Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Environmental hippie-fried rant!

I was driving down Mt. Baker highway this afternoon when I saw a sign that said 'Plant Sale'.
Of course I turned. Yes I do TOO need more plants lalalalala I'm not paying attention to you woooooolalalal wo wooow woooo.

What I found is a brand new 'botanical garden' here in Whatcom county. Someone opened up three acres down the bottom of a small canyon, did a lot of dirt work and WHOOMP there it is.

It is the best example I have ever seen of the WRONG plants in the WRONG place. It is also the best example I have ever seen of a GARDEN in the WRONG place. I paid my money and I walked around and was just appalled. Completely appalled.

If I had been a little kid, or someone who doesn't know a lot about gardening, I might have been delighted. There in the bottom of the canyon next to the creek was a beautifully landscaped; hell, landscaped within an inch of its life-decorative garden. The kind you might find in any upscale gated community.

HTR's abounded. Any rose you could possibly imagine, in fact; all of them grafts, all donated by Jackson and Perkins and all destined to die slowly and horribly. I hope. Why do I hope that? Because the alternative is to keep these poor things pickled in chemicals. Now even in ideal conditions, HTR's need lots of 'drugs' to keep them pretty. Down at the very bottom of a canyon in the foothills of the Cascades underneath the cedars next to a stream? They might as well have tossed them straight onto the burn pile.


Oh, it gets worse.

This is temperate rain forest. We live in USDA zone 8. Upland timber soil is notoriously acid and poor in nutrients, and the ecosystem is dependent on western red cedar, alder, maple and insect activity to put back carbon. That's a real general description of how it works. Now take that system and stick it in the bottom of a canyon , at the bottom of an active watershed...ON A FLOOD PLAIN. This is a very minutely balanced, very fragile system that depends on being flooded out several times a year, and having high humidity. It absolutely is not where things like begonias and Gladioli belong!

Oh, they had plenty of French drains.
Made with crushed limestone and PVC corrugated pipe. One weeps.
Thats barely hind tit! I mean, it's OK on level ground or even a slight slope. At the bottom of a steep hillside/watershed in friable...NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. You need more than a dirt trench with a few shovelfulls of crush and some flimsy ass vent pipe to hold up against what nature's going to throw at it!

They had no banking whatsoever. Nothing was holding the dirt to the hillsides but gravity. No plantings. No grass. No cover.
The washout channels were already evident.

They had mulched with bark. Bark is highly acid (also highly expensive.) Not a bad choice for perennials and Northwestern native plants.

They had it planted with bedders. Fucking petunias. MOSS ROSE.

Again, the merciful option would be to rip these all out and toss them onto the bonfire with the HRT's. The only way you could keep these things going in that soil would be to keep them bloated up on hi-lime fertilizer WHICH WILL RUN OFF DIRECTLY INTO THE STREAM THE NEXT TIME IT RAINS.
Rain is a frequent occurrence here in the PNW, I've heard.
Bad for the forest just beyond the fence? OH MY YES INDEED.

And the capper? There is no goddamn sun in this place! None!!! At best you get 2 hours around midday! After that its all shade! Every single plant they have in here is meant for full sun!!! EVERY SINGLE ONE! I saw maybe ten rhodies. Ten stressed, crappy looking rhodies probably being fed the same hi-lime drink that everything else was and....argh!!!

Most depressing of all, to me at least, was the evidence of first growth logging that all the dirtwork had uncovered.* The unimaginably vast cedars that grew here back when the forest was first logged left evidence of themselves in the form of enormous stumps nearly a storey tall. You could still see the notches made by the loggers, into which they fitted springboards upon which to stand. The springboards lifted them up to a height on the taper that their saws could cut through. Some of these stumps were as big around at the base as the area of my kitchen. Imagine a living thing that size. The size of a blue whale, with all that water coursing up its trunk like a river. Oxygen pluming away from the crown like an invisible pennant. All shipped in lengths to build tenements in New York.

All of these huge trunks were very picturesque; mossy, split and weathered. Most had a mature tree, or trees, growing out of them. (An old rotted cedar trunk is a great place for rodents and birds to cache seeds. The ones they forget frequently germinate.)The owners had carefully chosen the most unusual or pretty and left them in, kind of incongruous in the middle of a neatly clipped formal garden, but nice.

Nice until you realize that these trees were all on their last legs. Or roots, rather. Remember the flood plain? These trees had been stressed all their lives. The main bulk of their supporting root mass was 5 feet off the ground! It was grown around and through a base of weakened, rotting cedar-and that riddled with every wood-chomping pest imaginable. That was the reason all those curly interesting looking roots were sticking out. That was the reason that all those trunks were drooping and angled, trying to maintain balance!

