Not long ago I was interviewed for this fantastic podcast by Dr Jared Barnes. I completely forgot to post that here on my blog. If you’d like to take a listen and find out more, click here. He’s interviewed a lot of great folks who work in horticulture around the country and I encourage you to listed to other episodes too. Being interviewed by someone who is a fellow horticulturist is always a great treat for me. Jared is someone I’m honored to know.
Jared and I met though a mutual friend in a Zoom chat during the pandemic. While there were a lot of horrible things about these years of turmoil we all lived through, I had the honor of being inspired by meeting so many great folks virtually—where I’ve been able to continue to nurture those connections.
On his site, he has a wonderful bio, and I encourage you to read that too. You can find it here.
In the past I may have mentioned here on the blog that I had to deal with hoarding with a few family members, and that I struggled with it a bit when I was very ill. My maternal grandmother was an extreme hoarder and she had mental health issues which included anxiety and depression. At the end of her life, while in a community living situation, she hoarded empty boxes. To block herself off from the world, she made a wall of them, but it was nothing like the home my mother and her late-brother had to empty out. Grandma really hoarded everything, and there sadly was a lot of garbage and other things that never needed to be there.
When I brought all of this home last week for the garden, my initial reaction was simply to cringe and think, “This is too much.” I’ve had time to think about this though and the feelings are so much more complicated.
Like many people who’ve had hoarding in their lives, I too tend to have decision-making problems. I don’t when it comes to being professional and being on time, or setting goals to achieve things. It has more to do with projects, and I’m realizing that it has something to do with not being able to learn how to do much of anything outside of my room as a kid in addition to more recent things.
I lived in a controlled environment, and while my brothers were able to escape the nest, I was sequestered. Since the kitchen was constantly free, I developed cooking skills, but my life up until I was 18 lacked almost all autonomy.
Entering adulthood, it was more of the same. Illness created more sequestration and I lacked autonomy all over again. While I continue to express the complicated and deep sadness I feel at having had so few choices, I continue to work through the mess of hoarded emotional baggage, and for me, that’s connected to the seemingly never-ending pile of plants too. They kept me busy, I’ve enjoyed that, and I find that I’m growing beyond it now.
I see the Order of Plant Hoarder around me, I know the gardens, and as someone who took well to social work when I did it, I feel for others who deal with this same problem but for different reasons. I’m thinking a lot now about many things, and it’s an anchoring activity for me, one that scares the hell out of me, while simultaneously opening me up more to the world.
Looking at nursery work, the amount of stuff, can sometimes be overwhelming, triggering, but I’m learning to take heart in the joy of keeping a complete picture whole, beautiful, and coming home to enjoy my surroundings, rather than to have that heavy feeling of it pulling me down. Hoarding allows objects to control you, and when they’re plants, it somehow feels like you’re caring about them, but it’s an act of conservation which is more a manifestation of the emotions you’re avoiding. It is a clear act of denial.
There are two more plant areas of the house to clear out, but today I tackle the back garden where all strays have ended up. With our recent heat spells, I’ve needed to water, and with my being gone a lot, this was the answer. Thankfully, the space is small.
And there is a compost bin, and I have help coming in the form of a friend opening up more planting space. I feel badly that some of these plants have been fried, but I’ve done my best, and within the next two weeks, this will all be planted or else gone.
There is no real way to prevent hoarding and obsessive collecting. I don’t even have the full-blown disorder, but I think it’s living around others who did, that has caused me to slip into habits I don’t like. My hoarding was learned. I learned poor emotional skills, and lacked the full support I needed to know how to cope well.
Admitting all of this to myself, and regularly staying on track, has created such an incredible kind of calm. I know the medication has helped me too, and not having swelling pain. I don’t miss the constant alarms going off in my body that something was seriously wrong. I hoarded while ill in order to concentrate on something else, as avoidance. I was in survival mode and I hated it so much.
In this calm now, I want to rest. I want to relax. And the best part is knowing with full confidence—I will.
Seems a bit late to be posting this, but I needed to wrap up my community college course and just completed my final last week so yay! Now it’s back to more regular posts again. It’s not easy to go to school while working nearly full-time! I salute those of you out there who’ve done so. I had so many hard-working friends at PSU while I was completing my undergraduate degree. Y’all just amaze me.
Last month was kind of “meh” in the garden. I realize now that in my love of heat and the summertime, I’ve kind of ignored spring plantings, so will be adding a few more for next year.
One: This year the large terracotta container of Citrus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ (syn. Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’) bloomed well. Am hoping I’ll have a crop of sweet smelling fruits later this year. While I’ve grown a few citrus plants over the years, I prefer to see them growing other places—since I don’t grow them well. My friend Alex used to have a greenhouse, and he grew the plants more easily. While I do have an outbuilding, I really do hate moving things in an out of it during the winter.
I’m blathering on about all of this because I lost a few citrus plants I’d inherited over the years this past winter. I really need a greenhouse, but do not have the space. THIS ONE THOUGH, it’s hardy, and it bloomed its head off after it had snow dumped on it. It looked at this last winter—and laughed—in flowers.
Slay on flying dragon, slay on!
Two: The Tellima grandiflora I have here is a nice collection given to me by my botanist friend. It came from Pacific County in Washington State and is very fragrant. The plan is to keep growing it, and to collect its seeds to grow more. Fringecups are a wonderful addition to any PNW garden if you’re looking for an easy native plant for damp and shady situations. I may have added this one to a warm and dry spot in order to push it a bit, but I was also hoping to add a shade-making companion plant to the area soon to help it along.
Three: There’s not a lot to say about the Sanicula epipactis (syn. Hacquetia epipactis) other than I fell for the attractive green flowers at some point, and that when I see it in bloom, I smile. Now that the flower has faded, I’m less pleased with it, but it’s not so bad as to make me desirous of its removal. In my garden, it’s grown well so far.
Four: Unlike many of my close friends and gardening community companions I have a lot of Japanese maples. Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’ is by far my favorite. It’s name means drifting of floating clouds and you can maybe see how it could have that look to it.
This to me is a special tree so when I cut down the old apple tree that was part of the original garden plan, I was happy to add this to another side of the back garden.
While it does cost a bit, I highly recommend considering the purchase of one of these.
Five:Alyssum montanum never disappoints in the springtime. This low growing plant in the Brassicaceae family has been blooming in this difficult spot reliably for YEARS.
I think it’s time to divide this clump, and spread it around a bit more in my pride strip aka hellstrip. June is just around the corner and this is part of how I show my support for Pride Month.
Six: Oregon gold thread (Coptis laciniata) is a native plant that gets its common name from the color of its beautiful roots. This is not a plant seen often in cultivation, so if you see it in a nursery, and you have the right spot for it, I suggest you pick it up. Luckily, we were selling some at Secret Garden Growers last year so I gleefully grabbed this one and it’s done WELL in my garden since it was planted. It’s even started to spread a tiny bit. It needs regular moisture and shade, but once established, it will settle in nicely.
Seven: Adorable little woodland blooms don’t feel like me, but well, here we are and it’s the blue of these flowers, set inside of the white, that just sets my heart aflutter. Omphalodes cappavocica ‘Starry Eyes’ is an easy-to-grow perennial and I’ve had it for at least a decade in my garden. The patch seen here is in full shade, and it’s often dry in that spot—but not completely.
Eight: What’s not to like about this Luzula sylvatica now that its grown into this lovely little mop on the ground? I think I picked this one up at Xera Plants and had no idea where it would go until I plopped it down here at some point. I don’t think I had expectations at all, and whatever I had been thinking, this plant has far exceeded those expectations. In this spot in the dry shade this grass has done great. It looks great year round too because it’s in a protected area of the garden.
Nine: Not sure why I have so many native plants in this post, but I do believe that gardens should have as many native plants included as is possible both for a kind of continuity with the surrounding setting, as well as the fact that other living creatures native to this region appreciate having them here in order to survive in one way or another. Besides, I want to remind myself that I’m NOT in control of nature and letting plants go a bit wild has always mattered to me.
The artificiality of perfection in the formal garden, or being told that someone has a “foreign” English garden makes me feel the same as if they’ve said they’ve planted an invasive species. The colonial mindset continues I guess and I’m more than happy to have both my interior cultural projection of my own European heritage, mixed in with a native plant garden with plants representing the region I grew up in and love dearly—to my core.
Mahonia aquifolium is yet one of the native beacon native plants for me. I have two at my house, and I love them throughout the seasons. They’re sited at the “nerve center” of my garden, the heart of it, where I work the most.
They’re also our state flower, and can handle basically any conditions. Mine are both on the southside of the house, they’re not watered a lot, and both get a lot of sun. I love them, they remind me of home, so home is where they’re planted.
Ten: Lastly, our native Thalictrum occidentale is a fun plant with a wide native range. From Alaska to Northern California to Colorado and Wyoming, this plant needs a shady spot with some regular moisture. For me, in my garden, it has spread a bit. I wish I could give it more space. It it an aggressive grower, but it is NOT a thug. Also, at some point, it will all but disappear in my garden as we heat up during the summer. Deciduous perennials will do this. If it was damper and cooler it would likely stick around a bit longer. So by the time I’m tired of it, it’s cooled it heels. So when it returns the next year, I’m always happy to see it again like a friend returning to visit.
It is dioecious, and the male flowers are the showy ones. They have a bit of the wiggle effect on those male flowers. They make me giggle and I have a dirty mind, so I see them as itty bitty tata tassels. Just have to be free to be me sometimes I guess.
So that took a bit longer to complete than I’d wanted it too. You’ll have an update soon on how I feel about the garden THIS month.
Between school and work, I’ve not had a lot of time to write about anything. Standing so much has been causing back problems, so I’m doing physical therapy again. With new physical goals centered on the professional gains I’ve made during the last few years, I’m happy that I was able to track down the last PT I was with so we could keep going and create a new plan. I’m confident we’ll have some success working together.
But this means slowing down. I’m terrible at that. Luckily, taking the necessary breaks at work throughout the day to reset my body is not an issue with my employers. This makes sense since recently the pain was so bad I was shaking and crying and could not think straight. Of course I kept working all day—because that’s who I am. I’m a determined soul. I love doing what I do even though the pay is not that which I made before I entered into horticulture.
I met with both my PT and primary care physician last week to discuss additional ideas for treatment. The goal is to make it possible for me to be more active so I can remain as healthy as possible and to prevent falls.
Having 2 previously injured areas of my back with a lot of scar tissue, and another spot that gets sore easily, means that my entire body is involved. We all agreed that with the HAE better controlled, this is the last frontier for me in terms of reaching wellness. It’s time to deal with the cluster of childhood trauma/traumatic injury/chronic pain/and PTSD.
This takes us back to the beginning in a sense. It’s funny to say this now, but there’s a pill for this in my case. Something that I stopped taking back in 2001…
So now I take the medication as prescribed, and we wait and see. I’m in good hands. We have an exciting program planned for me.
But this means I will continue to be kind to others, and not let recent bad experiences change me. It’s time for me to built a lot of trust, even though I’ve struggled with trusting others for a long time.
During the pandemic I had a handful of interesting experiences dealing with others and clearly a lot of time to think about those interactions. I’m happy that life is slowly returning to a new normal. Dealing with the anxiety of others is challenging for me, and a pandemic heightened that while blurring boundaries for some.
I speak publicly, and can be very open in person, but this does not make me a doormat, and I do not appreciate anyone who feels like it’s ok to cross boundaries with others or push them around. Writing to me out of nowhere and essentially expecting me to do something for you when I don’t know you is out of line. If I write something like, “No, I’m sorry but that won’t work for me,” please don’t write back to me with your raging privilege because of your perceived intelligence, self-importance, and defensiveness.
I’m grateful for blocking features on social media, but I wish this had never happened in the first place.
Autonomy is something I wish we valued more. I very much respect the autonomy of others, and mistakenly have assumed that if I do so, others will do the same for me, but I can be very naive.
To say that the anxiety of another individual infected my childhood development is an understatement. I became overly autonomous because of it. In general, I’m a very adventurous and easy-going individual, and I very much believe in the right of everyone to be free to do what they need to do in order to be healthy and happy—but this means being kind to others, and for many, this means learning NOT to cross boundaries.
Narcissism and trauma surround us daily. We’re numb to them both. (Well, we are until we can’t take it anymore…)
And why do I bring this up on a gardening blog? I do so just to point out that many of us garden to feel better, to ease the anxiety, to soothe mental health issues or daily experience that plague us, and to create safe spaces. Freud would say that our craft allows us to sublimate our harmful impulses and feelings. I think that’s true, but clearly more complicated once you add groups of people interacting back into the complicated equation.
Before a recent interview for a podcast that I’ll be sharing soon, I thought long and hard about this and about dissociation.
There’s a fine line when we dissociate from reality, and for me, I had to enter into the deep end for many years just to survive. Plants very much re-entered my life at that point. I got out of that though leading up to when I became a horticulturist. Being able to live in the world again and to be able to feel has meant the world to me, but we’re all still in this, and I hope to read more substantive content that deals with these issues and reframes these topics in new ways in the months and years to come.
We have a lot to learn, and maybe plants can continue to teach us things…
Moving forward in life… Lots going on around here, and it was rough trying to choose a photo for the top of this post. I’ve not yet given many presentations like these!
I’m not on the yellow brick road, but I’m heading somewhere hahahahahaha.
So, interestingly, both of these events are going to be held in Tacoma! It’s an honor to be asked to participate in both and I’m excited!!
First up we have the Point Defiance Flower & Garden Festival on June 3rd and 4th. I’ll be speaking around noon on BOTH days. The first talk will be about sowing, growing, and saving seeds, the second will be about growing a dry garden with plants for pollinators. And guess what, you can collect seeds from those gardens too!!!
Lots of other great speakers will be there so take a look at the roster on the site and come see us!!! (I’ll post a more detailed schedule when it’s up!)
I thought I’d write a brief post about a little furry problem I currently have in the garden.
This is Alfie, our youngest cat, and he found a creative way to let me know when he wants to come back into the house. While the other cats either sit at the door, meow, or paw-pound at it loudly, Alfie jumps into my window box planter and stares into the room that’s my office and plant room.
He doesn’t meow, he just stares. Once we make eye contact, he jumps down, and brings a lot of old potting mix with him…
It is messy. It covers the dry area where the other cats enjoy sitting. It’s been terrible all winter.
So last weekend I cleaned one side up.
But next weekend I will finish this up. I’m at a loss as to what to do. Maybe I should put a shelf here, or build something. My aim is typically to do what the animal wants so it will keep them happy, and on the property. (My cats only are allowed outdoors when I am home and during daylight hours. Some days, they don’t go out at all. During the summer, the catio is the roof where they can’t jump down. This is all to protect them from the urban coyotes.)
Since Alfie was a farm rescue, kitten of a feral mom, he’s definitely a big thick muscular boy who lives his life a bit differently than my other cats. We named him well. All he has ever wanted is to be the Alpha cat, but Queen LuLu will hold that position for many more years.
Now back to regular programming. I’ve been slammed with work for the last few weeks with Sean and Preston gone to Australia and with plant sales starting. Both nurseries will be very busy soon when flocks of customers descend upon them.
This weekend its Hortlandia and so much more! If you’ve never been, and you’re in the area, be sure to check it out.
‘Twas a long month last month… It was so long I’m late to post this, and it was so cold it induced a lot more numbness in my hands and feet than I’d like to remember. Overall, this spring has not made me smile much—yet. I hope it does soon. I suspect that it will, but the cold has created a frosty chill.
I want to smile again and feel more like my cheerful self. It was not a good winter, and to be perfectly honest, my holiday season was an overturned apple cart that I’ve not yet completely baked into tarts and pies. C’est la vie. We all have sudden surprises.
This is what happens after you’ve lived a bit of an isolated existence due to chronic illness for several decades. I’m learning life lessons later than is ideal, but I’m living. That is all that matters.
Life is change and turmoil.
Life is adaptation and renewal.
Life is death and birth.
Life is decay and decomposition.
In the garden, we find all of this, and at the start of April, I can say I’m finding myself in a garden revival here at home. I can no longer tolerate looking at certain mistakes, poor choices, and am trying harder to make better ones.
Gardeners often rejoice after making good choices. Some feel so overcome by this that they make dramatic career changes, or at least hope to do so. I suppose I did that at one point, but I care more about growing small crops, and working directing with crop propagation. As I work to design my garden with more intention, it’s funny how differently I feel about the plants. They reflect more of me, and I’m self-conscious about that.
There is no reason why at this point I shouldn’t feel self-satisfied about all of this. I’m working extremely hard doing additional strenuous physical labor on my days off. It’s the self-righteous smugness that ruins something like this, and any hint of my own ego stings. The egos of others in my industry is pain enough. So often they make me cringe. That’s part of any creative industry though. It’s funny how hyperaware I am of nipping any bad habits in the bud. Careful artful pruning is something I can obsess over for hours—days even.
Pruning with great relish, and rejuvenating my days, is bringing me great inner happiness. This last weekend I lost myself in the Buxus sempervirens. No, I’m still not smiling, and I don’t quite feel like myself again yet. I’m working on cultivating that too, at least I’m regrowing more of the me I missed so much. Like with any garden, it will take time and patience. For now, I’m happy to be slightly chilled, lost in the maze that is my own labyrinth of self discovery.
I will emerge when it’s time.
One: Who doesn’t love to see blooms in the spring? I honestly don’t have many, and I wish I had more this year. These Crocus versus ‘Pickwick’ flowers at least welcomed me home at the curb for many days.
Two: Each year I’m reminded of the green flower phase I went through years ago when I first planted my garden. One of the plants I found at a sale was Anemone nemorosa ‘Virescens’. It’s been a perfectly reliable plant for me and it has spread slowly.
Three:Pulsatilla halleri ssp. slavica is a new one for me. An alpine plant useful in containers and rock gardens, this one will be going into a nice hypertufa container and we’ll see how it does.
Four: It feels to me like I’ve been taking the same photo of this Viola glabella colony for years now. Originally purchased so I could sell the seeds of this native online, it’s not been a project that I’ve ever been able to harvest much from but the clump continues to slowly spread. Maybe this year, it will be “fruitful”.
Five: There’s no need to re-introduce the Queen of my plant-y realm, but if you’ve not yet met her, this is Camellia japonica ‘Black Magic’. I adore her.
Six: One of the things I take great pride in is being able to grow more ferns from spore. They’re all special to me. Sadly I’ve lost a lot due to doing too much at once and neglect, but these have made it! Cheilanthes wootonii aka Myriopteris wootonii—this one is a beauty.
Seven: Here is yet one more crop I’ve had in production so I can eventually offer seeds of it for sale online. Lunaria annua ‘Variegata Alba’ is not disappointing at all in terms of its variegation. I can’t wait to see it bloom.
Eight: I feel like this is always in my Top 10. That copper-colored new growth on the Adiantum venustum just gets me every time.
Nine: All of the seeds. There’s just too much ugly in my garden after this winter and I’m becoming keenly aware that I need to take pride in my expertise when it comes to seed propagation and to the importance of what I do. I have decades of experience now and I cherish to my core the other professionals in my world who’ve acknowledged, honored, and shared this keen interest with me. Domestically and internationally we’ve had private discussions about conservation and dissemination. I love seeds.
“Disseminate” being my word for 2023.
From Wiktionary: Etymology. From Latin dissēminātus (“broadcast”), past participle of dissēmināre, from dis- (“in all directions”) + sēmināre (“to plant or propagate”), from sēmen, sēminis (“seed”).
Ten: Lastly, I will add the hybrid Salix whips I bought for next to nothing off of EBay many moons ago. My living willow arbor continues to change and grow as I do, but this year I’ve had to attack the huge branches that I let grow too large, and too heavy. These threaten the integrity of the whole, and I got lazy, and was too scared to prune them off. Being scared can be a rush though when you have a chainsaw in hand. The crash could break things.
But what is worse, sitting back passively, doing nothing and watching nature take its course, or taking action? You decide. I mean we all make these choices daily, don’t we?
Knowing it might crash, and I might too, is scary. The odds are not in my favor since I waited so long, but I can still steer this ship ashore. And it’s not really a ship, so if I screw this up, I can begin again. That much I know to my core.
And yes, we all have that power to decide daily.
All I can say, is that it feels great to prune. Let’s grow.
The most popular post ever written on this blog is Fête de la Saint-Fiacre—and a prayer too. You likely never read it, but thousands of folks have since it was written in 2013. I wrote it for the saint’s feast day, and it was posted just a few days before I was married for the second time.
There is a subtext to the whole thing, something I couldn’t write about then, but I can, and will now, as the The Banshees of Inisherin plays in the background… Somehow, it’s very fitting.
I talk a lot about my Sicilian heritage, and my father’s side of the family, but that’s because I grew up knowing them, hearing their stories, and being taken care of by them. I was embraced as family.
Mom’s history is a wee bit more complicated and I’ll try to keep to the simple points here. Both her maternal grandfather, and biological father, had Irish roots, but this was not proven true until I had her DNA tested. When I saw these results for she and myself, I cried, and it still makes me cry. I get weepy just looking at the names of these places.
I very much enjoy history, dates, and facts. Growing up in a Catholic school, I knew Irish Catholics. They knew who they were and where the came from, and while I thought I might be too, I knew that my mother, and her mother, had stories, but not the kind with proof, or facts. One of the reasons I became so interested in family history as a kid, was to combat what I felt were stories being told to me about who I was, that I very much chose not to believe—until I had proof.
During college I met a young man a bit older than me, and I was flattered to know he’d taken any interest in me at all because I thought he was handsome and incredibly brilliant. He was taking graduate level courses and was drawn to my academic interests so he’d seek me out for conversations about modernist language, critical theory, and all things literary. I’m sad we lost touch when he went off to finish a PhD.
In one of his last messages to me that I recently found, he talked about spending the summer back in Portland and wanting to read to me while I gardened. Then he followed up with feeling like he’d been a bit too forward with me.
Reading that now, I’m the old woman happily looking back and remembering that time with great fondness. This was just when I was getting very ill. I’d spent the summer before in my garden in a hammock reading the complete works of Nietzsche, and was obsessed with my first rose garden planted amongst the industrial rubble that was my first back garden. Now I pay Audible to read to me.
