Dazzling colors, grape mystery, coyotes and raccoons

The fall colors have been the best I’ve seen in over thirty years living in Seattle.

The sugar maple (Acer saccharum), whose shadow is the bane of the nearby olive trees’ (Olea europaea) existence, has nearly redeemed itself this year.

If something has to block the light, it might as well be this sugar maple.

For the first time, the vine maple (Acer circinatum) in Cascara Circle turned red.

The dependably colorful staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is dependable still. The yellow shrub behind it is western sweetshrub (Calycanthus occidentalis).









Morning light on the oak (Quercus sp.) west of Cascara Circle. Morning light is one of the great things in life.

That same morning light on the paper birch (Betula papyrifera) north of Cascara Circle.

Blueberry (Vaccinium sp.) foliage in border area.








The California wild grapes (Vitis californica) finally ripened up:

Looking good, but…

…a few days later, this was all that was left. Some of the clusters were 12 feet off the ground and every grape was gone. Weird. Someone suggested an opossum (Didelphis virginiana). Maybe. If a human had gathered them, they would have picked whole clusters and needed an orchard ladder. I’ve seen starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) remove most of the fruit off a fig tree in a day so maybe starlings. Hmm. Another garden mystery.

I picked a big bunch of grapes before they disappeared. No, that’s not the early stage of wine making, just fermentation to help prepare the seeds for faster germination.









The mature fruit of the Chilean myrtle are not worth the trouble, in my opinion. They can’t compare to the Chilean guava (Ugni molinae) and aren’t much better than the common myrtle fruit (Myrtus communis).

The Chilean guavas are so good that the rabbits were gnawing off the branches to get the fruit. Grrr…

Extreme measures saved the day. It will be a very strange herb garden if everything the rabbits like to eat must be protected with hardware cloth.









The coyote (Canis latrans) appears to have moved on for now. Either that or s/he has lost interest in the lure. Here are the last photos (for now).

Infrared activated at 10:24 am. Seems like there would have been enough light for a color shot by then.


Another infrared shot, a minute later.

This one, taken within ten seconds, is in color. Go figure. This trail camera is rugged but it’s not exactly known for image quality. It’s possible the light changed slightly or the light meter just isn’t very good. Assuming it might be stolen or destroyed, I aimed for an inexpensive model. It’s fine for identification, my main concern.










And good enough to show what raccoons (Procyon lotor) are up to when we’re not around. At night they stand on their hind legs and discuss strategy.


That’s what passes for the news around here.









at ease around us

furry and adaptable

some call them critters






See you in the garden.

P.S. – For no apparent reason,very recently,  the strange spacing of the text and pictures being displayed in published blog posts is different from what I’m actually posting as drafts. Even old posts have changed in the archive. I’m not sure if this has to do with a recent WordPress update, but I don’t really care how it looks, just letting you know. Nothing has disappeared as far as I can tell.





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Harvest days and coyote nights

After numerous reports of coyote sightings near the Medicinal Herb Garden, the time finally came to set up a camera in adjacent woods and hope the scent of several brands of dog food and dog treats made of lamb, beef, pork and salmon and far too many cereal fillers, would be enough to entice him or her close to be photographed. It was.

Testing…ok, camera works. Good.

Seems like s/he sees the slight glow of the infrared lights.

The lure is wrapped securely in hardware cloth and staked to the ground, so there’s no reward. It’s just another stop on the evening rounds.








So close and yet so far; it’s time to move on and find a real meal. So long, bright eyes.

The previous week, a can of tuna, punctured downward and nailed to the ground, was enough to warrant a closer look.

…and a little marking of the territory.







From early this morning, a pretty good profile shot. S/he seems to be getting comfortable with the camera site and the scent of humans is everywhere so that’s probably not a problem. In the wilderness it might be more difficult.

Along with several shots of a rabbit, a rat and several raccoons, another photo of a mysterious, unknown member of the weasel family, the Mustelidae, turned out to be a squirrel’s tail sticking upright through the ivy. Sorry, that photo was…um…accidentally deleted. Thank you to Jeff Bradley, mammalogist at the Burke Museum, for tactfully pointing out the obvious. To be honest, the mystery mustelid looked more like a sock puppet version of a mink (or maybe a marmot or a gopher), but the Nessie/Sasquatch/UFO effect of a black and white, grainy image on the imagination of an eager, hopeful viewer is powerful. Still, this early in the wildlife monitoring effort, it’s reasonable to maintain that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Hope dies last.

In plant news, the medlars (Mespilus germanica) are fruiting prolifically as they do every year. Why can’t all fruit trees be like that?

Good old medlars.

California wild grapes (Vitis californica) are abundant this year and they’re now ripe. May the birds spread their seeds to every weedy green space in Seattle. I’d rather have these vines than ivy or clematis growing into the tree canopy.

The fruit of the Chilean myrtle (Luma apiculata) are developing. Hopefully they can ripen in the cooler weather that’s approaching.








