Monthly Archives: August 2015

Revisiting Holgate Overpass: A Mistake Repeated

Holgate Overpass - the northeast approach. This was taken Aug. 28 of the landscape cut down in April showing regrowth in a hot drought year.

Holgate Overpass – the northeast approach. This was taken Aug. 28 of the landscape cut down in April showing regrowth in a hot drought year.

Holgate Overpass Update:

It finally rained this last weekend!  Somewhere around .3″.  Woohoo!  It will be the most rain that we’ve received since March.  It’s been dry!  In April the City cut down the ‘weedscape’ on the northeast approach of the Holgate Overpass.  It’s rained very little since and we’ve had record warm temperatures all summer.  No one has come back to spray, plant or do anything.  No one’s even picked up the trash.  If you compare the four ‘weedscapes’ on the two approaches they are very similar.  The NE, by volume has had the most regrowth.  This is for two different reasons: first, this site was cut earlier in the season when there was more moisture still in the soil to enable regrowth, and secondly, because the site is dominated by Blackberry and Tree of Heaven, both perennials, well established and of larger stature than the plants dominating the other approach landscapes. Continue reading

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The Plaza Blocks – Practicing Horticulture at Lownsdale and Chapman Squares

The Spanish American War Memorial the the Federal Courthouse behind. A recent Elm stump in the left foreground and another behind and right of the Memorial. Ringing the memorial is Pachysandra, Hosta and Clethra alnifolia. These take a lot of abuse from playing kids and posing tourists crossing back and forth.

The Spanish American War Memorial with the Federal Courthouse behind. A recent Elm stump in the left foreground and another behind and right of the Memorial, the further had a cavity for several years housing raccoons, but the tree began to split. Ringing the memorial is Pachysandra, Hosta and Clethra alnifolia ;Hummingbird’. These take a lot of abuse from playing kids and posing tourists crossing back and forth.

Chapman and Lownsdale Squares sit aside each other on SW Main with the ‘Elk Fountain’ (the anatomically incorrect Elk, or at least disproportionate)holding the neutral ground in between, the street splitting traffic that flows around it like a boulder in a stream. These are among the City’s oldest Parks. Laid out formally they are nearly mirror images of one another, sidewalks hugging the streets without parking strips to shield them, a crossing pattern of concrete marking them boldly with an ‘X’, lined with metal benches, a center axis and each with a restroom building on opposite sides…the north, on Lownsdale serving as the men’s restroom with the more machismo memorials to the Spanish American War and the south, on Chapman, the women’s with its sculptural tribute to pioneer families Bible in hand. This is a carry over from the early days when each Park served as a respite for the opposite sex where one could publically relax without being ‘bothered’. As were most western territorial towns, Portland’s population was dominated by men and women were often brought here as wives or as part of commercial ventures. Somewhere here was the site of the gallows, erected as need be, up until 1870 or so when the state banned public executions. More recently it has served as a respite for government workers, lawyers, officers and staff of our courts and jail, or visitors to either, taking their breaks, having lunch or getting a few minutes of air as they cross on their way to an appointment. Walking tours and school groups wander through pausing at the monuments. Others congregate here too, sometimes for rallys or protests within earshot of government offices. There are almost always a few members of Portland’s homeless community about taking a few moments or more in the shade of the large Elms and Gingkos. It was also the site of Portland’s own ‘Occupy’ movement in the Fall of ’11. Continue reading

Horticulture: Gardening in Portland Parks

The land occupied by Kenilworth Park and most of the Kenilworth neighborhood was part of the land claim owned by Clinton Kelly, a Methodist minister from Kentucky who settled in the area in 1848. In 1909 the Portland Park Board purchased 9 acres from Kelly with funds from a 1908 bond measure created specifically to acquire land for parks in Portland. In 1910, Park Superintendent Emanuel Mische created a design for the park that was inspired by the park's natural topography and vegetation. The design included a bandstand, tennis courts, sports field, wading pool and play area, sand courts, walkways, and vista points. Today, the basic layout of the park remains intact and is indicative of the strength and appeal of Mische's original design.

