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:

Questions We’re Often Asked: Horticulturalist

Nov 24, 2018 — Wes Porter

Questions We're Often Asked: Horticulturalist
Why are some people regarded as horticulturalists and others as gardeners? The smart explanation is that the former is merely a gardener with a panel van. Cute, but . . .

Go back far enough and it is suggested that gardening is the oldest occupation. (Occupation, please note; a pair of professions have been claimed to be the most ancient . . .). As with a surprising amount of the English language, horticulture finds its roots in Latin, the ancient Romans knowing more than a thing or two about the subject. Hortus then is a garden coupled with cultura or cultivation. So here we have, by extension, explanation for both horticulturalist and gardener—and are no further ahead.

Hot New Horticulture

Nov 17, 2018 — Wes Porter

A newly-discovered fungus could also assist in the battle against plastic pollution
When you graduated in horticulture from college you believed the world is your oyster plant, Tradescantia spathacea. Better to have heeded the words of wisdom from your supervisor. In a decade or so everything you have learnt will have changed.

Horticulture, and its sister science agriculture, are among the fastest growing such studies. This is what makes its offshoo, gardening the fascinating hobby that it is. Better yet, you can take it or leave it and still have a flourishing home life. Would that it be with certain other segments of society.

Happy Houseplants

Nov 10, 2018 — Wes Porter

Happy Houseplants
Over the years, these columns have recorded many a commercial attempt to relieve the black thumb brigade of their responsibilities. As Zora Neale Hurston once observed, “Trees and plants always look like the people they live with somehow.” Who wants to look like a houseplant past its prime?

Of course, today the pressure is on as never before to have rooms full of happy, healthy plants. It is a scientific fact that not only do they remove pollutants from the air, but plants contribute to mental health also. Strangely, in glossy magazine pics promoting celebrity spreads, there is all too often a dearth of greenery. Perhaps this reveals something about their mental stability. Other professionals also: “Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died,” advised the late Erma Bombeck.

Tools, Manure and Houseplants

Nov 3, 2018 — Wes Porter

Tools, Manure and Houseplants
Two and a half millennia ago the Chinese sage Confucius observed, “He who would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.” As implements are stored away for the winter clean, removing all debris, sharpen working blades and lightly oil. In the day of the use and throwaway culture it remains a truism that gardeners may be judged by the way they treat their tools—and Confucius was correct.

Questions We’re Often Asked: Talk to Your Plants

Oct 27, 2018 — Wes Porter

Talk to Your Plants
Back in 1986, Prince Charles caused a consternation. “I just come and talk to the plants, really very important . . . They respond I find,” His Royal Highness revealed during a television interview. But floral confabulation is nothing new.

Rewind back to 1848 and the noted German professor Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801-1887). In that year he published Nanna oder Über Das Seelenleben der Pflanzen (Nanna, or About the Soul-life of Plants) popularizing the idea of talking to plants. Written under the pseudonym Dr. Mises, his book went through further editions in his lifetime. Ever-popular, many have followed since, the most recent just last year in 2017. It remains widely available, including from such outlets as Indigo Books & Music.

The Phantom of the Poincianas

Oct 20, 2018 — Wes Porter

The Phantom of the Poincianas
Beneath the awesome flame-red flower display in Australia’s Top End wanders an eerie apparition. Known to longtime Darwin locals as the Poinciana Women, tales are told of her origin. But although oft alleged, she is seldom seen—or heard. Urban legend, Asian myth or historical figure?

Once upon a time, ‘tis said, a beautiful brown-skinned Malay woman was raped by a group of Japanese fishermen out on East Point.

Man Eaters and Other Nefarious Plants

Oct 15, 2018 — Wes Porter

Man Eaters and Other Nefarious Plants
Botanically boisterous and man-eating plant tales abound. Hapless horticulturists stumble on all too frequently into voracious vegetation. At least they do in fictional encounters. These are often illustrated, despite the sexist term man-eating, with amply endowed damsels in dishabille.

