Greens etc.

From the remote trailsides and meadows of national forests and parks to suburban lawns and abandoned lots in temperate regions here and around the world,  dandelions (generally Taraxacum officinale in this country)  make themselves at home.

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They appear to be almost everywhere. For some who are compelled by their occupation as gardeners to weed dandelions, this is a challenge we accept. There is no other choice. But a slight shift in consciousness allows us to see these excellent plants not as an encroaching enemy but as our helpful friends. It feels a lot better to be surrounded by allies than invading enemies. Dandelions provide us with food, medicine and dye. And they begin flowering early, offering bees a source of nectar and pollen before a lot of other plants are blooming.

Dandelion reproduction…not so straight forward. Apparently, they’re more likely to reproduce sexually back home in certain parts of Eurasia (though asexually in other parts). Here in North America, they generally, but not always, reproduce asexually. I am not a geneticist, not even close, so I won’t embarrass myself trying to explain what I don’t fully understand.

Here you have it succinctly and clearly by Dr. T. Ombrello  of the Union County College (NJ) Biology Department in the Plant of the Week column:

Most dandelions produce seeds by apomixis, where unfertilized egg cells in the ovaries produce viable seeds that will germinate to become clones of the parent plant. The plants reproducing by apomixis are polyploids (mostly triploids) with an irregular number of chromosomes in their cells. A population of dandelions can contain plants reproducing by both methods. This flexibility in seed production, with both asexually and sexually reproducing individuals in a population, allows for some diversity within each generation, while permitting adapted asexually reproducing individuals to clone themselves. This is just another little feature of this amazing species that makes it so successful.

Agreed, it is an amazing species. It treats our livers and gall bladders, contains beta- carotene, calcium, manganese, zinc, iron and potassium, vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K and more. How strange, the effort we put into growing less nutritionally robust, domesticated greens that are plagued with pests, require large amounts of supplemental water, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides (organic or conventional), soil that has been tilled or otherwise loosened, and much of our time and energy.

Maybe more of us should be growing dandelions in our vegetable gardens alongside the beets and spinach instead of weeding them out of our lawns. Or, better yet, we should be harvesting what we weed. They get bitter when they flower, so pick the greens before the plant flowers (unless you like really bitter greens, as some of us do) and the root between fall and early spring, when the previous year’s energy is stored before moving upward to create new spring foliage and flowers.  Fresh or dried, the roots can be used to make a tea/tisane/infusion/decoction or whatever you choose to call the liquid you get when you steep or simmer fresh or dried herbs in hot water. When roasted, dandelion roots can be steeped or simmered in hot water to make dandelion ‘coffee’.

To prepare  a batch, harvest as many dandelion roots as you need, wash and chop them  into small pieces, then run them through a food processor until they are ground up. How you roast them is up to you. You could pan roast them as the Japanese do with hojicha green tea, or put them in a thin layer, up to half an inch deep, on a baking sheet in the oven with the door cracked at 250 degrees (or higher or lower, depending on how light or dark a roast you want your ‘coffee’ to be) for a couple of hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so. Once cool, store them in a tightly sealed glass jar in a cool, dark place. They last for a long, long time. Dandelion coffee has no caffeine but it does have that rich depth of flavor that coffee drinkers crave. The flowers too are edible and many people use them to make wine and for dyeing. The unopened flower buds can be pickled as you would capers (the unopened flower buds of  the Eurasiafrican shrub, Capparis spinosa).

It feels like spring today, as this mild winter continues. Dandelions and a lot of other wild greens are growing nearby, maybe in your yard or nearby park. There’s so much bounty free for the taking but mostly we walk past or over it on our way to the grocery store.

With the huge, seasonal aggregations of salmon and other species of anadromous fish largely gone from our dammed and polluted rivers (at least in the lower 48 states), our cities covered in concrete, much of our available land contaminated with toxic chemicals, our peri-urban and suburban spaces filled in with lawns and ornamental landscapes, it’s not possible to seriously pursue a hunting/gathering way of life here in Seattle or in the other dense population centers of North America, though the freakish explosion of white-tailed deer numbers on much of the east coast might warrant it and a very rare, careful, ingenious, tenacious but statistically insignificant person might pull it off on the fringes for a while with some raccoon, squirrel, possum, mallard, Canada goose and whatever else is abundant in their neck of the woods added for variety.

