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:

Chinese Plant of Longevity

Jul 21, 2018 — Wes Porter

Qin Shi Huang Handan, first Emperor of China and Founder of Qin Dynasty is best known today for his fantastic 6,000 terra cotta guards of honour in the afterlife at his Xi’an mausoleum. Some years before this, seeking an elixir to achieve immortality, he dispatched searchers for such a long-believed Plant of Longevity.

Encouraged by the magicians, necromancers and soothsaying sycophants that infested the Imperial Court, the emperor commanded the navigator and explorer Hsu Fu from Zhifu Island on the coast to search the lands of the Eastern Sea. Thus, Hsu set out in 219 BC to fulfill his master’s commands.

Questions We’re Often Asked: Walnut Allopathy

Jul 15, 2018 — Wes Porter

Questions We're Often Asked: Walnut Allopathy
Walnut trees are wonderful—so long as they aren’t pounding people or their vehicles. Or preventing gardeners from growing prized plants in their proximity.

Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder knew all about this. “The shadow of walnut trees is poison to all plants within its compass, and it kills whatever it touches,” he observed in his Historia Naturalis.

A Kick in the Ash

Jul 8, 2018 — Wes Porter

A Kick in the Ash
Fraxinus are threatened with extinction. North American species are under attack by an invasive East Asian beetle. In Europe, native ash is being decimate by a fungus, also apparently from the East. Despite dire and increasingly ominous warnings, most people seem entirely oblivious to these threats.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the various species of ash have long been valued as both ornamental and timber trees. The European Ash, Fraxinus excelsior, is also steeped in mythology. It provided the wood for the spear hafts of Beowulf and King Arthur. Robin Hood and Little John dueled with quarter staves of F. excelsior—movies invariably depict such incorrectly. The resilient and shock-absorbing wood made it ideal for lances in the days of chivalry. Less militaristically, ash provided poles to grow hop vines on and for walking sticks. All this despite that most ash are dioecious—they may change sex with age from male and hermaphrodite to female. The winged seeds, or samura, in times gone by were recommended for flatulence; even pickled.

Hosta to Replace Romaine Lettuce

Jul 1, 2018 — Wes Porter

Hosta to Replace Romaine Lettuce
A rope placed around the garden will keep out snakes or in warm climes, planting lemon grass, Cymbogon, will achieve the same. Forget it—neither work. Nor will placing plastic jugs of water keep dogs off lawns or sprinkling sugar or baking soda on the soil produce sweet tomatoes. Down Under, Australians have recommended boiled onions to cure worms in children—see your family physician instead. And French-Canadian lumberjacks believed that any woman who passed near a jack pine, Pinus banksiana, would become permanently sterile—but there remains no shortage of Quebecois.

Acorns, Deer, Mice and Lyme Disease: Tick This

Jun 23, 2018 — Wes Porter

TICKS, Lyme disease
Juliet Rose, from Harrow, UK, is 25 years old, weighs just 70-pounds, is confined to a wheelchair and can no longer eat solid food because of her Lyme disease. She believes she has harboured the infection, spread by ticks, since childhood. Juliet has not long to live.

“This is an illness that has been minimized, underestimated, and politicized,” says investigative reporter May Beth Pfeiffer in her new book, Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change. Non-specific symptoms and other complexities make tackling Lyme a formidable challenge.

Cottonwood & North America’s Fluffy Streets

Jun 16, 2018 — Wes Porter

Eastern Cottonwood
Trees ensure distribution of their seeds in many ingenious ways. Maples and ash produce whirring propellers; oaks drop acorns; apples tasty fruit. Then there is the Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides. It packs tiny seeds in billows of white fluff. These drift the wind to optimistically fall on fertile soil in an acceptable location. And, as with most such tree prolific productions, almost none succeed.

The creation of such is the responsibility of female trees, for the Eastern Cottonwood is dioecious, having separate male and female trees. It is also known as Carolina Poplar, Southern Cottonwood, Plains Cottonwood, Yellow Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood, Whitewood, and Necklace Poplar. Botanists also argue over the trees which, like all Populus, hybridize gleefully. This does nothing for the botanically-inclined state of mind. They do agree, however, Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii, is a distinct species. Named after explorer of the western United States John Charles Fremont the tree grew in a grove where Spanish settlers in 1836 founded a mission called Alamo.

