Category Archives: Weed Control

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


TriMet’s Orange Line Landscapes: SW Lincoln & 4th to SE Milwaukie Ave

[I had been delaying the posting of this entry as I was waiting to meet the project manager with TriMet.  As I’ve heard nothing back from him, I’m going ahead and posting.  It would seem that my earlier posts concerned him, but I suspect now that time has passed and the sky has not fallen…he has moved on to more pressing matters.  It is a common tactic not to engage ‘critics’ so as not to give them any energy.  Ignoring critics can be effective, albeit, a very frustrating treatment to the one who is being ignored.]

Part 3 of the Series

This is an introductory note.  Yes, I realize I started the series in the middle, in a linear thinking world this would have been the first posting, but I live nearest the middle portion of the Line…and I have my own motives. Those of you who don’t know me, I do not mean this to be overly critical in spirit.  I’m a person who is always thinking what next? How can I do this better?  I have similar high expectations of the organizations around me.  Organizations all tend to be conservative in action.  There is a reason mature bureaucracies have a reputation for mediocrity.  It is not my intent to question the intent of TriMet or of its hired contractors.  I am a big supporter of transforming our City into a more livable place and the Orange Line is part of that.  There is nothing to be gained through polarizing a situation or setting someone up as ‘the bad guy’ and putting them unnecessarily on the defensive…having said that, sometimes a ‘push’ is in order.  We live in times of rapid change, many of them destructive, and it does no one any good to not work toward the changes that they see as positive.  That is my intent here.

I began this series with a discussion of scale and how it acts as a magnifier.  I spent some time talking about the problems caused by compacted, heavily disturbed, soils and I emphasized the issues created by a history of bad weed management…this first section of the Orange Line landscapes, from SE 11th to its beginning at SW Lincoln and 4th is heavily impacted by these factors.  Built on heavily graded and or imported fill, often on abandoned industrial sites, on or adjacent to sites that have been out of control weed generators for decades, this section may pose the biggest problem for landscape maintenance of all.

It is dangerous to assume that a new urban landscape is created on a ‘blank slate’.  Merely scraping a landscape off and beginning anew does not return it magically to its ‘pristine’ condition prior to the arrival of ‘modern’ white American culture and all of our accumulative impacts.  To be successful some effort must be expended to ameliorate at least the worst of these conditions.  Even if we make our ‘best’ effort to do this, landscapes such as these with their ‘heavy’ impact histories will present a powerful challenge to those charged with maintenance.  It is easy to underestimate the severity of this problem.  We have developed an ‘alien’ aesthetic that really doesn’t belong anywhere and as such is outside the bounds of the function of the normal cycling of energy and resources common to nature.  We impose this aesthetic and our designs on our landscapes and then expend a great deal of energy, in the form of labor and chemistry, to maintain them, or they quickly degenerate.  In some ways it would have made maintenance much simpler to have buried all of the surface beneath concrete sealing the problems beneath it.  But then the priorities of urban tree canopy, the capture and ‘treatment’ onsite  of stormwater would have been negated, the possibility of groundwater recharge further reduced and the ‘softening’ of a very hard edged urban ‘landscape’ stymied. Continue reading

Tri-Met’s Orange Line Landscapes: Bybee Stop to Oak Grove

Part 2 of the Orange Line series

Looking south from the top of the stairs at the Bybee Stop. This is pretty much the same view as looking north with respect to the landscape.

Looking south from the top of the stairs at the Bybee Stop. This is pretty much the same view as looking north with respect to the landscape.  BNSF’s tracks lie to the left, the east.  The railroads have their own ‘landscape’ maintenance standards set primarily for safety reasons.  Within so many feet of their tracks they have a zero tolerance for plant growth and use sterilants.  There is also a zone within which the will ‘brush back’ trees and shrubs to keep site lines open.  Metro will have its own standard.  The two side by side show their combined effect.  Also, typically railroads do not fence off their tracks making clear sight lines a more pressing safety concern.  Trimet has fenced off the tracks from casual pedestrian ‘conflicts’.  Fencelines are problematic for maintenance unless ‘dead zones’ are expanded to include both sides.

Heading south of the Harold St. overpass the Orange Line leaves the most urbanized portion of its route, or at least its most densely populated stretch.  Traveling south to the Bybee, the Tacoma/Sellwood and then the Milwaukie stops, the line run alongside the BNSF tracks and there is very little ‘landscaping’ of the corridor.  The railroads contract out maintenance of their thousands of miles of tracks. (For a brief look into their approach check this link.) Continue reading

Tri-Met’s Orange Line Landscapes: Clinton & SE 12th to Harold St.

