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!

Swapping Plants, Feeding Friends, and the Gift of Seeds

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Regular weekly posts didn’t work out exactly—but c’est la vie.

I’ve learned a lot about relaxing when it comes to “being in control” while working with a hospice client for several months. I’m honored to have travelled that journey with the client, and I’m proud of the teamwork we accomplished as caregivers with the hospice nursing staff, but I needed a break, and now I have it.

No more 12-hour shifts for now unless they’re in my own garden—and back to regular posts.

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My hellstrip STILL hasn’t been cleaned up but it looks much better now. I really like what that randomly deposited shopping cart has done for the overall look of my street.

For a week or two I furiously amassed my annuals to get my baskets planted early, but I probably only made it 1/3 of the way through.

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I hope to have a red, orange and yellow back patio this summer. Today it dawned on me that it might be fun to hang a catnip plant back there too—out of paw’s reach.

At least I sort of had a plan this year. I see all of this now as part of a learning curve. My back has not been making this easy. I am listening to my body more now and I’ve been telling my mind to shut off more and more.

Then there is that random gem of a plant you find from time to time.

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Adiantum x mairisii.

This is a deciduous maidenhair fern that will be wonderful to plant out later. IMG_2291

As is regularly planned, there was a spring plant swap organized for garden bloggers in the area. I tried to have things ready, but I only could get so far.

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It was my great pleasure to take my neighbor Mindy. She technically lives several blocks away, and technically she’s in a different neighborhood, but she’s my neighbor. She’s been blogging for a long time too over at Rindy Mae and can this woman garden, and cook, and do tons of other things. Our other friend refers to her as Martha and that’s a compliment. She’s a multi-talented creative woman.

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Flowers that Mindy brought our hostess.

IMG_2295 The food at the swap was amazing and I can’t say enough about how much fun I had that day.

The company was as elucidating as ever and I enjoyed sitting back and relaxing. Every person is so unique and creative and has so much to offer in terms of their creativity. It could be overwhelming, but I see it as a wonderful community resource. Everyone is always willing to discuss gardening issues. You can’t find that just anywhere.

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The many plant plugs…

I rushed home to continue pushing hard in the garden to get things planted before the solo trip to the coast, but I had several long shifts so not everything ended up looking too pretty.

My arms were thrown up the the Universe and I proclaimed, “Set me free of this garden!”

Hitting the road after not having been out of Portland since February was just what this woman needed.

I borrowed the FIAT, packed up for an impromptu fundraiser dinner with friends, and skipped out of town just before Barack Obama arrived for a visit.

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A little piece of the Old World in the New World.

The trip lasted for several days and honestly I rested and cooked and spent some time with my dad before he returned home to Portland. I hadn’t been there since February so I spent a lot of time just staring out the window.

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A floral hostess gift for me.

On Saturday night I hosted the dinner and you can read about that over at Tangly Cottage Garden Journal. It was great fun to spend time with another garden blogger from outside of Portland and to hear how work had been going. I also got to meet a new plant friend. IMG_2441And he gave me seeds, rare, very rare, and special seeds. This kind of stunned me but I’m not going to let these precious little miracles escape me. I will germinate them and I will grow them well.

It was nice to return home to Portland, but I could have stayed away for at least another week. This past week I have been exhausted and I slept for nearly 24 hours yesterday, but I am happy. Quincy the Cat is at my feet. The garden is growing. I can hear my fountain, and the world is good, very good.

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Welcome to my riotous garden as seen from my front porch. I just love how you can barely see the wheel of the FIAT in the driveway.

Book Review: A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed (by James Fenton)

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A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed by James Fenton, 2001, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 125 pages.

I remember first seeing the slim silhouette of James Fenton‘s A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed at my local library. It was some time ago and back then I was building a city garden from hundreds of packets of seeds here at my house so I just looked beyond its spine to find more encyclopedic picture books.

So yes, because of its size, I didn’t take the book as seriously as I should have, instead I assumed it was a memoir or journal. I’m not throwing shade, it just wasn’t what I thought I was looking for at that exact moment—and I was oh so wrong!

I wish I’d read this book years ago when I first saw it. I’m a seed freak and germination enthusiast after all. Then again, having found it years into my gardening life, it did allow me to sing along with him as he sung the praises of many plants I’m quite familiar with now.

A well-known poet, journalist and literary critic, it just so happens that Fenton is also an avid and accomplished gardener. This book is a collection of columns he was asked to write about the 100 essential plants that he’d pick to populate a garden from seed. Instead of dispassionate know-how and how-to tips, this book is written with great passion—and it’s quite opinionated too. More than anything else, it’s a book that argues for growing plants from packets of seeds. The author doesn’t tell the reader how to use them, or where or when to sow them, but he encourages curiosity and creativity using his own quips and experiences as evidence for their inclusion in any garden.