It looked like honey bees on the mao ye xiang cha cai (Isodon japonicus) but closer inspection revealed them to be hoverflies or drone flies (Eristalis tenax or something closely related). It’s absolutely maddening trying to get a focused picture of one. They barely land and they’re off again.

All show, no go. It’s a pretty convincing abdomen but there’s no stinger.

Trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata) ripened some fruit this year but also flowered  a second time after I gave it more water in midsummer. It produced another modest crop, all of which are still small and green.









Life Sciences Building will have all of its windows in soon. That should make the days a little better for the people working inside. It must be a bit of a wind tunnel in there on blustery autumn days.

Despite repeated grazing by rabbits, this royal catchfly (Silene regia) has managed to flower for the first time. Section F has been gnawed to nubbins by rabbits this year so it’s good to see something make it through.

Behold the progression toward maturity of some African horned cucumbers (Cucumis metuliferus) culled from the vines I tore down to plant crimson clover as a winter cover crop. The fruit furthest to the right is still not ripe, but, as you can see, the largest one has more smooth surface area and less that is horned. Fully ripened, they turn orange. But time ran out for these cukes.











It’s shaping up to be a good year for fall color. The cooler nights this week will help. If the heavy winds hold off until November, it could be quite a show. Do yourself a huge favor and get out and enjoy it while it lasts.






coyote trotting

at an easy pace all night

working the edges





See you in the garden.





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An eclipse, a drought, an owl, some new flowers and more

We finally got some rain and cooler temperatures after setting a new Seattle record of 56 days without rain. And many of those days were really hot. This summer there are a lot of stressed plants in Seattle.

The barred owl is back and a coyote has been seen recently in the Medicinal Herb Garden.

Barred owl (Strix varia) looking backward from a tree, west of section F…

…and looking forward. Owls can turn their heads up to 270 degrees left or right without injuring themselves. Their eye sockets are fixed, so by turning their heads, they are functionally doing what we do by turning our eyeballs in the direction we want to see. Human heads can turn up to 90 degrees left or right without injuring ourselves. No pictures yet of the coyote but I have my trail camera deployed on campus.


Though we were a bit north of the totality path of the recent eclipse, there were some unusual shadows to see, for those of us without eclipse glasses. Wandering through section E, waiting for something to happen, it finally did.

Looking up you could see an eclipse (so I hear), but looking down at the light filtered through the trees, you could see many eclipses. While taking these photographs, the garden visitors I met all seemed spellbound by these specters.









At the peak stage of the eclipse, it looked like the light on a clear day when a storm is brewing, but instead of anvil-shaped cumulus clouds blocking the sun, it was the moon. Strange sensation, a brilliant contrast of shadow and light.

Some new flowers have made their appearance this summer.

Luma apiculata (arrayán or Chilean myrtle) northwest of Cascara Circle. It’s flowering so hopefully we’ll get some fruit this fall.








Myrtus communis (common myrtle) in section C border has been around the garden for years, but notice the similarity to the flowers of the Luma apiculata. They’re in the same family, the Myrtaceae.

Metaplexis japonica (rough potato) is flowering for the first time. While photographing the flowers I made a mental note to track down the intoxicating scent from some nearby plant.

Drawing close to take this picture of the Dolichovespula maculata (bald-faced hornet), I realized the scent is from the Metaplexis flowers. They’re in section B near the…









…Aralia cordata (udo) that also attracted the bald-faced hornets. I’ve seen more of these hornets than honey bees on the garden flowers in late summer. As long as you don’t bump into their nest (I can report from experience that’s a bad idea) they seem oblivious to people, especially when they’re feeding.

Argyreia nervosa (elephant creeper) tendrils  seem to be doing some sort of interpretive dance in section A.

But what does it mean?







Stinkvine (Paederia foetida) in section B. The crushed stems and foliage give off a scent reminiscent of sour milk, enough to stimulate the gag reflex in some people.  It has many uses in Ayurvedic medicine.

Rhynchosia volubilis (lu huo) in the same bed. It’s flowering now and that might be too late to produce beans. Maybe next year.

Pollichia campestris (barley sugar bush) section A. Though they’re quite small, those white, fleshy bracts surrounding the flowers make for a sweet treat.











Grape flowers aren’t much to look at but the fruit are.

Vitis californica (California wild grape) north of Cascara Circle. Getting up into the canopy has improved their fruit production.

Immature fruit of Cucumis metuliferus (African horned cucumber) will get smoother and turn yellowish-orange with jelly-like flesh. Sometimes a few of them ripen around here.

Liriope platyphylla (wide-leaf monkey grass) isn’t a grass but a member of the Asparagaceae. Rabbits are eating it. Along with its close relatives, it is considered an ornamental plant (when it flowers) but it has traditional medicinal uses in eastern Asia.









This nest, hidden among vines on a bamboo tripod, escaped notice until after the birds had left. It was built by Psaltriparus minimus (bushtits).