From my back porch, I waved at the Amtrak train as it went by, and I had more roses that summer than I ever have had at any other time in my life. My swelling disease was changing my mind though. I had brain swells. I spoke slower. I couldn’t find the words for things, and after the summer of the complete works of Nietzsche, I barely read any books for well over a decade.
I crawled in order to garden. From the ground, I was able to master some serious rose pruning skills. It was the most devastating time in my life. I did not yet know what exactly was causing me to decline. My friend though from class, kept writing to me, and I before he left, I’d learned the sad stories of his family.
He was a proud Irish-American from Pennsylvania. His family had been coalminers, and life had not been great for them. Most of them had died from health issues, and for the first time I heard first-hand black lung stories. I remember when we met he called my mind and language Joycean, and he once said, “You are so Irish and you don’t even realize it do you?”
He was correct. He found me speechless in that moment, and oddly, year to year I’m still trying to get to know who my Irish people were—and are…
That comment stung because I wanted to tell him my story, but it wasn’t totally mine to tell. I was ashamed and confused by it. I’m much less so now, and as I come into thinking more about gardening and the natural world, and my love of horticulture, and the world of words, I want to go to Ireland more and more.
I’m a spaghetti Westerner. I say that a lot—and I mean it. The West is a concept. It’s where many of those who did not fit into the social strata of “the East” came to be free of the pressures they experienced there. My great-grandpa George is an interesting example of that. He never really belonged anywhere, and he lived that way, but he came west from Nebraska with his wife and family he loved, and he worked as a Pinkerton man, spying on the timber laborers in the bars of Aberdeen, Washington, while the family and everyone else just thought he was a ne’er-do-well who drank all day and lived off of the money his diner-owning wife made at her restaurant.
George and Lucy met as teens, then married and lived in a one-room sod house until just before the Dust Bowl hit. Grandma Lucy was descended from a man who arrived in the colonies in 1640, and George’s married birth father’s family had been in New York for generations. His mother was an Irish immigrant. He never knew his parents though, because he was sent to his maternal aunt and her husband. Soon after his arrival his adopted mother died.
We don’t know why his mother gave him away, but we suspect she was young and worked for the married man either in his home, or at his business. I would love to find out who she was though, and find out what her name was, and I think through her I have cousins, but it will take time to sort it all out. I may or may not ever find that time. Life is funny that way.
My grandmother, daughter of Lucy and George, was married several times. To get out of her parent’s home, she made the not-so-brilliant choice of falling in love with the recently widowed neighbor with a daughter who lived next door to she and her family in Aberdeen, WA. Not long after, they were married and my mother was born. Before he entered AA, he was an alcoholic, and the marriage did not last long due to both of them not getting along. I’m happy to say that he went on to get sober and had a third marriage and a whole other family that we’re close to, but my mother and her two sisters (all with different mothers) didn’t get to know one another until their own kids were practically grown. They’re family now and it’s nice to have my aunts and cousins.
This grandpa has an Irish last name—one that can be considered more Orange or Northern Irish, so my mom always told people she was Northern Irish, but the truth is more complicated than that. We seem to have very little DNA associated with Northern Ireland at all and she was a Protestant because of her grandmother and her family—not because of the connections to Ireland.
Grandpa’s mother Dora had children by a few different men. The man on the left seen in the photo above was 1/2 Portuguese and she married his father when she was 12, in a timber camp in Northern California where her Civil War vet father took his two young children to live with him. (His second wife, their mother, had died in childbirth while he was an Indian agent after the war in Oklahoma.) So Dora, well, she made up a lot of stories about her life, but I can’t imagine what she lived through. I know her brother eventually disowned her. I found this out by writing to his daughters. They didn’t know anything about her and at first told me I was mistaken. That hurt.
I found no marriage certificate for Dora and the father of my grandfather. I found nothing on the birth certificate. I think I have heard his father died in a tragic accident and that doesn’t surprise me if he worked as a logger.
The only solid lead I ever had was that he may have come from coal mining country in Pennsylvania.
Sure, I could ask my family, but there are still a lot of stories. I’m no longer sure what hurts more to me, the truth, the continued avoidance of it to prevent the pain, or the semblance sometimes, of a desire for some kind of legitimacy. What matters to all of us seems to be not really knowing. It’s not easy to be ok with that, but I’m embracing it more as I age.
Additionally, my mom was a child who experienced extreme parental alienation so the concept of “the truth” hurts her in ways I don’t understand. Her entire reality and broken identity was based on lies her mother told her for years. Stories she learned to tell herself, making her own way in life, moving away, starting a family, healed her. She didn’t see her birth father much from the time she was 4 until she’d had her first child. They got through things though, but it hurt. It hurt a lot. He had always wanted to be part of her life, but Grandma had always told her that he never wanted to see her again. I’m glad that we talk about this kind of thing now, and folks like my mom can receive more help and support. We name it now. This experience damaged her a lot. It hurt many of us too. It was hard for me as a kid to explain to people why I didn’t know my birth grandpa well and he only lived 2 hours away. Even then, it was also a betrayal to Grandma to speak to him.
It was the first grudge of sorts I even knew, and it felt wrong to me as a child.
So I AM of Irish descent on both sides of my mom’s family. Disconnectedly so…
I LOVE potatoes. I devour oysters and fish. I sprinkle dulse on everything. I love wool and my fair skin feels ruddier by the day. I love nothing more than being near the sea and far afield. I could spend my cold dark nights in pubs with music and laughter. I can tell you with full certainty, I get all of this from my mother, as well as her knack for storytelling and love of jokes, and the pleasure I get from making someone else smile or laugh.
Mom just recently told me on what was nearly her deathbed that my work in the green world does come from she and her mother. Grandma Lucy liked to remark they were similar in that way and that they didn’t get it from her. Grandma and Mom are/were earthy.
But Mom stopped short of saying where they did get it—because no one knows the name of Grandpa George’s mom, and we don’t really know if that’s the source. We’re clueless. There is no evidence to back us up. She looked sad and small in a bed in the ICU.
Whoever she was, she and her people (our people) live on in us in ways that have enabled Grandma, Mom, and I to survive things with humor and a unique fortitude we don’t often see in others we know. I just cannot express how grateful I am for these gifts. Hell, I needed these skills just to negotiate the family issues!
Over the years I’ve been adopted by various Irish-Americans, and our family was adopted by the Irish priest that married my parents after he was semi-retired. Father B was so adamant about NOT wanting to die in Ireland, when his family took him home for the last time, we couldn’t say goodbye, and that kind of haunts me. Mom and Dad traveled to Ireland to be with his family after he passed, and while she did not yet know she had genetic ties to Donegal, she felt strongly about the region when they travelled there from Galway. She enjoyed Ireland a lot.
But one last story… This one is for Father B on St Patrick’s Day.
This is the story of how I learned what it meant to be Irish that one Easter when my father invited an English Lord, his wife, and her horticulturist son to our home.
We often had private Catholic masses at home, and Father B baptized my mother as Catholic after she’d had cancer the second time. Raised Protestant by her mother and grandmother, it was another challenge for me to deal with at school as a kid. Luckily I wasn’t my mother’s godmother until I was an adult, but this is all part of my Irish-American life, and I hope you’re laughing a little bit right now because you should be. Yes, I am my own mother’s godmother.
So, Dad published a fly fishing book written by this English Lord. The author had long wanted to visit the PNW, his wife’s son was moving to the US for a job at a large nursery in the midwest (he was maybe near 40 and unmarried) and so they decided to tour the county a bit before leaving him at his new home. (Sadly, I don’t remember his name or where he oversaw liner production. It would be fun to see him again.)
We’re a rather large family, and Easter brunch/dinner was going well enough. Father was NOT happy to have the English Lord in our home though, and for us, we didn’t fully understand. Father was always fun and chatty, but he was rather dour that day. To make him laugh a bit, I pushed back with our guests since I couldn’t stand to listen to the wife speak not-so-kindly of the United States. I kept changing the conversation back to plants and gardens. The more charming the horticulturist son found me, the more irritated she was at me. Father B started to perk up. Easter was becoming a bit more interesting to him.
Then we went downstairs to where our large dining table is setup. We were a group of nearly 20 family members. Things were going smoothly, and then we hit a rough patch. I don’t recall what was said, but the English Lord said something political that was not appropriate concerning England and Ireland (I think), and Father B lost it. He reminded him that he was in an Irish supporting household and that his father was proud to have been arrested for his work with the IRA. (I can’t recall what the connection was, but Micheal Collins era was part of his family’s history.) The English Lord apologized, and things settled down, but our family was a bit unsettled by it all. We’d never seen him act like that.
I rarely talk about that experience. It’s challenging to find the words for it.
Dad and Mom later apologized to Father B, and we all learned a bit more about him as a person, about his childhood, and his father. This is when Father B talked to me and explained that we were disconnected from Ireland, and he felt kind of responsible, and he wanted us to be better connected. We are part of the story of Ireland too, and he very much wanted us to feel included. Even then we didn’t know that the DNA was so strong, but he felt it, and had known Mom since she was 19, since before she’d made things right with her dad. He felt like a father figure to her, and he was like an Irish grandfather to me, but this might confuse many practicing Catholics. Our relationship with him was very close. He was mostly retired then, he had the funds to own a small home, and he chose to be alone instead of living with the other priests. He worked part-time, but he spent a lot of time with our family. He ate dinner with us, went to movies, came to all of our birthday parties, and we got to know his family. Mom became his caregiver more and more as he needed help. We were all there for one another.
So while this blog has been a lovely place to stir the pot, it is the post to the Patron Saint of Gardeners, Saint Fiacre of Breuil, that has brought many readers here. As Mom would say, “It’s a sign!” And when I say it’s the most read post on the blog, I mean it’s read A LOT more than anything else.
I don’t really think that it is a sign of anything other than folks searching and finding my prayer to the saint, but today, all I want to say is that I’m proud to have Irish heritage, and I’m sorry that the lives of my relatives were so challenging that my family ties, and bonds, were broken. But I’m a propagator after all, and I know what good can come from cuttings. It’s not always bad.
So, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!!!—from a gardener lost in the Irish-American diaspora (and from Mom too). Having said that though, I feel like I’m not so lost, and I look forward to hearing anyone’s comments on what it means for them to garden and to be Irish, or to garden and love plants and be of Irish-American heritage. (You can write to me privately too if you’d like to share your more painful family experiences if they’re at all like mine.)
As I work to craft a more finely-tuned garden here at home this year, I’ll try to add things that will help me to meditate a bit on this part of my life. My garden has always been designed more around feeling than seeing. Nothing about this part of my life has felt authentically true or comfortable to me though, so I hope, conversations about this will inspire me to try something new.
It’s funny how the books I’ve picked for this group work together—but they do. In a funny way this group shows more about me as a plantsperson and horticulturist than many of my posts do.
My garden is a laboratory… where I happen to work and play a lot.
1-Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf (published in 2011)
This book is a favorite. It shows American history from a fresh perspective, and it’s one that makes a lot of sense to me now, connecting the past to the present. It is well researched and I kind of expected it to be after hearing the author speak a few years ago here in Portland about her work The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humbolt’s New World.
Even though I was not yet physically well when I went to hear her speak, her talk truly inspired me to strive harder to do more and to fight to feel better, so I very much have an emotional attachment to the work of this writer. Add to that, a good friend from college was awarded a Humboldt Research Fellowship, and again, my heart spills over a bit for this historian.
Described in this review as a revisionist work, I’m more than ok with that, but it’s by no means a radical interpretation. It just shows another side of men we are familiar with, and as a young country, it’s important to shade them in bit by bit as time passes.
As a horticulturist from the American West—the Pacific Northwest to be precise—a descendent of many original colonists, I know very little about the original colonial states because my family moved westward so long ago. We don’t cling to tradition so much here, although that’s changing more and more. This book helped me to better understand other horticulturists in older parts of the country, ones I interact with online, and am meeting with in person more and more now.
I appreciate this book for giving me a better framework historically. I need this as I will be visiting Monticello and Mount Vernon for the first time this year, and I hope to continue to visit other parts of the country in the years to come. I feel like this book has helped to create a much needed context for me, and I can do more “shading” in as needed as I begin to experience these places more.
2-The Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey (published in 2015)
Ahhh, a title that makes me feel awkward, but sex sells. This romp through the stories of many plants by a British naturalist was fun, but it was a wild ride from here to there. Like the other books in the group, it shows yet another facet of how I see the plant world that I work and live in. Honestly, it shows how many of my peers and mentors see things too. One minute we’re talking about this plant, and then the next, we’ve moved on to another from a different continent or region. The key is knowing the places, and keeping up.
This book was entertaining, and to grasp its overall appeal, all I can stress is that is shows you how to see plants maybe in a different and geekier way than you already do. So many folks first get into houseplants and containers they plant when they land in their first cozy home spaces, but their interest often stops there, on the pages of magazines, books, or online sites, with photo they’d like to imitate, idealized aspirations. This book will take you to “the next level” so-to-speak. It transports you up and beyond the pages into the deeper “lives” of plants.
I hate to say that this book anthropomorphizes plants, but it does give them a voice, one which I’m much more familiar with than that of a Garden Expert or Influencer. This book shows you a more professional world of plants, and honestly, one that I live in much more than I’d previously realized as I’m beginning to interact more with more consumers and folks outside of my work circles.
If you want to know more about the enthusiasm I so embrace, and the crazy connections made by my friends and I, then this is a great book for that. I very much enjoyed the writing, and I encourage you to read this great review of the book and its charm in The New York Times.
3-Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown (published in 2018)
Read by the author, I enjoyed this book a lot. Gabe Brown is one of the most important agricultural leaders in the United States, and if you’ve not heard of him, please read more about him online. I’ve heard about people trying forms of regenerative gardening, but regenerative agriculture matters even more and we as consumers should be supporting these growers, and by doing so, hopefully more growers can return to this more natural way of producing crops. If you want to own your own regenerative farm, this is THE book for you.
My childhood garden mentor had studied soil physics. Yes, I was the unusual kid who wanted to learn about soil, and how soil mattered to my interest—which was plants. As a young girl, I spent many hours listening to my mentor talk about the American prairie, about the Dust Bowl, and about how we could fix things. He used to tell me over and over that studying native plants and the native prairies would lead to great things. He was way ahead of his time and very well already knew the destruction we’d caused by continuing to believe in destructive agricultural practices.
These discussion are what eventually led me to wanting to go to Duke University in the 1990s badly because they had an ecology program, and it is also part of what led me to visiting that campus just last year for the first time. (Their program is still one of the best in the world.) It’s kind of fun to write about all of this now and unload it from my heart and mind.
Having just finished this book, and having been prescribed the medication that could have allowed me to follow that path in 1992, I felt that it was only right to show up on the campus at least, and it felt right at the time to feel the feelings (to process them more), and this book thankfully had put me back into that frame-of-mind and I’m grateful for the happy memories and emotional closure. While I didn’t follow that path, I can still talk about and incorporate ecological landscape matrices into my work and writing as a horticulturist. To my very core, I see everything in this way thanks to my early childhood.
So getting back to the book, it shows step-by-step how one family took their ranch from “traditional” farming practices, to regenerative ones. I loved how it explained generational changes, and even farm inheritance issues. Many of us have quickly forgotten our own families that farmed, and yet this tradition is part of the subsidized core of the culture of this nation. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed thinking about during the last few years as I’ve listened to several of these texts at work.
It may not be a literary gem, and it can repeat itself a lot, but it’s meant more to teach the reader about something absolutely mind-shattering to some. I too often forget how stuck people become in how to to do things, or “this is how we do this”.
Gabe Brown is part of the soil-health movement, and when I read this book, in turn, I had discussions with others about soil. Horticulturists who are trained by science are more than aware about dirt to soil. Be one of those gardeners in your community, and support the soil-health movement. We talk about grassroots movements and it doesn’t get more “from the ground up” than this.
4-Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy (published in 2007)
Ever the reader who will at first resist anyone right away who has a fervent fan base, well, Tallamy is one of those guys in this batch of books. I’ve only read this book, and look forward to reading his text on oaks, but overall, I don’t get the appeal so much. There is a lot of information in this book that does not apply to my region, and I don’t own 3 acres (or however many it was and which is not a sustainable idea to encourage people to believe that they ever will in the world that we currently live in). Most people I know don’t, and I think it says a lot.
He is a scientist though, and he’s done a lot of field research. What I agree with 100% is his core belief of planting native for the insects. Where there are insects, there are birds, and as we all know, bird populations are shrinking. Why do I care about the insects? It’s not just the birds, fish eat them too. It’s all part of a complicated web.
While some folks (who likely don’t read this blog) would say, “Who cares?”, this just returns back to the book above, to ecology, to science, and the matrix. (If you’d like a nice video on this, click here. To be honest, I could have watched this video and learned everything I needed to know and skipped this book.)
Planting for the good insects means allowing plants to be eaten, and in some cases, gardeners I know won’t like this because it’s unattractive to their mind’s eye. I do not care if the style of your architecture does not match the native plant palatte #colonialism.
This is a goofy stretch as to how I see the world, but I want life to thrive, I want life to dine, and I want to help. So yeah, this means sometimes not trying to control nature (something humans LOVE to do in the gardening realm and which makes me sometimes hear nails on a chalkboard). It means planting to keep a balance of all kinds of life species in your garden. It also means taking the time to better understand insects. I can hear the squealing now and I can see people running for bottles of sprays to kill things. Just chill out.
This book sort of addresses these idea, but in a way that I found dull. It’s very rigid and I found myself thinking constantly about the opposite arguments to his ideas. To my mind, that means the writer is not being fair and balanced and I don’t enjoy reading texts like that. It feels like prothletising or preaching. I feel like he’s about 20 years behind, and there were so many exceptions. I’m not a member of that particular choir.
Residential gardens and gardeners are sadly not all that important in the big scheme of things and to focus so much importance on our privileged lives and realms (land that we own) seems potentially too self-righteous and self-congratulatory for my taste. Virtue signaling irks me, and damn! does this guy sell a lot of books.
And in the blink of an eye, I’ve come to the end of another of these book review posts. I hope you’ve had fun. Oddly, I really enjoyed this one and look forward to do the next one in a few months.
Like many Portland area gardeners before me—and likely after—I’ve tried to grow Geranium maderense in my garden with little success. Yes, those experiments could have been successful if I’d been lucky enough to own a larger garden with a greenhouse for overwintering large specimens, but I don’t have that kind of setup, so I need to work with what I have available at this time, and because of this, I just gave up on it.
Enter Geranium palmatum, also a large species plant, but one which I was talked into trying by a few of my garden blogging friends. My first impulse was to say no to the free starts. I was terribly reluctant because of the previous failures and disappointments. But then the prospect of it actually working took hold, and I wanted to save seeds from the experiment, so I committed to it for 2 years to see if it would work (it’s a biennial or short-lived perennial).
The fact that I was offered seedlings from someone else’s garden in the Willamette Valley said to me that I might have a chance with it.
The first year it was just lush foliage—but it grew well. The plant start I’d received had been in a 3″ pot so I didn’t know what to expect but I was told that it would get large quickly. And it did.
Last winter wasn’t too cold or rough for it. The plant began to take off as we warmed up, and I was surprised that during the winter it had remained semi-evergreen for me.
Then it bloomed its head off last summer, and I enjoyed the show.
So overall, I wouldn’t call this an easy beginner’s plant. It will require some more advanced gardening skills to plant it in the correct site, but it’s worth the additional light mental effort.
(If you’d like to read a nice post about the two different species mentioned written by someone else, I really recommend this one.)
You don’t see this plant offered often at nurseries since it’s really just a small start of a plant that will look much different later in the garden. Nurseries can’t keep plants like this in containers for long, and they’re a bit of a financial gamble.
Not feeling so great after a trip to the dentist so this post will be brief!
Nine hours later, and I’m continuing to deal with numbing and discomfort on the left side of my face. Yea-ouch!!!
One: Oh hellebores—they’ve looked great both before and after the snow storm. This photo is from before, but now that the snow has mostly melted, they still look great. Phew!
I would love to have some fancier leaved hybrids, and maybe a species or two, but I’ve not been really great about acquiring them yet. You’d think I’d know better! It’s not too hard to find them out there.
Two: Fragrance in the garden is something most of us enjoy—especially in winter when so much is still asleep. Sweet boxes are always great additions to shady areas, and additionally, they smell great!
I have a few different ones in the garden. This one is Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis and it’s in the back garden. Since it’s a lower growing option it works well as a ground cover.
Three: The Goodyera oblongifolia aren’t looking great per se, but the one plant has now grown into many since it was planted!!!
This little native orchid is a favorite of so many folks, and while it can be a bit finicky in the garden setting, it doesn’t have to be.
This grouping lives under a large Doug fir and I’ve included other native plants nearby to keep the little group happy. It seems to be working.
Four: Of course I have to add a houseplant or two too!!! This is Streptocarpus UA-Retro. Ain’t she a beauty?
Five: Love this tough hybrid and so do the hummingbirds. Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ is an interspecific hybrid of two Asian species and is quickly becoming a favorite in my front garden.
Six: I don’t even remember how long I’ve had these Galanthus elwesii but it’s been for well over a decade now. They’re reliable and true for me, maybe not the most hard-to-find, but hey, I live too far away from Galanthus Gala to throw down too much cash on some of the more difficult-to-find ones. (Just kidding!!! That’s what the internet is for, right?)
Anyway, for now, these will do!
Seven: Another great winter plant in the garden, this Garrya elliptica ‘Evie’ came to me as a pet plant that had been trimmed into a lollipop topiary in a container. I’ve let it get a bit messy, and plan to cut it back now that the big show is almost over, but until then, you get this view of it. As a lollipop, it looks a lot like a dramatic chandelier. I can’t wait to see it look like that again.
Eight: Back in houseplant world, Dracaena masoniana aka Sansevieria masoniana has been putting on some new growth and each night I’ve looked at it with a bit of wonder. Kind of amazing how much the leaves can change over time. Plants are amazing.
