In this blog I focus on plants. Any gardener, botanist or horticulturist knows that plants, all living organisms, live in an incredibly complex, interwoven network of systems, each affecting the others, the health of anyone, in large part determined by the health of the ‘whole’. Life does not and cannot exist in a vacuum. We humans are also very much living organisms and subject to the same kind of limits as any species. What we build and produce, including those more abstract things like our social and economic systems upon which we are very much dependent, are subject to the same natural laws and limits, whether we recognize them or not. Very much a part of this is how we value other life collectively. Just because many may say other people and species are of less value, does not make this fact. The laws and ways of ‘man’ must remain within, and consistent with, the laws of nature. We are not at liberty to treat other life as expendable. We owe a debt and responsibility to all life. Life permits and supports us so it is incumbent upon us to do the same for it. Such is the natural law of reciprocity. Continue reading
Of all the things our gardens do for us, arguably the most important is their role as our teachers, even in winter when a temperate garden ‘rests’, its surface crust or top few feet, frozen, maybe sheltered beneath the cover of snow, or, as ours so often are, simply too cold for active plant growth, the soil wet, the rain too heavy to percolate fast enough down through its layers, without the active aid of either the direct heating of the sun or its effect on plants, through evapotranspiration, pumping water back into the air as the plants grow. Gardens teach patience. They encourage us to become more careful observers…to think and plan, to anticipate and prepare, to understand that there is more going on here than we can readily see…and they teach us about faith and trust in the natural world, that there is always more going on than we can see. Continue reading
I don’t usually do this, write about a particular landscape with which I have no history, so this is a bit of a departure for me. I’ve know Sean Hogan for quite a few years, consider him a friend and a highly influential mentor of sorts. His encyclopedic knowledge of plants, his boundless enthusiasm, has been infectious and inspirational over much of my career as a horticulturist while I was working for Portland Parks and Recreation. I’ve benefited from the existence of his nursery and his commitment to horticulture picking his brain for plant and design suggestions as I attempted to broaden my own repertoire. Continue reading
About a year ago I posted a series of three articles on Tri-Met’s landscapes along the new Orange Line. They were a critical assessment of their design with many photos and explanations for my criticisms. I had a brief correspondence with the project manager after the first two before he stopped responding. I had asked about the maintenance schedule that they had with the contractor who would be doing the work. I did not receive it. Part of the reason was mine, as new ideas came up for me, my interest wavered and I moved on. Still, I’ve never received anything. Now, a year later, I decided to reassess the first portion of the landscape that I wrote about, as it is a section I regularly walk and ride by bike to downtown or to just get out. I would encourage readers to see my previously posted reviews. Continue reading
An Office of Sustainable Landscapes that oversees all landscapes within the City and provides active leadership to both private and commercial property owners through the following:
Public Landscapes (active urban contrived) Horticultural Management
Public Landscapes (urban plant communities)
Corridor Management: Transportation and Riverine
Division of State Lands
Multnomah County Bridges
Outreach and Education
Landscape is the setting, matrix and backdrop for everything that we do as humans. It is where we live, work and play, the places, on which the infrastructure that enables our modern day life, exists. It is both essential and peripheral, always present and, too often, taken for granted, so much so that we often view it incidentally. Like many other things in our lives it may go unnoticed until it is so degraded that we can no longer ignore it. Overall, our care of it, reflects a similar low priority. It becomes largely ‘invisible’, behind the more recognized needs of a modern City. Individual mobility, food, water, shelter, energy, economic opportunity and growth, the transportation infrastructure that keep us supplied with these things, all and more take precedence, the landscape subsumed and secondary, inferior and problematic. Overall, it is not generally viewed today as having inherent value. Its value, as a living system that allows and enriches biological life, seems almost irrelevant as we are able to satisfy our needs and desires via the economic engine that propels us along. The landscape, nature, seems relevant only in so far as it can meet our recreational needs providing us a base on which to build and resources that we can manipulate/convert to satisfy our ‘needs’. Lost in all of this is our relationship with nature, with the landscape, its essential role in the creation and sustenance of all of the resources upon which we and the rest of life depends, and so, it has suffered. We have lost the ability, or willingness, to use nature as a gauge that shapes all of the other decisions we routinely make in order to meet our ‘economic’ needs. As both a society and as individuals we have learned to see these as separate and unrelated, so we routinely neglect the landscape. The problem is pervasive and integrated with how we live our lives. To correct this we must first acknowledge this and address it on many fronts. Continue reading
The following is intended as a template for action or a beginning point for a discussion that is long overdue.