Opuntia humifusa ssp. mickeymousensis (Mickey Mouse prickly pear) is an endemic from a small area southwest of Orlando, Florida. It’s finally starting to exhibit its characteristic form.

Atractylodes macrocephala (bai zhu), used in traditional Chinese medicine for all sorts of abdominal conditions, among other things, is an attractive garden plant, until…









…a rabbit decides that one bite is not enough.

Colchicum autumnale (autumn crocus or meadow saffron) in the border of section D. Colchicine, which is contained in the plant, has been used for thousands of years and is still used to treat gout. Autumn crocus is often confused with Crocus sativus (saffron crocus) but they are actually in different families. The former is in the Colchicaceae and the latter is in the Iridaceae.

This is the color of autumn. The equinox is here. Rains have cleared the forest fire smoke and the fresh, cool air is invigorating. Get out and enjoy it if you can.
















longest summer drought

river birch dropped half its leaves

then the rains returned





See you in the garden.





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Catching up

Where does the time go? The heat wave has passed, and thanks to the lady beetles, the aphid infestation of the plum trees is over. The heron chicks have fledged and the deer seems to have moved on for now. The rabbits have more or less acquired squatters’ rights in the Medicinal Herb Garden. Sure, they’ve eaten some of the planting beds bare, but the visiting public enjoys seeing them, and where would a public garden be without visitors. Next year, some of the hardest hit plants will probably have to go or be featured on the edges where it won’t be noticeable if they get nibbled away. It’s always something in a garden. At least rabbits are small. Imagine the challenges of gardening in elephant territory or being visited by a herd of hungry elk.

While leading a group from the Jackson School on a brief tour, I accidentally flushed this rascal out of a hiding place in the wild onions (Allium cernuum).

One of the fledgling herons didn’t gain enough altitude to get back to the nest on its first flight. It made it safe and sound to the ground but couldn’t get back aloft. Don’t worry, it was rescued and has probably been released to the wild by now.

It seemed to be looking at its own reflection, maybe thinking it was another heron, as it paced back and forth and kept returning to the glass.


The raccoons must have been making the rounds elsewhere but then one day,  a mother and three kits showed up in a tree by the bus stop.

This is the mother. The three little ones stayed higher up and hidden in the tree until she made sure the coast was clear.









The aphids were out of control this summer. I’ve never seen them so thickly covering a tree and they stayed for weeks, until the lady beetles and their larvae got to work.

Imagine an entire plum tree covered in aphids like these.

Lady beetle larvae in action.

Speaking of insects…

While observing these red soldier beetles , also known as black-tipped or black-footed orange beetles (Rhagonycha fulva) which were all over the asafoetida
(Ferula asafoetida)…








…I noticed this scene. It’s a very well camouflaged goldenrod crab spider (Misumena vatia)  eating a little mason bee (Osmia sp.).

North American answer to the goji berry (Lycium chinense or Lycium barbarum), this is our pale wolfberry (Lycium pallidum) in section C. It is native to northern Mexico and southwestern USA. The fresh fruit have much more robust flavor than the goji berries.

This entire photo should be covered in gotu kola (Centella asiatica) leaves lushly draped over the soil. Rabbits keep mowing them down. If you garden in Seattle and you haven’t seen rabbits yet, look for plants that have been cut off at an angle, usually a foot or less off the ground.They  will be your first indication that rabbits have arrived.










Fully open flower and opening flowers of Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia).

A most unusual flower.

Imagine a whole tree covered with them.







Or these pomegranate flowers (Punica granatum). This is a shrub that should be more widely planted in Seattle. Sometimes they even produce (barely) edible fruit.

Wild artichoke (Cynara syriaca) in section C. They look more like cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) than the globe artichokes (Cynara scolymus) that we see in the stores.

Wait until you see the flowers on this cross vine (Bignonia capreolata)…just don’t hold your breath while you wait. The good news is that the vines have gotten big and healthy. Hopefully they’re storing lots of energy for flower production one of these years. The flowers are alleged to be orange and red, fragrant and attractive to hummingbirds. They will appear when they appear.











I accidentally hit the ‘toy camera mode’ button on my camera and this is the result. It looks like it belongs at the end of the post. Perhaps, some who are inclined to such dire thoughts, might almost read it as a visual metaphor for the fate of our beleaguered insect pollinators. Perhaps.


August is a good time for a garden visit. We should have a new memorial bench in section C soon. There are fewer people on campus in summer so it’s even more peaceful and quiet than usual in the garden (construction noise excepted). Enjoy the rest of the summer.






fuzzy aperture

makes bumblebee fade to black

toy camera mode




See you in the garden

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Dear herbivores…make that deer herbivores

The growing population of rabbits in the Medicinal Herb Garden have provided a good educational experience. It’s helpful to know what they do and don’t like to eat. Luckily, most of what they eat is close to the ground, though they occasionally saw off and topple  taller plants, like valerian (Valeriana officinalis). But that is an exception to the rule. Yes, it’s a good thing that rabbits can’t climb into the shrubs and trees.

