Oct. 1, 2016: When people think of the Swiss and Switzerland, it's generally in good terms. The Swiss have their clocks, their cheese, their pocket knives and their chard and they haven't had a major war since 1515. They must be a pretty mellow and trustworthy people. . . or so you would be led to believe. I am here to tell you though about a darker side to the Swiss, a side of deception and decline and Douglas fir.

Dying inner needlesDying inner needlesSwiss needle cast (Phaeocryptopus gaeumannii) is a foliar disease affecting Douglas fir. In recent years it's become somewhat of an epidemic in the Oregon Coast Range. SNC (Swiss needle cast ) causes the inner needles, which are also the older needles (2-4 years old) , to turn yellow and drop. Infected trees have thin canopies. This may not kill the tree but it noticeably lowers it growth rate and stresses the tree. Coupled with other environmental stresses, such as drought , SNC can kill.

SNC affects mainly planted Douglas fir, such as in Christmas tree farms or planted Doug fir timber plantations in the Coast Range. It's estimated to have infected 590,000 acres to the tune of $128 million dollars in economic losses. SNC has grown exponentially and is 4 times what it was 20 years ago. It's postulated that some of this increase is due to wetter springs brought on by climate change.

There is not much that can be done treatment wise for SNC. It's a fungus. When its spores land on the Thinning crownThinning crownneedles it grows and plugs up the stomata, the openings that exchange air and water vapor. No air =- no photosynthesis = yellow and dead needles. Fungicide treatments are impractical and forest management practices don't seem to affect the spread of the pathogen. Planting seed and seedling stock that originate within the Coast Range seem to be the best long term strategy.

So what's the Swiss connection? SNC was first discovered in Swiss forest plantations in the early 20th century. Pathologists claim that SNC is native to the Pacific Northwest and not Switzerland, but I find that to be a very convenient argument. The Swiss are known for keeping their bank accounts secret. Why wouldn't they keep their involvement in needle cast secret also?

Swiss MissSwiss MissSince the disease is called SWISS needle cast, could the Swiss be actually spreading it? I did a little investigative research and found that in the Portland metro area alone there are 4102 Swiss. That's more than the combined Portland populations of Lithuanians, Slovaks and Greeks, none of whom have tree diseases named after them!! Coincidence or conspiracy? In the Coast Range, we have the hamlets of Helvetia and Swiss Home. Coincidence or conspiracy? In 2014, the Swiss pulled out of the Miss Universe contest, the very same Miss Universe that is co-owned by Donald Trump. Could this have been advanced attempt to influence our current presidential elections? Coincidence or conspiracy?

I'm not saying that the Swiss are a danger to our country but I'm not saying that they're not. They just seem too nice to be true. If you're like me, you'll be keeping a lookout for strangers with alpenhorns or yodels from the woods.



Sept. 29, 2016: In my continuing homage to women botanists, one of the most boldest was Jeanne Baret, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe AND ,since she did it dressed as a man, she was the first cross-dressing woman botanist to do so. Those are some notable firsts.

Jeanne was born into an impoverished family in the south of France in 1740. In her early years, she Jeanne as JeanJeanne as Jeandeveloped a knowledge of medicinal plants and collected herbs as a living. When in her early twenties, a job opened up as a housekeeper to a young nobleman, Philibert de Commerson, whose friends might have called him "Phil" for short and that's what I'm going to do. Phil was an amateur botanist and also a recent widower. What with being in the same house and a mutual interest in plants, Jeanne and Phil became an "item". Back in those days though, noblepeople didn't marry their housekeepers so Jeanne became Phil's mistress, collecting assistant, and nurse, for Phil was often not in prime health.

Several years into their relationship, the French government called on Phil to accompany an expedition being led around the world to expand French holdings. as their ship botanist. "De Comm", whose friends might have called him that too and that's what I'm going to do for variety sake, was reluctant to go without his sidekick, Jeanne. Since the French navy strictly forbad women on their ships, the couple hatched a plan whereby Jeanne would impersonate a male sailor and get a job on board the ship De Comm was on.

