Sow There! Gift-giving grumbles — old or old-fashioned? Nov. 28, 2019

 Hyacinth bulbs can be grown indoors year-round; just add water. Another project idea is to bake pumpkin seeds, but this orange fruit may be destined for the compost pile. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
November 29, 2019 

Bulbs in barely-August, Halloween costumes in September and Christmas wrap before Turkey day … Stores are more and more brazen these days about stocking the shelves for events that are still a season away.

I shake my head with confusion and hear myself muttering: “Things just aren’t the way they used to be … .”

Now I know what getting old feels like.

I could call it “old fashioned,” but frankly, my traditions are just “old.” I send paper Christmas cards, buy gifts in stores with a roof and walls and sometimes make gifts by hand.

In the near future, we’ll have hologram Christmas trees and virtual visits with Santa. Most households will have a special room in their garage to “make” gifts via a 3D printer.

This week, I used my cellphone to log a holiday event in my Google calendar. (This whole cellphone calendar idea is new to me, but makes sense in a modern world).

My calendar is color coded – work is blue, personal is purple and days deemed as holidays by Google are green.

Since when did Black Friday become a holiday? I’m so outdated that the green reminder of America’s biggest shopping day was a huge shock to me.

I can understand why Taxes Due is a helpful reminder. However, I’m fairly certain the mass merchandisers can do a decent job of reminding us about Black Friday, without the aid of Google.

Very soon, Black Friday will also be outdated. While visiting my folks, we saw a television commercial for the “12 days of Black Friday.” Will Google soon add 12 green reminders on my cellphone?

Gifts with glue and guts

For several years, I tried to rebel against the consumerism of the holiday – mostly because I lacked available funds.

I also liked the idea of making crafts in my living room while watching schmaltzy Hallmark holiday romance movies. The problem is that I’m not very crafty. Some gifts were a hit, like the hand-painted clay ornaments, no-bake fudge, crochet washcloths and painted “God jars.” Other years, my gifts looked like they were made by barn animals. One noteworthy disaster included the origami swan mobiles, made with recycled Christmas cards and attached to a metal clothes hanger.

Some ideas are better left as merely ideas.

This week, I visited Dad and perused the holiday decorations, which are on display year-round.

“Dad, whatever happened to that really ugly origami swan mobile I made that year?” I asked.

“The Smithsonian stopped by one day and asked for it,” Dad quipped.

As much as I make fun of merchandise that arrives in stores months before you need it, I’m glad spring-blooming bulbs were on sale before I became temporarily unemployed.

Last year, I grew hyacinths in my classroom almost continuously. At the winter break, I gifted each of my students with a bulb, a glass jar filled with pebbles, and planting instructions.

My intention was to again have bulbs blooming year-round.

At my current job at the college, I share an office. So far, I have two hyacinth bulbs in vases. The roots are growing nicely and I should have blooms before Valentine’s Day.

Three bulbs are doing their thing on my kitchen counter at home.

I haven’t counted, but I think I have about 40 bulbs remaining.

I can’t think of a better “crafty” Christmas idea than planting bulbs in decorative pots, and giving them as gifts. A hand-written note will explain that the pot of dirt should be placed where it will receive rain. Next spring, the recipient will appreciate how much I love them.

In the meantime, I need to get cracking on writing those old-fashioned Christmas cards. Maybe my friends will be inspired to use them for origami.

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Sow There! The case for the clunker, Nov. 22, 2019


Heather Hacking shows off her 2019 Honda Civic, her first “new” car. (Heather Hacking — contributed)
November 22, 2019

A few weeks before my last birthday, I signed away a bunch of money for a brand new car.

Dad called a few weeks later and asked me how I liked my new ride.

“I guess I’m getting used to it,” I said.

He laughed (at me). “You’re the only person I know who is not excited about driving a new car.

“It just doesn’t feel like me,” I said.

I’m just not the new-car kind of gal.

What feels like “me” is cruising in a car with so many dents, I feel comfortable parking in a big-city, bargain-priced parking lot in the bad side of town. In a clunker, you don’t hesitate to haul 10 bags of steer manure in the trunk. You don’t cry when you spill coffee on the passenger seat. Driving an ugly car means you have more freedom, such as never needing to drive through a car wash.

