Podophyllum and the Sometime Quixotic Life of Plants in My Garden

IMG_0207

Podophyllum x ‘Spotty Dotty’ emerging this Spring.  Remember that these leaves aren’t small.  When they open to their mature size, at about 18″ across,  they’ll absolutely dwarf the vari-colored leaves of your Pelargoniums.

People will often ask me how I grow something, generally when its something they’ve killed, when our conditions, exposure etc, seem pretty close. I’ll shrug, because I may not have done anything special for my plants beyond, hopefully siting them appropriately. Then, there are all of the plants I’ve killed, sometimes repeatedly, that others seem to have success with while doing little more than ‘dropping’ them in the dirt.

I have a bit of a thing for the members of the Podophyllum…and almost everyone I know, who grows them, does so more successfully.  I do have a very ‘happy’ clump of P. pleianthum, and I’ve grown it in Park beds very successfully downtown, but until now I’ve had very little success with any of the others.  Most have lead short, tragic lives….P. delavayi…dead; an unnamed P. delavayi hybrid…dead; P. versipelle…dead; P. x ‘Kaleidoscope’…dead; P.(Sinopodophyllum) hexandrum…dead; P. x ‘Spotty Dotty’…dead; even P. peltatum...dead.  Some of these I’ve killed more than once.  These are usually relatively costly plants to acquire and their loss is more than emotional.  Sometimes I’ve grown them on in their pots for a year before I’ve thrown them into my garden to their deaths.  I’ve lost several other plants from the Barberry family as well, having consistent success only with the shrub forming species and Epimedium spp..  I’ve lost both NW species of Vancouveria as well as Achlys triphylla, one of my favorite ground covers, all of which I’ve grown successfully when I worked in Parks. These shouldn’t be hard.  I’ve grown quite a few different Epimedium spp. and varieties at home and several in Parks, all of which have been consistent and dependable performers.  For a long time, my failures with Podophyllum and assorted woodlanders,  was an embarrassment.  I couldn’t figure out why I kept losing them.  I have a hard time with many Himalayan plants in my garden and a lot of woodlanders in general, I think because it may just get too soggy over the winter.  They’ve taught me to shrug when they fail to emerge in spring.

Epimedium g. Lilafee4362

A cluster of flowers on Epimedium x ‘Lilifee’

Continue reading

Advertisements

Evolution, Speciation and What it Means to the New Phylogeny: A Primer for Gardeners

 

 

Understanding the New Phylogeny of Angiosperms, part 2

We tend to think of evolution as a historical process, something that occurred in the past which has resulted in life today, with us at the pinnacle.  Humans with our opposable thumbs, our relatively high ratio of brain to body mass, our consciousness…our souls, we often argue, are the ultimate life form.  We have a hard time imagining that this is not the case, that we as a species, are a part of a continuing process, that some day will fade from the Earth, as other species, more evolved and complex, develop.  This is what happens to organisms over seemingly impossible long periods of time. It has happened and is still happening to plants.   It won’t happen today or tomorrow and this doesn’t mean that what we are or what we do doesn’t matter…because in evolution…’everything’ matters. Continue reading

Life Inside the Cell: Waking Up to the Miracle, part 1

Understanding the New Phylogeny of Angiosperms, part 1

[This is the first in a series of three posts, this one on life within the cell, the second, on the evolution of plants, and the third on the New Phylogeny and Eudicots.  While trying to understand the later, I found it necessary to better understand the others, what was behind this reorganization of how we look at plants.  To do that requires going back in time and scale to see what we are really taking about when we consider plants and the life within them.]

———————————————————————-

I begin here with the cell.  I will not spend time discussing its structure and various parts, the differences between those of plants, animals, fungi and bacteria.  That has been done by many others, elsewhere.  Instead I want to present here what I’ve learned about what makes the cell, its existence and life within it, so amazing, something that which should give us all pause, when we consider our own lives and what we do.  When scientists ‘split hairs’ in their arguments on which group to assign a species, when they attempt to link them to their ancestors, many of which are now long extinct, to understand their relationships with other organisms, they have a purpose.  They are looking much deeper into what a plant is, what constitutes life and how it evolved.  Phylogeny, the science that attempts to establish relationships between different organisms, different species, to link one to the other across time, is about both the history and the continuing journey of life on this planet.  It promises to tell us much about our own place as well as that of the hundred’s of thousands of other species with which we share it.  Ultimately, if we choose to understand this, it will change the way we garden and our relationship with the many landscapes that cover the Earth.  Our gardens are our own personal expressions, works of ‘art’, and must live within the parameters of life in effect on our little pieces of ground and the Earth.  They reflect our understanding of the limits and possibilities at work here.  The better that we understand this the ‘better’ our gardens will be, the more in synch they will be with life.   Continue reading

