Marveling at Growth: Caos, Caotico


It’s feeling a bit chaotic right now. That’s ok with me, but it’s draining if I don’t get enough sleep.

When I feel like this, I tend to smile to myself and my mind switches into Italian to keep from going cray cray.

I open my mouth wide and slowly say, “Caos, caotico.” Knowing I’ve been to the area of ancient Sicily once called Chaos, I remind myself that somewhere in the past, they cared enough about this state of affairs, to name a place after something we tend to deeply fear.

The writer Luigi Pirandello was born there. “I am a child of Chaos and not only allegorically but in reality because I was born in a countryside, located nearby entangled woods, named, in Sicilian dialect, Cavusu by the inhabitants of Girgenti [Agrigento].”

Since visiting that area myself, I tend to think about it, centering in on the idea of it whenever I feel like I’m spinning off balance with too much to do. Instead of getting stirred up by the feelings of chaos and unrest, I sit down calmly at its center and wait for it to pass. Caos. (Chaos.) Caotico. (Chaotic.)

Caos. Caotico. This is my manta.

A favorite vintage Murano glass vase.

At home there is still much planning, sorting and moving to do to make room for other things—mostly plants. Recently, I removed an old cabinet to make room for a large glass tank for my ferns. I’d placed the cabinet there with my ex maybe 17 years ago, and it was cathartic to change things around. Am still not sure how to get rid of the cabinet, but I’m working on it.

Removing things is not my forte, but I’m motivated to keep improving things around here. I can’t take in any more “free” things when folks need help. Part of me just wants to get a small dumpster right now, but I’m going to hold off on that until later. Luckily it’s not that bad, I just really am impatient to have things completed.

The vintage vase above is a large one and a favorite. I hid it outside in the Seed Studio—away from Felix. He loves to break large items made of glass. I think at 5 years old, he’s improving, but I’ll stash this above the fridge soon—just in case.

Seedlings of Sempervivum calcareum ‘Mrs Giuseppi’. I received the seeds during my stay with Panayoti Kelaidis last year.

Between stashing plants, protecting plants, and even dividing some of the hardiest of perennials, I’m trying to sow seeds, sort seeds, clean seeds, and shop for a few for next year too. This is all part of why I want the whole house to be more tidy and organized. It just makes life easier.

I love this time of year though when life shifts from being exhausted from the current year, to being excited about the crops to come. It’s part of the cycle of life and I enjoy this state-of-mind between now and March. This is my time to shine—a sort of golden hour in the dark of winter.

Fall color in the garden at Rancho Cistus, the home and garden of Sean and Preston at Cistus Nursery.

But it’s not winter yet. It can just feel like it is, and that’s also part of the experience of the seasons.

Some days are warm, some days are cold, and I never seem to wear the right clothing. Funny how owning a Jeep is some kind of comfort. I look forward to driving it again in some snow. It was life-changing last year, and honestly, kind of fun.

The book I’ve wanted since I saw it in Georgia at the Begonia Society Convention. It finally arrived!

Along with a pile of books from the library, this gem arrived this week. I’ve long wanted to see a copy, and was able to when I was in Atlanta, so I set about trying to find one online, and I did!

Rekha Morris also spoke while I was there, and it was great to go to her talk. She is a retired professor of art history so listening to her presentation in a dark room reminded me a lot of being back in school.

Standing behind North Falls, in Silver Falls State Park.

The real growth this week was being able to hike 8 miles in relative peace and quiet at Silver Falls State Park. I walk a 4-mile loop once or twice a week in town, and I went on one hike with Evan a few years ago, but overall, hiking has not been my friend since I had the swelling incident after climbing up Mt. St. Helen’s almost 20 years ago.

Our only great hiccup was the number of people either wearing incredibly strong fragrances, or else those who’d washed their clothing in incredibly strong smelling detergent. When I’m outdoors and I choke when someone walks by, you know it’s strong stuff. I react strongly to cigarettes and pot too, but not as badly now as Evan. Luckily we only had a few folks smoking joints on the trail. The fragrances though, wow.