The ruse worked. De Comm had Jeanne, the "male" sailor assigned as his assistant and to share his Philibert De Commerson or PhilPhilibert De Commerson or Philcabin. Jeanne was now "Jean", whose shipboard friends all called her that and thought she was a man. She bound her breasts every day and was secretive about her bathroom habits. Her shipmates were a little suspicious of her shyness and, at one point, one of them noticed a lack of proper genitalia. Jean explained that away by saying she had once been captured by Turkish pirates and had been castrated in captivity. That's some quick clever thinking!

DC (short for De Comm) was credited with the collecting of many new plants on the expedition including the Bougainvillea (named after the ship's captain Louis Antoine de Bouganville, or" Lou B" to his friends). The bougainvillea is that sweet smelling flowery vine so quintessential to the Deep South. The truth may be that it was" J" (short for Jean, who was really Jeanne) that was doing most of the collecting, since DC was often in poor health.

BougainvilleaBougainvilleaThe ruse ended when the expedition got to Tahiti. Evidently in Tahiti, transgender and cross dressing is no big deal and the natives quickly recognized and thereby exposed that Jean was Jeanne. Her crew mates responded by gang raping her, or so one story goes. Nine months later, Jeanne (who was no longer Jean now) gave birth to a child and was dumped off along with DC on the island of Mauritius (near Madagascar). Lou B, the captain, figured that was less embarrassing than taking them home and explaining the cock-up. DC and J stayed on the island with the French governor, who was also a botanist, for several years until DC died. Jeanne, being now without any financial support ,married a French soldier (no name, so I don't know what his friends called him) and they both returned to France. There was no brass band awaiting this first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

Fortunately, Jeanne lived the rest of her 67 years in modest comfort. The estate of DC paid her small stipend and, oddly enough, the French navy paid her a pension, probably as hush money.

What of the many plants that J and DC collected and classified? Seventy species honor Commerson in Solanum baretiaeSolanum baretiaetheir names; one, Solanum baretiae, honors Jeanne. S. baretiae was only discovered in 2010 by botanist Eric Tepe. Bless his heart, Tepe recognized the nomenclature injustice done to Jeanne Baret and finally recognized her efforts with this Peruvian plant, that is related to tomatoes and potatoes.

It took one bold, bodacious babe two centuries to break the green glass ceiling.

For further reading, there is the 2010 book by Glynis Ridley, "The Discovery of Jean Baret"


September 17, 2016:When I was a landscape teacher, there was an area on the campus that was hidden behind a pole barn. Myself and some students thought it would be a nice idea to make a little garden and, since it was relatively hidden from view, we thought we had the freedom to do some experimental design. What developed was a sanctuary of whimsy we called the Garden of Kitsch.

"Kitsch" is a German word and is defined as "considered to be in poor taste but appreciated in an ironic or knowing way". In German, its synonymous with "cheesyness" and "tackyness". It tends to be a pejorative term but I say, what the hell is the matter with being cheesy?

Our Garden of Kitsch had tire planters (called Crown Jewels, described later in the article), a bathtub shrine of the Madonna, a bottle tree, a hubcap tree, pink flamingos and the quintessential wooden cutouts of the fat farmer and his fat wife bending over. I was very proud of our garden, but that pride was not shared by our college administration (who are seldom hired for their ironic wit and whimsy). Alas, the garden never made the campus tours and when I retired, it fell into disrepair. I can only hope that, millennia from now, archaeologists might uncover its remains and say that this early primitive educational center was indeed more far advanced than we had supposed.

Life can be serious and landscape design can be very serious and often full of itself. Kitsch and whimsy can add a playfulness to a garden, some believe. I, myself, use kitsch as a form of defiance, a way to stick my finger into the eyes of the landscape Nazis who would tell us how our yards should look. If you too want to stand up and lower the resale value of your property at the same time, embrace garden kitsch with me!! But I dirant (that's digress + rant, old folks know what I mean).

