Category Archives: Sustainable Landscapes

My ‘Droughted’ Weedy Lawn: What do I do With it Now?

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This little stucco house, in the Woodstock neighborhood, is one of Julie’s favorites. It sits on a little rise clothed in an unbroken sea of Juniperus sabina Tamariscifolia (?) punctuated with several Italian Cypress. This landscape has been here for decades and appears to be completely weed free. It’s xeric with enough density to choke out weedy interlopers.  By not adding supplemental water many of our more common weeds are discouraged. Even if you wanted to apply a pre-emergent herbicide I don’t know if it could get to the soil. There is no way for anyone to enter this to remove volunteer Blackberries, Clematis, Canada Thistle or anything else for that matter. Junipers are strongly allelopathic containing chemicals in their shed foliage that build up in the organic layer on the soil surface discouraging successful weed germination.  Many other plants including our West coast Manzanita are allelopathic as well and can be used similarly.  Generally, allelopathic plants require several years to build up an effective layer of weed controlling old leaves to be effective, so our efforts will be necessary for some time.  At minimum don’t remove this layer of old and decaying leaves!  Junipers are also highly competitive in terms of their roots for water and nutrients.  Do I recommend this landscape…not necessarily, as it provides little ‘useful’ space offering little more than a very ‘defensible’ border, though it does have its attraction.   It provides shelter for some birds and critters, including rats, unfortunately, and fruit to those interested, while posing a minimal weed/seeding hazard to other landscapes.  It is a very simple landscape.

We can do much better than we have been doing with our landscapes…we have to!  It is incumbent upon each of us to grow our landscapes well, whatever they are, whatever they demand of us.  Our inability or unwillingness to do this is symptomatic of a society today that doesn’t  place priority and value on life, first!  (If you are reading this, you probably aren’t part of this ‘we’.)  The fact that we don’t have the time, resources or interest is indicative of how far out of balance our own lives are.  This isn’t a new phenomenon.  I don’t mean to shame or blame anyone here.  Modern societies have long been out of step.  We place a premium on our personal freedom, the idea that we have moved beyond nature, that technology will do for us whatever we need.  Nature will keep ‘chugging’ on without us so that we can devote ourselves to our more personal goals…and so ‘nature’ has been left largely on its own as if what we do will have no significant or damaging effects…but that isn’t really the way it is.  So, what do we do about that dead weedy lawn out front? Continue reading

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The Droughted Lawn

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A golf course is dependent upon a healthy, vital and uniform turf. It directly influences a courses playability. Even if you don’t play golf, courses evoke a calm with their pastoral, expansive lawns and views. This is a view down the 14th fairway at Eastmorland Golf Course. The perimeter rough areas receive no water and minimal maintenance. To the left is a swath of Blackberry. Other areas are over grown with weeds with fence lines draped with the invasive Clematis.

[A reader asked me to do an edited down version of this article to make it more accessible for those less interested, but in need of its message.  This is a stab at that.]

The suburban American lawn has been identified with the fall of nature by many.  Today, a good and green American, certainly us Portlanders are included in this, rejects the perfect monoculture of the lawn.  Nature:good; lawn:bad.  Our lawns demand water that could be better used growing food and assuring healthy fish populations, our lawnmowers spew air pollutants damaging to us all, our fertilizers leach away and move off site contaminating ground water and stream flow while our pesticides used on them, more directly attack nature all around us, all of this for no justifiable benefit, only fulfilling some narrowly defined human desire for an outdated aesthetic.  Detractors of the lawn argue against the waste of resources they require and they are difficult to justify if their purpose is restricted to providing a neat and ‘defensible’ perimeter for each house, the appetites of golfers and the youthful fantasies for power and dominance of sport, all increasing the consumption of land ‘stollen’ from nature to sate our hunger for it.  But this view of the lawn does it a disservice. Continue reading

A Healthy Lawn, Drought Stressed Turf and a Meadow: Finding Our Way to a ‘Better’ Landscape

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A golf course is dependent upon a healthy, vital and uniform turf. It directly influences a course’s playability. Even if you don’t play golf, the landscape can evoke a calm with their pastoral, expansive lawns and views. This is a view down the 14th fairway at Eastmorland Golf Course. Imagine this drought stressed and brown overwhelmed with weeds…both the play and the ‘feeling’ the landscape evokes will be badly degraded.  The perimeter rough areas receive no water and minimal maintenance. To the left is a swath of Blackberry. Other areas are over grown with weeds with fence lines draped with the invasive Clematis.  Priorities are one-sided.

