Tri-Met’s Orange Line Landscapes: Clinton & SE 12th to Harold St.

This shows the banded pattern common today in long mass plantings each swath a single species.

This shows the banded pattern common today in long mass plantings each swath a single species going for a kind of landscape scale ‘graphic’ pattern that is less concerned with ‘fit’.  This is near the Clinton/ SE 12th stop.

Size matters.  In horticulture it changes everything.  Things that are inconsequential, or maybe even enjoyable in the backyard garden, can quickly become daunting or onerous when the scale is ramped up.  Working at a commercial or institutional scale has to change your entire approach to the landscape.  In a small garden it is easier to accommodate mistakes, the conflicted combinations and those issues of horticultural ‘fit’ that we missed when we design or install.  Scale, however, rubs our faces in it everyday, makes us pay with aching backs as unintended consequences play out across the thousands of sq.ft. and acres.  It becomes a matter of physical survival and undermines your professionalism.  You become perforce part laborer, part diagnostician, designer, plantsman and critic….Out of necessity you sharpen your critical thinking skills and the last thing you ever wanted, your sales skills, as you work to sell your ideas to management who are absurdly ignorant of the problems you face everyday in the field.  And, then, eventually, you retire, but you don’t turn it off…you can’t.

Which brings me to the MAX Orange Line and its landscapes.  When I did horticultural design review for large capital Parks projects, it often felt like a dueling match.  I would pour over the design, whatever the stage it was in, match that with my particular knowledge of site conditions and my maintenance experience within Parks.  I would state my concerns on paper and in meetings with the Project Managers and Architects.  I was stubborn and consistently found myself up against a process that undervalued horticulture and my input.  Good horticultural practice was regularly placed in a losing position opposite not just that of the Landscape Architects but of a very political process that tried to give the public what it wanted as long as it fit within the Architect’s vision.  Horticulture always came out a poor third, even though good horticulture always saves money in the mid and long runs.  It was exasperating.  The public, by and large is ignorant of horticultural practice and no effort is made to educate them at any level.

I walked a portion of the new Max Orange Line the other on my way to get a haircut.  It’s very pleasant  as it allows me to avoid walking on busy streets and it cuts a diagonal line through southeast shaving off some distance as well.  And I said pleasant, but there are already telltale signs of problems to come.  Some things are as inevitable as gravity if you know what you’re looking at.

Commercial landscapes have suffered poor design probably from their beginning.  Yes, there are notable exceptions, but by and large they can be characterized as simplistic and boring, generally very rarely taking advantage of notable physical features or even acknowledging site conditions and future use.  This can best be explained by cost, good, thoughtful, appropriate design requires time which = additional cost.  Municipalities often require landscapes by code and these are often the only factor considered.  Institutional landscapes may be a step above this especially if the organization views its landscape as a reflection of itself.  On the other hand institutions are often strapped for money and so may be driven to reduce any costs that do not directly serve their mission.  This will inevitably result in initial cost savings, efforts that will translate into bad design and costs, that could have been avoided down the line had good horticulture have been a priority.  Tri-Met is a mass transit agency, landscapes are neither their forte nor their priority…they are only a consequence of the rail systems they have built and continue to add to.

Here, where the path arcs westward after crossing Powell, the planting is to narrow for the banded planting. It is planted with Lonicera pileata which is expected to fill in and smother weeds presumably. The bed is sunken to take runoff and already is harboring a nice stand of Horsetail for its whole length. Whether original or brought in with 'topsoil' it doesn't matter as it appears well established already.

Here, where the path arcs westward after crossing Powell, the planting is to narrow for the banded planting. It is planted with Lonicera pileata which is expected to fill in and smother weeds presumably. The bed is sunken to take runoff and already is harboring a nice stand of Horsetail for its whole length. Whether original or brought in with ‘topsoil’ it doesn’t matter as it appears well established already.  Klamath Weed, Hypericum perfoliatum, with its blooming yellow flowers, is an indicator of current maintenance and what we can expect in the future.

