Coming down the pike…more flowers…and bees.

The last few days I’ve found myself often by the globe thistle, and it’s no accident. Globe thistle flowers smell like spiced jelly beans taste. Or something like that. It’s difficult not to linger and touch my nose to their richly scented, globe-shaped flower heads.  And when I do, my nose is practically touching honeybees. If I could buy pure, spicy, globe thistle honey, I would. Bees seem to be in a trance once they’ve landed on the globes. I’ve never seen them stay so long on any other flowers. Hurry if you want to smell the globe thistles and observe lingering bees up close. The flowers don’t last long.

IMG_1274

Echinops persicus (globe thistle) section B

IMG_1272

Bees love globe thistle.

IMG_1271

Yes they do.

IMG_1270

They surely do.

Dalea purpurea (purple prairie clover) section D

Dalea purpurea (purple prairie clover) section D

 

Dalea candida (white prairie clover) section C

Dalea candida (white prairie clover) section C

 

 

Silphium integrifolium (rosinweed) section E

Silphium integrifolium (rosinweed) section E

Saururus cernuus (lizard's tail) section B

Saururus cernuus (lizard’s tail) section B

Althaea officinalis (marshmallow) section A

Althaea officinalis (marshmallow) section A

Dipsacus asper (xu-duan) section B

Dipsacus asper (xu-duan) section B

Layia platyglossa ( coastal tidytips) section A

Layia platyglossa ( coastal tidytips) section A

Eupatorium aromaticum (boneset) section B

Eupatorium aromaticum (boneset) section B

Persicaria lapathifolia (curlytop knotweed) section B

Persicaria lapathifolia (curlytop knotweed) section B

Echinocystis lobata (wild cucumber) section A

Echinocystis lobata (wild cucumber) section A

Eurybia macrophylla (bigleaf aster) section E

Eurybia macrophylla (bigleaf aster) section E

Lathyrus tuberosus (tuberous sweetpea) section A

Lathyrus tuberosus (tuberous sweetpea) section A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boisduvalia densiflora (boisduvalia) section A

Boisduvalia densiflora (boisduvalia) section A

Pontedaria cordata (pickerel weed, wampee) Cascara Circle

Pontedaria cordata (pickerel weed, wampee) Cascara Circle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belamcanda chinensis (leopard flower, she gan) section B

Belamcanda chinensis (leopard flower, she gan) section B

 

 

nectar like spiced wine

these bees drunk on globe thistle

make it home safely

 

See you in the garden.

 

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Less talk, more flowers

Sometimes it’s best to stand aside and let the plants do the talking. We’re in the middle of a heat wave in Seattle and I’m feeling lazy. This day calls out for iced tea and a swim in the lake. For those of you far away, here are a few very recent images from the Medicinal Herb Garden. If you’re local, it’s a good day for a walk in the garden. There are plenty of shady spots for a nap and there’s so much flowering all around. Enjoy.

