Let the Propagator Cook You Up Something Special…

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Hey there! Welcome back!

It’s exciting to be blogging again. Folks have told me to be bold and honest so here I am after a somewhat cold and wet day at work out in Canby at Secret Garden Growers. I’m drinking my Five Farms Irish Cream Liqueur (County Cork), thinking about y’all and why I love to do the crazy propagating that I do, and I’m wondering who will now be irritated by my speaking my mind and acting in my foolhardy and rather reckless and random ways.

I suppose if I irritated you in the past, you’re likely not reading this, so please don’t complain about my unorthodox ways. It’s been done before, and yes, you can talk about yourself while writing about plants.

I’m a horticulturist now more than ever, and I’m still an amateur botanist and seed grower. This means I can talk unorthodoxly with even more knowledge and I may respond with even more obnoxious responses, but I swear, I’m a good woman with a green heart of gold.  I promise to have posts where I actually explain something, or rearrange my garden, but it will mostly continue to be random thoughts and plants. I’m doing a lot and my interests will remain all over the plant map.

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Me at the bench with some tools and plants. It feels a lot like standing at the kitchen counter. Neither scene is pretty and I’m not going to lie about that. There is no fantasy to behold here (or there). All I can say is that crafting plants and food requires a lot of hard work, consistency, practice, skill, and instinct.

These new posts of mine will be blunt in 2020. I’m not going to be selling you on concepts of beauty, or marketing things you don’t need to buy. I don’t want to influence you, but as always—that is if we already know one another—I might want to play a bit and roil, throw some mud, or on the contrary, make some mud into a mudpie. (I am the most optimistic cynic you’ll ever meet. It’s either charming or repulsive but I’ll leave that up to you.)

Generally—or rather speaking broadly, or let’s just say overall—I just want to get the circulation flowing in you, and me. This is primarily an exercise I’m doing for myself. While I press myself to write here, I’m writing on a project elsewhere.

Garden writing/literature in English has always been a bit boring to me. I think I always found the repetition and homages to this and that a bit pedantic. Where are the rapscallions? I feel like they’ve been papered over and committed to the role of the garden gnome and that too is a tired cliché, is it not? I’ll let you gnaw on that one. To keep myself amused I continue to read garden literature in Italian and French but it is slow-going. I do not have the time to read. I work and read what I can when I can and then I chew on the words while I work at Cistus Nursery and in Canby too. I very much enjoy my time to think.

Life can be difficult. I come to the garden to be alive and to concentrate. It’s a kind of meditation to me. I come not to judge or be judged. I come here to grow. I came into the horticulture industry to grow—and I have grown into a kind of horticulturist. I suppose it’s the feral kind, but I’m a Spaghetti Westerner and I very much enjoy my freedom.

As a propagator, I have a lot of time to myself. Have I said that enough yet? I’ve thought a lot, written very little other than lists, listened constantly, and heard much. Propagators—from what I know—are organized folks. We’re loners. We seem to have an innate sense of the seasons. Or maybe what I mean by that, our seasons. My gardening calendar is much different than many others. I live by a production calendar.

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Oh the seeds…so many seeds. This is the easy part. The most difficult part is potting them all up as they grow and keeping them happy. This requires extra time, extra hands and help, and a keen eye to keep them happy and healthy as they continue to grow.

I like to say that as a propagator, I’m “back of the house” material, much like the kitchen staff in a restaurant. They produce food, we produce plants. I work in production at two nurseries. I do some retail, but my heart is in making more plants, and funny, it feels so often like cooking the same dishes over and over—year in and out, with a few fashionable changes from year to year. Like my production calendar, a kitchen is thinking months and months in advance too.

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A baked Timballo di Anelletti. I made this a few years ago for a dinner. Like a good crop of plants, it took time to plan and prepare. Cooking and propagation require an eye for detail and plenty of patience.

Growing plants from seed, division, and/or cuttings, also feels like making art supplies, or maybe, let’s call them the plant pigments for planting palettes, for amateur designers, students of garden design, and designers.