Even so, we can use common sense to harvest what we know is edible (get a good field guide at your local, independent bookstore or public library) from safe places to supplement our increasingly uniform diets with some plants that haven’t had all the flavor and nutritional qualities bred out of them. Nettle season is in full swing!

If you’re local and have some time tomorrow, stop by Anderson Hall at the UW and attend Jo Robinson’s talk about eating healthier plants that still bear some of the nutritional attributes of their wild relatives :

Jo Robinson, author of the bestselling Eating on the Wild Side and resident of Vashon Island, will be the guest speaker at the UW Society of Ethnobiology’s Winter Speaker Event on Tuesday, March 10. The event is from 1:30-3:00pm in Anderson Hall, Forest Club Room (floor 2). A reception and poster session follows.

 

 

 eyes out for wild greens

creeping over the wastelands

as we did before

 

See you in the garden.

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In Seattle spring begins in February

If you believe the calendar, spring begins on March 20, but if you garden in Seattle you know that spring begins in February. This year it has been unseasonably, freakishly warm. The lack of snow in the mountains is worrisome. But even in an average year, if such a thing exists, the dormant season here is short and it starts to warm up in February. Weeds that double as salad greens, like shot weed (Cardamine hirsuta) and chickweed (Stellaria media) are flowering now and the shot weed is already setting seeds in sunnier spots.

Cardamine hirsuta (hairy bittercress)

Cardamine hirsuta (shot weed, hairy bittercress) tastes like watercress and it’s free and accessible in the city. Look down, you’re probably stepping on it.

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Stellaria media (chickweed) fills the bare soil in your garden and makes a nice salad green whose taste is sometimes compared to corn silk, in a good way.

But there’s a lot more breaking into leaf and flowering. Here’s a sampling from around the garden this week.

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Oemleria cerasiformis (Indian plum) around Cascara Circle. It’s easy to miss most of the year but easy to spot now because so little else is flowering. Look for it in the untended green space around the city, where native plants coexist with exotics from around the world.

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Mahonia aquifolium ( Oregon grape) flowers ready to open any day. When they do, stop to smell them. You won’t be disappointed.

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Garrya elliptica (wavyleaf silktassel) in Cascara Circle is used as a muscle relaxant among other things but it is also a great, broadleaved evergreen with beautiful, long catkins, hence the name silktassel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Aristolochia californica (California Dutchman’s pipe) section D. Like the Indian plum and Cornelian cherry, the California Dutchman’s pipe flowers precede the emergence of new foliage.

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Chamaedaphne calyculata (leatherleaf) north of Cascara Circle.

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Cornus mas (Cornelian cherry) section B border. The fruit of Cornelian cherry are oblong, cherry red and delicious when they turn purple and soft. I like to pick them up off the ground so that I know they are fully ripe. They are extremely tart and astringent when even slightly unripe, but the ripe fruit has a complex and delightful flavor, cherished by Eurasians, though still underappreciated in the USA.

 

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Mandragora officinarum (mandrake) section E.

Mandragora officinarum (European mandrake) section E. Also in section E is  Podophyllum peltatum (American mandrake or mayapple) which emerges from dormancy a little later. They’re in different plant families, the former in the Solanaceae and the latter in the Berberidaceae, but the similarity of the fruit, poisonous when hard and green but edible when soft, yellow and fragrant (according to some adventurous authorities; many consider European mandrake poisonous at all times though others consider it an edible aphrodisiac)  is likely what earned the American mandrake its name.

Wasabia japonica (wasabi) section E.

Wasabia japonica (wasabi) section E. No, it’s not growing next to a crystal clear stream in the dewy mountains of Japan but it is wasabi and it is doing well. You can grow it outside in rich and somewhat shady soil in Seattle.

 

 

watching the seasons

inscrutable as fortune

ah, humility

 

See you in the garden.

