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.

My ‘Droughted’ Weedy Lawn: What do I do With it Now?

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This little stucco house, in the Woodstock neighborhood, is one of Julie’s favorites. It sits on a little rise clothed in an unbroken sea of Juniperus sabina Tamariscifolia (?) punctuated with several Italian Cypress. This landscape has been here for decades and appears to be completely weed free. It’s xeric with enough density to choke out weedy interlopers.  By not adding supplemental water many of our more common weeds are discouraged. Even if you wanted to apply a pre-emergent herbicide I don’t know if it could get to the soil. There is no way for anyone to enter this to remove volunteer Blackberries, Clematis, Canada Thistle or anything else for that matter. Junipers are strongly allelopathic containing chemicals in their shed foliage that build up in the organic layer on the soil surface discouraging successful weed germination.  Many other plants including our West coast Manzanita are allelopathic as well and can be used similarly.  Generally, allelopathic plants require several years to build up an effective layer of weed controlling old leaves to be effective, so our efforts will be necessary for some time.  At minimum don’t remove this layer of old and decaying leaves!  Junipers are also highly competitive in terms of their roots for water and nutrients.  Do I recommend this landscape…not necessarily, as it provides little ‘useful’ space offering little more than a very ‘defensible’ border, though it does have its attraction.   It provides shelter for some birds and critters, including rats, unfortunately, and fruit to those interested, while posing a minimal weed/seeding hazard to other landscapes.  It is a very simple landscape.

We can do much better than we have been doing with our landscapes…we have to!  It is incumbent upon each of us to grow our landscapes well, whatever they are, whatever they demand of us.  Our inability or unwillingness to do this is symptomatic of a society today that doesn’t  place priority and value on life, first!  (If you are reading this, you probably aren’t part of this ‘we’.)  The fact that we don’t have the time, resources or interest is indicative of how far out of balance our own lives are.  This isn’t a new phenomenon.  I don’t mean to shame or blame anyone here.  Modern societies have long been out of step.  We place a premium on our personal freedom, the idea that we have moved beyond nature, that technology will do for us whatever we need.  Nature will keep ‘chugging’ on without us so that we can devote ourselves to our more personal goals…and so ‘nature’ has been left largely on its own as if what we do will have no significant or damaging effects…but that isn’t really the way it is.  So, what do we do about that dead weedy lawn out front? Continue reading

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The Droughted Lawn

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A golf course is dependent upon a healthy, vital and uniform turf. It directly influences a courses playability. Even if you don’t play golf, courses evoke a calm with their pastoral, expansive lawns and views. This is a view down the 14th fairway at Eastmorland Golf Course. The perimeter rough areas receive no water and minimal maintenance. To the left is a swath of Blackberry. Other areas are over grown with weeds with fence lines draped with the invasive Clematis.

[A reader asked me to do an edited down version of this article to make it more accessible for those less interested, but in need of its message.  This is a stab at that.]

The suburban American lawn has been identified with the fall of nature by many.  Today, a good and green American, certainly us Portlanders are included in this, rejects the perfect monoculture of the lawn.  Nature:good; lawn:bad.  Our lawns demand water that could be better used growing food and assuring healthy fish populations, our lawnmowers spew air pollutants damaging to us all, our fertilizers leach away and move off site contaminating ground water and stream flow while our pesticides used on them, more directly attack nature all around us, all of this for no justifiable benefit, only fulfilling some narrowly defined human desire for an outdated aesthetic.  Detractors of the lawn argue against the waste of resources they require and they are difficult to justify if their purpose is restricted to providing a neat and ‘defensible’ perimeter for each house, the appetites of golfers and the youthful fantasies for power and dominance of sport, all increasing the consumption of land ‘stollen’ from nature to sate our hunger for it.  But this view of the lawn does it a disservice. Continue reading

A Healthy Lawn, Drought Stressed Turf and a Meadow: Finding Our Way to a ‘Better’ Landscape

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A golf course is dependent upon a healthy, vital and uniform turf. It directly influences a course’s playability. Even if you don’t play golf, the landscape can evoke a calm with their pastoral, expansive lawns and views. This is a view down the 14th fairway at Eastmorland Golf Course. Imagine this drought stressed and brown overwhelmed with weeds…both the play and the ‘feeling’ the landscape evokes will be badly degraded.  The perimeter rough areas receive no water and minimal maintenance. To the left is a swath of Blackberry. Other areas are over grown with weeds with fence lines draped with the invasive Clematis.  Priorities are one-sided.

[The world is like a ball of string…pull on the loose end available to you, and you pull on the entire thing!]

