Monthly Archives: September 2014

Choosing a Tree: Issues of Structure and Growth

Right Plant Right Place covers a lot. Usually when you hear it used the speaker is referring to matching the plant with the growing conditions: soil, sun, climatic conditions, size, etc. Here, I’m going to address the physical structure and growth of a tree as it relates to place, Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’, in this case, as it is often used as a ‘street tree’. The Upright European Hornbeam has proven its value as a street tree. It is very adaptable to conditions in our region that exist at the curb. That being said there are questions of structure and growth that need to be asked if such a planting is going to be aesthetically successful over the longer term.

Hornbeams across the street from my house after pruning

Hornbeams across the street from my house after pruning

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Desirable Plants, Thugs and Weeds: The Fine Line Between Good and Bad

The first in the critically acclaimed ‘Over-Thinking Series’

What is a weed? What differentiates it from any other plant? What about plants like Golden Creeping Jenny? I know those who call it a weed. Is it a matter of generally accepted horticultural opinion? One is on the list and the other isn’t? Is it more than simply a plant we did not plant? We all have those fortuitous seedling volunteers that appear bringing with them a little garden magic. Some of these prove themselves to be quite remarkable and, if found by the right person, if they retain their desirable characteristics when propagated and are stable over time, may become the next rage among the garden fashionistas. They aren’t weeds are they? While not planned for we may choose to welcome certain such plants. To just define weeds as plants out of place, is to render the word almost useless as an aid to understanding our problem.

There is no conspiracy going on in the garden. No malignant intelligence plots and schemes to upset our plans. Not every seed germinates. Not every bit of rhizome or tuber will take over the garden/world without our intervention. Weeds are plants and within the limits of their own genetics they either grow or die. If a seed of Calypso bulbosa finds itself on the ground in the desert. It will not germinate. Eventually it will lose its viability. No one will notice its absence because it never belonged there. All plants possess a degree of vigor. All plants have within themselves a range of conditions they can grow and prosper in. Weeds, are plants that possess the vigor and adaptability to be successful under the range of conditions that we as humans typically occupy. Because we occupy these places, disturb them, because we move about and conduct trade with those elsewhere, we have ‘weeds’. These are merely the plants that do well in the places that we habitually have created. What we should be talking about instead is the quality of ‘weediness’, that blend of adaptability and vigor, that these plants possess.

(Readers should be aware that there are no pretty pictures to either break up the following text or to graphically ‘hammer the lesson home’. Continue reading

Butia x Jubaea: A Pinnate Palm for Portland – First Test…for me

Butia capitata at my front stairs along with a new Beschorneria yuccoides 'Flamingo Glow' and a Agave parryi 'Hauchucense'

Butia capitata at my front stairs with a new Beschorneria yuccoides ‘Flamingo Glow’ (I had just removed a Beschornieria septentrionalis, divided and potted the starts up. The replacement has more flamboyant foliage.) Iris douglasiana ‘Canyon Snow’, various low Sedum, Asarina procumbens, x Halmiocistus ‘Merrist Wood Cream’ and an Agave parryi ‘Hauchuca Blue’

My friend Steve has urged me to periodically write about my experiences in the Denial  Zone…so here’s a little something:  We all know you can only go so far with the whole tropical thing in Portland if you’re not going to invest in a greenhouse.  Those of us who try to mimic the tropical look realize that we have to seek out the temperate and a few sub-tropicals that give us that ‘feel’.  Bold foliages are key.  Architectural plants, and just as important strong foliage contrast.  This is not the place for subtlety.  Strappy, fuzzy, split and dissected, compound pinnate and palmate, glossy, drip tipped, bold variegation and wild patterns…over the years observant nurseryman and plant hunters have brought us a smorgasbord of unusually foliaged plants.  Plant breeders have pushed the limits crossing hardy species in ways that mimic their tropical cousins, I’m thinking Hibiscus here.  But still there are certain plants, certain forms and silhouettes, that are hard to replace.