I don’t remember folks smelling so strongly of it when I used to go out into the woods, but I wasn’t as sensitive to it back then.

Glowing in the cold morning along the trail. Forest bathing looks good on me, but it looked great on everyone we passed along the train this Thanksgiving.

That day I did great. I was a bit sore the next, and today I’m still feeling a bit stiff. Overall, the damage was not bad. By Monday I should feel better. It’s mostly my shins, but I can work to ease it from happening as badly next time.

I am more hopeful now than ever—and thankful too. This hike was exactly what I needed.

Evan and some very large Doug firs aka Pseudotsuga menziesii.

Internally I continue to improve and feel better. I’m happy to be alive.

After the hike we returned to the city, I was dropped off, I cleaned up after being outside all day, and then Evan came back to have dinner with John and I.

It was a holiday and we celebrated.

An unknown Philodendron purchased from a collection when the owner had to move.

The houseplants keep needing my love and attention and on top of the work I have to do, I’m sorting them and moving them over and over. The goal now is to get them situated and then paint some more walls before taking photos of them again. I need to change up the house a bit.

I need to redo the bathroom too, but that’s a big project in an old home with only one bathroom. Sigh.

Part of me thinks that the spouse on the spectrum may need to go on vacation for that, but we’ve not yet crossed that bridge.

A Philodendron giganteum received in a trade. I finally have a nice start of the plant above to send back to this Instagram friend, but I’ve waited a bit too long…

So not a lot of rest going on around here—and it feels chaotic—but there’s wild and fun growth and change! So many positive and good things are happening. I just need to keep checking things off of my list and keep going to bed early.

I need to be ready for whatever comes next!!

#plantfluencer, non sum unus

All photos in this blog entry will be the exact opposite of what I can only assume a plant influencer would post.

Recently I was asked to define and discuss what a #plantfluencer is and how they fit into my life as a horticulturist. Well, as a self-described #badinfluencer, it’s likely going to be very Gen X of me to say that I’m an off-strategy category killer who loves to be the most optimistic cynic in the room, so let’s do this! Challenge accepted!!!

What would John Waters do? Want to be influenced? Look to wacky and wild artists and creators like film director John Waters. Don’t look online to mimic the cool kids! #notcooltomimicthecoolkidsonline #beoriginal

A Plant Lifestyle

First off, the path has already been written for me. A few years ago this excellent piece appeared in The New York Times, and pre-pandemic, I think it did a great job of describing the impetus: Meet the Plantfluencers.

But, since then, as we all know, we’ve had a pandemic, and as COVID-19 has spread, so too has HOUSEPLANT FEVER.

(Cue the music: Houseplants by Squid.)

So basically, in order to get this rumble going—in my opinion—a #plantfluencer is a person who has been able to succeed with marketing and selling a persona to a mass market on social media. Clearly… their lifestyle branding revolves around plants.

Very few are horticulturists, some are professional plant peeps though. I will give them that. Overall, they’re selling what the masses are buying #cha-ching if you know what I mean. As a critical theorist I’m a wet blanket in all of this though and no amount of shopping (or viewing, or peering into the private lives of others) will cause me to feel thrilled. It just won’t work on me so long as I know that someone else (just like me) is watching and analyzing my behaviors. #capitalism #plantinvestments #greed #envy

If you’re falling for the plant lifestyle online, on IG, etc. your clicks are being watched, but sadly, not in the way we all need. #hugs You have to know it’s a popularity contest brought about by a mob of conformity, right? Please tell me that you know that. #whitewalls

How does this influence my work? Hahahahaha not at all. It just gives us something to talk about as we’re filthy and making more plants and need to chit chat.

I still recall those early days when young folks visited at Cistus Nursery in sudden large numbers just to take photos of themselves in our retail area. It was surreal to see it. We joked that we should have been charging admission. Many never even bought a single plant. They drove out to take pics and to get “likes”. It was awkward to interact with them since at the time it was all so new. You can’t really help someone when all they want to do is looks at themselves!!! #cantfixbroken #canfixthatemptyspotinyourgarden

What I really get from this phenomenon is oodles of young people saying to me, “Oh wow! But you have my dream job!!!”