One of my favorite neighborhood parks is just a few blocks from my house.  The land occupied by Kenilworth Park and most of the Kenilworth neighborhood was part of the land claim owned by Clinton Kelly, a Methodist minister from Kentucky who settled in the area in 1848. In 1909 the Portland Park Board purchased 9 acres from Kelly with funds from a 1908 bond measure created specifically to acquire land for parks in Portland.
In 1910, Park Superintendent Emanuel Mische, a contemporary of the Olmsteads who conceived the overall plans for Portland’s Park system, created a design for the park that was inspired by the park’s natural topography and vegetation. The design included a bandstand, tennis courts, sports field, wading pool and play area, sand courts, walkways, and vista points. Today, the basic layout of the park remains intact and is indicative of the strength and appeal of Mische’s original design.

Gardening in Public – Full Frontal Gardening

Preface to the series. I worked 27 years for Portland Parks and Recreation as a Gardener later upgraded to Horticulturist, a change in title only. I loved my work and job. I can count as friends many of the people who still work there. I have the utmost respect for the many there who remain positively engaged in their work. It is a wonderful place to work and grow. I also found the organization a continuous source of aggravation. I don’t think this should be interpreted to be damning of the organization or its people. It simply speaks to the nature of the ‘beast’. Like any organization it takes considerable effort and focus to address one’s shortcomings. It is all too easy for any of us to become complacent, because it is difficult and there is little reward when what you seek others interpret as threatening to themselves. It is what it is. I would do nothing different except perhaps had more confidence earlier on to pursue what I thought was both creative and healthy for myself and Portland Parks. I don’t mind being taken to task. It hones my own practice and I try to rise above the personal and wish the same for others. Growth is difficult it does not mean that we should not pursue it. Continue reading

Weeds, Patterns and Pokeweed

Pokeweed, Phytolucca americana in my neighborhood growing in a parking strip well over my 6'2

Pokeweed, Phytolucca americana in my neighborhood growing in a parking strip well over my 6’2″ height.

It’s true, the longer that you garden, the more you realize that you have to learn! And, that sum total of bits and factoids to learn in the garden universe, is itself changing over time! Gardening can be a ‘wild ride’ through a dynamic and evolving world. We can never have it all figured out!

Gardening in Parks has you building these relatively long term relationships with multiple sites. For sometimes slow learners like I can be, this broader scope can give you different insight into change in the garden. Different soils, different histories of use, different plantings trundling down the path of time in often times very different directions. On one site plants perform well with little conscious intervention on our part, while on others, they struggle or even die. As a home gardener you see this when you visit the gardens of others, but it’s a different relationship and you don’t really know what has gone into the development of someone else’s garden. Continue reading

Gardening in Public: The Duniway Park Experiment

Portland Parks: horticultural profiles series

I’m almost a little embarrassed to post this article….  Most of my earlier project were much smaller, more like bandaids.  This is the first Park I went through more systematically assessing, horticulturally, and trying to correct landscape ‘problems’ with entirely different plantings. We generally weren’t expected to do more than little fixes and bandaids.  Larger issues were considered beyond our scope and should be addressed by our Planning Division, with master plans and all of that.  The Bureau was, however, neither staffed nor funded to do master plans which is a laborious and time consuming process.  They were few and far between.  So, as I said, this was my first go at it, though I don’t claim to have created a master plan in the process.  My time was even more limited. Continue reading

The Subterranean Dance: Plants, Nutrients, Water and Their Relationship in Soil Health

The western coast of North America is home to an amazing array of landscapes each with its particular climate and range of soils.  This is in the California coastal range looking southerly towards the distant Bay area across meadow, native Coast Live Oak, Doug Fir and the Coast Redwood of the Armstrong Grove in the lower creek bottom land.