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Stalking the water

This morning I heard cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) in Cascara Circle. But where were they? Shy birds that they are, the whole flock were clustered at the top of the western dogwood (Cornus nuttallii). Why? They were checking out the water from a safe distance. Birds love water for drinking and bathing. Many birds will land and do their water business as I’m weeding or pruning a few feet away, but the waxwings are as spooky and flighty as birds can be, so I spent my whole morning break stalking the water, my camera already zoomed in so I wouldn’t have to move or look directly at the waxwings. They don’t like that.

Well, they finally came, all at once with some friends. There’s safety in numbers when you’re a little bird.

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Ever watchful waxwings making absolutely, positively sure the coast is clear for a drink.

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Notice the yellow at the end of the tail.

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Two watching while one drinks. You’d have to arise pretty early to sneak up on a waxwing. Sorry for the fuzzy zoom on my camera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The least movement drew their attention and spooked the whole bunch. The one on the far right led the escape and then they were gone. Waxwings sometimes pass through the garden in winter but I’m lucky to get close maybe once or twice. I’ve seen a single robin (Turdus migratorius) drive a whole flock of waxwings from the cotoneaster shrub near the greenhouse. City life seems to be stressful for them. I can relate.

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But this ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula), flitting around the nearby shrubs, stayed still just long enough for a portrait. The spring mating call of the male is long, complex and beautiful.

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As shy as the waxwings are, the Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) are bold. You can look them in the eye all day and they’ll look right back at you. Dinosaur blood runs in their veins and it’s a good thing they’re not much bigger than they are. I can think of no more beautiful bird that pays the garden daily visits. Rambunctious, loud and alarmist, yes, but it’s always a treat to have their company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tsee tsee is their call

all for one and one for all

waxwings on a bough

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

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January

The colors are muted earth tones, not the bright, primary and secondary colors of summer. But the textures and the edges stand out in winter. The space between branches and stalks assumes a new gravity, framed by the dessicated, dormant, gnarled architecture of past growth. An array of little song birds, hidden by foliage the rest of the year, reveal themselves if you stay still long enough. Do that for yourself if you visit. There’s so much to see here in the off-season. Behold.

Vitis californica (California wild grape) tendril wrapped around a supporting Viburnum opulus (tall bush cranberry) trunk.

Vitis californica (California wild grape) tendril wrapped around a supporting Viburnum opulus (tall bush cranberry) trunk. The USDA reports that Vitis californica “was used to save the European wine industry between 1870 and 1900 when most wine grapes (Vitis vinifera) were killed by grape phylloxera aphids (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae). Since that time, nearly all commercial wine grapes grown anywhere in the world have been grafted onto rootstock of resistant California wild grape cultivars.” Thank you, California wild grapes!

Oh, the things you see when you look closely.

Oh, the things you see when you look closely.

Castanea sativa (chestnut) leaf in section D.

Castanea sativa (chestnut) leaf in section D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t expect to see a spider in the garden yesterday but…

Gardenus spiderus (garden spider). I'm sorry to say I still know next to nothing about spiders and that is an obviously fictional Latin name. It managed to find a meal on a cold day in January.

Gardenus spiderius (garden spider).
I’m sorry to say I still know next to nothing about spiders and so I made up the Latin name. It managed to find a meal on a cold day in January.

 

And, can you believe it, the rosemary is flowering.

Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) flowering in January. The flowers are sweet, fragrant and delicately beautiful if you examine them closely.

Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) flowering in January. The flowers are sweet, fragrant and delicately beautiful if you examine them closely.

Aster linosyris (goldilocks aster) section C.

Aster linosyris (goldilocks aster) section C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silphium terebinthinacium (Prairie dock) leaf vein in section C.

Silphium terebinthinacium (Prairie dock) leaf veins in section C…

Silphium terebinthinacium (Prairie dock) leaf glowing with late afternoon sunlight in section C.

…and whole leaf glowing with late afternoon sunlight

Cynara syriaca (wild artichoke) section C.

Cynara syriaca (wild artichoke) section C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It never hurts to lie down and look up once in a while, especially on a sunny winter day.

Eupatorium purpureum (Joe Pye weed) section C

Eupatorium purpureum (Joe Pye weed) section C

Nolina microcarpa (sacahuista, beargrass) section C. It flowered for the first time this summer and the stalk still stands. It turned black and sculptural.

Nolina microcarpa (sacahuista, beargrass) section C. It flowered for the first time this summer and the stalk still stands. It has faded to a skeletal grey and black.

