Sunday, June 28, 2009

An unexpected visit from USDA

Oh boy, did I tense up when I came home and found a card from an investigator from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) a few days ago. I've been so consumed with work, I completely forgot to call back. He came by once again and spoke to my mom and he finally got ahold of me via phone and asked if I had a few minutes for a meeting concerning a shipment of plants from China that was intercepted by customs and DID NOT receive.

So, I've been importing plants from China for years and I've never had an issue with their arrival to my doorstep until this spring. Apparently, according to my supplier, the shipping company lost the phytosanitary certificate. Without this document, which states that the plants have been handled and inspected for pests and diseases, plants will not be allowed into the country. Many shipments make it through without being thoroughly inspected, but every now and then, something appears iffy and they investigate.

On Wednesday morning, I met with the investigator and had a lengthy discussion.
I actually found the experience to be quite informative as I mentioned to him that I once thought of pursuing a job with APHIS (Animal Plant Health Inspection Service) and the USDA. He was pleasant and easy to talk to and understood my line of work (as he also had a meeting with a colleague of mine on the Kitsap Peninsula....yes, him). I made it clear that I was familiar with the protocols and procedures and he kept trying to reassure me that I wasn't in any trouble or at fault after I described the situation. He is requesting a bit of paperwork, which is not a big deal (just a inconvenience) and we had a lengthy talk about how all this information he's requesting will be processed and I addressed my concerns about "ratting out" my contact in China.

He had a file folder full of information which included photos of the parcel they detained, copies of invoices and was I surprised to see print outs of the bio on my website and even print outs of this blog!! It was a full on investigation!! YIKES.

So yeah, when the package arrived earlier this spring at LAX, the shipping company called me saying that USDA was holding it and I had the option of either paying a fee or having the parcel destroyed. I asked to talk with someone from USDA about the reason, but the representative I spoke with was Chinese and was not clear about exactly why customs confiscated it.

I emailed my contact in China and asked what could have happened and she told me that the shipping company lost the "Phyto". However, according to the investigator, it appeared as if they went through a loophole by sending it through a shipping middleman and noted on the custom form "Garden tools/accessories". I was asked if I knew why they stated that on the form and I told them that I assumed that it was the closest thing from a list of choices they had on the form, but I honestly didn't know why they didn't just state that live plants were inside. If the Phyto was in there, it wouldn't have been an issue.

The investigator said that if I decide to do business with this company again, I have to ensure that she follows the protocols or else I'm the one liable should an issue come up. He says that they won't go to China and get them in trouble, but at the same time, my contact's name has been dropped and they will now seek out shipments that may come from them. USDA can't do anything about it, but they can penalize me if this continues.

He told me a story of a nurseryman in Burien that had his operations quarantined for 2 months because he saw something fly out of a box that went directly to him and not through customs and USDA first. Within an hour, customs officials came in and basically ransacked his garden and nursery trying to identify the insect in question. That's just freakin' insane!!

Then we had an in-depth discussion about USDA and APHIS policies about plant importation and discussed CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species). Being a orchid enthusiast, I told him about a paper I wrote as an undergrad concerning the issues between growers/researchers and the USDA/Fish and Wildlife and their stricter regulations in the distribution of live plant material. He couldn't agree more about how nebulous a lot of the information is out there and the lack of public awareness about these issues; the stricter the regulations, the more likely people will go through loopholes and "under the table" transactions. While it has gotten a lot better over the years, we still stressed the need for more knowledgeable people within USDA and APHIS to set the regulations straight, disseminate information in clear and understandable language, and the need for collaboration between growers, researchers, the federal government so they're aware of our efforts in conservation and promoting biodiversity. After that talk, he mentioned that I would be a credible and much sought after individual to work for the USDA/APHIS having gone through all this and seeing my commitment to my work. I thought that was pretty nice of him to say. He encouraged me to check out the various openings USDA has now and he offered to get me in touch with customs officials at the inspection station in SeaTac International Airport to see them at work.

Finally, he offered his services to me (and my colleague in Indianola) should we have any further issues or inquiries.