The majority of my cars were handed down when my parents upgraded their rides. This ensured I always got a great deal, and knew the car’s maintenance history.

People who drive brand new cars drive like they’re riding in an egg. They cringe when teenagers erratically open their car doors quickly in a parking lot. New-car drivers find a space in the parking lot hinter-land, as if to advertise they drive something precious – and you don’t.

Over many years, my mother and my father had separately encouraged me to buy a new car. The nagging increased in intensity each time I had engine trouble.

In the case of my father, he had spent more than his fair share fixing water pumps, cleaning battery terminals and investigating strange sounds. When he reached his 70s, he said his days of wrenching were over; I needed to buy a new car or find a boyfriend with a tool chest.

Both my father and my mother also wanted assurances I would not be stranded (again) on one of my favorite, dusty back roads.

When my birthday rolled around, Mom offered me a bunch of money with strings attached: She’d pay for a chunk of the new car, if I paid for the rest.

Could I truly end this particularly unglamorous chapter of my life?

In some ways, I blame my penchant for clunkers on my parents.

When I turned 16, I gained freedom in the driver’s seat of a 1975 Gremlin. Sure, the kids in my affluent Bay Area high school made a few jokes. I took that in stride. I was headed for the wild beyond. My car had a cassette player and I was ready to be unbridled. The fact that I did not have air conditioning meant my hair was perpetually blowing in the wind.

In college, “Wayne’s World,” was a big hit and the jokes intensified. For some reason, everyone believes Garth drove a Gremlin in the film. It was a Pacer, people! Not a Gremlin.

My Gremlin was a gem. It kept going through college and for several years into my career at the newspaper.

The vinyl on the bench seat began to peel, and I covered it with bedsheets. One day, my brother needed some cash, and I paid him to wash it. Some vital component must have rusted, because the passenger side door never closed again. I had to tie the door shut with a belt. To get out of the car, I scooched over the bench seat and opened the door on the passenger side.

And yet, the engine kept going. At the bitter end, the brakes were metal-on-metal and I drove carefully to Chico Scrap Metal, where I received $16.50.

I drove two other cars into the ground, pocketing money from the Cash-For-Clunkers program – a 1992 Saturn with an obliterated transmission and a 1998 Toyota Camry that had logged 311,000 miles.

My logic, all this time, has been that a cheap car requires $1,000 in maintenance a year, but almost nothing upfront.

I bought the car, a 2019 Honda Civic, which is at the top of Consumer Reports’ lists of reliable, reasonably-priced vehicles. If all goes well, I can drive my first new car until I retire my driver’s license. My step-dad helped pick it out, based on the latest safety features. My first week with the car, I took my students on a camping trip. They stomped with muddy shoes in the back seat, and I was glad.

“How do you like that new car?” Dad asked more recently.

“I’m getting used to it,” I said. “I got my first ding in the paint when I was parked at the grocery store. That makes me feel better.”

Last weekend, I drove my nearly-new car onto my lawn and washed it. It had been a while, and I might as well enjoy the fresh paint, even if the car’s value dropped $5,000 the minute I drove it off the lot.

It was a beautiful day, so I waxed it.

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Sow There! Trading rain for an extended autumn, Nov. 15, 2019

Just another day in the neighborhood. (Heather Hacking — contributed)
November 15, 2019

Almost every day, unless I am ill or traveling, I drive along The Esplanade.

This week, I’ve caught myself holding my breath, thinking “wow,” and “thank you.”

Fall is my favorite season.

I don’t get tired of crimson, amber and umber – or other colors that have common names like brown, yellow and orange.

If the air is chilly, my windows of the car are rolled up tight. The view prompts me to turn off the radio, as if I will be able to hold more closely to the visual when there is no sound. The leaves whiz by my windshield with a silent soundtrack, and what remains hanging in the trees will glint in the whisper of the sun.

I know I’m not the only one wowed by what we get to see every day.