Landscapes are more complex than most people realize. They can go seriously awry in a very short time. Undisturbed native plant communities are relatively stable and are able to respond on their own, as they have for millions of years…if the disturbances they suffer are relatively small. Unfortunately these plant communities have been decimated in urban and most rural agricultural areas severely compromising their abilities to respond in a positive and effective manner. The addition of invasive species to the region puts even stable, undisturbed plant communities at risk. Because we are not all ecologists, or even gardeners, what can we realistically do to stop or reverse this process of landscape degradation? The decline of our landscapes is linked to a long history of practices that have ignored the value of both our native and contrived landscapes, a belief in a right to ‘dispose’ of the land in whatever way we so choose and our denial that this destruction matters. We have done this through our land management practices, our designs and the uses of the land itself even those that may seem unrelated, many that have become automatic in our society and are directly related to how we live, work and play today in the modern world. Our active threat is inherent in the way that we do business. Our attempts at correction are, too often, limited to only slight modifications that do not put any undue ‘pressure’ on our local economy, business or the privileges that we have come to see as ours. We are a society that has, in short, become disconnected from the realities of life at the local level and what is required to support it. We see a limitless nature that is there for our use. Whatever we may need, we believe that we may merely buy from elsewhere, an elsewhere that is limitless though undefined.
To turn this situation around, or to make significant improvements, requires that we examine what we are doing now, that may be working against the goals that support life and landscape,…and stop. We have to stop doing the things that are working to continuously disrupt the ‘healthy’ functioning of the landscape. If we don’t do that then all of our attempts at improvement, all of our tweaking of our system, will come to nothing. We cannot ‘save the patient’ with good thoughts while they bleed out. Continue reading
The landscape is the land we live in. It is the place and the territory that surrounds us: built, disturbed, neglected or purposeful. A garden is a piece of that landscape that we have defined as special, that we have applied our own purpose to, a theme, above and beyond the natural forces at work across its face to grow plants of our choice. Many urban places are feral, once domesticated, now gone to ‘weeds’. A few pockets may be as nature made them, eroding at their edges, surrendering little bits of themselves to exotics tramped in on our boots, the hooves of our horses, the hair of our dogs, floated into place by streams or rivers or flown in by birds and on the wind. Most landscapes exist somewhere on that continuum between undisturbed nature and the wastelands we have left in our wake of disturbance, vacant land waiting in that limbo, land on its way to purpose, value and development. As Portland became urbanized over the last 150+ years the land has been literally transformed, become an expression of our culture, via a matrix of values and forces, that act as a particular and devastating template, a process that is still occurring and will continue to do so as long as value is measured in dollars, and demand, fashion and greed, keep cycling and reinventing this place we have made our home. These in-between places are what French landscape architect, Gilles Clement, calls the Third Landscape. Few areas are they that have escaped this process. The Reed Canyon, that contains most of the headwaters of Crystal Springs Creek (another spring lies within the City Parks owned Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden), the last of the free flowing such creeks on the east-side, may have been spared the heavy handed re-contouring of its terrain, but it has suffered much over the years anyway. Continue reading
Part 2 of the Orange Line series
Heading south of the Harold St. overpass the Orange Line leaves the most urbanized portion of its route, or at least its most densely populated stretch. Traveling south to the Bybee, the Tacoma/Sellwood and then the Milwaukie stops, the line run alongside the BNSF tracks and there is very little ‘landscaping’ of the corridor. The railroads contract out maintenance of their thousands of miles of tracks. (For a brief look into their approach check this link.) Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Holgate Overpass Update:
It finally rained this last weekend! Somewhere around .3″. Woohoo! It will be the most rain that we’ve received since March. It’s been dry! In April the City cut down the ‘weedscape’ on the northeast approach of the Holgate Overpass. It’s rained very little since and we’ve had record warm temperatures all summer. No one has come back to spray, plant or do anything. No one’s even picked up the trash. If you compare the four ‘weedscapes’ on the two approaches they are very similar. The NE, by volume has had the most regrowth. This is for two different reasons: first, this site was cut earlier in the season when there was more moisture still in the soil to enable regrowth, and secondly, because the site is dominated by Blackberry and Tree of Heaven, both perennials, well established and of larger stature than the plants dominating the other approach landscapes. Continue reading