Portlanders, Oregonians, often promote ourselves as being ‘green’ leaders.  Cleaning up the Willamette, the Bottle Bill, preserving our beaches as public property, state mandated land use planning, bicycling, recycling, mass transit…and it’s an apt description…to a point.  Combine this with our relatively low population, our huge, diverse and beautiful natural landscape, our progressive ‘weirdness’, and we are firmly on the national map, the envy of many places and a beguiling destination for those who find themselves looking for the laid back, ‘cool’ place, to be.  Our environmental righteousness is intoxicating and clouds our own vision of where we are and the work to be done.  A steady stream of new arrivals brings with them their own visions of Portland, based more on their own desires and marketing efforts than the on the ground reality, skewed by tinted glasses of Portlandia’s popularity, our own boosterism and the ‘boom’, probably transitory, commitment that big money has showered upon us.  Our little town is not what it once was, if it ever was.  But this is the nature of any place, it is many things, often contradictory, when looked at by its many very different inhabitants with their unique history’s and perspectives. Continue reading

Puya mirabilis: Flowering, Place and Choice, The Wonder and Magic of Gardening

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Sunday night our son and his girl friend came over for dinner on the deck.  The week long heat wave had passed and it was another very comfortable evening outside.  They had been at the beach attending a wedding the day before, Julie’s birthday.  When they first arrived, because I can be a bit obsessive, I noticed that the still tightly ‘rolled’ petals in the extending flowers on my Puya mirabilis were ever so slightly beginning to curl back and open.  It was one of those times I wished I had a camera to set up to do a time lapse series, but I don’t.  Regardless, within 2 hours the five lowest flowers were completely opened with stamen and styles fully extended beyond the corolla. Continue reading

The Opposite of Freezing: Plants Have Upper Limits Too

It’s Sunday, July 30, and 87º outside, our forecasted high.  We’re at the front end of a forecast that is calling for two days over our record highest temperature ever recorded in Portland.  I’m looking at it now, Monday, the 31st calls for 92º, August 1 for 99º, 108º, a record, on the 2nd, 110º, another record, on the 3rd, before ‘cooling’ to 105º on the 4th and 95º the next day.  Our average high for this time of year is 82º.  The current record is 107º set on Aug. 8, ’81 and matched on Aug. 10, ’81.  That may not seem that high to people in the SW, but it is here and here is what matters.  Temperature is a local phenomenon.  It’s okay if we whine about it.  It’s hotter than we’re used to.  Hotter than what the local native flora and fauna are ‘used’ to.  For native species it’s not just about preferences, though we may use that word when we talk about their requirements and limits.   Continue reading

Bromeliaceae and Dangerous Plants: Adaptation, Climate Change and Gardening in Portland

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I don’t know what this Bromeliad is, but it is statuesque, the inflorescence reaching well above my head. I took this shot next to Burl’s ‘chateau’ at Rare Plant Research just south of Oregon City. He moves a lot of tropical exotics in and out of his greenhouses every year. This is what a lot of people think of when they picture a Bromeliad.

I awaken and come down stairs at about 7:00 am…it’s a warm 66ºF outside.  I was up late last night, until after 12:00 am, keeping the air flowing through downstairs in an attempt to cool the house.  This is on the warm side for us here in the summer.  On rare occasions our lows can drop to as high as the low 70’s…such temps tend to occur more frequently in more recent years when ‘heat lows’ settle in around us and we suffer through ‘heat alerts’, whenthe air stagnates and turns ‘brown’ and we can become caught in one of those cycles of days where our highs remain in the upper 90’s and low 100’s.  Our all time record high of 107º, in August of 1981, was during such a cycle that I had the privilege of experiencing as I was here in Portland visiting a friend and attending my brother’s wedding.  On the 6th it hit 99º.   The high rose the next day to 102º, 105º on the 8th, 104º the next, 107º on the 10th, the humidity at 15%, then cooling to 97º on the 11th.  I remember taking turns trying to cool ourselves, without any air conditioning, submerging in a tub of tepid bath water, Continue reading

On Amelanchier / Serviceberries: Their Susceptibility to Rust and Their Use in our Gardens

Sometimes we are drawn to plants by memories and sentiment, plants we have early associations with.  They can regularly appear in our palette, our quiver of plants, that we might choose from.  We all have our preferences, our biases.  Sometimes the mismatch might only be aesthetic other times it can be a problem related to our site conditions.  When we include these plants they may struggle, yet persist in the garden, maybe demonstrating to others their ‘ill-fit’.  When a plant is a poor fit, its inclusion can become a glaring error to others that we are blinded to.  Diseases can present such a problem, diseases that can be problematic in our area, or that our site is simply unfortunate enough to suffer from.  ‘Rust’ diseases,  Gymnosporangium spp., can be an issue here.  In the case of Serviceberries, it can be disfiguring and debilitating.  Several of these species attack Rose Family members, that include the Serviceberries, which seem particularly susceptible, though it doesn’t kill them.  Diseased, stunted and suffering, unwilling to just die and put us both out of our misery, these plants continue.  It is akin to being drawn to the wrong lover or life partner…it’s not going to work out and we simply can’t seem to help ourselves. Continue reading