I landed a job at Chico State University, which puts me smack dab in the middle of glorious leaf land. (My plan is to go back to teaching as soon as someone will hire me for a class in August 2020).

At the college, you can wander all day in awe, and never tire of the fading colors.

Just another day in the neighborhood. (Heather Hacking — contributed)

I often overhear students who are new to town. They’ll say “Wow,” and “I can’t believe the leaves.” “I feel like I landed on the East Coast,” someone might utter, with or without an East Coast accent.

It’s nice to know when others share a common appreciation.

A few years ago, I saw some guy walking into the middle of the street on the Esplanade. There was a pause in the flow of traffic, due to a red light down the way. The guy snapped a photo and it made me smile to know someone simply had to capture that multi-colored moment.

It turns out it was Jeff Pershing. I recognized him because he has played his guitar in town for about as long as I have used a 95926 zip code. Somehow knowing we shared this simple appreciation makes me listen more closely to his music.

Alas, like spring flowers, chocolate-covered almonds and youthful skin — fall leaves are not meant to last. All it takes is one solid rainstorm and those leaves can hit the ground like propaganda flyers from a biplane.

As much as I’m excited that the leaves are lingering, there really should be rain by now.

I know I’m getting old because I hear myself say things like “things just aren’t the way they used to be.”

When I was younger, and even a few years ago, I distinctly remember we would have rain by now.

By now I should be able to scatter grass seed in the bald spots of my lawn, and let the rain do the work of watering new seedlings.

By now I should be able to plant seeds for spinach and kale in my raised bed, then forget about the seeds until early spring. By now I am usually pressing poppy seeds into the cracks in the pavement of my alley, knowing the seeds will sprout and orange flowers will appear in the spring.

I tracked down an article on the Weather Channel Website The article states the obvious: It hasn’t rained, and we should have rain by now.

The good news is that we can enjoy the fall leaves until Thanksgiving. For that, I will be thankful.

Maybe this weekend I’ll do some gardening. I’ll scatter some grass seed on the windshield of my car, and then rinse off my car while its parked on the lawn.

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Sow There!, Nov. 8 was anything but a normal day at school, Nov. 8, 2019

November 8, 2019 at 4:19 am

Autumn mornings are crisp and children on the playground aren’t necessarily noticing the beauty of the amber and golden leaves. In those few moments before school, kids are chasing each other around in small circles or giggling in even smaller circles.

A year ago, the bell rang and my third-grade students at a school in Chico created a somewhat disorderly line facing the glass doorway. My mind was not in the sky, but going over details of lessons-to-be.

In passing, I heard chatter in the hallway about a “fire near Oroville.” We could smell smoke in the air, but my focus was on teaching how to tell time on an analog clock. I checked my phone when children were working in small groups. Pulga. The fire was near Pulga. That was very far away.

Before teaching, I was a newspaper reporter. Every fire we heard on the police scanner was a potential call for action, but most fires are stamped out quickly. When you’ve worked the news beat for a few years, you begin to build your list of devastating fires – The Poe, Musty Buck, Swedes … As a writer, I helped share slices of those big stories, including interviews with people staying in shelters, folks searching for their pets and those fighting the fires. Over the years, we’ve watched in disbelief as the big news of local fires became huge news, including whole communities displaced in Clear Lake and Santa Rosa.

Yet, last year, Nov. 8, the first morning of the Camp Fire, I was a teacher. It wasn’t my job to race toward the flames. My children were safe in their seats, the fire was far away, and we were learning about the big hand and the little hand.

The children raced around outside during snack break. I met them at the blue line on the blacktop, where they gathered, somewhat orderly. Their cheeks were flush from the chill. As I faced them, my back to the south, I saw their wide eyes and frightened expressions. They saw the sky over my shoulder.

The sky! Gray and a deep orange, a monstrous mound of color that simply should not be in the sky.

When we reached our classroom, and settled into chairs, I gave an update with cool teacher-authority.

“I checked the news earlier today,” I said calmly. “That fire is far, far away from us.

I believed those words.

Yet, nothing was OK, and would not be for a long time.

