Author Archives: gardenriots

About gardenriots

I'm a horticulturist with 35 years experience primarily in the maintenance and management of public landscapes and gardens, including, renovation, construction, planting design, doing horticultural reviews of capital projects and creating and implementing maintenance plans that recognize the dynamic nature of these places. I have a strong interest in sustainable/ xeric landscapes and view the landscape as an opportunity to create places of beauty in an all too often utilitarian urban world while at the same time using them as a teaching tool for the public and peers. I recently retired from Portland Parks and Recreation where I was responsible for many of our downtown landscapes for 16 years.

Latitude and Energy: A Beginning Point

45º!  In my previous post I suggest, for reasons of solar gain and intensity, that we gardeners might have better luck choosing plants for our gardens if we chose them from our own latitude, north and south.  The intensity of the sun’s radiation varies with latitude, decreasing as we move away from the equator toward the poles.  Like all horticultural suggestions you should take this with a grain of salt…er, soil.  Follow that line around the Earth from Portland and you can run into a lot of difficulty.  Spin a globe and take a look.  Following the 45 parallel east takes us along the Columbia Gorge, across the Blue Mountains, Hell’s Canyon, the resort town of McCall, Idaho, elevation one mile, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and more of the Rockies, on across the northern Plains, through South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, our ‘frozen heartland’ and east through New York and just outside Portland, Maine.  These are highly varied landscapes with conditions almost always colder, different rain patterns, more extreme weather conditions than ours with corresponding plant communities.  In Europe 45º passes through northern Provence, with weather strongly influenced by the adjacent Mediterranean Sea and the massive Sahara Desert that lies beyond, the Piedmont region of Italy, Croatia, the Black Sea, the Steppe country including Uzbekistan, into northern mountainous China and southern Mongolia and finally, the Japanese island of Hokkaido, its capital, Sapporo, a couple degrees south, with its remarkable annual ice festival. 

The list of landmarks found along the southern 45th is very short, as the vast majority of its length is defined by open ocean.  Still it crosses New Zealand’s South Island, only again making landfall in the south of Argentina where it narrows down toward the continent’s southern tip and the Chonos Archipelago of small Chilean islands comprised of submerged mountain tops.  On the later the landscape is dominated by compact cushion plants.  These few places have strong maritime influences and are much effected by the unimpeded weather sweeping off of Antarctica.  Much of this sounds limited and extreme when I think of plants adapted for our region. Continue reading

Weather Snapshot: What’s Been Going on Out There Lately

Did you know that the all time record lowest temperature in Portland occurred on this date, Feb. 2, it was -3ºF. In 1950! A notable year with 6 consecutive days that still are the coldest on those dates, from Jan. 29th through Feb. 3rd., 8º, 10º, -2º, 1º, today’s -3º and tomorrow’s at 4º! 1950 also still holds the record cold temps here for Jan. 14th at 9º, the 16th and 17th, both at 8º!

We moved to Portland, from Bend, in the fall of ’85, a year that gave us the coldest Thanksgiving week ever here. I remember moving a couple yards of gravel frozen into an ice cube, getting blisters in the process. From Nov. 22-31, six of the daily record lows from 1985 still stand, dropping to 13º and 17º at the coldest. This was a surprise to me coming from cold Bend where this would have been normal. Continue reading

Here Comes the Sun: Latitude and its Seasonal Effect on Life and Place

Read to the Beatles, “Here Comes the Sun.”

It’s a bright sunny morning here in Portland…in January, not a real common occurrence in a place where we typically have some kind of cloud cover due to our climate with its strong maritime influences…but today it is sunny, and I’m thinking about the annual cycle of changing day length as we move from our shortest day, on the winter solstice, toward our longest day, on the summer solstice.  The solstice result from the tilt of Earth’s axis, which remains more or less fixed, though there is a bit of a ‘wobble’, as the Earth follows its annual orbital path around the Sun, spinning like a top, effectively changing the surface it presents along the way. Continue reading

Toward a Redefinition of Work

Several different Panicum, Miscanthus and Pennisetum cultivars were planted in large sweeps across more than an acre of bank above the Willamette River here. For several years, late each winter, we gathered in mass for the ‘Harvest’ cutting them down and removing the debris as we were unable to get permits to burn them. Maintenance on this site was always labor intensive given the manner in which it was planted, large sweeps of clumping grasses with nothing in between as per the design. Over time irrigation was discontinued and a more xeric, complex of other plants were added, changing how the work is done.  Anyone working in the plant world knows how undervalued the work is and the compensation those doing it receive.  No one doing the work is getting rich.  Those who do it are either sustained in part by their passion for plants, their desire to work outside and/or at least some degree of desperation…and Portland is becoming an even more expensive place to live as are all West Coast cities.

