fall.
And lastly, if you plan to make this, please drink responsibly.
It’s late on a Thursday night in the month of October in 2020. For the last few weeks I’ve been feeding myself a steady stream of fantasy and horror films as I recover from a physical meltdown of sorts that’s common for myself, and seemingly unfathomable at times for others. I made it through the season, but we’re in the middle of a pandemic and for those of us that work with plants, this has felt like a never-ending season of what’s referred to as being “slammed” in a kitchen. Imagine months of this, at two nurseries, but I thankfully work behind the scenes, and this does make it easier for me mentally and emotionally.
We’re still waiting for the results of a final x-ray, but it’s clear I’m exhausted and damaged. While one spine issue improved, another disk protruded. Instead of swelling up with one hereditary angioedema attack, I had two simultaneously. My complement, immune, and nervous systems are all tired. I’ve been on a steady diet of anabolic steroids for just over a week now.
Yes, that’s right folks, I’m a doper! These are not illegal drugs, I have a prescription for them, but it’s surreal at times to really sit back and think about how hard I work to work so hard. I guess I’m passionate about what I do though, and plants inspire me to keep doing what I do.
I think it’s safe to say I potted up thousands of plants in 2020. Flat after flat after flat left my workspaces and were carted off to the public realm or else back into a greenhouse until they’re ready for their closeup. There’s a rush you feel at that moment much like the excitement of cooking in restaurant kitchen and you’re part of a performance and as the plates disappear out of your sight you breathe a sigh of relief and you feel more and more like a badass as the night goes on and you near the finish line.
When it comes to plants though, it is a bit different. The adrenaline rush is not quite as dramatic. I just perform the initial part of a performance. My part is to make the starter and to get it stable enough so that you can take it home and complete your task. Sometimes, I may even have been the one who sparked the seed into life. Once in the hands of the gardener, with the plant being planted, it completes its lifecycle. I’ve helped to supply so many gardeners with the supplies necessary to make their artwork, or else to create their calm and happy space. With each flat I complete I toss out my hopes and wishes and I let go of my control of them a little bit. They all cannot live. Some of the duds must be plucked out so as to retain some integrity to the batch. Plants must be edited as they are presented. I’m probably better at that nowadays than I am at editing on the page but it’s so much clearer when you see a flat of plants. I’m not seeking out misspellings or grammatical changes, I just need for them to be uniform, a baker’s perfect dozen.
Once a flat is processed I turn my back and forget about them and move on to whichever plugs or plants need to be up-potted, re-examined, assessed, and often I help to make plants look a bit more appealing with snips here and there. There is never a dull moment in production and propagation. It’s a hamster wheel with a blur of plant life forever in our midst.
Nursery work is hard and complicated. Sometimes the monotony of it is a challenge but you look for differences and subtle small things in your crops as you go. I think of this as the ideal time to use the boring repetitive moments as a teaching tool of some kind. It’s a moving meditation. For my physical therapist, she’s used this aspect of my jobs to help me work harder on my PT. We must all make the most of our daily lives, and this helps to define us, and give us meaning.
There is an art though to the juggling and rhythm of growing crops. Nature truly is the choreographer that we work with as we do our many dances through the seasons. It is the rhythm that we live by in the plant world that I live in and I’m sure that’s something others around the world share with me.
Folks have asked me a lot if I’ve missed my dinners this year and that’s been a tough topic for me. During my dinners I rarely spent time at the table with the guests. I was in the kitchen working hard and I don’t want to do that again. Taking back the space in my back garden this summer really helped me to get through everything. I spent quality time in the space I created from scratch. This let me consider the development of my own recipe. My distaste for some of the ingredients I’d included there. I gardened in this space and breathed in it. I made plans for changes, and thought through my missteps. Clearly, gardening and cooking conflated and I realized just how much I love propagation, plant production and kitchen work. I reached a kind of self-actualization in my hammock in the back garden in late summer, hanging right over the spot where my table usually sits and it felt so good. Eureka!
Potting up thousands of plants still makes me feel like I’m cooking for all of you though, and there is yet that space between us both, and I’m hurriedly working behind the scenes, so that you can feel pleasure. Maybe I’m an enabler after all. But this relationship feels even more complex and poignant than ever, during a year when we’re all living through a pandemic. We must continue to make the most of it.