Category Archives: soil drainage

Manzanita, Rock Roses and Friends: The Strength to Stand

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

Growing Agave in My Maritime NW Garden

My picture, but not my plant. Alas! I just potted my start up to a 1gal purchased from Sean at Cistus. Agave ovatifolia 'Vanzie'. Several of these big beautiful cultivars are growing in the Bancroft Garden. It is distinguished from the species by its undulating longitudinal waves across the wide guttered leaves.

My picture, but not my plant. Alas! I just potted my start up to a 1gal purchased from Sean at Cistus. Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’. Several of these big beautiful cultivars are growing in the Ruth Bancroft Garden, in Walnut Creek, CA.  We visited on a nice 80F+ day last October.  It is distinguished from the species by its undulating longitudinal waves across the wide guttered leaves.  Each leaf can be over 10″ across.

When we garden in the public view, and most of us do, at least where we front along the street, or even when we invite others into its more private and inner sanctum, and we grow plants successfully, people are going to ask you: ‘What’s that?’  ‘I didn’t know you could grow those here!’ and, ‘What did you do? they always die for me!’  In short, if you’re successful, people will regard you with respect and assign to you the attributes and position of ‘expert’…when all you did was try to follow the gardening maxim of ‘Right Plant, Right Place!’  In short, you tried not to kill it.  Genuine expertise requires broader experience, study even, that the simple buying and planting of one particular plant cannot earn you.  If you’re like me such easy success and adulation, can be embarrassing and often serves as a prompt, to look through books, search the internet and ask others, that you know who have way more practical growing experience than you yourself do, and gradually, the assignation of ‘expert’ feels a bit less flimsy, maybe even ‘earned’.  I often tell gardening friends that I consider myself to be more of a dilettante, flitting from one plant or group of plants to the next.  Inquisitiveness has always been a part of me and growing one Penstemon, one Banana or one Agave, never adequately ‘grounds’ me.  Grow a few more and I feel a little more comfortable with it.  Look into some of its ‘cousins’ and the particulars of where something grows, its climate and soils particularly, and I feel ‘better’, much like I did when I was preparing for mid-terms at school.  And then I move on, my interest sated for the time being, somewhat comfortable in what I know and curious about the next group.  Over time they all start forming a bigger picture out of what once seemed like a massive, unknowable puzzle and I enjoy solving puzzles.  Having said this, I still don’t consider myself to be an expert, just an avid and focused gardener. 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

Iris x pacifica: Hybrids & Jewels of the West Coast

PCH Native Warrior w: Stachys Primrose Heron DSCN2479

Iris x pacifica ‘Native Warrior’ next to Stachys byzantina ‘Primrose Heron’  These Iris are very garden worthy and can combine beautifully with plants  with similar cultural requirements

(I wrote this several years ago for the HPSO Bulletin, when it was actually printed on paper, and thought re-issuing it today, edited and expanded, might be helpful to some as we are about to enter their flowering season.  The iris pictured on my Blog’s masthead is Iris x pacifica ‘Simply Wild’ poking out from the base of the Chilean shrub Fabiana imbricata ‘Violacea’)

Gardening is no more or less subject to the vagaries of fad and fashion than the other activities we dabble in.  Marketers prey on us luring us with plants possessing new and alluring characteristics, promises of larger flowers, more disease resistant, floriferous, more exotic or environmentally responsible, less maintenance intensive… the list goes on.  Gardening is a very personal endeavor and as such we will always be subject to such Siren calls.  There will be the righteous amongst us convinced of their own focused vision who seem to be immune (but what, we might ask, are they missing?) and there will be those who simply surrender completely to the beauty and bounty around them making themselves easy prey.  In the long run, who is to say who is right?   Our knowledge is imperfect and we are weak…. The act of gardening strengthens us, provides us with the opportunity to learn and in so doing puts us into relationship with the living world around us.  We become better gardeners capable of making better, though still imperfect, decisions.  Whether we garden to augment our own diets with what we grow or are trying our hand at healing a small piece of a damaged earth, or building a place of respite for ourselves and friends or trying to model ‘right’ behavior for our children and neighbors, we are out in our gardens and landscapes learning something of how incredibly complex this earth is…and that is all good. 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

Water, Irrigation, Xeric: Related and Essential Garden Vocabulary

The fountain in the Peninsula Park Rose Garden, a frosty February morning

Water, beautiful and essential.  The fountain in the Peninsula Park Rose Garden, a frosty February morning

First in the Water Series

Water is essential to all life on Earth. It comprises a very significant percentage of the mass of every life form. It is the vehicle without which the various metabolic processes would cease. It dissolves and carries in solution the many elements organisms require to build their tissues. It helps produce the conditions necessary for other supporting life forms.  In it’s heating and cooling it creates the weather that helps define the parameters and limits to life in any given place. It works as an erosive medium breaking down landscapes and helping create new ones upon which life adapts and grows. Water moves across and through the surfaces of the Earth in a dynamic yet stable manner helping create the conditions within which life may evolve. It fills that sweet spot moving readily from gaseous form to liquid to solid where our water/carbon based life forms can take advantage of its transformations.  Without it life as we know it would end.  With our disruption, we have altered the pathways and cycling of water across the landscape and so have altered the conditions under which life must live, cutting down forests, draining wetlands, channelizing streams, grading and paving the Earth’s surface. Our actions have directly impacted every habitat, every landscape, on Earth. We are even changing the weather patterns themselves, changing the conditions within which it operates driven by the sun’s energy.  We are massively altering the Earth’s landscapes and its atmosphere in which all of this happens. It is taking on a ‘life’ of its own as we accelerate the rates of deforestation, desertification, expanding urban heat islands, while we continue the mining and burning of carbon previously sequestered for millions of years pressing us on into massive perturbations in our climate patterns. Everything is connected to water. Continue reading

My Garden: Behind the Scenes

Photo thanks to Josh McCullough

Photo thanks to Josh McCullough

Overall, mine is a sunny warm garden.  Like any landscape or garden it is defined or described by its: place, design and plant choices. Where these three all come together, you have a garden. Each one presents itself as, what some might view, a daunting array of options or possibilities.

What exactly do I include under ‘place’?  Certainly climate, exposure, aspect, slope, soils and the ‘history’ of gardening and ‘disturbance’ on the site. It also includes the larger surrounding landscape, the context within which it is located and the physical ‘features’ built and natural with which it will be a part.  The story of a place is important.  Place, is the major limiting factor in a garden. Gardens are also defined by the choices we make. Each choice precludes others. In a very real sense gardening is a process of limitation. ‘If this then not that’.  What we need to be aware of is that these, design and plant choices, these limitations, can either work together or compound each other when not made with awareness.  When design and/or plant choices ignore place, the gardener must overcome all of the ‘conflicts’ this choice has put in to play, or face ‘failure’.
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