Anyway, I'm not too worried. I just want to know what's going on with my contact in China and the Chinese department of forestry and agriculture. I don't ever order large quantities, but they have some interesting things I'm evaluating and propagating here at Landwave. I know it's very inconvenient to issue a Phyto, but you'd think that the economic ties and constant trade between the US and China can make the process much less intensive.

The scary thing is, we're on the radar and I'm not sure how long this investigation will go on and how much more they're going to hound me. I still stand by the fact that I have done no wrong doing and I've followed the protocols to the best of my abilities.

I'll keep you posted on what unfolds.



Monday, June 22, 2009

One year older

On Friday, I sort of celebrated my 27th, birthday. I say "sort of", just because I caved and did some work after I told myself I wouldn't and part of the day turned out to be frustrating and, at one point unbearable, as I let the stress of not getting everything I wanted done accomplished.

In years past, I've always tried to set aside "me" time so I have a chance to sort of reflect on past years and kind of gauge where I'm headed towards both personally and professionally. Personally, I'll keep that info to myself, but professionally, the stress and workload of the past few weeks made me realize that I'm actually in a good position if I just tell myself that I'm in a good position and doing just about everything I want to be doing: I have several clients under my belt, I'll be teaching once again, I've been asked to lecture for various groups and organizations and been invited to various events and functions and I've been able to stay involved with various volunteer commitments on top of my "bread and butter" job at the center.

Too often I've had my doubts about whether all this work is really enough to sustain the simple lifestyle I aim for, basically, still living at home. While I still get a lot accomplish, a 27 year old should really be on his own, but what's keeping me at home is (yes, the cost of no rent) Landwave. I've spent the last 7 years developing my garden and micro-nursery and the property, as a whole, has so much potential and its in a great location. The house is in dire need of renovation and updates; so the thought of owning all this in the near future is incredibly intimidating to me knowing how much work has to be done.

My mom has been dropping hints that she will retire soon and move back to the Philippines leaving me the house, the land, and the mortgage, which I know absolutely nothing about home/property ownership. And with the peanuts I make, or attempt to make with everything I do, I'm not sure if its even realistic to think that I could handle all this. I know I'll be needing help and I know I'll be asking for it, but I guess the fear of not having enough resources to instigate that help is what bugs me.

"One thing at a thing at a time" is so very difficult to live by especially as a professional gardener where you let nature dictate so much of what you're suppose to be doing. One would think that after many years of doing a lot of the same thing, that things would be easier, but it doesn't work that way when you constantly want to reach the next set of goals you're constantly setting for yourself. It's a great thing to be motivated and driven, but there will always be something standing in your way.

Plants have been such a distraction, both good and bad. Lately, I've been blessed with boisterous bloom and bold foliage in my garden. While work and my home life continue to consume a lot of my time, but I've been pretty good at putting the shovel, rake, hori-hori or pruners down and just strolling through the garden with my digital camera and capturing some of the wonderful things my plants do.

Here are some shots of the garden that I hope you enjoy.

P1010024 P1010017
Some views of Landwave at this time of year.

Zinc Container
A container I composed with Nolina nelsonii, Persicaria 'Red Dragon', Brunnera 'Jack Frost' and a variegated Vinca minor.

Iris Gerald Darby with Autumn Fern
Iris 'Gerald Darby' in bloom with the new fronds of Autumn Fern.

Kniphofia northiae
The bold foliage of a newly planted Kniphofia northiae from South Africa.

Brugmansia Shredded White Fantasy
A new Angel's Trumpet for me called 'Shredded White Fantasy'. Brugmansias should be planted now for a tremendous late summer and fall bloom well up before the first frost. A great container plant that's so incredibly rewarding and intoxicatingly fragrant at night!

Man, just seeing all these was probably the best birthday gift I could ask for. If I can just focus on the positives, everything will work out!





Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Understand invasive plants!!! PLEASE!!!!