So when I noticed leaves and branch tips up high on the prune plum (Prunus domestica) and the chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) getting nibbled down to nubbins, my first thought was, “Oh no, we have flying rabbits!”. After all, the only other suspect, and equally unlikely though at least known to exist, would be a deer…on campus…in the middle of the city. Not likely. Well, likely or not, there it was one recent morning, a deer in the Medicinal Herb Garden.

Black tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus ssp. columbianus) in section B, not a flying rabbit after all.

Someone is a little camera shy.

That’s the garden shed in the background. S/he wisely chose to avoid crossing Stevens Way and took off for the woods beneath the heron rookery…









…but soon returned to the woods north of Cascara Circle, where we first met. Note the birch tree on the left. Some day there will be a bench there for deer viewing.

Couldn’t ask for a more compliant model. Deer are very good at standing still for a long time.

Lounging west of Cascara Circle, within sight of Benson Hall on late Thursday morning, much later than I would expect a deer to be out in the open in the city.








After knocking off a couple of chokeberry bushes, it’s time to rest and digest and…

…leave the garden some fertilizer.


It’s an open question, how it will work out in the garden with rabbits and deer eating many of the plants. Their pressure will almost certainly drive plant selection as I begin to exclude plants that get eaten repeatedly. It’s definitely a dynamic situation and a learning opportunity.

That’s the news. If you see beds that are a bit sparse, look closely and you might see signs of herbivory by our new residents. Or, if you visit during the twilit hours and remain still long enough you might just see an actual deer or rabbit out grazing, or a coyote, or some day, maybe even a mountain lion. The Burke-Gilman Trail that enables the four-footed herbivores to travel easily through the city, provides the same service to the four-footed carnivores. All in good time…





twilight visitors

get up early or come late

stand still and see them




See you in the garden.



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Rabbits and slugs and mandrake rustlers

This cool, rainy spring has been good for the slugs. Every year, the earliest spring plantings are a gamble. I know I could wait a bit longer to transplant seedlings into the garden but I never do. The show must go on. So the slugs and the rabbits are eating well. Luckily, rabbits are a bit finicky, more so than slugs anyway.  I’m still puzzled by how we so quickly wound up with a spreading population of eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) in Seattle. They were introduced to the state as game animals in the 1930s but were nowhere to be seen in these parts until the last few years. Suddenly they are everywhere. Maybe it just took them a while to get to the center of Seattle. Mapping their movement into new territory would be a great citizen science project.

For now, most gardeners I know are  grudgingly accepting them as new members of the local herbivores. You can spot their work by the neatly angled cuts they make with their teeth on the plant stems. Love them or hate them, they’re here, though I haven’t yet seen any where I live in Rainier Valley. Knock on wood. Seems like they’ve made it north and south around Lake Washington from the east and are pulling a pincer movement on those of us west of the lake. Applying the old lemons-into-lemonade wisdom, I humbly submit that there are many excellent recipes for rabbit in cookbooks and on the internet. The rest is up to you.

The suspect grazing on two species of Vaccinium, surrounded by Aquilegia canadensis, our eastern columbine.

I think they’re getting used to seeing me so I could take the time to zoom in. That rabbit is not going to starve to death any time soon. In fact it looks like it would make a fine addition to the stew pot.

Rabbits like to nibble many plants, fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) among them. To their credit, they left enough near the bottom for the plants to grow back… so they can have another meal, no doubt. Rabbits! Grrr.

But the world is big and rabbits are just a small part of it. What about those great blue herons (Ardea herodias)?

They look slightly out of place perched in trees.







In an oak tree (Quercus sp.) near Benson Hall, this one is breaking off a branch to add to its nest.


I hope people appreciate how lucky we are to have these beautiful birds on campus for part of the year. This image could have been lifted from an ancient Chinese scroll painting, but it was taken next to the Medicinal Herb Garden.

An eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) paid a visit and the crows finally drove it off. It’s perched to the right, in a Douglas fir tree (Pseudotsuga menziesii). This shot was taken at the edge of the heron rookery. Eagles nest nearby,  often in the big cottonwoods (Populus trichocarpa) growing near the shore of Lake Washington. Sometimes they grab heron chicks from the nest. Beats fishing I guess.











Though it has been a wintery springtime that has been hard on the poor seedlings I’ve put out, the year-round residents are flowering on schedule, more or less.

Shrubby penstemon (Penstemon fruticosus) in section C. This is the first time I’ve seen it flower. There used to be more of it but it has faded away. Maybe it’s putting its last energy into the flowers. Its proper home is on the drier east side of the Cascades where it has been put to a wide range of uses by the Colville people among others.

Flower on the medlar tree (Mespilus germanica).

Our native mountain bistort (Polygonum bistortoides) growing next to…








…our native valerian (Valeriana sitchensis) in section A. Both plants are from seeds  collected in  the Cascade Mountains.