This landscape is narrow and linear.  It jumps and skips the length of the project filling in buffer spaces between adjacent properties and oddly shaped gaps within its predominately linear path that neither serve any transit function nor can be converted or leased as commercial space.  In a sense the landscapes are all left-overs, though they do serve to ‘soften’ the otherwise hard engineered edges and the waste edges that often fill narrow ‘unusable’ spaces between different properties.  These are neither gardens nor multi-use human spaces.  They may dress up fencing providing a little more separation and distance from something that may be dangerous.  Some of these may serve to process storm-water runoff, while all of them by default, may aid with groundwater recharge, a function that the built city almost completely negates.

This type of planting design is seen in many linear landscapes today, a series of bands, that may be slightly overlapping or diagonal if the space is wide enough.  The bands are almost always single species and their length is in some part a function of the speed at which traffic moves by.  We see these along interstate freeways and pedestrian esplanades as well.  Along the Orange Line here they are relatively short within the scale of pedestrian and bicycle traffic that passes by them.  There are a very limited number of planting schemes for the bands and they repeat.  Scroll through the photos below.  The same limited palette will repeat over and over again with slight alterations in order with perhaps a smaller scale sweep at unique points, in this case, station stops.  Accumulatively, over the length of the ‘O’ Line there are no doubt several acres of plantings, each acre, 43,560 sq.ft.  The pattern of plantings are more important to the design than having the plantings be in response to site conditions.

I was not privy to details of site conditions nor was I a part of the review process.  Having said that I think that my experience allows me to make a few assumptions.  All of this new landscape lies within the ‘foot-print’ of old roadways, railroad rights-of-way or that of demolished buildings and as such have suffered heavy compaction, probably soil contamination with all sorts of nasty compounds including soil sterilants and have likely received fill material in previous decades as the rail line lies within the old slough and wetlands that once were here.  My point, these are highly ‘modified’ urban soils without any kind of desirable existing biotic community.   Think dead, mineral, inert and compact.  Severely out of balance.

This new path separates the new rail lines from Mcloughlin Blvd. between SE 17th and Harold St. Here the concrete walk sits above the previous grade. The left edge show how high and is accomplished by 'layering' gravel base material in 'lifts' each of which are compacted for stability.

This new path separates the new rail lines from Mcloughlin Blvd. between SE 17th and Harold St. It is a good illustration of the process of such construction.  Gravel is applied in ‘lifts’. Each one compacted before the next is applied.  This is not a natural allluvial deposit like you might find along a river.  To the left you can see the abrupt edge dropping down to the track grade.  The specifications for the track base would require even higher density to support the trains.  This is hardened on top of even more hardened.  Typically project specs are consistent, so that the prep and treatment here is the same as it is elsewhere.  Of course the only way of knowing would be to to dig, but this would be what I would expect to find in all of the planted areas.  The only difference would be in the width of the ‘apron’ on the left which is partially determined by the change in depth from grade to grade.

Second, the entire project is ‘engineered’ for heavy train traffic which translates into heavily compacted soils with gravel base material which results in a very compacted limited/restricted rooting zone with poor drainage.  These are givens.  Sub-soilling or other techniques intended to open/improve the soil and drainage will ‘always’ be discouraged.  No one responsible for maintaining the built structures, hard surfaces or rail beds will want anything to ever compromise them.

This makes my engineered claim. This landscape serves simply as a buffer. The built landscape does not 'magically' float on otherwise healthy soil. The 'engineered' bases of structures spread out from the finished surface. Stability is the priority.

This landscape serves simply as a buffer. The built landscape does not ‘magically’ float on otherwise healthy soil. The ‘engineered’ bases of structures spread out from the finished surface. Stability is the priority.

I have many other pictures of railroad rights-of-way with the sterile grade around the truck and the problematic edges. This edge has bee cut and sprayed over the years. The Trees of Heaven growing along the fence line only illustrate the railroads attitude.

