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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

The Day After Our Open Garden for the HPSO Study Weekend

IMG_2905Ultimately it has been rejuvenating and exhilarating, but for the previous several weeks, especially the last two, there has been much anxiety around my garden.  The usual litany of issues came up…failed plants, replacements that were slow, but realistic, in their efforts to establish and grow in, procrastination, a little trepidation, a vacation in March, in April and early June, I know, no tears for this one, and then throw in the freakishly warm dry spring with most of my soil looking like it was later July rather than June (Those of you who don’t know, the maritime Pacific Northwest, has normally dry summers…they just don’t usually start until July!), stressing new and established mesic plants as well as pushing them rapidly, and too often, through their flowering cycle…, and I was more stressed than my plants.  But all was good after hours of fretting and working while Julie prompted and supported me, showing great patience, and joining in by doing much of the necessary mulching, to help hide the worst scars, general clean up, needed painting, errands and the staging that helps everything look ‘finished’.  The response from Study Weekend visitors, were there really over 400?, was over-whelmingly positive.  We can all be overly critical of our own gardens.  We know their scars and faults intimately.  Friday and Sunday I was able to get to most of the other open gardens, Saturday was just too busy here, and like most garden visitors it is wonderful to see what others are doing, beautiful plants, perfect little vignettes, framing and views, things we have forgotten and others we hadn’t yet imagined, each garden unique with its own style, intent and feeling.  I think most of us are more forgiving of others errors, don’t see them or don’t feel them with such depth that the resident gardener might.  Overall, it has been a powerful and positive experience, one that I had been missing for awhile since I retired.  I highly recommend it to any gardener.  Now, we can kick back enjoy our garden and entertain friends as always intended…as long as it doesn’t fry!!! 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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Public Portraits of Xeric Plantings at Riverplace and South Waterfront, part 1

Parks provide the perfect opportunity to showcase plants and to demonstrate their performance in the real world.  What I present here are portraits of plants I chose for two particularly difficult sites that would eventually serve as a base for a new xeric landscape.  The sites comprise two acres of bank plantings.  I posted a review of these last August.  While still relatively young some are beginning to approach more mature size.

Arctostaphylos pajaroense 'Warren Roberts' in the sharp light of the winter sun. An older larger specimen is planted at the Battleship Oregon Mast in Waterfront Park.

Arctostaphylos pajaroense ‘Warren Roberts’ in the sharp light of the winter sun. An older larger specimen is planted at the Battleship Oregon Mast in Waterfront Park.

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Weeding in a Dynamic Landscape: A Goal Oriented Strategy

The Over Thinking Series, part two

Weeding seems simple enough, but that’s the problem with simple things…they often aren’t.

Ugh! Gronk see weed??? !!!Gronk pull weed!!!

It isn’t rocket science, but we’re not stamping out widgets on a production line either…the first one the same as the 13,649th one. Landscapes are living systems containing many complex relationships and feedback loops. Just because most people don’t pay attention doesn’t mean that it’s simple. Continue reading