Thankful and a bit lost in the fog of November 2020


This week it was a challenge to write anything. My energy has gone into staying in control, remaining calm, resting as much as possible, caring for all of the houseplants, and doing anything else (within my power) to keep an even keel.

Novembers are often foggy here, and this year I’ve driven back and forth to my jobs in the pea soup of PNW weather, and this led me to making actual pea soup. I’ve been on autopilot, continuing to keep my head up as I float through the pandemic, the continued isolation, and the work that I do. Most years, pea soup fog doesn’t inspire me to make pea soup. In 2020, I feel like grasping any meaning out of the smallest of things, will create meaning, and I crave meaning to find my footing.

Right now I’m losing my grip a bit.

In the last 2 weeks three people who attended my small Catholic high school at the same time as myself have passed away—one from a heart attack, and two others from COVID-19 related complications. Two of these people were barely known to me, the other was someone who bullied me in junior high and high school. As can be imagined, it’s torn open sores I’ve long kept buried. At unexpected moments I just start to cry uncontrollably and I’m not sure why but I know the tears must fall and time will pass and it will feel better.

And this week the United States celebrated the holiday of Thanksgiving. For the first time ever it was deeply reflective. I’ve never heard so many friends and acquaintances simply state that they’re happy to be alive and employed. The stunning honestly has felt good to me. It is nice to see the basics not being taken for granted.

Those who are having a more difficult time are grateful for their family and children. I live in a home with 4 cats and a man who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome only in the last few years, only because I insisted I couldn’t take it anymore. While the initial shock of that process of diagnosis is better, and things are better, less than a year ago we lost my mother-in-law, and we’re still processing that since the pandemic kind of swept us both away from that. He and I only have my family now.

I kind of thought not seeing them meant I could just work and keep my head down, but the work I do allows me to think a lot, and it turns out my family was thinking of one another a lot this week, and after 47 years, my mom finally retired from cooking a huge Thanksgiving feast. She has had a blast talking to everyone on the phone this week. My eldest brother even called me to talk, to apologize for things, to laugh about things, and Dad caught a salmon and ate fresh fish eggs alone on the holiday. I called Dad and we talked about a Sitka spruce I’d given him. My family got closer by being distant from one another.

It’s foggy in my mind as I plan now. This is likely how we all feel. My job is seasonal though and we spent the month cleaning, sorting, straightening, organizing, and it’s a draining process physically and mentally. I am not in charge of planning crops, but my input is always appreciated and I keep reminding myself that’s part of my job. I need to get off of autopilot soon and take charge of my direction. Part of working in horticulture is being in the right frame of mind during the correct season. I love that about this work, but I am just a bit off right now.

To that end I’ve been indulging in things I should have been enjoying for months now. I’m finally listening to podcasts, and am reading books I’ve wanted to read. It is helping. It is time to order seeds, so I am shopping, and I’m filling orders for my own shop.

It is sad for me to complain now about feeling emotionally drained when up until now I’ve handled the pandemic so competently, but the fatigue is really hitting me hard. What I avoided doing this week was writing a post that felt unreal to me, since I’m always the cynic making fun of the obviousness of many of us using plants and gardening as therapy. This kind of therapy is not always good and can often be seen as a way to feel in control when we’re emotionally losing it. (Believe me, it’s more obvious than you might realize.) I just couldn’t push beyond myself this week to write up something fresh but I can leave you with some gardener advice for this season…

1 – Read books that challenge you now. Buy books from local bookstores that need your business.

2 – Start buying seeds now. Purchase them from trusted domestic growers.

3 – Believe it or not, you can even shop for plants now from many small nurseries. Purchase from licensed businesses.

4 – Listen to a new podcast. Join a Zoom lecture. Try something novel and new.

And finally, of course I am thankful. I am thankful to be alive right now, but I am terrified with worry concerning who will be lost next. I can only focus though on what I can control, and right now I want to move forward into December with an eye on who is going into crisis and how can I help. As wiped out and exhausted as I sound, I know it is sound advice for myself. And I am thankful for my employment, my health insurance through my husband, and my plant community. I will continue to support small businesses in the city and state and I hope you can do your part to help them too.

Please stay safe, stay home, and if you need to go out, wear a mask.