“The seeds I have chosen are generally speaking ones which have, over several years, given me pleasure in my garden. This is a personal anthology.” (page 12)

Mr. Fenton is not a garden writer. He also does not include himself in the category of “gardening writer” although his book falls into the category of gardening. (Yes, it even says so right there on the back cover.)

I found that he does such a great job of writing about gardening, that he’s sure to upset many readers. There’s nothing I enjoy more as a reader than a well thought out opinion that stirs up some thought on my part:

“Today some makers of gardens are so brow-beaten by color snobbery that they settle for a garden in which all flowers are excluded, or they take nervous care to check which flowers, which colors, are okay. Gardening writers, in the hope of giving the weight of science to their reflections, talk about the combinations of complementary colors, and sometimes even refer to the color wheel. But this is uncandid taste masquerading as high theory.” (page 15)

This book should be on the required reading list of any aspiring garden writer—even if this means that you learn to dislike it because this is a wonderful book to dislike for all of the right reasons—namely the author’s own opinionated voice and the validity of his arguements.

“Among the plants for people who don’t really like plants is the recently popular category called ‘architectural’. What is an architectural plant? It is something big, and possibly expensive and of a bold shape—above all something that promises to make an immediate and permanent impact on the space we are filling—but its resemblance to actual architecture may be minimal. A stand of bamboo does not remind me of any architecture I know, even though I have lived in countries where much of the architecture uses bamboo. And what building looks like a phormium?” (Page 24)

I, for one, enjoyed A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed because it’s not formulaic in any sense. Fenton writes in strong stokes, making an ephemeral and vague list. He’s a poet after all and the book will leave an impression. Not all gardening is scientific or botanic and this book succeeds in quenching the thirst of readers like me—call us whatever you will.

James Fenton has since moved on from the large garden he describes in A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seeds, but it’s clear from this text that the man sees gardens everywhere.

“So my definition—my nondefinition—of a garden must include a spectacular one that I saw last summer in Manhattan, which consisted of nothing but morning glories grown on a fire escape, high up above the street. Mustard and cress sown on a washcloth, Virginia stock in an old crab shell, or a row of hyacinths in glasses—all these count as gardens, in my understanding of the word, along with Great Dixter, Powis Castle, and Versailles.” (pages 6-7)

There is plenty of good in this book and I’m sorry not to include his list of 100 seed packets here because I’d rather you sought the book out yourself. Using it as inspiration, I hope to continue to stock my own garden and seed shop with as many of them as is possible. The list really is a great one—kind of like a much-loved mixed tape from a gardening friend.

Eating and Sleeping in the Garden

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Mona the Cat dangles her foot while trying to stay cool during our recent heatwave.

Moving a blog from one platform to another takes time. I dreaded working through this process, and now, I’m simply overwhelmed by it.

The list of required changes looms large on my list of lists. Days continue to pass by me but daily I’m trying to learn a new trick here at my new home while I’m still cleaning up over at the old blog.

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A bloom on a Hypoestes phyllostachya (aka Polka Dot Plant).

Recently I’ve been collecting seeds for Milton’s Garden Menagerie and I’ve been taking notes on where to find more seeds in the coming weeks.

This Polka Dot Plant is a plant I grew from seed this past winter and I hope to collect its seeds in September.

(I just love this plant.)

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Lilies in a friend’s garden in August.

Garden tour season is in full swing. I’ve been trying to get out to see more gardens but my physical therapy is taking up a lot of my time. (I cannot begin to express how much better I’m feeling after back surgery.)

Sometimes I’m amazed that I’m just seeing some gardens for the first time, but life has been keeping me busy these past few years.

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Maurice the Cat trying to sleep through the heat.

My garden is still in the middle of a major redesign. As I remove plants that have underperformed for me—rather than shop for new ones to fill the space—I’m just enjoying the emptiness.

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Zucchini Salad: fresh uncooked zucchini, fresh Italian parsley, olive oil, and a pinch of salt.

Recently, Paul Bonine of Xera Plants Inc invited us over for dinner and we had the pleasure of returning the invitation to him this past weekend.

It was terrifying to have him over because my garden is such a wild mess, but the conversations he and I had as we walked through my own urban jungle helped me so much.

I badly needed guidance.

(He brought me some seeds too.)

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My breakfast in the garden à la John. Eggs fried in brown butter, polenta, and a side of prickly pear.

The next morning I awoke recharged and refreshed. I went out to the garden to weed and John made me breakfast with a side of prickly pear.

If you’re new (or a veteran) to this blog, you may not know that my oft-used online handle Ficurinia is Sicilian dialect for ‘prickly pear’.

