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Pansies, marigolds are ugly flowers

by:  SUBMITTED PHOTO Lake Oswego resident Jack Carter feels that “pansy/marigold landscaping is a waste.” And, “if the city insists on doing it, the least we ought to be able to expect is some results to show for it, and this year there weren’t.   The crop was a failure.” The photo above was taken at the intersection of  Boones Ferry and Country Club roads several months after planting, he said.

Spring's officially here. I know this because the city had an eight-person crew out planting hundreds of orange marigolds on Bangy Road last Thursday. A couple of months ago there was some hope of ending this what's-the-point landscaping ritual when the city council discussed cutting the expense of planting thousands of yellow pansies in the fall then repeating that process with orange marigolds in the spring.

But apparently the nursery lobby convinced the council it was more important to have thousands of school-bus yellow pansies than to make sure Lake Oswego schools had actual school buses. Given the financial woes the city and our schools face now, the fact that we've spent in excess of $1 million on here-today, gone-tomorrow municipal landscaping over the last decade seems like a profoundly poor use of taxpayer money.

Since ornamental flowers don't yet have the right to sue for libel, I'll be direct: Yellow pansies and marigolds (of any color) are two very ugly flowers. There's a good reason pansies and marigolds mark the entrances to wastewater treatment plants, penitentiaries and landfills: No flowers better announce your arrival at a grim, joyless place than pansies and marigolds.

Some 30 years ago, cities, parks, and businesses around the world began recognizing more imaginative landscaping choices than pansies and marigolds. Even in Lake Oswego, good examples exist of landscaping with perennials and shrubs that don't require replanting twice a year, and that don't need the constant water, fertilizer and tending that pansies and marigolds demand. Unlike pansies and marigolds, these sustainable options look good year-round. Even pansy enthusiasts (assuming they exist) can't dispute that this year's crop of pansies - finally put out of its misery this week - was a complete failure, even by pansy standards. Taxpayers spent tens of thousands of dollars planting and tending this winter's pansies, but by late March, some five months after being planted, and with only a few sparse blooms to show for it, it was clear we didn't get our money's worth.

The most puzzling thing about the city's biennial affair with pansies and marigolds is that it happens right alongside the city's relentless talk about sustainability. If there were a pageant for unsustainable landscaping choices, pansies and marigolds would always win the queen and first runner-up awards. Sustainable landscaping, on the other hand, would mean using perennials and shrubs that last for years with minimal tending, minimal watering and minimal fertilization. It's way past time for the city to talk less about sustainability, and do more that actually demonstrates sustainability. It would save taxpayers money, not to mention improve the appearance of the city's landscaped 'entrance' areas.

Jack Carter is a resident of the Lake Grove district in Lake Oswego.