This shows the banded pattern common today in long mass plantings each swath a single species.

This shows the banded pattern common today in long mass plantings each swath a single species going for a kind of landscape scale ‘graphic’ pattern that is less concerned with ‘fit’.  This is near the Clinton/ SE 12th stop.

Size matters.  In horticulture it changes everything.  Things that are inconsequential, or maybe even enjoyable in the backyard garden, can quickly become daunting or onerous when the scale is ramped up.  Working at a commercial or institutional scale has to change your entire approach to the landscape.  In a small garden it is easier to accommodate mistakes, the conflicted combinations and those issues of horticultural ‘fit’ that we missed when we design or install.  Scale, however, rubs our faces in it everyday, makes us pay with aching backs as unintended consequences play out across the thousands of sq.ft. and acres.  It becomes a matter of physical survival and undermines your professionalism.  You become perforce part laborer, part diagnostician, designer, plantsman and critic….Out of necessity you sharpen your critical thinking skills and the last thing you ever wanted, your sales skills, as you work to sell your ideas to management who are absurdly ignorant of the problems you face everyday in the field.  And, then, eventually, you retire, but you don’t turn it off…you can’t.

Which brings me to the MAX Orange Line and its landscapes.  When I did horticultural design review for large capital Parks projects, it often felt like a dueling match.  I would pour over the design, whatever the stage it was in, match that with my particular knowledge of site conditions and my maintenance experience within Parks.  I would state my concerns on paper and in meetings with the Project Managers and Architects.  I was stubborn and consistently found myself up against a process that undervalued horticulture and my input.  Good horticultural practice was regularly placed in a losing position opposite not just that of the Landscape Architects but of a very political process that tried to give the public what it wanted as long as it fit within the Architect’s vision.  Horticulture always came out a poor third, even though good horticulture always saves money in the mid and long runs.  It was exasperating.  The public, by and large is ignorant of horticultural practice and no effort is made to educate them at any level. Continue reading

Revisiting Holgate Overpass: A Mistake Repeated

Holgate Overpass - the northeast approach. This was taken Aug. 28 of the landscape cut down in April showing regrowth in a hot drought year.

Holgate Overpass – the northeast approach. This was taken Aug. 28 of the landscape cut down in April showing regrowth in a hot drought year.

Holgate Overpass Update:

It finally rained this last weekend!  Somewhere around .3″.  Woohoo!  It will be the most rain that we’ve received since March.  It’s been dry!  In April the City cut down the ‘weedscape’ on the northeast approach of the Holgate Overpass.  It’s rained very little since and we’ve had record warm temperatures all summer.  No one has come back to spray, plant or do anything.  No one’s even picked up the trash.  If you compare the four ‘weedscapes’ on the two approaches they are very similar.  The NE, by volume has had the most regrowth.  This is for two different reasons: first, this site was cut earlier in the season when there was more moisture still in the soil to enable regrowth, and secondly, because the site is dominated by Blackberry and Tree of Heaven, both perennials, well established and of larger stature than the plants dominating the other approach landscapes. Continue reading

On Healing the ‘Broken’ Urban Landscape: Portland’s Holgate Overpass & the Brooklyn Yards

This is the section south and adjacent to the west approach. It was rough mown in early June down slope to the Blackberries and east to the Box Elder in the background.  You can see the blue flowers of the Chickory.

This is the section south and adjacent to the west approach. It was rough mown in early June down slope to the Blackberries and east to the Box Elder in the background. You can see the blue flowers of the Chickory and the Fennel.

Walking the Holgate overpass across the Brooklyn Switching Yard, with its adjacent container operation, is anything but pleasant. Trucks, trains, blasting horns and the four lanes of traffic whizzing by next to the 5′ wide sidewalks wipe away the positives of the views across the river and to downtown.  Most people probably don’t think of places like this as ‘landscapes’, but in the broader sense they are. Landscapes, most simply, are the places that we occupy, whether they are artfully designed, narrowly utilitarian, neglected, forgotten or simply dismissed. They become ‘landscapes’ through our occupying them or merely perceiving them. They are places we are in relationship with. Holgate is a traffic corridor for automobiles. Here is where it crosses the north south railroad line and the region’s major container handling yard. Car and truck traffic are heavy, at times, nearly non-stop. This is the only east-west route between Powell Blvd. and Bybee, and Bybee is intended for, and used by, more local traffic. It is loud. Traffic typically is moving a 35-45 mph although it’s posted 30.  The sidewalk is relatively narrow and this zone of unpleasantness is over a third of a mile long, an expanse from which there is no ‘escape’ for the pedestrian beyond enduring it. Since I retired, and weather permitting, I walk it once or twice a week on my way to the gym for a swim. Continue reading

Adaptive Management and the Dynamic Maintenance of Sustainable Landscapes


The second grassy bay, below the Harborside Restaurant, between the Taxodium clumps from the south end. A sweep of Cistus pulverulentus 'Sunset' at the bottom, Ceanothus cuneatus 'Blue Sierra' at the left and two Arctostaphylos x 'Harmony'. The grasses are Kohleria macrantha, native, Festuca rubra commutatta and a few nasty invaders.

