I lived in the Beaumont Wilshire neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, for 33 years. And like maniac gardeners everywhere, spent countless hours in the yard—planting, composting, attempting to eradicate the sins of my past. Bishop’s Weed. How did I not know? It says WEED in the name.
My husband and I added more than 25 trees to our 50 X 100 corner city lot, some choices better than others. But the birds seemed perfectly content. River’s Purple Beech; dark chocolate luscious looking leaves, an excellent choice, so say the Downy Woodpeckers. Himalayan Birch: peeling white bark, and bright winter interest, Bushtits, Goldfinches, and Western Tanagers approved. Persian Silk Tree: gorgeous & tropical looking, albeit kinda messy. We got no complaints from a Macaw who once alit there. (We tried to entice the parrot inside, “Polly want a cracker.” But nothing doing; she flew off, never to be seen again.)
My business partner Megan has said, “There is no such thing as a bad plant, just plants used badly.” I’m pretty sure she’s on to something.
Some plants get a bad rap because they’re work-horses, standards used over and over again, often in commercial settings where they’re abused – and thus not looking their best. Some plants become representatives for an entire genus, like the ubiquitous rhododendron foundation plantings seen in front of every third house in my Portland neighborhood. How many casual gardeners have the opportunity to discover unique rhododendron species, those beyond the common? And some plants are disliked simply because familiarity breeds contempt. In my case the conifer I grew up with, Pinus ponderosa – growing everywhere in my native Eastern Washington – was so ever-present and looming, they turned me against conifers in general.
I’m embarrassed. Back when I worked in an office, I used to hide in my cubicle while coworkers distributed their excess garden harvest. There always seemed to be zucchini, which topped my list of duck-and-cover foods. To be fair, I had only ever had zucchini as plain sticks around the veggie party platter, destined for some plastic tub of dip, or sautéed, neither of which are my favorite presentation to this day.
My opinion of zucchini changed on vacation in Italy a couple years ago, where zucchini made a regular appearance on menus, served as paper thin slices grilled with a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper. I initially tried it to be polite, but it was truly delicious, and opened my eyes to new possibilities. You know how once you learn about something new, you see it everywhere?