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!




July 14, 2016: It's a good year for fruit in the Willamette Valley and, in this election summer, it is important that every owner of fruit tree(s) come together, regardless of their affiliations, and support their trees . . . particularly apples, plums, pears, peaches (the heavier fruits). Just yesterday I lost half of a venerable plum tree when a major limb broke off due to a bumper crop of plums.
Cut sapling & 2 x 4 propsCut sapling & 2 x 4 props
Go out and look at your fruit trees now! If they are starting to bend over from fruit, prop them up NOW! A fruit tree prop can be as simple a 2 x 4 or 2 x 2 with a small piece nailed to the top as a tee and cut to a length to jam between the ground and the limb. I've used forked saplings I've cut from my forest.PVC schedule 40 pipe works. You also can buy fancier and more aesthetic looking manufactured telescoping prop poles such as Prop-A-Crop.
The important thing is to act now. Fruit tree owner apathy and disengagement is a major threat to a free and functioning home orchard. It is imperative for every American fruit tree owner to support and uphold our tree's right to bear fruit and to do so without the constraints and strictures of any government or foreign power. But that means we must bear that responsibility responsibly ourselves. Our fruit liberties depend upon an informed and engaged fruit populace.
PVC Sch, 40 pipe gaily decorated with flagging tapePVC Sch, 40 pipe gaily decorated with flagging tape


July 13, 2016: "A dog, a kid, and a walnut tree, the more you beat them the better they be." That's an old Appalachian saying. Let me say, right away, that I DO NOT agree with that . . . at least the first two targets. The third, the walnut, well there may be something to that.

First of all, to be fair to the people of Appalachia, they did not originate this cruel and insensitive adage. It passed to the colonies from Old England and from Europe and varied slightly in that the dog and the kid were sometimes replaced by similarly defenseless targets such as mules, horses, and women. The walnut it appears has never been substituted for anything else over time.

I'm fascinated with how agricultural adages evolved. It obviously starts with observation of results. Along the way, it may be accompanied by insightful or hokey reasoning, but in the end does science eventually back it up? In the case of the walnut tree, it does.(the dog and kid part of it was probably thrown in there by some child beating, animal abusing jerk of a forebear).

Walnut whippingWalnut whipping"Whipping walnuts" was a procedure where the trunks were beaten with long sticks and the result was often greater walnut production the next year. Walnuts were not the only trees to suffer at the hands of trunk mutilators. In the Deep South, pecan growers would take logging chains and beat their pecans trees for better pecan production. In Oregon, some holly growers would shoot their trees with bird shot to increase the next year's amount of holly berries for their Christmas greens trade. Apple and pear growers cut strips of bark off their trees in a process called "ringing" to reduce vegetative growth while increasing future fruit production.

The most commonly held reasoning of the time was that by mutilating the trunk of a tree you "scared" theBark ringingBark ringing tree into producing more fruit. Increased flowering (from which comes fruiting) was the tree's response, a last ditch effort at propagation before the tree mutilator returned. Wow, if trees went to the movies and Alfred Hitchcock was a tree, I can see a whole different, and more terrifying version of Psycho here. But trees don't go to the movies (and it's probably a good thing 'cause you'd never see anything if you sat in the back row) and they don't respond to anthropomorphic (ascribing human qualities to non-human things) reasons such as fear, thinking. or the desire to have some last minute propagation fling. There is physiology behind the responses of plants and it is the science that is behind the adage that is fascinating.

Plants, with the exception of mosses and liverworts, have a vascular system. For that matter, we have a vascular system -our arteries, veins and heart that move blood through our body. Vascular plants have xylem and phloem that move sap through their bodies. The xylem moves water and dissolved nutrients from roots to leaves and shoots. In trees (except for palms) It's located in the sapwood, the outermost and newest laid rings of wood. The phloem moves food (sugars) made by the leaves down to the live growing portions of the trees - the trunk cambium and the root tips. This phloem is located in the inner bark which lies just underneath the outer bark.

So when someone with a big stick or logging chain or shotgun comes up to a tree and whams it upside the trunk, it damages the phloem. Food can then not pass through the injured tissue and more of it remains in the top of the tree, where the new surplus is then put to use in flower buds and subsequent fruit production. The tree will attempt to regrow new tissue with phloem over the damaged area to reconnect the system. This new growth is called callus tissue. Since there are more photosynthates (food) trapped above the damage, there is more callus growth there often causing a swelling above the damage. I've seen this a lot, particularly with unintentional tree mutilation such as tree staking.

Ever plant a tree and to keep it from falling over in a high wind you drive a wooden stake or two into the Girdling due to StakingGirdling due to Stakingground and then tie the stake to the tree trunk and then walk away and forget it? Eventually that tree tie begins to girdle the trunk and constrict the phloem as it expands outward and you have the same effect as whacking it with a chain. If I had a low fat, decaf, caramel macchiato for every customer's tree I removed from careless tree staking, I'd be hanging out in Starbucks for a couple of weeks. Come to think of it, I have noticed an increased growth above my belt line over the past ten years. Maybe my belt is girdling me and it time to switch to suspenders.

Because of the science behind the adage, we can now see that beating some fruit and nut trees may indeed make them better, for fruit production, at least. And, I might further point out, that since dogs and kids do not have xylem and phloem then beating them is patently absurd, most ineffective and without scientific basis.

Observant reader that you are, you're probably wondering whether such trunk torture techniques are harmful to the tree. The answer to that is yes. Those same sugars that are trapped in the crown are not Girdling due to PartakingGirdling due to Partakinggetting to the roots. A healthy tree has a lot of stored food in its roots and may be able to stand it for a year or several, but eventually when it runs out of food the root dies. It also depends on the severity and extent of phloem damage. Is it 50%, 70%, 100% of the circumference of the phloem damaged? Some young apple trees can withstand 90% ring barking once. It also depends of tree species, vigor, age - a lot of variables and from what I've been able to garner there's not a lot of research out there on this topic.

Beware and be aware of the wanton beating of your fruit and nut trees. In the case of old non-producing trees, it may be an alternative to try before the final solution of removal.

F & P