Silphium terebinthinacium (prairie dock) stalks and sky.

Prairie dock stalks and sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful in summer or winter, used  in Traditional Chinese Medicine to reduce swelling and stop bleeding, among other things, bai ji is dependable and easy to grow. The seed heads look they were dipped in bronze.

Bletilla striata (bai ji) seed pods

Bletilla striata (bai ji) seed pods in section E.

Penthorum sedoides (ditch stonecrop) has tiny seeds, light enough that when the seed capsules dehisce, the seeds can be dispersed by the wind.

Penthorum sedoides (ditch stonecrop) has tiny, powdery seeds, light enough that when the seed capsules dehisce, the seeds can be dispersed by the least puff of wind. It is both demulcent and astringent and has been used in cough remedies as well as to treat diarrhea and hemorrhoids

Potentilla arguta (tall cinquefoil) section E.

Potentilla arguta (tall cinquefoil) section E. The tannins make this plant an effective astringent. Recent studies have also shown root extracts of Potentilla arguta to have antiviral properties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daucus carota (wild carrot, Queen Anne's lace) section D

Daucus carota (wild carrot, Queen Anne’s lace) section D. The fuzzy seeds, when ingested, have been and still are used as a morning-after contraceptive.

Cynara cardunculus (cardoon)

Cynara cardunculus (cardoon) section E. Though cardoon is perennial, as a food crop it is grown as an annual and its leaf petioles are harvested in the fall after blanching.  They are relished by gourmands, rich and poor alike.

Helenium autumnale var. autumnale (common sneezeweed) section A

Helenium autumnale var. autumnale (common sneezeweed)
section A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smilax rotundifolia (common greenbriar) section B

Smilax rotundifolia (common greenbriar) section B

Helianthus maximiliani (Maximilian sunflower) section D. When the esteemed geneticist Wes Jackson paid a visit to the UW Farm several years ago, I had the opportunity to ask what herbacious perennials he and his fellow researchers at the Land Institute were working on. He told me that one of their experiments was crossing Helianthus maximiliani with Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke). Wes Jackson and the Land Institute are an inspiration. http://www.landinstitute.org/ As our conversation that day meandered, we somehow strayed into the topic of the poet Gary Snyder. Wes then spontaneously recited from memory Snyder's poem, For the Children, a poem we have taped to the farm tool cabinet

Helianthus maximiliani (Maximilian sunflower) section D.

When the esteemed geneticist Wes Jackson paid a visit to the UW Farm several years ago, I had the opportunity to ask what broad-leaved, herbacious perennials he and his fellow researchers at the Land Institute were working on. He told me that one of their experiments was crossing Helianthus maximiliani with Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke).
As our conversation that day meandered, we somehow strayed to the subject of poetry and the poet Gary Snyder. Wes then spontaneously recited from memory Snyder’s poem, For the Children, a poem we have  taped to the UW Farm tool cabinet.

Wes Jackson and the Land Institute are national treasures.

http://www.landinstitute.org/

 

 

Brickellia californica (California brickellbush)

Brickellia californica (California brickellbush) section E.

 

 

 

tiny blur of light

  flickers through a brickellbush

ruby-crowned kinglet

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

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Winter scenes

It’s December 20, winter solstice eve, and it is appropriately grey and misty, typical Seattle weather for the season. Winter is good for projects that take too much time for the busy growing season; I’m trying to use up all of our  supply of 2x4s to replace the rotting borders around the 140 garden beds. None of the borders have exactly the same dimensions so they all need to be measured and cut to order.  And, of course, with shifting, uneven settling and the pressure of tree roots, they’re rarely at right angles anymore. It’s always a challenge to work on something old and worn. Replacing a part often involves accidentally breaking something else or discovering that the work planned is just the beginning of the work that needs to be done. It’s worth keeping that in mind when the bill comes in for repairs on whatever object or structure you hold dear. If you feel sticker shock, try doing the repair work yourself and you’ll gain a new appreciation for the unpredictable effects of entropy and the time it takes to fix them.

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Rotting old boards are ready for the dumpster. Large tree root at lower left of the picture is pushing up the wooden borders in parts of sections D and E. It’s hard to argue with the root system of a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). The inconvenience is a small price to pay for having such a glorious tree in the garden.

