Plants 365, week 1

Hi! I’m Jenn – botanist, CEO, potty mouth.

This is my “plant diary”, where every day for the entire year I will log my experience with plants. I’m not sure what that’s actually going to look like, but it doesn’t really matter – I just want to talk plants.

But first, here’s a little context about me: I fucking love Champagne. I don’t really like reading fiction but can digest it in the podcast form. I listen, read and observe a lot. I happily overeat carbs. I call myself a botanist because I have been a professional (as in, I pay my bills by) horticulturist for the past 15 years. The past 4+ years I have been researching plants with indigenous Mayan and Garifuna cultures in Belize – mostly focusing on organically farmed Cacao theobroma and jungle-grown Yam root. This means lots of time spent working on family farms, lots of jungle hikes, lots of eating weird things and even a bot fly in the arm (I dare you to google bot fly). Vanilla planifolia and Crocus sativus are my jam right now. My hands-on background is florals, farming, herbalism, horticulture and jungle growth. I’ve dabbled in greenhouse growing (3 years in community college, greenhouse management degree), grafting and stone work. I’d like to practice bonsai more. I’m terrible at grammar. I love holistic approaches, but loathe buzzwords and “internet experts”. I could spend less money on crystals. I should do more yoga. I am meditating more. I get angry at Terry Gross, but then fall back in love each week. Reality TV shows are a must. Woodford on the rocks with a twist and a cherry. Hip hop keeps me human. Kale is king.

Why write this? Because I want to remember and reflect on the time I spend with plants.

Ok. Here we go.

Thursday, January 1st, 2015 – HMB

For the first time in the 5 years of living in this house we have ants! Like, a ton of them. I had to throw out the Belizean honey I bought at that farmers market, which sucked. I hid the chocolates Matt gave me for Christmas Eve. The roses are clipped back in the front, but I haven’t done the ones in the back yet. ‘Benjamin Britten’ doesn’t give a fuck about when and how – but the other little bitches seem to be more fussy. Maybe it’s because they are in pots and BB has been in ground for years. They would all love a bit more full-sun then they get now. The whatever plant Derek gave us is happy… I keep rotating it as it reaches for the sun in the living room. The cacao tree is beyond happy and the trunk is now a trunk! An actual trunk! Cray. Black tea made me feel like shit again this afternoon. Ug. I love it so. WTF Camellia sinensis?! This weekend I hope to garden more… The layer of compost I spread around the BB roses is still fluffy, but has hardened from the cold weather. I want to crunch in it. Need to water the flats of mint.


Friday, January 2nd 2015 – HMB

Today was not a big plant day, since I was working in the shop. Although, with that being said, plants in there surround me… So I guess it’s always a plant day. I woke up thinking it was Monday then realizing it was Friday. Relief. I’m planning on doing some good gardening this weekend, mostly on Saturday. There’s a new The Horror I am dying to listen to (pun!).

Last weekend was a dream. I got up around 9am, grabbed a bottle of Perrier Jouet, orange juice and a champagne glass, also my clippers. I didn’t need to mix the OJ since PJ is so delish, but it made me feel healthy so I mixed. By the time it was 10:30am I was digging out a Salvia leucantha and was warm and buzzed. By 11:15am I was aggressively pruning back my BB roses (torn finger skin to prove it) and was feeling fuzzy every time I stood up. By about 1pm the green waste bin felt so far away and I was drunk – like sit in the dirt and laugh at the oxalis drunk. Every progression in the garden, my bottle of champagne and OJ came with, mud streaking the outside of the glass and staining the pretty label. To my surprise I got a lot of shit done! Oxalis were pulled by hand, then I scraped the soil with a weed-scraper blade to pull up any left over bulblets. Then cultivated. The roses got pruned. The sprawling perennials got pulled out and transplanted, and I even pulled up all the wood stepping “stones” and re-laid them. By 3pm my drunk garden train was chugging much slower and I ended up sitting on the ground, leaning against my front gate pulling weeds in between the Echeveria ‘Lola’. I was listening to B.J. Novak’s audiobook the whole time and started LOL-ing at one point so loud the not-drunk people walking down the sidewalk were startled.

“Jeez a whole bottle”, I overheard a not-drunk person snicker.

“Fuuuuuuucck youuuuuuu”, was my long, drawn out retort. Probably inaudible since I was mid-sip and had earbuds still in. A clump of dirt caked off the bottom of the glass and into my cleavage. All in all, a good day of gardening. More tomorrow.

Saturday, January 3rd 2015 – HMB

Came home from the shop and didn’t end up in the garden until about 4pm. Not what I planned, but whatevs. Before Christmas I ordered 500 Crocus sativus bulbs online and had them shipped to the house. Today I went round and gathered all of my old terra cotta pots and filled them half full of Mary Jane’s Blend potting soil from Point Reyes Compost (the best). I dusted each pot with a bit of bulb fertilizer (dry powder) and then added more to a bucket full of soil. I stirred in the fertilizer with the soil, while listening to the 7th episode of Serial. The bulbs were already sprouting so that made them a bit harder to plant – shoots curving from each side of the little bulb (ok, sorry… corm) making them uneven. It felt good to plant bulbs again – I feel like I haven’t done that in ages… Although it’s most likely been just a season. It feels very fancy to plant bulbs. The dry soil feels good and full in the pot, and mixing in fertilizer feels very intentional and organized (compared to literally throwing handfuls of compost around plants, my normal way of amending). Crocus sativus is the type of Crocus that Saffron is from – so needless to say when the time is right (I think Fall), I will be able to harvest my own Saffron! I’ll bring a bunch to the shop for sale, too. How sick is that?! My own vials of Saffron – one of the most coveted and expensive spices in history. Very cool. Hopefully my dogs don’t shit on them in the meantime… A girl can dream.