As a student of art history, I just want to add that an artist is one who knows their media nearly as well as they know themselves. The art and the crafting of those materials become part of who they are and it is ONLY when they can raise us up, make their art into something more, take us to another level, then, and only then, can it be considered art—and not craft.

It has only been through propagation that I’ve come to viscerally feel and know it to be true. Some gardens are truly art and I have spent time in only 2 or 3 that I would label as such. My art history professor once argued with me that it’s craft NO MATTER WHAT, but I definitely disagree. IF you want to claim your designs to be art, know your goddamn plants. Do NOT try to sell me on what you did with them, how they are spaced, what they look like in pics, or their calming arrangements. Extend those plants, their lives, how they grow, through what you do, and it can truly be art. I know, it’s a bit like asking you to play gawd but it’s nice to have #goals. I mean, #realgoals.

My hope here at my own home is always to play with plants scientifically aka horticulturally, artistically, and to hope to make something very special. I blend this with my personal taste, and also to match the architecture of my home, but some part of myself is always using this place as a canvas to play upon in the hopes of making a moment of art in time and space.

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A simple ingredient. How can we make this taste like even more than cauliflower? How can we lift up the simplest of simple things? Even with a plant, or two?

Returning to cooking, well, and art, let’s take a moment to consider the Master Chefs. Do they not take the humble ingredient and lift it to something more? Yes, yes they do. I’ve tasted the food of a handful of Master Chefs, and when I cook, and I have cooked many dinners for many people, I would never even call myself a humble chef. That is a title earned, and I am proud to be an accomplished home cook.

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Here I am exhausted a few years ago after cooking a five course meal two nights in a row for 10 guests each evening.

So Ann, what the hell is your point? My guess is that you’re already annoyed a bit by now. (I purposefully have never written in perfectly pretty prose packages either.)

My point is this. Just because we can call ourselves whatever we want to in the Information Age doesn’t mean we should. Don’t claim to be something other than what you are and embrace it. Many folks don’t know much. I sure don’t and I’m not going to claim to be an expert. Folks tell you to speak with authority. You know what, some folks who speak with authority should take a seat and eat some humble pie. I got tired of blogging and even reading online because there is a lot of nonsense out there. I didn’t want to contribute more schlock to the internet and I don’t want to encourage others to do so either. Please stop producing content to market your products unless it’s good content. It’s not helping us. Produce content because you have something of value to contribute. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard, “But I read it online…” about a plant and the information has not always been accurate or helpful. Dare I say it but fake news even exists in the Hollowed Halls of Horticulture where so many of us go to hide from current events.

Don’t believe everything you read online, and question it all. I feel so punk right now.

To write again, I needed to feel like I could produce valuable content and I have done my time. My posts won’t continue to be nearly this preachy but I AM trying to say—stop posting and re-posting what’s popular. I want to see and hear folks as online as individuals. I value that and I think right now a lot of gardeners are craving interesting reading content.

Be bold! (Former garden bloggers who need to post again, I’m writing to you!)

Getting back to my lovely beverage this evening, looking over their site for a tie-in, making sure that they’re not liars trying to sell me some Irish tall tale, I’m delighted to find this: “The cream is sourced entirely from five family-owned farms in County Cork, run by families that have a deep connection to the land and a passion for their craft.”

Hey folks! The best plants are crafted by true craftspeople and by their network of plant people. I’m one of those people and handcrafted plants are what I do, and are what I care about, and I hope that more people come to appreciate and understand this in the way that they care about their food. I want more folks to fall in love with horticulture, be able to start their own small businesses, and love their craft and labor. Big hort is out there, and I know that careers in horticulture seem like a life in the poorhouse, but we need to make this matter. It DOES matter. If it matters to you, support small and independent hort.

And please, don’t be an ass and complain about the price of your plants this season. Many of your plants—especially the large ones that you request so often because you can’t wait—require A LOT of care and resources in containers. This often includes hard labor and that costs $$. I see this attitude shifting more and it’s wonderful to meet grateful customers who really do appreciate all of the little things required to help plants live and thrive.

