A couple of weeks ago we met with a windstorm that took a toll on some of the big trees of Seattle. In the Medicinal Herb Garden, a large, upright branch of a deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) came down on the southwest edge of Cascara Circle.
Maybe this pair lost their nest tree in the storm and were out searching for a new home, when out of nowhere popped the paparazzi. I tried to be discreet but they wanted none of it. Usually people move away from raccoons. They seemed uncomfortable with my breech of protocol as I moved closer to snap their picture.
I once tried to shoo a raccoon off my enclosed front porch. It was eating the garbage from a garbage bag I’d put there…to keep it away from the raccoons. The intrepid, wily omnivore got on the porch by pulling open the screen door. So I opened the kitchen window a crack and thrust a broomstick out to jab it and scare it off. It grabbed the broomstick with its teeth and tried to pull it out of my hands, then charged me when I wouldn’t relent. That was enough for me and I retreated. Raccoons are tenacious.
And so are some seeds, clinging to dormancy when they should be germinating. Starting seeds seems like a pretty simple proposition. If you’re starting broccoli seeds, it is. Your wait will be short and your rate of germination will be high. But wild plants can be a bit trickier. They exist beyond the pale of human selection, so they have evolved in environments with very specific natural conditions. What months does the rain fall, and how much rain? How cold are the winters and how long? In what sort of soil do they grow? How hot are the summers, what is the elevation and latitude, which herbivores (if any) consume and spread the plants’ seeds, etc., etc. There are many pieces to the puzzle of how to propagate wild plants from seeds, trying to replicate the conditions of their natural habitat. Some are so easy and some are so hard. Cracking the code of how best to germinate seeds (and keep them alive) is the mission of plant propagators everywhere. Patience can pay off sometimes.
I received and quickly planted these Eleutherococcus henryi seeds in March of 2014. They got ninety days of cold (in the refrigerator) then proceeded to do nothing all summer in the hoop house behind the greenhouse. The next winter they got five months of cold and still there was no action that spring and summer. This winter, they got another five months in the refrigerator. When I pulled them out in late February, I had low expectations. Then they all started to sprout. So it took three winters and two summers, plus scarification with some rough sand paper (Eleutherococcus seed coats are hard) before sowing to get these plants started. You can see all the moss that has grown on the flat. I broke it up each spring to make it easier for the seedlings to grow through.
More perennials are emerging from their underground dormancy. This week we’re supposed to have temperatures pushing 70 F.
March is a transition month here. Most of it is technically winter but gardeners in the Pacific Northwest know that spring begins long before March 20.
Speaking of the Araliaceae, in a nearby bed is one of its more charismatic members, the Siberian ginseng, a tough, spiny shrub. Common names are often confusing. Though it is called ginseng, E. senticosus is in a different genus than the plants we normally call ginseng. Those plants, both the Old World Panax ginseng and related species, and the New World Panax quinquefolius, are herbaceous perennials, not shrubs.
The other skunk cabbage, from eastern North America, is smaller and less striking (though these are just two years old) than our western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). Both fall into the category of marginal survival foods (after cooking) of last resort. As we mushroomers say, better kicked than picked.
Camphor tree is a native of eastern Asia, from warm temperate zones to the tropics. An essential oil with a wide range of medicinal uses is extracted from the leaves and twigs. A really cold spell here in winter can kill off much of the top growth. We’re not quite zone 9 yet. But we’re getting there…
rain and hail today
tomorrow sunny and warm
fickle days of March
See you in the garden.