Working at Cistus Nursery—An Introduction

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IMG_5295My job at Cistus Nursery started on September 26 of last year. Since then I’ve worked there one day per week (every single week) and I’m genuinely excited to see my 1-year anniversary up ahead. Owner (and friend) Sean Hogan asked me to join the team last August to work solely with seeds and I was more than happy to join as a propagator. In all honesty, it’s my first nursery gig, and for the most part, I knew what I was doing going into this but I’ve also learned so much and am grateful for this unique opportunity I’ve been given. IMG_6045One thing that’s remained constant over the years has been my love of and interest in seeds and their importance in our world. For many years I ignored the urge to embrace them fully (having swapped biology for art history in college because of a boy) but collecting and sowing seeds creates a kind of diversity in our natural world which can’t be beat. Obviously I dropped the boy (ok, he dropped me) but eventually I got back on track and have ended up right where I needed to be in the first place. IMG_5373Nowadays I’m transplanting seeds I sowed in the fall and winter while propagating annuals and succulents around the nursery. The other member of the propagation crew (other than Sean) is in charge of the more serious cuttings and he’s also the one who deals with collections Sean has made himself in the wild or otherwise.

If you’re unaware of what the nursery is known for, Arctostphylos are kind of our thing but we also have thousands of other rare and unusual plants along with some comfortable familiar ones.

Personally, I’m rather fond of the Pelergonium collection so have been learning to take cuttings of them by selecting ones we should make more of and watching over them as they grow.

IMG_3789In addition to the propagation I’ve been taking photos around the place to share on Instagram. This is one of the Arctostaphylos plants we have but I cannot recall which one. I’m horrible when it comes to their ID. I just cannot wrap my brain around them all.

But I’ve now germinated them from seed and my babies are growing well. Not everyone can say that and I have to say I’m proud of that accomplishment. Germinating seeds makes me so happy. Have I gotten that across yet?

IMG_4217Sometimes I see the most amazing combinations as I go from one spot to another in the nursery. We have more than a handful of greenhouses.

Seen here is a Corokia x virgata ‘Orangerie’ intertwining with Clematis x cartmanii ‘Joe’. Aren’t they just lovely together?IMG_3787Other times I find things that are just a mystery to me. Since this one is rare even in its native range I didn’t beat myself up too much because of my ignorance. Seen it before? Maybe? Well, if not, and if you’re like me, you might need help. This is Neviusia alabamensis or Alabama snow-wreath.

IMG_5730.jpgIt’s a lot of hard working at a nursery but if you love plants it’s worth the effort. Cistus Nursery is a fun place to spend my time and it’s truly a place to learn about plants. It feels like a plant library most days—and I’m just talking about the back greenhouses! Just walking through our retail area is enough for most folks.

That’s one of the reasons I kept this first post about my job as Cistus “Seedstress” rather simple. I don’t want to overwhelm and bore you with the details. I will try very hard to post more about the joys of working there as time goes on but for now, this is just a little introduction.

If you haven’t been there before, come check the place out. If you have been there, come see us again—over and over. I can assure you that there is always something different to see.

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Each week I’ve been returning home after work, being dropped off by my friend and co-worker Alex, and these two are waiting for me in the front window. I do what I can to bring home some kibble.

Thanks for dropping in and reading my post!

Xera Nursery Fall Fundraiser and Open House

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Sometimes one feels like a kid in a candy store. This was one of those times.

The sale is over at Xera Plants but I made it at least. This isn’t meant in a snarky way, I’m just surprised I had the energy to go! (September was quite an active month for me and I was really drained from all the activities.)

Sorry to have not posted anything about this pre-sale, but so it goes. (This is a wholesale nursery that’s not frequently open to the public so whenever they open their doors it’s quite a treat!)

Yes, I am posting this after the fact but at least this was something I attended within the last week! (Oh, just wait until my backlog begins to appear soon!)

Crepe Myrtle ‘Wichita’, (Lagerstroemia ‘Wichita’).
For a bit of a change I took my landscaper friend with me and we both enjoyed the break even though we were exhausted before we’d even left.
Polka Dot Begonia, (Begonia maculata).

Introducing my friend to a few new contacts at the nursery was fun, and besides, who among us doesn’t really just enjoy looking at plants?

Buddleja colvilei ‘Kew Form’.

This form of Buddleja really surprised us both and the blooms were different. If it hadn’t been for its leaves I’m not sure we would have been able to identify the shrub. That’s what tags are for though…

An Arctostaphylos treated as a standard.

