Wes Porter


Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

Most Recent Articles by Wes Porter:

The Gardens of Gwyn

Nov 19, 2017 — Wes Porter

The Gardens of Gwyn
Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn was many things in her time. She has remained so for more than 350 years. Commencing literally as a Cinderella—sifting ashes for unburnt fuel, she progressed to peddling turnips, selling ‘strong’ drinks in her mother’s brothel, to leading actress and, for seventeen years, mistress of the ‘Merry Monarch’ Charles II. She also became something of a gardener, owning a fair-sized property with her London townhouse and 40 acres of landscaped grounds up the Thames River at Burford House, Windsor. Both were gifts of Charles.

Born in 1650, little is known of her early life. By the age of 13, she was an orange girl, peddling the then exotic fruit for an exorbitant six pence each to gallants in the theatre audience. She would have been required to work six days a week, receiving a penny for each of her sales. This did not last for long. By April 1665 she had acquired fame as an actress among theatre goers. Within two years, aged just 17, she had found fame, if not fortune, on the London stage. Doubtlessly, this is where the king first saw her. Fascinated with this witty, petite performer Charles first sent for her as an entertainer. She became his long-lasting mistress. The rest, as they say, is history.


Bougainvillea Named for French Admiral and Explorer

Nov 15, 2017 — Wes Porter

Bougainvillea
It is a long way from the wooded shores of the St. Lawrence River west of Quebec City to dense forests of tropical Brazil. There are also vast differences in floral discoveries. They share at least one name though—Bougainvillea.

Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811) was stationed in North America during the Seven Years’ War. As captain of a regiment of dragoons, 1756 found him in Canada. Two years later in in fierce fighting, he was wounded. Unable to intervene in Wolfe’s successful assault on Quebec City in 1759, he was forced to surrender and, with other French officers, shipped back to France. Admired for his leadership abilities he was appointed to lead two ships on a voyage of exploration and discovery around the world 1763-69. Bougainville’s subsequent book, published in 1771, was a sensation.


Vegetative Vampires

Nov 8, 2017 — Wes Porter

mistletoe
Few of the over 4,000 species of known parasitic plants are of economic importance. Those that are however can cause 80 percent crop losses.

Some of the most infamous of these are the Dodders, Cuscuta, ironically of the of the Morning Glory (Convolvulaceae) family. Common names for various species indicate the hatred held for string-like stems: Devil’s Guts, Devil’s Hair, and Witch’s Hair. In medieval Europe, dodder was sometimes viewed as evil transformation of normal grape wine species. As late as 1831 the presence of dodder in crops was connected to the appearance of the comet in the previous year. Like other fully parasitic plants, it achieves its vampire act by means of haustoria, penetrating the host plant to suck its sap. Victims along with grape vines may include coffee shrubs, soybeans, asparagus, melons, chrysanthemums, petunias, garlic, oak trees, and tomatoes. Not all dodders achieve their evil design on tomatoes. As Susan Milius explained in Science News, a tomato plant poked by a haustorium of C. reflexa, however, panics. A patch of cells on the stem elongate and bursts, forming a scab that stops the intruder. The haustorium stalls and eventually dies.


Garden Chores: Indoors and outside

Nov 2, 2017 — Wes Porter

Garden Chores: Indoors and outside
Time to give the lawn a close shave. Reduce mowing height to just a half-inch to prevent dead grass from ‘lodging’ or bending down and smothering fresh growth next spring. And if you haven’t done it for the past few years, it could be a good idea to aerate the lawn. Either rent a machine to do the job or plunge in a garden fork at 12-inch intervals.


The Caribbean’s Bird-Catching Trees

Nov 1, 2017 — Wes Porter

Pisonia TreesIt sounds like a traveller’s tale. Or perhaps the very best of Brit tabloids. But is it true? There are trees that can catch birds. And two new ones have recently been identified in hurricane havoc—and Trump-ravaged—Puerto Rico.

The ripe fruits of Pisonia trees are sticky enough to doom small birds that venture near them. Several species are known from the Indo-Pacific area and to them are now added Pisonia horneae and Pisonia roqueae. Botanically they are from the four-o’clock family, (Nyctaginaceae) and only found in Puerto Rico. Nevertheless, the biodiverse rich Caribbean may yet reveal more such startling discoveries.


