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’!
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
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
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
A few years ago the Washington Park crew started to joke about their new ‘Himalayan Cloud Forest Garden’ on the north slope of the Park above west Burnside. I was still working in the Downtown Parks and though not part of the project, was greatly excited by its creation. What began as an Ivy removal/ restoration project had quickly morphed into an idea for a species Rhododendron display garden (Or, perhaps, the idea came first!). Washington Park, minus the Zoo/ Arboretum acreage is about 160 acres. Much of the terrain is rough and undeveloped. For years, due to budget constraints, maintenance has been focused on the high use impact areas. Neglected areas included the ‘Cloud Forest’ portion above the ‘Canyon Walk’ which follows the draw down to the old Stearn’s entrance on Burnside where it begins to carve its way through the trees. Over the years English Ivy built up to a smothering blanket. Other plants, like English Holly had reached mature size and were seeding in alarmingly. While on the crew myself, some years earlier, I spent many hours cutting, treating stumps and dragging the Holly trees off. That effort accelerated in recent years when the two staff ‘Rhody-philes’ began feeding off each other’s energy.
My friend Steve has urged me to periodically write about my experiences in the Denial Zone…so here’s a little something: We all know you can only go so far with the whole tropical thing in Portland if you’re not going to invest in a greenhouse. Those of us who try to mimic the tropical look realize that we have to seek out the temperate and a few sub-tropicals that give us that ‘feel’. Bold foliages are key. Architectural plants, and just as important strong foliage contrast. This is not the place for subtlety. Strappy, fuzzy, split and dissected, compound pinnate and palmate, glossy, drip tipped, bold variegation and wild patterns…over the years observant nurseryman and plant hunters have brought us a smorgasbord of unusually foliaged plants. Plant breeders have pushed the limits crossing hardy species in ways that mimic their tropical cousins, I’m thinking Hibiscus here. But still there are certain plants, certain forms and silhouettes, that are hard to replace.
Palms are one of these. Many of us grow various palmate forms like genus Trachycarpus, T. fortunei, most commonly, while others have used T. wagnerianus, T. takil and T. princeps. There are many others but of unproven hardiness. Another form of Palm are those with costapalmate fronds, of these I have a Sabal minor doing fine at home slowly getting bigger in the ground for the last four years, (It’s more than ten years old. I’m of the age now where I just say something is ten years old because it’s easier than checking. It may actually be 12-15.) and a Sabal x ‘Birmingham’ I have high hopes for probably destined for a few more years in the pot before I try it out in the ground. (The genus Sabal includes the Palmetto Palm native to the coastal southeastern US. They tend to be slower growing than Trachys, preferring more heat, often with larger more deeply segmented fronds. For those of you who don’t know, costapalmate are intermediate between palmate and pinnate. The stem extends into the frond where the segments separate and fan out. This extension may be slight as it is in Sabal minor. Instead of having the segments radiating evenly from one point at the base, the ‘base’ is slightly elongated stretching it as if it were briefly considering being pinnate. A casual look might leave the observer thinking that something is slightly off with what appears to be a palmate leaf.) Perhaps others will be found growing in the extremes of their home ranges that can take zn7 and 8 consistently with smiles. I planted the aforementioned Trachys over the last several years in and near Waterfront Park’s bowl. (Actually, the T. princeps is new this spring. Cross your fingers.) They are consistent and durable performers…even through last winter.