Category Archives: Parks

Portland Sustainable Landscapes: Toward Health and Diversity – Creating an Organizational Structure for Implementation

 

 

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Urban landscapes can and must vary across a wide spectrum of types from natural to highly contrived display and educational beds. All will require their own maintenance regime that should minimize impacts while supporting the expression of the particular landscape. Good horticultural practice will minimize negative impacts and costs and is largely ‘determined’ by the design.

Introduction

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

Tri-Met

P-BoT

O-DoT

Multnomah County Bridges

Outreach and Education

‘Regulatory’

Introduction

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

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What Really is a Sustainable Landscape & Why it Matters

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I took this at Cape Horn in early May ’15 in one of the ‘wet’ woodland ‘terraces’. The native Delphinium gives it a fantastical appearance. If we could create this landscape anywhere in the City I can’t imagine that it would withstand the level of use and inevitable abuse it would receive let alone the ‘weed pressure’ it would suffer. Perhaps there are a few places that such a landscape could work but it would require that we have all of the surrounding landscapes ‘under control’ and that we educate the public so that they would understand and respect it enough to stay away. Our numbers alone even if most behaved themselves would make its survival difficult.  Ultimately, this is just what is necessary, re-establishing the public’s relationship with nature and the wild world.

(I’ve made earlier postings on this topic, but this piece actually predates those.  I wrote this in 2013 while still working as a horticulturist for the City of Portland Parks and Recreation as a member of a Bureau committee that was working to define ‘sustainable landscapes’ so that we could begin to make our policies and practices more consistent with our ‘desire’ to create sustainable landscapes and protect the relatively intact ones that remain.  This was a difficult process.  We spent a lot of time discussing/arguing about what constitutes a sustainable landscape and ultimately the direction that Parks should be headed.

There was a large divide between those of us who saw ultimately, that the only truly sustainable landscape was one that recreated those native landscapes that preceded the massive changes that European Americans brought with them, so that our efforts should be on these, and those of us who, having spent much of our professional lives in the field doing maintenance in created/urban landscapes, arguing that these new landscapes played a necessary role in the modern world and that our designs and maintenance of them could be moved in a more ‘sustainable’ direction.  These urban/functional landscapes, whether for active sports, community gardens or even many passive uses, provide places and venues for activities that native landscapes cannot.

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There is space and need for many different landscapes in an urban area. This is in the garden at South Waterfront Park along the Willamette River and is intended to be a contemplative refuge from the business of the city. It is layered and carefully orchestrated though its goal is more aesthetic than to be a ‘natural’ plant community. It requires considerable regular ‘grooming’ and editing to maintain in order to show off the plants to their best advantage. This garden was designed for multi-season interest especially through the summer when our native Willamette prairie landscape slides into dormancy.

The organizational structure of the Bureau has been built around three primary landscape ‘types’: ‘natural landscapes’ which tend to be larger and border more densely populated sectors of the City, ‘contrived landscapes’ that are dispersed throughout the City and serve the more traditional Park functions for sports and more casual social use and the ‘enterprise landscapes’ of Golf and PIR that serve very narrow functions and depend on those uses for much of the revenue that supports them.  These are operated and maintained by discrete groups within the Bureau, have different cultures and priorities and view sustainability very differently.   Because these are all in a highly urbanized area the degree of historical disturbance and the continuous pressures that a concentrated population apply to them, they can never by truly ‘sustainable’ in that they will always require our active stewardship to counterbalance these pressures.  This is not to say that we give up on the idea of balanced/dynamic landscapes of appropriately chosen plant communities.  We just need to remember that these are urban areas and be good stewards of the land.  We can even move ‘high use’ landscapes in a more sustainable direction, both in their design and in their maintenance.  It is incumbent upon us to do this to ultimately minimize the pressures put upon them and natural areas by weeds, invasives and human use.) Continue reading

Gardening at City Hall- Lessons in Reality & Frustration

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Impatiens omiense fronting a composition including: Vancouver hexandra, Podophyllum pleianthum, Aspistra elatior, Dryopteris erythrosora, Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ and Prosartes hookeri (previously Disporum hokkerig). This is the south bed on the 5th St. side of Portland’s City Hall.

