Category Archives: My Garden

Spreading the Wealth: Taking Advantage of Monte to Broaden a Teachable Moment

I’ve been taking advantage of people, striking when they are most sensitive, hungry for anything that is outside of their homes and families…I’ve been hanging informational signage amongst Monte’s floral neighbors as they come into bloom, not all of them.  Some will remain anonymous like my Aristolochia semperivirens, an unassuming Dutchman’s Pipe, that is only noticed by the more discriminating of visitors.  Others issue stronger ‘calls’ and so signage seems appropriate.  Many people are taking the time to read them or take pictures of them for later consumption or to make sure they don’t forget.  Many thank me for them.  Who thought ‘school’ could be so cool!  Anyway here is what I’ve hung out in the garden.  Some will come down as their season ends, like the Pacific Coast Iris, others are waiting in the wings.

Monte on May 17

Agave montana

My Agave is flowering. The ‘spike’ you see growing upwards is the ‘peduncle’, the main flowering stem. As it meets its maximum height ‘branches’ will form near the top, from beneath the ‘bracts’, the tightly adpressed leaves, on which will form the yellow flowers. It will form a panicle, a ‘candelabra’ like structure. Agave are monocarpic, meaning they only flower once and then die, after it produces seed. It is 20 year old. Many Agave produce ‘offsets’ or ‘pups’ that can be grown on into mature plants…not this one!

This is a mountain species from Mexico’s Sierra Madre Orientale, where it is found between 6,000’ and 10,000’…not from the desert. This species is relatively new to the trade and was only formally described in 1996, 24 years ago. I’ve been told that this might be the first one to flower in the NW. Its native range experiences a temperate climate and receives its heaviest rains late summer-early fall during the hurricane season. It can experience freezing temperatures and even some snow there in open Oak-Pine forest. It begins its flowering process in Fall, then ‘stops’ for a period during winter, finishing the process in Spring/Summer. Most Agave are tropical/sub-tropical plants from deserts and are grown here in pots. There are 200 or so species, 3/4 of which are endemic to Mexico, found only there, none are native outside the Americas. Only 22 species are found in the US, from California into Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. 3 are native to Florida.

Portland and the Maritime Pacific Northwest provide challenges to growing any Agave species and hybrid. Agave are native where climates tend to have most of their rainfall in summer. Here we have dry summers and wet cool/cold winters…this is the opposite of what most Agave need and will lead to rot and/or fungal foliar disease that can disfigure or kill most Agave species. Siting considerations are extremely important. They generally require full sun and excellent soil drainage. Here good air circulation helps foliage dry in winter. Sloping sites also help with soil drainage. Tilting the plant when planting is helpful as it helps the crowns stay dry. Some gardeners plant these under their eves or erect shelters over their plants to keep the crowns dry over winter. Agaves will require some summer water to grow well especially if they sit in dry soil all winter and spring….

Many Agave are becoming rare across their natural ranges in Mexico because of development and agriculture, a cause which threatens so much of our own natural flora in the US and around the world.

This species is not used to make Tequila! In its home range Agave are pollinated by hummingbirds, insects and nectarivorous bats, bats which are non-native here.


Beschorneria septentrionalis
(False Red Yucca)
There are seven species of Beschorneria, from forests of the higher mountains of Mexico down into Guatemala. This is the most northerly species occurring in NE Mexico, not far from the range of Agave montana. Unlike their cousins, the Agave, all but one of these are ‘polycarpic’, they can flower year after year. These form a substantial rhizome which spreads gradually when the plant is well sited, forming colonies. This one does so only slowly.
Another Asparagus family member, hardy through our zn8a, down to 10º for short periods, if you can keep the crown dry enough. This one struggles a bit and I have to remove a fair amount of rotting leaves every spring…I should move it and it would do better, but I haven’t…it wants better drainage. This particular site is a little wet close to our house which tends to concentrate rainfall a bit without any eave over hang to catch it.
As an open pine/oak forest dweller these are tolerant of relatively shady sites. Mine get some shade.
It’s inflorescence typically form these bright red stems with its sparse branching and hanging, narrow, bell shaped flowers. Part of their corolla is green.
At the top of my stone steps is a selection of another species, Beshorneria yuccoides ‘Flamingo Glow’, which has a buttery colored mid-rib on each leaf. from forests of the mountains of central/eastern Mexico.