“We need to focus on our work today, but let’s take a moment and think good thoughts for all of the people who might be really scared right now, those people who are close to the fire, and the animals as well.”

We did not know that right then, people were trapped in their cars with fire on both sides of the road.

Just a few hours later, we were working on multiple digit subtraction when a parent arrived at the door. She was there to take her son early — not home, but somewhere else. She lived in the fire zone and evacuations had begun. We didn’t know yet, but her house was one of the thousands that would be lost. Her family would live for months in an RV, parked in front of another classmate’s home.

It would be weeks before we returned to school. By then, the children knew that everything was not OK.

I can’t begin to share the many vignettes that occurred over the remainder of the school year. On the first day back, we gathered in a circle on the carpet near the bookshelves. We talked for more than an hour. There were times, months later, when children drew pictures of their homes, with relatives staying on couches or parked in trailers in the driveway. Some children needed quiet time at school, because there were few quiet spaces at home. And little by little, we learned triple digit addition and the difference between an adverb and an adjective.

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Sow There! Cleaning out the gutters, an unwelcome season, 11-1-19

The time to crunch leaves is when they are crunchy, not when they are a soggy mess. And yet, I hoped my students last fall would think smashing slimy leaves was an enjoyable garden task. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

November 1, 2019 at 3:14 am

Autumn has a certain smell. I’d need to create a new word to describe it succinctly. Bits of dying or recently dead plants are churned in the air. Wind mixes up the dust and the you can smell the grass that is covered with morning dew. What ends up at your nostrils is the general smell of decay, in a good way.

Somewhere in that scent soup, an olfactory genius might track down the stench from the gunk stuck in the rain gutters.

If you’re looking for a job this weekend, cleaning out the rain gutters is a good bet. The worst time to clean out the gutters is when there is a river flowing over your windowsill and you need to don a Gorton’s Fisherman’s yellow jacket and climb up a slippery ladder.

Gloves are key for the rain gutter ordeal, because you never know what you’ll find in that thin, folded metal — rodent remnants, walnuts or small plastic balls tossed by the neighborhood children, for example. I’m sure the organic material is suitable for compost, but I’ve actually never added the gunk to my pile.

This is a gross job, and that is precisely why many of us avoid the task until spring.

The equivalent of rain gutter goo is the hairball that accumulates in the sink. Every so often, I’ll notice the sink is draining slowly. I know hair is down there  and will dig around in the drain with the tweezers until I find something I can grab. What comes up often looks like a partially decayed gerbil covered in gray slime. The smell is atrocious, but I’m lucky to have a delayed gag reflex.

Cleaning out rain gutters can be nearly as frightening as the sink.

Somewhere in my shed, I have a plastic scooper with a rectangular edge that is made specifically for rain gutter cleaning. Of course, I can never find the tool when it is needed, and end up using gloved hands or a gardening trowel. Then there’s the bucket problem. It’s tough to balance on the ladder, dig around with the trowel, fight the urge to gag and aim accurately at the bucket.

I’m thinking our city is fairly forward-thinking. I appreciate that we have a leaf pickup service during the fall. Couldn’t the city simply add a rain gutter cleaning service, timed just a few weeks before the first rain? Or better yet, we could create a ChicoCorps, with young people paid to provide community services, including rain gutter cleaning, compost turning and perhaps a timely fall rose pruning.

More to do

If you’re avoiding a really big task, like cleaning out the shed or rain gutter detail, now is a good time to put fallen leaves to good use.

A gal named Kim created a video that gives some tips on how to compost leaves in black plastic bags, I found the video last year and thought my students would have a great time crunching the leaves.

However, the fires raged through Northern California, and many good plans were delayed. By the time our class made it to the leaf detail in January, it had rained and the leaves were no longer crunchy. The students thought handling the soggy leaves was gross.

They were right, and I hope I haven’t ruined them for future tasks like cleaning out rain gutters.

We did manage to mash up about a quarter of a bag, which sat near the greenhouse until it was thrown away months later when I wasn’t looking.

In the video, Kim advises filling black plastic bags when the leaves are dry. Crunch the leaves, either with your hands or by rolling on the bag like a bean bag chair.