H. G. Wells wrote at least nine stories commencing in 1887 and a Text-Book of Biology in 1893 before his ‘The Flowering of the Strange Orchid’ (1894) was published in the Pall Mall Budget. A new species of orchid is revealed to be (gulp) carnivorous but meets its demise when its hothouse is destroyed.

Bewitching Botanicals: Plants Used by Witches

Oct 8, 2018 — Wes Porter

Plants Used by Witches
From Shakespeare through W.S. Gilbert to Sylvia Fine and Roald Dahl, witches have been all the rage—along with the occasional warlock—and the plants they used about their professional projects.

“Double, double, toil and trouble” declaim the three witches in Macbeth. “Fire burn and cauldron bubble” they continue in the great Sottish play. King James I of England (and IV of Scotland) won the label of “the wisest fool in Christendom.” His interests extending to witches—he even wrote a treatise on them—so Shakespeare gave him witches in Macbeth.


Oct 1, 2018 — Wes Porter

“As the leaves of autumn wither and fall, so has my own life become barren,” bemoaned a despondent Ludwig von Beethoven. Not so for gardeners in northern temperate climes. Fall is full of fun. In medieval England a mix of garlic and holy water drunk from a church bell was said to divest those possessed of demons—and in many parts of Canada it is municipal elections time . . . and at the end of the month deter witches by copying Ancient Greeks and hanging out strings of garlic.

Questions Asked: Can Caterpillars Predict Weather?

Sep 29, 2018 — Wes Porter

caterpillar, Isabella Tiger Moth
Can a caterpillar predict coming winter weather? Since the 1600s, North American folklore holds that the larvae of the Isabella Tiger Moth, Pyrrharctia isabella, can do just that. But be warned: the sharp hairs of woolly bear caterpillars, as they are popularly called, while not poisonous may cause dermatitis in sensitive people.

The moth is native to southern Canada and the United States. Its larvae, a couple of inches long, forage on a wide range of trees and plants such as burdock, clover, dandelions and nettles. In the garden they may be found feeding on asters, green vegetables, herbs, sunflowers and violets, amongst others. The covering of spiny hairs may fluctuate in colour, although generally blackish at either end dividing a reddish-brown middle stripe.

The Yellow Birch of Quebec

Sep 22, 2018 — Wes Porter

The Yellow Birch is Quebec's provincial tree
The Yellow Birch is Quebec’s provincial tree. In French-Canadian it is merisier, much to the confusion of visitors from France where merisier means wild cherry. If that isn’t enough to sow confusion, bothersome botanists and troublesome taxonomists have been at it again. What was simply and sensibly until a few years ago was Betula lutea—in other words, Birch yellow—has been reclassified as Betula alleghaniensis—Birch Allegheny.

In fact, Yellow Birch is centred on the Great Lakes regions eastwards through la belle province to the Maritimes with a southward spur along the cooler, moister parts of the Appalachian Mountains.

The Fathers of the Tulip Business

Sep 15, 2018 — Wes Porter

The Fathers of the Tulip Business
The Persians cultivated wild bulb flowers, notably the tulip from 10th century. The very word ‘tulip’ derives from the Persian word for turban. There, it has never lost its appeal and today is Iran’s national flower.

The Ottoman Turks took to cultivating spring bulbs on a grand scale—especially cyclamen, daffodil, hyacinth and, most popular the tulip. Tens of thousands of wild tulip bulbs were dug up annually to be planted in royal gardens, records botanist Anthony Huxley. It was this flower which gave Europe its first specialty, reaching Holland in 1562, he noted. Earlier in the same century, Western diplomats to the Ottoman court observed and reported on them.

The Best of Bulbs

Sep 8, 2018 — Wes Porter

The Best of Bulbs
Perhaps because they are native to Western Europe, daffodils never received the adulation that was awarded to the more eastern-dwelling tulip. Nevertheless, to the leader of the Ottoman Turks, it was the daffodil that ruled the courts flanking the Bosporus in the 16th century. And the greatest of these were those of Suleiman, the kanuni or “Lawgiver” as he was known to his admiring citizens, or the “Magnificent” to peoples of the West who have tended to admire militant conquerors.