Flowers on the western chokecherry (Prunus virginiana var. demissa) in Cascara Circle.

Pistillate catkins on the Hooker’s willow (Salix hookeriana) in Cascara Circle.








Starflower (Trientalis borealis) in Cascara Circle.

It’s a great ground cover in a woodland setting if you don’t mind that it disappears in winter.

The flowers have faded away but in their wake… some unripe fruit on the Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa). There’s one west of Cascara Circle and another north of section C.









Fading staminate catkins of the sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina). Sweetfern is in the same plant family, the Myricaceae, as the fragrant wax myrtle/bayberry (Myrica spp.). Both genera are tough as nails once established and have foliage that is fragrant when crushed. There is a Myrica californica bordering Okanagan Lane, north of Cascara Circle and several specimens of Myrica pensylvanica bordering sections B and C.

It looks like the undersea world of section C but it’s just the tips of he shou wu (Polygonum multiflorum) trying to find something to twine around.

Mason bee (Osmia sp.) at rest. It was a cold morning and I think it needed to catch some rays before heading out to do more foraging. It’s on a tea plant (Camellia sinensis).









Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) north of Cascara Circle.

Flowers and an emerging samara on the vine maple (Acer circinatum) in Cascara Circle


Oh, I almost forgot…the mandrake. Whatever magic rituals the thieves have planned, they’d best be careful. It’s a potent plant. I might have to stop growing it if people keep stealing it. That could spell doom for future Harry Potter tours.

Something about that freshly dug soil looks all wrong.

Aha! Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) rustlers have made off with the roots. It’s always something in a public garden…









Though today feels like late November, it’s supposed to warm up with clear skies by the end of the week. Almost time to put the tomatoes out, once the nights get over 50F. The young herons should start to fledge in the next month. That spectacle is always high drama if you can be there to see it. Maybe the male western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) will again stop over for a short stay at Cascara Circle, and a rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) will pass though the garden on its way to the mountains. You’ll only know if you come by for a visit.





rufous hummingbird

hovering near the nectar

zoom, off to the hills




See you in the garden.



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That was a long, cold winter

I once wrote on this blog that in Seattle, spring begins in February. Not this year. Though it has warmed and the sun has appeared often in the last few days, we just finished the coldest Seattle winter since 1985. We didn’t have much bitter cold; it never got below the low 20s, but we didn’t get any warm spells either.  Along with almost incessant rain in February and the first half of March, we got a second round of lowland snow. Thankfully, it melted quickly.

But not before someone could build a snowman in Cascara Circle.

It was actually quite beautiful for a couple of hours before the snow turned to rain.

Looking toward Cascara Circle from the west. The two very young trees in the center and left  foreground are prune plums (Prunus domestica) that I have trained to open centers for easy picking when they finally start producing fruit.

Section F view from its northeast corner. Having grown up with snowy winters, I would wish we had more snow if it didn’t cause such chaos here in hilly Seattle.  But it does and I don’t.









Remember the rabbit? I found one of its little shelters in a plant bed.

This opening is on one side of a thick, matted shrub and is lined with the silky fluff from the seed heads of nearby wild artichokes (Cynara syriaca). Looks cozy.

And this opening is on the other side of the shrub. It’s wise to have a front and a back door when you’re small and delectable to a variety of predators.

The ground is saturated. This is how the garden paths looked all of February and early March. Too bad most of our rain falls in winter when we need it least.









But the swamp-dwelling eastern skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are in their element. They’re still quite small but can be seen in section D.

Fresh growth on the rose root/golden root/Arctic root (Rhodiola rosea) in section A.

Maybe this year, the mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) in section E will produce fruit. The flowers should open any day.








When these flower buds open on the blueblossom (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus) north of section A, maybe the dark, cold days of winter will be forgotten. The large Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis) casts a lot of shade on it, so it has stretched sideways to reach the sunlight, but it has persisted for many years. It’s native habitat is California chaparral.

The new Life Sciences Building is getting bigger. This is the east side of the building on one of the few sunny days this winter. The deodar cedars (Cedrus deodara) on the north side of the building are blocking the view, so future update shots will be taken from the south side, on the Burke-Gilman Trail.

South and east sides of building from the Burke-Gilman Trail on a, you guessed it, rainy day. The Seattle skyline is currently dotted with cranes like the one in this picture. There’s a building boom going on.


The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) rookery is active again in the woods north of the Sierra redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) in section D. In recent years there have been fewer herons nesting.

Here are some of them.

No bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephala)) to defend against this morning, but they have been doing regular overflights. Heron nests are so exposed before the leaves grow back on the deciduous trees. They have to be on the lookout at all times.

Their croaking, shrieking, roaring vocalizations startle me no matter how many times I hear them, and judging by the flinching reactions of people passing by, it seems to be a primal, involuntary and universal response we have to something that sounds loud, big and ferocious, especially if it is nearby, out of sight and possibly coming our way.