Poke holes in the bag with a stick and then soak the leaves with the hose. Set the bag in a sunny spot to create compost over time. When it’s time to spread the decayed leaves, they’ll be contained within the bag.

Of course, you can also rake leaves onto your compost pile, and turn the pile a few times over the winter. You can also simply let the leaves lay on the ground and deal with them next spring, about the time you get around to cleaning out the rain gutters.

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Sow There! The Great Shedding, Oct. 25, 2019

The tower of teacher treasures fills up a corner of the kitchen. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
October 25, 2019

One day when I look back on my personal history, I will remember this month as the time of the Great Shedding.

I’m grateful to have a shed, but I also know the great mess that a storage place can become. I’ve shoved so many things into that space, I’m surprised the fire marshal has not arrived to issue some sort of messy-shed citation. My 6’x8′ shabby shack contains enough accumulated junk to stock the future Sow There! Historical Museum.

Every so often, I need to actually retrieve something that has disappeared into the darkness.

Last spring, my class went camping. I needed my tent and sleeping bag, located somewhere in the abyss. Retrieval involved removal of umpteen plastic crates labeled with vague clues such as “childhood keepsakes,” “love letters” or “skinny clothes.” I think I may even have some Barbie dolls from third grade, buried so deeply, I’ll only find them when I move.

During the quest for the tent, I dragged most of the contents of the shed into the hot sun, shimmied past the ice chests and the aluminum ladder, and found the camp gear near the back.

When you need to find a tent, you never have time to actually re-organize the shed like a rational person. In my case, I replaced the contents as randomly as they had been removed, and slammed the door.

Of course, my main problem is lack of shed initiative. Yet, I’ll give myself a break.

Clearing out the unwanted goodies from the shed has been on my to-do list for two years.

There have been days when I have donned grubby clothes and turned the key in the sturdy lock. Yet, good intentions turned to mush with that first smell of grease. Before the Handsome Woodsman died, he stored his manly things in the shed. More than a few times, I have opened the door planning to “shed” some of the accumulated stuff but merely stood in the doorway and sobbed.

If I can’t part with my Barbies, how could I decide which of his fishing poles to donate? Buckets of abalone we gathered in Fort Bragg? Tubs labeled “Dave’s clothes?”

And then there is the “box of pain.” One day, I bravely gathered up things that hurt too much to view, but I couldn’t imagine throwing away. That box is my time capsule, which I will sort through when I am able.

Yet, life has a way of pushing you toward things you’ve avoided.

My teaching job was eliminated and I need to hang onto an entire classroom of teaching tools. Thirty boxes would not be an exaggeration. Ten of these contain children’s books.

I’m also holding onto two oak bookshelves from the classroom. When I hauled all the classroom tools home, my living room soon looked like the interior of the shed.

Samantha and Jeff lent me a corner of their storage unit, and two pillars of boxes now make less-than-decorative additions to my kitchen and living room.

If I could just make room in my shed …

I’m proud to say that I have not yet reached perfection, but I’ve made progress.

I won’t be unemployed long. In a few weeks, I begin a series of temporary jobs at the college. My goal is to land another teaching job for next year, when I’ll need those boxes of children’s books and dry erase pens.

Progress so far:

  • • Two dump runs.
  • • Three carloads of donations to the thrift store.

I even ventured into the tubs of Dave’s clothes, and “shed” a few of those physical reminders that can remain merely as memories.

There are more things to part with, but for now the progress feels good.

As a bonus, I discovered I own a power drill and a hedge trimmer.

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Sow There! One more run on tomatoes, Oct. 11, 2019

It should be time to say, “out with the old.” However, I’m banking on one more batch of tomatoes this year. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
October 11, 2019 

I’m doing that thing that I do – holding onto things for longer than they are useful. Refusing to accept change. Cluttering my life.

The time of the ripe tomato has come and gone. It’s time to improve my soil and gear up to plant something new.

Many of my most recent columns have included a lengthy brag about the volume of cherry tomatoes gathered from the raised bed. Over the past two months, I have plucked and dehydrated so much fruit that I was willing to share with others. This spirit of plenty has created an urge to keep the plants past their prime of production.