Gentiana affinis (pleated gentian) Cascara Circle

Gentiana affinis (pleated gentian) Cascara Circle

Monardell odoratissima (mountain monardella) section D

Monardell odoratissima (mountain monardella) section D

Chenopodium foliosum (leafy goosefoot) section B

Chenopodium foliosum (leafy goosefoot) section B

Sideritis scardica (mountain tea) section B

Sideritis scardica (mountain tea) section B

Punica granatum (pomegranate, shi liu pi) border areas

Punica granatum (pomegranate, shi liu pi) border areas

Glycyrrhiza lepidota (wild licorice) section B

Glycyrrhiza lepidota (wild licorice) section B

Platycodon grandiflorus (balloonflower, jie geng) section B and border areas

Platycodon grandiflorus (balloonflower, jie geng) section B and border areas

Ageratina occidentalis (western snakeroot) section B

Ageratina occidentalis (western snakeroot) section B

Scutellaria baicalensis (Baikal skullcap, huang qin) section B

Scutellaria baicalensis (Baikal skullcap, huang qin) section B

Verbascum olympicum (Greek mullein) section F

Verbascum olympicum (Greek mullein) section F

Helianthus nuttallii (Nuttall's sunflower) section A

Helianthus nuttallii (Nuttall’s sunflower) section A

Veronicastrum virginicum (culver's root, bowman's root) section F

Veronicastrum virginicum (culver’s root) section F

Amorpha canescens (leadplant) section D

Amorpha canescens (leadplant) section D

Aralia californica (western spikenard, elk clover) section E

Aralia californica (western spikenard, elk clover) section E

Cichorium intybus (chicory) section D

Cichorium intybus (chicory) section D

Chamaemelum nobile (chamomile) section C

Chamaemelum nobile (chamomile) section C

Aster linosyris (goldilocks aster) section C

Aster linosyris (goldilocks aster) section C

Inula helenium (elecampane, xuan fu hua) section B

Inula helenium (elecampane, xuan fu hua) section B

Angelica dahurica (bai zhi) section B

Angelica dahurica (bai zhi) section B

Anemone virginiana (thimbleweed) section D

Anemone virginiana (thimbleweed) section D

Geranium viscosissimum (sticky geranium) section D

Geranium viscosissimum (sticky geranium) section D

Galium boreale (northern bedstraw) section F

Galium boreale (northern bedstraw) section F

Stachys officinalis (wood betony) section F

Stachys officinalis (wood betony) section F

Ononis spinosa (restharrow) section A

Ononis spinosa (restharrow) section A

Berlandiera lyrata (chocolate flower) section C

Berlandiera lyrata (chocolate flower) section C

Verbena macdougallii (Macdougal verbena) section C

Verbena macdougallii (Macdougal verbena) section C

Nasa triphylla (whorled Chilean nettle) section A

Nasa triphylla (whorled Chilean nettle) section A

Lepidium montanum (mesa pepperwort) section D

Lepidium montanum (mesa pepperwort) section D

Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) section D

Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) section D

Tagetes lucida (Mexican tarragon) section C

Tagetes lucida (Mexican tarragon) section C

Aster foliaceus (leafy-bract aster) section A

Aster foliaceus (leafy-bract aster) section A

Opopanax chironium (opopanax) section A

Opopanax chironium (opopanax) section A

Oenothera speciosa ( showy evening primrose) xeriscape bed and section D

Oenothera speciosa ( showy evening primrose) xeriscape bed and section D

Pelargonium capitatum (rose geranium) section A

Pelargonium capitatum (rose geranium) section A

Salvia patens (gentian sage) garden borders

Salvia patens (gentian sage) garden borders

Asclepias fascicularis (Mexican milkweed) xeriscape bed

Asclepias fascicularis (Mexican milkweed) xeriscape bed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

this is no mirage

through shimmering waves of heat

a swaying milkweed

See you in the garden.

 

 

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More summer flowers

This summer has gotten off to a warm start. I forgot my camera today but here are some of last week’s shots.

Mimulus cardinalis (scarlet monkeyflower) section C

Mimulus cardinalis (scarlet monkeyflower) section C

According to Daniel Moerman, in his encyclopedic Native American Ethnobotany (Timber Press, 1998), the Karok people, native to a region that is now in northern California and southern Oregon, are reported to have used an infusion of scarlet monkeyflower as a wash for newborn babies.

Celosia cristata (cockscomb, ji guan hua)

Celosia cristata (cockscomb, ji guan hua) section E

It’s no mystery how Celosia cristata got the common name cockscomb. The flowers look like they should be on top of a rooster’s head. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the flowers are used to cool the blood and control bleeding.

Cimicifuga racemosa (black cohosh) section D

Cimicifuga racemosa (black cohosh) section D

Black cohosh root is used to treat symptoms of menopause, as an alternative to hormone therapy. It’s also used to treat menstrual cramps and was widely and variously used by native peoples of eastern North America. An Asian species, C. foetida, is used in TCM. We have two related species, C. elata and C. laciniata, in Washington state. They are not as widespread as C. racemosa and perhaps that explains why neither is mentioned in Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany.

Larrea tridentata (creosote bush)

Larrea tridentata (creosote bush) xeriscape bed

I don’t remember the creosote bush flowering before but I think I’m noticing more flowers now that I carry a camera around.

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed, pleurisy root) section C and xeriscape bed)

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed, pleurisy root) section C and xeriscape bed

It gets one of its common names, pleurisy root, because it has been used to treat pleurisy, which is inflammation of the inner lining of the chest and lungs. It gets its other common name, butterfly weed, because butterflies love its nectar. It’s drought tolerant and beautiful when flowering, a good addition to your xeriscape bed.

Pelargonium sidoides (umckaloaba) section D

Pelargonium sidoides (umckaloaba) section D

Native to South Africa, umckaloaba has traditionally been used to treat acute bronchitis and other respiratory conditions.  As is often the case, the effectiveness of a traditional remedy has been demonstrated in clinical trials:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12807337

http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/pelargonium-sidoides

The flowers are dark purple, almost black, and their scent is intoxicating. I lift the plants in late autumn, pot them up and keep them in a place where they are cold but not freezing, then I replant outside in spring.

Houttuynia cordata (yu xing cao) section F

Houttuynia cordata (yu xing cao) section F

Foliage of yu xing cao smells like raw fish and is used as food and medicine from China to Japan and India. I keep it contained with a metal barrier in the shade with only a moderate  amount of water and it still threatens to escape. Be careful planting it in your garden.