And so, I embark on a series exploring garden kitsch, in which will be covered: Stuff on Sticks; Gnomes, Lawn Jockeys, and Other Statue Stuff, Household Appliances, and the first of the series, now:


The most ubiquitous usage of tires in the landscape is the tire planter. And the epitome of tire planters is Crown jewelsCrown jewelsthe Crown Jewel. "Crown Jewel" is what these planters are called in the deep South and they're as much a part of the Old South as pecan pie and sweet tea. Basically, a crown jewel is a tire turned inside out. Let me tell you one sumthin' there's a trick to turning it inside out.

You must first get you the right tire. Not any tire will do. You have to check for flexibility where the tire tread meets the sidewall. If you can push that in with your fist a couple inches, it can be turned out. If not, find another one. Steel belt or regular tread shouldn't matter, the lower the ply (sidewall thickness) the easier to turn. One sidewall is cut either into fringes, triangles, or scalloped and then using strength (preferably of two people) you push the tire inside out. It ends up looking similar to the beanie that Jughead used to wear in the Archie Comics (Millennials, please see picture).

Since we're proud of creating a thing of beauty and utility out something that would end up in a landfill, we want to draw attention to it, usually by planting it with bold light colors such as chartreuse or bubblegum pink. 'Course you can stick your finger in the eyes of those tire planter Nazis by painting it any damn color you wish, just keep in mind that dark colors absorb heat and in the limited soli volume of a planter it may cause excessive soil temperatures. When painting, first make sure to wash the tire with soap and water or a degreaser and then a coating of primer can help the paint to adhere. Properly painted tires are kitsch, paint peeling from tires is tacky!

With some internet research you can find many more creative ways to use tires in the garden. There are Tire SwanTire Swaneven tire artists who create sophisticated tire sculptures. In a world of increasing eco-awareness, recycled tire art is becoming de rigueur. You don't have to be white trash to use trashed tires anymore.

Wall mounted plantersWall mounted planters


August 12, 2016:

"If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might. If they screamed all the time for no good reason" Jack Handey, Deep Thoughts, 1992.

Humorist Jack Handey probably wasn't aware that recently we've discovered that trees do scream, in a manner of speaking, and communicate and share in other ways. This isn't some new age, drum circle, tree hugging crap, this is now hard science. Over the past three decades, research has been showing that plants (not just trees) can communicate to other plants (even species not their own) both aboveground and below ground.

Aboveground, research has found that some plants ( and probably a whole lot as current research is just scratching the surface) communicate distress, which is usually an insect or herbivore animal feeding on them. They do so by emitting an odorous complex of compounds called VOC's, or volatile organic compounds. Other plants sense these VOC's and in turn may generate more of their own chemical compounds internally that are repellent or toxic to herbivores. As omnivores, we have some passing familiarity with some of these compounds such as: nicotine, caffeine, cocaine, morphine, quinine, menthol, camphor, cannabinoids and a gob of others. The level of these compounds can fluctuate in plants dependent upon the threat level the plant senses.

In addition to internally manufacturing defensive chemicals, some plants will also emit their own VOC's that either repel herbivores (usually insects) or attract the predators of the insect attacking them. The plant version of a mace/rape whistle.

Oddly enough, the unburned fuel from car tailpipes also produce VOC's which contribute to increased ozone. While clean air laws have lowered VOC induced ozone in some places, trees have increased their VOC induced ozone. Go figure. I can't.

How plants communicate underground is a newer discovery and it relates to plants in communities, or for the purpose of this article, trees in a forest community. The roots of forest trees can extend many times beyond the crown of the tree, so they are in the close proximity to the roots of many other trees and plants. What really connects all these individual plant roots is a group of fungi called mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae colonize the roots of plants and live symbiotically. They obtain food from their host and in turn they extend the roots exposure and ability to absorb water and nutrients.