Already, the wire cages have plopped over. I’ve killed two fat tomato hornworms, the presence of which is a sign of the end of the season. I could have yanked the plants last week when I filled a colander with round deliciousness.

Just a tickle or two and this blossom could provide “just one more” tomato before the old settles in. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)


I’m holding on, trying to get one more batch for my food dehydrator, or maybe even a bowl of green tomatoes that I can ripen indoors.

Even without the daily buzz of bees, gardeners can help a tomato plant with pollination by tickling the stem a few inches below fresh flowers. These days, I find the wire cage under the tangle of vines and give the entire plant a fast-paced shake.

Gardeners who have a huge growing area have the luxury of letting plants die of natural causes. The leaves will become blackened once the nights turn very old.

However, I have a small growing area and could and should replace the tomatoes with a quick crop of lettuce, or plant spinach and kale for harvest in early spring.

The Chico Valley Area Planting Guide from the University of California,, also advises planting fava beans and peas in October.

Time for lime

About this time, I also add dolomite lime to the growing area. Years ago, Jerry Mendon recommended this extra step to prevent blossom end rot next summer. He urged me to add the lime in the fall, so the mineral can provide calcium and magnesium to the soil.

The Gardening Know How website,, notes that the benefits of adding lime may take place as little as four weeks. However, it can take six to 12 months for the full impact on soil quality.

As for measurement, Jerry had recommended adding about one cup per 10 square feet in my garden bed.

Of course, this means taking out the tomato plants, tilling the soil, then raking the lime into the top two inches. Now.

Hold on

Maybe I’ll wait one more week. The extended weather forecast ( whispers of a bit of rain Oct. 17. This gives me time to harvest some mostly-red or green tomatoes to ripen indoors.

Indoor tomatoes won’t be as beautiful as those you pick and eat from the vine. However, my plan it to dry them, wrinkles and all. Place clean, less-than-ripe fruit in a shallow bowl or cardboard box top. Ruffle up a bunch of newspaper at the bottom, so each fruit is resting separately, with room for air. After a week or more, the fruit should ripen.

Some folks also delight in green tomato recipes.

Moving on

One more week, maybe 10 days … Soon the first real rains will arrive. If I hurry, I can grab fruit, yank the plants, add good soil to the raised bed, add lime and plant seeds for those fall and winter greens. Maybe I’ll plan a vacation – I’m unemployed these days. If I plant seed before I leave, I can hope for rain and return to seedlings when I return.

Job search

I’m holding my breath, but I think I have a line on some work to keep me busy until I apply for another full-time teaching position in the fall. Wish me luck and look expect good news soon.

Garden enthusiast Heather Hacking loves when you share what’s growing on. Reach out at, and snail mail, P.O. Box 5166, Chico CA 95927.

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Sow There! In search of the next good thing, Oct. 4, 2019

One afternoon last week, I sat in the wooden rocking chair in my classroom. It’s rare that I sit down at school. Once the weight is off my feet and I take a few deep breaths, it’s hard to regain momentum.

I could hear the muffled sounds of students on the playground. The shelves were bare. My collection of children’s books created a pillar of boxes near the chalkboard. Only dust bunnies remained in my desk drawers.

Yep. I am a teacher without a job.

I learned mid-summer that the classrooms at my grade level would be combined due to lower enrollment. The school tried to keep me on board, with a nice gig as a reading teacher. However, this job didn’t last after another round of budget cuts.

I’m thankful. I learned so much. They said I did a good job, but I can’t pretend my heart isn’t broken.

Some of those final moments were rough. Instead of good-morning greetings in the hallway, I saw the sad smiles.

I sometimes hid in my room during lunch, feeling awkward.

Yet, overall, the departure was joy-filled.

I was busy and determined to provide a few good lessons with the time I had left. Then came the grand finale.

We arranged a special lunch with the students from my class last year. “My kids” wanted to sing some of our favorite songs, and Sarah discovered the album of photos from our adventures last year. Just like old times, one child spilled his bowl of rice on the carpet.