Now, I told folks that I was going to refrain from promoting programs, but this one is VERY IMPORTANT and one that I feel strongly about. It will be taught by my former professor and advisor, Dr. Sarah Reichard, fellow garden writer and friend, Marty Wingate, and my colleague Dr. Lizbeth Seebacher.

I totally plan on attending and I hope you consider it. Yes, it's $25 dollars, but you will be lectured by THE AUTHORITY of invasive plants. You will get both sides of the story (scientists vs. avid gardeners) and be well informed when you leave!

Be Garden Wise, Linking Horticulture and Plant Invasions
Thursday, 6/18, 6 – 9pm
Location: Center for Urban Horticulture
3501 NE 41st St
Seattle, WA 98105

Douglas Classroom, Center for Urban Horticulture
Instructors: Dr. Sarah Reichard, Marty Wingate and Dr. Lizbeth Seebacher
Fee: $25

Some plants may look beautiful, but non-native plants can have a devastating effect on your garden and the biodiversity of surrounding natural areas. Come learn about invasive plant identification, impacts, pathways, control and alternatives from the region's horticultural experts. Learn what you can do to stop the invasion. Look foward to a panel discussion with the speakers and Master Cardeners at the tail end of the workshop. Two or our experts will also have their books available for signing.

To register, contact Lizbeth Seebacher at OR download the registration form from and mail the form in with a check.

See you there!


Monday, June 15, 2009

A real weekend to myself!

After a dismal weekend before with my stiff and aching back, which has gotten A LOT better, thank goodness, I refrained from doing work for my clients and made some "me" time this past weekend to get my vegetable garden together and mostly planted, the front entrance to Landwave revamped, repotting some ailing plants needing to be "bumped" up because NO ONE IS BUYING THEM! GRRRRRR...., and, heck, I just needed time to sit and marvel at the explosion of new growth that's occured over just the past few weeks. We've had no rain for the last 24 days (we're looking to maybe set a record, I hear), but turning on the sprinklers combined with this heat and things just POP!

So, the garden is still a mess, but I made great progres in terms of weeding and getting the edible garden planted up. A formal layout is very new to me, but I'm appreciating the lines and the "bones" I've begun to create with the Sorbus pallescens trees I grew from seed, my 5-combo Asian pear tree, my rows of Lavendula 'Hidcote', and a quadrant of golden Arborvitae that will probably get to big, but I'm willing to move them later on.

Edible Garden begin

I still need to finish up the paths and find some other plants for edging (I'm looking into dwarf boxwood, but it might be too pricey).

Another area that I JUST DECIDED to redo is my Tropical Bed. Believe it or not, my hardy Musa basjoo (Hardy Fiber Banana) didn't make it this past winter so, another windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, took its place. Instead of having one main bed for all my tropicals like last year, I decided to make this section a little more like a room so I am digging out a cicular space surrounded by the beds so I have a somewhat enclosed area where I can set up a small table, umbrella (until the palms get large and chairs for an intimate gathering space with close friends
this summer!

Tropical Garden revamp

For any garden, the front should have been the main priority because it's the space that EVERYONE first sees and all, but I've been fussing around with different ideas and I'm still not set on what to do. So I just started to mess around, shifting plants here and there and making use of a metal container I found on the sidewalk after a job at a client's home in Queen Anne, I put this together:

Landwave working entry

On my next "me" day, I will tackle this front area and make it more appealing. I like the idea of using containers here because the soil is a bit limited and not so rich. Instead of the black with chalk blue stain, I'm considering a set of bold red ceramic containers of a similar stature (I actually got inspired by a trip to Aw Pottery a few weeks ago). It should go well with the silver blue-grays that I've got going on and it should stand out as I've begun to notice that I have a lot of gold and yellow in my garden.

Oh, the plants are taking off! I will try and post some more pics on Flickr! later this week, but here are a few specimens that looks quite dashing:

Campanula Sarastro
Campanula 'Sarastro'. A most stunning purple blue that just to DIE FOR!

Cardiocrinum giganteum v. yunnanense
My stand of Cardiocrinum is in full bloom and ever so fragrant, especially at night when I back into the driveway if my windows are rolled down.