Echium wildpretii
(Tower of Jewels)

There are 70 different species of Echium and several subspecies, in the same family as the commonly grown Borage. 27 species are endemic (occur no where else) to macronesia, the Canary, Madeira, and Cape Verde archipelagos lying in the eastern Atlantic close to Portugal, Morocco and west Africa. While the continental species are all herbaceous, dying to the ground over the winter, all but two of the island species are woody, with permanent stems. Echium wildpretii is one of these two.

Echium wildpretii can grow as high as 10’ in its home territory. It is generally a biennial, flowering in spring here, though sometimes, it can ‘wait’ and bloom the third spring. It is monocarpic, dying after producing seed. This plant is just under 9’ and is the tallest individual I’ve ever had in the 15 years of growing this. The plant grows in the ravines of Mount Teide, 12,198’, a volcano on Tenerife, 28ºN latitude, in the Canary Islands, so it has a very restricted range. It requires full sun and arid/dry conditions. With our much wetter winters it is best that you provide this with very good drainage as growing them in cold winter wet soil will decrease their cold hardiness and could lead to rot. Plant on south facing slopes and retaining walls with good air circulation. It is marginal, said to be hardy down to 23 °F.

The species E. pininana, the other Macronesian herbaceous grower, goes to 13’ having much the same form with blue flowers. E. candicans is a short lived woody shrub, which grows to 6’, both are grown here as well. In California these two and others are common some often escaping into the wild and crowding out native species. Here, these are marginal and survive only in protected areas killed by normal to colder winters.
Check my blog at Garden Riots. Annie’s Annuals sells several of these: https://www.anniesannuals.com/search/?q=echium

Grevillea x ‘Pink Pearl’



Grevillea x ‘Pink Pearl’

Grevillea is a genus of 360 species of flowering plants native to Australia and north and west to the Wallace Line. They vary from ground huggers to a tree over 100’ tall. They belong to the Protea family which includes many bizarre and large cut flowers used in the florist industry. They are pollinated by many Lepidoptera, butterflies and moths as well as by Honeyeaters, a group of nectar feeding birds native to their home range related to South African Sunbirds, but not at all to our Hummingbirds. Hummingbirds and bees visit these here.

Most Grevillea are not hardy here in the NW so choose judiciously. To find reliable plants check out the offerings of Xera Plants on SE 11th and or take the trip out Sauvie Island to Cistus Nursery, they have a section of Australian plants. There is a great review of NW hardy Grevillea at Desert Northewest’s site, https://www.desertnorthwest.com/articles/grevilleas_revisited.html

Grevillea readily hybridize. This is thought to be a hybrid of G. juniperina x G. rosmarinifolia. If you give it what it wants it is hardy down to 20ºF, maybe lower. I planted this one 6 years ago here. One winter, ’16/’17, I lost about 1/3 of the top. That was Portland’s fifth coldest winter ever in terms of number of days with freezing temperatures…so not typical. (https://weather.com/storms/winter/news/portland-oregon-worst-winter-city-2016-2017) I suspect another degree colder or with another day of sustained freezing, I would have lost the entire plant.

These are relatively fast growing and can take a hard pruning. In Australia these are often used as hedge plants causing them to grow densely with their pokey needles, quite a barrier! I prune mine regularly to limit its size while retaining its softer look with drooping branch tips.

