It’s almost Halloween and look who’s back.
Barred owl (Strix varia) in woods north of Cascara Circle.
A barred owl was often around the Medicinal Herb Garden in 2013, but not so much in 2014. They’re good ratters and it’s exciting to see one in the garden. Owls are magical birds in myth and lore. They seem to have the power to hypnotize other birds as they sit in a tree, impassively waiting for night to fall. Two years ago, in woods adjacent to the Medicinal Herb Garden, a group of garden visitors and I watched two crows, a Steller’s jay, a hummingbird and a robin all perched on a branch and staring at another branch a few feet away, on which perched a barred owl who appeared to be casting a spell over them. The crows and jays normally make a racket around birds of prey, but they seemed calm, unconcerned and even entranced. If I hadn’t seen it I might not have believed it. Maybe our barred owl is a bard owl.
Some people in the Pacific Northwest don’t like barred owls because they have expanded their range from the east to the west and are alleged to be displacing the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis ssp caurina). It appears they are guilty on both counts…but it’s not their fault. The most popular natural history narrative seems to be that they stayed on the eastern half of the continent for thousands of years because Native Americans kept the Great Plains as grassland by regularly setting fires. As the story goes, the treeless plains acted as a barrier for the owls. But European settlers planted trees as they spread their homesteads, then towns and cities, westward. The barred owls followed the trees and the rats that came with the humans and their farms. A few land managers have recently tried killing barred owls in spotted owl habitat but that could be a difficult management strategy to maintain (owls can fly, after all…). I haven’t heard of any spotted owls on campus so I’m pulling for you, barred owls.
Earlier in the week, I harvested the biggest pomegranate in the Medicinal Herb Garden. I wanted to wait but it had a brown spot on the rind and I didn’t want to lose the fruit to rot.
Ready or not…
…it’s time for the table.
It’s red inside. Good sign!
At some point, you have to rip it apart and start eating.
To be honest, it was a bit tart, tarter than a pomegranate should be, in my opinion, and the seeds were proportionally bigger in the red, juicy arils than they are in the best store-bought pomegranates. But the most mature Medicinal Herb Garden pomegranate shrub is producing larger, juicier fruit every year and there are three younger shrubs growing on the garden’s borders.
The heat and drought this summer caused some plants to slow down and stop flowering…only to begin flowering again, much later, as the rains and cooler temperatures returned.
Purple poppymallow (Callirhoe involucrata) flowering again on October 21.
And the European cranberry bush/crampbark (Viburnum opulus) is flowering right now on the border of section C. It normally blooms in May and June and it did that, but here it is, doing it again. If it’s happened before, I haven’t noticed.
This common dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) on the western border of the woods to the north of Cascara Circle has not, that I’ve seen, flowered a second time in autumn…until now.
Even the asafoetida (Ferula asafoetida) is springing back into action with new flowers. This picture was taken on October 20.
Slender cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis) normally flowers in early summer. This did and…yes, you guessed it, it’s flowering again in late October.
ditto the arnica (Arnica montana)…
…and this western snakeroot (Ageratina occidentalis).
I’m sure I missed other unusual plant behavior. I’ll be interested to see what changes the spring has to show in the garden. Because each year in the Medicinal Herb Garden I collect seeds for our international seed exchange program, I have written records of seed collection dates and whether there was a lot, a little or no seed collected each year from each species. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to study patterns of flower and seed production from year to year. It’s hard enough keeping the soil and plants healthy.
The spiders are looking great, as always. Though giant house spiders running along the walls and floors still give me the creeps, I love to have spiders in the garden. Talk about persistence and focus. Bash through their webs accidentally, as I do almost every day, and they’re already starting repairs.
Zen master spider
Ever at ease and ever ready; let that be a model for all of us.
I’ve not managed to penetrate the complexities of spider taxonomy…yet. But I’m working on it. Seems like these are some sort of garden orb weavers…or something.
Behold a Halloween miracle in the garden shed: the grannyvine that wouldn’t die. I needed to plant clover in its bed so I snipped the plants off at the soil level, then carried their tripod trellis into the garden shed. That was a month ago but…
…it kept on flowering. This picture was taken on October 15, a month after I put them in the shed.
And this was on October 21. If the undead are to inhabit the garden, it might as well be the beautiful grannyvine whose seeds have been used traditionally in central and southern Mexico as a sacred substance to be ingested before shamanic rituals.
Right on schedule, just as frost threatens and the pollinators are preparing for winter rest, out pop the monk’s hood/fu zi (Aconitum carmichaelii) flowers. Section F is a bit of an underdog, surrounded by big trees and somewhat hidden from view, but the fu zi catches the eyes of strollers in October. It is a powerful plant which can be quite poisonous, even in small doses, but its roots are used as an effective heart medication in traditional Chinese medicine.
Monk’s hood/fu zi flowers holding down the fort in section F.
And last but not least, I recently had the privilege of attending the Dandelion Seed Conference in Olympia, Washington. I was impressed by the herbalists, growers and wildcrafters attending the conference, the excellent presenters (I met Mimi Kamp! Yes, that Mimi Kamp.) and the organizers who made things run so smoothly. The conference was a benefit for the Olympia Free Herbal Clinic.
Olympia has a free herbal clinic right downtown. Free, as in all of the dedicated herbalists and support people donate their time for the cause. Take a walk through downtown Olympia and you will see a lot of homeless people, many of them quite young. Living on the street takes a toll on the body and the spirit and, homeless or not, there aren’t a lot of alternative health care options when you’re uninsured and unemployed or low-income. Please give generously to this excellent community health clinic if you have the interest and the resources. Their services are free but their rent isn’t. The clinic is a beacon of light far beyond the city limits of Olympia. I hope their model can be widely replicated, especially in Seattle, where homelessness and drug addiction, especially to heroin, are the worst I’ve seen in my 31 years here. The wave of wealth that has swamped this town in recent years has not lifted all boats, but capsized many and, to torture the nautical metaphor even further, left many high and dry. Something is seriously wrong in a city where rents for long-term tenants can double when a new owner buys a building. A lot of people are in need of some healing (and affordable homes, not just tents by the freeway off-ramps).
in cool forest shade
crouched beside oplopanax
taking just enough
See you in the garden.