Set That Log Jam in the Garden on Firrrreeee!!!

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(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.)

Fuchsia ‘Poermenneke’ a gift from Theo over at The Fuchsietum. This is a trailing plant so will work best in planters and hanging baskets.

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

Felix causin’ trouble.

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!

Felix in the sorting area—trying to get my attention. Oftentimes I wonder if I’ve turned into Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Am I practicing “telescopic philanthropy” as I grow unusual and uncommon plants hoping to keep some of them in commerce? Do I care about the plant world at the expense of my own affairs? Nah, not in my case, but this can be an issue.

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!

BAM!!

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…

Mislabeled and unknown Streptocarpus hybrid. Kind of a mut like the rest of us. I’m not going to judge. Crazy human attraction created it too.

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.)

Still unsure of my Irish heritage, but willing to embrace it more with wool sweaters, colcannon, dulse, oysters, spots of Irish whisky, and letting my sharp tongue run free.

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

Alfie was not very helpful during his brief visit in the greenhouse. While he was in there with Kris and I, he found a snail and was proud of himself. As a mostly feral cat, he preferred hiding, so I took him back to the Jeep until his other mother arrived.

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

She gon’ bring that attitude home

Who don’t wanna do nothing with their life

Autumn from My Corner of the World of Horticulture

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Mahonia gracilipes in the garden at Cistus Nursery.

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!!!

A white-berried Sorbus prattii in Medford (Oregon) at Italio Garden, the home of nurseryman and great friend Baldassare Mineo. It’s likely that this is Sorbus cashmeriana but I’m not certain.

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!)

If I ever have the pleasure of designing a new garden for myself, I will definitely include at least one x Gordlinia grandiflora along with my other favorite tree, Oxydendron arboreum.

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.

Chrysanthemum ‘Matchsticks’ putting on its show at Secret Garden Growers last week. It’s one of the best autumn perennials.

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.

After having seen the Sorbus prattii tree down in Medford, I remembered to look for our Sorbus cashmeriana in the hedgerow at work this week out in Canby. Ta da! Don’t you just love those clusters of white berries?

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!!!

A display of radicchio varieties at the Sagra del Radicchio held this week in Portland. Since I’ve already been enjoying this “rad” food for decades, the highlight of the entire evening event was finding a few foods I could eat, as well as two local chefs who discussed my allergies and are willing to feed me sometime. (FYI I am allergic to black pepper so eating out is not often possible.)

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.

The Slow Food Movement entered my life back when a chapter became active here in Portland in the early 1990s. I never attended any of their events, but I DID signup for announcements by email. In exchange I took home this awesome sticker.

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.