Normally I helped with fourth-grade reading groups in the afternoon. One day, I was asked to stay away – in a nice way. The lovely teacher asked students to draw going-away pictures, which she arranged as a book.

Dayton’s drawing included a giant wall covered with books and the two of us standing at the bottom of the grand library. Other students drew rocks and feathers (reminiscent of my nature table), and some depicted me in a flowing purple gown. Lyla wrote, “I will never forget you,” on a page covered with hearts. Several children from my reading groups gave me rocks and crystals, to add to my collection.

Yes, I cried when I leafed through the pages in the quiet of my mostly-empty classroom.

It’s sad to leave a place. Heartache comes when you leave a place filled with so much love and kindness.

On my very last day, I was asked to be the substitute teacher for kindergarten. There’s no better way to finish a gig than by playing with 5-year-olds.

What will I do? Most people have asked me this question.

What’s surprising is that I do not feel wackadoodle. I think there’s another teacher desk and more than two dozen children waiting for a bespectacled, book-lover who may or may not occasionally wear purple gowns.

And for now, the big question is how to fit all of those boxes into my house – pillars of boxed books, dry-erase pens, glue and a myriad of other miscellanea.

I’ll just stare at them for a while until they find a new home.

My plan this year was to buy one indoor plant for my classroom each week. I hoped to be known as the “plant lady.” Good thing I did not follow through. Currently, there are 10 houseplants outside on my picnic table.

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Sow There! Waiting list for a monster of a plant, Sept. 27, 2019

You can’t miss the Monstera deliciosa in the window. Look for the broad, glossy green, notched leaves. (Heather Hacking — contributed)
September 27, 2019 

Yes, I have an amazing Monstera deliciosa plant, and if you on the verge of asking me for a cutting, there is a waiting list.

When I set up my first classroom last year, I brought in three vases filled with overly large, deep-green leaves. Sometimes the leaves have interesting holes in them, as if a child began to make a paper snowflake with scissors.

At my home, I like to put the plants on a high shelf, with a lamp below. In the evenings, interesting shadow patterns are cast on the ceiling.

I said three vases, but another teacher quickly asked if I had more to spare. She has a lovely heart and was instrumental in my decision to teach at the charter school. I decided I could live with just two eye-catching Monstera plants in my partially shaded classroom window.

Fairly soon, another teacher became enamored by the plant, and kindly asked if I had additional cast-offs.

I said I would put her on “the list.”

I understand the admiration. It’s a stellar specimen.

The plant sat mostly disregarded for many years. It lived in a 10-gallon, black plastic pot along the west-facing side of the house, in the shade of the loquat tree. I knew it was fussy because at least twice it melted to a stub during a hard freeze.

The plant was among those from the Handsome Woodsman’s house in Paradise. When he moved to Chico about six years ago, he added it to our shared potted plant collection. After he died, everything he had once touched became vital, and I brought the plant indoors on cold nights.

A close-up of a Monstera deliciosa near the window. (Heather Hacking — contributed)

With the pent-up demand for the plant, I took a few more sprouts and began letting the plant grow roots in water, then transplanted to soil. In water, the roots are robust, and twirl around the bottom of the glass containers. However, in containers, they will die inside my house.

Now that all of the trees have been chopped down on my property, maybe there is enough light indoors for Monstera to multiply with increased indoor sunlight.

My “mother Monstera” is currently on the picnic table, under the outdoor canopy.

When school started this year, there were more requests for “spare plants.” I shared two more, but I needed to think about self-plant preservation. This week, I received news that my job was among those to get the axe due to budget cuts. (Huge bummer at a time when teaching positions have already been filled). Yet, I know myself. If I master the ability to make Monstera babies, I’ll visit my former coworkers and share the wealth.

More on Monstera

With all the hub-bub about this plant, I wanted to learn more.

The Apartment Therapy website,, notes that the plant likes the shade because it is native to the rain forests of southern Mexico and Central America. Monstera is a pretty cool name to begin with, but it is also known as the Swiss cheese plant, Mexican breadfruit or hurricane plant (also very cool names). For simplicity, we can just call it a split-leaf philodendron.

