Choosing the right plant is not an easy process. We pick a design theme, make sure our plant choices are a good match for our site conditions, are compatible with their ‘bedmates’ and won’t become overly burdensome, in terms of the maintenance we are able and willing to perform. There are a lot of variables here. Our expectations of how a plant performs in the landscape, as individuals and as a composition, are important as we assess their performance over time and decide how we will respond to them. Many of us are attempting to create gardens that require less of us in terms of maintenance, that fit the conditions on the ground with minimal intervention on our part. We may chose to create a xeric garden to minimize or even eliminate supplemental irrigation. If we do, the plant choices we make, their spacing, the size of plants we purchase, even the timing of the planting and the soil prep we do, are all important in our success or failure. While we attempt to keep our specific site conditions and our goals in mind, we need to be prepared for the extremes of conditions, like weather, that can occur occasionally, even if only once every several years. Continue reading
Many of us who garden in the Pacific Northwest, and especially those of us in Portland this year, will be visiting our garden centers and favorite nurseries this spring and summer with a little more anxiety and need as we look for plants to replace those that have succumbed to this winter’s cold, ice and snow loads, all of which were more severe than what we have come to expect here. But before we pull on our boots and don our rain gear to head off for shopping there are several questions that we need to consider before we make our purchases. Not all of us draw up plant lists, but most of us at least carry in our heads a wish list of plants we have seen in other gardens, in magazine spreads and while on vacations, but if we want to avoid some major mistakes and move our gardens toward the kind of landscapes that we really want, we are going to have to put on our reality goggles and critically assess our choices…that is, if we want to avoid unnecessary losses in the future. Continue reading
Trees fail all of the time and when they are older, this can be quite spectacular, or devastating, if your car, home or an individual have the misfortune of being in the its path. Like most people I used to believe that most such failures happened as the result of storms, and many do, but it is relatively common for trees, or major limbs, to come crashing down with calm conditions in the Spring. The new flush of growth brings with it a great deal more tissue and water weight than a tree in active growth has previously supported or, for a tree struggling, compromised by the burden of significant rot in its core and/or limbs. Look at any tree and look at its girth, its canopy spread and on many species, its long, often horizontal limbs and try to imagine their weight. To help with this fill a couple of buckets with water, lift them and try to hold them horizontal away from your body. Trees are static structures, comprised of countless overlapping fibrous layers, much of it hard and rigid with a great deal of compression and torsional strength. The were ‘born’ for this. Few of us would last for more than a few seconds trying to support so much of our own weight on extended arms. We shouldn’t be surprised when they fail, even as elegant and as well ‘engineered’ as they are. Continue reading
The Pruning Series, 3
Plants often present pruning challenges to the gardener. I’ve already introduced the issue of understanding ‘why’ you are choosing to prune, the physical structure of a ‘normally’ growing individual and how it will respond to the cuts you choose to make. There are several good books out there that discuss how and what constitutes a ‘good’ individual cut and what approach you might take with different types of growers…it should be the goal of any gardener to understand the technical details of pruning, so that they become ‘natural’, reflexive. (In an earlier posting, I discuss pruning tools and provide an introduction to what constitutes a ‘good’ pruning cut.) Like all artists we develop a style that may distinguish us from others. Even understanding all of this and possessing the technical competencies there are the ‘aesthetic’ decisions the gardener/pruner must make. Two different gardeners can prune in the same landscape and it can be obvious when they are finished that they have very different aesthetics. The results can be ‘disjointed’ or harmonious. Every plant, every branch, every internode, presents a choice and because each individual plant of a given species or variety, though it may grow following a shared genetic code, will grow uniquely in response to the physical conditions it faces…and the damage and pruning it has received over its life. Like most things in life our control of a plant is limited and the more we attempt to control it the less like itself it will be. Continue reading
The Pruning Series, 2
I’ve heard it said often enough that trees and shrubs got by just fine for millions of years before we started pruning them, so why do it now? That’s a good question and if you can’t answer it, you shouldn’t be pruning. Horrible examples are all around us. Trees repeatedly stubbed off their natural branching form and elegance destroyed. Others sporting long scars where someone removed a branch with a single top cut causing the branch to drop pulling a long tongue down the trunk where it was still attached. Still more with split trunks and scaffold limbs where multiple sprouts, vying for dominance fail and tear down. Poor pruning has lead to the collapse and premature deaths of many trees and reduced many shrubs to inelegant space fillers jammed up agains buildings. The first thing you should ask yourself is, ‘Why I’m I doing this?” Continue reading
Right Plant Right Place covers a lot. Usually when you hear it used the speaker is referring to matching the plant with the growing conditions: soil, sun, climatic conditions, size, etc. Here, I’m going to address the physical structure and growth of a tree as it relates to place, Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’, in this case, as it is often used as a ‘street tree’. The Upright European Hornbeam has proven its value as a street tree. It is very adaptable to conditions in our region that exist at the curb. That being said there are questions of structure and growth that need to be asked if such a planting is going to be aesthetically successful over the longer term.
(This is a slightly edited version of the same article published a few years ago in the HPSO Bulletin.)
The Pruning Series, 1
If you garden you will need to prune. Pruning is necessary not only for garden aesthetics but for the health and survival of plants in your garden. Gardens are our own inventions. They are infused with our intentions while the natural forces at play in any landscape work toward their own conclusion. We gather plants from disparate places around the world, put them together on soils in climates they did not evolve with, in intimate relationships we impose. We will have to be involved in an ‘editing’ process that is ongoing within the ebb and flow of plant growth and death that will include shuffling, removals, additions and pruning. Gardens are dynamic. Whether we make ‘good’ plant choices or not our continued involvement is a given. If we are good observers and modify our actions accordingly, we can move our gardens toward a balance that will require less of us. If we have aesthetic priorities that we are unwilling to relinquish, we will have to work to assure they continue. If our knowledge of how the plant will perform on our site is less than perfect and we fail to take all of it into consideration when we planted, we will have to intervene, maybe regularly.