Category Archives: Horticulture

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

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Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’ (Bengal Tiger) and the Banana Story: Evolution and Cold Adaptation

Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’ taken three years ago…before this Tiger lost its stripes!

Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’ backlit. If I saw this plant in a nursery today, I’d be sorely tempted to buy it…again.

Another Jimi Blake plant.  I have history with this choice of Jimi’s…and the NW has a history with Bananas as well!

There’s an old hand colored postcard floating around the Washington Park office of bananas as part of an elaborate bedding out scheme around the ‘Chiming’ Fountain, near the Sacajawea statue.  If memory serves, it is Ensete ventricosum, which have a uniquely identifiable form.  Back in the day, Ensete v. seems to have been a thing.  It is a non-suckering species, unlike the spreading, mat forming Musa spp. and cultivars, and is commonly grown from seed.  It is interesting to me that they were available prior to the 1900’s and relatively common, probably up to 1929 and the stock market crash…at least for  the more horticulturally involved, as specimen in annual display beds.  Gardeners must have dug them out in the fall and hauled them to greenhouses to ‘protect’ them for use in the following year.  I did some research in the early ’00’s of catalogs and area nurseries to get an idea what was available in the 19 teens, and of a few Park’s planting plans of this period, influenced by the Olmsted’s and under the direction of Emanuel Mische…. Compared to typical planting plans of more recent years these were relatively adventurous, especially given that acquiring such plants was often a much bigger deal in the nineteens and twenties than it is today.  Back then if you weren’t wedded to a particular clone and you could find seed for it, exotic bananas were a possibility.  There was an excitement around the novel and exotic that had spilled over from Europe.  Local inventories also included a wide array of bulbs which could be more easily shipped than grown plants widening the range of choices.  They often times had choices that you would have to spend some time searching for even today.  With the economic collapse of ’29 it is no surprise that tastes and possibilities became much more conservative.  There were those who clung to the use of some of the old exotics, but you would have to look hard for them in public places and gardens. Botanical gardens became refuges for the forgotten and newly collected.   It took many years before enough of the gardening population reclaimed their sense of wonder and awe enough to create a new market for the plant’s of the world.  We experienced a similar contraction of the nursery industry in the Fall of 2008 when the real estate boom stalled and demand for plants collapsed causing the closure of many nurseries and a reduction in the selection available from local garden centers.  Locally gardeners have become increasingly interested in such plants and have continued to support the many small specialty nurseries that provide them Continue reading

Anisodontea capensis ‘El Rayo’: A Closer Look at Jimi’s Beautiful Obsession and the Growing Conditions in South Africa

This is from the catalog of Andre Brian a nursery in France as once again this particular variety is not very common in the trade here.

Another Choice Plant From Jimi Blake’s NPA Seattle Study Weekend Presentation

‘El Rayo’, in english is, ‘Lightning’!  One should expect something pretty spectacular, flashy even, with this plant…or not.  ‘El Rayo’ in Portland is a taqueria!…in Portland, ME that is.  I would hope that the name of either doesn’t over sell their product!  Does anybody know? About the tacos I mean?  Gardeners should always be wary of cultivar names.  While they serve as identifiers of a particular, and allegedly unique form or clone, and sometimes as a helpful and memorable descriptor, they can too often tread across the line into misleading hyperbole!  Names are often assigned to a plant that have been in the trade for some time under other names.  These ‘new’ and unique names are then ‘trademarked’, legally protected, as the nursery heavily markets the plant.  The gardening public then comes to recognize and associate this protected name with the plant and begin to ask for it by that name.  Unlicensed growers cannot supply the plant by that name and so some nursery producers carve out a larger share of the market.   After experience we may come to recognize these marketing ploys…or not.  Oft times a little celebration or indulgence is called for. Continue reading

A Closer Look at Jimi’s Beautiful Obsession, A Review of Chosen Plants From his Presentation, Part 1

It would seem that gardeners are a difficult lot!  For those of us intent on gardening with ornamental plants we are continuously drawn to the exotic and novel, sated less and less by the plants in yesterdays’ garden…at least until those have had suitable time to have fallen out of fashion and are rediscovered. For most of us it is the plants we’ve never grown, or even seen before, that draw us.  This is as true when we ourselves are novices as it is many years later.  Sure, we all have more than a few long term relationships with particular plants, but we seem forever subject to the seductive calls of the unknown (to us)!  For many of us this is at no time more true than when nurserymen, on the ‘cutting edge’, and plant explorers come to town, especially if they come bearing pretty pictures…Even mores so when paired with the opportunity to acquire them.  Instant gratification.  It is a conspiracy you know. Continue reading

On Choosing Salvias for My Garden

Salvia confertiflora in the San Francisco Botanical Garden, October

I can’t get Jimi Blake’s HuntingBrook Garden out of my head…that’s a good thing, though a little odd since I’ve never been there. The images and ideas, the energy that both Jimi and his sister, June, who gardens nearby, projected at the NPA Study Weekend was infectious and inspiring. Their gardens are both beautiful and, obviously, central to each of their lives. They are dynamic, like the minds of each of them, endlessly creative and curious…botanical dabblers of the highest order. Apparently, their gardens don’t stand still.  No plant or bed is ‘safe’ from revision, in part or from wholesale revision.  I have no pictures, their’s, however were gorgeous and seductive. I have to rely on the few they have posted to their websites. Please, go to them.  (Jimi’s HuntingBrook Garden.)