Nine: So then the snow came… and I think that this is an Acer palmatum var. dissectum of some kind, I just don’t know which one. Mom bought it for me back in 2004 when we first moved into the house. It was a discount plant, from some random nursery in Clackamas County, and it was on sale because it had a very ugly graft.
I wanted it for the cats to hang out beneath it in the summer. For many years, they did.
Now, she’s my pruned princess.
And last but not least…
Ten: All of the plants. All of the plants are #10 on my list this month because I love them and feel terrible they had snow dumped on them. I know this is a subjective opinion, but it seems fair enough.
If not, well, I’ll blame the novocaine whenever it wears off.
Life hasn’t been all bad these last few weeks. I have much to look forward to this year and I intend to shine and use my talents a bit more than I’ve been able to during the last two decades. Maintaining my health came first and foremost. It took a lot of my time and energy. Thanks to medical science, I can grow a bit beyond all of that now.
I no longer need rest quite as much after I exert myself. It’s surreal to have more mental energy. I’ve been relearning how to use that time, and I’ve thought a lot about where I want to exert more effort. It’s time to create new memories, and to work on personal development beyond what I’ve been able to do.
I have been thinking a lot…
It’s funny to have gardened here for so long and to not have completed projects. Before my health changed, I always accomplished what I set out to do. I want to wrap a few things up around here before I celebrate having lived here for 20 years in August of 2024.
I plan to ask for help though, and to hire help, and to finish projects that I’ve dreamed of finishing for a very long time. Last year I pushed on several things, and it really helped me to better enjoy my space. I don’t have the financial security to do anything dramatic, but I can be resourceful. I want to at least try harder.
The garden began, and was inspired by, the Islamic gardens of Spain, something kind of classical, something touching my roots—and likely those of my ex as well but we never tested his DNA. While I’m an Italian-American, like many others, I’m also of North African descent, and this is meaningful to me while it isn’t always to other Italian-Americans. (Yes, of course many of us have heritage from all over the Mediterranean!)
I had one Moorish ancestor in Spain who left for Sicily at the end of the Spanish Inquisition in 1612. I’m not sure of what he did for work, but I can only assume that he worked the land, and it’s what my family did in Sicily for many more generations. Spain was the first foreign country I ever visited, and that experience of better understanding my own “Otherness” at 20, changed and enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined.
We all come from somewhere, often, somewhere else… While my current husband was born in Italy, and is half Croatian, thanks to his DNA he now knows that he’s of Sámi heritage.
But he is ok with whatever I do in the garden. His nostalgia is always solely for his memories of Italy, and the garden here in Portland that his Italian mother made.
Who I am is very much reflected in my garden, and I’m proud of my heritage, and of the many who lived before me, and of the many I know little to nothing about…and for my own accomplishments and interests. This coming year, I plan to make this all more coherent, and enjoyable in my outdoor space as I borrow from these cultures, in a time when cultural appropriation has led to many uncomfortable but necessary discussions.
In the world of garden decor, there can be a lot of borrowing from other cultures. This is an issue I’ve not wanted to ever discuss publicly, but it’s time to do so from my own perspective, and I know that many want to “go to the garden” to escape such uncomfortable topics. The garden can be an escapist fantasy, and it can be an homage to a place you love, maybe even obsessively so. It can also be a place to showcase your wealth, status, and class, but for many, it’s about beauty, order, balance, happiness, and even pleasure.
With so many different ways of seeing and experiencing across cultures and people, it’s interesting to me how these visuals are then ranked and can be judged. For me, the real pleasure is seeing the complex network of factors at play here. Right now, we’re at an amazing crossroads and I’m enjoying being an observer. I’m also going to create my own ideas about design. Funny since I wrote a lot about art and design and was in a very significant relationship before my first marriage that I never speak about with a talented designer and artist who works in advertising. There was the other relationship too with an artist and now professor who was at Cornell and in now in NYC. I’ve actually been thinking about reaching out to him to have some conversations about my world. I come from a collaborative background and I very much believe in collaboration.
I know a lot more than I let on. Poor health forces you to make decisions. Years ago I decided to let it all go.
I’m not dead yet.
How we communicate about these things, makes a difference. Recognizing that imperialism (and colonialism) in our hobby helped to create it in the first place matters. I choose to educate myself mostly through knowing where plants come from, how and when they were introduced, how they’re used at their origin, and how they’ve provided capital and discoveries to science and horticulture.
I’m going to push myself a bit to go beyond all of that this year. I know, how sad, right? Why would I want to lighten up after all of that serious stuff lol.
I don’t have to even worry about intersectionality like I did as a young woman. That stuff kept me up at night. I can focus now on the basics, and enjoying the life I have back now.
I don’t know a lot about the world of garden designers and design trends—other than the work of those whom I work for… So this year I intend to find some more designers afield that I really like, but that’s a whole other journey I’ve yet to embark on. I guess I’ll look for those who enjoy Marxist and epistemological analyses (kidding sorta!), but that may take some digging lol. It would be fun to learn some new tricks and hear others expound a bit upon why they do what they do.
For me, focussing on getting to know thousands of plants, the communities to which they belong, how they grow, the conditions under which they grow in the wild, and finally, how to propagate them in captivity is what has absorbed my attention. I’ll never know enough about all of these things, but I might as well join in the fun and create stunning combos while playing the thriller, spiller, filler game in my urban garden.
I hope I can afford this…
And at the same time I really do want to get to know the work of others. Maybe.
Sometimes it’s confusing when a planting by one can look so much like a planting by another. And then there’s the personalities, and I just want to know the plants! But I will persevere. I admire the courage it takes to become a designer or an artist. I couldn’t do that job with any focus at all. I very much enjoy what I do, making the plants that we all enjoy growing and getting to know that are not easily purchasable at most nurseries.
This year will be more fun though! I need fun in my life again. Don’t we all!?!
For me, this means I plan to go nuts with all of this and dance up a storm while wearing my headphones. I really want to play with plants again. I want to lighten up a bit, and for me, design and crafting objects is lightening up a lot. It will be about letting go…
So, in addition to tracking a few plants along with the plant hunters, breeders, and botanists—just to learn more about my own field, that of propagation and production horticulture—I’ve become increasingly interested in the continued cultivation of older cultivars that are a challenge to find on the market.
While new innovations in breeding are fun, there are many great cultivars which simply are not found as often due to marketing and gaps in the market that occur over time. “New” is almost always more thrilling to a consumer on the hunt for something exciting and novel. “Available via wholesale” creates a stir too for designers and nurseries that are not doing their own production work. We need smaller nurseries to keep many of these older varieties going, but it’s a balance, and it takes true plantspeople to help keep the work of independent (or vintage) breeding work going. Keeping those genes out there is a good thing in a time when we’re producing a lot of tissue culture plants. Mix it up a bit. Believe it or not, but those genetics can be used again, and are often bred into another new, novel and improved variety. It’s a complicated and fun system to be part of to be honest.
When you’re out shopping this year, try a few of the old standards that are hard-to-find. You might really enjoy them!
And lastly, please don’t think that I’m overthinking all of this. I’m part of the Plant Nerd Herd (though many of my friends would NEVER want to identify as such) and I know it, and that’s ok! Diversity is good on so many levels, and it’s why being paired with a quick, sharp art school graduate like my co-worker Kris has been so much fun for me.
So 2023 will be the time to relax and play with plants in my garden and have some fun! I look forward to making the most of my space, and enjoying the beauty of the many plants I’ll have grown from seed again.
I know I’m valued in my corner of the green industry, and I look forward to reaching out more to folks I want to value and learn more about in the months and years ahead.
It’s time to leave the safety of my bubble a bit. Let’s all just hope I’m more resilient than some of the plants I keep under glass.
This won’t be a blow-by-blow post about what I did this month. I’ve felt soft and impressionable because of a few unexpected life events during the last few weeks. Both my husband and I had friends who passed away, and then one of my parents was suddenly hospitalized while I was away in Seattle last week. (They’re better now. Phew!) But, post COVID (yes, I went through THAT last month), this was all just a bit too much for me—but I’ve kept going. No one enjoys feeling fragile, and there are so many exciting things in the garden to look forward to in 2023.
Laughing is the best medicine and when I realized that #arctokitty didn’t exist on Instagram, well, I worked hard to make sure it had at least a few photos. My sweet boy Oliver actually is a fan of the plant that’s beloved at Cistus Nursery where I work, and he’s known to lounge in my neighbor’s back garden where she has a bit of a chaparral meadow going on. My #arctokitty really does love manzanitas aka Artctostaphylos. It’s been fun realizing this as the plants have all grown and so too has his interest in them.
Contracting COVID-19 last month really messed up my momentum and threw me behind. I lost a lot of work hours, I had fog for a few weeks, and regular plant maintenance didn’t take place. This month I worked an 8-day work week for the first time, had to prepare for my online talk through Heronswood, and then had to pick the begonias to take up to Seattle for my DIY seminar. Throughout all of this, I just wanted to hide but I kept going and am glad I did! I got through it all!
Instead of feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities and tasks, I chose to experience being present and accepted where I was at, and then thanked the stars again and again for Orladyo. This month I reached the 6-month mark and it’s been amazing to discuss the changes with my medical team. The next 6 months will be good too, but I can expect less dramatic shifts in my health.
At the start of February I was happily back at work again. I jumped right in to catch up on tasks such as seed sowing and making divisions of things out at Secret Garden Growers. Right now I feel pretty happy with it all, but it was not easy at first. I’ve lost some valuable time this winter, but this is the season in horticulture where things can be extreme in unexpected ways. While many gardeners are at home and bored, I’m working like crazy making plants for them to purchase in the coming weeks and months.
The other big event this month was just like last year—but I was even more excited hoping to see the city of Seattle come to life again. We were not disappointed. Many more attendees were there, the hotel was vibrant, and restaurants were filled. The excitement of spring was in the air—even if we have a cold front moving towards us, again. So many friends and acquaintances were speakers this year. It was a wonderful event and I’m more than grateful to have been included.
My DIY seminar was fun but the clock on the table ended up telling me the wrong time so I went over a bit. Last year questions from the audience were a bit scary, but this year, I very much enjoyed them. It’s funny how little I speak to the general public. Even with a blog here on the web, I tend to speak to the same audience, primarily other horticulturists, and a few avid gardeners, many of whom are local and good friends. It’s nice to share information, and I look forward to more talks in the future although I’m pretty much taking a big break until fall.
That’s good news for the blog though since I will be catching up on projects and plantings that I can write about. Time off in bed had me thinking a lot about comments from mentors that I’ve received, and it’s had me thinking more and more about how to move forward professionally too. There are no big changes, it’s just a matter of growing a bit more.
So this was the main core of the last few weeks, lots and lots of work, maintenance of my plants here at home, plans for my garden for the next 6-8 months, and going to the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival to learn from others, meet new folks, talk to others, and hug my friends and let them know how much I value having them in my life.
While this may not sound like gardening, it’s been all about gardening, but in that contemplative and thoughtful way we so often sink into during the winter months.
One: Not much likely needs to be written about why anyone would love a Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ in winter. Thanks to my quick thinking last year after it bloomed, I pruned it again, and I’m glad that I did! The shape the two shrubs had was off, and heavy snow could have damaged them, but not now after some improved branching and balance. I just love those fragrant red blooms with their yellow stamens. This is one of those shrubs that always gives hope to those who get the winter doldrums. Spring is on its way. USDA zones 7a-10b.
Two: While I love agaves, and find them to be otherworldly at times, I just don’t have the strength to containerize and move them about to keep them looking fresh. Yes, we have hardy ones here (if planted correctly with A LOT of sharp drainage) but I have not focussed on them as a focal point in my garden even though they are in A LOT of Mediterranean gardens. I think this is Agave bracteosa ‘Calamar’. USDA zones 7-11.
Three: This is one of those cottage garden classics from overseas in Europe that you frequently see poking out between stones in walls or stairways. It’s in the Crassulacaea family and has fleshy leaves with tall tapering spire-like blooms. The seeds that leak out of the dried capsules are teeny tiny, and dust like. Their minuscule size enables them to be carried on the wind, blown about, and they appear to germinate best when they land on horizontal or vertical patches of moss. Often found in Ireland, I like to believe this little weedy thing better connects me to my roots a bit, ones that were lopped off just a few generations ago. USDA zones 7a-10b.
Four: One of the most wonderful things about last year was meeting some of the alpine plant folks. Moving more into that world makes a lot of sense to me, and it is something I avoided for many years. When the crevice garden was build at Cistus Nursery, I had important conversations with the builders—all talented horticulturists on their own, really a “dream team”—and it felt good. Like many of the things I’ve been doing during the last few years, it sutured an emotional wound. Kinda fun to tell new friends that if it hadn’t been for my poor health I would have met them up high in the mountains decades ago. While that vulnerability was painful at first, letting down my guard led to a warm welcome and I’m happily enfolded now, embraced.
What does this mean? It means that I need to grow more alpines and master techniques. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of spots in my garden to do this well yet, but I’m working on it. As of right now, I’ve only successfully been growing a few in containers, and this is my favorite one! Euphorbia clavariodes, from the Drakensberg Mountains. USDA zones 6-10.
Five: As always I have a porch filled with plant experiments setup in order to study just how cold hardy they are here in Portland. It’s not a bad thing to do if you have the time to move them in when it freezes—or if you don’t mind if you lose a few things. My projects include orchids, ferns, Hoyas and a few other epiphytic plants. My friend Carlos has encouraged me to mount more, and he’s right. I kind of lost my focus last year and still have a few great mounting projects to complete that I’m excited about for this year. If I begin them now, they’ll look fantastic in a few months. USDA zones 9-10.
Six: If I could have a larger garden, I would have more conifers. I just cannot say how important they are as bones in the garden. While I understand some can fry here in the Willamette Valley during our hotter months, I do not mind watering them. (Yes, not all of the PNW is a lush forest nor should it be.) This is not a popular opinion, I know, but there is just something comforting to me about them, and that’s likely my knowing how much they thrive here during the other three seasons. As a good designer would say, a good design, and even a great design, will give you a sense of place. No, this is not a native conifer, I know, but it is a beautiful one, that is easy in a container, can take some tough conditions, and can work well with other plantings, and yes, it gives off that lush woodsy feel. Usually it bronzes up a bit in winter. This year though, well, it hasn’t much. USDA zones 3a-8b.
Seven: When I planted this Tanacetum densum ssp. amani I worried it would look tattered along its edges during the colder months. Well, here it is after a cold spell and during the month of January in a protected but exposed spot in the most xeric spot in my garden. Those feathery leaves, combined with its tenacity, remind me of yarrow, but this plant is so much prettier and so much more lush. It will thrive in warm, sunny spots in the garden. Later this year I’ll enjoy its yellow blooms. USDA zones 4a-11.
Eight: This is still a funny shrub to me. It’s in the wrong spot in my garden since I don’t have a lot of pink in the front garden, but hey, it won’t matter what’s blooming out there in the wintertime. (My arbitrary rules only apply for 8 months of the year. January is not one of those months. Hahaha.) I wanted folks walking by to see this beauty and ask me more about manzanitas, because you know, I might happen to work at a place that’s well known for our selection of them.
Part of me kind of wishes my entire front garden was filled with them, but I like other plants too much, so I only have this orphan from work. The funny part though is that Sean gifted me with several Arctos over the years that I promptly killed since I depended heavily on a sprinkler back then and drowned them.
I’m so glad those days of wasting so much water are over. USDA zones 7-9.
Nine: A beautiful and unusual New Zealand plant for the fun folks out there. Pittosporum divaricatum is the perfect plant for a garden inspired by Dr. Seuss or Studio Ghibli. (Doesn’t it look a bit like a giant soot sprite (Susuwatari) from the films My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away?)
Okay, maybe the playful description is not for everyone, it can be classy too. I see it as a plant that both stands out in the front garden, and yet it blends in too. I love how it looks great year round. It may have tipped over a bit last year when it was top heavy after some snow and ice, but after it had a little posture correction, it is doing even better. USDA zones 8a-10b.
Ten: Not a hardy plant, but I’m trying to add one greenhouse or houseplant to each of these Top 10 posts. Another of my Brazilian Sinningia plants, I just love this one and its incredible leaves. Named “bullata” due to the upper surface of the leaves, which are bullate, the fuzz beneath them is a bit like something you’d see in a sci-fi movie like that classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Plants do so many incredible things and this thick wool-like fur keeps the pests away, so why not admire it for being both assertive in its survival techniques, as well as looking all gussied up. USDA zone 10.
Last autumn my friend Evan moved from Castle Rock, WA to the Portland metropolitan area. Most of the moving took place while I was still away in the Carolinas, but I made sure to have at least a day or two set aside to help transport whatever they needed, and to help wrap up garden tasks. On the last day helping there, the last task was to dig up some yacón, a crop I’d only heard about, and one which I was eager to learn more about. Since I finally ate some this week, it seemed like a good time to mention the delicious New World tuberous treat.
Evan wrote about the crop before, and I encourage you to read the whole post of theirs since it’s loaded with additional information as well as growing notes for the other crops they trialed a few years ago. Since I’ve only just tasted this, I don’t know yet how to grow it but we did harvest this one huge plant and boy did it NOT disappoint!
When we dug the plant up, I asked questions but didn’t retain the information since it was a long and cold day. What I remember though was that one plant ended up producing a lot of tubers and that it sounded like it wasn’t very difficult to grow. My hope is that the tubers I kept to grow at my community garden plot will sprout well and I can continue to keep this one around.
What I learned during a followup with Evan this weekend was that the original start was most likely purchased at the garden show in Seattle a few years ago from the Raintree Nursery booth.
Since then Evan kept it going and now hopefully Tamara at Chickadee Gardens and I can keep these going. (We passed on most of the propagative tubers to her, but she and I both got some so no pressure.)
In the post that Evan wrote above, the nursery Cultivariable is mentioned, and I will add that this is not just a resource for edible tubers you can grow, but it’s also a fun site just to sit and read the content. From potatoes to yacón, oca to mashua, ulluco to sunchokes, this is the resource! If you’re looking for potato species to grow for ornamental purposes (since most don’t taste great), again, this is the place! Or if you want to grow the potato (Solanum jamesii) native to the American SW, again, this is where you can find it. (Though the grower makes it clear that this is not a reliable food crop.) Luckily they sell many other interesting ones you can try—but as in vitro platelets it seems, so dare to be different! Why not!?!
While I wish that I could give you some amazing photos of a dish I made with these big beauties, I must confess to only having eaten one of the smaller ones fresh today. After we harvested everything, the propagation bits had to be separated and then we had to store the edible tubers so as to increase their tastiness. Well, even with a diminished capacity to taste and smell right now, I very much enjoyed the sweetness of the tuber I ate raw this afternoon.
Additionally, due to being in COVID-19 isolation, I can’t go to the store. Yes, that’s right, we’ve finally been hit with the modern plague here at home and I cannot yet go to the store again.
So, what did it taste like? It was delicious! Will I eat them again? Absolutely!
Once I’ve chosen three recipes, I’ll add them here in a post. I plan to make a few different dishes to see how different preparations change the taste and flavor. (If you have a favorite, let me know in the comments!)
So until then, stay warm out there and dream about the tasty tubby tubers you can grow in your garden this year!
So—just for funsies—I’m reviewing books again. The bad news is that I have quite a backlog. For many years I barely read at all, but during the last two years, I’ve become a fan of Audible.
Most of what I read is plant-related writing, but you’ll notice there are literary additions. Writers from the South have long held my interest, and as I continue to foster my own relationship with that region, I still savor the graphic and dramatic writing of the region’s best writers as I did when I was young.
As for what’s going to make this fun, I’m going to be honest—brutally honest! I could look up and read long summaries and analyses of each book, rehashing them to sound clever as I would have in a literature class, but this is a blog post. I hope to share more with you about the impressions I’m left with long after listening.
1-The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd (written during the 1940s, published in 1977)
This is some of the best writing I’ve read in years. It’s written in a poetic prose by a woman who can be considered a modernist writing about nature in the Highlands of Scotland. When pressed to compare it to another, the first name that popped into my head (one I have not uttered in decades since I included it on my surrealist literature syllabus) is: Djuna Barnes. Most readers tend to dislike modernism and often refer to it as not being accessible—but I’m not one of those people.
Modernists didn’t always want to leave you with a narrative story. Frequently, there’s no instructive lesson, or clever twist. Through words, through literary devices, they left readers with feelings, experiences, showing us that words matter and can be used in novel ways. This book does that with hiking in the mountains. I’m left with beautiful impressions more than anything else. It literally felt like I was there too. My skin felt the wind, my eyes saw as she did.
It has inspired a cult of Nan, and I recommend listening to the version of it I heard, as read by Tilda Swinton. Who doesn’t want Tilda reading to them and she of all people can mouth the names of Scottish places much better than I.
2-The Violent Bare it Away by Flannery O’Connor (1960)
Writing sometimes needs to be dramatic. Or at least for me, sometimes I enjoy drama and action in a story. If there needs to be a moral twist, and something real to fill you with disgust and rage, then Flannery O’Connor might be the writer for you. She reminded me of Truman Capote when I was younger, but less so now. For this reason, to see how her work felt to me as an older woman, I wanted to return to her novels decades later to better understand her realism. She has deeply influenced my own interest in writing for years, but I’ve never been able to explain exactly how or why. (I’m still working on that.)
I first read her famous short story “A Good Man in Hard to Find” as a student around 1995. To this day, it is still one of the best short stories I think I’ve ever read. This story, as well at the work of Capote, led me deeper into the connection I’ve long had to the Southern Gothic genre. Don’t get me wrong though, O’Conner was a devout Catholic, and her writing is religious, but NOT AT ALL in the way that you’d think. That’s kind of the twisted bit.
For me, as I’m returning to being a reader (and more of a writer) after two decades, I’m seeing both activities completely differently than I did beforehand. I don’t want to give too many details of this story away. I only want to say that it goes awry, showing the worst ways in which religious beliefs can change the lives of ignorant people, infecting them, leading them to violent acts, ruining everything that could have been good about them, while destroying the lives of others.
Like her short story that I love so much—with one of the best lines in American literature that to this day has left me haunted since it concerns gun violence—this novel too will leave you with questions for a long time to come, and for me, it’s a window not only into the culture of the American South, but into who we are as animals with speech, memory, and opposable thumbs.