These are sun lovers and require well drained soil here. They are drought tolerant in the Pacific NW requiring no water after establishment. It is essential that should you choose to fertilize that it include NO PHOSPHOROUS!!! Phosphorous is plentiful in our soil already and adding anymore can prove deadly to Grevillea and also to most all members of the larger plant family. These come from regions with phosphorous poor soils and are very well adapted to searching it out, so…don’t add any!

x Halimiocistus wintonensis ‘Merrist Wood Cream’



x Halimiocistus wintonensis ‘Merrist Wood Cream’

This Rock Rose is a hybrid between two different genera Halimium and Cistus, a relatively rare even as species from different genera aren’t generally capable of crossing successfully. The parents are both Mediterranean plants and this plant benefits from growing under like conditions, warm to hot, dry summers and cool/mild and relatively wet winters.

This plant has grown here for 10+ years on this south facing slope in unamended soil. It benefits from a light cutting back after flowering to help keep it compact and to keep it from falling/splaying open. All of the Rock Roses have a tendency to splay open with time here as our rich soil tends to push them to produce extensive soft growth. Don’t cut these hard, below healthy growth, if you do you are likely to end up with dead stubs unable to resprout. I’m planning to take cuttings of this, root them and replace this plant as it has gotten rather ‘leggy’ over time.

There are many fine Rock Roses available from these two genera that can be grown here.

Lobelia laxiflora ssp. angustifolia Heavy with bloom this Lobelia began flowering almost a month ago.



Lobelia laxiflora ssp. angustifolia
This Lobelia, with its narrow hot red tubular flowers, from Mexico, is reliably evergreen here except over our coldest winters, which can kill it to the ground, but from which it springs back. It often blooms for 7 months or more in the year. As you might guess it is attractive to hummingbirds. This plant is rhizomatous and in too good of conditions with summer water, has a tendency to spread, though it does so compactly. It is better ‘behaved’ under drier, more spare, conditions.

Lobelia are a large and varied genus with 415 species occurring primarily in tropical to warm temperate regions. I also grow the less commonly grown species type, sometimes called ‘Candy Corn Flower’ with broader leaves which is less robust for me here, but showy in its own way.

I grow Lobelia tupa on the east side of our house. It’s a large growing Lobelia from the Andes of Chile with hooking dark red large flowers. I have others on my list including the large pink flowering species, L. bridgesii, to acquire and am somewhat enamored with the ‘Tree Lobelias’ limited to the Hawaiian Islands.

Mimulus (a.a, Diplacus) aurantiacus ‘Jeff’s Tangerine’



Mimulus aurantiacus ‘Jeff’s Tangerine’

Sometimes known as “Sticky” or “Bush Monkey Flower” this plant is native from SW Oregon down through most of California into Baja. A ‘sub-shrub’ this has a somewhat woody base from which sprouts softer herbaceous stems that carry the leaves and flowers. Found from coastal bluffs east into the Siskiyou and Sierra Nevada mountains, these are ideally suited to our mediterranean climate with its summer dry/winter wet precipitation pattern.

Typically, where I’ve seen it growing in situ it is taller than my plant with a much more substantial woody base. At Point Lobos, on the central California coast, these can be over 4’ tall and form impenetrable thickets. Here with our rich soil it grows more lushly and flops. My plant is ten years old and will bloom all May through September in waves, almost never completely out of flower.
Place it in full sun. Mine receives only sporadic summer water. It grows in unamended soil on a south slope so it has good surface drainage. It benefits from free air movement and good soil drainage. There are several color forms available from specialty nurseries.

One of ten or so varieties I have, Iris x pacifica ‘Pacific Rim’



Pacific Coast Iris
(aka. pacifica)

There are 12 Iris species in the group native to our region stretching from southern California northward into Washington state, in a narrow band between the ocean and the Cascades and into California’s western Sierra Nevada. Most of these are limited to California and southern Oregon to areas that receive enough rain and are often limited to places closer to the coast. The Willamette Valley and Washington is mostly limited to one species, the deciduous, woodland edger, Iris tenax.