[The world is like a ball of string…pull on the loose end available to you, and you pull on the entire thing!]

Portlanders, Oregonians, often promote ourselves as being ‘green’ leaders.  Cleaning up the Willamette, the Bottle Bill, preserving our beaches as public property, state mandated land use planning, bicycling, recycling, mass transit…and it’s an apt description…to a point.  Combine this with our relatively low population, our huge, diverse and beautiful natural landscape, our progressive ‘weirdness’, and we are firmly on the national map, the envy of many places and a beguiling destination for those who find themselves looking for the laid back, ‘cool’ place, to be.  Our environmental righteousness is intoxicating and clouds our own vision of where we are and the work to be done.  A steady stream of new arrivals brings with them their own visions of Portland, based more on their own desires and marketing efforts than the on the ground reality, skewed by tinted glasses of Portlandia’s popularity, our own boosterism and the ‘boom’, probably transitory, commitment that big money has showered upon us.  Our little town is not what it once was, if it ever was.  But this is the nature of any place, it is many things, often contradictory, when looked at by its many very different inhabitants with their unique history’s and perspectives. Continue reading

This Life: A Memoir, Gambol and Botananomical Tale

Sharpless 249 and the Jellyfish Nebula Image Credit & Copyright: Eric Coles

Sharpless 249 and the Jellyfish Nebula, Image Credit & Copyright: Eric Coles

 

I hope that you will forgive me this departure into verse, prose, whatever this is…another thread in my life.  I don’t think it is too far amiss, because, after all, horticulture is the ‘art’ and science of growing plants.  Originally I began this as an idea for a children’s story, yes I did, the life of a particular Dandelion, but, probably due to my more recent reading on topics like photosynthesis, cellular metabolism and a biophysics response to the question of, ‘What is life?’…it has morphed…considerably.  When you read this, keep in mind that my intention was to write from the perspective of the Dandelion, a concept pretty incomprehensible to a modern American. 

The Taraxacum Cycle

Stories all begin with a single word, a seed, around which they grow, nurtured over time by the things we all share in common, family, history and experience.  They contain ‘truth’, but are not themselves true, because they must be told in such a way that they lure the reader in and are ‘believable’.  They are organic and grow within us and to the extent that they reflect our own ‘story’, that they meet our expectations, we stay with them and them with us, because there is no story if it is forgotten.  So, the author must manipulate what he knows, he must ‘lie’, to bring you in and keep you, weave truth and lie into a whole.  We take the stories you already know and introduce our own characters, set them in exotic though familiar settings, and, if a writer is good, introduce enough, but not too much, that is ‘new’, different from your cultural experience, your expectation, that you are affected by its unfolding, that you become a part of the story and look at your world in a different way, even if only a little bit.  The word here is Taraxacum. Continue reading

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

Weeds, Politics and Commitment- When Doing the Right Thing is Outside of the Box

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This view is from the northern property line looking westerly toward 27th which runs between the white and gray warehouse buildings. The tall ‘coppery’ growths are the seed heads of the Knotweed. Much of the middle ground is buried in Blackberry while Clematis can be seen to the left now hanging from a neighbor’s tree, and is more than capable of burying it completely. The brick at the bottom of the frame is the cap of a low wall the northern property owner has built.