I have many other pictures of railroad rights-of-way with the sterile grade around the tracks and the problematic edges. This edge has bee cut and sprayed over the years. The Trees of Heaven growing along the fence line only illustrate the railroads attitude.

Third, this and much of this Line shares an edge with the railroad which because of its single function priority has historically been an irresponsible steward of it’s ‘landscape’.  Land serves a utilitarian function for the railroad only.  They use soil sterilants and systemic herbicides on their own schedule that completely ignores adjacent property owners and uses.  I’ve observed this time and again when I was with Parks and shared a common edge.  Their practice effectively selects for some of the region’s worst weeds and their properties often serve as conduits and incubators for every obnoxious weed and invasive plant.  No entity has ever taken them to task.  This will put these landscapes under tremendous weed pressure for the indefinite future. Given these conditions it is highly unlikely that a ‘healthy’ plant community will ever exist here until long after these facilities are abandoned.  What this means is that these landscapes will always be ‘artificial’ and out of balance.  They will always require our active participation if the ‘human community’ wants them to retain any aesthetic value.  If we, via Tri-Met, under values these landscapes or under estimates the work necessary to maintain them, they will quickly be ‘lost’.

Linear landscapes are problematic because of their narrowness.  Edges are always dynamic and present multiple sets of conditions that work against a steady state or static result, something that is expected in the design typically in these urban linear hard edged landscapes.  Imagine a woodland or a meadow that is planted as a narrow strip.  Unlike these natural landscapes these strips allow light to penetrate most of the way in creating an edge where a greater variety of plants can occur than if it had depth.  Any given community has a threshold size before it can be stable.  Adding the fact that these are irrigated landscapes and are exposed to not just full sunlight, but also to all of the reflected light and heat from the sea of hard surfaces that dominates here, and you have a tremendous amount of energy to power growth.

It is also important to remember that there is a lot that you don't see. This space, which is less than 10' across is filled with various utilities: electric conduits, water lines, irrigation control lines and valves, the bases for lamp posts, various concrete vaults, footings for curbing, etc in addition to compacted base material. This particular area is built to receive storm water runoff and already has a population of Horsetail growing amongst the Lonicera which won't be able to out compete the weed.

It is also important to remember that there is a lot that you don’t see. This space, which is less than 10′ across is filled with various utilities: electric conduits, water lines, irrigation control lines and valves, the bases for lamp posts, various concrete vaults, footings for curbing, etc in addition to compacted base material. This particular area is built to receive storm water runoff and already has a population of Horsetail growing amongst the Lonicera which won’t be able to out compete the weed.

Some stretches of these beds serve as bio-swales taking more waste water than most of the narrower curb side ‘green streets’ receiving the contaminated runoff from adjacent streets.  Portland has added many of these around the City and while their effectiveness as filters and cleaners may be established there long term maintenance and effectiveness, given the load of contaminants, has not yet been demonstrated here.  Elsewhere the maintenance that they receive is ‘uneven’.

This bed is designed to receive runoff. A large diameter pipe spills into the low rocked area in the middle.

This bed is designed to receive runoff. A large diameter pipe spills into the low rocked area in the middle.  This is just north of the Powell Blvd. overpass.

These landscapes must endure harsh conditions that may not exist in any natural landscapes.  And they are planted simplistically, with plants common to commercial landscapes without the pedigree one would expect if you were interested in having said plants thrive.  Viburnum davidii, Liriope, Lonicera pileata, Calmagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, Pennisetum aloepecuroides, used in mass in the portion of the line ‘downstream’ from the Rhine St. stop, all come from summer moist regions of the world.  Only Helictotrichon sempervirens and Blue Fescue which appear in this portion as it does in the south, are summer dry plants, but here it is planted in beds with everything else and no doubt subject to the same irrigation schedule and so compromised by it.  The one plant of those used in this portion that could do well, given the conditions, is the one dying the quickest.

Here the banded Liriope alternates with the Blue Oat Grass which is mostly dead from over irrigation. Even if it weren't the open spaces around its clumps would be vulnerable to weed invasion.