I’ll bet you thought this was going to be about the hours of meetings wherein Council pours over the issues surrounding the plantings and landscapes of which the City has responsibility…Hah!!!  No, this will be a bit more mundane, hands in the ‘dirt’, and about some of my experiences gardening in the limited ground around City Hall, as well as some observations and comments on what it’s like to garden in such a public spot.  There’s also a bit of hand wringing and hair pulling here.  I’ll be telling two short stories of gardening, one on the 4th St side, but first the 5th Street side of the building. Continue reading

The Fields Park: Brownfields, Compaction & Drainage – a Missed Opportunity

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The Park enterance, framed by the four bio-swales (I can’t bring myself to call them ‘water gardens’ as they look very ‘un-garden like’) that take runoff from the adjacent hard surface as well as from the drain system installed across the lawn. They are planted with Betula nigra cultivars along with Cornus stolonifera ‘Isanti’, C. s. ‘Kelseyii and an Iris. As you walk through the Park you will move over eight different hard surface treatments!

The Fields (Click here to see the final design plan), completed in spring of 2013, is Portland’s newest Park in the north end of the Pearl District.   While I was still with Parks I did the horticultural review during the design process and was an on site inspector, periodically, during construction.  New Parks like this one require a huge time commitment by Parks.  Selection of designers, outreach to all of the stakeholders and many other meetings involving more technical aspects of such a project all in an effort to deliver to residents a Park that is beautiful, serves the needs of residents and is affordable in terms of long term maintenance.  Before  the project is offered to the design community functional goals are set for the Park and a general design theme is chosen.  Various firms offer proposals.  Concepts are bandied about.  Eventually, one is chosen.  In this case, the Office of Cheryl Barton, a San Francisco firm, was awarded the design contract (To see what they have to say about it). Continue reading

Jefferson Circle of Waterfront Park: NW Tropical Theme & the Question of Design

High summer with a wide angle distorting it a little but....

High summer with a wide angle distorting it a little but….

Jefferson Circle lies at the south end of the downtown seawall in Tom McCall Waterfront Park helping to anchor what we always referred to as ‘the bowl’, site of the Dragon Boat races, July’s Blue’s Festival and the end of Summer Oregon Symphony performance.  The curving slope of the lawn that sweeps across the site assures attendees of a more clear view of the stages erected for big events.  Jefferson Circle and ‘5 Flags to the south, permanently ‘backup’ the temporary stages, while a third display bed, Columbia Circle, marks the main entry from downtown on the west.  All three beds share a common theme though they are by no means a mirror image of each other.

These three beds were part of Waterfront’s original design from the ’70’s.  Jefferson Circle an actual circle 40’ in diameter defined, like the others by a concrete bench that surrounds it.  Columbia is an ellipse stretched along its north/south axis, while 5 Flags is an ‘organic’ form with 5 ‘corners, each defined by a flag pole that for years displayed ours and a changing assortment of three other international flags.  Their plantings have changed over the years. I take responsibility for their current theme and most of their plantings. Continue reading

Pruning: The Aesthetic Choice, Consistency & Good Horticultural Practice

The Pruning Series, 3

Illustrations from 'Pretty Deadly', written bj Kelly Sue Deconnick, art Emma Rios, colors Jordie Bellaire, Image Comics 2015

Illustration from ‘Pretty Deadly’, written by Kelly Sue Deconnick, art Emma Rios, colors Jordie Bellaire, Image Comics 2015, (007-002).  Straight-up classic art, whether oil painting or illustration, like these two pages from a graphic novel that I find beautiful, involve ‘craft and, an understanding of one’s materials and techniques, that are necessary for any artist to create work. In illustration, like this, the art must resonate with the story to be successful. Horticulture and pruning are no different.

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

Waterfront Parks: Success and a Question of Purpose

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Okay, this is not Vancouver. It is Victoria Harbor, looking at their Fisherman’s Wharf across from where we stayed. I haven’t been back to Vancouver for a few years and as a result of an accident and poor back up, I lost all of those pictures. Right country, almost the same latitude, with a gorgeous natural harbor you would have to try hard to screw up!

Vancouver, B.C., has a beautiful waterfront south of downtown along False Creek merging urban development with pedestrian scale Park.  This is a busy international city, Canada’s major west coast port and a major center of the arts.  Granville Island pokes up out of the inlet housing the ‘Emily Carr University of Art and Design’ among other centers.  BC Place, the site of last summer’s Women’s World Cup Championship, resides a little more inland still close to the water.  Here the city is built  to advantage along its waterfront.  Of course on the north side is the famous and beautiful Stanley Park and a more urban edge snugging up to Vancouver Harbor, with an amazing view across it and on to the snow covered mountains including Grouse and Whistler not far to the north.  Pedestrians abound. while commercial shipping on a large scale moves in the middle distance, along with the many float planes private, tourist and small commuters.  It is around False Creek where the City has more recently redefined its relationship with the water.  It is a gorgeous setting.  All combined Vancouver’s, new and old, waterfront is my favorite along the West Coast, ahead of Seattle and San Francisco. Continue reading