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.

Roldana cristobalensis (formerly Senecio cristobalensis…now, Roldana petasitis var. cristobalensis)

Roldana petasitis var. cristobalensis shown here looking amazing with Aeonium arboretum ‘Zwartzkop’.  Its substantial leaves are some 8″ across, thick and velvety, the undersides of which are red/purple, like the stems.  The color often comes through in the veins along the top surface.  A very striking foliage plant.  Picture this with its close relative, Pseudogynoxus chenipodiodes, the Mexican Flame Vine, formerly known as Senecio confusus!

Sometimes called Velvet Groundsel, this plant has been living and marketed under several different names.  The first name in the heading is the one Jimi Blake ascribed to it, a name I didn’t recognize for a plant I’ve grown off and on in the past…it got lost in his list paired with a particular Thalictrum and I simply missed it…until recently.  I knew it as Senecio cristobalensis and, had I recognized it, would have included it with an earlier post in which I focused on his favorite Asteraceae.  I did actually mention the plant there simply as another Senecio that I’ve grown of value.  Here I shall treat it more directly.  The genus, Roldana, was recircumscribed in 2008 to include some 54 different species.  Other authors include as few as 48 and as many as 64 in the genus, most of which used to belong to Senecio and are native to the extreme Southwestern US, Mexico and Central America.  Most of the Roldana species are somewhat ‘shrubby’ herbs with a few, like this one woody, even tree like.  Both genera are within the Asteraceae and share tribe status as well, Senecioneae.  For the curious, Roldana spp., even more finely, are included in the sub-tribe, Tussilagininae, which includes the very commonly grown genus of garden plants…Ligularia!  On closer examination the morphological similarities will begin to stand out to most of us.  Check out all of the photos on the Wikimedia Commons page for Roldana petasitis.  Roldana petasitis is the correct species name for this plant.  With all of the shuffling and consequent confusion still going on in the world of taxonomy, especially in such a mixed large genera like Senecio, we must all be allowed our mistakes of nomenclature.  It is a volatile changing world out there. Continue reading

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The Politics of Life: Courage, Imagination and Living a New World

Nature, in all of its wildness, is ultimately the seat of all beauty. If we are to continue on as a species we must find our place within it. Taken from the climber’s trail ascending East Peak, 9,380′, via the ridge from Mount Howard, in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of far northeastern Oregon.

Politics is the process whereby society makes decisions, the process it uses to establish the broader, though sometimes quite specific, rules by which we live and work.  Our government is a representative, democratic republic.  Our governance is a public matter intended to serve the public good…to support or improve the lives of its citizens…not that of a monarch, an oligarch, despot, feudal lord or leader of a church.  It is a democracy in which citizens exercise their right to be heard through their vote and we do this generally by electing representatives who work in our interest.  In some cases issues are referred to citizens or initiated by us on particular matters, but we do this primarily through our election of representatives.  Ideally representatives focus and amplify the will of their constituents, expressing this through the bills that they introduce and their vote.  If this will is muddled, indecisive or polarized, so to is its direction leaving an opening for other influences, such as lobbyists, to effect their votes.  It can be easily argued that a divided constituency is just what powerful interests want as it will increase their own influence…divide and conquer!  When that collective voice of the citizens is more focused and powerful, powerful interest lose influence and political decision making will reflect this.  We are ‘taught’ early on that our ‘voice’ is limited to our voting in elections, but this is not true.  Everything we do, all of our choices, have political ramifications, what we buy, where we buy it from, how we get to work, what we do there, how we choose to spend our non-working hours, how we treat others.  We help shape the world through our choices.  Government is an extension of our collective voice, our collective actions.  Government is not the cavalry, not the hero, in our story…we are and we are also our own enemy and fool.  If anyone is going to ‘ride’ to our rescue it is each one of us. Continue reading

Bocconia frutescens: Choice Tender Garden Plant or Invasive?

 

Bocconia frutescens with its inflorescence of single seeded fruit, one of the ‘woody’ Poppies that comprise the genus.  Macleaya cordata, from the same family, has a similar look, though topping out at around 8′ and is herbaceous in habit dying to the ground each winter.  Another Wiki picture of Bocconia f.  growing in Hawaii’ where it has escaped cultivation and threatens the few remaining native landscapes, particularly historically dry and mesic forests.