Here the banded Liriope alternates with the Blue Oat Grass which is mostly dead from over irrigation (Of course they could have dried out and fried over the hot summer, I’m not sure exactly when they were planted, but it is likely that in order to keep the adjacent ‘bands’ alive, these were over watered.). Even if it weren’t the open spaces around its clumps would be vulnerable to weed invasion.

This series of one dimensional low landscapes is planted in bands of single species, evenly spaced according to plan.  Space surrounds each plant, spaces that will be taken advantage of by whatever is available.  Only the Liriope, amongst the chosen plants, is rhizomatous and capable of spreading and filling in.  It is yet to be seen if it has the ability to dominate the many weeds that exist in the adjacent railroad right-of-way or the other opportunistic weeds that exist in the area, though I doubt it.  All of the other selected plants are individuals and so maintaining them free of weeds will be highly problematic as evidence by the weeds that have already begun to mature amongst them.  This planting scheme is highly volatile and unbalanced.  Forward thinking landscape architects, horticulturists and land managers have begun to abandon the idea of these simplistic schemes in favor of models tailored to the existing and unique urban conditions, that look at native plant communities for their inspiration, creating diverse layered communities comprised of species that fill all of the niches, that possess a dynamic and simultaneously specific nature.

This northern section, before the crossing where Milwaukie Ave splits into 11th and 12th is one of the consistently widest planting areas until you get near the southern terminus.  Along one stretch, the far side of the tracks, a bank, is also planted in a similar ‘graphic’ pattern.

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Here the far planting displays the open spaces between the plants which will be very susceptible to invasion. The far third set of tracks is for the regional carrier, Southern Pacific trains.

Here the far planting displays the open spaces between the plants which will be very susceptible to invasion. The far, third set of tracks, is for the regional carrier, Southern Pacific trains.

This planting of Pennisetum aloepecuroides, a compact cultivar, otherwise these are planted way too densely, have the same characteristic as the larger growing species in that over time, a few years, they begin to die out in their crowns. I know from experience with large scale plantings of these, that this task is difficult when you move into the hundreds of plants...it's probably not going to happen as it is very labor intensive and it becomes much easier to simply throw all of the plants away and replace them.

This planting of Pennisetum aloepecuroides, a compact cultivar, are planted densely, but still have the same characteristic as the larger growing species in that over time, a few years, they begin to die out in their crowns. I know from experience with large scale plantings of these, that this task is difficult when you move into the hundreds of plants…it’s probably not going to happen as it is very labor intensive and it becomes much easier to simply throw all of the plants away and replace them.

This is a broad green street sump for the adjacent street runoff. It appears to be unfinished. Planted only with Juncus effusus and a few struggling Redtwig Dogwood. The Redtwig appear to be suffering from the added heat reflected off of the back 'wall'. Weeds are popping up throughout the planting.

This is a broad green street sump for the adjacent street runoff. It appears to be unfinished. Planted only with Juncus patens and a few struggling Redtwig Dogwood. The Redtwig appear to be suffering from the added heat reflected off of the back ‘wall’. Weeds are popping up throughout the planting.  As an aside, I’ve often wondered about the liability of these structures and the trip/fall hazard they present to pedestrians etc, as generally the City has a pronounced risk aversion.

This area confuses me. It begins next to the above street runoff 'facility', is filled with only gravel, is below sidewalk grade and promises only an unabated future of weeds.

This area confuses me. It begins next to the above street runoff ‘facility’, is filled with only gravel, is below sidewalk grade and promises only an unabated future of weeds.

This is a close up shot of the above, showing a young invasive Butterfly Bush already well established.

This is a close up shot of the above, showing a young invasive Butterfly Bush already well established. The grade/depression, is well pronounced.

At the Milwaukie Ave stop. This planting of Calmagrostis 'Karl Foerster' is typical in that it shows the density of the planting. They are planted as a solid mass. Typically grasses require periodic digging and dividing to maintain their vigor over time. Speaking from experience this won't be easy especially given the gravel that is in the soil here. The use of Euphorbia here is also interesting here. It is used no where else. The maintenance of such plantings over the long term will be interesting to watch.