Palms are one of these.  Many of us grow various palmate forms like genus Trachycarpus, T. fortunei, most commonly, while others have used T. wagnerianus, T. takil and T. princeps.  There are many others but of unproven hardiness.  Another form of Palm are those with costapalmate fronds, of these I have a Sabal minor doing fine at home slowly getting bigger in the ground for the last four years, (It’s more than ten years old.  I’m of the age now where I just say something is ten years old because it’s easier than checking.  It may actually be 12-15.) and a Sabal x ‘Birmingham’ I have high hopes for probably destined for a few more years in the pot before I try it out in the ground.  (The genus Sabal includes the Palmetto Palm native to the coastal southeastern US. They tend to be slower growing than Trachys, preferring more heat, often with larger more deeply segmented fronds. For those of you who don’t know, costapalmate are intermediate between palmate and pinnate.  The stem extends into the frond where the segments separate and fan out.  This extension may be slight as it is in Sabal minor. Instead of having the segments radiating evenly from one point at the base, the ‘base’ is slightly elongated stretching it as if it were briefly considering being pinnate.  A casual look might leave the observer thinking that something is slightly off with what appears to be a palmate leaf.) Perhaps others will be found growing in the extremes of their home ranges that can take zn7 and 8 consistently with smiles.  I planted the aforementioned Trachys over the last several years in and near Waterfront Park’s bowl.  (Actually, the T. princeps is new this spring.  Cross your fingers.) They are consistent and durable performers…even through last winter.

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Tools of the Trade: Pruning Shears, Loppers and Saws

(This is a slightly edited version of the same article published a few years ago in the HPSO Bulletin.)

The Pruning Series, 1

If you garden you will need to prune. Pruning is necessary not only for garden aesthetics but for the health and survival of plants in your garden. Gardens are our own inventions. They are infused with our intentions while the natural forces at play in any landscape work toward their own conclusion. We gather plants from disparate places around the world, put them together on soils in climates they did not evolve with, in intimate relationships we impose. We will have to be involved in an ‘editing’ process that is ongoing within the ebb and flow of plant growth and death that will include shuffling, removals, additions and pruning. Gardens are dynamic. Whether we make ‘good’ plant choices or not our continued involvement is a given. If we are good observers and modify our actions accordingly, we can move our gardens toward a balance that will require less of us. If we have aesthetic priorities that we are unwilling to relinquish, we will have to work to assure they continue. If our knowledge of how the plant will perform on our site is less than perfect and we fail to take all of it into consideration when we planted, we will have to intervene, maybe regularly.

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Arctostaphylos patula: Greenleaf Manzanita – Seeing a Plant in Context

Arctostaphylos patula growing on site near Whychus Creek south of Sisters, OR.  Here it is 5' tall growing in a mixed condifer forest along with Doug Fir, Grand Fir, Noble Fir, Ponderosa Pine and Western Juniper.

Arctostaphylos patula growing on site near Whychus Creek south of Sisters, OR. Here it is 5′ tall growing in a mixed condifer forest along with Doug Fir, Grand Fir, Noble Fir, Ponderosa Pine and Western Juniper.

Outside our breakfast window, when I was a kid, was an Arctostaphylos patula. I never thought that much of it at the time, and how unusual it was, that sometime, probably by the late ‘40’s or early ‘50’s, somebody had dug one up and transplanted it to our yard in Redmond. They are denizens of the eastside Ponderosa Pine forest ecotone not the Sagebrush ecotone where I grew up. We averaged less then 10” of precipitation a year, too dry (For those who don’t know Redmond, OR, lies wholly within Oregon’s High Desert country that puts it in USDA zone 6b, -5 to 0 F). It grew in this little jog of the house facing northwest. I’m sure it got overspray from when we dragged hoses and sprinklers around to keep the lawn green, which is probably why it had grown with some vigor, having a form that you wouldn’t see in the Ponderosa – Juniper transition band sixteen to twenty miles away. In my memory it was always clean, with bright green foliage, part of which can be attributed to the low desert humidity and our sandy soil. I wish it was still there to take a picture, but the house has sold several times and had ‘improvements’ to the structure and the landscape including an irrigation system. I don’t know whether it rotted out or they removed it for one of their remodel projects. In its day it was 6’ high x 7’-8’ across with the characteristic sinewy branches and smooth peeling red bark.

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Whychus Canyon Preserve

Whychus Creek starts up in the Three Creeks area south of Sisters, OR, below Broken Top and the Three Sisters, and runs north-easterly to where it joins the Deschutes River winding much of the way through a canyon carved through basalt.  It’s a beautiful band of green cutting its way through the Juniper – Sagebrush Scrub country where I grew up.  I’d never been to the Preserve before and was happy to see it mostly intact.  Though development has been creeping up along some of its edges the Preserve is being actively managed by the Deschutes Land Trust these days.  We hiked it on June 26 and many plants  were still in bloom.  Many people from the wet side of the Cascades have never developed an appreciation for the starkness of Oregon’s High Desert country.  Julie and I both grew up over here and where some people see barreness we see country defined by its sky, its geology and the spaces in between that set off the unique character of everything that lives here.  We took this hike with long time friends, Robert and Elayne, who stayed in Bend when we and others left.

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