The title’s question isn’t something we in the Pacific Northwest need to worry about.  It will take an awful lot of global warming to make this plant cold hardy here and that may be part of its enticement!  I chose this from Jimi Blake’s list…because I am a sucker for cool foliage.  Sometimes called the Mexican Tree Poppy this is a Poppy, a member of the family Papaveraceae, a family currently containing 42 genera and 775 species, which is within the the ancient order, the Ranunculales, an order that includes some of the earliest of the ‘modern’ Eudicots to evolve.  This doesn’t mean that this species of Bocconia was around at the beginning of ‘time’, or even of this order, just that it comes from that particular genetic line, a line that has been traced back to its beginning, millions of years ago.  Recall that every plant, every organism is in ‘process’, that given the appropriate supporting conditions, consistent over time, will keep reproducing, generation after generation…and, that given the appropriate inducements, of consistent, changed conditions, different from those today, will work to adapt to them, each generation ‘responding’, those better adapted, surviving and reproducing, altering the species and, perhaps even becoming, producing, a new one.  One of the characteristics of this family and order, having arisen in a time when genetics and characteristics of plants were less strictly defined, is a wider range of physical or morphological variation than you might expect, which is evident when you look at the flowers of the many diverse species within these genera, this family and order…Bocconia frutescens’ small flowers looking very unlike those we would commonly think of when we picture a Poppy. Continue reading

Gardeners, Garden Designers and Their Role in Saving the World!

The Portland Japanese Garden, two well shaped Acer palmatum. To prune this way takes time, attention and an understanding of how your subject grows and how it will respond to your cuts. This is generally true of the garden as a whole, how it as a whole will respond to your management and changes. It requires an understanding of the plants themselves, the site conditions and how they function together.

Loree, of Danger Garden, posted a comment  and a link in Facebook a few weeks ago, to a story about a gardener in Australia and what gardening meant to him in the online Planthunter blog. It elicited an array of comments, both supportive and not.  She posed the question, are the ‘best’ gardens the products of an ‘organic’ process, produced by the gardeners themselves, in intimate relationship with their place?  Which raised the question, can garden designers create truly beautiful gardens for others on landscapes that they don’t have this personal connection to?  Her question caused a flurry of comments, several containing a lot of emotion.  Loree’s simple question produced a fair amount of ‘heat’.  I found the array of responses, and the conflicts they brought to light, provocative and I think a lot of that heat comes from the fact that our modern society has become largely estranged from the natural living world.  I spent quit a bit of time thinking about it.  Below is what it prompted in me.

I retired from Parks after a career of mostly fixing and tweaking designs that I had nothing to do with, but ended up resposnisble for, tearing out neglected landscapes that had became grossly overwhelmed and out of balance by overplanted and aggressive plants, others that were lost to weeds and invasives, others still that were stomped out and abused by the public largely because of their siting and the public uses which they had to endure, a public that is often indifferent to the living world and its requirements and their resulting traffic patterns that designers thought that their massing could channel where they wanted.  I did this while working within an organization that undervalued the plants and the horticulturists who cared for them….I was still able to create a few places that the public responded to positively. Continue reading

The Insect Apocalypse is Here!

From the title page of the NYTM article

Much of today’s news media mires us in the sensational, adding little to our desperate need for clarity.  Instead we are subjected to endless ‘stories’ whose primary intent seem to be distraction, obfuscation, dissipation and division, leaving us at best numbed and discouraged from taking effective action….I know many who would say that this is precisely their intent.  This is not, however, true in every case.  I only recently came across this story in the New York Times Magazine, yes that bastion of unabashedly liberal ‘fake news’.  On the face of it, it is another such story.  The story’s title plainly states, ‘APOACALYPSE’, a word which carries so much negative baggage that its inclusion alone will keep many readers away…but don’t be dissuaded!  This article is more ‘wakeup call’ than hammer.  It is a call for action not the simple manipulative emotional plea that has become an integral part of current political strategy.  It clearly defines and lays out the problem, which is absolutely essential to taking effective action.  It does indeed paint a frightening and devastating future for us all…if we choose to continue on our current path, but it also points out a way through it, and, throughout the entire article, it introduces us to individuals and organization who are credible and passionate witnesses and actors in their efforts to make a positive difference.  This is exactly what we need right now.  Powerlessness is not an option.  Read the article!