In and around the garden, the plants are waking up and this is a great time to see their resilience in action as they begin to grow again while the dead and faded aerial parts from last year linger.  Any garden in a temperate zone looks a bit bedraggled in winter. Let’s call it garden bedhead. The previous year’s growth can look somewhat ratty on the herbaceous plants, but I leave it up all winter as natural habitat for the garden insects. If you were to break off a dead, winter stalk and bring it inside, you would likely see all sorts of little creatures crawling out of its nooks and crannies, ready for action. Of course that would be a mean trick to pull on them. They have a job to do outside when the weather warms up, not in a heated building in winter.

I think this is a green stink bug (Acrostemum hilare). Most of the insects overwintering here are not so large and obvious.You can afford to be obvious when no one wants to eat you because…you stink. I’ve seen quite a few of them in the last few years. In winter, when it gets really cold, they hide out in dead leaves that are still attached to plants or in piles on the ground. Though stink bugs can cause damage to orchard crops, they seem to be pretty benign in the Medicinal Herb Garden. Take the time to inspect them closely, they’re attractive insects.

It’s a bit early for the ‘official’  viewing season but this is a great time to see the garden without being overwhelmed. The few green leaves, swelling buds and blooming flowers all stand out as they won’t in another month.

Rhododendron sp. breaking into bloom, north of the garden on Stevens Way, right near…

…this loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) on the east side of Benson Hall. The pale leaves are the new growth.












see it blooming soon

Pacific rhododendron

that’s our state flower




See you in the garden.





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By any sane person’s reckoning, we just endured the most poisonous, divisive, noisy and truly bizarre presidential election and inauguration in living memory. Thankfully, it is over, though we now must confront the results of the outcome. Because this is a blog about a Medicinal Herb Garden and not a blog about politics, I will say no more about politics.

If I have any wisdom to offer (that’s questionable), it’s based on my own experience. To wit, find a quiet place, inside or outside, but a dependably peaceful and quiet place you love. Go there (even in your mind; I still return to a favorite spot in the Pasayten Wilderness that I haven’t seen in a couple of decades) for a walk or to meditate, row your boat, climb a mountain, sip tea…or whatever, but when you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that this place exists and is as real as the noise that surrounds you and will  endure much longer. Repeat as needed and return refreshed, ready to do what needs to be done. Much needs to be done.

I hope the Medicinal Herb Garden is somewhere on the list of peaceful and quiet places,

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) in fall colors.

What a perfect place for a bench.

and this year I will make it a priority to install a couple more benches. One in section C, west of Bill Talley’s bench and  another by the paper birch tree in the woods north of Cascara Circle. That tree is truly great. This campus needs more paper birches.

Okay, some news from the garden. About twenty years ago I started two Aralia spinosa plants (devil’s walking stick, Hercule’s club) in the woods north of Cascara Circle. They’re now spindly (and unphotogenic) trees, about 20 feet tall. For years I’ve unintentionally ignored them because their branches are all near the top and I guess I don’t look up enough. In recent years, seedlings and root suckers have appeared nearby and this year I finally noticed fallen branches with fruit on them. So…next year there will be Aralia spinosa seeds offered in our Index Seminum…finally.

Black drupes of Aralia spinosa have many seeds.

One of the Australian tea trees (Melaleuca alternifolia). They all came through the worst of the winter (so far) without damage. It’s been cold a lot, but luckily it hasn’t gotten much below 25 F. The manuka (Leptospemum scoparium) is also in fine shape.

All of the Melianthus major shrubs (honey bush) are looking a bit ragged but they should snap back. The Melianthus comosus (honey flower) is completely fine.

No sooner had the birds eaten the last ripe fruit than the Vaccinium ovatum (evergreen huckleberry) began to flower.  Perhaps you will consider uprooting your bug-plagued Buxus sempervirens (boxwood) and replacing it with one of these.










This is the time to see Garrya elliptica (coast silk tassel) flowering in Cascara Circle. It’s one of the great broad-leaved evergreens native to the Pacific Northwest.

If there were no other reason to visit the Medicinal Herb Garden in winter, the chance to see and hear the returning flocks of Bombycilla cedrorum (cedar waxwings) is reason enough. These were shuttling between the Acer saccharum (sugar maple) and the Camellia japonica (Japanese camellia) by the garden shed last week.














through chill winter air

a sound to silence babble

faint call of waxwings




See you in the garden.


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Happy solstice. Here are some scenes from the last few weeks in the garden.

Wild artichokes (Cynara syriaca) in the gloaming of a snowy, winter day.

In section B, looking west.

In section A looking east.







Chinese figwort or xuan shen
in section A. Ah, grey winter days in Seattle. This picture says it all.

The Standish’s honeysuckle (Lonicera standishii) is flowering along Stevens Way near Cascara Circle. It’s deliciously fragrant.

Rhododendron species in section D border, flowering in December after a warm November.








I expect Camellia japonica to flower in late winter but not like this, before solstice.