Know the process and support local small growers, small nurseries, and the plants that we develop and preserve. Buy handcrafted seed-grown plants, heirloom varieties, unique native plants from your region, and support small businesses in your area. Support Hort! 

I am lucky to live in Oregon—and by extension the PNW—where we have many great independent growers and small boutique nurseries. Sometimes I worry that future generations won’t have what we do, and it’s important to get involved at the local level, and to reach out and get to know the land and place where you live. We need folks to get involved to preserve these traditions, both for native plantings and otherwise, or else I fear many of our plants, and where we live, could be lost.

Plants really do matter.

All plants matter.

Plant matter.

See you next week!

 

 

Weekly Posts Coming in 2020

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Many working hours have passed since I regularly posted here on my blog. Folks sometimes ask about it, and while garden blogging has faded a bit, I’m not giving up. As a middle-aged woman who’s turned to horticulture later in life, in the years since I started this blog, I’ve become a professional horticulturist and I enjoy my career very much. It’s time for me to begin to regularly share some of the experiences that I’ve had with both the plants and people who mean a lot to me.

In the last year I’ve dealt with walking pneumonia, complications from walking pneumonia, entering into my third consecutive year of physical therapy for neuropathy, spinal, and hip issues from two falls, and the onset of additional autoimmune issues. I need to cut loose and have some fun online again. 🙂

My hope is to continue to inspire, entertain, and enlighten readers. No one in their right mind would be working in horticulture in my condition. It’s my passion though. It’s what I love—and folks are still willing to pay me to do what I do and to purchase what I grow. I entered into this world when I could barely move, let alone stand, and all I had was a new garden, a laptop, and some time to spare. It’s time to contribute more and give back. I think my employers also consider this “downtime” and they’d like me to do more of it.

So, expect weekly posts each Sunday in 2020!

And there will be houseplants… We know how much many of you love them too now. I know I sure do.

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Begonia dichroa in my collection.

 

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!

Before returning to Italy, let’s review last winter…

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About last winter, well, it was divine. Between the fair weather, a class in horticulture, and time spent with friends over long meals, it was a time to indulge in additional personal growth and discovery while lingering to get to know those around me better.

What I mean to say here is that my new mast cell medication was working mightily well—as were all of the other therapies. This plant of mine felt like its backbone was strengthened and buds began to form. (Now months on, I can see the growth.)

When we left for Italy, my health was better than it had been in some ways for years, but I know now that the neuropathy medication I was just given upon my return should have been instituted before our departure. Years of swelling have definitely taken their toll on my nerves.

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Agapetes serpens.

This winter was about propagation. Much joy was had when these Agapetes serpens cuttings taken from my friend Kate’s plant continued to bloom and bloom under lights in my basement.

They’re still alive and have hardened off outdoors and I look forward to potting them up this week or the next. Bloom on little troopers!

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Not such a bad year on Instagram.

This winter I continued to socialize on Instagram with other garden and plant lovers. It was through this platform we ended up meeting my new friends in Venice.

For anyone who has a difficult time falling asleep it can be a tool that can successfully create thoughtless thoughts. You can count sheep, or scroll through plant pics. Take your pick!

Many of the people I chose to follow are in Europe and I look forward to seeing their mornings as I slowly let the weight of my head really force itself into the pillow. Ok, maybe seeing their delicious morning repasts may sometimes widen an eye and a growl may grow from somewhere deep inside of my stomach, but then I move on to the next photo and set aside that fleeting idea of a sunny morning in Greece.

This past winter Kate and I decided to take a little coastal garden tour in January. We met up with Flora our friend over at Tangly Cottage Gardening Journal. (If you follow the link, you can read more about the gardens we saw that day.) Surprisingly, the weather was decent for us and in the end I was able to eat my beloved oysters.

From there we travelled south to Yachats and the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve.

If you’d like to read a great blog post about that location I suggest this post from my friend Evan over at the The Practical Plant Geek. (He wrote several posts about it and of course I’ve yet to post any photos at all.)

While preparing for departure, the garden grew and things bloomed while more botanical Latin was memorized and I worked to pass my plant ID course in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College.

