Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.

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Fireside Chat


A FEW YEARS AGO, Mimi and I were informed by Mia and Max that we were free to travel without them. We were on a hike on the Appalachian trail when they called a fireside chat. That’s what we call it when something needs to be addressed in a calm way. When a fireside chat is called during the different phases of our family growing up together the person or people being addressed can let their guard down because these chats aren’t about getting grounded or punished. The fireside chat gets called when something comes to our attention that needs some serious discussion not mired in anyone getting mad or defensive. The discussion is about the big life stuff and decisions being made that need a serious looking in to.


When we are home, we literally go to the room where our fireplace is, and we all get honest and try to be productive with the time that we take. We know, and the kids know, it’s a safe time and place to open up about matters at hand. They usually know when they need our help, we are happy to guide them the best way we know how. Well, this time it was our turn to listen.

We had a big day of covering lots of miles and setting up camp at the end of the day. This was our first family hike for us to really try to lighten our loads by living without anything we could do without. We decided to bring no tents on this six night out hike because of the weight. We used hammocks instead. We got used to them after a couple nights. The hammock idea works on the Appalachian trail because there is almost always a set of trees available for tying up to. When we go to the taller mountains and stay above the tree line, we would be sorry we went the hammock route. Trees are just too far and few between.


We had pumped water through our filters and filled our Nalgene bottles for the next day’s hike with enough clean water to cook our meals that night. Firewood was collected and we had changed out of our hiking clothes and into some lounging clothes. The best part of a hiking day was upon us. When the fire was roaring the kids called a fireside chat.



Mimi and I were kicked back and comfortable so we listened while they explained to us that although they loved the adventures we’d been on it just wasn’t that much fun traveling with us anymore unless they had their cousins with us. They were still in high school at the time and Mimi and I had felt this was coming. It doesn’t take very much eye rolling or snarkiness to get the drift that our idea of a fun trip might not be the same as theirs. We tried to seem as solemn and surprised as we could so they would think we just didn’t know how we would be able to ever travel again without them.


When they headed out later that night for a night hike Mimi and I smiled and gave each other a high five and a hug. We had just been given permission to plan our own trips again without having to try to please everyone. I thought this wouldn’t happen again until they had flown the coup. Don’t get me wrong, we had some wonderful trips together, some that I have not written about yet, but I was excited to be able to take some trips with just Mimi.


OUR FIRST TRIP together without kids was to Oregon. I can’t remember whose idea it was, but it was a great idea. Mimi and I had two nights in Portland before Chip and Susan got there. We had a big night out on the town and a full day at a very unforgettable botanical garden. The gardens were Asian influenced, so we saw lots of rock gardens, bonsai, and water gardens. We had never seen anything like it.


When Chip and Susan arrived the next day, we went straight towards the Pacific coast to see the gorgeous beaches and cliffs at Cannon Beach. These were not the kind of beaches we were used to. We wore down jackets and flew kites. We explored the tide pools and walked for hours. It’s fun to split your time with each other on these walks. I’d walk with Mimi for a while, my brother for a while, his wife for a while. It was such a great way to stay acquainted.


After we had enough of the blustery coastline we headed inland towards a campground where the theme of the park was nothing but vintage campers for rent. The campground was full of Airstreams and Daisy campers from the 50s that had been done up to the nines. Each camper offered vintage bicycles to ride around on while looking at all the cool campers. Some of the campers had matching vintage cars hooked up to them just for looks.


I think we found a good restaurant each camper night. Then we would return to hang out together under the cool stars and daydream together about one day having a vintage camper of our own. That one came true. Soon after that Mimi and I wound up with a 1967 Greyhound bus that has been transitioned into a great camper.


On our way across Oregon to the campground Mimi was navigating and realized the path we were on would take us within 30 minutes of a place she only dreamed of visiting, Dayton, Ore. Dayton is the home of one of Monrovia’s many nurseries. Monrovia is a name most plant people will recognize as the best and biggest growers in the world. There are five locations, one in Visalia, Calif., one in Cairo, Ga., Granby, Conn. and Azusa, Calif. officially on our itinerary. We have been buying from Monrovia for 20 years and weren’t going to miss a chance for a tour.

Monrovia plants make it really easy to have a good-looking garden center because their quality is so great and they grow plants that literally no one else has. They do so much research all over the world finding plants that never receive a drop of rain and can thrive off of water in the air to plants that can live in wet, marshy conditions. They produce plants for every zone, and they know how to ship these beauties without the slightest bit of damage. Unlike most plant producers they were smart enough to realize the importance of offering support to their customers and even their potential customers, which is anyone who feels like getting on their website.