In this time of political chaos and environmental threats it is difficult to keep my mind only on plants….Nothing in the living world is easily separable from the whole, its context. The following is reflective of my interest in people. My first degree was in sociology.

Work is what we do with our lives. It is what we ‘spend’ our lives doing, whether we are paid or compensated well or not, whether it is a joy or drudgery. Through our ‘work’ we give our lives purpose and meaning, or we don’t. When we speak of it, it is as an expression of our lives…one’s ‘life’ work.

Work is a reflection of our place in our community and society, our role. It is through ‘work’ that the needs of the community are met. What compensation we receive is in proportion to how our community and society values us as individuals as well as the work that we do. When work is not this, when our work itself is demeaned, so are we who do it. When this happens to us we search for other ways to find value in our own lives…or for distraction. When we receive only monetary remuneration for our work, when even we ourselves, fail to recognize the value of the work that we do, when it isn’t ‘fulfilling’, we have a huge hole to fill in our lives.

It is difficult, but doable, to retain one’s dignity in one’s work when those around us recognize neither the value of our work nor our lives. Sadly, we have fallen into the trap set by the larger economy and owners for us, measuring value by the dollars that they are willing to pay. We are raising a generation who sees little value in the necessity of manual work, of hand labor…even the construction trades, historically valued and well compensated, is attracting fewer of our young people. We are learning not to seek satisfaction in paid work, that pay should be enough and that fulfillment, satisfaction, should be found in our shrinking free time, in recreational pursuits, which are defined very narrowly and separately from work.

Work today is, by and large, not creative. It has been reduced to a narrow Protestant, even Calvinistic definition, as a kind of servitude, even a punishment, something we must do to attain our reward and salvation. We have demeaned not only work, but our own value as human beings in the process. Because we spend so much of our lives doing it, work should be creative, fulfilling and satisfying, in multiple ways. We should pursue it because it is satisfying allowing us to contribute to our communities and the support of our families. We are not interchangeable cogs.
There is nothing ‘fair’ about the vast range of pay, the chasm, between those who ‘labor’ and create the product or service and those who own it and decide who gets what. We are all taught that life is not fair, though we have a base understanding that it should be. We have learned that those in positions of power will take what they can and that we will be left with what remains…and, many of us, were our positions switched, would do the same…and very few of us see how simple and just the solution is. We have been taught that money and wealth is adequate compensation for unfulfilling work and we play and recreate very hard to make up for what we’ve given up. We do not live our lives as we do because we must, we do it out of choice, informed or not. Right or wrong.
How we value work reflects how we value our own lives and those of others, how we structure jobs, our relationship with work, our relationships with one another. We need to redefine our idea of work, set it in proper relationship with our lives, make it mean more than a paycheck. All work, if worth doing, should afford those who do it adequate and just compensation so that they can live healthy and secure lives. Work should be important in and of itself. Work should add value to our own lives while it does the same for the world around us…instead of a disconnected opportunity to take for ourselves. It should emphasize and build the relationships between us instead of set us against one another as it does in today’s world in which we literally consume the Earth while diminishing the lives of others at the same time. Ultimately, the result of our work must make the world a better place, because to set the standard lower is to compromise our lives and the Earth. Our work, in this sense, is our ‘contribution’ to the planet and as is true in all things, our impacts are both individual and accumulative. We build or destroy through our combined efforts. This is something we must understand if the human ‘experiment’ is to continue.

Passing the ‘Baton’: On Life, Seeds, Germination and Vegetative Propagation


This diagram is of a typical bean seed here to illustrate some of the basic structures within all seeds. When germination begins water is taken in via the Micropyle. This picture is taken from a simple introductory page,

EVERY, let me say that again, every, single individual organism, plant, animal, fungi and bacteria…is directly linked, in an unbroken line, to previous organisms.  An organism is not created singularly and anew within a Frankensteinian lab, whether of our own hand or nature’s.  Life is an extremely rare occurrence.  Genesis did not happen, in the biblical sense, but on extremely rare occasions, arguably only once in Earth’s several billion years.  The conditions it requires are unique, precise and stable.  Just as individuals are linked directly to their parents, entire species are to their predecessors.  So called ‘spontaneous generation’ does not happen.  The idea that organic matter can be manipulated and ‘sparked’ into life is naive.  It can only be more or less manipulaed as we’ve demonstrated time and again in a heavy handed way.  Science, especially over the last one hundred years, has made great strides in understanding just what life is, what it requires and how it most likely evolved, but it still cannot ‘create’ it.  Even in its most simple forms, such as bacteria, life requires the ability to conduct thousands of biochemical processes within each cell in a very precise way, something that not even a series of highly coordinated human operated laboratories, using standard of the art equipment, can do in anywhere near the amounts and efficiencies that a single living cell can.  We are far too clumsy.  Doing this for a complex multicellular organism with highly specialized cells, tissues and organs would seem impossible.  As we continue to study organisms, their processes and growth, we are learning just how complex and astounding they are. Continue reading