And just look at the bark on this beautiful topiary! I could stare at it for days, months, years.

Parrot Plant, (Impatiens niamniamensis).

Ok, since I’m always bad about posting my purchases, I will do so this time. First up was a replacement Impatiens. Yes, I know it’s getting cold out and that this plant won’t be happy soon out in the cold but I should remind those of you who’re new to this blog that I have a lot of plant lights and I spend all winter in a house filled with lights and plants. It’s not such a horrible way to live and even people who don’t garden as much as I do love to visit.

I bought a Polka Dot Begonia and another Begonia luxurians too. The latter was also a replacement plant. (Yes, some plants were neglected during the separation and divorce process. I felt badly about this, but it has been worth it in the long run.)

Fig tree, (Ficus afghanistanica).

This little fig tree was a nice find. It’s a compact form and quite cold hardy so it may end up living in a container although I plan to plant it before winter sets in around here. (If I do chose to move, this one is going with me.)

My sad fig situation this year.

I was sad that my little fig tree wasn’t very productive this year but our weather has been so strange. It’s been sunny and warm for weeks now and we’ve had so little rain. It’s October and I still have to water! I should be baking with apples right now!

(Yes, I would have bought more if I could have, but not knowing where I will be this time next year means that I have to really curtail my plant purchases to those which can be transported easily to wherever I land. I do love Xera Plants a lot though and I hope that in the future when I am more settled I will be able to add more of their special plants to my garden.)

The studio/garage.

In other news, during my recent birthday party—while hanging out in the hammock—an old friend had a bright idea. Later that night he wrote to me and asked: “Have you ever thought about renting out your garage as an art studio?” I took a deep breath before writing back to let him know that when I first saw this house for sale online it was the detached semi-finished former garage space that excited me most. I very much wanted to make it into some kind of studio but we could never do so.

So, if my garden and I are going to grow on in time, it somehow seems quite fitting to let that initial thought I’d had so long ago—a little spark I’d sent out into the world—come full circle. I hope that allowing a gifted and very talented young artist to set fire to his own creativity back there with his brushes and imaginative energy will help to propel me forward. Besides, it means I get to add some plant life back into the space over the winter.

An artist needs inspiration, right? Let it be green…

What’s Your Botanical Learning Style?

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I’d wanted to have a nice long post for today, but my brain is really, seriously, quite tired. Right now I should be sleeping, but instead, I am up and exhausted from staying up late to read more and more about plants. You see, I have a long drive home now, and there are more plants to come, in different kinds of places, that have different kinds of ecosystems, and already, my brain and eyes are spinning because of plants—but not really. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here writing this post.
Looking at the wine grapes took work since I wish I could identify the different kinds just by looking at them, but I am not that talented. This shouldn’t stress me out, but it does. Right now I don’t have the energy to begin learning about any other plants since I am still being overwhelmed with the native plants of California!
Here’s a good example. Entering into this native ancient oak grove truly blew me away. The side effect though is that I have a lot more to read now. I love to go on vacation but it is so odd to return home with homework. (This was near the top when I climbed Mt. Konocti with our friend Tom.)
After that shock to the botanical senses, before we reached the peak, we were able to look out and see Mt. St. Helena in Napa. (It’s the flat-headed mountain out there near the center of the picture.) It was hard for me to believe we could see it, but we could.
Identifying plants along the way became more complicated that day, but I was really happy to have found this Cirsium occidentale. I knew what it was immediately, but I have so many more plants to memorize before I walk through the chaparral of Lake County, CA again. Everything is simply too new to me here still.
While I went off to explore each day my husband had to work. The grapes need to be harvested and processed quickly so that nothing sits around in the heat for long. It is strange to come back to your spouse as they work at a job you’ve never actually seen them do. I’ve heard about the whole process for years, but seeing it was like seeing someone new who I didn’t totally know. When he works the field, pruning and planting new vines, I understand that, but this part was new to me even though it’s similar to a popular activity in the NW called, “beer brewing.”
Right now you may be wondering about my relationship to our famous Oregon Pinot Noir, but I have never been interested in the whole lifestyle it entails in my state due to the cult of the grape that began in the 1970s when I was a girl. It has always seemed somewhat foreign to our region, and yes, Californian. Oddly enough, we don’t have a native grape vine the way California does and I think that’s telling in a way. Wine really fits into the landscape here in a way that it doesn’t in Oregon. That’s just my opinion, and I know it tastes great, but it has altered Oregon in a funny way. (I know, hops aren’t native either, but at least they seem to fit in well and they grow so well in the Willamette Valley.)
So, back to plants, on another day I drove about 80 miles into a very remote area of Lake County by myself. (You can see the road along the ridge in the picture. It’s the wavy line and it was amazing to drive along!) This may not have been the wisest decision, but it made me feel brave.
From that remote area I could look over at Mt. Konocti again and ponder how I could have ever climbed to the top! Oddly enough though I felt safe-ish as I ventured deeper into the wilderness since I could hear a lot of traffic in the air flying over the Mendocino National Forest. This is harvest season after all and I think many of you know exactly what the Feds were looking for at this time of the year.
A few days ago I landed back in San Francisco before heading south to the burbs. Seeing 1/8 or so of the San Francisco Botanical Garden was another amazing and yet visually confusing mess. I am still recovering from that walk but maybe after I visit it again once or twice a year for 10 years I’ll know all of the plants! (Bromeliads grow there “wherever”.)
I wish I could wander the streets of San Francisco just looking for these amazing little gardens. I had never seen a  Standard Fuchsia tree quite like this one before and it truly surprised me too. The streets of San Francisco are so rich with flora year-round.