Propagation and Plant Production: Cooking up Plants for Friends and Strangers During Covid-19


It’s late on a Thursday night in the month of October in 2020. For the last few weeks I’ve been feeding myself a steady stream of fantasy and horror films as I recover from a physical meltdown of sorts that’s common for myself, and seemingly unfathomable at times for others. I made it through the season, but we’re in the middle of a pandemic and for those of us that work with plants, this has felt like a never-ending season of what’s referred to as being “slammed” in a kitchen. Imagine months of this, at two nurseries, but I thankfully work behind the scenes, and this does make it easier for me mentally and emotionally.

We’re still waiting for the results of a final x-ray, but it’s clear I’m exhausted and damaged. While one spine issue improved, another disk protruded. Instead of swelling up with one hereditary angioedema attack, I had two simultaneously. My complement, immune, and nervous systems are all tired. I’ve been on a steady diet of anabolic steroids for just over a week now.

Yes, that’s right folks, I’m a doper! These are not illegal drugs, I have a prescription for them, but it’s surreal at times to really sit back and think about how hard I work to work so hard. I guess I’m passionate about what I do though, and plants inspire me to keep doing what I do.

I think it’s safe to say I potted up thousands of plants in 2020. Flat after flat after flat left my workspaces and were carted off to the public realm or else back into a greenhouse until they’re ready for their closeup. There’s a rush you feel at that moment much like the excitement of cooking in restaurant kitchen and you’re part of a performance and as the plates disappear out of your sight you breathe a sigh of relief and you feel more and more like a badass as the night goes on and you near the finish line.

When it comes to plants though, it is a bit different. The adrenaline rush is not quite as dramatic. I just perform the initial part of a performance. My part is to make the starter and to get it stable enough so that you can take it home and complete your task. Sometimes, I may even have been the one who sparked the seed into life. Once in the hands of the gardener, with the plant being planted, it completes its lifecycle. I’ve helped to supply so many gardeners with the supplies necessary to make their artwork, or else to create their calm and happy space. With each flat I complete I toss out my hopes and wishes and I let go of my control of them a little bit. They all cannot live. Some of the duds must be plucked out so as to retain some integrity to the batch. Plants must be edited as they are presented. I’m probably better at that nowadays than I am at editing on the page but it’s so much clearer when you see a flat of plants. I’m not seeking out misspellings or grammatical changes, I just need for them to be uniform, a baker’s perfect dozen.

Once a flat is processed I turn my back and forget about them and move on to whichever plugs or plants need to be up-potted, re-examined, assessed, and often I help to make plants look a bit more appealing with snips here and there. There is never a dull moment in production and propagation. It’s a hamster wheel with a blur of plant life forever in our midst.

Nursery work is hard and complicated. Sometimes the monotony of it is a challenge but you look for differences and subtle small things in your crops as you go. I think of this as the ideal time to use the boring repetitive moments as a teaching tool of some kind. It’s a moving meditation. For my physical therapist, she’s used this aspect of my jobs to help me work harder on my PT. We must all make the most of our daily lives, and this helps to define us, and give us meaning.

There is an art though to the juggling and rhythm of growing crops. Nature truly is the choreographer that we work with as we do our many dances through the seasons. It is the rhythm that we live by in the plant world that I live in and I’m sure that’s something others around the world share with me.

Folks have asked me a lot if I’ve missed my dinners this year and that’s been a tough topic for me. During my dinners I rarely spent time at the table with the guests. I was in the kitchen working hard and I don’t want to do that again. Taking back the space in my back garden this summer really helped me to get through everything. I spent quality time in the space I created from scratch. This let me consider the development of my own recipe. My distaste for some of the ingredients I’d included there. I gardened in this space and breathed in it. I made plans for changes, and thought through my missteps. Clearly, gardening and cooking conflated and I realized just how much I love propagation, plant production and kitchen work. I reached a kind of self-actualization in my hammock in the back garden in late summer, hanging right over the spot where my table usually sits and it felt so good. Eureka!

Potting up thousands of plants still makes me feel like I’m cooking for all of you though, and there is yet that space between us both, and I’m hurriedly working behind the scenes, so that you can feel pleasure. Maybe I’m an enabler after all. But this relationship feels even more complex and poignant than ever, during a year when we’re all living through a pandemic. We must continue to make the most of it.