It was warm enough that the seeds of xu duan (Dipsacus asper) in section B sprouted on the plant, a phenomenon known as vivipary.

Leaves of canyon grape (Vitis arizonica) north of section B. Maybe, just maybe it will produce fruit next year.








Leaf of common greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia) changing color in section B.

Chestnut tree/bush (Castanea sativa) near the bus stop. It could be a while before it’s producing nuts but it grew a lot this year.


It’s a short post for this short, threshold day. If ever there were a time for quiet reflection, winter solstice seems like that time. Longer nights give us more time to dream, but only if we take the time for more sleep. There’s no shortage of tragic messes playing out in the world but we can’t do much about them if we’re exhausted.  On that note, I’m going to bed.




sun low in the sky

day breaks late, night comes early

that’s winter solstice





See you in the garden.

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It’s not raining

Ok, I wrote that title in a moment of irrational exuberance. It wasn’t raining at the time, in fact it was sunny outside. What a refreshing change. Well, never fear, it’s raining again now. Raining hard and all day. Last month was the rainiest on record in Seattle. We normally get about three and a half inches of rain in October, but this year we got slightly over ten inches. Though the rain and wind have knocked down many of the leaves, the fall colors were, and those that are left still are, brilliant this year (not by New England standards but exceptional for Seattle).

Slowly turning red…and staying red for a long time. That's my kind of fall shrub, except that they have a tendency to send up root suckers everywhere.

Slowly turning red…and staying red for a long time. Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a fine fall shrub, except that it has a tendency to send up root suckers everywhere.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) north of Cascara Circle. I noticed flower clusters for the first time and I immediately thought of sumac lemonade.

A couple of weeks later it’s all red. This one is north of Cascara Circle. I noticed flower clusters for the first time and I immediately thought of sumac lemonade. Maybe this would be the year.

Upon closer inspection, I realized this is a cluster of dry male flowers. Time to get a female staghorn sumac to plant nearby for its fleshy, sour clusters of drupes. Mmm.

Unfortunately, this appears to be an unpollinated female flower cluster. It’s quite dry. There are no juicy, sour drupes from which to make ‘lemonade’, though it fooled me from a distance. Time to look for a male plant. Staghorn sumac is dioecious. There are male plants and female plants, so without a nearby male plant’s pollen, the flowers on this plant will remain unpollinated.










The woods north of Cascara Circle are worth a visit any time but fall is best…

Woods and pathway north of Cascara Circle. That is an incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) in the center background, with a spice bush (Lindera benzoin) fading to yellow on the left, and a Canadian serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) turning from green to yellow to red on the right. The red in the far background is a sourwood (Oxydendrum aroreum) tree.

… because it’s beautiful, peaceful, colorful and off the beaten track there. It probably needs a bench, maybe a round bench, encircling the birch tree. Pictured is part of the woods and pathway north of Cascara Circle. That is an incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) in the center background, with a spice bush (Lindera benzoin) fading to yellow on the left, and a Canadian serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) turning from green to yellow to red on the right. The red in the far background is a sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum).

It's a small tree from eastern North America and it's young leaves are edible and both leaves and bark have been used medicinally. Something traumatic happened to this tree and it hasn't grown straight since.

Sourwood is a small tree from eastern North America and its young leaves are edible. Both leaves and bark have been used medicinally. Something traumatic happened to this tree, maybe a heavy snow early in the season or a branch falling from the nearby Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica); I really can’t remember. But it hasn’t grown straight since.

The nearby California wild grapes (Vitis californica) finally produced some fruit, high off the ground where it had climbed up nearby shrubs and trees to get more sun. Thats what wild grapes do in their native habitat and it's a good strategy. I plan to let them go feral. There were two respectable bunches of small grapes . I absentmindedly gobbled them up before it occurred to me to save the seeds for the Index Seminum program. Next year.

The nearby California wild grape plant (Vitis californica) finally produced some fruit, high off the ground where it had climbed up nearby shrubs and trees to get more sun. That’s what wild grapes do in their native habitat and it’s a good strategy, so I plan to let them go feral. There were two respectable bunches of small grapes. Someone  absentmindedly gobbled them up before realizing it would be nice to save the seeds for the Index Seminum program. Next year.












Once they were in my hand there was no hope. I ate them all.

Once they were in my hand there was no hope. I ate them all.


Not surprisingly, the heavy rains of October brought a flush of mushrooms around campus. Some white king boletes (Boletus barrowsii) popped up, along with many other edible, not-so-edible and some mind-altering specimens. A few feet from the grapes, near the white birch tree (Betula papyrifera), some birch boletes (Leccinum scabrum) appeared. They are edible, though the smaller, firmer ones are best.


A slightly tattered birch bolete. They turn grayish black when you cook them, but many people around the world enjoy eating them and other species of Leccinum. A few species can cause  gastric disturbance in some people. Always be one hundred percent sure of the mushroom species you’re about to consume, and eat just a little the first time (after thorough cooking) to see how your body reacts. Better safe than sorry.

