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!

Our Garden Home After 1 Month Away

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It’s always nice to come home. Normally I would have freaked out at the mess in the garden and all the work I needed to do but one month in Italy has performed its magic. My Italian side still has nothing but positive, wonderful, and charming things to say about the place.

“Look at all that green? Where did that come from? It’s fantastic!”

“It looks like a lovely cabin in the woods. Who lives there? I do! What fun!”

And lastly, “Let’s straighten things up and have friends over. We must have something to celebrate, right?”

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Home Sweet Home.

From the plane I’d been able to see roughly where I’d grown up just outside of the city, and then I saw one of the few Italian family farms left in the area. Not too long ago there were so many more and all of the large Italian families in the city had one of their own.

All of this was quite emotional for me. In the space of a generation or two so many had disappeared as Italian-Americans were able to become so many more things because we do have that ability here, or at least we did. Now I’m not so sure about the American Dream, but I know for many of the immigrants in my family, it was real.

Having just returned from Italy were there are so many small farms, it made me sad—but proud too. Oregon is a great place and I am so happy to live here. It’s not always comfortable for me, but overall, after this last trip to Italy, I feel like both of my feet are firmly on the ground now. Funny I find myself wanting to sell produce or plants or even food more and more, but I know exactly where that impulse comes from and I am proud of it.

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Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon.

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Rossi Farms on NE 122nd Avenue. One of the few Italian family farms left in the area.

After passing out for a few days I was able to get up the energy to walk through my garden to see how things were going.

So many of my favorite plants were blooming, and thanks to friends, all of the seedlings were doing great too.

The plane rides had been really hard on me and my swelling was very bad initially but it got better and eventually I saw my doctor and we discussed where I was at concerning my health but I will get to that in another post. I just wanted to emphasize, it really took me several days to get out and walk around and when I did it was quite painful.

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Rosa “Sombreuil”.

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Clematis “Jackmanii”.

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Unknown Dutch Iris.

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Unknown Dutch Iris.

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Rosa “Golden Showers”.

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Rosa rugosa.

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Billbergia nutans, Billbergia Bromeliad, Queen’s-Tears.

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Fave blooms.

The fava bean plants immediately excited me—even though I was in pain. As much as I’d loved being in Italy, I missed my kitchen and while there I’d wished I could have spent more time just hanging out in kitchens watching people cook. I have so much to learn and often feel like a pokey and useless creature but what comes out of my kitchen usually makes me proud. There was so much I didn’t see in one month. There were so many words I didn’t get to hear.

Back home I recommitted myself to cooking more difficult things and I’ve set out to learn more skills.

I also decided that my war on the edible garden is over now. My distaste for my former life is done and I’m ready to move on and I knew I badly need to do the garden renovation dance.

So, during the last week I’ve attacked the front yard with a great gusto, but I have a few big projects to get through before I can say the kitchen garden is up and running as it should be. I am renovating and clearing several areas at the same time with particular goals in mind. Yes, I want more food space, but I also need to dedicate my time and energy to plants which produce seeds I can sell. Maybe I can even get to some plant selection of my own in time. I hope so. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

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LuLu gained a little bit of weight while we were gone. I hate to call her neurotic, but she has her issues. Overeating nervously is one of them. 

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Maurice wanted us to know we were missed. Many stern looks were tossed our way between naps.

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Mona was happy to see me and couldn’t sit still. Even at her age she’s still Miss Wigglesworth.

The cats were happy to see us—as you can see. At first LuLu was in shock and hid from us but she continued to look at us with a pinch-me-is-this-real? look. After a few days we all settled in again. I think that’s in part due to the fact we had a great house sitter who really cared about the cats. Additionally, I think that we have 3 cats now who like one another. Mona getting along with LuLu has been a welcome surprise.

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Sweet souvenir: my new Bialetti.

We brought back a few things from Italy. Since we had to carry everything, I wasn’t feeling quite as generous as I wanted to be but my back survived.

My first gift to myself was this lovely little coffeemaker. Now I can make a quick shot of espresso just for me. Or, I could make one for you, the garden visitor. It works perfectly and makes a great cup of espresso.

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Not sure yet where we will hang this up.

The second gift to ourselves were these terra-cotta pieces for the back garden. We had to have St. Mark’s lion, and for me, well, something more historic.

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I mentioned LuLu is a bit neurotic, right?

That first week after we returned this is what always greeted me when I left the house or when I returned home. She melted my heart all over again. We immediately went on diets together too and I’ve been enforcing strict activity goals for her. Ok, maybe not that strict, but both of us have lost some weight.

Wordless Wednesday: Before the current heat wave it was still springtime…

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Paeonia tenuifolia. 
Unknown Syringa.
Iberis sempervirens. 
Clematis montana var. rubens superba.
Vaccinium ovatum.
Unknown Iris.
Dicentra.
Dutch Iris.
Clematis ‘Josephine’.
The confused Christmas Cactus.
Rosa ‘Golden Showers’.

Wordless Wednesday: Sunny Times in the Back Garden

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Impatiens tinctoria with Fuchsia ‘Autumnale’.
Mona the Cat under her hammock shade canopy.
Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’. Yes, we can grow it in the ground.
Adiantum peruvianum.
Some of my pole apples (Malus).
Begonia boliviensis.
Clematis heracleifolia. 
Acquired as Graptopetalum paraguayense.
Coleus and Begonia in planters. I grew the Begonia plants from seed I bought last fall on sale.

Wordless Wednesday: My Garden Mythology as Seen by Examining My Roots (Home, on the Sandy River, and in the Gorge)

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Achillea ‘Moonshine’. 
Sicilian Honey Garlic, (Allium siculum aka Nectaroscordum).
Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina) and an Armeria 
Dutch Iris, Iris x hollandica.
Miniature Climbing Rose, (Rosa ‘Clove Love and Kisses’).
Columbine, (Aquilegia ‘McKana’s Giant’.)
Clematis ‘Mrs. N. Thompson’. 
Growing up beside streams and rivers in the PNW this is how I learned to arrange rocks. Funny I still do this in my garden. (Note the fly fishing going on in the background. Fish are to my family as plants are to me.)
Great landscaping at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery in the Columbia River Gorge. (I think those white flowers are Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota.)
Salal (Gaultheria shallon) with a delicate white bloom—such a great native plant.
Native rose growing along the Columbia River.
Native Sedum.
Oregon Iris, (Iris tenax) in front of the Multnomah Falls Lodge.
Green Walls—PNW style.
My favorite little native Mimulus still clings to the wall at Multnomah Falls. This year the population looks a bit larger.  
Had to zoom into the falls to get a closer look at the exposed roots of this tree or shrub.

Wordless Wednesday: Kissing the Sky, the Earth, and all the Flora

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Columnar Apple. 
Lunaria annua 
Acer japonica ‘Villa Taranto’. 
Anemone nemorosa ‘Green Fingers’.
Clematis alpina ‘Stolwijk Gold’. 
Dodecatheon poeticum 
Unfurling fern seen during a walk.  
A canopy of Japanese maple trees.
Primula veris.
Dicentra ‘Hearts Desire’.