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!

 

 

Back in Valdobbiadene and Veneto

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Just about a month ago we were still in Italy and were returning to Valdobbiadene to visit family and friends. Oh how I miss Veneto!

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Valdobbiadene is the town to the far left.

The drive was scenic (as usual) and I was thrilled to have a brand-new FIAT Abarth to drive. Whoa! Those things go fast and I certainly made sure that ours worked properly. We arrived on market day and I was happy to see plant venders and flowers. By this point I was beginning to miss my garden, plants, and cats a lot. IMG_1086
Happily, there was another van vending the most incredible handmade pasta. The hole there in the middle with an egg is where the trofie pasta was before my husband bought it all. You can see the stray ones scattered around. Despite what you might believe, not all of Italy is full of well-dressed beautiful women. Here at the market I found my typical work clothing, and again, I felt a bit more at home. Moving along we saw more flowers, and of course, they were colorful. There were seeds, herb plants, a man in a Nike sweatshirt (which made me miss home), and of course there were many other vendors, but I didn’t want to go on and on. Around the corner from the market I found this lovely garden. Like many smaller Italian gardens, it was in a charming state of disarray.

The ever-present Asparagus fern and succulent combo.

On our way to eat lunch with John’s cousin, I stopped so that I could take a photo of this house and windowsill. Right after that I saw this great back garden with its great outdoor oven. It too was colorful, and I loved the palm and mismatched tulips fluttering here and there. Lunch was wonderful and did I mention that Italy is colorful? I think John’s cousin thought I was a bit odd taking a photo of her tabletop but I think you might see why I did it, right? Look at those adorable chickens—and that red! Oh how I love red!
The red Dianthus, with the orange curtains, and the orange drain pipe. Ahhhhh, once again, color.  There are olive trees and palms everywhere. It’s kind of a Mediterranean thing. But that lion up on its pedestal, isn’t he adorable?We stayed in the same apartment we stayed in 2 years ago. Owned by a family friend, I love the view looking out at the vines. IMG_1127We also ate at the same restaurant as we did during our last trip. Pizzeria Caravaggio is fantastic and I really enjoyed eating there again. This time I ordered a pizza though, and was thrilled that they served it the way I like to eat pizza at home. I love nothing more than a cheese pizza covered in arugula. IMG_1131.jpgThe next morning we awoke to a sunny day and again I relished the view from the veranda as I drank my morning cup of coffee. This is the day we drove to Verona, and here I am putting on my game face. Not to go on and on with another back story, but I’ve been hearing about driving fast on the autostrada since I was a kid and whenever I’m in Italy I like to drive fast. This car helped me to fulfill the need for speed and as far as we know I still haven’t received a speeding ticket in the mail like I did last time.

With this kind of success, I think that next time I will wear driving gloves. I’ve earned them.

And next time we’ll talk about the amazing garden, or maybe it will be the post after that…

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Not sure what this adorable little window box plant is but I admired it at our host’s house.

Houseplant Order from Glasshouse Works: Fluffy Ferns!!!

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Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Suzi Wong’.

Many moons ago I had a large, fluffy, and lovely ‘Suzi Wong’ fern—but then I neglected it. Take my advice, this is NOT a houseplant that likes to be ignored or forgotten.

Before you know it, the thing will look entirely toasted if you’re not paying attention, and you will regret it. High humidity and lovingly caring for its every need are what work best for this fine-looking specimen houseplant.

This time around my little princess is going to make it because she’s a beauty and I’m going to give her what she deserves.

The three ferns I recently purchased from Glasshouse Works.

For years I’ve regularly ogled the lists of plants offered by Glasshouse Works. Then a few years ago I ordered plants from them, but I hadn’t done so since that time.

This past month I started to think about Suzi again, so I looked her up. Of course! Glasshouse Works sold them, and they had the impossible-to-find ‘Verona Lace’ fern too. Yes!

Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Suzi Wong’.

As you can see, the delicate ‘Suzi Wong’ fern has already been a bit neglected by me. Since I plan to finally pot her up this week—and am dedicated to giving her whatever will keep her happy—I think this time I’ll succeed. Hopefully in a few more years I’ll be divining this plant.

