Massive lava flows pushed around the lower John Day and Deschutes rivers over the course of several million years leaving them to find and carve new routes, often next to the very ‘plugs’ that filled their former canyons! Today, deep below the layers of hardened basalt that form the palisades and ramparts projecting out in tiers from the smooth full curves that rise above us, we look through 15 million years of accumulated history. The fine grained basalt shatters and fractures in line with their mineral structure under the forces of water, weather and gravity. Sagebrush and grasses dominate revealing an oddly ‘netted’ pattern across the sloping canyon hillsides, lit by the often harsh sunlight, illuminating some kind of subsurface movement of the thin soils that soften the slopes. The ‘net’ looks as if it had been draped across the land then stretched sideways catching and snagging on what lies beneath in a never the same, but consistent repeating pattern. It shows best when the angle of the sun comes across the pattern, not when it hits it head on or when clouds make it too diffuse. Coarse falls of shattered basalt spill down to the canyon’s bottom always seeking their angle of repose. The sagebrush steppe plant communities cover the surface and in their richness and vigor speak to the soils beneath. Along seeps and drainages cutting verticallly down the canyon’s face, spring lasts weeks longer, and species crowd in that you won’t see other than near the river. The surface botanical palette in this way reveals what lies beneath…if one knows what to look for. Cottonwood Canyon State Park is a great place to observe this. Continue reading
It’s the edges, the margins, that always contain the most diversity. Large expanses of unbroken landscape take a portion of their character from their scale, a vastness, that the uninterested can often view as monotonous. Seemingly endless expanses of ocean, desert, prairies even forests, can lull some into indifference, a kind of blindness, in which they lose interest and fail to see the intricacy and richness of that which surrounds them….By overlapping two different landscapes places can take on a complexity that neither has alone…and may even arouse many of those inured to the natural world surrounding them. Two different landscapes sharing a common edge can form ecotones, where each landscape contributes species in patterns not found across the vastness of each alone. Cut a river through an arid landscape and it becomes altogether different often with stark changes within a few feet. Such is the arid canyon landscape of the Deschutes River immediately north of Bend, OR.
You cannot make someone like something. To many, a desert will always only look brown and dead, but for those attuned to them, deserts can be beautiful, awe inspiring, expansive, places of raw earth and geology, intimately tied to sky, filled with little jewel boxes, hidden just out of view and down at your feet…places of rock, delimited by the scarcity of water, with plants that not only tolerate its paucity, but require it, where the sun and wind seek it out. My wife and I grew up in the ‘Sagebrush Steppe’, the Oregon High Desert and on its edge where it meets the Ponderosa Pine Forest. I often spent hot summer days with my family water skiing on reservoirs in the dammed up canyons of the Deschutes and Crooked rivers, while she often found herself living out of places like Summer Lake and northern New Mexico for the summer. We both still feel the draw of these places, while others only hunger for more green and lush landscapes where the scale is shifted and plants cover the earth often with flowers that you can’t help be pulled to. As a horticulturist, I actually appreciate both. Continue reading
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
Outside our breakfast window, when I was a kid, was an Arctostaphylos patula. I never thought that much of it at the time, and how unusual it was, that sometime, probably by the late ‘40’s or early ‘50’s, somebody had dug one up and transplanted it to our yard in Redmond. They are denizens of the eastside Ponderosa Pine forest ecotone not the Sagebrush ecotone where I grew up. We averaged less then 10” of precipitation a year, too dry (For those who don’t know Redmond, OR, lies wholly within Oregon’s High Desert country that puts it in USDA zone 6b, -5 to 0 F). It grew in this little jog of the house facing northwest. I’m sure it got overspray from when we dragged hoses and sprinklers around to keep the lawn green, which is probably why it had grown with some vigor, having a form that you wouldn’t see in the Ponderosa – Juniper transition band sixteen to twenty miles away. In my memory it was always clean, with bright green foliage, part of which can be attributed to the low desert humidity and our sandy soil. I wish it was still there to take a picture, but the house has sold several times and had ‘improvements’ to the structure and the landscape including an irrigation system. I don’t know whether it rotted out or they removed it for one of their remodel projects. In its day it was 6’ high x 7’-8’ across with the characteristic sinewy branches and smooth peeling red bark.
Whychus Creek starts up in the Three Creeks area south of Sisters, OR, below Broken Top and the Three Sisters, and runs north-easterly to where it joins the Deschutes River winding much of the way through a canyon carved through basalt. It’s a beautiful band of green cutting its way through the Juniper – Sagebrush Scrub country where I grew up. I’d never been to the Preserve before and was happy to see it mostly intact. Though development has been creeping up along some of its edges the Preserve is being actively managed by the Deschutes Land Trust these days. We hiked it on June 26 and many plants were still in bloom. Many people from the wet side of the Cascades have never developed an appreciation for the starkness of Oregon’s High Desert country. Julie and I both grew up over here and where some people see barreness we see country defined by its sky, its geology and the spaces in between that set off the unique character of everything that lives here. We took this hike with long time friends, Robert and Elayne, who stayed in Bend when we and others left.
I’m over here in Bend for the Labor Day weekend doing family stuff, visiting my dad and Julie’s parents…dealing. I worked my way through the first draft of an article/posting on everyone’s favorite Manzanita, isn’t it, Arctostaphylos patula, with a sustainable landscape spin. I met two old friends at the 6th Annual Little Woody, a celebration of beers aged in barrels, mostly bourbon or wine, 24 breweries with 40 decisions to make. Needless to say they got easier as we worked our way around. If you’re a beer snob and like to wow your friends with talk of original and final gravity, A.B.V. and what the right balance of I.B.U.s might be, this is for you. It’s still a modest sized crowd that attends. Don’t expect pints, just good beer, with a twist and extra ooomph!
Today, though I’m between things and went for a walk with plants in mind, Arctostaphylos foremost, and set out to look a little closer at some of Bend’s more public ‘scapes, in their roadways not their Parks. Bend is known for its ubiquitous and proliferating traffic circles so I checked this one out on SW 14th, on Bend’s westside. They are all planted from a native palette. A couple of bronze deer were curious what I was doing. The light was glaring and my pictures less than I had hoped.
After that I was cutting through some commercial spaces on my way to check out Bend’s newest booze joint, Back Drop Distilling, it’s sharing space with Good Life Brewing, but the sign says they won’t be open until sometime later this fall, when I saw these Rhamnus frangula ‘Asplenifolia’ at a little US Bank branch office. Continue reading