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

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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

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

Fiona’s Carrot: Gardening in a Fantastical World

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The two Fiona’s of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, the wilder, organic version of Riggs’ book and the cute Hollywood version of the movie.

[This is a departure from my ‘normal’ posting.  It is an attempt to get to the ‘heart’ of gardening, closer to the spark within us that drives us, the connection we share with the world we live in that has variously drawn us in to the ‘way’ that we have made for ourselves.]

We’re all familiar with the myth of the ‘green thumb’, those individuals magically endowed with the ability to mysteriously grow anything, but as gardeners we see this as the ‘lie’ that it is.  I’ve told people that those of us with a ‘green thumb’ are simply people with the patience and interest to pay closer attention to the natural world and what is happening in it, that we are better observers.  In Ransom Riggs’ fictional world of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, Peculiars possess powers beyond those of the rest of us, the non-peculiars, normal people.  Some of these might strike us simply as bizarre abnormalities, e.g., an extra mouth on the back of one’s head, the power to command bees some of which live within your stomach??? while others put Peculiars more firmly in the realm of comic book super heroes, such as great strength, invisibility, the ability to create and control fire at will, or its opposite cold and ice…without the tights.  In their world of such possibilities these ‘peculiarities’ elicit fear and, quite often, violence from the normals and worse from those who would take it all for themselves, hence the protective action of the Ymbryne’s.  This is a fantasy story, which places it in a more magical world than stories of science fiction that tend to project our knowledge and capabilities into some future, utopian or dystopian world.  In fantasy worlds the author creates a world and mythology where this is simply true rather than explaining such abilities in scientific terms, and knowing something of magic we accept it at face value.  Such are the abilities of the character Fiona, who is gifted with the ability to powerfully direct the growth of plants, not unlike the character Poison Ivy from the DC world of Batman, though in her case her motivation is to help or protect her friends and others rather than Poison Ivy’s much more self-serving ends. 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

Agave: ‘Sharkey’, Death and the Meaning of Life

It’s noon and Sharkey is dismembered.  Here’s how it happened:

‘Agave down! I repeat, Wind is up and Sharkey is down!’ (This was the Facebook post I made on Oct. 13 coming home after dark.)

Nothing terribly dramatic, Sharkey just succumbed to the wind, toppling to the east, guided by the fishing line into the adjacent Callistemon and Palm. More wind this afternoon and, of course, on its way tomorrow!  (This followed the next morning.)

Do you remember last nights storm? I was out for about an hour during commute with a neighbor trying to keep drains clear and the river of water out of our basement! Sharkey is now laying on our railing. Julie says that I’m like a pet owner denying the inevitable who thinks he’s getting better. I’m afraid he’s just a head knocker for pedestrians now! (I posted this this morning.) 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

Portland Sustainable Landscapes: Toward Health and Diversity – Creating an Organizational Structure for Implementation

 

 

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Urban landscapes can and must vary across a wide spectrum of types from natural to highly contrived display and educational beds. All will require their own maintenance regime that should minimize impacts while supporting the expression of the particular landscape. Good horticultural practice will minimize negative impacts and costs and is largely ‘determined’ by the design.

Introduction

An Office of Sustainable Landscapes that oversees all landscapes within the City and provides active leadership to both private and commercial property owners through the following:

Public Landscapes (active urban contrived) Horticultural Management

Public Landscapes (urban plant communities)

Corridor Management: Transportation and Riverine

Division of State Lands

Tri-Met

P-BoT

O-DoT

Multnomah County Bridges

Outreach and Education

‘Regulatory’

Introduction

Landscape is the setting, matrix and backdrop for everything that we do as humans.  It is where we live, work and play, the places, on which the infrastructure that enables our modern day life, exists.  It is both essential and peripheral, always present and, too often, taken for granted, so much so that we often view it incidentally.  Like many other things in our lives it may go unnoticed until it is so degraded that we can no longer ignore it.  Overall, our care of it, reflects a similar low priority.  It becomes largely ‘invisible’, behind the more recognized needs of a modern City.  Individual mobility, food, water, shelter, energy, economic opportunity and growth, the transportation infrastructure that keep us supplied with these things, all and more take precedence, the landscape subsumed and secondary, inferior and problematic.  Overall, it is not generally viewed today as having inherent value.  Its value, as a living system that allows and enriches biological life, seems almost irrelevant as we are able to satisfy our needs and desires via the economic engine that propels us along.  The landscape, nature, seems relevant only in so far as it can meet our recreational needs providing us a base on which to build and resources that we can manipulate/convert to satisfy our ‘needs’.  Lost in all of this is our relationship with nature, with the landscape, its essential role in the creation and sustenance of all of the resources upon which we and the rest of life depends, and so, it has suffered.  We have lost the ability, or willingness, to use nature as a gauge that shapes all of the other decisions we routinely make in order to meet our ‘economic’ needs.  As both a society and as individuals we have learned to see these as separate and unrelated, so we routinely neglect the landscape.  The problem is pervasive and integrated with how we live our lives.  To correct this we must first acknowledge this and address it on many fronts. Continue reading