So as I drive home, I will endeavor to keep my eyeballs straight and not to tire myself out with all of this seeing and looking but that’s truly how I memorize plants and I put a lot of energy into it. Today’s Halloween though, and it’s the day I head north again, so wish me luck as I enter back into the sphere of plant life I am familiar with already. I have a lifetime to learn about Californian plants and I will just have to accept that it will take that long to learn them.

Greetings from an Amateur Botanist in CA

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Leading up to this trip I didn’t say much. I’ve had a lot on my mind, and additionally, my broken finger recovering took a slide due to my swelling disease. Coaxing them both back into splints was all we could do and it really slowed me down again.
The Rogue River in Southern Oregon.

Just a few days ago I drove down to California alone, to see my husband and to witness the wine harvest and crush for the first time. It’s the least I could do as his wife and it was my birthday gift to him. I had to be brave to drive I-5 alone and to stay in a yurt right off the highway when virtually few others were doing so. Driving the whole 10 hours in a day—by myself—was just not possible. The two-day drive was amazing!

Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis, in a rest stop near Lake Shasta.
Arctostaphylos in a rest stop near Mt. Shasta.

As for botanizing, my main goal during this trip is to more deeply familiarize myself with the native flora in the chaparral of California. I will be doing some coastal exploration too, but most of my activities will be centered around Lake County where my husband is during the growing season.

While stopping in Redding to visit McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Garden I caught some folks fishing for salmon in the Sacramento River. The flyfisherman who’d waded all the way out in the riffles was fun to watch but I was disappointed that he didn’t know how to cast. (Sometime I will have my husband take a picture of me casting. It’s the only fishing skill I retained from my upbringing.)

After Redding I drove south toward Sacramento and San Francisco before heading west on Hwy 20 into Lake County, CA. From the point on, I was far happier with the gorgeous scenery.

When I arrived, he hopped up the ladder and began to punch down the fermenting grapes in the tank. I have to say, it was impressive and the smell was incredible. It was both good and bad at the same time!

I looked at the color of the grapes, took the picture, and then as I was on the ladder I laughed when I noticed the labels on the tank.

When he finished we walked through the olive orchard.

We were both surprised that the pomegranate tree had actually produced this year despite the funny weather.

Then he showed me what the weather had done to some of the grapes. With the heavy rains and low temperatures we’ve had this season all along the West Coast, you’re going to get some rotten grapes. This is what they can look like and you just have to let them go.

And this is what grapes in a vineyard look like when they’re not pruned. This row was going to be grafted with something else but when the time to do so passed because the weather wasn’t right, they just let the grapes go. It’s only one row, but it really shows you how much pruning is necessary to make all the vineyards look so pretty. They really prune to improve the air and sun exposure for the grapes and to ensure that they have consistency in overall quality and quantity. The whole process is really interesting to me.

While we perambulated, we were being watched. I shot this picture and admired Mt Konocti behind the mighty raptor. That’s because at that moment, I had not yet climbed to its top. Tomorrow, I’ll let you know how that went because right now, I’m off to collect some more plant materials just north of here…