Up the Garden Path—October 2017

Oct 31, 2017 — Wes Porter

Up the Garden Path
Front Garden

  • A collection of excruciating horticultural fails has been gather up by one cheeky account, Instagram.com/shitgardens/7hl=en. Featuring a gardener painting his lawn green, a chicken’s garden party, a lonely palm tree on a bleak balcony, topiary lemurs and a dashboard miniature cacti oasis, amongst many others, there’s little to covet about these plots, observed The Daily Mail. The account welcomes submissions, with most of the gardens features so far located in Australia. Sounds about right: where else would you find a row of planted toilet bowls as decoration or an ample bra transformed into a hanging basket?
  • Open and shut case: The Daily Express‘s Alan Titchmarsh offers tips on choosing the right gate for you garden. The Brit paper explains that the right gate will make your garden look more inviting. And who knows where that might lead?
  • A Star Wars fan in England built a 20-foot-high AT-AT Walker on his lawn to compete in a local scarecrow-making contest. 54-year-old Ian Mocket raised $1,000 for an air ambulance charity thanks to eye-catching homage, reported The New York Post.
  • A Colorado mum lost it over a mystery woman who was pooping on the lawn outside her house. Cathy Buddle, of Colorado Springs, says her kids caught the daring defecator in mid-squat. Police in Colorado Springs are now investigating after the family first spotted the female jogger with her pants down outside their home seven weeks ago [The Daily Express, The New York Post]

Jack and the Beanstalk

Oct 29, 2017 — Wes Porter

Halloween with its customs and tales of ghosts, witches and their dreadful doings has its origins in Celtic times. Other still popular accounts date back 5,000 years according to folklorists, bringing them into the realm of that widespread tribe. One such is that of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk.’ The classic English fairy tale originally appeared as ‘The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean’ in 1734 and as Benjamin Tabart’s moralized ‘The History of Jack and the Bean-Stalk’ in 1807.


Questions We’re Often Asked: Perennial Renewal

Oct 26, 2017 — Wes Porter

True, a few perennials such as peonies may go for decades, even a half-century without requiring lifting, dividing and replanting. Most perennials, however, perform better with more frequent attention—perhaps every three to five years, rarely a decade apart. October is a good month for most of this work. Even when cut back, divided and replanted, the soil will not freeze for several weeks, allowing continued root growth.

Mark before lifting those that are the most prized, best performers. Older advice to lift clumps, is to drive in two garden forks back-to-back, and push them together to pull apart the perennials. Why most gardeners would own two forks makes one wonder. And just try it on a well-established growth of hostas or daylilies. A well-sharpened turf edging tool works as well. Split into pie-shaped pieces, discarding the centre, older played-out portions. Clean out weed roots from those to be saved.

It may seem hard, but avoid replanting everything. Ask friends, relatives and neighbours if they would like to share the wealth. Many community organizations welcome such contributions for their fall fund raising sales.


An Apple a Day

Oct 21, 2017 — Wes Porter

If only it were as simple as “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Nutrition scientists are in fact constantly scrutinizing the health properties of foods, advises National Geographic‘s Catherine Zuckerman.

All well and good but apples are the world’s third favourite, pipped at the post by mangoes and bananas. And while June is Mango Month and March proclaimed Banana Month, October is not only National Apple Month in the U.S.A. but the 16th is International Eat an Apple Day followed by International Apple Day on 21st October.


Seasonal Plant Superstitions

Oct 14, 2017 — Wes Porter

From ghoullies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go ‘thump’ in the night Good Lord, deliver us! Thus runs an old Scottish prayer. Yes, ‘tis the time of the year when creepies things emerge from the boscage as dusk descends. Jack, forever cast out of hell, seeks to light his woeful way with a flickering pumpkin. The night air is rent with wails and gnashing of teeth—oops, sorry, that must be politicians. Extending a trowel-filled hand to assist the fearful (and useful to belt any spurious spirit) here are some helpful hints on what to embrace and avoid around the garden


Kentia—A Palm for All Seasons

Oct 8, 2017 — Wes Porter

It seems that every box store, supermarket along with other retail outlets are featuring palms. Or at least, one kind: The areca, golden cane or butterfly palm, Dypsis lutescens. Under northern home conditions, few survive for long, often succumbing to spider mite attack to which this species seems particularly prone. Of course, it is cheap enough . . .