Sep 1, 2018 — Wes Porter

Will this be a bad winter? If your carrots grew deep, onions have more layers, the sweet potatoes have tougher skins, apples have matured early, while the hickory nuts have a heavy shell, then ancient wisdom warns that to prepare for a worst winter. Or perhaps you place your faith in the weather wonks, global warming and plain luck.

Questions Asked: US Measurements, Metric, a Botanist

Aug 31, 2018 — Wes Porter

From Australia to Afghanistan, Zambia to New Zealand the world measures in metric. Except that is, for Liberia, Burma and, of course, the world’s scientific leader, the United States of America. Why, we are often asked?

Since this involves a famous botanist, we are happy to explain. And for those of you who have no interest in botanists, also involved are pirates, politicians and republicans (French this time). But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The Iceland Greenhouse

Aug 27, 2018 — Wes Porter

The Iceland Greenhouse
Fancy some tomato ice cream? Or how about a slice of green tomato and apple pie. Either could be washed down with a shot if tomato schnapps. If so, you’ll have to travel to southern Iceland. There, an hour’s drive east of the capital Reykjavik in Fridhemar Fridheimar, Reykholt, is a greenhouse business with a difference.

Garden Progenitor: Where It All Began

Aug 25, 2018 — Wes Porter

Garden Progenitor: Where It All BeganAlthough gardening dates to Neolithic times, notes Edward Hyams in his classic A History of Garden and Gardening (1971), ornamental gardening is a product of urban civilization. The first makers of those gardens were ancient Mesopotamians, he says, in the ‘land between the rivers.’

Edible Acorns: Nutty Nosh

Aug 18, 2018 — Wes Porter

Edible Acorns
Acorn “coffee” was drunk in South by Scarlett O’Hara and her Confederate compatriots. For Turks, acorns yielded raccabout. Under pressure of World War II, Germans drank Eichel kaffee. Hitler deserved it, opined physician and author Richard Gordon. And according to the ineffable Pamela Michaels, the English used oak leaves to make wine.

But before these more recent times, acorns played an important in early gastronomic human history. Neolithic lake dwellers in Switzerland collected acorns ashore, losing some of them in the mud below their homes to be preserved to modern times. Lower classes as far apart as ancient Greece and Japan fed on the nutritious nuts. Roman researcher Pliny the Elder wrote that acorn flour could make bread. He neglected to report if he himself ate it. In California before the arrival of white colonists, Native Americans positively thrived on acorns. Spreading the harvest over several species, they formed a staple diet for a population estimated to have been in the tens if not hundreds of thousands.

Vanilla Insufficiency

Aug 11, 2018 — Wes Porter

Vanilla InsufficiencySpeculation? Meteorology? Theft? Poor cultural practices? Unstable supply? Increased demand? By end of March this year there was said to be a shortage of real vanilla, one of the world’s most desirable spices. Prices were being quoted at US$600 per kilogram compared with US$540 for a similar weight of silver.

Yet two months earlier, as the new year began, industry source Food Processing, was reporting price and supply were stabilizing. A year before, main supplier Madagascar had been hot by a serious cyclone. Experts predicted one-third of the island’s vanilla crop was destroyed. Yet the impact was not so heavy, according to Aust & Hachmann, a Quebec vanilla bean broker. Nevertheless, warned Food Processing, ‘this is a market that has been notoriously unstable.’


Aug 4, 2018 — Wes Porter

Long before multimedia and the internet, to the print press August was the ‘Silly Season.’ And as the planet revolves so does such return at least thanks to Frederik Busch. The German photographer uses his art to explore the identity and personalities of office plants, according to The New York Times. Indeed, says Herr Busch, “I have a sensitivity for plants,” and he has published an illustrated book to prove it, at least to his own satisfaction. Udo will soon be going to primary school, but Anna can already read. Doreen likes to party, and Irmfried is disoriented. Of course, Udo is a rubber plant, Anna a heart-leafed philodendron; Doreen a ponytail palm and Irmfried a succulent. These plants have no less personality than their human counterparts. Sabine, a spider plant, adores dancing. There are more. Frankly, none look particularly healthy. In fact, by the time your read this they have in all likelihood gone to the great green compost heap in the sky.