Unintentional February Break—Part Two (The Deep Dive)


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…

Not the most lovely specimen, but it’s an old hybrid that I inherited from someone and I look forward to it getting larger. I need to propagate it soon but it’s not yet bloomed. (Begonia ‘Tewksbury Red Compta’, introduced in 1940.)

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.

Sitting in the NE corner of the back garden taking it all in at the start of the month. This space will be changing quite a bit soon. I want it in top form. It’s time.

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.

Felix was able to get out and see people a few weekends ago. He really misses being social and going places. As it warms up, he’ll do a few more nursery visits with me.

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.

As one friend moves away from the PNW, another one is about to arrive. One evening recently I had dinner with these two goofballs. While I’m a bit older, thankfully I’m not old enough to be a parent to either of them. (L to R: Caleb, me, Evan)

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.

Nothing like discovering the rare Nesocodon mauritianus in a greenhouse at work. I vaguely remembered it being dropped off, but forgot who’d brought them to us. Am happy we’re going to try for seeds now to propagate more of them.

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…

Carving out a bit of a work space for me at work. While my desk is truly at home in my office, it’s nice to have this space, along with another in Plant Parenthood where I share space and work with Kris and Sean.

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!

Speaking of my coworker Kris, the primary propagator of all things cuttings related at Cistus, have I mentioned yet how much he cracks me up? As a fairly serious dork, I need this stuff in my life. Even Lando Calrissian apparently knows we’re “hott”.

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.

Happy Blogoversary to Amateur Bot-ann-ist!!!


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.

Abutilon ‘Chance Encounter’, my chance seedling we selected out at Cistus Nursery. This sweetheart put on a few more blooms this week. Next year she’ll go into the ground.

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.

Begonia valida with Pelargonium ‘Distinction’. This is still one of my personal favorite combinations.

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.)