Agave montana: Monte’s Flowering Attempt…and What’s Behind It

It’s October in Portland and my Agave montana is in the process of flowering…I know, we’re heading toward winter, with its rain and average low down into the mid-30’s with potentially sudden damaging temperature swings from mid-November into March dropping below freezing to the low twenties, with extremes some years, generally limited to the upper teens, though historically, some areas have dropped into the single digits, those Arctic blasts from the interior….Winter temps here can be extremely unsupportive of Agave’s from ‘low desert’ and tropical regions.  Combined with these cool/cold temperatures are our seasonal reduction in daylight hours and its intensity (day length and angle of incidence varies much more widely here at 45º north) and the rain, ranging from 2.5″ to 6″+ each month here Nov.- Mar., resulting in a ‘trifecta’ of negative factors which can compromise an Agave, even when in its long rosette producing stage.  Any Agave here requires thoughtful siting with special consideration for drainage, exposure and aspect.  For an Agave, conditions common to the maritime Pacific Northwest are generally marginal, yet I am far from alone in my attempts to grow them here.  Previously, in April of 2016 I had an Agave x ‘Sharkskin’ flower, a process that spanned the summer months, taking 7 until mid-October to produce ripe seed.  I was initially a little pessimistic this time about A. montana’s prospects.  Why, I wonder, if plants are driven to reproduce themselves would this one be starting the process now? Continue reading

Recognizing and Using the Power We still Have: Moving Toward a More Sane & Livable Future

I know, politics again!  Gardening affords us all an escape from the mess of politics…but that ‘mess’ promises to take even that from us.

I’ve heard it argued that there is no point in having money and power if you do not use them. It certainly seems to be a popular or even dominant view in the US today. In a country where many of us feel relatively powerless to affect change or even have some degree of control to keep our own lives from falling to pieces, many of us would seem to identify with the man who today epitomizes the extreme of this position, our president, Donald Trump. His standard places winning above all else and it doesn’t matter what’s at stake, if he simply says he wants something, that is the only thing that matters.  He must win!  Nothing and no one can matter more.  To compromise is losing.  To take others and their position into consideration, is weakness….Whether there are other legitimate positions on something does not matter, once a position is taken, game on and there is no retreat, because this narrow idea of one’s honor matters far more than what might be best, or fair, or ethical, legal or moral.  Making these choices is a personal selfish matter.  There is no point in making an informed decision because being correct, or accurate, making the best decision based on our best scientific understanding of a problem or the most considered decision based on the consequences that will follow…doesn’t enter the ‘thought’ process at any point.   What matters is being in control and showing others that you are the most powerful. To do this you are willing to use every tool at your disposal.

Today there are few examples of wealthy and powerful men and women with the strength of character to say no to their own desires and ambitions.  The Koch brothers, er, brother, come to mind immediately, but their are others, many others, whose only goals seem to be centered on their continuing attempts to amass more wealth, more control, to wield more influence on the world and those around them, without ever attempting to consider what might be best for others, whether their fellow citizens or those of other countries, for the health of the planet that they and their predecessors have compromised and decimated or even the natural beauty that our constant expansion continues to lay waste to.  Where are our leaders?  All succumbed to the compromises they’ve committed to in their own Faustian bargains.

Today politics seems to concern itself only with what to do with the remnants and scraps that are left behind and who will benefit from them.  We seem poised on the edge of a contraction while the powerful fortify their positions from the attacks that will surely come with it.  The popular media, television, movies and ‘games’ seem’ a foreshadowing of what is to come.  It is hard not to be negative or cynical, for we all seem so committed to our particular chosen paths today that the coming ‘apocalypse’ would seem to be almost certain….It needn’t be, but first we have to believe that!