3-Second Nature by Michael Pollan (1991)
My mind is nearly always in contrarian mode so when a large number of people like anything or anyone, I question why. I always begin with the same question, “What is it about this writer’s voice, or this style of thought (or design) that’s made it so popular right now?” While this may sound like a dull way to spend one’s time, I’ve found that it’s created conversations worth listening to, and still, to this day, I’ve learned a lot by thinking about this, and bringing it up as a discussion with others.
There is likely no need for me to introduce any of you to Michael Pollan. He’s written many successful books, on a wide range of topics. I didn’t want to like him. I didn’t automatically enjoy his own narration of his book. His assured tone bothered me at first, it felt very cocky and privileged, but as I continued listening, I very much enjoyed the way in which it was crafted and the stories about himself that he’d chosen to tell. He’s good at this game.
His studio in the woods of the NE was sort of a sensitive and yet manly version of Thoreau. What he tied into this though was an introduction to some basic practices (and frustrations) in gardening that he’d learned over the years, combined with chunks of memories, tied up with facts, a lot of cultural history, and honestly, some amusing anecdotes about his family and childhood.
He is a contemporary voice and his garden writing is interesting when he does it. I hope his work inspires others, and I hope it can encourage new voices.
4-The Well-Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith (2020)
My first purchase on Audible was this title so I read it not long after it came out. I immediately identified with the author on several points. Having also had a member of my family damaged by war who spent his life dealing with his PTSD by gardening, combined with the fact that I worked in social work, helping many people in crisis, always trying to encourage anyone I saw suffering to be in the green world, to spend time quietly engaging in fostering life, this book spoke to me and I remember thinking if I’d held it in hand, I would’ve been underlining lots of ideas.
Sometimes the book was a bit choppy though, and it felt a bit like reading case studies. Passages felt more like summaries in scientific papers—but so it goes when the author is more of a physician. The medicalization was sometimes difficult for me, but that’s only because at the time I read this book, I was still in the midst of my own seemingly never-ending illness narrative that went on for decades. It just wasn’t a great time for me to listen to it.
I don’t blame anyone (including myself) for not having the patience at times to empathize well with the suffering of others. The pandemic has really given us all thin skin in this department. Recently I learned about compassion fatigue and while this book was wonderful, I felt a bit drained by the end of it. As I continue to walk away from the medicalization of my own life experience now, I think this book might feel a bit less heavy to me.
So maybe this little review is not completely fair, but I do think that you need to be in the right frame of mind to really enjoy this one. There is a lot to value in it, and I very much agree with what the author has to share.
There were a lot of lessons learned in 2022—at least for me. One of my observations as the year closed was just how much everyone hated the year. While it had its rough spots, the year was one of the best in my life. I finally was prescribed a medication that’s changed my life for the better. I worried a bit that it would have me sinking into an emotional quagmire. If I’d been able to take this medication when I was 18, my life would have been radically different than it is now. I would not be in so much debt. I would likely not have had the same failed relationships. I would have an advanced degree (or two). Who knows, I may have somehow been able to have had a child. Maybe.
My takeaway from this experience was that I didn’t feel sad at all. I felt strong. I realized that with some distance and calm, I’m proud of myself. What I have lived through is something I could never go through again.
My takeaway from 2022 is that I reached the end of an experience that was incredibly lonely and painful. That part of my life is over.
While you may think this has little to do with horticulture and gardening, sure that’s true, but it has a lot to do with my writing and the work I do.
I love my Jeep and can’t wait to take Felix camping again.
And I have some of the most incredible friends I’ve ever had in my life right now. They all helped to made 2022 incredible in so many ways. The list is so long I can’t pick favorites, or mention special moments. All I can say is that when you have a network, a community, you feel safer, happier, loved, and held tight.
In 2022, thanks to so many, I often felt like the luckiest woman alive.
What I Foresee in 2023
The current plan is to show the depth and breadth of my knowledge more online. The world of horticulture is changing, and it’s an exciting place to be.
New voices are emerging, and what we’ve known as garden writing has started to lose a few of its outdated clichés. I plan to keep pushing along the edge in this regard, doing what I’ve been doing, pushing the boundaries.
Having had issues with gatekeepers last year, I’m not going to stop pushing forward. In addition to some backlash, I received a welling up of support from professional colleagues, so I’m even more comfortable right now when it comes to saying what I feel needs to be said.
Since I work and commute nearly 40 hours a week, this limits the amount of time I can spend on posts, so I’m going to attempt to use my time more efficiently and produce better posts. I have photos from the last few years that were never used and there are trips and visits I never wrote about, so I will revisit them too!
I’m still not sure about my upcoming trips. I’m unsure about Open Garden events too. I may take the year off from being available to the public here at home to focus on some necessary re-plantings and re-building the new seed shop Spiffy Seeds.
2022 had some big surprises, so who knows what 2023 will really be like… My heart and mind are pretty much open to anything right now.
So stay tuned and thank you for visiting my site!!!
(This is the last post of 2022 and I want to thank everyone who’s been here to read something I’ve written or posted during the last 12 months. This has been a wonderful year and I look forward to many new and wonderful adventures AND PLANTS in 2023.)
One: This Camellia sasanqua ‘Silver Dollar’ has been in the garden for many years now. Originally purchased nearly two decades ago at Cistus Nursery, it’s going to be available there again thanks to cuttings from my plant!
This fall bloomer is a peony form bloom and was originally developed by Nuccio’s Nurseries. It’s been a bit of a slow grower, but I don’t mind. These blooms are elegant and are worth the wait.
Two: The Chilean bellflower, or copihue, is the national flower of Chile—but this is its less common white form. Typically seen in red, you can also find it in a few pink variations. The fact that it’s only hardy to USDA zone 9, combined with the fact that it’s also a fall bloomer, kind of limits the range in the US where it can be grown well.
So, this is not a vine you find in cultivation often. Combined with its limited range, the plant is also difficult to propagate. I know this personally because I’ve grown a crop from seed—thanks to the pollination work of my friend Evan.
This white flowering vine belongs to a friend of mine, and is on loan to me in order to propagate it. Sadly, I’ve not worked hard on this project yet, but it’s a priority right now. So far I’ve layered a few of its vines at the base of this large container. Next, I plan to air layer it for the next year or so. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
If we were to take cuttings of it, they’d basically take a year too. Without a cool mist area during the summer, success will be a challenge in this climate. So, of course I’m trying to pollinate the flowers again too but they’ve not been taking…
So let’s just sit back and admire this slightly frustrating stunner…
Three: Ok, maybe not the most stunning photo of this Rhododendron ‘Medusa’ but it’s a pleasure to have it home with me now. I recently acquired her from my friend Evan, after they moved out of their family home just before it was sold. We’d been planning for it to be transplanted to my garden since the gorgon is a symbol of Sicily, and I’m really excited to have her here.
We’ll have to wait to be “stopped in our tracks” though. She still needs to be replanted in order to fully bloom again. It was just very sweet that it at least was making an attempt this month.
Four: Not all of these Top 10 plants are at home. I decided some were going to have to be at work too. I spend enough time at both nurseries that I do become attached to certain things. This tree is one of them.
There’s just something about a willow tree. This is a smaller selection of a corkscrew willow and there’s a lot to love about that. It’s definitely more compact, and it’s a tree with a lot of seasonal interest.
I just want to make arrangements with those branches. Aren’t they great?
I don’t have the room for something like this at home, but that’s ok, because I can enjoy it at work. (And I bet I could clip some branches too if I really needed a few.)
Five: Another one of my Cistus Nursery plants, this palm came home with me when it was quite small. Now, well, let’s just skip ahead a few years and it’s going to be a real stunner in the garden next summer. Come to think of it, it’s quite a stunner right now!
With so many smaller plants that I’ve purchased over the years, it’s fun to watch them grow up and fill in. Watching the space change is part of the true magic of gardening.
Having just had another storm with heavy east wind and ice I’m happy to say that this palm seems to take it all in stride. I can’t say that about the other trees I have out there, but I can replace any that don’t quite make it.
Six: While I don’t completely LOVE having a giant tree right next to my home, it is nice during the summer, and I believe people should plant trees to cool their homes naturally when the space is available to do so. This side of the house faces west and it does a great job of blocking out some of the extra sunlight on those long hot and dry summer days.
I worry about removing it, but until then, we’ll just take care of it and enjoy it.
This month though, it’s been fascinating to watch it survive all of the wind and ice. It bends and sways and does drop some branches, but overall, it’s built to do so.
So this December, it’s just been a natural wonder to watch.
Seven: This evergreen asparagus relative has long been a favorite of mine. Grown from seed, it’s taken a few years to get this large. Like other asparagus-like plants, it too has bright berries, and I love how they look in late fall.
This is a drought tolerant plant from the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East. It’s commonly called poet’s laurel and is one of the plants frequently depicted in ancient art. That, combined with the fact that it’s most importantly grown from seed, landed it here in my garden.
Eight: I can’t remember how long ago I planted this native ground cover, and I’ve overlooked it for years. Suddenly though, it really filled in this last year. This pleased me because it struggled partially because I didn’t want to water that area often during our drier months.
Then I guess it suddenly established itself. It settled in and got comfortable. The swath of dappled fall color was nice this year. It’s one of those plants with a bit of wiggle to it, and I love movement in the garden, especially whenever it’s planted betwixt more stationary plants.
Nine: Back inside the house, there’s ALWAYS a favorite begonia right? Considering my fine collection of more than I’m even aware of right now, this cane is one of my favorites. Bred by the late Brad Thompson, it was named and released in 2001 by Paul Tsamtsis.
I tortured it a bit so it’s not blooming quite as well as it did last year, but trust me, it can absolutely look like there are snow flurries. There were lots of panicles of white blooms last year. While they did put on a show, they also made a mess on my floor, but it was a beautiful mess.
I get to work on that presentation this weekend, and I’ll begin to arrange the contenders for the big show! I am SO excited about it!
The key to any of my public appearances is that I’ll be sure to give it a bit of an unexpected twist. What will it be this time? 🙂 Stay tuned!
Ten: Gotta love a gesneriad too! You know, because I have a few of them. A few years ago I grew several Sinningia species from seed and this was one of my favorites. I sold various ones at the recent convention in Tacoma, but kept a few for myself and for our local Gesneriad Society chapter.
Sinningia leucotricha is an adorable fuzzy wonder.
So, that’s my Top 10 for this month and again, thank you so much for being a visitor to my site and dropping in on my plant-y life!
Oh, and here’s yet another cat in my life. We all know that the internet loves cats, so I have to do my part!
Wicky is now happily adapting to the spoiled life and is receiving lots of cat treats so she’s behaving, well, differently. She works with us out in Canby, and lives well with the hilarious pack of dogs. Each time they asked for a treat today, she did too.
Can’t exactly teach her to “sit” but I’m trying with “headbutt” for now. We’ll see how that goes…
So cheers to all of you and stay safe and warm out there. We’re working hard to make more plants!
(This is Part Two of a series of posts that I will write about my trip to the SE during the the fall of 2022. Part One can be found here.)
One of the many stops during my trip was one which I’d long wanted to make. The Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden is located in Bishopville, SC, so it’s a bit off of the beaten path. Luckily on this trip I was staying a few hours away at a friend’s house. I had a nice rental car, the weather was great, so it was part of a wonderful day trip! (I also visited Camden Battlefield and Kalmia Gardens.)
Having stopped off rather unexpectedly in Camden, SC at the Revolutionary War battlefield, I was a bit “shook” to my core upon my arrival. While I’d known a bit about my ancestor from South Carolina, I hadn’t known he was one of Marion’s Men so I’m grateful to the folks there who walked me through what my ancestor had lived through, explaining to me why he was in the Roster of South Carolina Patriots in the American Revolution by Bobby Gilmer Moss.
After leaving the battlefield, I drove off to the garden a bit stunned, then before I knew it, I was surrounded by fields of cotton. I felt as if I had passed through some kind of time and/or place portal.
As someone who has lived far away from the South, and yet spent her life driving through agricultural areas having fun identifying crops, this was a new one for me IRL! Since it was fall, the balls of cotton were pushing out of their capsules, and it was surreal to me. It was breathtakingly beautiful and yet so new and confusing, but I just took it all in as I drove. I was overcome honestly with this scene. The afternoon sun was at an angle, the balls of cotton glowed in the light like the hair of an attractive woman in some cheesy vintage film. I’d not expected to find fields of cotton so pulchritudinous.
Arriving at the garden, I could immediately tell that it was not in pristine condition. In my mind’s eye, I had a vision of it as it had appeared in the documentary A Man Named Pearl, but that was released back in 2006! A lot can change in that time.
But the bones and the spirit of the place were still intact.
I was reminded as I walked through of the fragility of a garden, especially after its maker is no longer able to care for it in the same way.
Yet it still stands as a testament to a moment in time, in our own garden history even as a country, when one man made an incredible difference. I’m so glad that I visited, and that the garden has been documented as well as it has been.
I loved the quirky joy and fun that remains, but it is clear that it needs to be maintained more. I’m one of those people who is always sad to say such a thing. I believe that every garden has charm, but this to me is one that we all need to cherish.
As I walked through I was joined by a couple who were very sweet and they included me in their own personal tour. They’d visited years ago but hadn’t returned since then. On a lark, they’d decided to drive for hours to come see it. As we walked, they talked about having spent time with Pearl as he worked. They told me more about what this garden had meant to them, and to the region. I was happy to let them know that a horticulturist who’d worked there years ago was someone I knew professionally, but that had been my only connection to this garden. They told me again and again that I would have really enjoyed meeting Pearl, but he’s mostly retired from the garden now.
Though maybe not at its best, it’s still there, and I very much recommend that folks visit it and take in the love that still remains left in place by the a man named Pearl. I very much felt the love and the assemblage above said it all. (Note the I (heart) U at the bottom.)
Just about a year ago I closed the Etsy shop where I’d sold seeds for just over a decade. Nearly 1/4 of a million views on my products (mostly seeds), just over 3,500 orders, and so much work—almost all on my own. (I must confess though that many friends helped by growing seeds and passing them on to me to sell. Organizing this kind of thing is complicated to say the least, but I love being a seed grower.)
The shop started when I could barely move, and I wanted to feel like I could do something with my life energy, and now, well, it’s difficult to believe all that I’ve learned and accomplished. Best of all, I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way. I’ve had a family of mentors and it just warms my heart in a special way during the coldest months of the year. Maybe because this is when so many of us rest, and talk to one another about seeds? We order seeds, and those of us who work with seeds, get to be the busy little garden trolls that we are using our magic to bring plants to life. I can’t imagine living any other way.
At the end of November I was struggling a bit. I was going from job to home, to other job to home, writing up talks, planning events, and I felt like I was slacking on the leadership of our local Gesneriad Society chapter. So there I was in my car after work one night. It was dark and cold. I was freezing, and part of me felt dark. I’m the happiest cynic you’ll ever meet and I’m always filled to the brim with my own unique blend of hope and love which I carefully guard. I recall feeling very unlike myself. It was a combination of being unsettled and simultaneously uncomfortable about it.
I just felt like I’d been spinning my wheels and I wasn’t sure what the point of it all really was anymore.
So I turned the Jeep on, cranked up the heat, blasted some music, and looked to my iPhone for some kind of contact with the outside world. I hoped that my overpriced device would be my oracle when I needed one so badly…
That’s when I found this message in my mailbox…
And just like that, I awkwardly sucked in a long deep breath and then exhaled and nearly choked a bit as I giggled. I’m forever the serendipitist. Leave it to my superstitious nature and belief in chance encounters. I needed that message so badly at just that moment.
I drove home smiling and life has continued on. I decided that when it was time, I’d get back to my Spiffy Seeds site that I’d started working on during the summer when it was hot and smoky outside.
Yes, “Never give up on seeds.”
Shortly after that grounding moment, I was at Oregon State University giving a presentation about houseplants. It was an emotional day for me. Though it’s not far from Portland, I don’t go there often. It’s where I would have studied botany and/or horticulture if I’d stayed on the track I’d wanted to be on. My life changed, I switched from a BS to a BA.
A graduate degree in horticulture is not in the cards now, but it is tempting and I am considering a “creative” option. I just don’t know if that’s a good choice since I’m feeling old and tired—but I may just get inspired for such a task.
Let’s just say that the seed has been planted, and now we wait to see if it’s a dud or not.
Either way, I made it to OSU to speak to the Hort Club. It was fun to see several friends during my overnight trip, and to make a few new ones. Again, plant people are so much fun.
My childhood mentor would have been proud and it was quite a milestone for me. I look forward to visiting OSU again in the future while continuing to build connections there.
So this is the soft launch of a site with very little for sale right now other than gift certificates. I will continue to build up Spiffy Seeds and I look forward to growing with friends again in the year ahead. This means sometimes I will come to you to collect things, other times, you may send me sealed bags of things, or else you’ll be writing to me about seeds you may have and are wondering if I can sell them. There are a lot of things that I won’t be interested in at all. With so many large growers and wholesale providers, I have to be careful about what I think folks might buy because it’s already out there and I want to be keeping things in cultivation for my own reasons. I don’t want to sell the usual seeds.
Also, funds from this effort, as well as the newly installed Tip Jar can be used from my trips. I don’t work for large nurseries that pay to send me places. I both lose work AND pay out of pocket when I don’t go to work so I think it will be fun to focus all funds towards my “continuing education” trips. Based on my experiences, this, combined with my consulting work, and saving up from my nursery jobs should turn out to be quite helpful.
Then again, I may be a deluded dreamer, but I think you could call me worse.
I had wanted to make my life easier next year, to rest more, to take care of myself, but the heart knows what it wants.
On Thursday February 2, 2023 I’ll be giving an online Zoom presentation through Heronswood from noon-1:30pm. If you’d like to sign up for it—but are unavailable at that time—it will also be recorded so you will be able to access it at a more convenient time.
I’ll be speaking about my most recent trip, and as a former student of art history, this will be an exciting topic for me to discuss!
“On the same street in Charlotte, just 10 houses away from one another, are two very different gardens created by two separate individuals named Elizabeth. The Elizabeth Lawrence House & Garden is a living laboratory, with an incredible collection that the celebrated garden writer and landscape architect wrote about in her books and articles. Wing Haven Garden & Bird Sanctuary is a large sanctuary for birds and wildlife that was created, cared for, and given back to the community by Elizabeth and Edwin Clarkson. Hear about their designs, history, and learn more about their contribution and legacy in Southern garden history.”
So please, sign up to learn more about a different region of the United States—one that I enjoy visiting a great deal—and help Heronswood at the same time.
15 years ago today the site Amateur Bot-ann-ist emerged. It’s been quite a journey. From being a home gardener and plant enthusiast who was unable to move much due to hereditary angioedema and physical injuries—to today. I’m now a professional horticulturist working nearly full-time with two jobs, speaking engagements, a few clients, and I somehow find the time to care for my own collection of plants.
The voice and the tone have not changed a lot around here. I’m still the same snarky young-at-heart woman, but I’ve come a long way and have learned so much.
Part of me had wanted to say something special, to talk about what I’ve learned year by year, but I’m too tired after having gone to Corvallis and back to give a presentation about houseplants.
It was such a great weekend.
So raise a glass to this effort today if you can, think a kind thought, and know that I’m going to keep using this site to write about gardening, plants, and chronic illness.
Yes, blogging is not as popular as it once was back in the day. Most folks I know who started out with me have stopped. It’s not easy to spend so much time creating posts, and in the end, life matters more.
I enjoy writing, and I do have ideas, but this effort uses up a lot of my time and energy. I’ll keep at it again in 2023. I’m on track to have posted weekly this year, and I hope to do so again in the months to come.
Call me crazy, but I just like spending time here in this space.
(Featured photo of me at the top is courtesy of Loree Bohl aka Danger Garden. Thanks friend.)
This plant is not yet in my garden—but I have quite a few of its seeds. Evan collected them for me for several years, I sold them in my old shop, and I will grow all of the ones that I have left of it. It’s a species from South Africa with incredibly lovely silver veined leaves. We took cuttings to take to Cistus Nursery too. Let’s hope that both of our crops work out so we can get this one into cultivation around here.
This is a small slow-growing Japanese maple for me. To be honest, I’ve had it so long now, I’m not even sure where I bought it. For a few years I thought about moving it, but each autumn it does this and I’m in love with its location all over again.
If you didn’t know that I love begonias, then you don’t know me well. I don’t even grow that many well, but I grow a lot of them to learn more about them as a group of plants. Gesneriads and begonias are my favorites, and honestly, there are enough of each to keep me interested for the rest of my days.
This dissected variety of this African species that is hardy here for us, is just stunning. I’m not sure yet if this form is hardy as well, so I’m trying to make as many of these as I can to try them out in the ground in the garden, but it takes time.
(We can’t just plant these anywhere though and have them come back. More on that next year!)
Oh look! Another begonia!
A friend bought this during a visit to Far Reaches Farm and was concerned he might kill it over the winter in his house so I offered to care for it in exchange for a propagation from it. For now, I just plan to figure out how to grow it well, and I love the fuzzy leaves. It’s one of the fuzziest I’ve seen yet.
Around here the hardy cyclamens are a tried-and-true go-to for fall blooms. They look to me like flocks of winged magical little creatures falling to the ground. Clustering around the garden in different spots, they’re always welcome and you cannot have enough of them.
Not necessarily a hardy plant, I’m growing this in one of the most protected spots in my garden and I’m thrilled to say we’ve made it through one mild winter, so maybe we can keep it going for another year. I do NOT want to claim it’s hardy though—because it is not. Many “non hardy” plants can survive mild winters, but this does not make them hardy by any means.
This fun tree was found during one of our gardening friend expeditions driving around to nurseries we’d not yet visited with friends from out of town. It’s in a container and is not probably living its best life, but I planted it there so that I could see it out of the large window in my kitchen door. I love its nearly year-round color. It sparks much joy.
My wood aster came from Secret Garden Growers. I loved how it looked in a container with its flush of star-like blooms, but I honestly did NOT know where to plant it in my garden. (This is a habit I must break in the coming year since caring for plants in pots while I do so much away from home is just KILLING me physically. I wish there were more hours in the day.)