Hybridizers have taken advantage of their tendency to cross and are found in a wide range of jewel like colors, white, to yellow, red, russet, blue and purple. The hybrids are evergreen. These must generally be searched out as their production is relatively low because these Irises are difficult or impossible to grow anywhere else in the country because of soil and climate differences too far out of their ability to adapt.

The hybrids are drought tolerant in our western gardens. Plant them with plenty of sun, then water to establish. Don’t plant them anywhere where the soil remains soggy into the summer, they need to dry out. It is important to leave them undisturbed after planting. If you choose to move or divide them, wait until the fail rains, when they are producing new roots. They will likely die if messed with during the summer. See my blog: gardenriots.com.

Sphaeralcea x ‘Newleaze Coral’ The first two little flowers of the long season.



Sphaeralcea x ‘Newleaze Coral’
(Glog

The genus Sphaeralcea is native/endemic to the intermountain west of North America, occurring between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascades and east of the Coastal mountains of California. Some can be found in eastern Washington, Oregon and Idaho on south into northern Mexico. They like sun, heat and thrive in poorer mineral soils and are drought tolerant here once established.

‘Newleaze Coral’ earned its garden pedigree in the UK and is a stellar performer here in xeric beds. Sphaeralcea is a member of the large Mallow family which contains 244 genera with 4,225 known species. Well-known members of economic importance include okra, cotton, cacao and durian. There are also some genera containing familiar ornamentals, such as Alcea, Hibiscus, Malva and Lavatera, as well as the genus of trees, Tilia. Commonly called Globe Mallows, this Sphaeralcea will easily bloom for 5 months bookending the summer months.

The Flowering of Monte, Social Media and the Hordes

Where has the last month gone??? This is a brief, I promise, update to those of you who’ve been following the flowering of Monte, my Agave montana, this spring. Ever since Monte went viral on social media, life has been a little crazy here. On April 20th the bracts at the top of the inflorescence separated enough that I could see down inside to the tightly clustered buds below looking a lot like a bunch of chicks with their beaks upheld…then the changes became visible, changing noticeably on a daily basis…and everyone began to see it. Our regular walkers in the neighborhood, bicyclists, commuters and the many who’s regular workdays brought them by…and I swear everyone of them must have been posting!

It did not take long at all before Monte became a destination. Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Next Door, Monte’s evolving visage was appearing everywhere and the number of visitors, which was at one time early on easy to handle, quickly began to approach sideshow numbers and atmosphere. Many seemed to have completely forgotten about the pandemic and sheltering in place. What was once a varying stream flow became a flood. I would go outside to take pictures, make notes and measure, ever earlier, as early as 5:30am, and people would be here, for Monte. At first I would ‘hold class’, answer their questions and try to educate them about the processes of plant growth, the thumbnail version, and people seemed genuinely curious. I tried to take advantage of what I saw as a ‘teaching moment’…but, the numbers quickly increased and many seemed more interested in snapping their IG pics and getting in on this event. But this event wasn’t like the one day happening of last year’s eclipse or the brief period of the blooming Corpse Flower up on the WSU campus…but people came like this would be their only chance. Continue reading

Gardening in Public, Charismatic Mega Flora and the Need for a Public Horticultural Intervention

We ‘need’ charismatic mega-flora today, plants that scream out to even the most plant blind of us to take notice, those that create such a sudden and uncontrollable ‘stir’ within us that our simple glimpse of them breaks our momentum, our chains of thought, interrupting whatever we’re doing in that moment bringing about a reflexive interjection, cause us to take notice, create an uncontrollable urge to stop what we’re doing and come back for a closer look!  To tell our parents, partners or friends, to drag them back, for a repeat performance or to see if what we saw is really there or merely a mistake of perception.  And they do come back.  I see them every day, sometimes dragging disinterested friends to see this unimaginable impossibility.  I hear them when I’m out working in the private part of the garden with excited voices, sometimes expletives, “Look at this ‘F@#$ing’ thing! Can you believe it?”  I love this. They’ve come for ‘Monte’!