It was his first prickly pear experience—and he like it.

Good to know since he married this Ficurinia 11 months ago today.

An Autumn Field Report

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My life feels like it’s on fire right now—but my house looks like it thanks to the annual display put on by the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).
While my life takes off, I’m too busy to even sit and consider what’ll happen to me now if I swell up. It took me a long time, and it took a lot of searching and self-acceptance, but finally, I seem to have a professional life and a work schedule I not only can manage, but I’ve set myself up to succeed and it feels so much better.

The garden is no longer neglected. In my mind, it’s on hold. It’s slowly starting up again (really coming to life for the first time) and I’m introducing John to it little by little.

His first unique seed experience was this ‘Cruel’ vine seed head (Araujia sericifera). It’s the only one produced by this non-hardy vine that has survived a few too many winters here in Oregon. I grew if from seed. To see it set seed after several years is very exciting to me.

The vine is in front of the house and isn’t really that special. It chokes out all that gets in its way and I was getting tired of its unneighborly behavior. Then it bloomed rows of small, pretty white fragrant flowers and my dislike (aka hatred) for the plant relented.

I am a proud mama now. I can’t kill my baby. I’ve got to collect its seeds!

The small autumn-blooming Camellia ‘Silver Dollar’ is currently bursting with blooms. I appreciate and admire its restraint and grace. So many of the other garden plants are dressed up like painted ladies this time of year. I love the little touch of class this plant offers my eyes.

The Amsonia I grew from seed a few years ago is looking beautiful next to this Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)—speaking of painted ladies!

Life in the house and garden is changing though. Our family has changed and I’m working more and more outside of the house now.

Maurice the Cat is ever the trooper and despite his age, arthritic pain, and weight problem, he’s soldiering on and has enjoyed every last bit of sunshine he can grasp in his polydactyl paws.

Cats do not like change and only now are they trusting that their lives are not being tossed hither and thither.

The leaves are changing and falling. The air is crisp and tonight we may have some frosty temps in the Portland metro area.

It’s a beautiful time of the year and I’m preparing again to participate in NaNoWriMo.

I’m writing a novel again in November—but unlike last year—this story is fully cooked and ready to go. I am also preparing to write many other things. Actually, I’m already doing so. It’s time. I am well enough now.

There is still some physical recovery to do. A decade of illness is not easy to repair. I need to lose more weight. My blood pressure and heart need a break. I’ve lost a lot of weight and have continued to regain and build muscle but my body needs to be leaner and meaner. I am caring for me now and it feels good too.

I will do all of these things that I’ve set out to do now. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. It’s good to be me again.

I’m working as a caregiver now, and I work all kinds of odd shifts with the elderly and those in hospice.

Illness has prepared me for this and I’m comfortable and confident with what I’m doing.

It’s not a forever job, but for now, I’m enjoying the pleasure of working hard and the opportunity of getting to know new and interesting people.

They’ve lived different lives than mine and we honor and respect one another as we work through basic daily tasks that have become increasingly more difficult for the clients. The adjustment has not been easy for me, but it’s improving. I know what I’m doing and I know that I can help them.

It feels good.

This autumn we’ve talked a lot about eventually buying a place in the country near the ocean. I’ve thought about the garden it would have and what palate of plants I would pick. This is another project I’m working on right now.

I’ve never really designed a  project like this, but oddly, I’m ready and willing to accept the challenge.

This has led to me thinking a lot about my own design aesthetic. I never knew I had one but it runs through almost everything I do. It ties into the novel writing, so I’m a happily contained little mind now. Inside I am germinating.

There have been many meals and many recipes recently. John has been cooking new things, learning new techniques in the kitchen, and he’s been shopping at farmer’s markets. As for me, I’m in love with my Cauliflower (Brassica) ‘Minaret’. Yes, I’ve been cooking too, but I’ve been enjoying all of John’s food more. I’m proud of him. He’s a great cook.

For me, food has become another job. This is a good thing—literally, a job! I’m still kind of in shock this even happened, but it did.

So, it’s exciting to announce this publicly. Here goes: I’ve been hired to work as a ghost blogger for a food blogger. That is all I can say, since I am obviously a ghost blogger, but to say that the experience is thrilling is an understatement. I want to be a paid writer. I crave it. I need it. I would like to continue working as an editor too. With this opportunity, I will be able to do both of these things.

And from here it will only get better…

Lastly, I’ve returned to arranging flowers and that’s been good for me during the times when I still feel chronic pain from either swelling or injuries I sustained years ago. I’m arranging plant material weekly in an effort to relieve stress and to be creative. It gets my juices flowing and it gives me a problem to solve. I relish that kind of thing.

The whole process brings a kind of value to my life that’s irreplaceable.