In the wild, it flowers, and produces fruit that tastes like “fruit salad,” the above-mentioned website mentions. The remainder of the plant is poisonous if eaten by people or pets.

The plant is a lot like me, and prefers temperatures between 68 and 86. Too much sun? Also, bad news for the plant.

When these ideal conditions are met, the plant will grow so large it needs a trellis. In a rain forest, the roots will reach out and climb trees.

When I visited the Butterfly Garden in Victoria, British Colombia, this summer, there were Monstera plants that reached to the top of the butterfly habitat. The leaves reminded me of taro plants, only more remarkable because of the notches in the leaves.

Chico certainly isn’t the rain forest, and my backyard isn’t balmy. I might start misting the leaves and placing empty pots near my 10-gallon container. For now, I occasionally yank a new shoot and pull gently so I get a nice chunk of roots, which is about the width of a thick twine.

My research also tells me I should consider transferring my beauty to a larger container.

In the meantime, I’ll hoard the plants and consider trading plants for lunch dates with the nice gals at school.

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Sow There! One shot wonders get all the attention, Sept. 20, 2019


September 20, 2019 at 3:30 am

Cactus are not among my favorite garden plants. Boring. Prickly. Basically idle. Despite my view of them as mediocre, I have a cactus collection of more than two dozen. The plants have an advantage over the more fussy plants in my yard because they can live without me.

Most of my cacti include the night-bloomers that were a gift from the late Suzi Draper. Suzi invited me to her backyard many years ago when her backyard was filled with flowers from the mostly-dormant plants. By mostly, I mean these plants bloom for only one day, and then they have the audacity to put on their show at night.

Last year, I was too busy to notice the fuzzy protrusions that inched their way skyward from the prickly cactus cone. I came home one day and found the flaccid remains of what may have been an amazing, and brief show. The flowers smell like nothing else on this earth and attract night critters including pollinating moths.

Cacti aren’t kept because of their bloom. The flowers are a delightful surprise, as if beauty managed to sneak up on us. If you shop for a cactus at the downtown farmers market, you might think the plants are blooming all the time. Geffray’s Gardens — — manages to display some of the best and the brightest. Why not sell them at the height of their beauty, when the buyer can enjoy the brief and beautiful color for a few days or more? However, the new cactus owner shouldn’t expect to see that again any time soon.

 Does the fact that the bloom of a cactus comes only every so often make it more beautiful?

I think so.

We tend to appreciate things when they’re experienced only rarely, such as exorbitantly-priced tickets to a Pink concert, shooting stars, weddings, first kisses and Bigfoot sightings.

I think gardeners, and perhaps bird watchers, get to experience these fleeting “aha!” moments more often. We’re out there with our eyes open. We’re waiting for magic.

Last week, I was doing a routine once-through of the yard, hose in hand, mind appropriately somewhere else, when I came nose to needle with a rare-to-me cactus bloom. This was an entirely different plant than the descendants of the gift plant from Suzi Draper.

This particular cactus was a acquired from another reader, who invited me to see his cactus garden in the Chapman Neighborhood about 15 years ago. Once upon a time I plopped those cacti in a wheelbarrow filled with mostly sand and a bit of dirt.

The plant is certainly attractive, in its rugged way. Yet, this day it was glorious. The creamy, waxy petals were perfectly arranged, with a slightly different hue of petals creating the back row. In the center, tiny tentacles reached out, like the intense (yet fleeting) sparks of fireworks. The pattern of the interior seemed to invite me in, as if to say “Hey, I’m here. Now. Devour me.”

I did.

I was in a hurry that day, but I lingered. I grabbed my camera. I zoomed in to experience all this flower had to offer. As expected, the next day it was gone.

Ho hum. Nearby, the Vinca Rosea has been blooming all summer. The flowers keep fading and renewing. Every day I walk by. I nod, perhaps with appreciation, but not really.

That’s the way life is, I suppose. Something that will be gone tomorrow will receive more dedicated attention than a million roses on a faithful production schedule.

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