The second grassy bay from the south end, below the Harborside Restaurant at Riverplace, above the marina, between the Taxodium clumps. The ’04 planting included no shrubs or perennial forbs in this area.  It was a monoculture of Koeleria macrantha, a native early season bunch grass that goes dormant by mid-July leaving the entire area vulnerable to invasion by weeds and offering no ‘barrier’ to either people or dogs, which enter frequently. A sweep of Cistus pulverulentus ‘Sunset’ at the bottom, Ceanothus cuneatus ‘Blue Sierra’ at the left and Arctostaphylos x ‘Harmony’ have been added to this site along with Festuca rubra var. commutata a low, fine textured spreader to help fill in the spaces and scattered native perennials.

We, all of us, are part of the landscape.  Just as individual plants belong to a local native plant community, and its place, so do we. That we live in highly disturbed and contrived landscapes does not change the fact that we live in relationship with it, that we are a functioning part of it. Deny this as we may, many of us as a group likely admit to very little connection to our ‘place’. It’s just where we live, for now. Our understanding of it and any involvement with our landscape, other than as a simple stage for our lives, is minimal, a condition which has become pervasive in modern society. Some professionals, who work with children have come to refer to this state as NDD, or Nature Deficit Disorder, a dissociative relationship now that was once basic to human survival. Today this condition is pervasive and our landscapes, as a result, severely disturbed, damaged and compromised, lack the capacity to return to their former state. There is a general ignorance amongst the public and our leaders of the severity of the problem and our necessary role and responsibility to correct it.  We are locked into a strategy that views landscape as incidental, the natural world as backdrop for our activities, not central to our well-being.  Today landscapes, as long as they meet our grossly simplified idea of our needs, a modern minimalist aesthetic, that does not over tax our ‘pocketbook’, are forgettable. From a horticultural viewpoint this is becoming an increasingly deteriorating disaster, something that not only we can do something about, but one that is imperative that we do so.  Adaptive Management describes a responsive relationship between people and the place in which they live. It is centered on a positive and workable strategy we can adopt that addresses this situation and turns it around, reengaging us with our landscape. Continue reading

Seed Banks and the Future of our Gardens and Landscapes

Another article in the ‘Over Thinking Series’

Old growth coastal Douglas Fir forest biome, the Ponderosa Pine – Juniper Sagebrush ecotone, your meticulously cared for back garden and the neglected median strip running down a divided street all occupy our ‘landscape’ and include soil unique to their sites.  The soil type and structure is relatively easy to describe as it is defined by its physical properties…its biological components are considerably more complex and change over time in the long and short term as a landscape ages and/or suffers human disruption…and, can, in turn, affect some of the physical properties. (see:  The Biology of Soil Compaction.) Continue reading

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

Gardening as a Political Act: Growing a Better Public Landscape – The Ross Island Bridge West Approach

Peeling off towards downtown from the bridge westbound

Peeling off towards downtown from the bridge westbound.  The little landscape Roses and new trees…one mown down by a car further down.

I’ve said it before that everything we choose to do is a political act. Politics is not something practiced by ‘politicians’ exclusively. We are social animals. What we choose to do effects those around us…gardening is political. We have chosen to invest our time and energies into growing plants and maintaining our gardens. We do this as individuals. They feed our spirits and those of our friends and families. Beyond this are our neighbors and, to some degree, commuters passing by. I’ve had people I don’t know stop by and tell me, “I’ve been walking/riding/driving by your house for years and I just wanted to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed it.” There’s the bus driver who used to stop in his turn at our corner, open the doors and tell me how much he loved my Wisteria (now gone…Sad for him, good for me), the guy from BES who stopped one day to quiz me about a Grevillea and many others. People, gardeners or not, may be buoyed by your gardens. We change the world for the better. Politics need not be limited to the big divisive social, economic and environmental issues of the day. In fact, if we want to make a positive difference we better start on the little things that we can.

Continue reading