The western coast of North America is home to an amazing array of landscapes each with its particular climate and range of soils. This is in the California coastal range looking southerly towards the distant Bay area across meadow, native Coast Live Oak, Doug Fir and the Coast Redwood of the Armstrong Grove in the lower creek bottom land.

Third in the Water Series

As I seem to keep repeating, water, makes life possible. Plants and animals, with too little, die. Soil, in a very real sense is alive as well, and requires water to animate it. Without water the teeming organisms that occupy and comprise it, die or lie dormant until they are rehydrated. Topsoil, that thin layer upon which all terrestrial plants rely, is a swarming, largely invisible, community. Its effect on all life are essential and intimate. Topsoil is where all of terrestrial life is grounded. It’s health and vitality reflects that of the life on the surface including our own. As humans we are essentially consumers and, if we are to survive, stewards of the life upon which we depend. Plants are the creators. That is perhaps a bit simplistic because the relationship between plant, animal and earth is considerably more complicated. Life has evolved together, each species, each element, and, because of this, is part of an integrated whole. Continue reading

Turf in Public Parks – a note

The upper portion of Duniway Park.  A Nyssa sylvatica growing at the toe of the slope below OHSU.  The turf is completely unirrigated, is very compacted and has poor drainage.  In much of it is dominated by a few broad leaf weeds while most of the grasses that survive are weedy as well.  The whole Park is built over one of Portland's first dumps.

The upper portion of Duniway Park. A Nyssa sylvatica growing at the toe of the slope below OHSU. The turf is completely unirrigated, is very compacted and has poor drainage. Much of this turf is dominated by a few broad leaf weeds while most of the grasses that survive are weedy as well. The whole Park is built over one of Portland’s first dumps.

I wrote what follows a couple of years ago while still a horticulturist with Portland Parks and Recreation.  It was an addendum to a piece I wrote addressing a different approach for prioritizing work in Park landscapes and is reproduced here, with slight changes, as i originally wrote it.  I thought of it more recently as I’ve watched Portland bake this summer and observed, consequently, the decline of residential and Parks lawns. I am a big proponent of ‘sustainable’ landscapes.  That does not prevent me from seeing the necessity for grass lawns in urban areas especially in cities as they follow the path to increased density for sustainability issues as well.  People ‘need’ open space and as we all ‘suffer’ from our own shrinking of private outdoor space, the need for such public spaces increases.  But turf cannot fill the need if it is poorly maintained.  Dormant, dry, compacted weed dominated lawns are both unattractive and less functional.  Open spaces are not all the same.  Ugliness can degrade them to the point of rendering them almost useless in terms of their human value (We often speak of habitat value for wildlife and in terms of water quality.  We spend less public time discussing what is of basic human value.  What we require to meet our very real and ‘animal’ needs.  Not all of our legitimate needs can be met by buying products and services.)

Vigorous grass based turf is not sustainable. It is a monoculture susceptible to weed invasion that requires regular care, including, irrigation, mowing, fertilization, aeration to reduce compaction, occasional dethatching, control of moles and, for the best stands, the occasional well timed application of an herbicide and insecticide. Having said this, I still see it as a vital component of our Parks.  Portland Parks and Recreation has other priorities making exceptions Park by Park, though select athletic fields for playability and safety reasons are still irrigated. (Other Parks Districts, notably places like Bend, OR, with a desert environment, have prioritized having good quality turf in public areas). No other surface provides the functionality and value of turf grass in an urban environment. It absorbs rainfall; reduces the problems of mud and dust and helps control the erosion that accompanies bare soil; provides a firm, but shock absorbing surface for activities; aids with cooling the urban heat island; provides a restful carpet of green that helps calm a potentially chaotic visual world; and, provides a surface for young children to play on or family and friends to relax or picnic on. As urban density increases, the need for public open space increases. We need lawn. Concrete, pavers and asphalt will never fill all of this need. An argument can easily be made that rich healthy lawns better fill this human need when they are in Parks than scattered thinly through residential neighborhoods in front and backyards where they are individually too small or inaccessible to meet the public need. Continue reading