Category Archives: Uncategorized

Addressing the Disparity: If Food, Shelter, Health and Education are Necessities for Humans…

On Fulfilling our Debt to Each Other and Supporting a Healthy Society and Economy

Economics, we are often told is a very complex science. It can be, but at its most basic level it is simple. An economy is the mechanism by which societies create and distribute the products and services demanded/needed by its members. It is a functioning system, an instrument of the ‘social contract’ to which members commit and, in so doing, support the other members via their participation in the economy.  It is a quid pro quo arrangement. You scratch my back I scratch yours played out broadly at a societal level, not one of backroom deals and personal enrichment. It is the structure by which we get the money we require to meet our own needs. It is the means by which we can responsibly meet our needs while supporting others. Money is the medium by which most transactions occur, legally, in our economy, though this doesn’t include the many daily ‘transactions’ we grant each other gratis, to our friends and those others we choose. It is through our participation in the economy that we acquire the money, social capital and good will we use to satisfy our needs. Again this is part of the social contract by which all participants must agree.  The system requires trust, a degree of fairness, an expectation that these transactional commitments, be substantial, that the participants with whom we enter such agreements, follow through. All members therefore must be treated fairly in order for the system to continue working. Violate this ‘contract’ and you can lose not just credibility and trust, but you in some cases suffer incarceration. This contract is subject to continuous tweaking and adjustment. We do this through the legislation of laws and by agreeing to binding contracts. We are all then, our lives, a product of the economy operating within which we live. The wealthy, the poor and the rest of us. Continue reading


An Introduction for Gardeners to the Eudicots and the New ‘Phylogeny’ of Angiosperms: Clades, Cladograms, Flowers and Extinction, part 2

Clades and Cladograms: Helpful Concepts to Understanding Phylogeny and the Hereditary Links Between Plant Groups

Cladistics is a system of classification…of course it is…that relates species to one another based on heredity and lines of inheritance.  Before you dismiss this as a totally boring topic, consider that these are tools, that with a little study, can go a long way in clearing up the murky waters of taxonomy and systematic botany.  Cladograms are a diagrammatic, graphic devices to visually display the relationships of closely related organisms, like the one below, and can be helpful to us in our efforts to understand the phylogeny and evolution of plants.  The ‘branches’ of a Cladogram represent clades, all of the descendants are of a chosen ‘root’ species.  Each clade must be monophyletic, complete, including all of the descendants of the root or ‘stem’ ancestor.  The APG demands precision.


“Cladogram (family tree) of a biological group, showing the last common ancestor of the composite tree, which is the vertical line ‘trunk’ (stem) at the bottom, with all descendant branches shown above. The blue and red subgroups (at left and right) are clades, or monophyletic (complete) groups; each shows its common ancestor ‘stem’ at the bottom of the subgroup ‘branch’. The green subgroup is not a clade; it is a paraphyletic group, which is incomplete here because it excludes the blue branch even though it is also descended from the common ancestor stem at the bottom of the green branch. The green subgroup together with the blue one forms a clade again.” (emphasis mine) This is from Wikipedia, generally a good source for an overview.

Continue reading

Experience: Gardens, Mentors, Peers and Friends…Essential Elements to the Growing Gardner!


Gardeners find inspiration and support from all over, from nature’s expansive landscapes to the very personal and intricate jewels of fellow gardeners, to botanic gardens and the nurseries that often fuel our ardor.  We visit gardens locally, and travel when we can, seeing and experiencing what other regions and countries offer.  Sometimes it is the human culture and its exuberance which seems to drive a place’s horticulture and gardens in directions and extremes different from ours, while our growing conditions are very close…in other gardens site conditions can be very different than our own pushing the palette far from that possible in our own.  By traveling we are ‘opened’, taken out of the familiar and our senses ‘sensitized’, as we take in the new and see the familiar in new ways.  Travel can make us more receptive.  After a Fall trip to New York, followed by one to McCall, Idaho, this Spring we visited parts of central and coastal California, later taking a couple weeks driving up across the Olympic Peninsula to Vancouver Island, peppering it with gardens new and familiar, adding another island, Salt Spring, on our return. 