At the Milwaukie Ave stop. This planting of Calmagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ is typical in that it shows the density of the planting. They are planted as a solid mass. Typically grasses require periodic digging and dividing to maintain their vigor over time. Speaking from experience this won’t be easy especially given the gravel that is in the soil here. The use of Euphorbia here is also interesting here. It is used no where else. The maintenance of such plantings over the long term will be interesting to watch.

As you move south along the new construction on SE 17th down to Mcloughlin Blvd. many of the planting spaces are narrower with the exception of the median plantings around the station stops.  These narrower areas don’t have the banding typical of the wider plantings.  They are simpler still with linear plantings.  These are closer to the ‘classic’ type commercial plantings.  While compaction and weed seed pressure maybe somewhat lower they are still high.  The railroad is at a bit of a remove, but you don’t have to look far to find vacant properties and property lines that have been let go ready and willing to add their load of weed seed regularly to these landscapes.

This is a typical 'green street' treatment along 17th, this planting toward the southern end with Quercus fraineto 'Schmidt' included. This is the basic palette in this stretch using the Juncus patens 'Elk Blue' which have been more often substituted for the aggressively spreading Juncus effusus.

This is a typical ‘green street’ treatment along 17th, this planting toward the southern end with Quercus fraineto ‘Schmidt’ included. This is the basic palette in this stretch using the Juncus patens ‘Elk Blue’ which have been more often substituted for the aggressively spreading Juncus effusus.  It is a narrow space and the grower lists these at 50′ tall x 20′ wide and tolerant.  I don’t know I resume there is experience growing these in sites where they are seasonally inundated.

Mostly toward the north end of this strip and at the station stops there are plantings with more width that follow the pattern of the beds earlier discussed utilizing most of the same plants most of which will demand summer irrigation and bring with that the usual problems with year round weed germination of weeds that might otherwise be minor issues.  Conditions like these present a ‘challenge’ to plants like Viburnum davidii.  They tend to be irregular performers so when planted in masses this way they show all of their ‘defects’.  Uniformity is part of the aesthetic of this type of planting.

This is just south of the overpass where the weedy railroad right-of-way and the new construction are squeezing together

This is just south of the overpass where the weedy railroad right-of-way and the new construction are squeezing together

Here we pass by one of the many support structures.

Here we pass by one of the many support structures.  The sculptural ‘boats’ repeat down 17th, oddly, sometimes ‘containing’ trees which promises interesting times when dealing with future tree failures.  Here there is a Crab Apple in the near boat.  The Gingko on the right is the northernmost and repeat in loose clumps down this street.

This planting, just north of Rhine on the east side looks good, display the contrasting colors and textures well. Bear in mind that weed incursion and plant failure will jump out which if maintenance and replacement practices are prompt and high won't be an issue. The question begs the maintenance schedule. The weeds already moving in to many of the beds gives me much pause.

This planting, just north of Rhine on the east side looks good, display the contrasting colors and textures well. Bear in mind that weed incursion and plant failure will jump out which if maintenance and replacement practices are prompt and high won’t be an issue. The question begs the maintenance schedule. The weeds already moving in to many of the beds gives me much pause.

This planting near the Rhine Stop repeats the plants of the planting shown above this time as a median dividing the two sets of tracks and in a more fully exposed location.

This planting near the Rhine Stop repeats the plants of the planting shown above this time as a median seperating the tracks from car traffic and in a more fully exposed location.  I’m standing on the station platform.  This planting is still fairly clean.

Tri-Met employee parking abuts the west curb for several blocks. Here there is a slight grade change and all too common Nandina domestica does the repeating banded pattern again utilizing Kinnickinnick, dwarf Pieris and Skimmia underplanting a line of Acer rubrum a tree that has proven problematic in Parks settings in terms of health and performance. Another tree from the summer wet eastern US.