[There is a recurring theme in several of my postings and that is the failure of various of our local agencies and departments to responsibly care for the landscapes that they are charged with, a responsibility that is secondary to their primary mission and priorities.  The fact that this problem is so common is indicative of two things: first, that society views the ‘care’ of the wider landscape as a non-issue, that it is either somehow self-regulating, the mother nature thing, or, of such low importance that it need not be addressed, or some combination of these two, and, that our need for government accountability is so tightly defined and our mistrust of it, so deep, that our ‘exclusionary’ strategies utilized to accomplish this, eliminate the possibility that secondary responsibilities, i.e., those not directly serving the explicitly stated priorities, are excluded from any action or even discussion.  Thus, an agency or department charged with specific transportation priorities will only respond to and act on issues of transportation efficiency and safety…not landscape concerns.  My position is that this allows the uncontrolled spread of weeds and an overall decline of the health, beauty and vitality of the landscapes across the City within which we live, devaluing both the place that we live and the quality of lives we can enjoy.

The following is another example of one such landscape, in southeast Portland, this time a one block section of unimproved right-of-way, or roadway (UROW), a scenario that repeats regularly across this part of Portland, the difference being that the lack of vehicular traffic and the grade have allowed this property to grow in solid and has become impenetrable.  Many other such properties are in use by vehicles with sections of them graveled and eroded, huge pot-holes turning them into obstacle courses, but largely free of heavy weed growth, or at least free of many of the larger more aggressive invasives that plague our area.

First, below, is a descriptive piece that I sent to Commissioner Novick’s office as well as Suzanne Kahn, PBOT Maintenance Group Manager.  Next is the response I received from Cevero Gonzalez, Constituent Services Coordinator, with the Portland Bureau of Transportation and finally, my interpretation and response to that.  Governments are very ‘conservative’ organizations and are risk averse, meaning they tend to do what they’ve always done avoiding creative solutions that put them outside their comfort zone.  Very often this is exactly what is needed.]

There’s a short strip of ‘street’ a few blocks south of our home and garden at SE Schiller between SE 28th Ave and 27th.   It appears to have never been paved.  It’s not currently passable by vehicles of any type without engineering and improvements.  It’s completely overgrown with several invasive plants and multiple weeds all of which have been left on their own for years providing a significant source of ‘infection’ for the neighboring properties.  It is also a repository for trash.  From maps this appears to be a City of Portland property.   Continue reading

Failing Landscapes, Failing Practices: A Look at Tri-Met’s Landscapes and How We Could Do Them Better!

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I include this photo, taken beneath the west approaches to the Marquam Bridge, an ODoT property not Tri-Met, as a reference for what is commonly found in transportation rights-of-way. This is not a problem solely with Tri-Met’s landscapes. It crosses the southern end of South Waterfront Park which was one of my responsibilities for 15 years and so I’m familiar with its level of care or lack thereof. The nearest portion, to just beyond the nearest piers, was entirely neglected for the entire period except for where I cut it down to reduce the amount of weed seed I had to deal with in the Park. There is literally nothing that was intentionally planted in the entire space. It is a landscape composed entirely of weeds and it is possible because landscapes for ODoT are of an extremely low priority. It is the neighboring properties that bear the brunt of their decision. It will be interesting to see if they come under increasing pressure over the years as the expensive and undeveloped properties to their south are developed. Currently the Knight Cancer Institute is developing a hundred yards or more away. The Marriot Residence Inn, immediately to its north, has had no effect on its level of care.

About a year ago I posted a series of three articles on Tri-Met’s landscapes along the new Orange Line.  They were a critical assessment of their design with many photos and explanations for my criticisms.  I had a brief correspondence with the project manager after the first two before he stopped responding.  I had asked about the maintenance schedule that they had with the contractor who would be doing the work.  I did not receive it.  Part of the reason was mine, as new ideas came up for me, my interest wavered and I moved on.  Still, I’ve never received anything.  Now, a year later, I decided to reassess the first portion of the landscape that  I wrote about, as it is a section I regularly walk and ride by bike to downtown or to just get out.  I would encourage readers to see my previously posted reviews. Continue reading