I have to stand there and stare at them a bit and walk off before I go bonkers. No, I’m pretty sure I DON’T have your dream job but thanks. I work with hardy plants, deal with soil issues and plant diseases, and dream of my days off when I can study ecosystems and be alone—with my own plants, and four cats.

I’m happy though that everyone likes plants. It will keep them out of trouble unless they become plant thieves but only a few asshats do that. (Don’t be one of them.) Lots of young plant lovers seem attracted to veganism and plant-based dietary changes and that’s great too. While not for everyone, it’s a great cultural change to see. I lurv my veggies!

What matters more to you, being an individual or being your identity? #bedifferent #engagewithmeaning #stepback

The Green Escape

Oh, did you think I meant like a green dream spa experience? Naaaaaahhhh!!! Maybe just a little bit of escapism? Hahahhaahhaha! Oh hell nooooooo!!! You can get that for free by getting up off of your hiney out into nature, or to a park or garden.

Yes, we’ve all wanted to have our safe spaces at home, but lil’ ole me here with your dream job was an essential worker during all of this since I work in AGRICULTURE and that meant being at the nurseries year-round to make new plants.

Do you KNOW how much extreme heat and cold can hurt your skin? Well heavens to Betsy! Let me tell you, it’s DREAMY alright!!! And visiting a greenhouse, is NOT THE SAME as working in a greenhouse.

The green escape? I’m talking about power and money folks! There’s a reason that social media is crack and y’all know you’ve better things to be doing than feeding your addiction to it. Those #plantfluencers are the dealers, and you’re the recipient of their goods, and you want in on the action. Why else do we see so many new accounts who are #sponsored trying to move up the ranks?

I don’t get money, power or influence while you sit here on this platform reading this. Since I currently do this weekly, I appreciate having readers. New subscribers are joining regularly and I’m grateful. I hope that you find this entertaining. I do want you to laugh a little.

But those influencers, those videos, that schlock you read about how to care for your plants from so-and-so, well, some of those “content providers” are looking for more from you in your relationship with them and I’m here as your friend. You might want to rethink your online relationships. Don’t be part of the algorithm. Turn your back. Turn it off. Unfollow accounts when they make you feel badly about yourself and your life. Feel the power and control that it can give you. I am off the internet more, unfollowing toxicity, reading books, and meditating again. I recommend it. I’m a whole lot happier nowadays.

So, currently, “influencer” falls under the category of internet celebrity according to Wikipedia. “Self-branding, also known as personal branding, describes the development of a public image for commercial gain or social or cultural capital. The rise of social media has been exploited by individuals seeking personal fame and product sales.”

Many of the #plantfluencers are selling a lifestyle, an interior design style, or just their availability and friendship. Beware the plant lifestyle guru, the brand. We used to talk about not getting into vans with strangers with candy. I think the updated version of this is don’t follow advice given to you by plant strangers online. Ever. Be you. Meet people in real time. Go out and make a plant group. Meet friends at a nursery. Put your phones down. Go for a walk. Don’t have a nursery nearby? Build that nursery and they will come!

So often preaching unfounded claims, unscientific ideas, plant folks online are out there influencing public opinions. Too many influencers in general are just shilling products, or plain old snake oil you don’t need to buy. It’s all wrapped up in a nice yoga pose too.

“Hey there honey! Yeah, you growing plants and selling them online, yeah, shipping them over state lines? You grow them yourself? So what’s your nursery license number and does the Department of Agriculture inspect your grow space? Just wondering…

Promoting small businesses that are all above board sounds empowering to me! You know what’s really hot? Making a legitimate small boutique nursery business that grows its own plants and can pay its monthly bills at a brick and mortar location that’s part of a community of people, in a small town, or a city, or in the country, anywhere other than on your phone.

That’s the green lifestyle, and you can make green. People who grow plants professionally are the professionals I ask for advice when I need it. They make the time to have a conversation with me, and are less likely to have some of the social media issues. Cough. Cough.