Tri-Met employee parking abuts the west curb for several blocks. Here there is a slight grade change and all too common Nandina domestica does the repeating banded pattern again utilizing Kinnickinnick, dwarf Pieris and Skimmia underplanting a line of Acer rubrum a tree that has proven problematic in Parks settings in terms of health and performance. Another tree from the summer wet eastern US.  A particularly uninspired planting.

Here's a westside curb planting with the Juncus Carex in the bottom, but this time planted with Magnolia 'Galaxy'??? Winter inundation? Not something most Magnolias are going to like. Soil conditions in general will be problematic here. The good news is that the wall to the left should give them protection from afternoon sun. Magnolias don't respond well to heavy pruning and mechanical damage.

Here’s a westside curb planting with the Juncus and Carex in the bottom, but this time planted with Magnolia ‘Galaxy’??? Winter inundation? Not something most Magnolias are going to like. Soil conditions in general will be problematic here. The good news is that the wall to the left should give them protection from afternoon sun. Magnolias don’t respond well to heavy pruning and mechanical damage.  Note the broken stake.  Hopefully people will leave these alone.

This Magnolia 'Galaxy' wasn't so fortunate. Of course not tree does well when so abused

This Magnolia ‘Galaxy’ wasn’t so fortunate. Of course no tree does well when so abused

Across the street, in full sun, these Magnolia 'Galaxy' will have a tougher time in full sun with plenty of reflected heat, not somethings they 'like'. Magnolias tend to be woodland dwellers with their mild conditions and loose humus rich soils and summer rain. Remember, if these last and grow with vigor they will reach 40' tall and a width of 25'. Perhaps the designers are counting on them failing before that. That would be a safe bet. There are a lot of cables above these as well.

Across the street, in full sun, this row of Magnolia ‘Galaxy’ will have a tougher time with plenty of reflected heat, not somethings they ‘like’. Magnolias tend to be woodland dwellers with their mild conditions and loose humus rich soils and summer rain. Remember, that while young these will stay fairly narrow, but if they last and grow with vigor they can reach 40′ tall and attain a width of 25′. Perhaps the designers are counting on them failing before that. That would be a safe bet. There are a lot of cables above these as well to conflict with.

This shot shows the row of dead Arbor-vitae across the street

This shot shows the row of dead Arbor-vitae across the street with more of the Magnolia curbside.  That’s the Lafayette St. bridge in the background a boon and massive improvement on the nasty structure it replaces.  Here too you can see the narrow planting that separates roadway from tracks this time featuring the thirsty heat averse Viburnum davidii with Blue Oat Grass which should be thriving.  It begs the question of irrigation schedules since both have such different requirements.

The stubby streets that tee off from 17th from Holgate south feature Parrotia persica. These should be a good match. Their premature leaf color likely indicate the effects of the summer we've just had and the fact that they were not yet established.

The stubby streets that tee off from 17th from Holgate south feature Parrotia persica. These should be a good match. Their premature leaf color likely indicate the effects of the summer we’ve just had and the fact that they were not yet established. Interestingly, these seem to be an after thought as little prep appears to have been down and the grades are below the sidewalk and curb. These are surrounded by weeds, not a failed under planting.

This shot is not of any of the Orange Line properties. It is from an adjacent vacant property. It illustrates what can easily happen with large plantings of low evergreen groundcovers.

This shot is not of any of the Orange Line properties. It is from an adjacent vacant property. It illustrates what can easily happen with large plantings of low evergreen groundcovers.  This Kinnickinnick planting has been invaded by dozens of weed species as it is neither dense nor competitive enough to defend itself.  It contains English Ivy, Cotoneaster, Clematis vitalba, Blackberry,  Hieracium, Dandelion and many more, all of the way up to Trees of Heaven on the bank to the right.  These in turn become incubators to infect other properties.  This type of planting requires regular attention especially if it’s under regular assault.  Doing this by hand is extremely time consuming.  The use of pre-emergent herbicides is necessary without that kind of long term commitment.  This is often the problem with one dimensional planting schemes as are used in this portion of the Orange Line landscapes.