When you are shopping at a nursery that offers Monrovia plants you are shopping at a nursery that cares about your success as a gardener. You’ve probably seen the iconic green nursery container with their name on it. You might remember finding a Monrovia grown plant for the first time then flipping the beautiful, informational label over and then seeing the price causing you to have a heart attack. Their plants are expensive relative to the other plants at most garden centers but there is no comparison.

We have always known there is something special about their plants. They perform well at the nursery but more importantly they perform well when you bite that bullet and purchase one and plant it at your home. I can’t count the number of plants in our yard that are from Monrovia. I don’t like paying too much for anything, but I don’t mind paying for quality and these plants are the definition of quality.


It’s a tough choice for a garden center to take the risk of buying these plants in truckloads. The buyer has to know that they are in a market that is willing to go out there on a limb to pay more to reach a look that they are willing to pay a lot for. Luckily we are in an area where we have lots of people who get that concept so our leap of faith has paid off for us and has had a lot to do with defining who we are as a reputable, upscale garden center.


We got mad at them when they did what they said they would never do which is to sell to the big box stores. Mimi and I couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw them heavily at Lowes and we vowed to never buy from them again. (Like our paltry numbers we bought from them would have any effect on them). It just felt right to boycott them off our list of growers to buy from. We hung with that ideal for a few years until we realized we weren’t hurting anyone but ourselves by not offering their plants to our customers.


We also realized all the box stores were buying from them were overpriced annuals and perennials not the important stuff. The box stores are selling one-gallon pansies for $9 while you can go to any garden center and get better looking pansies for around $2 so the joke is on them. They are doing that just to have that Monrovia green container piled up by the gaboozles because they know our customers recognize that as a quality product. They need all the help they can get to make their joke of a garden area seem like it may have something of quality in there. Sorry to let them rile me up again but they really need to stick to what they are good at, lumber and screws.


BACK TO OUR TRIP, when we walked into their main office to introduce ourselves you would have thought we were one of their biggest customers. They knew Mimi by name, remembered my father’s name and took us throughout the offices introducing us around like we were somebody. Even Chip and Susan were blown away by the royal treatment. They wondered if we were one of their big customers. We’re not, but they are very good at what they do which is make people feel important, a great lesson we all learned that day.


They insisted on taking us on the red carpet tour of the 600-acre facility which included their own botanical garden. I looked at Chip to make sure he didn’t mind. We had a lifetime of my parents fitting in nursery tours during all of our family vacations. This one would be different, and he knew it. He could also see the excitement in Mimi’s eyes and knew there would be no choice. Nursery tour it was.


I am hoping that you will go to Monrovia’s website to see and feel the care they put into this industry. If we had more plant producers that had this much passion for what they do the world would be a better place. Their website will inspire and teach you how to use layers and textures to create an impact. They will show you combinations of plants for your pots and so much more. Their website is really like a plant bible that will help us all be better gardeners.


Other than having the happiest wife a fellow could wish for that day the thing I will always remember is the weeping willow I guess has been there for at least 100 years. I had no idea that any tree could get so big and wide. That little spec beneath it is my happy wife in awe. Now every time I sell a weeping willow to someone, I am very careful to ask if they have plenty space. Then I show them this picture. I should probably stop doing that because I don’t sell very many weeping willows anymore. Honest to a fault.


From the unexpected stop, which I am so grateful we didn’t drag the kids along, we would have had a riot on our hands. They’ve had their share of impromptu nursery tours. We went on to the Mount Hood National Forest where we took some wonderful hikes and swam in some cool waterfalls. I would love to go back to that area on the west side of the Cascades where the red fern grows so abundantly. I’ve been back since then to the east side of the Cascades where it is totally different. It’s actually just the opposite, very dry and arid which I also love but that mossy, ferny and cool Pacific coast just does it for me.


MAYBE ONE DAY the kids will get to the point they want to travel with us again. I would gladly revisit these areas so they can see this wonderland. While we were on this trip, we planned our next trip together. The following summer we took a gigantic trip to Italy and ate our way through Tuscany together. I’ll tell you about that one next chance I get.


We are hoping to see you on the evening of October 15 for our annual Plants, Pumpkins and Pinot celebrating fall. The crew is already excited and planning a great evening for you to relax and trade your stories with us.



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