Friends were made, I hosted a talk here in my house about rare ferns given by an expert in such things, and the anticipation of the impending journey grew in me, the deviation from my medical routine grew more exhilarating, and soon we crossed the big pond.

More on that next time…

Been a long time in the garden: Wine, Women and Song

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Was taken to a few wineries in September for my 41st birthday. Here I am shoveling some very delicious Willamette Valley grapes in my face. Thank goodness for friends and their cameras.

A few months have passed since I last blogged. With a blogoversary on the horizon I think it’s time for me to begin again. This time of year is always very busy for me with all of my indoor gardening and seed work. I have plenty to share so stay tuned.IMG_5477

Cooking has continued to play an important role in my life. As a gift, my combined wedding anniversary and birthday gift from my husband was an amazing meal at Castagna.

I could write a book about that incredible meal but instead I’ll recommend that you read about the chef and go there yourself. It was an incredible dining experience and one I’ll never forget.

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LuLu and Quincy loved to chase one another in the willow arbor.

Mid September our little buddy Quincy went missing one Friday night. He wasn’t with us for long, and we miss him dearly. I refuse to give up hope and continue to search for him. Luckily our county has a wonderful system for lost animals and I receive daily notifications.

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Gardener, garden writer and designer Kate Bryant enjoying a bit of salmon fishing.

Dad took two of my friends and I salmon fishing back in September. It was a quick trip but we all had a wonderful time with lots of laughs and great food. We may not have caught anything, but a boat of fishermen did offer us a free fish to take home.

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During September I also visited Sarracenia Northwest for their Open House. This is a beautifully fun story and I promise to write more about it in an upcoming post.  IMG_5814

The tomatoes kept coming this year and they kept me busy. As a matter of fact I finished up eating them just a few days ago. I was a bit shocked to have ripe tomatoes from the garden on November 1.

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With a tromboncino squash I was gifted I made homemade gnocchi with butter and sage sauce. It was a great idea for a little garden writing group that I’ve helped to start just to get me to write more. I want to write more. I really do.
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I decided to purchase my first fancy apron after catering for a small party. This was a lovely reward after having succeeded with all of those fundraiser dinners this summer. As difficult as that work was, I do miss entertaining and making menus. Am taking the holidays off too because I cannot afford to feed as many people as I used to so taking a holiday will be a nice break.IMG_6783

To thank friends who offered to help me this summer after my last surgery I hosted a pizza party. I avoided making Italian-style pizza for a very long time, but I feel comfortable with it now. IMG_6057

As I stated a few months ago, I was yearning to return to school. I did. I am taking one class right now and am loving plant ID in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College.

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There have been the garden visits to friends’ green realms with more meals and laughs. I am a big fan of Felony Flats Botanical Garden and its head gardeners Eric and Robert.

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Petunia exserta.

In addition to school and a new part-time job (more on that in my next post), I’m beginning to take care of my seed shop again and have been collecting, accepting by mail from friends, and shopping online again for things I’d like to grow. As I rip out the garden, I am looking for new growing spaces while considering the possibilities.

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White alpine strawberry.

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Pelargonium peltatum, the species from Cistus Nursery.

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Lastly, I also hosted the Fall Garden Blogger Plant Swap. It’s kind of like Fight Club so I won’t go on and on about it, but if you’re a blogger and you live nearby, let me know. The primarily requirement is that you be a blogger. IMG_6183

LuLu has been my new little furry rock since Quincy disappeared. She’s taken up as my stalker where my little old lady Macavity left off when she passed away last year.

Here she is loving up Maurice but we all know she’s just letting him know who’s in charge. She’s a bossy pants, piglet. In addition to climbing the walls and my pant legs, she’s almost always underfoot. I adore her and her youthful kitten energy.IMG_6246 Luckily LuLu goes out a little bit, but she’s not going to be allowed to be an outdoor cat. Here she is helping me to collect tomatoes. IMG_6264She also helps me with my botanical studies. Here she is letting me know that DOGWOODS bore her.
IMG_6859So welcome back! Welcome to indoor gardening and there’s more to come. I promise!