Look closer? Every single one of them-every one!- was drilled full of woodpecker holes. It was appalling; it looked as though someone had gone through with a shotgun. Woodies only drill native trees for insects. The kind of damage I saw was a pretty clear sign that the trees were infested.

Dying trees. Dying, 35-ft tall trees in a public place. Simply excellent.

Next good windstorm that comes roaring through there, particularly now that it's all cleared out? It's going to be CATASTROPHIC. All those interesting trees are going to fall over like stacked matches and shatter.

I didn't spend a lot of time in the place. It was really disturbing. And I'm sorry to say that too...I mean, it genuinely is pretty. Someones' grandma would love to tour through here. It was just so...wrong. You get your first hint of that when you notice that they have the place surrounded with tall fences and barbed wire and sensor spotlights like Stalag 13! Got a bit of a large mammal problem, I'd say. It was elk, deer, bear and cougar. Now it's primate.

For six years, every summer, I worked in a commercial nursery that was sited in that exact biome** sitting on the same geologic mass. We were an organic operation. We took great pains to steward that land responsibly. If there's one thing I know to do, it's how to garden responsibly with non-native plants in that kind of an ecological niche. These people...

See, this is what they mean when they talk about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. I'm sure they are just a couple of people who love to garden and decided to make their property into a pretty place where people could get married or something. If only they'd done it just five miles west of there down on the ag land. Fucking if only. They've destroyed salmon habitat, they've destroyed a watershed, they've stripped out healthy trees and substory and left behind the diseased, weakened specimens and interplanted it all with lime loving annuals and non-native selections, many of which I recognize as prime disease vectors (kwanza cherry and weeping mulberry, for starters.) It's just a crying goddamn shame. The only way they're going to be able to maintain this place is with gallons of things like Captan and copper sprays and Ozmocote and...fuck it.

*Dirtwork that, I might hasten to add, choked out the stream and made it broad and flat instead of deep and narrow and thus increased the likelihood of flooding, which will necessitate more dirtwork to repair, which will lead to more soil runoff, which will raise the level of the stream...you get the picture.

**not down a canyon, although we had one on the property that we maintained a path through so that people could birdwatch and botanize. How conservative were we in that canyon? We cleared blackberries with rented pigs in a movable pen. Hired a team of horses to log out snags. Fact.


  1. Brains up buttholes.

    It's not as if there's a dearth of conservationist and environmentalist organizations that could have been consulted first, is it?

    Why did they not think to seek their advice?

  2. One thinks that it's the old 'IT'S MAH PROPITTY SO AH KIN DO WHUT AH WANT GUDDAMMIT' ethos at work. I am still righteously saddened by what I saw today. It pisses me off. This is environment thats worth being cherished.

  3. Wanky sunday supplement conservation....... some of these people should be taken out , lightly horsewhipped and then tied to the deseased trees in the next storm

  4. You need to look this place up on t'internet and email them this post. Every word, exactly as you've written it. Otherwise, when the floods and winds come through and destroy their garden they will think "oh well what a shame, better start over again." They NEED to know that every catastrophe that's about to befall them was COMPLETELY PREDICTABLE, or they will repeat their mistakes. You'll be doing them a favor, seriously.

  5. Maybe it is an Insurance scam? Perhaps they know all of this and are waitng for the next flood to wipe them out and make their claim?

    This is a perfect metaphor for how humans have redecorated the entire planet.

    I was watching Attenbborough's Planet Eart and one of my favorite episodes was Seasonal Forests.
    They talked about this 'big guy'


    Now I cannot remove the image of you delivering this rebuke while wearing a Smokey the Bear Ranger Hat...
    do you have one?

  6. Donn , Miss FN will also whip her shirt off half way thru to stress a point.
    Well she does in my version

  7. Buy a flame-thrower and toast the numbskulls.

    While you're at it, toast the ranchers feeding precious grain to beef cattle while most of the worlds population struggle to buy enough to make gruel.

    Just toast.

    Do it.

  8. Mrs Butchart, many years ago, planted a garden in the "style" of the day. It still pulls thousands of tourists. Perhaps the crackpots in Whatcom thought they could achieve a similar result?

  9. Anonymous5:05 PM

    Yeah! Mail this Mother Trucker to them and Ms. Butchart started with a stone quarry I think? Might make a different, maybe. Retroblog

  10. Anonymous1:53 AM

    One important lesson I've learned from my mum is that you always need more plants...

    As far as the "botanical" garden goes well you had me on your side with the words "beautifully landscaped"...I like gardens that look as if they just happened...

  11. You are so smart!

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