Continue reading

Agave colorata and its Blooming Attempt in ’18

img_4196

Agave colorata before flowering initiation, growing nearly horizontal, with a broadly cupped lower leaf holding water. From the Irish’s book, “Agaves, Yuccas and Related Plants”, “The leaves are 5-7″ wide and 10″-23” long [mine were all at the small end of this range] They are ovate ending in a sharp tip….The leaves are a glaucous blue-gray and quite rough to the touch. The margin is fanciful with strong undulations and large prominent teats of various sizes and shapes. A very strong bud imprint marks the leaves, which usually are crossbanded, often with a pink cast [not mine], and end in a brown spine 1-2 in. long.

This is one of the first Agaves I ever grew. Pictures on line of its rosette first caught my
interest, their leaf color, substance and sculptural qualities, the margins of its broad, thick leaves, with their rhythmic rounded ripples, each tipped with a prominent ‘teat’ and spine. This is not a large plant, typically growing 23″- 47″ in diameter and my plan was always to keep it in a pot as it is from coastal areas of the Mexican state of Sonora, found sporadically in a narrow ‘band’ south into Sinaloa.  Agave colorata is very rare and uncommon in nature and growing on steep slopes of the volcanic mountains in the coastal region in Sinaloan thornscrub. It often emerges from apparently solid rock cliffs sometimes clinging high above the water below.

Growing in Sonora and at Home

It is poorly adapted to our wet winter conditions though it is reputedly hardy into USDA zn 8, or as low as 10ºF.  Its natural northern limit is thought not due to cold, but by excessive aridity in the northern parts of Sonora.  I didn’t test it, leaving it outside under the porch roof, bringing it in when forecasts called for below 20ºF, as any plant is more susceptible to cold with its root zone subject to freezing. With perfect drainage and overhead protection, you might be able to get away with this in the ground, but the combination of significant wet with our cold is likely too much…still if someone wanted to try….At best I suspect this one would still suffer from fungal leaf diseases, disfiguring the foliage.

This is usually solitary, but it can be found occasionally in small clumps/colonies up to nearly 10′ across, pushing up against each other on their slowly growing and short ‘trunks’ to 4′ high.  My plant produced just a few pups over the first third of its life.

Fig4-5-color

I wanted to include a climate map of Mexico. This one utilizes the classic Koppen system designating the various climates based on temperature and precipitation and their seasonal patterns. Here it has been modified by Mexican climatologists to better reflect Mexico’s complicated geography…even so, because of the abrupt changes in elevation, and land forms, different climatic conditions can occur in close proximity to one another. Mountains can create wetter and drier areas that on a map of this scale are lost.

Sonora has three distinct geographic areas all running along a ‘line’ from the northwest toward the southeast, the Gulf of California and its associated coastal landscape paralleling the Sierra Madre Occidental, sandwiching plains and rolling hills in the middle.  The coast and plains/rolling hills are arid to semi-arid, desert and grasslands, while only the higher elevation of the easterly mountains receive enough rain to support more diverse and woody plant communities, scrub and Pine-Oak forests.

This map comes from the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. The link takes you to one of their pages which discusses the natural history of the desert, thornscrub and tropical deciduous forest of Sonora.

This region also varies north to south, the climate drying as you go north into the Sonoran Desert.  Moving south on down into Sinaloa, and further, is the some what wetter ‘dry deciduous forest’ biome with an array of woody leugumes, including several Acacia.  Agave colorata resides in the transition zone in between, in the portion of  ‘thornscrub’ near the Sonoran/Sinaloan border.  North and south the Thornscrub itself changes in composition.  The Sinaloan Thornscrub serves as a transition zone between the desert and the slightly wetter, taller growing, Tropical Deciduous Forest that continues the south.  All along this band running north on into Arizona’s Sonoran Desert are various columnar cactus a food source for Mexico’s migrating nectarivorous bat species.  It is a unique flora community, containing species from bordering floral regions and other species unique or endemic to this transition zone itself.  The area continues to be under threat, primarily by cattle ranching that moved into the region in the ’70’s and ’90’s bringing with it clearing and the introduction of non-native and invasive Bufflegrass, Pennisetum ciliare, also known under its syn. Cenchrus ciliaris, for pasture.  Bufflegrass is also a serious problem north into Arizona.  In Sonora many of the cleared woody species have since begun moving back in, while the smaller, more sensitive species have not.  Climate change promises to further squeeze it. (The World Wildlife Fund maintains a website with good descriptions of many eco-regions I sometimes find it very helpful when trying to understand the conditions of a plant I’m less familiar with.)