This curb planting approaching the intersection of 17th and Mcloughlin Blvd repeats the use of Magnolia 'Galaxy' where it will again be subject to inundation and reflected heat and light.

This curb planting approaching the intersection of 17th and Mcloughlin Blvd repeats the use of Magnolia ‘Galaxy’ where it will again be subject to inundation and reflected heat and light.

This fenced off service area along the curving tracks of the Orange Line is set up as another 'dead zone' that will have to be maintained clean. It currently contains mature Horseweed amongst others which can infect adjacent landscapes.

This fenced off service area along the curving tracks of the Orange Line at 17th and Mcloughlin is set up as another ‘dead zone’ that will have to be maintained clean. It currently contains mature Horseweed amongst others which can infect adjacent landscapes.

It does not appear that there is any plan for this section paralleling Mcloughlin Blvd. with nothing planted at all in this gravelly fill.

It does not appear that there is any plan for this section paralleling Mcloughlin Blvd.  The invasive Buddleia got established earlier after the older curb work.  Blackberries are established around the street lamp posts with other weeds beginning especially along the edges where moisture concentrates, roots can more easily penetrate the ‘break’ created by the juxtapositioning of dissimilar materials.  While this site presents very inhospitable conditions to plant growth, something will move in and it will likely be tough and undesirable.

Interestingly they have planted Parthenocissus at the base of ramp launching the tracks up an over Harold St. Drip heads are installed at their bases. This section is 'baked' with all of the reflected heat added to our high ambient temperatures. The meager bark mulch intended to conserve soil moisture is inadequate.

Interestingly they have planted Parthenocissus at the base of ramp launching the tracks up an over Harold St. Drip heads are installed at their bases. This section is ‘baked’ with all of the reflected heat added to our high ambient temperatures. The meager bark mulch intended to conserve soil moisture is inadequate.

The Parthenocissus planted to the south of Harold against the ramp have protection from the late afternoon sun.

The Parthenocissus planted to the south of Harold against the ramp have protection from the late afternoon sun.  This is at the top of a bio-swale.  The ground planting seems to be dominated by weeds.

Incense Cedars,wedged into their narrow space, frame the truck entrance to the Brooklyn Yards at Harold St. While these are columnar they can reach 8' in diameter. It probably won't conflict with pedestrian use as there likely won't ever be much.

Incense Cedars,wedged into their narrow space, frame the truck entrance to the Brooklyn Yards at Harold St. While these are columnar they can reach 8′ in diameter. It probably won’t conflict with pedestrian use as there likely won’t ever be much.

This bio-swale is planted with the typical native choices and appear to be doing well. It is also obviously suffering from a lack of maintenance as a serious weed problem is already developing which is not surprising given the surrounding 'landscape'.

This bio-swale is planted with the typical native choices and appear to be doing well. It is also obviously suffering from a lack of maintenance as a serious weed problem is already developing which is not surprising given the surrounding ‘landscape’.

This is adjacent to the bio-swale looking toward Mcloughlin Blvd. The road lies behind the trees and is buried in Blackberry, English Ivy and Clematis. By all appearances this section, the trees separating Mcloughlin from the railroad tracks, receive little if any maintenance. I would expect that this whole area will become overwhelmed and dominated by weeds.

This is adjacent to the bio-swale looking toward Mcloughlin Blvd. The road lies behind the trees and is buried in Blackberry, English Ivy and Clematis. By all appearances this section, the trees separating Mcloughlin from the railroad tracks, receive little if any maintenance. I would expect that this whole area will become overwhelmed and dominated by weeds.  This area is very different from the very urban section extending toward downtown.  This is a throw-away landscape and has been for decades.  It would take a herculean effort to maintain any landscape next to this.