In a rush to go on a trip somewhere, I “rapid planted”. That’s what I do when I am in a time crunch. I just go crazy planting things without overthinking them and it’s honestly kind of fun. Maybe even therapeutic for this virgo lol.
This plant was part of a combo that really worked out. This perennial blooms for a long time, and a fluffy cloud of white at the base of my palm tree is just lovely when I look out my dining room window.
A gift from a friend who loves gesneriads, this is a fragrant and tough beauty. Not hardy in my climate, it lives in the garden for many months in its container, but then it comes back indoors to keep me company during the colder months. Most of my sinningia collection does this and I’m still calculating the best migration plan for them. Bringing them in too early led to lots of plants dying back too harshly last year. This year, I waited until later, and oddly, they’re still pretty perky. I’ve turned down the temperature as well in the Seed Studio so that may be helping too.
Lastly, who doesn’t love a holiday jungle cactus that’s not pink or red? Damn I love this hybrid but I have no clue what its name is…
Check back in another 4 weeks to see what’s caught my eye around here. I’m really enjoying these monthly posts. I hope you are too.
It’s feeling a bit chaotic right now. That’s ok with me, but it’s draining if I don’t get enough sleep.
When I feel like this, I tend to smile to myself and my mind switches into Italian to keep from going cray cray.
I open my mouth wide and slowly say, “Caos, caotico.” Knowing I’ve been to the area of ancient Sicily once called Chaos, I remind myself that somewhere in the past, they cared enough about this state of affairs, to name a place after something we tend to deeply fear.
The writer Luigi Pirandello was born there. “I am a child of Chaos and not only allegorically but in reality because I was born in a countryside, located nearby entangled woods, named, in Sicilian dialect, Cavusu by the inhabitants of Girgenti [Agrigento].”
Since visiting that area myself, I tend to think about it, centering in on the idea of it whenever I feel like I’m spinning off balance with too much to do. Instead of getting stirred up by the feelings of chaos and unrest, I sit down calmly at its center and wait for it to pass. Caos. (Chaos.) Caotico. (Chaotic.)
Caos. Caotico. This is my manta.
At home there is still much planning, sorting and moving to do to make room for other things—mostly plants. Recently, I removed an old cabinet to make room for a large glass tank for my ferns. I’d placed the cabinet there with my ex maybe 17 years ago, and it was cathartic to change things around. Am still not sure how to get rid of the cabinet, but I’m working on it.
Removing things is not my forte, but I’m motivated to keep improving things around here. I can’t take in any more “free” things when folks need help. Part of me just wants to get a small dumpster right now, but I’m going to hold off on that until later. Luckily it’s not that bad, I just really am impatient to have things completed.
The vintage vase above is a large one and a favorite. I hid it outside in the Seed Studio—away from Felix. He loves to break large items made of glass. I think at 5 years old, he’s improving, but I’ll stash this above the fridge soon—just in case.
Between stashing plants, protecting plants, and even dividing some of the hardiest of perennials, I’m trying to sow seeds, sort seeds, clean seeds, and shop for a few for next year too. This is all part of why I want the whole house to be more tidy and organized. It just makes life easier.
I love this time of year though when life shifts from being exhausted from the current year, to being excited about the crops to come. It’s part of the cycle of life and I enjoy this state-of-mind between now and March. This is my time to shine—a sort of golden hour in the dark of winter.
But it’s not winter yet. It can just feel like it is, and that’s also part of the experience of the seasons.
Some days are warm, some days are cold, and I never seem to wear the right clothing. Funny how owning a Jeep is some kind of comfort. I look forward to driving it again in some snow. It was life-changing last year, and honestly, kind of fun.
Along with a pile of books from the library, this gem arrived this week. I’ve long wanted to see a copy, and was able to when I was in Atlanta, so I set about trying to find one online, and I did!
Rekha Morris also spoke while I was there, and it was great to go to her talk. She is a retired professor of art history so listening to her presentation in a dark room reminded me a lot of being back in school.
The real growth this week was being able to hike 8 miles in relative peace and quiet at Silver Falls State Park. I walk a 4-mile loop once or twice a week in town, and I went on one hike with Evan a few years ago, but overall, hiking has not been my friend since I had the swelling incident after climbing up Mt. St. Helen’s almost 20 years ago.
Our only great hiccup was the number of people either wearing incredibly strong fragrances, or else those who’d washed their clothing in incredibly strong smelling detergent. When I’m outdoors and I choke when someone walks by, you know it’s strong stuff. I react strongly to cigarettes and pot too, but not as badly now as Evan. Luckily we only had a few folks smoking joints on the trail. The fragrances though, wow.
I don’t remember folks smelling so strongly of it when I used to go out into the woods, but I wasn’t as sensitive to it back then.
That day I did great. I was a bit sore the next, and today I’m still feeling a bit stiff. Overall, the damage was not bad. By Monday I should feel better. It’s mostly my shins, but I can work to ease it from happening as badly next time.
I am more hopeful now than ever—and thankful too. This hike was exactly what I needed.
Internally I continue to improve and feel better. I’m happy to be alive.
After the hike we returned to the city, I was dropped off, I cleaned up after being outside all day, and then Evan came back to have dinner with John and I.
It was a holiday and we celebrated.
The houseplants keep needing my love and attention and on top of the work I have to do, I’m sorting them and moving them over and over. The goal now is to get them situated and then paint some more walls before taking photos of them again. I need to change up the house a bit.
I need to redo the bathroom too, but that’s a big project in an old home with only one bathroom. Sigh.
Part of me thinks that the spouse on the spectrum may need to go on vacation for that, but we’ve not yet crossed that bridge.
So not a lot of rest going on around here—and it feels chaotic—but there’s wild and fun growth and change! So many positive and good things are happening. I just need to keep checking things off of my list and keep going to bed early.
Turns out I know about native plants. Question is, which native plants do I know about, and the answer is… mostly West Coast natives—but all plants are native somewhere, and a good horticulturist knows this, so, I work diligently to better understand growing conditions and climates all over the world.
I want to be not just a good horticulturist, I want to be a responsible one.
I know a lot of plants, and I’m familiar with many biomes.
It’s always important to know where plants are native to—all over the world. This helps us to better understand how to grow plants in different locations, especially if it is one we’re working on for conservation.
These topics of conversation are regularly discussed at work and with my friends and colleagues away from work. This is why I don’t write about them here on my site.
I work with experts in this field, and it feels silly to regurgitate the same things they say over and over, but I think in the year to come, I’ll begin to write a bit more about this topic, in my own way, in my own voice.
I’ve just not been comfortable doing so yet. One of the primary reasons for that has been an inability to spend more time in the field. I’m ready for that now.
If you want to work in horticulture, and stand out as a great grower or designer, start learning your earth and natural sciences. This goes beyond just traveling to be in the field, and posting pictures as you go. What this entails, is really learning how it all works, and being able to communicate it to others. Just like everything else in life, stories matter.
You can delve into science by reading about it, asking about it, writing about it, or just opening up your mind more to better understand everything around you and how it’s connected.
I know lots of folks with scientific minds, and I’m glad to have always had them in my life. Going back to my youth, it has always mattered a lot to me to have folks to seek out when I wanted to better understand something. Sadly, too many have too much pride to admit they don’t know and they don’t ask.
Science is a group activity. Sadly, not everyone feels comfortable with that “hat on” but that’s often because of incidents where others may have made you feel stupid or even dumb. Don’t let that stop you though, don’t give up, and don’t believe that your brain doesn’t work that way!
Folks can be mean in either direction. As in all things in life, all I can add here is: Don’t Be an Asshole.
Yes, some scientific folks can appear to have poor skills with other people, and yes, those who are not so scientific can seem judgmental and shallow. We can get beyond our differences though if we only realize, we’re not all the same, we don’t have to be, and diversity in people is as important as diversity in other things.
The space between people can get blurry and dangerous when it comes to science. Instead of speaking with ego, try to tell a better story. This can help us to better communicate in either direction, and reach out to one another.
Oftentimes I joke about being known more for houseplants than I do for the work I do at Cistus Nursery, and yet, I don’t write much about what I do because I assist in the work of someone else, and it has not become what I do at home.
Really, I don’t think it’s unusual to want to have your own thing, but I’ve had to think long and hard about sharing my thoughts about native plants because it means potentially walking into a quagmire.
While I am a memoirist in a world of plants, I’m not a scientist working through data, but I’ve collected plenty of observations over the years.
One of my first lessons was to ask someone who’s more of a botanist at which point does a wild collected plant become a cultivated one.
The answer is the moment you place it in the container and it grows.
This is why so many people often mistakenly dig up things in the wild, and then they fail to prosper, and then the plant dies. A mature wild plant is frequently not cultivated so easily, and this is why it’s best to grow native plants sold in cultivation. I also support the purchase of seeds and plants grown in cultivation by professionals because I believe my industry is an important one and that we have a lot to offer to consumers.
Of course rescue digs on property slated for development is a different matter, and I am happy folks dig in community when possible, but nurseries are great resources worth protecting and sustaining.
I am proud to be part of this process when I grow plants from seed. The seedlings that survive are doing the work for us. They’re the ones that prosper in cultivation. They’re the ones we’re most likely going to succeed with in our gardens. (The same can be said for the vigor of a handful in a batch of cuttings.)
But as my botanist friend would point out, this can also mean that the plants which are dying are possibly better suited for the wild. These are the ones that won’t like the posh comfort of nursery soil and the protection offered in cultivation.
Soils are a BIG deal. I won’t go into all of that here, but as a consumer you’ve likely noticed how many growers use different kinds of soil mixes. A BIG PART of horticulture is understanding how to successfully grow plants in containers. These mixes are akin to the secret sauces created by great chefs lol.
I am not saying a lot, but I think this is enough for now.
The blurred lines between different states in a region are not always the same borders plants pay attention to so we can be a bit open there too, but we could speak more specifically about the different clones, and where they’re collected from since in the long run, much of that does matter.
But not today…
So, I will remain honest and transparent about a few things.
First and foremost, I do love our native plants. I love my region of the United States, but it is not a competition. I admire and want to learn about all of the plants all over the world though.
This is why I am not solely a native plant horticulturist.
I’m challenged by climate change, as we all are, and I believe in creating xeric gardens since wasting a natural resource that’s vital to our survival matters to me. Yes, we use a lot of water in horticulture, but in the future we’ll need to think more about that…
All plants are native to somewhere. We need to keep saying this. We also need to keep reminding ourselves that they may support more insects in their native range, and that here, even though they might be pretty to our eyes, they’re not sustaining as many insects as native choices, and this means less food for other animals.
Humans have been transporting plants and plant products for various reasons since the very beginning of civilization. We need to think about this too. We’re part of this system, part of the problem, and it is part of who were are, who we have been, and who we will be…
And we should know that diversity is good, and yet, mono cropping means efficiency and more profits. We live between these two realities. This is why I love ecological designs, diversity, and gardeners who understand that plants provide a lot more to us than a refreshing look that makes our minds calm because it is pretty and organized. We need to place more value in this kind of investment.
Pretty can be many things to many people and I am ok with non-native ornamentals mixed in so long as it’s diverse, but let’s still chose to be honest about this system and how virtue signally can be just as negative as creating water-hogging landscapes in deserts.
We can do better on both accounts and I hope we will see change.
I believe in working more and more in the in-between zone, and being receptive to new ideas and change.
Not everyone will want to have purely native plant gardens, and no matter what, more native plants in any region will be better, but this means pushing to have more of them planted in our parks, community gardens, schools, and municipal plantings.
Plants are part of our culture, and we’re sentimentally attached to different ones for our own reasons. When we move around from place to place, we bring those ideas with us, but we need to better appreciate that maybe our sentimental ideas are not good for the planet, and that we can seek out new stories about the plants in our new communities. It’s not easy to have to give up on plants we somehow see as part of our “identities” but our own personal style does not matter as much as we think, and we can make a difference. I think in the last 30 years the concept of many styles of gardens has already changed dramatically, and I love the regional takes on these different looks.
I hope we can keep going with this…
Plants speak of place, and an awareness of where we live should be appreciated by us as humans. As I age, and as I watch the internet evolve internationally, sadly, I think I see more and more people living online, carrying this “place” with them in their day-to-day lives.
Thanks to capitalism, we still see much more aspirational content—than inspirational.
It’s part of our human condition I suppose.
After many years, I feel like I can quietly enter into this conversation though about native and non-native plants, but on a blog post, don’t expect a well researched or groundbreaking conclusion.
I’m more of a memoirist after all folks, so I won’t try to be a voice I am not.
I’m just going to do what I can, the best that I am able to, and there is no reason I shouldn’t speak up more about sustainable plantings and the importance of the work I do and why I love the different kinds of plants that I help to keep in cultivation and commerce at BOTH of the nurseries where I work.
Lastly, while I am often called a native Oregonian, I cringe more when I hear that. My family has been here since the 1850s, but I am not native here. My family has been here for generations, and I have an incredible attachment to this place, through the stories of my own ancestors, and others. Like many here, I live though on the lands of the Chinookan peoples, and because I grew up with a father who is an avid fisherman, I learned my geography through river drainages. I feel connected to that land in a unique way, and I am very connected to the fish, and to the plants that have protected the fish runs for generations. As for being indigenous, like many other citizens of the US, my paternal line traces back to the Mediterranean and my maternal line returns to Great Britain. Other “tributaries” from North African, the Middle East, and Western Europe flow into the river that is me, but I am not native to this place.
Like many who came before, I’m just passing through.
(This post is dedicated to the late Julia Powell. Thank you for your creative content and honest voice. The internet—and especially social media—will always need more writers like you. #ripjuliapowell)
Spontaneous combustion. Sure, sometimes it can be more of a metaphoric process describing the danger of the fire burning inside of all of us. I’ve been celebrating my own blaze recently thanks to this song I listen to often as I work: When A Fire Starts to Burn. (Please watch the video to understand some of my humor here.)
When a fire starts to…
Clearly, with the cold nip in the air, songs with some umph keep me at it.
With lots of posts yet to catch up on from my trip, I’m tied here to my chair this weekend. I’ll still be running out to rescue this and that, but it’s time to start a fire under myself!! Brrrrrrr.
I’m already burning up with activity, but we’ve all got to make room in our lives to welcome whatever changes are heading our way unseen.
(She bends over and lights a match under the chair she is sitting in.)
Clearing a logjam takes some skill and must be strategic. I could use dynamite, but, well, I’m not really into destroying my life though sometimes I am asked if I’ll be fired for the things that I write here.
Silly geese. Fly off somewhere, won’t cha?
I planned to do this somewhat thoughtfully. Little fires. Little steps. Maybe the hint of a conflagration here and there.
When a fire starts to burn, right, and it starts to spread
First, I cleaned up a lot more plants outside. In addition to the non-hardy tender plants, I had to sort out the new and special ones I need to propagate for next year. I’m grateful to have a few from friends, and a few I picked up on trips, and a few someone sent me—and more I forgot about. This confusion is part of my job.
I haven’t sorted it ALL out, but I did a lot this week!
She gon’ bring that attitude home
Who don’t wanna do nothing with their life
The next problem is space. It’s fun to save plants from the cold, but it’s not fun to have no space to move.
A lifeboat is always limited. And we have our limits too.
I see this happening a lot now with houseplant enthusiasts who went OVERBOARD and did deep dives into the houseplant lifestyle during the worst of the pandemic.
Collectors are finding it more difficult to unload plants they bought as investments.
Set a fire under that too! Compost it! Toss it! Give it away!
I know that’s what I’ve been doing. I can feel the water beginning to flow!!!
When a fire starts to…
Another part of the logjam has been to clean additional space in the house. I just had to find the time to work on cleaning it up too, and I did!
And like that, another part of the jam is gone! Splish splash away—woohoo!
Nothing like having Felix help me. Since I was gone for many weeks this summer, I’m working as much as I can to make up for it. Felix missed me and now he misses me more. Days at home with him are precious.
Prescribed fire anyone?
Sure looks like I need one, doesn’t it?
I cannot wait to get in there with the pruners and the chainsaw! This winter the garden is going to be cut back harder than it was last year.
When a first starts to burn, right, and it starts to spread
Last week the chaos began, and I hustled there too. First we had the crazy atmospheric river dump on us. I enjoy rain a lot, but days of it, uh, not my idea of a beautiful fall day.
But that rain won’t dampen anything in me either.
She gon’ bring that attitude home
Who don’t wanna do nothing with their life
Then I sort of lightly helped doing an activity that is common for my friends and I. Along with Sean and Preston, I helped out on what was the last day of a garden move for our friend Evan. We dug a few things, took cuttings, grabbed some seeds, and generally admired the garden our friend had made. This can be a lovely group activity, and I highly recommend helping a friend get through this process.
I’m glad we were all there together since it felt very supportive. Other friends of ours helped too over the last few weeks and I’m grateful they did.
When a fire starts to…
After having had freezing cold feet for an entire day after being outside last Sunday, and the day before at home, and I finally put down some money and ordered these attractive (and warm) boots for the next few months. Yet another log from the log jam removed!
Change. Change is good.
And all of the crops are being sown! It’s like a whirlwind. That little backup will take a few more weeks to ease, but it’s a small issue. I feel better this week.
When a fire starts to burn, right, and it starts to spread
I think I earned this sweater this week—or I should get one like it.
She gon’ bring that attitude home
I cleaned a ton of seeds this week. (I’m not always starting trouble or thinking about how I can stir the pot again.)
Some seeds are easier to clean than others. (Some people have thinner skin than others.)
I worked on an email list too. (Naming the names.)
Who don’t wanna do nothing with their life
Created from recycled materials, I have to say that this style would work well for me. It’s likely I’ll buy something like it this winter. I’m not sure I want to wear recycled water bottles, crushed oyster shells and cotton, but that is what this one consists of and it’s kind of surreal to me. I DO love oysters.
Memento mori. It’s never too late to remember the inevitable.
It’s no wonder that most traditional garden writing bores me. Here I go, rafting down my own stream of consciousness as I round the bend. Howling with laughter and sinking into exhaustion as I go…
Sorting plants meant finding plants to sell, trade or raffle at events. Oh the many stories fluttering around my mind right now of all of the sharing and caring that’s been done at my hands, and the hands of others, and all that love that is in my garden and home!
Who don’t wanna do nothing with their life
Oh those busy anxious animal hands of ours. Oh how we hate to tell people we’ve killed something they’ve shared with us.
(She sits and stares off into space wondering how many victims there still are to discover in her autumn garden cleanup.)
When a fire starts to…
Continuing on this journey through “my style” (hell, at this point I need a damn Pinterest board) my other task to loosen up the jam was to get some of my favorite Irish cream.
While I don’t have nearly any chronic pain now, this can still be a wonderful treat when the weather is cold.
Along with this I’m cleaning out the pantry. With the plants all in bed, I can cook again, and entertain.
I may even go to an Irish pub again to listen to music and enjoy dancing as I once did. (No beer for me. Sorry. Allergic. I just need a fully belly and happy heart to dance.)
When a fire starts to…
Reuniting Alfie with the woman who helped to rescue him was another task this week. He was a feral kitten rescued at a farm on Sauvie Island, and is not like my other cats. Cistus Nursery is on the same island, and at that time, my coworker had a second job at the farm, so he was the one to ask me if I wanted a kitten.
I’d recently lost my last feral cat Mona, so I decided to replace her with a cat who needed to be rescued.
YES OF COURSE I WANTED A KITTEN!!!
And that is how Alfie came into my life—our little linebacker, a heavy sack of potatoes, a bully, and a sweetheart.
I’d promised my coworker Kris that I’d bring the little pile of bricks (he is incredibly heavy) so we made the date last week, and I’m glad that I did. It was Election Day and we all needed a distraction.
When a fire starts to burn, right, and it starts to spread
This made Election Day a bit less stressful. It was self-care of the highest level. I love my cats. They keep my life full and oddly grounded. I still have a few more things to catch up on, but this week I got a lot accomplished.
She gon’ bring that attitude home.
But it’s a balance. Life is a lot for all of us right now and the anxiety out there is palpable.
Who don’t wanna do nothing with their life
So keep going and be the change that you want. Set those logjams on fire, and strategically get things done.
And don’t forgot to dance.
When a fire starts to…
When a fire starts to burn, right, and it starts to spread
This weekend I finally crashed after 5 weeks of nearly non-stop activity. Even now—after a day of rest—I’m still struggling to post something. I’ve been negligent these last two weeks (at least when it comes to writing) due to having had the honor to have been asked to give two public presentations by different groups.
I’m not complaining!!! I had a blast doing both, but it’s a lot of work. Doing it weekly is rough.
I LOVE to give talks, it’s just that I’ve not had a lot of time to rest. Preparing talks, and getting plants ready to sell at one of the talks, meant spending time AFTER work getting things done. Those things can make for very long days, but it is worth it!!!
Don’t hesitate to ask me if your organization is longing for some of my creative and unconventional views. I felt badly when I had to turn down a statewide Master Gardener Conference recently because it happened during my trip. It would have been an interesting and different experience than I’m accustomed to and I would have enjoyed the challenge.
But, begonias… (I do not regret going to the convention in Atlanta a bit!)
So if you need someone to give a presentation, keep in mind that there is usually a fee. As someone who helps with a plant society, I better understand why it’s important to raise money, and to help professionals connect to and share their knowledge. Getting away from work to mix it up a bit oddly helps me a lot—even if it just feels good emotionally and tickles my brain a bit. I can’t say that we all react so positively, but I have enjoyed speaking more as the years go by and it’s likely due to the fact I always thought I would teach.
I was an instructor of ESL, I taught French Surrealist Lit at PSU for several terms, and there were gallery management classes as well. All of that was fun, but when you have a swelling disease that effects your body, and in my case my lungs, it can make speaking, well, unpredictable. Gasping for air causes confusion, panic sets in, and the anxiety (all combined) can have you speaking in a strange pattern. Embarrassment comes on last and you wonder if others can tell you’re not well.