When growing plants like this, one should keep in mind the concept of heat zones.  The American Horticultural Society has created a map of the US delineating its ‘heat zones’.  It is based on the average number of days an area experiences temperatures over 86ºF.  At that temperature most plants begin to shut down their metabolic processes…they slow their growth.  Check out the AHS map (AHS US Heat Zones pdf.) and keep in mind that we are warming up!  The AHS map has us, Portland, OR, in zone 4, meaning we experience 14-30 days with highs over 86ºF each year.  Last summer, ’18, we actually had a record 31 days over 90ºF!  Now consider that the coastal/plains region of Sonora likely experiences between 180-210 such days!  Agave colorata may not need this, but it is certainly adapted to such a level of heat stress.  Something to think about, especially when you consider that we receive the bulk of our rain over the winter when our daily highs and lows average for Nov. 40º-53º, Dec. 35º-46º, Jan. 36º-47º, Feb. 36º-51º and Mar. 40º-57º…keeping in mind that we could freeze on most any of those dates.  The Sonoran Desert receives its minimal rainfall in a summer/monsoonal pattern….This is why bringing such ‘low desert’ plants to the Pacific Northwest can add another degree or two of difficulty to your success!

 

Growing this in a pot made perfect sense to me, but every decision carries consequences, not all of which I anticipated. Most Agave don’t form a ‘trunk’ growing its leaves, in a tight spiral, crowded along a very abbreviated stem, which adds little to its length to separate each consecutive leaf., but Agave colorata adds a little ‘extra’ slightly separating its leaves, resulting in a weak and kind of puny stem. If you’ve ever shuffled pots containing Agave more than a few years old, you understand that their crown, their substantial top growth, is relatively heavy, A. colorata is no exception, in fact their leaves each seem more substantial than leaves on many other similarly sized Agave. This results in a plant that as it grows begins to lean over, eventually, laying flat across the ground. As a Monocot the stems of Agave don’t caliper up over the years as does wood. These have no cambial meristem which would add secondary growth, and diameter, to the stem and as I said, with its relatively massive and heavy crown, it leans.  This is the same characteristic that gives their small colonies their height.

 

Continue reading

Puya: Growing These Well Armed South Americans in the Pacific Northwest

[I wrote this originally about 2 years ago as part of what turned out to be a too long look into the Bromeliad Family.  Here I present only the genus Puya spp. in an edited form with the addition of the species Puya berteroniana.  Go to the original article to read about the shared evolution of the several genera and families that comprise the family, why these are not considered succulents and a look at the armed defenses of many plants.  My plan is to breakout at least some of the other genera as well as I think the length of the original post may have put some readers off.]

Puya: one of the Xeric Genera of Terrestrial Bromeliaceae

The name “Puya” comes from the Mapuche Indian word meaning “point” (The Mapuche people are indigenous to Chile and Argentina.  They constitute approximately 10% (more than 1.000.000 people) of the Chilean population. Half of them live in the south of Chile from the river Bío Bío to Chiloé Island. The other half is found in and around the capital, Santiago and were mostly forced to the city after Pinochet privatized their lands giving them to the wealthy.)…the assignation is clear and the pointed, spiky, nature of this genus is immediately obvious to anyone.  But there is something easy and comfortable about the sound of the word in your mouth when you speak it…poo-‘yah.  Puya are native to the arid portions of the Andes and South American western coastal mountains.  (Oddly, two species are found in dry areas of Costa Rica.)