Like our gardens, we gardeners ‘grow’ over time, learning and changing our practice, our experiences ever evolving.  Important to this process are those others we meet along the way who take the time to share their knowledge and experience with us, perhaps including plants or seeds, but more often simply their enthusiasm for what they do, and the sharing of their gardens.  This is important to us because the practice of gardening can be a ‘lonely’ art and the world of plants is far bigger and more complex than any one of us….If we are to do it well we must seek out the aid and friendship of others.  The emotional connection to what we do, creates a ‘tension’, that can be a source for the energy that drives us…and the addition of a little supplemental ‘fuel’ along the way can go a long way. Continue reading

Sonchus palmensis: One of the Giant Tree Dandelions

Sonchus palmensis from the Annie’s Annuals catalog.



At the Northwest Perennial Alliance’s Study Weekend in 2018, Jimi Blake’s slide of this plant reminded me of seeing this plant growing in the San Francisco Botanic Garden in Golden Gate Park.  It was a standout and prompted me to immediately start looking for it.  Annie’s Annuals carries it and I discovered that it was a zn 9b plant, cooling my ardor somewhat…still…..I returned a couple years later to the Botanic Garden, rekindled my interest and made a stop at Annie’s on our return trip to home, but it wasn’t available, so it went back to  my wish list.  Then Jimi’s presentation at the Seattle Study Weekend moved it up in the queue.

I am most familiar with the species of Sonchus that are weeds.  I have pulled more than my share of Annual and Prickly Sow Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus and S. asper, but like many genera Sonchus contains several plants of horticultural merit.  Most Sonchus are annual species, a few are perennial and fewer still are ‘woody’ species all of which occur on the Canary Islands alone, like Sonchus palmensis. Continue reading

My Red Abyssinian Banana: Testing its Limits to Cold This Winter.

It’s alive!!!

My Ensete appears to have survived my mistreatment/testing of it having left it in the ground until Tuesday after Christmas. The photo shows that it has pushed 3/4″ of new growth since I cut it back and placed it in its corner in the basement. The NOAA weather station at PDX reported 17 freezing minimums to that date, eleven prior to December 20, ranging form 22º to 32º, nine of them below 30º, four below 25º. Over this period my local temperature, bizarrely, dropped to 30º, once, maybe. A second cold spell hit here from Dec. 20-27, again less severe than that at PDX, but closer. The Reed College weather station recorded five freezing minimums over this period, 32º on Dec. 12, 30º on Dec. 21, 28º on Dec. 24, 30º on Christmas and 27º on the 26th. Reed College is about 3/4 of a mile south of me on similar terrain with the same aspect. The freezing, cell shattering, of my plant’s leaves was very evident after this latest cold snap. During December’s first cold spell I was generally a degree or two warmer than the Reed station’s minimums. Over the second cold period my area was more consistent with the PDX temperatures, but still on the warm side. So, yay! My red Ensete has indeed survived 5 significant freezing minimum temperatures, as low as 27º! Those of you who dig yours in October take note, your gardens can benefit from these statuesque specimen much later into the local winter season here…and, return to their garden locations earlier as well.
How do I know its alive? Bananas are all monocots and their dividing/growing meristematic bud is on top of the rhizome, just above ground. If this bud freezes your plant cannot grow any longer. As I pointed out, mine has been growing, slowly, in my cool basement. Would it have made it down to one night at 25º…I don’t know. It is also difficult to say how many more days it could have survived down into this minimum range. Remember that it isn’t just the absolute minimum temperature we need to worry about, but the duration as well. Three of the coldest days had very cold highs as well just making it above freezing allowing the cold to penetrate tissue more deeply.
Here is the link to the values reported at the Reed College weather station in December.  Here is the link for the values from the NOAA station at PDX.

Truth, Harmony and Life: Toward a World In which we can all Flourish


Edgeworthia chrysantha taken several years ago in Washington Park between the Rose Garden Store and the tennis courts.