When you go to school, funny how you don’t think about things like this. The new medication is helping me though. I only struggled with chest tightness on the longest day this week. I didn’t end up feeling very self-conscious about it, but I did feel tired.
Last week it was a talk in Medford to a garden club, and this week I was the keynote speaker for an event supporting women in horticulture at Chemeketa Community College. At both I connected with members of the audience, and after the trip I just took, I felt even more confident and prepared.
Now you’re likely wondering when I’ll stop blathering on about myself, and get to the point.
What is autumn like in my corner of the world of horticulture?
Believe it or not but I have an answer to that question!!!
Fall (to me) partially feels a bit like spring, but that’s only because we muck out and freshen up the greenhouses. I tend to think of this as being similar to spring cleaning, but it’s probably closer to a nesting bear about ready to hibernate. The problem with that though is that I’m not at all inclined to empathize with the home gardeners who chomp at the bit to “get back out there” during the ensuing cold and dark months ahead. I AM back out there. I am not indoors and warm looking at seed catalogs. I get to do that after work, but by now I already know what I am after, and that’s another difference with my life.
Fall is really when I begin to think about the year ahead, and when we folks at work are planning out crop plans for the next season.
There is no way we can bring a few things in to protect them over the winter either without making sure the houses are cleaner after all of the new growth has occurred during the summer months. With more watering, this leads to slippery weed cloth—and I’m talking about what “reality” greenhouses are like since I don’t work in fancy ones.
While some folks in horticulture get to work in decently climate controlled and heated greenhouses during this time of the year, well, my situations are both more like heated garages. If for any medical reason I simply CANNOT deal with the cold, then I can stay home, but if you do that too often, you’re just not cut out for the job. Lots of folks will say I’m crazy to do this for the pay, but I do love what I do, and oddly, I’m not so bad at it. Let’s just add to that too that I care very much about having a wide range of plants available in cultivation that larger growers ignore.
Growing more difficult to cultivate crops is important. If you’re a designer or curator and you use these plants, it’s important to understand how they’re made, and how they’re grown. I see this issue, and these products, becoming more important to the industry in the years to come. And why is that? It’s because there are fewer small specialty nurseries like the ones where I work keeping these plants available on the market. I cannot stress enough, consumers can better understand our products alongside those of other growers. I’m not generalizing that they are better or worse, but rather, we depend upon and NEED one another as well as an informed and fair marketplace.
This week all things converged when it comes to this beloved drum I beat upon. Thinking back to my recent trip during my work hours, sharing in food discussions with friends and strangers thanks to the Sagra del Radicchio, and even because of questions asked during my talks, it turns out that I still very much enjoy growing crops of plants from seed, and keeping small batches of plant crops going. I even enjoy introducing plants into cultivation although that’s not something I’ve done often.
And so the cycle of life goes on, as we enter into the seasonal holiday period at the end of October where we say goodbye to the harvest, and begin out journey into the season of darkness and cold. I still have a lot of plants to bring in at home—the annual migration—but now that I’m home for many weeks, I’ll do what I can while dreaming up more blog posts to write.
(This is Part One of a series of posts that I will write about my trip to the SE during the the fall of 2022.)
Nearly 4 weeks ago I was off to Atlanta for the first time. I was going to say that it seems like it was a long time ago now, and yes, I guess that is true! A lot has happened during the ensuing weeks and I’m even back on the road right now because of a presentation! (Ain’t no rest for the wicked!!!)
My arrival was a bit early due to Judging School. I decided years ago after the convention in Sacramento that I needed to take this class and I’m glad I set it as a goal. While it’s nothing like learning how to grow plants, it’s ALL ABOUT learning to grow for show and I think that can be an important thing—especially OFF of social media.
It is scary to enter a plant in a show. I know because I did it up in Tacoma with some gesneriads. It saddens me that our region is not actively participating in shows, but I still hope that we will, and that others will understand the importance of seeing perfectly grown specimen plants that others have brought in to put on display. Sure, you can be snarky about this, and admittedly, I have been, but I will not deny how much I have learned as a horticulturist from seeing perfect to near-perfect plants in person.
These are not what you will find in a retail space, you can only find these in the homes of collectors who also happen to be talented amateur growers. Most professional growers simply do not have the time or energy to do this, but when you focus on plants at home, you can really hone your skills.
Seminars took up a lot of my time during my week in Atlanta. Alejandro Perez led a seed propagation session and it was the first I attended. It’s embarrassing to say that I kind of squeal a bit internally while in a room with others sowing seeds, but it gives me pleasure and joy. I have grown so many plants from seed, and I tend to do the act alone, but it just makes me happy to see others learning about and exploring the possibilities.
Time and time again I also find myself saying, “It takes patience—lots and lots of patience.”
There were tours too. I went one day to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and to the Atlanta History Center. I could have spent a lot more time at both and intend to do so when I return again. Atlanta is an amazing city and there is so much to see and do there.
The Atlanta History Center was an amazing hub of culture. For me, the Smith Farm had a lot of meaning. The original farmhouse was built just before my relatives left from nearby states for Oregon Territory, after having lived in Georgia and South Carolina before, during, and after the American Revolution.
One side of my pioneer family wanted to make Oregon a slavery state, the other did not. I live with this as newcomers move to Oregon and discuss the racist past of the area, and I know that I am descended from some of the people who contributed to this legacy of hate. On the other hand, I’m also descended from the many people of the Mediterranean. This is what I can only say is the karma bestowed on my ancestors. During this trip I came to terms a bit more with being in-between. I’ve learned to be a bit more proud of the line that fought to birth the United States in the beginning. Thank you Alexander McAlpin for your service.
My primary goal though was to be here for the hardy begonias and to spend more time with my “people” on the other coast to learn from what they’ve been up to. Ozzie’s talk was one that I was very excited to hear and I’m thrilled we had time to finally get to know one another more.
In addition to traveling overseas to collect plants to introduce here, either through collecting or with permission from nursery people, he’s been breeding hardy begonias for quite some time.
At the end of his seminar, new hybrids of his were passed around. I will absolutely confess that I got greedy and made sure I had one of each. I’m also happy to add that they all made it home and are happily tucked in the garage now. I plan to grow them on and plant them in the spring when we warm up again. (Since these are trademarked plants I’m going to encourage their purchase by the nurseries where I work—of course!)
On one of the days I was able to go back to the Atlanta Botanical Garden at Gainesville. In addition to having a friend who once worked there, I’m familiar with their overseas collection and conservation program. Dan Hinkley has often collected overseas with Scott McMahan and Ozzie Johnson, and they’ve visited Portland a few times over the years. Last year I met my friend in the parking lot but I was unable to visit the garden because I was there to help them dig up plants on land they were in the process of selling. This year, I got to spend time seeing the facility. For a horticulturist who collects, propagates, and trials plants all of the time, it’s always a great experience to learn more about my craft from others who’ve been working at the same thing on a more advanced level for longer than I have been, and especially, in a different climate.
Sadly, I did not get to see all of the programs, or go on all of the tours. I didn’t want to sit too much because of my spinal issues, and I had one swelling incident, so I rested for at least one day in my room. With a trip lasting that long, I needed to be careful.
The other person I was excited to hear from at the convention was Scott McMahan. While we’d met very briefly a few times back in Portland, I’d actually never sat and listened to him present a talk about his overseas trips and conservation work. Having listened to other plant explorers, I have a new interest in all of this work since I’m working with many of the begonias and gesneriads at home and at work brought to market by our own regional overseas explorers.
Conservation is an interesting topic and I have a lot to learn about it at the international level. Having spent my life focussed on work done in my own region, namely for the sake of our rivers and salmon runs, I think it’s time for me to open up my sphere of interest a bit more.
Before the show was opened up to the conference attendees, we were able to shop for plants. I purchased many begonias that I had to care for as I travelled from state to state, but I don’t regret it a bit. In the end I think I only lost one plant in total. That’s not too bad!
The American Begonia Society Convention was a wonderful show. It was not nearly as large and over-the-top as the only other one I’ve attended in Sacramento, but this was post-pandemic, so…
There were many amazing well-grown specimen plants though, and the Best-in-Show was this lovely Begonia ningmingensis var. bella.
After the show, I stayed only for a short time on Saturday to see the talk given by Rekha Morris covering begonias in Costa Rica. I had to rush off to the airport to get a rental car and pack up quickly to be on the road by noon.
All in all, the convention was a wonderful experience and I encourage enthusiasts of all levels to attend conventions in the future. They’re worth the effort and cost if you’re an avid grower.
Additionally, I’m going to encourage all of you to participate with your local chapter and volunteer your time to contribute to our national plant societies. If we don’t get younger members, it will be a shame to see these groups disappear.
Posting pics and selling plants online is just not the same thing.
Can I leave again now that I’m home? It feels strange just having returned after being away for 2 1/2 weeks but I’m still spinning and exhausted—and yet here I am planning other trips. Spending that much time enjoying plants, plant people, and gardens was a refreshing reward of sorts.
I’m going to suggest that this has something to do with several things at the same time, but mostly, I’m simply feeling better. Seeing and doing as much as I can means everything to me right now.
When I tell people that I was ill for three decades, it’s difficult for them to understand. I took time away from this site to process the first wave of feelings after being given the new medication that’s seemingly making me so much more stable. It’s been a wonderful journey and I have 4 more months to go. I still pinch myself daily.
Travel preparations began just after my last post. I was working so hard that I just did not want to sit down to post anything. During the trip I waited, and waited, then travelled some more, and waited some more. Staying at peoples’ homes, I felt strange not spending time with them. Writing was out of the question.
I plan to catch up on the posts I missed during the coming weeks. I really wanted to have 52 posts this year.
The trip covered 3 states and I saw many places and visited lots of different plant people. In the coming posts I’ll cover as much as I can. It all began at the American Begonia Society Convention in Atlanta, then I travelled to Rock Hill, SC, just outside of Charlotte, NC, and finally, I was in Raleigh, NC. There is still so much yet to see over there for me, and I will see it. I said I wasn’t going back right away, but it’s likely I’ll be over there again next year.
Returning to work yesterday, I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel, or even what I would do. After being away, I dove straight into cleaning the place up. Funny how seeing lots of clean greenhouses can do that to a person. Mail-order has been a blessing and a curse during the last few years. While we’re selling a lot of plants, it means a lot of labor goes into the shipping and handling process.
What’s the longest plant trip you’ve ever dreamed up and done? This was by far my longest but it will not be my last.
The pace of days is different now. Late summer glides into autumn as easily as I slide my summer-tanned feet back into warm wool slippers. My eyelids close and I feel chilled air on my skin.
I’m fruit, crisp, ripe on the vine.
Waiting much longer for harvest seems an impossibility. My birthday comes soon, and I will be older.
I may begin to rot if I wait much longer. Let’s pick all the fruits of our labors, retreat with them down below ground, into the dark, into ourselves, exploring spirits, dreams, stories—and the silence of the cold.
Soon enough there will be laughter and warmth around tables. Fire will burst forth in homes, and we’ll curl up like grubs, in our own underground. It’s inevitable, and I’m not one to resist the call of the wild, the rewards of each season, the cycle of friendship, family, and life.
The sun rises at 6:30am and sets before 8pm. I feel the clipped days right now. My eyes strain to see as I drive again in the dark. Sweater shopping is underway. There is a sense of urgency. The air smells different each day.
We’re entering the days of umbra and penumbra. Shadows lengthen and I feel a craving for books and words.
As a girl I read constantly, daily, unceasingly. Nowadays, I’m often too busy, but my life is changing, and I am too.
My priorities are shifting back as I continue to receive treatment for my blood condition. My mind is unwinding and I feel the water rocking me gently as I write again. There is a stillness and a calm as I meditate with ease.
My heart is beating slower, stronger.
I take deep and looooooooong breaths. Breathe. And for me, I mean it.
While still sensitive to smoke and wildfires, my chest is yet open, and my mind is a treasure chest of memories and feelings.
As I move in the greenhouses and garden, I remember things, movements reveal strings to memories. I’m feeling feelings left unfelt.
I experience them all—then cut the cord, and let the memories drift away.
Like saying goodbye to an old friend, sometimes I hold them close for too long, kissing them hard, and I straighten out to see myself holding a plant I once loved, but it’s faded and gone.
This blog has been criticized in the past for being too personal, and to be honest, it was started because I couldn’t work, was too disabled to work, and I longed to be working outside, to be free, and to be healthy. My feelings and personal life were bound to leak in. And yet, somehow, creating this blog has led to many opportunities over the years.
I wanted to live with dignity. I had spent a long time working hard to receive an education, to find flexible employment, and to be creative. It’s been a slog keeping it all together. There is A LOT of ugly that I’ve had to pass through. Through it all, I’ve become stronger and wiser.
Several weeks ago my life changed in a big way. I didn’t immediately announce anything here, and it will take nearly 6 more months until we see the full changes, but I’m happy, and my body is changing.
Finally, I’ve been given the right pill to help that which ails me. It’s a new medication. “ORLADEYO® (berotralstat) is a plasma kallikrein inhibitor indicated for prophylaxis to prevent attacks of hereditary angioedema (HAE).”
So far, it’s helping me.
It is difficult to not be angry about losing so many opportunities, and to have faced challenges I failed at, and to not like what illness has done to me physically, but I ran out of anger 11 years ago.
My immunologist let me know that she’d be resubmitting a request for me to receive the new pill for my condition. It’s a very expensive treatment, and up until now, I was never ill enough for anything other than anabolic steroids and other meds that have acted like bandages.
I didn’t expect that I’d be approved immediately. Over the years, we’ve tried, and always had to resubmit, and I gave up any expectations.
So just to stay calm, I planned my trip ahead of time not knowing what would happen.
I have a blood disorder and it causes me to swell, a lot. It has wrecked havoc on my life since I was 18 but it wasn’t diagnosed until I was nearly 30. No treatments have really helped, but we were able to reach the point where I could work in horticulture more and more. This has not been easy though.
There are no savings to take a month off, but I’m working like crazy so that I can go on a plant vacation soon. Right now, I’m adjusting to the new medication and I’m walking a lot at night to process how I feel. These last few months I’ve been flooded with emotions. I’ve had a lot of medical appointments leading up to this, all in the hopes that I’d gotten worse so we could prove somehow that I needed help.
We’ve been doing this for years, and it is not a process I’d recommend. This time, though, I got help.
Overall though, I feel calm now. Swelling in all of us sets off alarm bells. I’m not dealing with that daily anymore. I’m taking one day at a time. I’m living in the present. I am enjoying a calm and quiet mind.
Each day now I’m just kind of letting things flow and I’m not pushing hard. I’m focussing on eating a large dinner so that the new pill won’t make me ill, and I’m sleeping a lot more. I am soooo tired.
I have fought so hard, and it has been a very lonely and isolating experience.
There is time up ahead to spent with my dad, I’m getting the garden under control before I leave, and I’m making plans with friends. I love and adore those who’ve been by my side for so long. They’ve helped me so much, and so often.
At work I’m paying attention to the plants, but I’m also trying to notice if there are any changes I’m experiencing that I should tell my medical team about. No one is certain how this will change my other conditions. I’m hoping my lungs are better, and that some of the circulatory issues improve, but we need to wait and see.
In the meantime, I’m trying to buy more clothing and take care of me. I don’t know what I will do next.
Spending time with the cats at home is kind of what I focus on now. I’m working so hard so I can travel and live my life, but I miss the cats a lot when I am not here.
This last weekend Felix, Alfie and I started to sort out the Seed Studio a bit for an HPSO Open Garden this next weekend. (It is Saturday and Sunday from 10-3 if you’re local.) I’m not at all ready for it, but I will do it anyway.
I seriously cannot believe that I’m at this point in my life.
I have cried so many times about not getting the medical help that I needed, and now, here I am, at 48, finally getting some help. They made the process for approval very easy and I was told that they were aware stress could cause problems for my health, and that they wanted to alleviate that.
Seems like something I would have loved to have heard for decades.
It only took 30 years, but here I am, unsure of what I’ll want to do next, but at least I have finally been given the medical opportunity I’ve waited so long for…
Ok, let’s do a plant post! I’m writing posts more often, so I should have started monthly posts like this back in January, but I didn’t, so I will now. It’s not like I don’t have enough plants, I think many just have not looked nice enough but I’m over that. The garden has looked pretty nice all summer other than my piles of unplanted things.
But that’s a whole other post…
1.) Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’
I kind of avoided Acanthus for fear of it eating the back garden, but then I was talked into this golden from since it’s allegedly not as vigorous. Well, so far, it’s been very well behaved and that flower stalk has lasted for months. It just won’t stop and it makes for a lovely display. I’m even ok with it spreading a bit more. There is only a small walkway behind it and I am tired of the weedy low Dicentra cultivar that’s been there. I blooms, looks great, and then it’s ratty and fried for the rest of the summer.
2.) Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’
When I first started working at Secret Garden Growers I divided some of these plants. What settled into the pots was quickly sold, and there were no more left for me to purchase. When I divided some more, that second time I made sure to grab one for myself. While this doesn’t look like much, blame the gardener in this case, and not the plant. I kind of let this one get gobbled up by some weeds all of last summer so it’s only now really coming into its own. I was thrilled to see this white tip emerge just recently. (And yes, I will apply some Sluggo soon.
3.) Columnea schiedeana
Gesneriads can take years to grow out from small starts. As they grow, you need to take addition cuttings to add to their containers just to bulk them up a bit. Little by little this work will pay off for you, but it requires a great deal of patience and skill. At any point, it’s not unusual for one of these to croak on you. In this climate, keeping them happy enough for this long takes some finesse so seeing this plant in full bloom right now makes all of the fussing worth it. I think this one came from a member of our Gesneriad Society chapter, Mt Hood Gesneriad Society.
4.) Darlingtonia californica
While this little patch of Darlingtonia doesn’t look like a lot, they are the newest babies that have grown off of my older little colony. I started with one purchased colony from Sarracenia Northwest and then as second group came along when I was able to grow some from seed. Of all of the hardy carnivorous plants, these are my favorite.
It breaks my heart though to have seen poaching of them in Southern Oregon in the wild this last year. It’s one of my favorite native plants and I hope that you can see why. Please, if you want one, purchase them only from growers who are growing crops in cultivation. It’s my hope that eventually, I’ll be able to sell a few, but with this being of low priority, don’t expect those to be available from me anytime soon.
5.) Lobelia tupa – orange
Well, this should look more orange I think. I haven’t had the time to compare it to the photos I have from Heronswood, but I will be patient with it. While it is not as red as the straight species, I don’t think that this division (what I can only assume it is) is as orange as the ones I saw when I fell in love with it there. This plant needs room and sunshine. I’ve sort of allotted it a nice spot in the garden. Even if the color is mediocre, I am sure that I will forgive the meh factor. This is a great species plant no matter what and I might just accept it. I have waited so long to have it here, it is a relief to see it in bloom.
6.) Mahonia eurybrachteata ‘Cistus Silvers’
Well, here we finally have a lovely plant from Cistus Nursery that was grown by me. Seeds are sown at work by me (after I clean the berries) and only the best seedlings are selected out from the nursery crops. Our parent plants are planted in the garden. Sean is of course in charge of making all of the best selections but it’s a process I’ve most certainly learned from over the years.
This last year I’ve been better about planting my “babies” out in my own garden, and this was a plant I just knew I had to have at home.
7.) Nicotiana sylvestris
Not sure where the original seeds came from for this plant, but it’s been in my garden for years now. I just let it pour out seeds each year and it is enough for me to pick a few to keep once they germinate in the spring. Nicotiana always makes me think of Grandma Virginia. I keep talking about her own reseeding patch of the jasmine tobacco (Nicotiana alata), but I’ve not yet been able to establish a patch of it. But this, well, it has its spot on the south side of the house.
It’s part of the white theme I have to give off a bit of the whitecaps allusion. It’s the only theme I sort of keep in the garden. This area is part of the Venetian area so of course I need to have a theme to tie all of the garden areas together here. (The back garden is about my childhood and being in my raft beneath the native willows over the creek.)
8.) Phygelius Croftway™ Snow Queen PP18366 or Phygelius ‘Crosnoque’
Whatever the name (see above), this Phygelius is a beauty. It’s also planted in the south side garden along with the Nicotiana sylvesteris. It’s my whitecap plant that blooms almost all summer long, and the gondola (hammock) is behind it.
This plant is very low maintenance. I need to water it and chop it back to keep it fresh, but that’s how some perennials need to be treated and that’s it. Freshening up with a nice chop is also how we make so many plants in containers look good. Not all plants need a nice chop at all, but it is a thing and I tent to enjoy it more now than ever.
It’s just that cherry on top of it all I guess when the plants grow back nicely filled in with fresh foliage.
9.) Pittosporum divaricatum
Many years ago I had my first Open Garden with The Hardy Plant Society of Oregon. I had not been working at Cistus Nursery for very long, and I had not been strong for long after two rather invasive surgeries, so friends stepped in to help me. Sean and my former coworker John from Cistus suggested this Pittosporum divaricatum and I’m really glad that they did. It’s a beauty.
With so many great foliage plants at Cistus, I’m sad sometimes that I’ve not planted more of the unusual ones that we have to offer. I keep trying to add more of them, but if only I’d planted them all back when I started all of this I’d be so much happier now with how things look.
If you’re just starting out and want a great garden, and not just a good one, make sure to add some absolutely stunning foliage plants. These will be the bones of your garden throughout the year and you can use clippings from them in arrangements too. I love that I can make wreaths from mine.
The fun (and the hard work) never ends!
10.) Punica granatum ‘Nana’
Back in the first days here at this house I ordered seeds for this small shrub. I know now that they are not supposed to be great from seed, and that most are propagated from cuttings, but this one worked out from seed for me. It was great for many years, and then I kind of neglected the front garden, then it was great again, then I neglected it again, but now it is back and it looks great this year. It’s a low water plant but it does better with some regular irrigation. Sadly, this is not the climate for growing pomegranate fruit, so I am not disappointed that I cannot eat lots of its fruit, but this is the climate for growing beautiful ornamental pomegranates so I suggest that you try one if you like them as much as I do. If I had more space, I would plant a larger one. There are several great ornamental cultivars.