These fungi form a vast interconnected web with tree roots which has been dubbed "The Wood Wide Web" . Trees have been found to communicate distress situations similar to aboveground VOC's. What is really amazing is that this WWW has been found to be a pipeline by which other trees will share food resources, both with their same species and . . . with other species. So contrary to the long held Darwinistic belief that it's the survival of the fittest in jungle or forest, it's instead appearing to be more like a peace and love commune.

One forest ecologist, Suzanne Simard, has identified what are called "Mother Trees". These are larger older trees in a forest that act as the nexus points of the wood wide web. When they are cut down, it's like when a computer server goes down. Resource (in this case carbon) sharing ends and it substantially lowers the survival rate of younger trees in their proximity. It may argue for a whole different perspective on forest management.

All this talk about plants talking and screaming and sharing that makes me and others feel all warm and fuzzy might help people be aware of how truly amazing trees (and plants) are, but it may not be helpful in truly understanding. As one forest ecologist says, we need to stop anthropomorphizing plants and start phytomorphizing ourselves to understand them. . . .I gotta go look that up.


July 20, 2016: In this election year, I'm sensing a lot of fear, anxiety and anger over a number of issues such as terrorism, illegal immigration, law and order etc. I too am fearful, angry and anxious. I can pinpoint the root of my terrorism, illegal immigration and law and order issues directly to my garden and I'm wondering when the heck my government or some politician is going to stand up and protect us from . . . VOLES (not to be confused with moles)! I'm a little picture kind of guy. ISIS is bad but they've yet to decimate my potato patch. Voles have. Immigrants, legal or otherwise, form the backbone of the green industry in Oregon and pay taxes. Vole immigrants from the nearby fields devour and destroy and have yet to pitch in on my property tax. Voles steal what they don't plant and no ordinary fence is going to keep them out.

Live Vole - Bad!Live Vole - Bad!Perhaps you're not familiar with what a vole is. It's other aliases are meadow mice or field mice. At 5-8" long, they're bigger and stouter than your regular mouse. Mice have tails that are longer than their bodies, voles have bodies longer than their tails. Also unlike your regular mouse, they burrow underground creating tunnels and runways anywhere from surface level to 8-12" deep. There are two primary vole species in the northern Willamette Valley - the Graytailed Vole and The Townsend's Vole. The latter being the biggest species of vole, has the most extensive tunnel system and is the SOB that is in my garden.

Voles are primarily herbivore feeding on plant tops and roots of almost everything - root vegetables, bulbs,Dead vole - GoodDead vole - Good tubers, the ground level bark of shrubs and young trees. They will also occasionally will eat insects, snails and slugs.. They are particularly fond of my carrots, potatoes, and turnips. For fun and giggles they like to chew the carrot root from the bottom leaving the green top . They usually time this just prior to when I'm getting ready to harvest the carrots, so when I pull on the carrot tops I topple over backwards onto my keester. Who would have thought a rodent had such a capacity for warped sadistic humor. They are also very fond of excavating their runways right up the furrow that your vegetable seedlings are sprouting up from. They don't eat the sprouts from what I've observed, they just toss them out to die. Again, sadistic, wanton destruction - that is the way of the vole. And when fall comes and they're done making your life a horticultural hell, they move into your house, barn, garage, even vehicle and start their spite-filled chewing anew. I've had several pairs of fishing waders, the canvas of a pop-up camper, my bee coveralls, a high school yearbook, and the wiring harness of a car chewed up. It's a diabolical mind, albeit small, that can identify and destroy the things you use and love the most.

Terrorist VoleTerrorist VoleNow vole liberals will tell you that everything has its place in the natural ecosystem, even voles. I contend my garden is not a natural ecosystem and voles have no place. They'll tell you their burrowing helps to churn up and aerate the soil but their tunnels divert irrigation water making watering less effective and more wasteful. They'll point to the endangered Red Tree Vole whose demise is linked to the decline of old growth forests, but I don't plan on having an old growth forest in my vegetable plot just some ungnawed potatoes would be nice. Vole conservatives will point out that voles are family-oriented. I guess so, but with 5-6 families a year that's a little too much family.