At some level it doesn’t surprise me that so many people voted for this man, ’45’, Trump, the ‘shit-gibbon’ or whatever name you’ve affixed him with.  He’s attracted such epithets like flies, his presence, character and demeanor, the least presidential of all of the presidents of my lifetime…yet he still has a ‘rabid’ following today, while opportunistic politicians, supportive or not, continue riding the wave of incredulity he has raised in Washington while they advance their own particular issues lost amidst all of the turmoil, outcry and public blood letting.  Many of his followers remain steadfast and true, strident and outspoken, often publicly taking up the cause in their own outrage, reflecting Trumps own flaunting of the law, increasing in their boldness. 

Trumps people are not those who necessarily occupy the lowest economic and social rungs of society, but they are the people who often believe themselves to be at immediate risk, who see themselves as those whom politicians and government have ‘forgotten’, whose lives are most precarious, who feel so little control that they are afraid of losing what they have…and they do not want to end up with or below, the blacks, the new immigrants, the ‘illegal hispanics’, or those individuals who comprise the coalition of LGBTQ, whom they’ve always seen themselves to be above of. They admire this man and they are standing with him as he reacts against the historically ‘undeserving’ poor.  Trump has given them someone to ‘kick’ and even made it ‘fashionable’ or at least acceptable to do so.  Whether you call it blaming the victim, divide and conquer or giving his supporters a ‘straw dog’ the effect is the same.  It is further driving society apart while at the same time putting ‘blame’ where it does not belong. 

While they may find him embarrassing and low class, a sizable portion of the wealthy elite, no doubt appreciate the work Trump has done for their cause.  He is a tool, a horse they will ride as long as it suits them. But the bulk of his supporters see in him somebody with qualities that they themselves wish they had so that they could take and secure what they see as their’s. He speaks proudly and takes action ignoring those who should give him pause, cause him to doubt his actions.  He cannot tolerate self-doubt and so acts boldly, brazenly and in so doing sparks something in those who feel small, who desperately want to believe that they too can get/take what they want.  This is the world that they believe they are living in, a world without kindness, a world of meanness, a world of winners and losers and one in which they desperately want to come out, if not on top, at least at some more secure level above the bottom. When I look at this world today I can hardly blame it on these people, for the lessons they have learned are all around us at almost every level. But they have made the wrong conclusions. 

They have accepted the path without a moral or ethical center, for expedience.  They are willing to sacrifice others to attain their goal, the same logic of the predatory wealthy who have utilized this same strategy so well in taking from the masses below them…beneath them in their minds.  Somehow these people with insecure futures, have convinced themselves that this will work for them.  That if they are strong enough they too can take what the want and secure themselves against those whom they would deny a place at the table…That in a game of the divided and decimated weak, they can succeed against their brothers and sisters whom they refuse to recognize.  That there is enough wealth at the bottom for them to take for themselves.  But this is a strategy that promises only further division, further struggle, in an effort that defines itself on taking from ‘others’ and securing it for oneself.  This will inevitably fail. 

We may profess to be a Christian country but our behavior regarding one another is anything but. It is sad, depressing even, to me, that this is the world we live in, that our children are inheriting…so many of us accept and take this as a given. That is the most frightening aspect of all of this to me, that this is the world most of us seem to expect…We have set our sights on such a low standard that we will assure its realization.  We have all but forgotten that if we want something better we must work for it and in order to do that we must first begin to see the value and goodness in ourselves and each other.  We have forgotten the power of a positive vision.  We have surrounded ourselves with leaders who have forgotten as well or simply have chosen this diminished and negative path out of their own greed and willingness to sell the rest of us short.  If we do not turn this around this is surely the world we will be stuck with.  We will be left with only the empty promises of the politicians we’ve been following all along.  We are going to have to very quickly learn how to distinguish integrity and vision from political manipulation if we are to be able to better choose leaders who can help us lead ourselves out of this mess.  The old pattern and politics will assure us failure. Trump has set a ridiculously low standard for leadership and public behavior, but there are all too many politicians out there just as destructive, selfish and blind as he is though they are dangerously, politically more savvy.  The burden is on us the voters.  It is up to us to reject this dead vision and short sighted politics and put in its place a positive vision which can inspire us to better ourselves and this world.  There is no in-between.  The margins have drastically narrowed.  We and the world are now at a level of unprecedented risk.  Do you accept this and the sad excuse of ‘greatness’ Trump has given us, as we all scramble for the last of the low lying fruit, or do you believe in something better for the world.  That is it in a nutshell.  We have followed the politics of compromise so far that it seems to make little difference in what or who we choose.  Our only real choice is to reject it.  The choice before us reads more like mutually assured destruction. The other one offers genuine hope, not the political package of promises we’ve seen before.  One choice will inspire us and push us to create a world of possibility, the other will leave us in the trough as we devour what is left of the world and each other.