Houseplant Count #6-7

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My interest in writing about houseplants diminished quite a bit after my initial post. It is daunting to consider how long it will take me to write through all of the ones that I own and care for now. Part of me is embarrassed by the amount of time required to care for this many tender plants. Another part of myself hates working so much with plants only to return home to play with more. All of this has led me to consider what kind of balance I need, and I’m working on it.

First and foremost I’m a plant geek with a strong sense of curiosity about the life of my plants. My houseplants are not for show necessarily, or even for decorating my home. Even if I have a specimen plant, you won’t find me calling it that. Plants feed my curiosity, and give me pleasure. I study and learn from them. Many people can identify with me, but is it a compulsion, an unhealthy obsession? Are many of us currently addicted to plants? I don’t know about others, but I do know that in part, my many plants stem from my not having been able to have children. Many have speculated that a need to nurture something is why indoor plants are so popular right now, but I’m not thoroughly convinced. I believe that for each of us, we all have our own complicated reasons, and for many, those reasons are personal.

Gardeners have buried their sadness in the ground for ages, and while my life has grown exponentially more wonderful in the last decade, I still tend to harbor a melancholy that’s best left tilled silently with my sore fingers into my plants here at home. My only compulsion is this act of burying and putting things to rest. I find closure and growth again and again. If I’m addicted to anything, it’s to the regular nature, the steady rhythm, the beating drum of the growth cycle. I’m a propagator, a horticulturist, and I find comfort in the assuredness of the lifecycle, the death and rebirth through the seasons. Houseplants for me are the wildcard, my steady friends, the plants that are not living naturally their best lives and they NEED me. They need my extra input, my help, in order to survive.

Plant hoarding exists and during my adult life I know that I have been a hoarder. My maternal grandmother was a serious hoarder, and my mother has issues with it as well. I was always the organized one tossing and sorting, sorting and tossing. When I became very ill, I started to hoard but didn’t realize it for many years. I saved far too many things for projects I would “get to” but was physically unable to do any of them. Only recently am I finally tackling the basement. The basement and the Seed Studio have always been the worst areas. Losing family, I over-inherited a lot of family objects. During my first marriage, I hoarded because I was in a marriage that was one-sided. I was told that I was loved for nearly a decade, but I knew in my heart it wasn’t true, and then he walked out one day and essentially told me he had finally realized he’d never loved me. I was crazily angry and raging. I wasted those years, knowingly living a lie, and then I looked at the hoarding around me. It has been a slow process to reverse that damage.

So many things had been accumulated by my anxiety because I was in a bad relationship. I’m not a psychologist, but from what I understand, I was surrounding myself, protecting myself, blocking myself off from the reality I did not want to face. It was emotionally too painful. Once he was gone though, it all stopped, and the clouds lifted. I had surrounded myself with a jungle of plants though, and it was my green armor, a shield, my scout badge, a status symbol.

Indoor plants now live in the spaces where I hoarded and stashed so many piles of things. It is taking time to get groups of plants setup in pretty vignettes so that’s why I only have two to talk about this week. My aim for months now has been to brighten these emotionally raw spaces with less stuff. I plan to fill more space in my home with happy and healthy well-grown plants from my collection. Honestly, I can’t imagine a better project to complete during a pandemic that has caused all of us to feel so isolated. I am aiming to connect in the only way that I can.

And if you’ve reached this point and are confused and befuddled by my TMI than remember that I’m a writer who it fond of breaking the rules, and I’m a gardener who is more than aware that these plants exist here, in my home, because of a strange human need to care for and collect them. That human need to possess and collect is part of their existence, and there is no reason why I shouldn’t describe (in detail) that relationship and arrangement between the plants and I. Plants are a commodity and are twisted into so many things thanks to our need to do so. Let’s just be very open about that.

While I may be the current leader of a local chapter affiliated with the Gesneriad Society that does not mean that I’m an expert grower of all gesneriads. (I don’t even know all of them.) While I can grow many well now, it has taken time. I still have A LOT to learn though and I enjoy the act of this plant practice. Gesneriads are tricky to grow, but if you’re in a chapter with others, they’re very easy to collect. We share plants, our growing experiences, and our losses. I have long joked that I’m terrible with Streptocarpus, and I have been, but I vowed to master them next and so far I’m doing better.

Streptocarpus ‘Bethan’

Houseplant #6: Streptocarpus ‘Bethan’

Once again I’m uncertain as to where my Streptocarpus ‘Bethan’ came from but I think it was a gift from my friend Evan aka the Practical Plant Geek. I believe it was given to me during a plant purge and that I was told something about the ease of its care. Well, this plant was tended to, potted up, and then this happened. I think it is an easy-to-grow Strep and I would recommend it to beginners. Like all good Streps, the blooms lasted for a very long time.