Puya spp., populate arid western regions of the Andes Mountains up into southern Central America.  These are terrestrial plants, relying on their roots to find the moisture that they need.  They possess the same basic rosette structure common to all members of the Bromeliad family to which they belong, including their petiole-less leaves, which clasp directly to a compact stem structure, funnelling the infrequent, and seasonal, precipitation they get into their crowns and root structures where they can take it up, a strategy very similar to Agave and Aloe which grow under similar conditions. Continue reading

A Course Correction: The Wild and the Human, On Repairing the Relationship Between Politics, Economics and the Environment

“We are the odd ones, with bright eyes, that see the wonder of a bountiful world.  We don’t look through rose colored glasses…we’ve only removed the veil that breaks and blinds….Now, to cut the strings that tie us to the lie. ”  Lance Wright, Jan. 2019

Echinops ritro in front of a Miscanthus gracillimus several years ago at Holladay Park. A series of perennial beds were created with help from a notable local designer. For a variety of reasons related to budget, staffing and vandalism, the beds declined.  Beauty, that necessary elixir, truly abounds, but we must be cognizant of the forms in which we accept it and be committed to what it requires to flourish.

Gardeners are my people…well, actually, so are botanists, horticulturists, entomologists, ecologists, the weekend outdoor adventurers who in regular moments of awe, pause to take in the daily wonder of the world…anyone, really, who works with or has become enamored with the living natural world (and I’m going to include geologists too, at least those not taking their livelihood from resource extraction).  I have a theory, that as our modern world becomes increasingly urbanized, and transformed by our use to that which supports urban living, more of us are becoming consciously aware of what we are losing, of the natural world that has been sacrificed, developed, along the way…and in ways, large and small, many, but still far too few of us, are choosing to make our lives reflect this understanding. We question the ‘stuff’ we have crowded our lives with, that ‘stuff’ we’ve spent our lives to procure while following the dream we’ve all been sold on.  Many of us garden on whatever we have available to us whether it’s a quarter acre, a Juliet balcony or a kitchen counter space.  We plant gardens for food or to support pollinators, to have something green and growing in our homes, we grow small succulents for their simple beauty, flowers for the vase or plants that provide cover and fruit for songbirds, there are many reasons…and we do this for the pleasure that it gives us, for the satisfaction that we are doing something to heal an increasingly ‘broken’ world.  Yet the world continues to spiral down into more ugly chaos, in spite of our increasing awareness…it is not enough.  I find myself drawn even more into the wonder and beauty of a single plant, the ‘miracle’ of life and the amazing complexity, the inter-relatedness of living communities…because, in spite of how our society views this planet and the countless organisms it routinely dismisses as secondary, and unnecessary or of little commercial value…life is in fact the center of meaning and value. Continue reading

Winter 0f ’18 -’19: Cloudy, Mild With a Chance of….On Weather, Zones & Plants

It’s 41ºF at 5:30am on Mar. 12 as I begin to write this.  We appear to have come out of the longest sustained ‘cold’ period of the winter of ’18-’19 which began on February 4 and continued through Mar. 11, a period of 36 days.  Over those days we had freezing minimum temps at PDX, the official NOAA reporting station for the Portland area, on 26 of them.  On two of those days, Feb. 6 and 7, PDX recorded the winter’s lowest temp, 23ºF, making it a zn 9a winter, mild for us historically and especially so for the temperate US as a whole, much of which was experiencing its own much colder temps.  It’s mid-March and our high temps have climbed well above what they were and our forecasts call for milder, more ‘normal’ highs and lows now locally.  It looks likely that not only are we going to be on the ‘warm side’ of normal, but that our lows have shifted into a pattern well out of the freezing range.  (State ODF meteorologist, Pete Parsons, calls for a pattern of slightly warmer and drier weather than normal over March, April and May with the highest chance of this during May.) 