It’s still cleanup time in the garden—my garden: I’m still blogging, there are seeds to sow, I see a future garden to begin designing, and there are many words in the air. My mind has been swept and it is still a bit shady in there, but I see leaks of light and the words are in lines now that float and I can grasp their syntax.

Someday I will describe the mind of chronic pain to show how dull and slow it can become and how one can lose so many words. The feelings and thoughts were all inside of me but I couldn’t get them out. I struggled. I was inarticulate for so many years.

It is difficult when the words come to me quickly now. I still feel as though I’m sitting behind the wheel of a fast car as the words pour out. I know that I am not yet as suave as I once was though, I’m rough, I repeat a lot. I could use better words—and I will.

But I will use them for my novel and it will have a garden and it will have plants and there will be so many other wonderful things. My many layers are peeling away now and as winter comes low over the horizon from the cold north I will let the chilling winds lay bare that which I want so badly to articulate but have yet been unable to do so.

Going on Now: Labor Day Sale at Cistus Nursery

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Gorgeous Hedychium met us in the parking lot.
This summer has been lean and mean for me financially. So when Cistus Nursery posted that they were having a 30% off Labor Day Sale I knew I was in luck. What a great opportunity for me to save some pennies and head on out to Sauvie Island with my friend Billye.
Admittedly, I hadn’t been to Cistus since June so that made this visit a bit more special to me. It looked lovely as usual and I was so happy to be back.
While walking around with all the prickly things I thought about my friend Loree over at Danger Garden. I can still hear myself thinking, “Wow, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t take a picture of one of these things for my blog. I can talk about these things.” Then, just as I leaned in with my camera to get a closer look at the gorgeous Agave americana ‘Yellow Ribbons’ on the top shelf, the Agave aff. macroculmis T73-99 just beneath it on the bench poked me in the leg. Oops! When will I ever learn? (Both are great plants. Don’t let me give any of these plants a bad name.)
I admire those of you out there who can live with these plants and not hurt yourselves. Maybe I would do better with the Nolina macrocarpa sitting beside ‘Yellow Ribbons’? Hmmm, I think not. No. Let’s be positive. Maybe now is just not my time.

It really was a beautiful day and I loved looking up above the nursery to see all of the textures from the plantings. I’m so in love with green texture these days.

I was a little bit disappointed that Sean Hogan (the nursery’s owner) wasn’t around that day, but I hope to catch up with him this winter. He is a good plant friend and very much understands and encourages my seed habit. I like talking to him a lot about seed collecting adventures.

Canary Islands Juniper, Juniperus cedrus.

During this visit I looked at things differently. Sure, I don’t have room for this tree, but I liked it so I took a picture. I’m branching out a bit again, learning a few new things, paying attention.

My friend Billye with her new Italian greyhound Tango.

When you visit Cistus Nursery it’s often quite relaxing. This is the kind of retail environment you like to sit around in while you enjoy the sights.

Than again, if you’re like me, you can park people in the shade while you shop. Billye went for the plants but we all know that we’re not always so lucky and sometimes we end up dragging people with us to nurseries. Cistus is friendly for those folks.

While we were there, birds swirled overhead.

Chilean lantern tree, Crinodendron hookerianum.

As we walked back to pay for our plants I saw this Chilean lantern tree blooming. Mine is still happily growing along but it’s not blooming right now. I think I might have pruned it when it didn’t want to be pruned. I can wait.

Ashe magnolia, Magnolia macrophylla ssp. ashei.

My friend and I ventured back into the corner we’d missed. It was fun seeing a big leaf magnolia. These trees really make me smile with their big huge leaves.

Giant Cape Restio, Rhodocoma capensis.

There were other treats.

Lysionotus pauciflorus.

Up at the register I found temptation after temptation.

Lysionotus pauciflorus.
This one was really difficult to say “No” to but I did. Maybe next time…

Salvia buchananii ‘Velvet Slipper’.

I liked this one too.

Looking around it felt great to be back. I wish I could have purchased more but planting all of these plants takes time. I don’t have a lot of extra time nowadays. It’s good though because I’m staying busy with my garden coaching client.
Sometime soon I’ll be back. I highly recommend you go too if you can do so before now and Monday. The sale was really quite a treat. It’s worth the trip.

In the end I walked away with a few things I’d lost in the garden: Sedum divergens, a pine-scented rosemary, and a Melicytus crassifolius. I also added a few new friends: Carex testacea ‘Prairie Fire’, Mahonia gracilipes, and my first Dahlia. (It’s a Dahlia ‘Fascination’ and I’m so excited to finally have one.)

Who knows what I’ll end up doing this weekend, oh wait, I know: Annual Dahlia Festival. Maybe I’ll see you there!