Speaking of fragrance, look what I picked up at Home Depot over the weekend:

Gardenia Frost Proof
Gardenia 'Frost Proof'. While it may be frost proof, after my disappointment with 'Kleim's Hardy', I don't expect this one to winter over or do all that well in the garden so I will try it as a container plant.

I had the house to myself all weekend: I cooked a lot, did laundry, tidied up my room a bit, but I still didn't get a chance to really sit and enjoy everything that's going on.

Maybe NEXT weekend! =P


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Garden Talks

The past three weeks have been so incredibly busy, but definitely worthwhile as my speaking "gigs" are well underway.

The season started off with my talk for the newly formed Hardy Plant Society of Washington. It was the first time I presented a talk that was quite personal to me as I highlight not only the wonderful plants I've obtained and grown, but also the people and events that make them special. Throughout the lecture, I would pause to raffle off a plant that was related to that particular segment of the talk and with the small group that came that evening, no one left the conference room without at least two plants in their hands courtesy of Landwave Gardens!

A tour of Landwave came next when a neighborhood group from Vashon Island came to see the garden and purchased plants. I avoided stressing out about garden beds and paths being inundated with weeds, random objects around the house, and not having the best nursery set up for my plants. Overall, I think my stories and information, answers to their questions, and the selection of interesting plants overshadowed the poor maintenance.

The next event was a long awaited lecture for the Alderwood Garden Club where my dear friend, Sue Lewicki, invited me to speak. Aside from being late because I wrote the direction wrong and having to run to the store to get a package of Claritin for my annoying allergies, it was a fun talk that everyone seemed to really enjoy.

A few days later, the Master Gardeners of King County came for a tour of the Soest Garden at the Center for Urban Horticulture. Another enthusiastic group of people were present with some challenging questions, but with this wonderful streak of good weather we're having, I think people will be happy to just be outside looking at beautiful plants!

Yesterday, my friend David Fishman, hosted the neighborhood garden group of Mercer Island in his home and garden and he had asked me a few months ago if I would give a presentation to his group. I gladly said yes and put together a simple Powerpoint showcasing some of the wonderful plants David grows in his garden. "Travels of A Young Gardener: Woodland Treasures" was the title of the talk and once again, enthusiasm and wonderful support and encouragement for all that I do with plants.

In these speaking engagements, I've reduced my speaker's fee for these small garden groups and they've all agreed to allow me to bring plants to sell, which has helped cover the remainder of the fees and, in some cases, even more so! It's been a great way to share plants and really get myself out there.

I truly am thankful for the wonderful people I meet during these talks. They're all so enthusiastic and very avid gardeners who often go to great lengths to learn as much as they can and obtain new and exciting plants in the process.

Here's a young lady who just HAD to have one of my seed grown Beesia calthifolia (offered previously as B. deltophylla). It was so clever and charming to see her tuck the little plant in her purse as she put on her helmet and hopped on her bike!


Now, that's a true Pacific Northwest Gardener!


Sunday, June 7, 2009

YouTube gardening videos

While I'm recovering from this back injury, I still need to be productive somehow.

It's a goal of mine to create and post some garden videos on YouTube this season and I've been watching a few to see what's out there.

Interviews and tours of private gardens is definitely something I'd like to take on. We are blessed with numerous, outstanding gardeners who are more than willing to share the fruits of their labors and apple trees.

Here's an interview by Mike Darcy with my garden writing mentor, Lucy Hardiman, of Perennial Partners in Portland, Oregon. The advertisements in the beginning are annoying, but the interview itself was pleasant. Skip to 2:25 to watch:

Having mentioned Dan Hinkley's book launch late last month, even he's on YouTube courtesy of PBS:

There's also a lot of great "How To" videos that have been posted. Here's basic introduction to dividing dahlias:

Then there are the "How To" videos that just make me cringed because of the misleading and incorrect information they present:

I think it's good that she simplifies things for beginners to start gardening, but there's too many misleading points in her explanations. You should click on the video to view it on YouTube and read the comments posted!