In my last post I showed where the willow tunnel once was that was my safe and happy place as a kid. Well, it’s funny that I essentially recreated that space and feeling in my own back garden. This only came to my attention when a woman came to an Open Garden a few months ago. It was not the original concept, but it has morphed into it as I’ve needed that space in my life again during the last 10 years.
I was kind of stunned when she walked in and understood me immediately. “You design cozy. You made this space cozy. How do you do that with plants?”
I stood there stunned.
For months I’ve wanted to include a photo of the creek just so I could write here that I’m more of a storyteller than a garden designer, and I AM a dreamer too. This is why I don’t design for other people—not unless they have a story to tell.
I can help anyone with dramatizing a feeling or a memory with plants, but I can’t do matchy-matchy.
I designed most of my garden around feelings, and safe spaces from my childhood. It’s likely why I feel so awkward when adults are here, but coming to realize this, it’s all kind of fun now.
Yes, I do design cozy! I’m going to stick to it too.
Then there are all of the plants. The number of unusual plants is an improvement upon my childhood. I now have my library of seedlings, a revolving collection, and a jungle full of sounds and creatures. Sometimes it feels like the stories of the plants are all alive around me, and yes, of course my plants all have stories of their own.
I tried to keep some of my favorites nearby this summer, but it’s never just the right way. I’m always moving things around.
I’m still happiest with a cat in the “boat” with me—just like when I was a girl. Like Maurice before him, Felix is fond of the hammock. He jumps up to snuggle with me.
My books now are mostly on my phone since I listen to them.
Yes, this is cozy in the garden.
I just about lost my mind when I saw the community garden plot this week. My husband wanted to be “in charge” and clearly, uh, someone had to come and discuss what to do next. We’re now growing summer/fall crops. I’m in charge again and he has promised to listen this time.
We will see how that goes.
It is funny how much better I felt after John cleared out this mess. I felt lighter.
Maybe even a bit more confident, and yes, kind of happy.
It almost felt like I knew what to do and got it done quickly.
I came home and cozied up outside.
The last supermoon of 2022 was tonight and I went for a long walk. I’ve been doing that a lot for the last month. It’s been a good thing. Walking is good for so many reasons.
Just seems like everything is aligning well right now.
I wanted to write about cozy this week and looked up the origins of the world last weekend on my phone before falling asleep.
And maybe a superstar has a hit on her hands, and it’s called Cozy too. (That showed up on the top of my search.) Synchronicity.
Again, the stars seem so be aligning.
And yes, I design “garden cozy”—with plants, and I’m a storyteller.
Some time ago we visited this garden. It’s the only family home I’ve ever known other than the fishing “villa” at the coast. Mom and Dad built both homes, and Mom designed them both. I grew up here.
Yes, it was a charmed childhood.
In the case of this house, she also physically helped to build it. My mom is not shy with power tools and hammers. I was a toddler when she was working on finishing touches, but throughout my childhood, this was the 4th child. There was always something going on and there were many shenanigans with my two older brothers.
There were additions too, and various projects. It never seemed to end between the house and the garden—and us kids. There was always something going on.
To me this was my playground, my reading room, and my badminton court. We had parties here, we played so many games, slept outdoors, and played in the creek.
Dad was often away on business trips, fishing all over the region, in Alaska, BC, and for many years he visited Chile on a regular basis. So many authors stayed here too, or just visited. It was a busy and buzzing place. (Dad was a publisher.)
There are so many memories in a garden that’s decades old, and so many stories. People often ask if I learned to garden here, and to be honest, I really didn’t.
Mom did her own thing.
I was the child asking the never-ending why and how questions. This had me being sent off elsewhere. I usually ended up with my paternal grandmother and her neighbor. Asking them my strange questions worked well, and they showed me things that I needed to learn.
But Gayle was entertaining. She kept me busy dragging me to nurseries. With no computers back then, I could spend a lot of time reading plant labels and learning about plants. We were rich with great plant shopping opportunities then, but it wasn’t as great as it is now.
Looking back I was bit of a sickly kid. I know now why. I often hid indoors and read a lot. My grades and getting into a great college mattered a lot to me. I would have loved to have had a little corner to myself, but when I gardened I kept potted plants, and they were in my treehouse.
There were houseplants too, but I often killed them.
Mom is 80 now and keeps up the garden mostly on her own. She’s a very strong and determined woman.
Long ago this was where my treehouse stood. Built for my brothers, I was the last occupant. Than one morning when I was 20 I woke up late and Mom was down in the garden with a chainsaw, cutting it all down. Today, there is this lovely sitting area there.
I think it was a nice change.
This is the rockery. It is full of shade and always kind of was but in the 1970s Mom knew that a rockery was popular, so we had one.
This is where all of my questions began, and where I planted the space with plants in my mind when I was young.
Mom always gardened with plants in mind that would not grow in the conditions she had and that’s the sad truth. But it kept her busy, and she regularly moved things around, or else replaced them.
Busy, busy, busy.
She did well with what she had, but I always had other ideas. I mostly kept those to myself though and I dreamed of the day someday in the future when I would own my own home, and I could be free to do what I wanted—whatever that was…
I had a lot of dreams. Mom would have told you that I was a dreamer.
When I was a kid, that area across the creek had large native willows, and they draped over the water. They created a kind of a tunnel, and I tied up my raft in there, with my books, and a radio. (Sometimes, I even had a cat with me.)
I would hide in there from my life and I would dream while the willows wrapped around me. It was my cozy safe place.
The other quiet place was my room. That dormer up there on the second floor was mine. It had a lovely view of the huge Doug fir, and I loved to watch it sway but was afraid of it during windstorms.
My other window looked out towards this camellia but when I was a girl, there was a native dogwood, a Cornus nuttalii. It was lost in an ice storm and I cried and cried. It broke my little heart since it (to my mind) was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
Amongst the garden plants in Mom’s garden are a few oddballs. This Vitis coignetiae is one of them. Over the years though, she’s mostly simplified things. If a plant is too fussy, or doesn’t meet her performance standard, then out it goes.
She keeps nurseries in business.
This vine though was one of the handful of plants she bought at Cistus Nursery long before I worked there. It was back when I first started to shop there.
She has it and a few other unusual vines that I still need to ID.
This was the lab where I grew, and I was safe in Mom’s space because she was vigilant.
I think that many mothers would love to be able to afford this kind of space and life for their children.
I can only say how grateful I am for it. If I’d had children, I would have wanted this for them too.
I’m in a consensual relationship with my hoses. I suppose the hoses at both of my jobs consent too, but OMG, the disagreements we have and the neediness of the plants. It’s like they will DIE if I don’t do something for them. Talk about learned helplessness. I HATE being an enabler, but it’s my life. I’ve slowly been growing a career (of sorts) by keeping the little babes alive and well. But they’re thirsty—so thirsty trapped in their little containers. It’s key to keep them happy though, to live another day, and to keep them ALL looking perfect-o!
Sure, it’s an artificial system to grow plants in containers. It’s just as artificial as any other relationship we humans have with virtually anything else other than other humans, but hey, these are crops we’re talking about, inventory, so that makes this business!!!
This is the game I play during the summertime and sometimes I feel like I’m hanging on mentally by a thread. But I’m a team player and THIS, this is my sport, and it’s an endurance sport.
As much as I love plants, and as meaningful as they are to the life I’ve made with them over the last few decades now, sometimes I feel like I want a divorce.
But maybe this is just my dramatic and operatic way of life. Yes, that’s it.
Seems likely since the climax of the year for me is just about now, and then we swing back down into the cool comfort of fall.
Something I learned during the heat dome experience of 2021 was the power of simply wetting down the floors and walls of greenhouses. We do this at both nurseries in the greenhouses when we have extreme heat and it makes a difference. How often it’s done depends upon the temps.
You might think that we water the plants all day but at such high temps you can actually steam the roots. That’s a great way to kill plants! While it’s good for my asparagus harvest, it’s not so great for my ornamentals. Nom nom.
It seems like keeping them happy is a bit of an exact science tweaked by each nursery owner to fit the conditions of where plants are in their nurseries. I love the like microclimates created by benches, under benches, on a rack, under a rack, in this corner, or that one—it all depends upon where the sun is and at what time of day. Game on growers!
And this my friends is horticulture!
As for tolerating high temps, I have a lot of environmental and food allergies, but my pale skin rather loves the feel of sun. As I age, the cold weather seems to cause a lot more pain than the heat. I guess I truly understand the snowbird phenomenon now. I physically understand it well.
Skin issues are kind of a thing in my family—especially for Dad and I.
But thank goodness I don’t have the rare allergy my great-uncle Fritz did. He was allergic to his own sweat and it was a challenge for him to work in produce with his family.
But I also like to say, “My pale skin betrays me. I’m Sicilian when it comes to my heat tolerance.”
So at least I have that.
My home garden was created with intentional watering zones. The areas where I spend the most time are watered the most. Out in front of the house is the driest zone. Each area differs quite a bit.
Sure, I expect folks to mention that they’d think I’d have irrigation, but it would be so complicated when I tend to use my chainsaw to edit (and add light) and change so much. In addition to my rearranging everything often, I’m one of those people who would break her own irrigation system too. I’m careless that way. I’m so goal driven sometimes I overlook the obvious dumb things.
Oops I dug in the wrong spot!
Maybe if my garden were larger I’d think about installing one, but it’s not. Maybe someday. I’d actually like to have that challenge. It tickles my virgo brain to organize things so it would be right up my alley.
So currently I have the indoor plants, the light garden plants, the propagated indoor plants for sales, the outdoor plants, the seedlings, the seeds to collect, the regular planted garden areas, the expected as-of-yet unplanted plants—and some plants at work!!!!
“Yeah, sure I’d love to hang out with you but I have to stay home and get some plant work done.”
“No, I can’t. I have to water.”
Oh! How unhealthy these relationships are and yet we enter into them anyway…
Sure, I complain a lot now—after two separate weeks of vacation—and I’ll be leaving for another 2 1/2 weeks in the fall, but I’m ok. This is all consensual. I can say NO and leave at any time.
Last week I was away with Dad in Eastern Oregon. Most of our days were spent alone in a rustic campground along the South Fork of the John Day River. It’s been years since I’d done this and it was a much needed break.
Dad and I going out into the middle of nowhere together is kind of hilarious. Neither of us is very healthy, and yet combined, we did great. Day after day we had a few laughs about the whole thing. At any minute he could have a fatal heart issue, and me, well, my swelling can become so severe my throat could close. And yet, neither of us was anxious about these things at all since we’d both planned so well. Besides, going out there always reminds us of our pioneer roots.
We didn’t do much during that whole week. Dad has a routine so we stuck to that as much as we could. We sort of tried to fly fish, but Dad is much weaker now after an infection he had after a stay in the hospital a few years ago. This meant that we mostly just ate, read, drove around, walked a bit, talked and slept.
With my current state of exhaustion I was pretty focussed on rest and figuring out how to manage my upcoming work and personal goals. I spent a lot of time just meditating on things. I rested on a cot and dozed off daily. I watched the clouds. I closed my eyes to listen to the wind, and I wandered all over looking at plants to get the blood and brain flowing again.
We really had no plans before we left other than to get me over to the Cedar Grove Botanical Area in the Malheur National Forest. It’s a unique grove of Alaskan yellow cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis formerly Cupressus nootkatensis) that really shouldn’t be there. It’s a unique island of trees left over from a period long ago. While I am just briefly describing it, I hope to return to see it again with friends. Then I can write more about it. (Defiantly go though if you’re curious! It’s worth the adventure!)
On the way back up to the car I found this Cypripedium montanum. It’s been a summer of native orchids I guess since we saw so many of them a few weeks ago on Mt Hood too. This was a pleasure to find as I climbed back up to the car from the grove down below.
The hike was not exactly easy for me. I left Dad in the car and was worried about him so I rushed. When I returned, panting, of course he was happily resting watching a field of butterflies.
Back at the campground we both agreed over and over that we’d not seen a stream so untouched by pollution and people in a long time. The plants at the edges were diverse. It was a bit like an ideal stream from long ago.
The area where we were is named after a man who was once Director of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. When Dad was young, he knew the name from published fish reports, and later, as a young business man, he got to know him better. One of the many stories from Dad’s life that I’d never heard anything about until then. Did I mention Dad talked a lot? Lol. It was wonderful to learn so much more about a man I already feel so close to.
It was touching to both of us to know we were staying in a location named after someone he’d admired. The area is part of a statewide program of conservation. This cheered Dad up a bit. To see our fisheries being cared for so far away from the more densely populated parts of the state gave us both some hope. I do love Oregon.
Yes, I was happy there. I was happy not having a shower. I was happy writing. It was nice to read. Better yet, I loved to have some time with Dad to discuss our lives and how we feel about where we are in life.
Both of us have had our struggles. It means a lot to me to have him in my life, and I’m grateful for the friendship we’ve had since I was little.
Wish I’d brought some ID’ing books with me, but nah. I could do this in the heat all day. (It was very hot during our days there.) It was nice to be unplugged.
I had the tent, and Dad had the lovely nice mattress in the Jeep, but the open sky, we shared.
As someone who hasn’t camped in many years, waking up at 3am to the moonrise each night made me happy. There is something very romantic about the night sky and I’d forgotten this and just how much it means to me to see the sky and to fall asleep wishing upon shooting stars.
For me the event began on the 4th of July. As usual, I was behind schedule, so I planted plants and watered the garden all morning and into the afternoon. I then loaded up the Jeep to head north and was excited to have a “working vacation” for the rest of the week!! Woohoo!!
It’s not the kind of working vacation where I’m paid to go though. For me at least, this is more a continuing education as a horticulturist and it was important for me to learn as much as I could since I’m a chapter president too. I needed some guidance! I mean, I always do, right? The work really involved getting all of those plants to the sale while they still looked great. We wanted our goods to go to market and we wanted people to WANT them. I mean that’s what this is all about. WANT!!
We also earned some money by being a local chapter that grew a lot of plants for the sale. We weren’t sure if they’d sell, but we took the call to propagate seriously and I wanted any funds back that I could earn to pay for the whole thing. (Yes, going to a convention is NOT cheap but you can do it if you plan wisely and share travel and hotel costs with a friend or two.)
To improve as a grower, and just out of curiosity, I decided to sign up for judging school. In all honestly, I’m thrilled that I did! While I’ve grown and cleaned many crops of plants at both nurseries, I’ve not yet grown to “show” and it’s a thing.
Lots of houseplant folks do this so that they can impress others online, but I think it means a lot more to have the guts to show in public. I enjoy competition, but I like for it to be fair, and I don’t think that social media or the internet is fair at all. A flower show, well, it can be if you know what you’re doing. Anybody can do it.
Culturally, it’s not something we seem to enjoy as much out here on the west coast, but I wish we could get more into it. I ended up just seeing the whole things as one of my favorite philosophical exercises.v”What is the Platonic ideal form of this plant?” It was not nearly as bad as I had expected it would be, and in truth, I had a lot of fun. By questions the plants, there was a lot of discussion about how plants grow, and that just tickled this horticulturist’s little soil-encrusted heart.
Good thing I met folks from the other chapters too so maybe I can join a show in Seattle or San Francisco sometime. That is the rough part about being accepted as a student judge. I have to participate to do and learn more.
Learning to follow the sheets for the different categories was an important practice run too. I’m so glad we did this and went over our sheets with the entire judging group so as to discuss different points. Being in person doing so was a huge help.
After that second session I took a test later in the day but I still don’t if I passed. I hope so! Even so, if I did, I will only be a student judge and I will have that status for a few years. (I plan to take the same class in Atlanta at the end of September at the Begonia Society convention too. Seems only fitting to compare how the two different groups do it.)
Back in the room I saw that there were two plants from another member of our group that I wanted to keep to buy. The one on the left is a Gloxinia perennis and the one on the left is a Kohleria hybrid developed by Derek Johnson now name Kohleria ‘Hummingbird Feather’. (More on them below.)
I kept taking flat after flat down to the plant sale room since that’s the big draw at the end of the week for participants as well as the public a day later. It was a relief once that was all wrapped up.
The next day I took a break in the afternoon to relax a bit and calm down. I went for a walk to see the W. W. Seymour Conservatory in Wright Park. It had been closed for renovations the last few times I’d been in the area so it was a lot of fun to see it open again. I even bought myself some jewelry to support their program. I just couldn’t stand the thought of buying a plant at that point. I really don’t need any more.
Part of the convention is also networking and sharing stories about what you grow, where you grow, and who you are and what floats your boat. This part if fun for me. I love people if they’re nice, so I met lots of folks! (Turns out lots of plant geeks are super nice.)
Some of them I’ve only seen online, and I made several new friends from the Puget Sound chapter so I’m excited that we can join forces soon. I don’t know what that will look like, but I like the idea of us sharing resources and maybe having a combined show and/or sale.
On Thursday my friend Evan joined me and before we knew it we were plant show participants. A friend had seen the plants I’d kept in my room and he said they were “show quality” plants. Well, honestly, that was good to know. I had no idea.
Then another friend said that they’d like more entries, so I mentioned I might have some.
Well, it turns out, that was a great idea! Evan and I learned the process of cleaning and trimming the plants to make them look perfect, and Derek, the actual grower and hybridizer of one of the plants, was given some much deserved credit for his skills.
We had to wait though to find out. Judging occurs the day after the plants are entered, and the awards are not announced right away.
The sale came next on Thursday but it was late at night. This photo only shows half of the room! Of the many flats I brought up to the convention, I came home with only 1/2 a flat left. I was thrilled we did so well.
I was also thrilled to have spent so much money buying a lot more plants to divide and sell and also to share with our chapter. I really hope that we can begin to have a regular plant sale somewhere in town. It would be so nice to have a set regular schedule and routine for the group again. These last few years have been rough but Zoom has been good for the group nationally.
On Friday Evan and I went to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium to see the gardens but I will post about it separately. That day was quite a lot of fun, but a bit off topic for the conference.
Another benefit was having a McMenamins up the street from the hotel. While I loved where we stayed, my mast cell activation disease and asthma did not like the fragrance that they poured into the lobby. This meant that I could not socialize in the bar and going into the lobby meant running through it as quickly as possible.
I also cannot buy hotel food made in a banquet facility. My black pepper allergy makes that a serious crap shoot so I brought a lot of my own food with me and I supplemented it up the street at the pub. (I also had Japanese food a few times to round out my diet.)
On our second trip to McMenamins we knew we’d won something, and we tried to eat and run, but we returned to the awards banquet a bit late. In the end, it didn’t matter. No matter what, the three of us had won 2 blue ribbons for the plants.
Having known Derek for several years now, it means a lot to me to be a mentor and a student of his. I know talent, and I also know that many of us need to lift others up in horticulture when we see talent occurring. It happened to me, it still happens to me, and it’s what I need to do when I see it near me as well. Derek works with me, Evan used to work at Cistus Nursery, so in a weird way this was also a Team Cistus win. Heck, even Evan helps me all the time with ID work and others topics that we talk through. I am so happy that others there helped us to help Derek. The whole thing was just so amazing and it could not have happened any other way.
Then we stayed late and kept buying plants until the plant sale ended. We helped to clean it up. We met more people. We talked to more friends. Then we went our separate ways and drove home…
Of course I’m skipping a lot. I came home feeling revived, rejuvenated, and like I have a better understanding of what my role should be as a chapter president. I feel better supported too. Networking helped me to better know the folks I need to reach out to when I have questions. I kind of came out of nowhere when I stepped up to lead our chapter, and as of right now, no one else wants the job so I will keep at it until another volunteer wants to swap with me. Boy, I bet I am really selling you on membership right now.
So in closing, I still very much believe in plant societies that meet in person and which are the good old-fashioned ones. Why? Well, they really do have conservation and educational interests. There are people involved from many fields, and it’s a group effort, not just a pseudo celebrity influencer that I’m sitting and listening to as their captive audience, a number, a follower, just another passive number.
While there were not many horticulturists, there were more of us than I’d thought there would be, and we had a few professors. Most were hobbyists, but it was a community that felt a lot more like it had some purpose and direction with people coming from different parts of the country.
It was a ton of fun, and yes, if you’re wondering, you’ll likely find me there next year in Virginia.
Sometimes I miss the early days of this blog and my life here at home playing with my own plants. With my bed nearby in the house I could crawl in and sleep, and my cats were always by my side. Back then I had little to no income, and my parents provided the monthly payments for the roof over our heads after my first husband and I married.
I wasn’t well and I was a mess.
I came into all of this with some serious privilege, but I was humiliated by it to the core of my being. I wanted nothing more than to be on my own and to be as strong as I could possibly be, and it is funny now to look back at how I got to feeling like this today. I’m proud of the journey and grateful for those I’ve met who’ve helped me.
But today, after 5 years, I’ve finally been released from physical therapy, and for me, this is a huge milestone. I will always deal with chronic ongoing pain from injuries sustained during two falls down stairs, but in a sense, this is yet another new beginning. I feel tonight like I get to try again at a few things.
But it is a struggle to earn a living doing what I do in the way that I do it. I have to do it this way because I’m still kind of handicapped although I don’t say that often. Nowadays my heart is filled with so much happiness and pleasure from being able to live as I need to live that I feel badly when I talk to friends and they’re feeling low.
My life though is always growing, changing, blooming, drying, being harvested, and germinated all over again. It keeps morphing into different things. I too am growing, changing, blooming, aging, and one day I will be gone like many of the thousands of plants that I’ve germinated.
Like my cats, I guess I needed routine.
My life revolves around seeds.
That’s pretty much the way it has been, is, and will be.
Last year I closed my online seed shop on a popular site. It hurt to do so, but the company had advertised my goods on a third party site and I was flooded with people who didn’t understand that many of my seeds were not easy to grow. I couldn’t weed out the difficult customers, they wasted my time by repeatedly telling me they wanted all of their money back after telling me again and again that they had not followed the directions.
Next time around my shop policies will be stronger and clearly stated.
NOT MY PROBLEM. No Returns. Read the descriptions AND the directions next time.
It was a time suck, and I’m not good at customer service when customers are NOT understanding that I’m a woman working hard, under unusual circumstances, to do what I do. I work more than full-time between the nurseries, seed sales, plants sales, and garden coaching/design work.