We will see.

Protoasparagus plumosus aka Asparagus setaceus.

Admittedly, they sent me an extra (free) plant and I never checked back with them to see if it was some kind of mistake. (I swear they did NOT know I was a blogger.)

Was I pleased? Of course!!!

An Asparagus fern for me? Why yes! Thank you!

Protoasparagus plumosus aka Asparagus setaceus.
I had one of these plants before too but let’s add this to the litany of confessions today: I neglected it. That’s sad since the last one I had was grown from seed.
Sometimes I am a horrible plant mommy.
Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Verona Lace’.

The other jewel in my order was the ‘Verona Lace’ fern. Ok, I may have killed one of these in the past but it was before I had indoor lights for my plants. Anyway, it’s an absolutely graceful and serene fern. I have only seen one mature plant at my old employer’s home and it was the most enchanting thing. It drapes. It sways. It chops the air. It’s legend. (It’s also famous for growing very slowly, hence, it’s rarity.)

Overall, I give Glasshouse Works a huge double thumbs up! I’m a huge lover of houseplants and they offer so many that are really difficult to find. Check them out if you haven’t already.

(PS: Where do you like to shop for houseplants and tropicals online? They also specialize in a lot of terrarium plants but I’m looking for some Begonias. Thoughts?)

Xera Nursery Fall Fundraiser and Open House

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Sometimes one feels like a kid in a candy store. This was one of those times.

The sale is over at Xera Plants but I made it at least. This isn’t meant in a snarky way, I’m just surprised I had the energy to go! (September was quite an active month for me and I was really drained from all the activities.)

Sorry to have not posted anything about this pre-sale, but so it goes. (This is a wholesale nursery that’s not frequently open to the public so whenever they open their doors it’s quite a treat!)

Yes, I am posting this after the fact but at least this was something I attended within the last week! (Oh, just wait until my backlog begins to appear soon!)

Crepe Myrtle ‘Wichita’, (Lagerstroemia ‘Wichita’).
For a bit of a change I took my landscaper friend with me and we both enjoyed the break even though we were exhausted before we’d even left.
Polka Dot Begonia, (Begonia maculata).

Introducing my friend to a few new contacts at the nursery was fun, and besides, who among us doesn’t really just enjoy looking at plants?

Buddleja colvilei ‘Kew Form’.

This form of Buddleja really surprised us both and the blooms were different. If it hadn’t been for its leaves I’m not sure we would have been able to identify the shrub. That’s what tags are for though…

An Arctostaphylos treated as a standard.

And just look at the bark on this beautiful topiary! I could stare at it for days, months, years.

Parrot Plant, (Impatiens niamniamensis).

Ok, since I’m always bad about posting my purchases, I will do so this time. First up was a replacement Impatiens. Yes, I know it’s getting cold out and that this plant won’t be happy soon out in the cold but I should remind those of you who’re new to this blog that I have a lot of plant lights and I spend all winter in a house filled with lights and plants. It’s not such a horrible way to live and even people who don’t garden as much as I do love to visit.

I bought a Polka Dot Begonia and another Begonia luxurians too. The latter was also a replacement plant. (Yes, some plants were neglected during the separation and divorce process. I felt badly about this, but it has been worth it in the long run.)

Fig tree, (Ficus afghanistanica).

This little fig tree was a nice find. It’s a compact form and quite cold hardy so it may end up living in a container although I plan to plant it before winter sets in around here. (If I do chose to move, this one is going with me.)

My sad fig situation this year.

I was sad that my little fig tree wasn’t very productive this year but our weather has been so strange. It’s been sunny and warm for weeks now and we’ve had so little rain. It’s October and I still have to water! I should be baking with apples right now!

(Yes, I would have bought more if I could have, but not knowing where I will be this time next year means that I have to really curtail my plant purchases to those which can be transported easily to wherever I land. I do love Xera Plants a lot though and I hope that in the future when I am more settled I will be able to add more of their special plants to my garden.)

The studio/garage.