While weather consists of moments, recorded data points, we attempt to make sense of it in its patterns over time…our experience of it.  In this we are much like our plants.  Plants too have their ‘expectations’ of the weather and those conditions that take them outside of them, outside their familiar patterns, the relatively quick changes and perturbations, as well as the longer sustained patterns, and extremes, are ‘noticed’ and make a difference.  How does this winter compare? Continue reading

Death and Life in the Garden: Learning in the Garden Classroom

As gardeners our hands are ‘bloodied’ with the chlorophyll of plants…while it may not stain us as ‘murderers’, we are never the less complicit in their deaths…as much as we are necessary for their lives.  Without us, as a group, these garden plants would never would have been propagated and, if not for our ‘selfish’ acts in the garden, choosing, designing and displaying them, many would be passing into obscurity, most of us knowing nothing of them or of their loss, their passages into decline and extinction, even more quiet, unnoticed, as too many already do today.  While we may acquire and attempt to grow them with the ‘best’ of intention, eventually, they will all die, ill fit or not, suddenly or after many years in our gardens, as a result of our ignorance, impatience, simple curiosity, our desire for something ‘different’, or even in spite of our best informed efforts.  Death comes to all things and our gardens are no exception.  Our gardens art artificial after all, creations of our making and they do not comprise a viable population that will out live us, reproducing in place, making the adjustments that they must over time to survive.  To do this would take an unprecedented amount of effort and coordination on our part and that of our neighbors.  The setting of our gardens are unique to us and their purposes are much narrowed and more intentional than are the places their progenitors come from, the ‘gardens’ of their origination.  For many of these plants our relationship with them might best be thought of as student to teacher as nature sacrifices itself in an attempt to teach us of what is being lost, ever since we stepped out of the loop that once put us in daily direct contact with nature and came to embrace this modern world and its expectations of consumption, ‘ease’ and never ceasing growth…so it is not ‘murder’, it is life, an attempt to return and reclaim.  There is purpose to be found in our gardens, well beyond surface amusement and distraction in what is too often becoming an ever uglier world, or for some of us our need to impress in a game of one-upmanship.  Nature demands more of us, that we accept our role as student and become careful observers, willing acolytes…maybe even crusaders….Too much? no, I don’t think so. Continue reading

The Fascicularia and Ochagavia Question: Two Worthy and Relatively Hardy Bromeliads

 

The inflorescence of Fascicularia bicolor with its blue flowers. The center of the foliage on a blooming rosette, turns red when the flowers appear and then, like many Bromeliad, that rosette dies replaced be previously formed offsets. My blooming plant had multiple rosettes at the time, three of which bloomed. Taken in my garden, Sept. of ’17.

If you’re not into blood and guts, consider this genus, as on my scale of one to ten as described above with ten warning of near complete evisceration if one is fool hardy or reckless, this one’s a solid 4, dangerous enough but not stupidly so.  Fascicularia pitcairniifolia.  You would think that in a genus composed of one or two species things would be pretty well settled taxonomically, guess again. Originally described as F. bicolor it was reclassified as F. pitcairnifolia and later changed back to F. bicolor.  Subspecies were proposed.  Changes retracted.  There are significant differences in the sampled populations, but were they sufficient to constitute separate species??? Adding confusion at a different level are those who say the species name indicates that it is from Pitcairn Island.  It is not.  The specific epithet simply recognizes a similarity to the foliage in genus, Pitcairnia, another Bromeliad member.  This Fascicularia is from the lower Chilean Andes, allegedly north of the other Fascicuaria species, F. bicolor which is suppose to be slightly hardier and occurs at least occasionally as an epiphyte!  Some botanists have argued that F. pitcairnifolia possesses thicker, slightly wider leaves. and some minor differences in the timing of flowering and is reputedly slightly less hardy.  The ranges of both overlap  Good luck sorting this out. Continue reading

Our Gardens as Teachers

 

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