To date, our government, the politicians and their parties have done nothing to protect us from voles. We've had to rely on our own wit, wile and resources to battle the vole and often it's been a losing battle. Some control measures that have been used in the past:

Wire mesh Screens: Place around the trunks of newly planted trees to prevent voles gnawing the bark. Also effective for beaver, muskrat and nutria.

Cultural: Voles, being the criminal that they are, like cover. Tall grass, lots of mulch, taller vegetation that they can move unseen between burrow exits. Keeping grass mowed, both lawn and field mowing, can help a little bit.

Repellants; They don't really work.

Toxicants: Zinc phosphide and anti-coagulants such as Warfarin have been the most effective. These come as baits and must be placed down in the runways. These baits are toxic to all mammals including your cat and dog so they must be placed in a runway and covered. Don't use toxicant covered grain bait. Some of it ends up sprouting in your garden and now you have to do some toxic weeding.

Trapping: Good if you have a lot of spare time and tolerance of failure. Typical mole or gopher traps don't work. I've tried the typical snap spring mouse trap - two buried alongside at a burrow entrance and runway. I was very proud of my diabolical vole abattoir but pride evaporated to nothing after my fifth unsuccessful attempt.

Shooting: This means sitting patiently with a shotgun and waiting to see a vole push dirt out of an entrance hole and then running over and blasting it. I have not done this myself, but I have several neighbors who have and have as great a pride in it as bagging a trophy elk, One actually did this as he was hosting a BBQ for his work colleagues. Those were pre-mass shooting times. Today I wouldn't advise it for party entertainment.

Fumigants: Might work for moles, but not for voles, as their tunnels are extensive with many exit holes for fumigants to escape.

As I'm writing this, I'm getting more and more angry. Just whose going to stand up for the little guy against the little vole? You know, when I was a kid and I'd get angry I always remember my dear mother's advice, "Get out of the house and do something before you get smacked!" With her words ringing in my ear, that's what I'm going to do.

I am announcing the establishment of a new independent party. Much like Teddy Roosevelt, who at theFirst my carrots, then yoursFirst my carrots, then yours turn of the 20th century formed the independent Bullmoose Party (I'm thinking moose were probably a bigger garden threat back then than they are today), because the two major parties just didn't get it. I am starting a new third or maybe seventh party that will be called: The American Meadow Mouse Party.

At a very recent party caucus, that was held with the other two AMMP members at the local tavern, we developed the following planks in our party platform;

1) SECURITY: Every American vegetable garden (except those owned by illegal immigrants) will have a wall built around it, about 12"" deep and 12" high with mini-razor wire atop. It will be government funded.

2) ANTI-TERRORISM: A Dept. Of Voleland Security will be established which will supersede and have at its command the branches of our military and intelligence services. Suspicious vole activity will be monitored and assessed and both pre and post-emption military strikes will be blanket authorized without Congress approval.

3)TAXES/ECONOMY: The IRS will give a $5 tax rebate to every citizen for every vole skin that they remit with their income tax forms. Individuals and businesses making over $100,000/year may opt for a tax deduction of $10,000 per vole skin (rationale being is that they have the extra expense of somebody else catching their voles).

4) IMMIGRATION: Folks from vole infested nations will be restricted from entering the United States ... period.

That's it. Just four planks, but we got it done pretty quick without a lot of screaming and hollering like the other parties do. Another reason to vote for us.

I am not one to cotton to politics or even leadership, but if my party asks me to run, then I will serve. For our American vegetable gardens somebody has to stand up and tell it like it is. If you vote for me (it'll have to be write-in because the Establishment machine has excluded us from most ballots) , I promise to rid your garden of voles and when that gargantuan task has been done, I'll work on moles, gophers and ground squirrels next. I promise that no grandchild of mine or yours or anyone else (with the exception of the grandchildren of illegal immigrants) will ever again suffer the shame and humiliation of falling on their keesters from pulling up a gnawed off carrot! I will MAKE OUR AMERICAN VEGETABLE GARDENS GREAT AND SAFE AGAIN! You have my word!


F & P