Bred by Dibleys Nurseries in England, this hybrid was introduced in 1995. Part of the joy of belonging to a plant group like the Mt Hood Gesneriad Society is learning about hybridizing. While I have not attempted to hybridize much of anything with purposeful crosses, I hope to eventually. In the meantime, I really just want to learn more about the parentage of plants while giving praise to breeders and voice to the process by which these captivating plants are created.

Streptocarpus ‘Iced Amethyst Showoff’

Houseplant #7: Streptocarpus ‘Iced Amethyst Showoff’

This plant was acquired through the donation of a collection of Streptocarpus from a collector who could no longer keep them. A member from our group took on the donation and cared for them, and before she sold her home and greenhouse she passed them along to us to sell at one of our plant sale fundraisers for the club.

I had grown Streptocarpus ‘Iced Pink Flamingo’ twice and both times the plants had failed to thrive for me. I had given up on the variegated plants but then this one crossed my path so I tried again. I’m so glad I did. This plant is growing in my basement, under lights, and it has a wick watering setup.

I’d avoided setting up a system due to a lack of energy, time and commitment, but it was worth the time. (Yes, I save time and energy now.) Some folks grow their plants over individual reservoirs of water but I’m using a humidity tray with grids so that I can water all of the plants at once. I’m very happy with the results and will include more on what I’m growing using this method in future posts.

Bred by D.Martens/S. Morgan, this plant was introduced in 2002. It’s parents are S. ‘Canterbury Surprise’ x S. ‘Winter Dreams’.

The Cat Crew at Campiello Maurizio

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I’ve been sitting here for hours unsure of what to write about. Last week I was low. This week I’m just emerging slowing into December. I work shorter days in the cold but it is still difficult to recover from once I’m home. My body hates the cold. I’ve also decided to make Italian food each day this month so that has taken a lot of my free time and energy.

What’s left then? The cats of course!

Long ago I found Mona under some bushes in a parking lot at a strip mall when she was a kitten. She was alone and it was a dark and rainy night. She was starving. I think she is around 16 now. Up until this year she liked to be outside a lot, but as of a few months ago, she is now a full-time housecat living in the basement with all of my plants and a lot of privacy. We used to keep her apart from the other 3 because she’s part-feral but she is no longer upset by the younger 3 cats and they all seem to get along.

Her best friend was the cat I named the garden after, Maurice, and he passed away several years ago now. Just before he passed away here at home, they spent his last few hours together in the garden. I’m still too sad to post the photo, but the garden is no longer hers. She has passed it on to the younger three.

LuLu is 5 now. I bought her off of the internet. She’s part small ferocious barn cat, part Turkish Angora, part linebacker, and part diva. She rules with an iron paw, will beat up the boys for treats, and she likes to have her lion cuts done at the cat spa. She has very soft hair and it gets into knots easily. She hates to be combed, she dislikes being held, she hates this, she won’t tolerate that, but overall, she knows she’s incredibly pretty so that’s all that matters.

Did I mention that Piggy is difficult? Did that come through clearly? She loves to snap her tail around and catnip makes her go psycho, but each night she grooms my chin and curls up under the blankets right next to me or above my head on her pillow. She’s our angel.

It feels odd introducing Felix. He is 4 and has a huge personality. He was hand raised and this makes him different. He loves attacking dogs that go by the house, he likes car rides, and he loves attention. He loves people. He wants to be in the action, on the go, in the middle of the noise. He likes to knock things over, eat my food, and keep an eye on me at all times. If I work too much away from home, he pouts. He wants each day to go his way and he will let me know that from the moment when I wake up and put on my pants for the day. He has a huge vocabulary. When he hears the word “work”, you can see his irritation. “I have to go to work today Felix.” Big eyes stare back at me and I can read in them, “Didn’t you do that yesterday? How dare you.”

The baby cat is the baby of the bunch. Oliver is now 3 and he is huge. Beneath the fur he’s rather skinny but he’s huge because he is fluffy and full of love. Oliver is nothing but love. He has a huge heart. First and foremost he loves Felix, but Felix does not return the love, mostly he picks on Oliver. Their relationship is complicated though. The dudes or the boys as we call them are buddies in the garden. Outside they protect the palace. Oliver does most of the protecting though while Felix wanders around his territory. Oliver doesn’t attack though. He flies at things. He has never been in a fight. All he has to do is run at another cat and they run away. His speed and size are intimidating and he is very fast.

In the house he is Snuggie. He loves to snuggle and is an aggressive snuggler. We call him Yoda Bear too. When he was a kitten his ears were so big he could barely hold them up. He looked like baby Yoda and a bear. He even knows that name. I love that cat.

Their first album cover.

Every so often the cats all come together. While this fall and winter season may be challenging, I have this crew to keep me going. I’m good with cats. I am a cat person. Believe it or not I can herd cats. It turns out you just need to give them treats and train them.

The crew with their catnip.

That means grow your own catnip too. All four of them love their catnip plants and I always have 2-3 plants growing year round. It’s another way to keep them in line.

But this cat crew, they’re good.

I think we’ll keep them.