Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

Tool’s of the Trade: Shovels, Implements of Construction…and Maintenance

(I wrote this piece a few years ago. It was last printed in the Fall 2012 HPSO Bulletin.  It is updated here for my Blog.)

Cut from a piece of sheet metal the failure point is at the bottom of the 'arrow'

Cut from a piece of sheet metal the failure point is at the bottom of the ‘arrow’. Yes, I know this is a square point, but the are built using the same process.

I broke my shovel at home last week digging out a smaller-growing bamboo, Semiarundinaria yashadake ‘Kimmei’. It was at least ten years old, the shovel that is, and I broke it the way most people do, prying with it. I’m not nearly as hard on shovels as I used to be; I know their limits, but I was tired of this shovel. It was one of those thin-gauge “stamped” shovels that hardware stores sell these days to consumers, inexpensive and cheaply made; the kind of tool a person could buy many times over the course of their gardening life. I have broken several in the past jumping on them, with two booted feet, while trying to cut through heavy soil and roots, or like I did here, levering to hard before the object of my attention was adequately cut free of its earthly ties. Stamped shovels flex due to their thinness. Any flexion causes an inefficient transfer of energy when attempting to drive the blade against resistance. Think wasted energy and more effort. Stamped shovels have a soft fold where the smooth curve of its bowl bends into the vee that becomes the sleeve that then wraps around the shovel handle. This shaping of the blade adds some rigidity that the same material flat doesn’t possess. Any such bend in a piece of metal, however, becomes the weak point. This is where the metal breaks. Finding a quality replacement requires special ordering or buying through someone who serves the nursery or landscape trades.

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My Fall Garden After an 1.5″ of Rain


Those big paddle leaves are Heleconia schiediana. The purple is Strobilanthes dyerianus next to a strappy Crinum powellii 'Alba' backed up with Canna 'Bengal Tiger'

Those big paddle leaves are Heleconia schiediana. The purple is Strobilanthes dyerianus next to a strappy Crinum powellii ‘Alba’ backed up with Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’

Cordyline 'Pink Sensation' in front of Canna 'Bengal Tiger', Xanthosoma 'Lime Zinger' and the fat pseudostem of my Ensete, Gloxiana floating in the shadow

Cordyline ‘Pink Sensation’ in front of Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’, Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’ and the fat pseudostem of my Ensete, Gloxiana floating in the shadow

Mahonia x media 'Arthur Menziesii' flower buds beginning to swell for winter's bloom

Mahonia x media ‘Arthur Menzies’ flower buds beginning to swell for winter’s bloom

Brugmansia 'Miner's Claim' with the bloom of Canna 'Wisley Dwarf' poking through

Brugmansia ‘Miner’s Claim’ with the bloom of Canna ‘Wisley Dwarf’ poking through

Butia x Jubaea: A Pinnate Palm for Portland – First Test…for me

Butia capitata at my front stairs along with a new Beschorneria yuccoides 'Flamingo Glow' and a Agave parryi 'Hauchucense'

Butia capitata at my front stairs with a new Beschorneria yuccoides ‘Flamingo Glow’ (I had just removed a Beschornieria septentrionalis, divided and potted the starts up. The replacement has more flamboyant foliage.) Iris douglasiana ‘Canyon Snow’, various low Sedum, Asarina procumbens, x Halmiocistus ‘Merrist Wood Cream’ and an Agave parryi ‘Hauchuca Blue’

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.

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Hello…is anybody there?

Horticulture: the art and science of growing plants.

Riot: noun; 1, a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd.  “riots broke out in the capital”

2, an impressively large or varied display of something.  “the garden was a riot of color”

verb; take part in a violent public disturbance.  “students rioted in Paris

To pursue the practice of good horticulture today in the public landscape is a political act.  It is an act of defiance.  It tells people that horticulture and the landscapes we live in matter.  Landscapes are not simply backdrops to human activities.  Landscapes are a wedding of life to place.  They reflect society’s relationship with the  green world.  Ours today demonstrate our lack of connection, as a people, to the landscape around us.  My purpose with this blog is to advocate for good horticultural practice and I intend to do that with both good and bad examples, primarily in the ‘green’ city in which I live, Portland, OR.

I also intend to use this site to discuss just what is good horticultural practice from the importance of knowing your site and the requirements of what you chose to grow on it to good pruning practice and the tools that we use to do the work.  There are no ‘green thumbs’ only people who care enough to pay attention.

There will also be the occasional article discussing plants I have grown well and those I’ve been less successful with. The plant combo shown in my header, Iris x pacifica ‘ Simply Wild’ and Fabiana imbricata is indicative of the scope of plants I choose to grow myself.  The Iris is a hybrid of several of the native species found only on the west coast of North America, grown and selected from the garden, supremely well adapted to our region, but nowhere else in North America.  The Fabiana comes from the dry uplands of Chile and Argentina, an area that shares a climate very similar to our own here.  I love the textural contrast of the two and as a member of the Tomato family or Solanaceae this speaks to my interest in the exotic…familiar and different.  As we begin to confront the issues of sustainable landscapes and climate change, we need to be looking to such mediterranean regions like these.  Gardeners and horticulturists in other parts of the country will have to evaluate there home regions and how their climate is shifting to know which climatic regions of the world they can look to to find candidates to fill the gaps in their own broken landscapes.

That, is something we all share today, the fact that our landscapes are broken and that we are continuing to push them out of balance as we build and attempt to maintain our modern and destabilized world.  It is my intention to refocus the discussion and provide you with some needed support because most  of our institutions and practices are still moving us in the wrong direction.  Green-washing, can never work.  Conflicting priorities and a consistent under valuing of our landscapes lead to too small budgets and understaffing.  Politics often get in the way.  Good horticultural practice can move us in the right direction, because it is firmly grounded in place and health.  It can serve to illuminate the discrepancy between words and deeds.  It is a firm personal belief of mine that everything we choose to either do or not do is a political decision.  Horticulture matters.  Consider this a call to action.  Be bold.  Never doubt the transformative power of gardening.