Sunday, January 4th 2015 – HMB

Feeling tired and a bit sick today. I’m sitting on the couch looking out the front window with the dogs sleeping in a pile on the floor. I hope to get out and garden on this full moon day – but for now, I see a few blank spaces in the front that could be filled in. I want to find more Yarrow ‘terra cotta’ to plant within the bearded iris. I have about 2-3 already in there, but I think I need about 4 more. I wish this type of Yarrow grew more aggressively and flowered more – like Yarrow filipendulina. It grows kind of spindly and slower then I’d like. Usually the Cerinthe takes over everything in the front garden, no matter what. I could leave it as is and by March it would look lovely.

Monday, January 5th 2015 – HMB

Today was a full day of garden maintenance, mostly Winter pruning. Crew of three guys. First in HMB, then Hillsborough, then San Mateo, finally back to HMB to my farm to weed the rows. I am tired and still have bits of dried lavender in my hair… Too lazy to shower it out.

This morning started at John’s – a simple little garden down the street from my house. Originally I created it as a “habitat garden”, since John is a huge bird and wildlife lover. Obsesser is more like it. He dutifully drops off newspaper and magazine clippings of anything from any garden section for me. He forwards emails to me from every wildlife organization he subscribes to – which is a lot. He loves when I write about using herbs for preventative medicine. We are very similar in loving science – but loving plants and nature more. We both find it important to read the garden and then “tailor” to the garden’s needs. Just because the tree limb is dead doesn’t mean you cut it off… That type of stuff.

However today I was in a “Monday = Production Day” kind of attitude. This means me hopped up on water (coffee is gross) and running around my crew of guys – cutting this and that, trimming hedges low, weeding in a fury. When I’m gardening like this I break everything up into methodical 30-minute increments, per person. That way when an hour passes – each person has accomplished 2 tasks. It’s thorough and quick paced and it looks like a hurricane of clippings and dust. But I slowed my pace when I came to pruning the ‘Cecile Brunner’ rose hedge back. It’s a giant climber that is now just an old (albeit flowering) mass of thorns tipping the attached fence into the sidewalk. It’s home to countless birds and J loves it. He’s much older (and says things like, “I’m on the right side of the ground today!”) and likes the privacy and watching the birds from inside his house. He lives alone and watching his garden is his agenda, everyday. It’s important. I wanted to cut the roses way down – I wanted it clean and fresher for the Spring. I wanted the dead wood gone and space for new shoots come March. He said no. I understood, after my annoyance of not getting my way wore off. I slowly had the realization that he might not see many more “Winter clean-ups” and what the fuck is the point of me pruning something back so hard? Cleaner. Cleaner? What does cleaner matter at that age? Banking on a cleaner and healthier plant six months down the road won’t make up for the loss of a Winter season of watching birds and other critters nest in the growing tangle. I felt sick to my stomach thinking that my urge to “just cut the fucker down” could have taken away his mornings of sitting in his chair and observing the quiet comings and goings of the local wildlife. Normally I don’t ask, I just do. But I’m glad I asked today.

None of this came into play during the few minutes of our conversation, of course. I suggested something, he said no thanks, I said no prob and went on working.

But it made me sad. It made me tell the plants to please look really good this Winter and Spring. To please keep going even though he never waters and rarely has me come to care for them. It made me treasure every plant in that tiny garden.

Nature becomes your friend when you are old. My “design” ambitions don’t matter today. The single Birch tree, over grown Lavender and woody Sages don’t fit into my plan, but are perfect for his. They really are perfect. Fuck me for wanting to cut them all down. And for thinking the bird feeders are tacky.

I drove home, grabbed an Aloe, a bronze Fennel, a Buddlea, a Lemon Grass and two Pineapple Mints. I drove back to his place and placed them in the open areas of the garden and soaked them with the cold hose water. They don’t match, but are perfect. The birds will be happy, I told him.

Tuesday, January 6th 2015 – HMB

Today was a lot of landscaping again. The best part of the job in Ocean Colony is the purple violets in full bloom right now. They are sprawled flat against the ground and so fragrant you can smell them just from walking by. This reminds me of my favorite Mark Twain quote, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” I don’t really give a shit about the symbolism behind the quote, the literal sense is much more interesting to me. Ohh, violet perfume on my feet?!

I attempted to teach someone how to prune Camellias today. It was pretty funny to teach someone who has zero knowledge in pruning, how to prune. The person has no intuition, common sense or general knowledge about it… This must be what it’s like to teach a teenager to drive for the first time. Frightening. The Camellias turned out fine in the end.

I clipped hydrangeas down for the Winter. I love how hollow they are, and how they sound when you clip a medium to thick stem. Above the node, bitch. Above the node.

Wednesday, January 7th 2015 – HMB

I’m tired. This week has been a lot of juggling garden work with shop work.  Two different companies, different employees, different work. However the plants remain the same. Mix the Rose Leaf bath teas. Pull the weeds and shake off any excess dirt. Add 6 drops of Peppermint oil to 2 ounces of purified water. Trim the Lavender down, compost the clippings. Move the stones but mind the worms! Close the dried Gingko leaves tight in the container! The fertilizer! Move the fertilizer before the dogs eat it! How good does this Neroli oil smell?

I saved a few stems of the Camellia shrubs I pruned yesterday. Why does no one talk of Camellias for cut flowers? They are so lovely by my bedside. The leaves are glossy, clean and dark. And the buds are still swollen shut, but color is starting to fill the outer base petals. In a few days they will be open and full and very showy. Boastful even! They feel very English and formal.

The waste-high pile of dirty laundry is fine. I have Camellias in the living room; we are civilized.

A note left for me, from John. “And the birds are bonkers over the whole scene.”

Plants 365

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