Do I hope that some folks online are making their way towards this goal? Absolutely! Just don’t tell me that as a retail seller or amateur grower that your online research (and overall minimal growing experience) is somehow better since you’re more popular than a nursery grower. Ad nauseam social media content is going to backfire on you if it hasn’t already.

See through the liars too! I won’t name names but there are accounts out there who have a lot of followers and they’re lying to you about their experience and are aware of the fact that online, they can do that. Don’t give them them the attention they so crave and research claims made by people and call them out for it. Sure, they will likely block you or remove your comment but they need to know that they are seen. #borderlineplagerism #contentboredom #lossofaudience #timetobuyfollowers #fraudsters

An aroid, bleep boop bloop blop. Check the # on Instagram to read the same information over and over.

In an Urban Jungle

The urban jungle is a difficult and cold place where people come to “make it” and struggle a lot. The city is competitive and there are jerks like me. (I’m actually not a jerk, I just have a big mouth that limits my appeal I’ve been told. This makes me a GREAT horticulturist.)

In the big lonely city social media makes all of that super creepy social garbage available right in our own tiny homes. NO, not our safe spaces!!! We let that crack come into our homes through our phones! It creeps in, and the appeal of perfection makes us feel like c-r-a-p. As a life-long subscriber to the I-Don’t-Care-Method I avoid the toxic personas as inauthentic and I only respond to profiles that are seemingly actually nice people. (There are some very unkind professional plant people out there too and I don’t follow them either. I don’t care how famous they are. #notworthmytime )

A botanist friend reminded me about what is called the parasocial interaction, and while this link is long and complicated, it’s important to remind folks that this is a dangerous gift we allow into our lives. Toxic narcissism will breed celebrity and we have the power to vote these people on or off of our own private islands. We also have the power to gang up on and kill (aka cancel) those who don’t agree with us like the angry self-righteous mob that we are, but we don’t want do be part of a mob, right!?!

My sweet wedgie Oliver pretending to be Totoro on my non-midcentury modern table in my old home with a massive Philodendron gigantium that I paid $0 for since it was a trade. #familyheirloomfurniture #freefurniture #freeisgood

So while I participate in social media, I do so cautiously since I know it’s an unhealthy and addictive tool. I’ve been on this thing called the Internet since 1992 and many of my friends are still programers who taught me to be careful with my online awareness long ago. In full disclosure, none of them has an online presence at all, and yet all of you have likely touched something online they’ve worked on. They’re crazy brilliant, and I don’t take their advice since this platform appealed to me. For all I know they hacked this and made it even funnier—or not.

Additionally, before my current marriage, and before the other one, I was in a long relationship with someone I can only call an advertising executive who’d studied global international affairs and politics before entering into a prestigious master’s program in advertising and design. He taught me a lot about how not to be the tool advertisers and marketers wanted me to be in order to buy their product. I guess I could have skipped that heartbreak though and watched Mad Men. I think that series taught this lesson well. Being in that relationship was a blessing though. I learned IRL so much.

Oh, and there was that fellow student, an art professor in NYC now of some renown who sleeps with his students lol. #sadoldman He’s actually connected to a #plantfluencer over there but that’s just a coincidence. While he’s an old stereotype I must say he taught me how to sell myself to others too. In a different way, in the way an artist sells themselves.

IRL. This is all about IRL and I look forward to returning to it.

The real plant influencers are not always found online. Plant people are found IRL with their plants. Plant people work with plants. They’re in the field with plants. They’re collaborating on projects with plants. They’re teaching everything they can about plants to others. They’re reviewing books about plants. They’re growing plants. Some are selling plants that they grow and collect. They’re in labs studying plants. They are breeding plants. Plant people are those who are all plants, all of the time and it’s not about them, and it’s not about likes, not about a lifestyle, it’s about the plants, and they are dorks.

I know so many amazing plant people that I follow online, and no one knows them at all. It’s a shame that they don’t since they’re missing out, but you can lead a horse to water…