[I know, many of us are already growing weary of the political circus/blood fest we now find ourselves in.  Since I’ve retired from the work day world, I find myself alternately blessed and cursed with time, time which I can spend working myself into some kind of fit, or wondering how did we get here, and, more importantly, how can we get out.  I know, this is not a horticultural posting, but I feel like if I’m going to ever garden happily again, if we are ever going to address society’s disassociation from the beating heart of this world, our lack of a healthy relationship with the life here on Earth, and begin to heal both ourselves and the landscape upon which our lives depend, we are going to have to change how we look at the world and each other, we are going to have to examine our values critically and sort out what is ‘true’ from what is expedient or simply common practice.  If life on this planet has any value we need to awaken to it, to listen and re-establish our relationship with it.  Part of this is in understanding the ‘truth’ that anchors all life, that binds us to one another.]

Recently, thanks to the likes of Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer, we have all been introduced to the concept of #alt-facts, or alternative facts, as if there can be two conflicting sets of fact that are somehow ‘true’ to those who proclaim them.  Facts, however, are ‘real’ and are rooted in the living/breathing world, they are part and parcel of it.  They are not beliefs or opinions that are subject to one’s personal position.  There is something universal and constant about them, otherwise, they aren’t facts.  They aren’t ‘true’.   Continue reading

Helping Homeowners Choose Trees Wisely: what you need to know

Trees originate in a particular environments, not an urban one. This landscape of California Interior Live Oaks creates a beautiful natural alle'e through the woods. These native Oaks can soften a street scene over time, are well adapted to our street environment requiring little effort on our part beyond structural pruning.

Trees originate in a particular environment, not an urban one. This landscape of California Oaks creates a beautiful natural alle’e through the woods. These native Oaks can soften a street scene over time, are well adapted to our street environment requiring little effort on our part beyond structural pruning.

The urban environment can be an extremely stressful one to live in.  This is no less true for plants than it is for us, the people, who created and maintains this place for our own use.  It is no less naive to believe that a tree, planted out by someone, no matter how much they may love at least the idea of trees, in a random parking strip or next to their place of business, will thrive after a year or two of well intentioned irrigation, on its own than it is to think that a child will grow up to be strong, happy and successful simply by having its first few years of nutrition provided for….Cities are economic and social constructs.  They did not rise ‘organically’ from the soil supporting a diverse and complex community of species.  Life has had to ‘fit’ in where ever it can.  Much has been unable to.  Many of us plant trees because we feel the loss, the absence of life, and realize that these places are less for it, that we ‘suffer’ because of this.  But we cannot simply add trees and stir.  These are ‘broken’ places and we have to pay more attention to our choices and provide better care than this place alone can provide…otherwise it would be like turning out our children, still unformed, on their own.  Even if we were Spartans and believed that only the ‘strong’ deserved to live, we would be dooming them in these modern, contrived and, in many ways, diminished cities.  As responsible parents and tree stewards, we are bound to them.  We owe them our best.  Without it they will fail and the world that we have built around us will be less as well. Continue reading

Agaves, Hybrids and Our Role as Gardeners & Stewards


Sharkskin bracketed by its parents, A. scabra left and A. victorian-reginae on the right

Hybridizing is always a bit of a crap shoot!  Cross two species and the progeny will range all across the morphological map!  Hybridizers grow on their seedlings and select those that share the characteristics that they’re looking for or individuals with startling and unusual features.  They toss the rest.  They in effect are giving their selections an advantage, an advantage they would never receive in nature on their own.  In nature hybrids can only occur when the natural ranges of the two parent species overlap and their proclivities align with the possibilities.  Plant breeders are not limited by this.  Pollen can be collected and stored from anywhere and used to pollinate selected plants.  In nature, survival is a numbers game.  Seedlings must be competitive in an existing plant community with limited available niches.  They have to possess a certain robustness.  Those that survive, grow on and perpetuate themselves, possessing survival characteristics that allow them to do so and have been blessed with the conditions that favor them.  Hybrid creations of nursery people and breeding programs may be lacking in these survival features.  They are pampered, lined out in nursery rows and flats. The result of their intentions may actually put their selections at a competitive disadvantage if they were to be left on their own in nature. Continue reading

Pruning 101: Health & Structure

The Pruning Series, 4.  If you choose to read only one of my posts on pruning, this should be the one.