Of the two, Jimi spoke first, his topic, Salvias, those that he’s found to be worthy of a place in his garden.  With such a relatively large garden he can ‘trial’ many plants, and, if you’re like Jimi, evaluate them in terms of both aesthetics and performance.  He loves Salvia…there are nearly 1,000 species and who knows how many hybrids and selections!  He grows many from seed, others he’s rooted from cuttings, like minded Salvia-philes gift him with treasures and Jimi works them into his beds, artfully.  You won’t see any sterile lab like rows, he trials them in mixed borders and beds.  In Seattle he presented his ‘winners’, 33 different species, hybrids and selections.  The list is comprised primarily of plants ‘durable’ enough for his conditions with long bloom periods…with a few exceptions, late bloomers, and those of short duration…need not apply. Continue reading

On Being a Defacto Pteridophile (fern lover)

This is the NW corner of my garden where I’ve tried many of my ferns. Palms, the fence, our bamboo and steel pagoda and a large Mahonia x media provide more shade than most of the garden ‘enjoys’.  Some of the ‘squirrel tails’ of my Sanguisorba hakusanensis hangs in the foreground.

How many different species and cultivars of a particular plant group do you ‘need’ to grow before you can be said to have a serious problem? I am not an ‘Agave-holic’! Isn’t a statement like this, one of the surest signs of such an affliction? I know other people who grow a lot more of these! What does it mean when you persist in growing a group of plants in spite of the fact that many of them die? And what constitutes too many? It can’t be a set number. If a group comprises comparatively few plants when compared to Orchids say, a group of over 20,000 species, growing a 100 plants might seem obsessive, while in the Orchid world it may not be. My name is Lance and I grow ferns…in a garden that suggests I should grow something else.

The one healthy frond left on my ‘rescued’ Woodwordia unigemmata.  This single leaf is almost 3′ long.

While at the NWPA’s Seattle Study Weekend, I noticed a couple of ferns in particular that I have in my own garden, only growing much better, apparently vigorous and ‘carefree’, including Woodwardia unigemmata and a couple of different forms of Asplenium. One of the first things I did on my return home was to dig my own Woodwardia unigemmata. freeing it from the thirsty roots of my neighbors Kwanzan Cherry. I did the same for a Dryopteris wallachiana which had also been struggling with too little water, only it was under my own large Parrotia persica and Actinidia kolomikta.

Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Furcatum’ happy near the gate growing with Asarum splendens. Aspidistra, more Acorus and an Astrantia also grow in this bed, but other genera, whose names start with a letter other than ‘A’ also abide in it.

Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Furcatum, the Fork Crested Hart’s Tongue Fern, pfeeew, whaat a name!,  is another very nice form of a beautiful species.  I saw various forms of this at the study weekend, all of them looking vibrant and neat.  The first of these I’d bought several years ago was the straight species and was devastated by root weevils notching its leaves.  With that exception, it has grown well for me. Continue reading

On the Demise of my Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ (Red Abyssinian Banana

And how did your Red Banana, Ensete, do?  Mine didn’t make it having left it planted outside until after Christmas. In my part of SE, December was mild, until the 26th or so, with lows just below freezing a few times. Then we were out of town a few days and it dropped into the mid- and upper 20’s. I had thought it was okay for awhile, as it pushed out a leaf while sequestered in the basement where I had belatedly moved it, but that is all that it was able to do.  It’s meristem, at the base of the plant, was damaged. I did the finger test at the top of what I had left in place of the pseudostem, about 4′ of it, and the core, through which new growth should have been pushing was mushy and smelled of rot. I cut it down with my machete in a series of cuts, illustrated here, and you can see the soft brown center surrounded by what appears to be healthy tissue. It was still able to push out a few white new roots over its winter storage. Apparently, the meristem is less cold hardy than the rest of the plant. If you could smell it you’d smell strong rot!!! After 12 + years I have found this plant’s limit! The last pic shows its dismembered carcass, reminiscent of the Tibetan Sky burial ritual, to dry away its stink before I dump it in the bin!

IMG_0519A few days later….This was the business end of my Ensete, Red Abyssinian Banana. You can clearly see that the starch storing rhizome, modified stem tissue, 12″ in diameter, is crisp, white and healthy!  I’ve split it down the center, top to bottom, through the meristem. The meristem, the site of cell division and the initiation of all top growth, is black, dead and rotting.  Each leaf begins here.  As new leaves form at the center, the older leaves ‘migrate’ outward forming the tightly packed ‘pseudo-stem’.  This plant, my plant, was unable to initiate any new leaves and with last year’s leaf blades removed, was dead on its ’feet’.  The rot would have continued to spread from the center out.  New root growth is also compromised.  It shares this growth pattern with other monocots much like bulbs.  In others, like the woody Palms, the maturing layers of tissue around their meristems, provides some buffering from cold as they caliper up.  Obviously Ensete are very limited in their ability to do this!

See my other posts on growing this plant.
Winterization
Planting out your ‘winterized’ banana
My initial winter assessment
A more in depth look at the growth of Monoctos as a group