Now, I just need to plan what topics I'd like to cover and start saving up for a camera!


Saturday, June 6, 2009

The straw that broke Riz's back

After working 10 hours gardening on Friday, I skipped a lecture by Sue Olson, friend and fern guru, through the Hardy Fern Foundation, to hit the gym. I had skipped two workouts this week because of my packed schedule and I wanted to make sure I got my work out in. After weeding, planting and hauling hoses all day and dealing with jeans that didn't quite fit properly, I was already feeling kind of sore, but I had to keep my day going.

Over the past few years, I've been making a serious effort to get into a regular exercise regiment to maintain my weight, improve my physical fitness, and reduce my chances of debilitating health conditions that run in my family such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart attacks. With my hectic work schedule and commitments, I make sure to get my exercise in on my calendar.

My workout routine is fairly low impact as I have a left knee that I must always be careful of, chronic lower back pain due to overuse when I used to dance regularly, and I limit my workouts depending on how I'm really feeling that day. Years of dance training has aided my workouts as I have a very intensive warm-up and stretching regiment and after some cardio and resistance training, I sneak into a vacant dance studio, tune into my iPod and play around with some movement.

I may not take classes or perform anymore, but I always try and keep up technique. I guess the downside of it all is I don't have anyone to correct me if something is off or tell me that I've done enough and it's time to cool down and hit the locker room. As some of you know, I used to be a active figure skater and one of my favorite moves I often practice off ice is a leap called a "falling leaf" split jump.

Practice 3 blur

Here's the infamous Michelle Kwan in 2002 in her free program to "Scheherazade'. See the "falling leaf" executed on 4:07.

So, I was practicing a few of those on the floor and after only three, I felt a twitch on my lower back. I grabbed my towel and water bottle and gingerly walked out of the studio and sat down on some mats to do some stretches and massaged the affected region.

The next day is always the hardest and it didn't help that I had to walk the UW campus to help some students review for a plant ID final exam and run to a nursery to return some plants. The pain radiated to my stomach and I felt fatigued as if I had another onset of a cold occurring. I think what was going on in my head seemed more aggravating as the weather has cooled down considerably and it seemed like an optimal time to do a lot of work at Landwave. The pain was irrigating, but being unable to work and go about the endless projects I need to take on seemed more unbearable. Maybe I shouldn't have gone to the nursery to drop off plants and pick up some items for a client, but I simply couldn't help it.

It's the mentality now: NO WORK = NO LIFE. I feel like I have to be working constantly to keep up with everyone else.

Am I overworking myself and this injury is a painful indication of that?

Is this what I risk happening at times if I continue on with this kind of work schedule and lifestyle?

It's been incredibly frustrating thinking that others do what I do and even more so, yet they don't regularly suffer these sort of setbacks.

Dear lord, I'm only just about to turn 27 and I have ailments a 70 year old complains about. I've been known to have an "old soul", but I think the body is catching up to it.

Time to lie down now...


Monday, June 1, 2009

I could have introduced it. New Thalictrum 'Evening Star'

I got an email from Terra Nova Nurseries, a supplier of some of the newest perennial liners on the market, and was surprised to see that a Thalictrum (Meadow Rue) I've been growing, evaluating and slowly propagating has been selected and named as a brand new introduction .

Dubbed as Thalictrum 'Evening Star', this is a stunning selection of Thalictrum ichangense. Imported from China and incorrectly labelled as Thalictrum honanese (incorrectly offered as such by Wayside Gardens, I've been growing it for several years and it is a happy woodland plant with peltate, deep green/purple leaves with veins suffused in silver. The plants are topped with short, wiry and airy flowering stems that seem to bloom on and off during the summer.

Here ares some current photos I took:

Thalictrum ichangense May 2009 Thalictrum ichangense flower detail

I'm glad that this plant will become more widely available. While my slow efforts of growing these from seed are surpassed by the mass production capabilities of tissue culture (TC), there's always the excitement of what a batch of seedlings will yield with variations left and right vs. the exact clones you get through micropropagation.