Not so cheap, harder to find but much hardier is the classic Kentia Palm Howeia fosteriana, also attractively known as Paradise Palm. It originates from a tiny speck of land, Lord Howe Island in the Tasmania Sea east of northern Australia. There it is less attractively designated the Thatch Palm because, well, that is exactly what it traditionally could be used for.


THANKSGIVING, HALLOWEEN GARDENING

Oct 1, 2017 — Wes Porter

“We Canadians have our Thanksgiving in October—like logical people, when the harvest is still in effect and therefore the whole “harvest festival” idea makes sense,” explained Martin Short, disagreeing with the United States celebrating the same this year on 23 November.

North or south of the border though it’s time for seasonal decorations. Cut the top off a pumpkin, hollow out, carve a face if you will, then drop in a six- or eight-inch pot of yellow or orange chrysanthemums for something different in doorstep d├ęcor to add to the wreath, dried corn and stalks, dolls and scarecrows.


Up the Garden Path

Sep 30, 2017 — Wes Porter

Back Yard

  • Backyard blitz is having an adverse impact on our health, warns ABC News from Down Under. Amid regular talk of the need for high-density housing and less urban sprawl, there are concerns that the loss of backyards is bad for our health.

Lawn n’ Order

  • Mark Johnson, 53, of Alburgh, Vermont was charged with spraying liquid manure on a marked U.S. Customs and Border Protection car after confronting an agent about immigration enforcement [The Washington Post]

Johnny Appleseed - Early American Nurseryman

Sep 23, 2017 — Wes Porter

Johnny Chapman has been claimed to have been a pioneer nurseryman, active in Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and the northern counties of present-day Virginia. While this may be something of an overly enthusiastic designation, Johnny Appleseed, as he has come to be known, was certainly one of North America’s great horticultural characters.


Goutweed by Any Other Name . . .

Sep 16, 2017 — Wes Porter

Botanically, it is Aegopodium podagraria. In gardening parlance, it often answers to Goutweed, along perhaps as Gout Wort, Ground Elder, Bishop’s Weed, Herb Gerard, Snow-in-the Mountain, even Wild Masterwort. And those are the printable names. For this rhizomatous perennial has been described as ‘one of the worst garden weeds in the perennial garden.’ Yet still some garden centers continue to retail it.


A Host of Golden Daffodils

Sep 9, 2017 — Wes Porter

I wander’d lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees.
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze


RETAILERS ARE BURSTING WITH BULBS

Sep 2, 2017 — Wes Porter

Are ‘bulbs’ actually bulbs? Not always, although it is accepted parlance in the gardening world to call any root storage organ such. Actually, there are ‘true’ bulbs such as daffodils and tulips, corms like crocus, tubers as with dahlias, and rhizomes such as canna. Some are just plain confusing—iris, for example, depending on species, may arise from bulbs or rhizomes. And as a matter of interest, if you’ve eaten onion or potato this week, you’ve consumed a bulb and a tuber. Sprinkled turmeric in curry and that’s rhizome while taro comes from a corm—which is also what a banana plant grows from


Questions We’re Often Asked: Roses

Jun 30, 2017 — Wes Porter

“Won’t you come into my garden? I would like my roses to see you,” propositioned Richard B. Sheridan to a delicate damsel. But roses go far further back than libidinous 18th-century playwrights.

As with royalty elsewhere, the Queen of Flowers traces her ancestry to many sources resulting in numerous descendants not all, alas, well documented. The exquisite selection means offerings for every level of gardener, from the keen rosarian to the most modest weekend householder.


The Horticultural Alice

Jun 24, 2017 — Wes Porter

When Lewis Carroll penned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, followed six years later with Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There he must never have thought that over 150 years later they would never have been out of print. As most know, ‘Lewis Carroll’ was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematician and lecturer at Christ College, Oxford.

Translated into at least 174 languages, they have been enjoyed by both Queen Victoria and Oscar Wilde. Presented on the stage, film and television, the two stories are usually blended together. As early as 1886 a musical play was presented in London’s West End. A British silent film followed in 1903, a Broadway play in 1915, a television adaptation in 1937. In evitable there has been a Disney animation, as well as ballets, operas and even, in 1976, a porn-musical.


Centipedes and Millipedes

Jun 22, 2017 — Wes Porter

Often found in damp gardens, a Victorian poetess elucidated:

The centipede was happy, quite
Until the toad in fun, said,
“Pray which leg goes before which?”
And she laid distracted in the ditch
Figuring how to run