The Insect Apocalypse Is Here!

The Banana Industry and Panama Disease, the Ongoing Devastation Caused by Fusarium Wilt, Tropical Race 4

Developing fruits on a Cavendish banana, the remains of the female flowers still attached. Many banana cultivars are sterile and don’t require pollination. Their fruits contain very small and sterile seeds.

Our gardens connect us to the world through the plants that we grow.  Our choices have reverberations through the knowledge we gain, the demand we create through our purchases and even our decisions to grow and thus protect plants that are critically threatened or extinct in the wild.  Similarly, what we choose to eat impacts the wider earth shaping the landscape locally and across the planet.  Sometimes our choices create demand for exotic foods, other choices, demand for common foods…out of season, that must come from the opposite hemisphere.  All of these choices together can bring prosperity to others thousands of miles away and suffering to others while simultaneously creating a demand for more land and resources there to produce the bananas, grapes, beef, etc. we want, while putting wild species under threat, reducing the genetic diversity these same lands once effectively supported.  Other times, the consequences can flow more directly back at us, when the crisis we have added to there, comes back at us in the form of crop failures, price increases and the absence of these foods from our grocery stores, as does the increasing spread of disease currently threatening much of the world’s banana production.

I love bananas.  I probably eat more of them fresh than I do apples over a year, and, apparently, so do most Americans.  Statistics say we eat about 26lbs. of bananas a year per capitata here, none of which are grown in the US (Small amounts are grown in Hawaii and some local areas in the far south of the US, but those are consumed locally, not distributed elsewhere.)  If we think of the plants and the growing of them at all, many of us tend to assume that most bananas produce edible fruit, but they don’t…at least nothing we’re used to eating!  While gardening in the public sphere downtown I had many people ask me, as they looked at the occasional flowering on the Musa basjoo, one of the four bananas that had taken up semi-permanent residence in three of my large display beds, if they fruited and could be eaten…my usual response, yes, but you wouldn’t want to.  The temperate world’s experience of bananas is largely limited to the produce section at the grocery store.  Most of us would be surprised to learn that sweet bananas, which are typically eaten fresh, and cooking bananas known commonly as plantains, together, comprise the fourth most important food crop around the world, in terms of volume of production, after only Rice, Wheat and Corn…ahead of soybeans which go into tofu, soy sauce, which are consumed by much of the world and as a common component of livestock feed.  That’s an amazing statistic!  The banana is cultivated as food in 100 tropical and sub-tropical countries.  In some parts of the world the fiber from the pseudostems is harvested and used locally for making twine and sometimes a coarse cloth.  In Okinawa friends have told me that Musa basjoo was once a common source of fiber for a cloth.  Other bananas are utilized in other ways, the corm of the  African, Ensete ventricosum has traditionally been ‘processed’ by indigenous people as a ‘survival food’ for periods of drought when other sources have failed. Continue reading

Sonchus palmensis: One of the Giant Tree Dandelions

Sonchus palmensis from the Annie’s Annuals catalog.

 

[I decided to break this out of a previous and larger piece and post it its own here, slightly edited.]

Jimi Blake’s slide of this plant reminded me of seeing this plant growing in the San Francisco Botanic Garden in Golden Gate Park.  It was a standout and prompted me to immediately start looking for it.  Annie’s Annuals carries it and I discovered that it was a zn 9b plant, cooling my ardor somewhat…still…..I returned a couple years later to the Botanic Garden, rekindled my interest and made a stop at Annie’s on our return trip to home, but it wasn’t available, so it went back to  my wish list.  Then Jimi’s presentation at the Seattle Study Weekend moved it up in the queue.

I am most familiar with the species of Sonchus that are weeds.  I have pulled more than my share of Annual and Prickly Sow Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus and S. asper, but like many genera Sonchus contains several plants of horticultural merit.  Most Sonchus are annual species, a few are perennial and fewer still are ‘woody’ species all of which occur on the Canary Islands alone, like Sonchus palmensis. Continue reading