Pigs, Potatoes and a War

Jun 9, 2018 — Wes Porter

Pigs, Potatoes and a War
A porker loose in a potato patch and a pair of pig-headed leaders nearly provoked a war between Britain and the US. It was only diverted when less rambunctious admiral refused to “involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig”

The obscure squabble has gone down in history as ‘The Pig and Potato War.’ It commenced with what seemed at the time to finally settle the Canada, or British North America as it was then known, border with the United States. In 1846 the two nations signed the Oregon Treaty signed agreeing on the 49th parallel ‘to the Pacific.’ Once reaching the ocean, the treaty stated the border to run through ‘the middle of the channel separating the continent from Vancouver’s Island.’

Strawberries are not Berries

Jun 2, 2018 — Wes Porter

Strawberries are not Berries
June is designated, amongst others, as Strawberry Month. Bernard le Bovier de Fontanelle, French writer and gourmand, who died in 1757 one month short of his hundredth birthday, attributed his longevity to the luscious fruit. Strangely, strawberries consist of more water, 90%, than most other popular fruits: apple, pear, plum, peach, cherry, blueberry, raspberry, cranberry, blueberry or blackberry. Worse yet, strawberries, botanically at least, are not true berries, bearing their seeds on the outside. Neither are raspberries and blackberries, also being deficient in this respect. Instead, they are ‘aggregate fruits.’ But still delicious.

Questions We’re Often Asked: Aphids

May 31, 2018 — Wes Porter

Questions We're Often Asked: Aphids
You are admiring the roses when you notice what appear to be flecks of white cotton. Closer inspection reveals the stems crawling with green bugs: aphids. The white flecks are their moulted skins.

The roof of your car, parked under shade trees, is covered with a sticky coating. Lick your finger and the substance tastes sweet: aphids. The substance is called ‘honey dew.’ You’ve been shat upon from a great height.

The World’s Most Dangerous Animal

May 27, 2018 — Wes Porter

The world’s most dangerous animals—causing more deaths per year than any other creature—is the mosquito. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mosquito bites result in several million human deaths every year, the majority from malaria, but also from dengue, yellow fever and other mosquito-borne diseases.

Even if we do not reside where 40 percent of the world’s population is so threatened, mosquitoes can make gardening unpleasant and, at times, nigh on impossible.

Parks & Planting: King Charles II

May 26, 2018 — Wes Porter

Parks & Planting: King Charles II
It may have started for the Merry Monarch up an oak tree. Having lost out at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, Charles II was forced to hide up in the branches of a Boscopel oak while the bushes below him were beaten by Parliamentary forces.

Certainly, he was to be noted for his appreciation of trees when he regained the throne almost a decade later. Founder of London’s famed modern public park system, his aboral activities were well appreciated by none other than the great horticulturist John Evelyn. “You are our God of the forest-trees, King of the grove, as having once your Temple, and court too under that Holy Oak which you consecrated with your presence,” quoth the diarist in the dedication of his classic volume Sylva (1664). True, Charles may be better known for appreciation of the feminine form, but this is better told elsewhere.

Veggie Aphrodisiacs

May 19, 2018 — Wes Porter

Veggie Aphrodisiacs
“Erection is chiefly caused by parsnips, artichokes, turnips, asparagus, candied ginger, acorns bruised to powder drunk in muscatel,” explained the Greek scientist and philosopher Aristotle, 384-22 B.C.

Such aphrodisiacs owe their name to another even more ancient Greek, the goddess of love Aphrodite. Every culture has had suggestions. On examining English herbals, it often appears that almost any plant was, at one time or another, so designated. This may offer an explanation why such a tiny archipelago remotely located off the northwest shores of Europe has producing so many citizens.

In these times of increasing concern over the influence of diet on health and being encouraged to eat more vegetables, it is not a little assuaging to realize that many such have also been recommended as aphrodisiacs.

Accepting Asparagus

May 12, 2018 — Wes Porter

Accepting Asparagus
“Marriage? It’s like asparagus eaten with vanaigrette or hollandaise, a matter of taste but no importance,” opined Fran√ßoise Sagan (1935-2004), French playwright and screenwriter of Bonjour Tristesse.

Nevertheless, the French have had a thing for asparagus ever since it infiltrated their border with Spain following the Arab conquest of the Iberian Peninsular.