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This mighty sequoia on the east edge of section D is only a little more than a century old. It’s big…really, really big.

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Freshly cut 2x4s I’ve transported by bicycle trailer from behind the greenhouse up to the Medicinal Herb Garden shed. The excellent cargo trailer was made by Colin Stevens of  Haulin’ Colin and Cyclefab, two local manufacturing businesses. I can’t recommend them enough.  http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2014/11/19/the-bicycle-story-colin-stevens-is-seattles-bicycling-mad-scientist/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the design of the Medicinal Herb Garden were a little less formal, it would be a relief to be rid of the wooden borders altogether, but a complete redesign of the garden isn’t likely, so….it’s better to have solid borders than decayed, broken borders.

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Some of the new borders in section E. If you visit the garden, please do me a huge favor and walk on the gravel paths, not on the wooden borders, tempting though it may be to practice your balance beam skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got a little snow and some cold weather beginning on December 1 but it wasn’t much and it didn’t last long. The waters of the Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean warm our winters. When we do get bitter cold air slipping down over the Cascades from Alberta,  it usually fades away within a week or two.

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Section A beds dusted with snow.

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Snowy scene in Cascara Circle.

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Olive trees (Olea europea) wrapped for the cold. Nighttime temperatures got down to about 23 F. Olives can handle that, uncovered, with just a little damage to the newest leaves, but wrapping them is easy and it’s better to be safe than sorry. I want to harvest some olives next fall!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis) seed heads. Where would we be without the grasses? If you’re seeking new pleasures, try lying down in a field of prairie grasses on a dry, sunny winter day. Forget your troubles and escape into reverie, your natural state of being.

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Prairie mimosa (Desmanthus illinoensis) is as striking in winter as when flowering in summer. Such strange infructescences, I haven’t noticed birds picking the seeds from them. Maybe the juncos (Junco hyemalis) eat them after they’ve fallen to the ground.

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This picture was taken on December 19.  Tea (Camellia sinensis) plants flower from late fall into winter around here.

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Cones from the giant sequoia. They blew down in a recent storm. Though green now, as they dry they will turn brown and the scales will shrink, allowing the small, flat, winged seeds to drop out of the cone. Ideally for the tree, this happens when the cone is  still attached to the branch and the seeds can be dispersed widely by the wind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

faint mist at first light

 shortest day meets longest night

by the Salish Sea

 

See you in the garden.

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Cranberries

Many years ago, I struggled for a solution to the drainage issues in section C of the Medicinal Herb Garden. Section C is on a south facing slope and that is a good thing for growing many plants. Unfortunately, the west side of the bottom half of the slope is the low spot and that is where the water drains to…and stops. One solution has been to turn off the irrigation heads in some of the beds but another solution has been to grow plants that like it moist. A pleasant surprise has been Vaccinium macrocarpon, our native, eastern North American cranberry.

Vaccinium macrocarpon (cranberry) section C

Vaccinium macrocarpon (cranberry) section C. This is how it looks when flowering.

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Cranberries on a frosty morning in section C.

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Washed and ready for cooking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only are they easy to grow in a damp, sunny spot, but they produce an amazing amount of fruit per square foot and the plants are only 6-8 inches tall. They are spreaders, so in the right spot you can grow a reliable, trouble-free (at least they have been for me over many years) crop that will keep expanding on its own. Being bog plants, they don’t like a heavy clay/silt soil which is often the sort of wet area we encounter in urban yards, but you can amend your soil with a lot of organic matter and see how it works.  Keep at it, experiment! Think like a bog. If I can grow olives in Seattle (I have a jar of olives from Medicinal Herb Garden trees curing in my refrigerator right now… really.), you can grow cranberries in your sodden yard.

Most people add sugar when cooking cranberries but they make a deliciously tart sauce just as they are, simmered with a little water until they start popping.  They’re high in vitamin C and antioxidants, and the refreshing, mouth puckering juice is commonly used to prevent and treat urinary tract infections.

The great state of Washington is currently the fifth largest producer of cranberries in the USA. To be honest, we are a very distant fifth and a lightweight compared to the number one producer, Wisconsin, but we have two beautiful mountain ranges, a desert and the Pacific Ocean and not nearly so many mosquitoes, bitterly cold winter days or hot, muggy summer nights, so let us be content.