I’d rather eat these. I took a day off and drove out to the mountains to look for matsutakes (Tricholoma magnivelare) and I’m including them in this blog post because they are medicinal (though this study was done on the similar Eurasian species Tricholoma matsutake).   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3732428/

I'd rather eat these. I took a Friday off and snuck out to the mountains to look for matsutakes (Tricholoma magnivelare).

Sometimes you find a bunch of them together. Oh, happy days.

Some of the haul.

Some of the haul.







Matsutakes can be hard to find before they break through the forest duff. These pictured below were just bumps in the soil until I moved the duff aside.


It’s often true that where there is a matsutake in plain sight, there are others hidden nearby. Mushroom picking in the mountains is time well spent. If the University of Washington ever decides to establish a rustic research station/ natural history bed and breakfast in the nearby mountains and they need an able caretaker, let it be known that I’m volunteering for that position.

But back to the Medicinal Herb Garden foods. The leccino olive (Olea europaea) produced just enough fruit…for a tapas plate. But it’s better than nothing.

They're brining in a jar in my kitchen at this moment.

They’re brining in a jar in my kitchen at this moment.

The medlars (Mespilus germanica) are reliable producers. Having tasted bland, pasty medlars from another tree and I came to appreciate what a good cultivar we have. The medlar tree is ten feet from the grapes.

The medlars (Mespilus germanica) are always reliable producers. Having tasted bland, pasty medlars from another tree, I’ve come to appreciate what a good  (though unknown) cultivar we have. The medlar tree is ten feet from the grapes.










This year, people are harvesting fruit husks (pericarps) from the Szechuan pepper trees in the Medicinal Herb Garden borders. Finally. Every autumn, these trees/shrubs produce thousands of little “peppercorns”. As the ripe, brown husks split open, the shiny black seeds often fall out on their own, but those that don’t can easily be cleaned off the husks. They won’t do any harm but are gritty and add no flavor.

The red fruit are nearly ripe, but are usually harvested when brown. That's when they split open and sometimes drop their seeds.

You can see ripe brown husks and nearly-ripe red husks as well as a few seeds in this picture. The fruit start out green in the summer.

This pomegranate shrub (Punica granatum) produced many small fruit this year. It lives near the olives on the border of section A.

This pomegranate shrub (Punica granatum) produced no large fruit but many small fruit this year. It lives near the olives on the border of section A.

False Solomon's seal (Smilacina racemosa) leaf colors fading away as they approach dormancy.

False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) leaf colors fading away as they approach dormancy. The fruit have mostly dropped but they are a sweet trail nibble when they turn red and get soft. They grow around Cascara Circle and nearby woods.










Moving east in the garden to the built environment. Behold.

Garden shed is ship shape for winter. I needed to clean it up in order to operate the seed exchange out of there for the next two winters.

Garden shed is ship shape for winter. I needed to clean it up in order to operate the seed exchange out of there for the next two winters.

Refer to a previous post to see what a feng shui disaster this space had become. I breathe a sigh of relief every time I walk in there now.

It took a year and a half of procrastinating to finally set aside an afternoon to clean and organize the place but I now breathe a sigh of relief every time I walk in.

Photos of the Life Sciences Building and Biology Greenhouse construction site become dated almost daily. Those guys work fast. But here’s a shot from over the fence a week ago.


It’s a long way down.








Experiencing winter in the garden is like stepping into another world. The space, the light and the plants all change. Wait, it’s not winter for another month and a half. For my purposes as a gardener, winter in Seattle begins in November.

Can you guess what this is? In winter, it's often hard to recognize plants we know in summer.This is balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus).

Can you guess what this is?
In their winter dormancy, it’s often hard to recognize plants we know when we see them in summer. This is balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus).

And what is this wraith in section E? The last faded leaves outline the schisandra vine (Schisandra chinensis) which finally made its way up into the hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) canopy.

And what is this wraith in section E? The last faded leaves outline the schisandra vine (Schisandra chinensis) which finally made its way up into the hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) canopy.


Note the change in leaf morphology from ovate at bottom to lanceolate at top. It’s a twiner, growing up wires suspended from a bamboo tripod.




Ji shi teng (Paederia foetida) in section B is a new addition to the garden.  Hopefully it will survive the winter outside. From temperate to tropical east Asia, this plant has many, many names and uses in a variety of healing traditions. Here are a couple of links:




The Steller's jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) are very vocal right now. I'm not sure why. This one perched for a while on Bill Talley's bench. Bill was the campus landscape architect for many years and he really loved the Medicinal Herb Garden.

The Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) are very vocal right now (even more than usual). I’m not sure why. This one perched for a while on Bill Talley’s bench.  Bill was the campus landscape architect for many years and he really loved the Medicinal Herb Garden. Near the end of his life, at his request, the bench was installed in section C. It has seen a lot of use since. Good work, Bill.




first winter rain drops

soaking in and passing through

then falling again




See you in the garden.




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