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.