There are two closely related species represented in the Medicinal Herb Garden, the lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos). Neither has produced fruit…yet, but I’m hopeful. Both are circumboreal, extending all the way up into the arctic tundra. The lingonberry appears to grow no further south than British Columbia on the west coast but the small cranberry has been found in western Washington, especially out on the Olympic Peninsula. I haven’t run across it yet but I’m looking.

If cranberries aren’t a food-medicine, I don’t know what is. And you don’t need a wet yard; you could grow them on your deck in a big tub of peaty sand…or sandy peat. Just keep them moist and give them plenty of sun. Home grown cranberries for Thanksgiving definitely give you bragging rights. Good luck.

 

 

such tart crimson fruit

dotting the bogs and tundra

ruby red treasure

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

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Fall colors

Lately I’ve been sowing more cover crops, collecting and cleaning seeds and updating the garden’s plant inventory and the index for our international seed exchange program, spreading compost and wood chips, and reflecting on the changing seasons. It’s impossible to miss the circular nature of life and the seasons and the moon and stars above when you work in a garden and pay attention. I try to pay more attention every year, but there is so much to see and so much I’m blind to. I’m suddenly noticing the wide variety of spiders in the garden. I keep walking through their webs which seem to be everywhere at the moment. I will do a blog post on garden spiders but not right now. Instead, here are some pictures of fall colors, before the winds blow them all away.

Acer saccharum (sugar maple) north of section B

Acer saccharum (sugar maple) north of section B. It’s too big for its location and it shades my olive trees, but it is a spectacular tree when its leaves turn color. And without sugar maples, we wouldn’t have maple syrup for our pancakes and waffles. Think about that…

Lindera benzoin (spicebush) north of Cascara Circle

Lindera benzoin (spicebush) north of Cascara Circle. Make a refreshing tea from the leaves and twigs. The bright red fruit can be dried and then, as needed, ground up for spice. It is often described as a substitute for allspice but it has a distinctive taste that will likely stump your dinner guests.  The fruit also make a great autumn trail nibble, used as you would wintergreen berries (Gaultheria procumbens), something to chew on while you stroll.

Ginkgo biloba (bai guo ye) section C border.

Ginkgo biloba (bai guo ye) section C border. It looks like the Chemistry Building is falling over in this shot but I just checked and, never fear, it still stands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mespilus germanica (medlar) woods north of Cascara Circle. An underappreciated relative of apples and pears, much more popular in Europe, the medlar is eaten when soft, the pulp, like spiced applesauce, squeezed into one's mouth. They stay fairly small. Maybe you should plant one in your yard.

Mespilus germanica (medlar) woods north of Cascara Circle. An underappreciated relative of apples and pears, much more popular in Europe, the medlar is eaten when soft. You squeeze the pulp, which looks and tastes like spiced applesauce, into your mouth.  The trees stay fairly small. Maybe you should plant one in your yard.

Zanthoxyllum simulans (hua jiao, Sichuan pepper) this one, covered with fruit right now, is at the edible bus stop, adjacent to section B of the garden. The shrubs are spiny members of the citrus family, the Rutaceae, and the fruit make your mouth tingle.

Zanthoxyllum simulans (hua jiao, Sichuan pepper) This one, covered with fruit right now, is at the Edible Bus Stop, adjacent to section B of the garden. The shrubs are spiny members of the citrus family, the Rutaceae, and the fruit, one of the ingredients in 5 spice powder, make your mouth tingle.

Bletilla striata (bai ji) border areas and section F. It's been called the easiest orchid to grow. And the autumn foliage and seed pods hold their own in the borders.

Bletilla striata (bai ji) border areas and section F. It’s been called the easiest orchid to grow. And the autumn foliage and seed pods hold their own in the borders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aronia melanocarpa (black chokeberry) in border areas all around the garden. The berries are alleged to be a 'super food' but the leaves offer brilliant autumn foliage. I've planted a lot of them in the borders.

Aronia melanocarpa (black chokeberry) in border areas all around the garden. The berries are alleged to be a ‘super food’ and
the leaves offer brilliant autumn foliage. I’ve planted a lot of them in the borders.