Pruning cannot save every tree. This large Magnolia appears to have lost its main trunk  long ago and is now surrounded by suckers and sprouts with most of the base rotted out. The section growing to the right is full of rot and is leaning over the adjacent house. It is common for trees like this, heavily damaged and in decline to sprout this way.  Sprouts such as these are weakly attached to the trunk and the structural integrity of this tree is very compromised.  I would not be surprised if spring’s new grew will be enough added weight to cause it to collapse on the house.  The entire ‘landscape’ suffers neglect.  I’m sure no one is monitoring it.  Such is the case with most urban trees.

Whatever your goals for pruning may be you must always keep plant health first and foremost in mind.  In many cases, especially with high value plants in our landscapes, this might be our only reason to prune.  In any good pruning class the instructor will emphasize in some form, the dictum, ’First, do no harm!’ which is often attributed to the medical world’s Hippocratic Oath.  It seems fitting to me to do this as both are dealing with life and promoting good health, only with horticulture and gardening our ‘patients’ are plants.  All organisms have a characteristic, genetically determined structure, that when compromised threatens its health.   All organisms experience stress and, if within limits, respond by strengthening their structure.  Expose them to excessive stress and physical damage occurs.  Storm damage, breakage, vandalism, branch failure following the growth of weak structure, a ‘burden’ of dead wood, diseased tissue, all add to the stresses on a plant and can all be relieved by good pruning…or exacerbated by poor or overly heavy pruning.  Timing can also be a factor as it can disrupt the natural growth cycle causing a delay in the plant’s acclimation to cold process. Continue reading

The Plaza Blocks – Practicing Horticulture at Lownsdale and Chapman Squares

The Spanish American War Memorial the the Federal Courthouse behind. A recent Elm stump in the left foreground and another behind and right of the Memorial. Ringing the memorial is Pachysandra, Hosta and Clethra alnifolia. These take a lot of abuse from playing kids and posing tourists crossing back and forth.

The Spanish American War Memorial with the Federal Courthouse behind. A recent Elm stump in the left foreground and another behind and right of the Memorial, the further had a cavity for several years housing raccoons, but the tree began to split. Ringing the memorial is Pachysandra, Hosta and Clethra alnifolia ;Hummingbird’. These take a lot of abuse from playing kids and posing tourists crossing back and forth.

Chapman and Lownsdale Squares sit aside each other on SW Main with the ‘Elk Fountain’ (the anatomically incorrect Elk, or at least disproportionate)holding the neutral ground in between, the street splitting traffic that flows around it like a boulder in a stream. These are among the City’s oldest Parks. Laid out formally they are nearly mirror images of one another, sidewalks hugging the streets without parking strips to shield them, a crossing pattern of concrete marking them boldly with an ‘X’, lined with metal benches, a center axis and each with a restroom building on opposite sides…the north, on Lownsdale serving as the men’s restroom with the more machismo memorials to the Spanish American War and the south, on Chapman, the women’s with its sculptural tribute to pioneer families Bible in hand. This is a carry over from the early days when each Park served as a respite for the opposite sex where one could publically relax without being ‘bothered’. As were most western territorial towns, Portland’s population was dominated by men and women were often brought here as wives or as part of commercial ventures. Somewhere here was the site of the gallows, erected as need be, up until 1870 or so when the state banned public executions. More recently it has served as a respite for government workers, lawyers, officers and staff of our courts and jail, or visitors to either, taking their breaks, having lunch or getting a few minutes of air as they cross on their way to an appointment. Walking tours and school groups wander through pausing at the monuments. Others congregate here too, sometimes for rallys or protests within earshot of government offices. There are almost always a few members of Portland’s homeless community about taking a few moments or more in the shade of the large Elms and Gingkos. It was also the site of Portland’s own ‘Occupy’ movement in the Fall of ’11. Continue reading