In other news, during my recent birthday party—while hanging out in the hammock—an old friend had a bright idea. Later that night he wrote to me and asked: “Have you ever thought about renting out your garage as an art studio?” I took a deep breath before writing back to let him know that when I first saw this house for sale online it was the detached semi-finished former garage space that excited me most. I very much wanted to make it into some kind of studio but we could never do so.

So, if my garden and I are going to grow on in time, it somehow seems quite fitting to let that initial thought I’d had so long ago—a little spark I’d sent out into the world—come full circle. I hope that allowing a gifted and very talented young artist to set fire to his own creativity back there with his brushes and imaginative energy will help to propel me forward. Besides, it means I get to add some plant life back into the space over the winter.

An artist needs inspiration, right? Let it be green…

Volunteer Park Conservatory (Seattle): Part Five, The Bromeliad House

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This—the last room on this visit we’ve been having for about a week now—is the Bromeliad House.

Dischidia ‘Thailand Blush’.
I am sorry I don’t know as much about these plants as I’d like to, but in my home, they are simply too difficult to care for and that always complicates things. I’d love to take them on, but maybe I will have to let a few other plants die first. Yes, I said that.
Air plants are everywhere here, but there are other plants too.
There is a different kind of Staghorn Fern and…
more and more of the Tillandsia and other Bromeliads.
I found some lovely blooms though.
Aechmea warasii variegata.
This was a nice view but it reminded me of The Muppets for some reason. Maybe I’m tiring of calling everything Seussian?
There was a musical artwork made by an artist from Portland, Oregon installed overhead and it was really kind of nice in that it wasn’t really overdone or obtrusive. It complemented the whole atmosphere.

As the musical chimes played I admired blooms nearby and listened to the melodic tones.

Agapetes ‘Ludgvan Cross’.
I like these plants more and more whenever I see them. They look like hand-painted China and are so stimulating to the eye.

Agapetes ‘Ludgvan Cross’.

Before I left I walked around outside admiring the beds of annuals. It was such a nice way to relax and clear my mind before heading back home to Portland.
I don’t know much about this aspect of their work here at the Volunteer Park Conservatory, but when plants are confiscated from people trying to ship them in or out of the country illegally this is where they are sent. I was happy to know they didn’t necessarily just wind up in a garbage can somewhere. Not that I have thought about this a lot but…
Maybe the seeds I accidentally attempted to import legally that were on the DO NOT IMPORT list ended up here and are out back in their plant pokey? If so, I hope they’re doing well. I am just relieved that the only harm I caused myself was the worry about where my seeds had gone. I had no idea they were being held up because of my mistake. Note to self: Order more carefully next time.

Anybody buying plants on Craigslist?

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Fuchsia boliviana.

The economy must be doing badly this summer. That’s obvious, right? Last year I was able to post all kinds of plants on CL but this summer nobody seems to have any extra cash. It is sad that others’ seed money is all tied up in fuel costs, but it seems that is the case right now. Tomorrow I intend to post something for sale since it has been at least a month or so since I last had an item up for grabs, but if I don’t sell something soon, I guess that I will simply have to pot them all up for next year and hope for the best. (Would love to sell my Bolivian fushias I’ve grown from seed but none of them has flowered just yet. They were started from seed in 2006, and still haven’t bloomed! I refuse to give up on them though. Wish me luck.) UPDATE: JUST SOLD 3 COMMON VALERIAN PLANTS. YA!

Cemetery Roses

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I found this old cemetery rose at a pioneer cemetery near Astoria, Oregon. My husband and I love to seek out these old plants when we go on our trips because it really is such a fun activity when you are traveling with so little money. When I was a child, doing this kind of thing was normal, but now, young folks don’t always do these kinds of things, often calling them old fashioned or outdated. All I know is that it is an activity that I used to like to take part in, and I still do. I hope that my nieces, or even my future nephew, will do the same in the future.
These small rose blooms smelled amazing and although the cuttings I took did not take, luckily I will be able to return there soon for some more.
I hope to add a few others to my collection too as time goes by. Let me know if you have any great ones.