Lycium chinense (gou qi zi, goji berry) section C. Good for what ails you, the fresh goji berries taste like a cross between a sweet pepper and a tomato.

Lycium chinense (gou qi zi, goji berry)
section C. Good for what ails you, the fresh goji berries taste like a cross between a sweet pepper and a tomato.

Aconitum carmichaelii (monk's hood, fu zi) section F. Yes, it's flowering in November. The days have been warm enough for some pollinators to keep making their rounds.

Aconitum carmichaelii (monk’s hood, fu zi) section F.
Yes, it’s flowering in November. The days have been warm enough for some pollinators to keep making their rounds, but not for long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smilax rotundifolia (common greenbrier) section B. I picked the seeds to grow these plants on Cape Cod, on one of the last walks I took  with my dear old dad.

Smilax rotundifolia (common greenbrier) section B. I picked the seeds to grow these plants on Cape Cod,in a marsh, on one of the last walks I took with my dear old dad.

Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud) woods north of Cascara Circle. It's a bit ghostly at this time of year.

Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud) woods north of Cascara Circle. It’s a bit ghostly at this time of year.

Opuntia humifusa (eastern prickly pear) xeriscape bed. Yes, that is a small prickly pear fruit sticking out of the cactus pad.  When the nearby Opuntia engelmannii get a bit bigger, they should produce significantly larger fruit.

Opuntia humifusa (eastern prickly pear) xeriscape bed.
Yes, that is a small prickly pear fruit sticking out of the cactus pad.
When the nearby Opuntia engelmannii get a bit bigger, they should produce significantly larger fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vaccinium spp. (blueberries) border west of Cascara Circle. No garden should be without blueberries. Mmmm.....blueberries!

Vaccinium spp. (blueberries) border west of Cascara Circle. No garden should be without blueberries. Mmmm…..blueberries!

Tricholoma magnivelare (Americn matsutake) This is the taste of autumn in the Pacific Northwest. It is also the largest matsutake button I've ever collected.

Tricholoma magnivelare (Americn matsutake) This is the taste of autumn in the Pacific Northwest. It is also the largest matsutake button I’ve ever collected.

 

 

 pale matsutake

spicy whiff of autumn woods

pine mushroom fragrance

 

 

See you in the garden.

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End of an era

When I wandered into the Medicinal Herb Garden in 1992, I was looking for ideas. My housemates and I had carved out a large vegetable garden on a vacant lot and we wanted to add an herb garden. The day I arrived, I saw that the place could use some weeding, so I decided to volunteer. I looked for who was in charge and quickly found Doug Ewing, manager of the UW Botany Greenhouse.

Doug and a group of volunteers known as Friends of the Medicinal Herb Garden (FMHG), had been maintaining the garden since 1983. Before that there had been two gardeners who managed the collection and the seed exchange program. When the Pharmacy Department pulled its funding for the gardeners in 1979, the garden went into steady decline. Though the Botany Department assumed management of the garden, they had no additional funding for a garden manager. That responsibility fell on the shoulders of the greenhouse manager who already had a full-time job. It was an impossible situation.

But the prolonged efforts of Doug and the many volunteers of the FMHG saved the garden from disaster. Doug made the greenhouse available for volunteers to meet, help him and his greenhouse staff propagate plants for the garden, run the international seed exchange program and even to use some of the cramped office space.

In 1996, Doug convinced the Grounds Maintenance Department to hire me as a seasonal employee in the garden. By 1999 I was looking for a full time job and Doug lobbied for me here at the UW. I was hired in 2000 and I can honestly say I wouldn’t be here without Doug’s tireless efforts.

Yesterday was Doug’s last day at the UW. His sudden departure, much too soon for all us who know him, has left holes in our hearts. The UW just lost one of the best people it’s ever employed and will be the lesser for it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve arrived at the greenhouse after a stormy night to find Doug sleeping in the office, taking no chances that a flood or snow would keep him away. And there was never a worry about interrupting Doug with a question during his lunch break. He would put down his plate, head off to a far corner of the greenhouse with anyone who asked for his help and explain in great detail the natural history or the best horticultural practices for a particular plant, often forgetting to return to his lunch. His detailed knowledge of botany, horticulture, natural history and all of the intricate electrical and plumbing systems of the greenhouse, not to mention his endless inventory of corny jokes will not be seen here again. Alas.