Every patch of ground contains a potential for life that changes over time from the most inert compacted subsoil intentionally laid on the surface because of its inhospitable characteristics, its stability as an engineered material, to manmade materials like asphalt and concrete, on which given time, life will find a way to invade and colonize it and in so doing provide the opportunity for other plants, other organisms to follow. Ultimately all our efforts to hold the line against life, to capture a contrived static moment in time, will fail and yield to ‘wildness’. When we create simplistic contrived landscapes they are foreign and unstable. To maintain them as ‘snapshots in time’ requires continual commitment and intervention. Without this our less than well chosen plants will decline and die while others, more attuned and ‘available’ like weeds or even more desirable plants that are in the local soil seed bank, will germinate and grow and in so doing, not only alter the landscapes appearance, but will change the growing conditions in such a way as to provide for the next change. It is a continuous process. An aesthetic is an abstract human creation. They carry no ‘weight’ in the natural world. Life and place, in a very real sense, are all that really matter. To the ignorant or untutored it may be seem chaotic, but there is a purpose in operation everywhere. It requires a certain willingness, a receptivity to begin to see it. It requires a surrender or yielding to natural forces to the cycling of energy and resources in a any organic system, a characteristic that our society these days is still fighting.

Working as I have in the field of landscape maintenance for much of the last 35 years, I have been told several times by well meaning people, “Dude, you need to stop and let nature heal herself.” This advice, or admonishment, contains some truth. In a relatively intact functioning landscape, with intact plant communities, we can do that, keeping a watchful eye out for the invasion of the occasional invasive interloper. But these are completely contrived landscapes located in an area, a region, where literally every natural functioning landscape has been either destroyed or is under heavy ‘attack’. There is no simple ‘rebounding’, no straight line return to a natural state. We need to remember that these mature or climax landscapes were not static either. They were incredibly complex and dynamic, responsive to every ‘member’ of their ‘community. The decline and death of one plant did not result in its identical replacement. An opportunity was created, whether it was from gradual or more catastrophic, sudden, change like a fire or a landslide. Life would select from what was available, the best adapted moving in and filling that space for so much time before yielding again.

Today’s soil seed banks may vary tremendously from site to site containing opportunistic germplasm that we have brought intentionally or not from around the world. The old plant communities and the conditions that supported them are gone. Bringing them back through a redesign and planting project, in a moment in time, is hopelessly naive. Those old landscapes can serve as reference points, beginnings, to understand what we have lost and offer us a direction. We need to understand though that the whole landscape, not just the pieces that we might be working on, has been radically altered and that much of it serves a very urbanized purposed that will stay. This alone should cause us to think a little differently about how we go about designing and maintaining our landscapes in an effective way, a way that demonstrates our new reality and our own ability to adapt to rather than to continue ignoring what is going on within our landscapes.

When a weed appears in a landscape we should be taking that as an opportunity to learn. Something that we have done or failed to do has brought us to this point. We failed to account for the particular niche the weed is now occupying. Pulling it or spraying it to remove it or applying pre-emergent herbicides to attempt to keep it out, are all options, as is doing nothing…but observing and asking questions like, if we leave it to fill this niche, will it increase aggressively or is it simply a ‘place holder’, allowing for a change in conditions that will move the plant community closer to our goal of stability?

Today though, with these landscapes, we are in a situation, that will require massive intervention for as long as we are committed to these landscapes. They are incredibly unstable. They have little to no ability to resist on their own. Any landscape will require our vigilance to watch for and actively control the incursion of invasive species, but these landscapes are wholly unable to resist even common weeds. They simply lack the complexity inherent to natural plant communities. There are too many ‘niches’ open. And there won’t be a one size fits all kind of design that can be applied the length of the line. It must be sensitive to the site conditions and then given what we know, we need to create plant communities that fill more of these niches and, again, develop the patience to watch and respond to the changes that will follow over time.

Of course if Tri-Met is committed to their design and has the resources to follow through effectively, these landscapes will be fine. Anything, given the proper resources and commitment is, for as long as they remain. We need to ask ourselves in this time of increasingly austere public budgets if this is a realistic expectation?

Another posting follows that will be examining the section from the Bybee Overpass/Station to the terminus in Clackamas county at Mcloughlin Blvd. and Park Ln.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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