Annuals for Shade

May 6, 2018 — Wes Porter

Annuals for Shade
It is the cri de coeur of gardeners far and near: “What grows in the shade?” Surprisingly plenty, although it requires much peering at plant labels in the garden centre to determine which annuals are candidates for shadowed installations.

Unfortunately, we must give a pass to that great old standby, Impatiens. Overuse has made them almost certainly to succumb to an unpleasant and all-pervasive pathogen. Many retailers will not even stock them or else warn customers of the hazard.

Tulip Time and Tomato Preparation

May 5, 2018 — Wes Porter

“Apart from cheese and tulips, the main product of the country is advocaat, a drink made from lawyers,” claimed Alan Coren of Holland in The Sanity Inspector, ‘All You Need to Know About Europe.’ (1974). Perhaps, but in gratitude for sheltering members of their royal family during World War II, the Dutch made a gift of tulip bulbs to Ottawa. Canada’s drab, grey bureaucratic heart has never looked back. Every May the city’s parks and gardens come alive with hundreds of thousands of tulips, the world’s largest display. Not a wonder that Canada’s capital is rated among the world’s twenty most livable cities.

Questions We’re Often Asked: Dutch Elm Disease

Apr 28, 2018 — Wes Porter

Questions We're Often Asked: Dutch Elm Disease
It is considerably unfair that this devastating disease is so named. First officially identified in France in 1918, soon after that in Holland, Belgium and Germany, it had reached England by 1927. But it was Dutch botanists who discovered the cause: a pathogenic fungus, Ceratocystis ulmi, spread by two beetles, Scolytus multistriatus and S. scolytus.

It emigrated from Europe to the United States in 1930 through a shipment of logs unloaded in New York and destined for Ohio. By the 1940s it was infecting Ulmus americana from Quebec to Kentucky; a decade later it was identified as far west as Kansas. The battle lines are now drawn in Saskatchewan cities where detection and immediate removal of infected specimens is currently holding it at bay.

Hi-Rise Horticulture

Apr 22, 2018 — Wes Porter

Hi-Rise Horticulture

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
“I live with my brat in a high-rise flat,
So how in the world would I know?”

Oh Mary, Mary of the black-thumb brigade, by Roald Dahl, how you have been mislaid. In fact, unlike for your soil-breaking brethren at ground level, there are many advantages to high-rise horticulture.

Paper Birch

Apr 22, 2018 — Wes Porter

Paper Birch
“The birch path is one of the prettiest places in the world,” observed Lucy Maud Montgomery in her classic Anne of Green Gables. Artists Tom Thomson and Lawren Harris both painted birch growing in natural settings. Certainly, whether in a garden setting or wild in the woods, there is something about birch that appeals to the Canadian psychic.

These, of course, are the classic Paper Birch, Betula papyrifera, also known as the Canoe Birch.

Lawn Mowing Safety

Apr 15, 2018 — Wes Porter

Lawn Mowing Safety
Ah spring . . . the whirring of lawnmowers . . . the smell of fresh cut grass . . . the sirens of ambulances carrying the injured away . . .

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year, 800 children are run over by riding lawn mowers or small tractors and more than 600 of those incidents result in amputation; 75 people are killed and 20,000 injured . . . one in five deaths involves child . . . More than 80,000 people go to the emergency room each year because of lawn mower injuries . . . leading cause of injuries is debris thrown by the blades . . . in a single year 810 people were treated in Ontario emergency rooms for injuries caused by lawnmowers . . . in the main men . . . children younger than 15 and adults over 60 predominate . . . 70% of people use gas-fueled mowers, 15% electric, and just 4% use a manual-propelled mower.

Mycoheterotrophs: A Wander in the Woods

Apr 14, 2018 — Wes Porter

Mycoheterotrophs: A Wander in the Woods
Botanists studying mycoheterotrophic plants were recently excited by the discovery of one missing for some 150 years. Thismia neptunis was first found in 1866 in the wilds of Sarawak. Now Czech researchers have announced its rediscovery in the journal Phytotaxa.

If you like to wallow in the weird, you’ll rejoice in mycoheterotrophs. Better yet, you don’t have to risk visiting remote rainforests to discover examples. A wander through local woods could prove rewarding.