Bravo, Doug; I’ll never match you and your limitless enthusiasm and preternatural dedication to the job but I’m a better person for having worked with you these many years and I hope some of your magic wore off on me. We miss you already.

Here are some pictures of Doug’s fan club who ambushed him before he could escape on his final day.

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Doug holding forth as his fans choke back their tears

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Everyone got a hug.

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Doug and his wife, Emily. No one left the greenhouse with dry eyes.

Doug often joked that he would make his final exit from the greenhouse in a wheelbarrow.

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He gets his wish with Alan Trimble at the helm.

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Bon voyage, good friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 outside, cold winds blow

but in this sheltered haven

 plants you raised live on

 

See you in the garden, Doug.

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Autumn scenes

The nights are cooling off, there’s dew on my bike seat every morning (pretty soon it will be rain) and the sun has been breaking through the misty grey later in the day. It’s autumn.

I’ve been busy collecting seeds for our seed exchange program, sowing cover crops on the annual beds, deadheading the prolific self-sowers to make my job easier in the spring, and, as always, weeding.  There’s still a lot of green but the brown of spent flower stalks adds a skeletal contrast that helps remind us of the circularity of life.

Often, visitors to the garden in winter will ask why everything is dead. Of course, it’s not. Many herbaceous perennials are storing all their energy for the next year in their roots. Annuals that have completed their one year cycle will spread their seeds which will germinate in the coming years. And the weeds are always doing well. Don’t worry about the weeds.

Here are some images from the garden.

 

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whorlflower (Morina longifolia) section A

 

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goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) section C

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xu duan (Dipsacus asper) section B

 

 

 

 

 

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Chinese winter melons, dong gua ren (Benincasa hispida) The harvest from section C

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dang shen (Codonopsis pilosula) section E

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An array of Asian umbels, section C

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 dry leaves flitter down

paths ajumble in chestnuts

sky of cawing crows

See you in the garden.

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Score one for the bees!

There wouldn’t be much of a Medicinal Herb Garden without pollinators and the pollinators are resting easy because many of you and thousands of other citizens of Seattle signed a petition urging the Seattle City Council to enact a municipal ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides by the City of Seattle and on land managed by the City of Seattle. Thank you; the resolution to enact a ban on neonicotinoids passed unanimously. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Here’s the public statement on the petition site:

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Seattle Municipal Ban on Neonicotinoids!

by Central Co-op and Seattle Sierra Club

One For The Bees!

On Monday September 22, the Seattle City Council, with Mayor Ed Murray concurring, voted unanimously for our resolution to enact a municipal ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides by the City of Seattle, and on land managed by the City of Seattle.

The resolution also calls for a national moratorium on neonics; calls on the White House Task Force on Pollinator Health to take action; on the EPA to suspend registration of this class of pesticides; on the US Congress to pass the Save America’s Pollinators Act; and on retailers in Seattle to not sell neonics.

Seattle becomes the largest city to take such a stand. This victory is a small step in the growing worldwide movement for pollinators, which are important for agricultural production, and for ecosystem health. Huge thanks to the over 4300 people who signed our petition, and to the 24 organizations who signed on to the resolution!

Thanks to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the NW Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, and the WA Sustainable Food and Farming Network, who helped educate us to greatly improve the final resolution that was adopted, and who each wrote letters of support to the City Council.

And thanks to the UW Medicinal Herb Garden, the Seattle Tilth Association, and PCC Natural Markets, whose early support and outreach helped bring this effort to public attention and build momentum for success.

Keep up the great work everyone, and look for further steps to build on this and make Seattle the Bee Friendliest city in the USA!

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Rosa gallica (French rose) section B

Pycnanthemum pilosum (mountain mint) section B

Pycnanthemum pilosum (mountain mint)
section B

Verbesina alternifolia (yellow ironweed, wingstem) section E

Verbesina alternifolia (yellow ironweed, wingstem) section E

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the pollinators

buzz of guardian angels

hovering nearby

 

See you in the garden.

 

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