My Father’s America and Tomorrow

My father in 1930 on the Green Ridge family farm

My father was born in 1922 on Denman Island, a small island, roughly 12 miles long, on the coast of British Columbia, located about 124 miles north of Victoria, BC.  His family lived there on a small subsistence farm without electricity, indoor plumbing, a car, a truck or a tractor.  To get work done required their own muscle or the help of their horses or neighbors.  Water came from a hand pumped well, heat from trees they took down on their land.  They produced much of what they ate in a large vegetable garden and orchard storing it in the root cellar below their house, and the occasional deer and fish they could make time to catch.  They had chickens for their eggs and meat and kept pigs to sell as well as for meat.  They kept bees for honey.  A herd of dairy cows, Guernsey’s, because of their high butter fat milk, was their primary source of income, separating out the cream each day, storing it in large cans that they would lower down into their well to keep cool so that it wouldn’t spoil.  Once a week they and other farms hauled it by wagon to the general store.  There it would be picked up by a truck that came over on the ferry which would carry it to the plant in Courtney for processing into butter and other products.  What skim milk they didn’t use they fed to the livestock.  They would slaughter extra calves for their own consumption.  It was a relatively common life, not that many years ago, that to today’s highly urbanized, consumer population, might seem light years ago.  I’ve often wondered at the ‘adjustments’ my parents had to make to make sense of this world today.  I’m beginning to understand now that I am well into my 60’s and retired myself. Continue reading

My Red Abyssinian Banana: Testing its Limits to Cold This Winter.

It’s alive!!!

My Ensete appears to have survived my mistreatment/testing of it having left it in the ground until Tuesday after Christmas. The photo shows that it has pushed 3/4″ of new growth since I cut it back and placed it in its corner in the basement. The NOAA weather station at PDX reported 17 freezing minimums to that date, eleven prior to December 20, ranging form 22º to 32º, nine of them below 30º, four below 25º. Over this period my local temperature, bizarrely, dropped to 30º, once, maybe. A second cold spell hit here from Dec. 20-27, again less severe than that at PDX, but closer. The Reed College weather station recorded five freezing minimums over this period, 32º on Dec. 12, 30º on Dec. 21, 28º on Dec. 24, 30º on Christmas and 27º on the 26th. Reed College is about 3/4 of a mile south of me on similar terrain with the same aspect. The freezing, cell shattering, of my plant’s leaves was very evident after this latest cold snap. During December’s first cold spell I was generally a degree or two warmer than the Reed station’s minimums. Over the second cold period my area was more consistent with the PDX temperatures, but still on the warm side. So, yay! My red Ensete has indeed survived 5 significant freezing minimum temperatures, as low as 27º! Those of you who dig yours in October take note, your gardens can benefit from these statuesque specimen much later into the local winter season here…and, return to their garden locations earlier as well.
 
How do I know its alive? Bananas are all monocots and their dividing/growing meristematic bud is on top of the rhizome, just above ground. If this bud freezes your plant cannot grow any longer. As I pointed out, mine has been growing, slowly, in my cool basement. Would it have made it down to one night at 25º…I don’t know. It is also difficult to say how many more days it could have survived down into this minimum range. Remember that it isn’t just the absolute minimum temperature we need to worry about, but the duration as well. Three of the coldest days had very cold highs as well just making it above freezing allowing the cold to penetrate tissue more deeply.
Here is the link to the values reported at the Reed College weather station in December.  Here is the link for the values from the NOAA station at PDX.

Dividing Iris x pacifica and the Species of I. californicae

 

Tis the season…. it’s Fall, the rains have begun and the species pacific coast Irises’ roots are growing. This is the time to divide. I dug about half of a clump leaving the remainder undisturbed. I cleaned the soil away from the other portion wiggling, teasing, pulling, even cutting a few of the rhizomes, to separate them out into nice size starts.  Continue reading

Argyle Winery: A Look at a Landscape in Dundee as an Example for Those on the Trail to Xeric Design and Sustainability

IMG_9186

This strip planting dominated by a Carex and a taller, 7′ or better, spine of the feathery Rhodocoma capensis from South Africa, rated at zn 8b. Mine, in my home garden, survived two nights down to 15ºF this last January with very little damage.

I don’t usually do this, write about a particular landscape with which I have no history, so this is a bit of  a departure for me.  I’ve know Sean Hogan for quite a few years, consider him a friend and a highly influential mentor of sorts.  His encyclopedic knowledge of plants, his boundless enthusiasm, has been infectious and inspirational over much of my career as a horticulturist while I was working for Portland Parks and Recreation.  I’ve benefited from the existence of his nursery and his commitment to horticulture picking his brain for plant and design suggestions as I attempted to broaden my own repertoire. Continue reading