At the time that I closed the old shop, I knew I’d open a shop again, but it would be my own site. While I have not yet reached that goal, it will happen this fall. Once again, I will be selling seeds. They will be in small batches, but they will be fresh, harvested here at home, or they’ll be from gardens I know, or from friends’ gardens.
I really miss being a seed seller.
Observing, collecting, and cleaning, can be a lot of fun if you’re like me. It can also be tedious if you’re not like me. Potting up my babies, after seed batches have germinated and been grown on for a bit, is empowering. It’s a skill that comes to us from the center of our being.
Sure, I don’t grow lots of food from seed, but my skills come to me from my relatives who worked on their own farms, or whom toiled on leased land. I spend my days feeling connected to their lives, and to the rhythm of my own.
Moving forward I will continue to learn. I will continue to grow during ensuing seasons. Sometimes crops will fail, but it is life, and that is to be expected.
And while I don’t hybridize plants often, I’m learning from friends who do, and I intend to work harder at that since it’s not so difficult for me. I just need to try more often. And I intend to work harder to pollinate and collect seeds from rare and unusual plants in my own collection in an effort to better understand, share, and conserve them.
So let’s start the process all over again and stay on track.
Right now I feel a lot like many other citizens in the United States. We’re uncomfortable and horrified. Luckily I live in a state that has attempted to respect my privacy, and I respect the rights of others to do whatever the hell they want within reason, but I’m now a woman, thinking about my own status, and whether or not I have the rights that I feel I do. Being a woman comes up a lot in my work, but now, the woman question looms larger.
Remembering that there is no ERA Amendment I’m disgusted that my equality seemingly doesn’t matter. It disgusts me more that there are still women here who feel that this is ok. But what does my opinion matter, I’m just a woman.
This post is just a few things I’ve held back from the public about ugly issues we have in our field. (At least things I’ve come across.) Feel free to add your own in the comments about things you’ve seen or experienced. There is nothing unique about this stuff, but we should talk about it more in a productive way. (If you feel better messaging me privately, please do so.)
My Top 10
List of Uncomfortable Snapshots from my remote corner
in the world of horticulture!!!
1) “But you’re a girl!!!”
It’s happened more than once that after having introduced myself to well-known plantsmen or nurserymen stating that I’m “Sean Hogan’s seed propagator” their response has been to immediately respond with an exclamation about my gender.
“Well hey there plant genius! You ARE good at ID’ing things.” Though I’ve not yet said this, I will the next time it happens—and it will.
To say that this feels a bit disparaging and belittling is an understatement. There are other women in horticulture and I know it. If you’re a man and this is your reaction, then what are you doing as an ally to help us?
One plantsman who did this to me at an event followed up and apologized, but I let him know that he was not the first man to do this (and he wasn’t the last). He later sat with me, we had a very productive conversation, and he really just had wanted to say that it was great that I ran around “with the boys”. He actually apologized and I really appreciated that and the talk we had.
As someone who has spent her whole life running with the boys, having this conversation with someone so well-known felt odd, but it says a lot about our industry. He really did want to help me and he was happy that Sean had lifted me up.
2) The Cult of the Male
No one can deny that the consumer audience for most home gardening is primarily made up of women. Home is the realm of the woman and she likes to nest. This is a stereotype we know well. It’s one that’s been carried forward in new ways with younger generations. My generation was earthy and got into food, now we have pollinators and houseplants, but we have more gardening than ever and the field is gettingmore diverse in many ways.
Yet, many of the experts are often men—or sexy women. (Though not always! I know a few women online who are brilliant and they don’t have to show their midriffs and diamond tennis bracelets constantly.)
The filthier and funnier a woman is on social media, the more I believe and trust her. Creative content can be just as much fiction as non-fiction and selling lifestyles still irks me SO much.
Yet women want to see themselves out there, and there is plenty of fluff to aspire to and to identify with even though this mimetic process is just part of mimetic desire. Advertisers use this a lot. The masses don’t know what they want. Individuals will imitate others in order to find a sense of what they want. We begin to desire what others desire and we learn to imitate those desires to make meaning in our lives and to belong. These are trends folks. It’s part of the human experience. Keep that in mind the next time you suddenly find yourself following a trend that you keep seeing “around”. #plantparent #aroids
I still think that we’re getting better at this, but then again, I’m not quite sure how I feel about being a woman right now. Media literary really needs to be more of a thing and I think we’re realizing that slowly.
3) “But you look too exotic to be descended from white people from the South.”
If you’ve ever looked at anyone and decided that they’re white after they’ve told you that they identify with another “darker” group (that they’re part of), or if you’ve ever asked someone “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” because they don’t look totally white, then you’ve crossed that line. I’ve spent my whole life being judged by people who apparently know more, or better than I do, about my own identity. Just stop.
Luckily it’s a lot better now in Oregon, but old people said dumb things to me when I was a kid. I’d forgotten about that until I went to the South. When an old man said the quote above to me, it brought back horrible memories of my childhood and how I felt ugly and not quite white enough. No one deserves to feel that way.
And yes, some of these people have worked in the same field as myself.
According to one local professional gardener I supposedly would “get along great” with her neighbors who were privileged white folks who had a second home in Tuscany.
Uhh, Captain Obvious here but, I can barely afford to travel and my culture is not the same as two Americans with no family living there as expats. (Ahhhh privilege. But what the hell do I know!?!) Oh and Sicilians are JUST LIKE Tuscans. Totally.
So long as I have people calling me “exotic” because I’m not quite white, that says we as a nation have some issues with prejudice. Two sides of my family stretch back to BEFORE the American Revolution, and yet, I love my Sicilian heritage because that family is NOT the one that treated us badly for being mixed. Yes, I’m descended from some of the whites from the South who came to Oregon to make this a slave state, and it’s complicated for me. Part of me actually LOVES the American South, but it’s complicated. I love my Italian heritage since it’s what was safe for me to know. I didn’t grow up with a lot of my other family around at all.
And neither I, nor anyone else, need not ever explain that to you.
4) Buzzwords like “Colonialism”
Before you go after my friend on Instagram for posting a photo with a palm tree in Portland, check your history. Online activism (and fanaticism) has run rampant and armchair activism is not exactly helpful. I mean seriously people, look at what’s going on while you’ve had your phones glued to your people paws all day long.
While I’m very much a liberal, and I love my native plants and likely know a lot more about them here in Oregon than the average online troll, I also know that not all plants were STOLEN. Believe it or not but there was this thing called the Silk Road, and once there was the Venetian Empire. They TRADED for plants. They did in Ancient Rome too. Not everything which is moved around is based upon Colonialist behavior. Here in the Americas it’s a different story, yes, but when you’re bitching at my friend for posting a Trachycarpus and you’re a millennial who is wasting jet fuel living your bicoastal life between Manhattan and Los Angeles you need to check yourself before you post.
Maybe next time you should read up on Asian-American history in California, Oregon and Washington and find out more about the history of nurseries here. What if these plants were introduced and sold by immigrants? People brought plants (on their own) from Asia too. My family brought a fig tree cutting with them from Sicily so that they could have food to eat and sell. Many immigrants brought plants here as a way to try and survive. It’s cute how angry and self-righteous you can be when you’re trying to harass and “call out” someone with a lot more followers than you have, but in so doing, you’re simplifying a complex and sometimes beautiful history of many peoples. No, I am NOT an apologist, I’m just trying to be a bit more rational. I’m a descendant of the Moors and the Spanish Inquisition so don’t even try your Colonialism bs with me.
Know your history! Do your research! And the world cannot be saved by replanting everything everywhere with native plants! My family farmed on that island called Manhattan. As much as I’d love to tell you to “get off my lawn” so that we can give it all back, I can think of a lot more pro-active ways to be using my free time while I’m at home.
5) Status: the haves, the haves a lot less, and the have nots
Plant snobs. Rich people. Estate gardens. Botanical gardens with deep pockets and “tradition”. Aspirational gardening. Plant groups that focus more on status and travel than actual plants. This is my world.
I knew this going into my jobs, but when I work, I think about the great people, the supportive kind ones, the people who are plant people community builders, who care about plant communities and conservation. I think about the people who genuinely are building better gardens, responsibly. Most of all, I think of the horticulturists and botanical experts who just study and know the plants well and how and where they grow, and how to grow them best. Many of us learn our pests and diseases well. We’re nerds. We’re professionals. I’m proud of what I do.
But, outside of plant professionals, I’m the help. I should just shut up and make plants for the wealthy. Believe it or not, but I get treated this way a lot and it sucks. I’ve already voiced how poorly I’ve been treated at work in the past, and those individuals should be ashamed. But the garden is classist for many folks. It always has been. Think long and hard about the origins of “real estate” and consider the Western estates of the realm.
Once again, it’s just entitlement. Many of us are truly just serfs at heart but we pretend otherwise. While I have said aspirational, I can insert some of us are just pretentious.
I wish it were not so but to own land is a privilege. For some, they flaunt this powerful status symbol and demand esteem for their gardens. Sure, I get that you worked hard for what you have, but your “issues” are not welcome in my life and I don’t want to waste my time bowing down to you.
But at heart I’m a bit feral and a pagan so I just don’t get a lot out of they system to which many subscribe. Luckily, I’m privileged enough to state that I can do that and I’m grateful for the help I’ve been given by my family.
Kind of funny too how few Americans know anything at all about the estate system and yet it has a lot to do with what we’re living through right now as a nation. I wish we had legislators and leaders who actually talked about issues with some kind of historical content or factual truth but we get sound bites and lots of idiots pounding their chest (and robes) like the proselytizing freaks that they’ve become.
6) Keep the politics out of the garden—throwing the dirt at one another
Yet another perspective on privilege comes from this attitude. Interestingly, many of the greatest gardens all over the world were created to show strength, power, knowledge, and intelligence.
Don’t tell me that we’re not political when we garden. Every choice that we make, from being an organic gardener to being obsessed with our lawns says a lot about our politics and our beliefs whether we like it or not. Through our gardens we often show the world around us the values which matter to us.
We want to keep traditions, or we want to break with them. It is all political but it doesn’t have to be—so long as we’re present and aware. Mindfulness can help a lot in this sense.
Gardens can be therapeutic too. I tend to think much more about this but don’t be deceived by your own anxiety. Arranging and rearranging to assuage your anxiety is not exactly therapeutic to anyone other than yourself. I grew up in that kind of environment and it was more traumatic to me as a child, but that experience has deeply informed my awareness as a horticulturist.
7) Yes, I birth the plants
Ok, maybe not exactly like this, but I’m pro-choice, and I’ve grown a lot of plants from seed. This includes sporing ferns—just not this one.
As a young woman in her early 20s I had an abortion. The father was a man I loved, and always will. He was my college sweetheart, the son of Christian missionaries, but we couldn’t be parents when I was on medications that would have given us a special needs bundle of joy. Years later I discovered I could have died if I’d remained pregnant since my swelling disease was not yet diagnosed. I made the right choice.
I do not regret my choice. It has been difficult enough having lost my health and my professional future at that age. I can only love the person that I was then, and embrace her now in my memory of that time. It is enough. I was enough. I am enough.
While I will always be sad about not being able to have children, my situation was my own. It made my parents think long and hard about their religious beliefs, and they were pro-life for me, since I was their daughter, and at the time I was physically not well. We made the right choice for our family.
But like many people in horticulture, many of us LGBTQ+ types, I’m still a nurturer, I’m an aunt, and I very much love and respect all life. To think otherwise is asinine.
And unlike many hypocritical religious citizens who feel that they have the right to force their beliefs on others rather than respecting our difference of opinion, I have been a foster parent. While I don’t want to inflict those judgmental zealots on the most vulnerable population in our nation, I know for a fact that they already do not want to help the children already living in our foster care system.
It’s just devastating to have slid backwards like we have as a nation.
8) Groups of White Male Planthunters or Otherwise
Just stop. Please. Check yourselves at the door and get some diversity in there. You are people in positions of power and leadership. If you’re in a group pic, and you notice that the only BIPOC folks are locals you’ve hired to carry your stuff and show you around, just DON’T. If you have the power to be representing this field for ALL OF US, then represent ALL OF US. If you don’t feel that there is enough diversity, then make it YOUR LEGACY to make a difference to change that.
Sure, a photo of a group of white men may have made the rounds on social media not long ago, and ok, some of them may have been gay, but I expect more from them.
When women commented about where are the plantswomen and the public garden stated that they would post their pic too if a group of them showed up it was another embarrassing moment for public gardens in this country. Any public garden administrator should know better and I hope that whomever deals with that account was given some training and that the garden rectifies and redeems itself by encouraging a more diverse field of BIPOC and female plantspeople.
I see photos of overseas trips and cringe. If you can’t see the nineteenth-century look to most of these images, then you’re part of the problem and not the solution. I know that other leaders will come forward, but many men have the opportunity now to make changes. Just by saying this I’m speaking for many others who fear speaking out. Doesn’t that say something? Can’t we set a better example? Isn’t that what leaders do?
Yes, I understand funding. I know about the history of white female heiresses acting as patrons. They loved to live vicariously through the adventurous males of yesteryear. Oh to be great white saviors!
Maybe we could just embrace this as having happened and talk more openly about moving forward in a more constructive direction. Sure, patronage still goes on, but a bit of transparency and honesty can go a LONG way.
9) Listen more, but use caution
While I’m known to be chatty, I love to listen and learn. As a woman, I’ve come to better understand how that can make me appear passive. It has allowed others to think I’m more pliable than I actually am. Maybe they see me as even more agreeable. A woman recently over-identified with me and seemed to become quite upset when I didn’t react to her request the way she obviously assumed that I would. I read and reread the exchange and her authoritative assumptions. I didn’t respond at all as she had wanted. It did not end well and I feel sorry for how she decided to behave.
Yet if I’d been a man. If I hadn’t been the help. Dear universe, I’m so sorry that I didn’t just put all of my life on hold for a request from someone I don’t know.
There is gatekeeping occurring. I suppose many are well-meaning liberals but the self-righteousness insistence that we be the inheritors of their ever-so-amazing legacy is kind of painful.
My generation, and those younger than myself, are being left with a cultural dumpster fire. If we’re not willing to operate in the same way, aspiring to an imaginary and generationally self-imposed way of doing things, than we are somehow ungrateful shits.
Listen more. Accept the way things are more—even if you don’t like them. Change is the way of life. We are not the inheritors of your great legacies. Please stop putting that on us and listen to what we want and what is happening to so many of us. Lift us up. Share more with us, but please acknowledge and accept, times have changed and our lives are NOT like yours.
Difference, diversity, AND adversity can all be wonderful and nourishing things. The constant call to “sameness” honestly freaks me out. Don’t place that anxiety onto us. We have enough going on already.
10) Appropriation and Otherwise
A few years ago I attended an Open Garden tour in a more rural part of the PNW. It was put on by the Master Gardeners in that area, and that program is overseen by a larger group that’s statewide. I’m not one to really complain on tours since I know how difficult they are to arrange, but in this case, I wrote a letter. I was that white woman who wrote that letter.
As someone who loves her region, and is more than aware of our history of racism, this garden ornament was one which I suggested could have been removed whilst the public was present. Controversial pieces chosen in private garden by their owners are fine, but as gardeners, many of us are often trying to seek more diversity and to be more welcome, and this sort of thing was not noticed before inviting us all in. I was disappointed by this.
With family who lived in this area, this embarrassed me. I knew how unwelcoming this would be to many of my friends, so I spoke up. Maybe the group was just kind to me, but in the end, they agreed that walk-throughs would be done in the future with more sensitivity towards inclusion.
Be the change.
Aspire to more.
Check your anxiety.
Give without strings attached.
Stop assuming that we all have the same life experiences, and better still, stop using the garden and your love of plants to silence others. We all belong in the garden, each and every one of us, even the ungrateful little foulmouthed shits.
Last week there was no post so I’m doing two this week. Why was I so busy?
Well, it was a combination of working and meeting a lot of new people. I had to be alert and aware. (Usually I just get into the groove and start making more plants.)
We had a tour through the American Public Gardens Association 2022 Conference , a green-carpet party for a botanical garden project, oh, and then there was this massive crevice garden installation. I did nothing but chat with the builders, but we had some great conversations and all three are people I’ve wanted to meet so it was a lot all at once!
Kenton and I have a mutual friend in Panayoti Kelaidis, and when I visited Denver last year I was escorted by Panayoti to see one of Kenton’s great builds.
So in a sense, I’d done my homework before they arrived, but I was nervous. Rock gardens, alpine gardens, and crevice gardens all kind of make me nervous, but of course we hit it off. Besides, Baldassare Mineo, my good friend, is also a hero of theirs. I can’t imagine the connection. (Wink, wink.) Yes, he wrote a book that inspired both of them. Surprise! Surprise!
At heart, I’m one of their people, but sadly, my body has kept me from building anything. Luckily I have troughs for my plants, but after last week, I will try harder.
Luckily I was able to purchase a copy of their book during their visit and I highly recommend that you do so as well. You can pre-order the book here—or wherever you chose to purchase your books online.
It is a great book and you will not regret it!!!
The third builder was Jeremy Schmidt, but in a way, he was the first. I cannot remember how it all began, but he was involved, and clearly Sean Hogan was too since it’s at Cistus Nursery. Jeremy built and maintains the largest crevice garden in the world (as Kenton called it) that he’s been in charge of at Plant Delights Nursery for some time now.
I’ve not yet seen it, but am happy that I’ll be visiting there soon. Hopefully after that visit I’ll have more to say about the space. There is much for me to learn in North Carolina, and I look forward to that.
Jeremy, like the other two, is an amazing guy. Like Kenton and Paul, I wish he lived closer, but we’ll all stay in touch now. It was an honor to have met them. We had some great conversations and they left me thinking about so many things. I love it when I have my mind tickled like that.
It’s one thing to make one new friend at an event with plant peeps, but to say I made three new friends is an understatement. Last week really was an amazing learning experience and plant cultural exchange.
This is a funny realization but the crevice garden touches me to my green core. I came into my being, into my “self” in a rockery. My first memories are of a rockery. Mom built a huge one, and while it wasn’t filled with rockery and alpine plants, I somehow figured out as a child what it was intended to be, what its potential was, and in my mind, I redesigned and planted it in my mind as a girl.
It’s kind of funny no one thought to show me around the plant world more, but I did NOT have helicopter parents. Luckily I was allowed to be a feral child so I figured a lot out and when I was 14 I announced one night that I wanted to go backpacking to climb a mountain. I’m not sure how we found the program that helped me to do this, but by the time I was 18, I’d already done quite a bit of hiking and backpacking. It’s how I learned about plants in the wild (at least here) and I observed their growing conditions—as one does.
Since I wasn’t allowed to garden at home much as a kid, and my curiosity ran deep into ecology and plant systems, I’ve been paying attention to how and where plants grow for decades. To masterfully achieve a crevice garden, this kind of observation is key.
I would not complain at all to have a giant crevice garden at home, but as Kenton told me, “We’re building you a Cadillac. You get to be one of the people who drives it.”
As a propagator at the nursery, it will be an honor to get to know the plants better. And as for the Cadillac, I bet Kenton says that to all of us old plant ladies.
When I started college I studied biology and I’d planned to keep climbing mountains. My body began to betray me. While I wanted to be outdoors in the wilderness doing studies, my body, heart and mind struggled.
The last mountain I hiked up was Mt. St. Helen’s and it’s also when my swelling disease flared up for the first time.
And yet, it took about 8 more years before I found out why the backs of my legs had turned purple that day and my blood vessels had behaved badly.
I know now, but the trauma of illness and the PTSD I still live with of having failed at a goal that would have led me down a different path makes me deeply sad. I still can’t hike well, and after going uphill a bit during the past weekend while hiking with the gang, I had pain and swelling that worried me this week, but I want to keep pushing myself to see if I can do more.
This crevice garden will be a reminder to me—and others—of escapes to other environs. Different continents are represented and Sean will have many of his collections mixed in once he’s finished planting it up.
I can look at the plants from far-flung locations and feel transported again away from here. Even if I didn’t collect the plants, I will learn more about where they came from and I will appreciate how they survive. This will help us to provide pertinent growing information too.
I’ve not participated in NARGS a lot since I’m pretty tapped out when it comes to free time and plant societies, but I will keep going with my plant propagation and will order seeds from them. NARGS rocks lol and if you’re interested in all of this, I suggest looking for a chapter in operation near you. Plant societies are important repositories of information and are a wonderful way to become more involved in the plant world if you’re lucky enough to do something else for a living in order to support yourself and pay the bills. If you can, give back to the world and volunteer.
I recommend that you be inspired by all of this too.
Learn about how to better plant those nooks and crannies in your life.
But most importantly, buy the book and learn more about NARGS and the many pleasures of dabbling in a different plant palette.
It’s difficult to keep up with tasks in the garden at home while working so much. Owning what feels like thousands upon thousands of plants I just can’t keep up. I sometimes feel like an ill-fated character in a Charles Dickens novel. What’s the moral of this tale? Why am I doing this? I dunno. By the time I get to this point I’ve fallen into hysterical laughter.
I know I have a lot of friends who love to live this crazy life.
Maybe you’re one of us too?
What wrong did I do to deserve all of these weeds? Why are we swimming through spring to summer? Why? Why? Why?
At least I’m getting to some pruning. And I am removing and cutting back hard. Limbs from trees and shrubs are being cut. Gardening is maintenance but with an eye toward careful artful pruning. But you must be patient for things to grow. So many great plants take much patience.
But weeding… Oh I curse the heavens!!! I shake my small swollen arthritic and lightly clenched fists at you!!!
Some parts of the garden are much better though, and as things grow, I’m really happy.
Part of that happiness comes from having made decisions. So much stress comes from worry. Life is short. Make a decision and make it happen. If it’s the wrong choice, choose again.
A happy plant this year is one that I wasn’t sure about how to plant. I had a few and the pretty one below is the one that made its mark on me. I can’t get enough of it. It’s taken some time to get to this size. Geranium palmatum is only hardy down to zone 8 so not all of you can grow it. This took a few years to look this stunning. (You can’t bring this one in easily to protect it.)