Papaver somniferum (breadseed poppy, opium poppy) garden borders

Papaver somniferum (breadseed poppy, opium poppy) garden borders

This variety is called Danish flag. If the flag of Denmark really looked like that, I’d consider defecting(though it’s doubtful they would accept me). I love this poppy, not just because it is beautiful, but because it produces a lot of seeds. The breadseed poppy that produces the seeds for your bagels and pastries and breads is also the opium poppy that produces the important pain reliever, morphine, and the horrific drug, heroin. Alas, it is true, reality can be quite complex sometimes. But we are sophisticated consumers of information and can reasonably discern the difference between natural products that are harmful and those that are healthful. Just think of the difference between delicious and nutritious corn on the cob and that awful adulterant, high-fructose corn syrup. Enough said.

Nigella sativa (black seed) section A

Nigella sativa (black seed) section A

Less-adorned cousin of Nigella damascena (love in a mist), black seed is an easy annual to grow and its seeds are sold as a food and a medicine. Check out the profile from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center:

http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/nigella-sativa

Gentiana tibetica (qin jiao) section E

Gentiana tibetica (qin jiao) section E

Used in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine, qin jiao is an easy plant to grow. We all might consider consuming more bitter food/medicine; and gentian is bitter. I’ll leave you with the words of Dr. Weil:

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA401077/Is-Bitter-Better.html

 

 

a little bitter

helps gallbladder and liver

learn to like the taste

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our toxic world

A couple of weeks ago, a group of 4-H students from north of Seattle came to visit the Medicinal Herb Garden and the nearby honeybees maintained by Evan Sugden and his students.  One of their teachers spoke to me briefly about the difficulty of raising bees in the 21st century. There is no escape from environmental toxins, even if your role in life consists of flying around from flower to flower, sipping nectar and gathering pollen.

ditto

Bees!

Luckily, the city of Spokane, Washington, over on the sunny side of the state, has just banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on city property. They are the second city in the country to enact such a ban, after Eugene, Oregon. Thank you, Eugene, for getting the ball rolling and thank you, Spokane, for setting an example for the city of Seattle. And thank you to the Seattle City Council for the ban on neonicotinoids on Seattle city property. Oh, wait a minute, that hasn’t happened yet. But it will happen soon, very soon if enough people in Seattle contact Mike O’Brien, Seattle City Council Chair of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee. The best way to contact Councilmember O’Brien is through his Legislative Aide, Jasmine Marwaha:

Jasmine.Marwaha@seattle.gov

But there’s more we can do. We can petition stores and their corporate owners to stop selling plants that are treated with neonicotinoids to poison “pest” insects. Ironically, many of these plants are marketed as “bee-friendly” because they have flowers that attract bees, but the flowers are toxic and because honeybees live in colonies, they bring the poison back to the hive. What a nightmare scenario this is.

Here’s some good information and a petition from the environmental protection organizaton, Beyond Pesticides:

http://action.beyondpesticides.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=15118

Their invisibility is what makes most environmental toxins so insidious and scary. If enlightened American cities keep banning neonicotinoids, maybe the government of the USA will follow the lead of the European Union, which recently took the preliminary step of banning neonicotinoids across the continent for two years.

As the radiation from Fukushima washes ashore in the state of Washington, it is hard to ignore that everything is connected in a giant web of life. Maybe it’s time to start applying the precautionary principle ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle ) when corporations propose the introduction of toxic substances into the environment. Just because a poison is sprayed in someone’s back yard, golf course or farm, it doesn’t mean it won’t end up radiating into the wider environment, one way or another.

Those who respectfully work the land know that the highest goal is to leave things better than we found them. For all our endeavors, that is an ideal to think about as we move carefully into the 21st century. We all live in one and the same ecosystem.

air, water and land

 following the same current

in this flow of life

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Latest blooms

The scent from the flowering Japanese privet  (Ligustrum japonicum) in section D, wafting through the warm, humid air, is the scent of early summer in the city. Ah, summer. We do not, in my opinion, get enough summer in Seattle, but it’s here now and it sure feels good.

Here are some recent bloomers.

Morina longifolia (whorlflower) section A

Morina longifolia (whorlflower) section A

From the Himalayas, the whorlflower is used in Tibetan and Chinese medicine. It is a striking plant when flowering but holds its own all year as an evergreen, herbaceous perennial.

Liatris spicata (blazing star) section C

Liatris spicata (blazing star) section C

Blazing star, native to eastern North America is a good choice for a sunny meadow garden.

Psoralidium tenuiflorum (slimflower scurfpea) section C

Psoralidium tenuiflorum (slimflower scurfpea) section C

This midwesterner blends well with the Liatris, Echinacea and Eryngium neighbors in its section C garden bed. The roots have been used by Native Americans to treat lung conditions and headaches.

 

 

Jasminum officinale var. grandiflorum (white jasmine) section B

Jasminum officinale var. grandiflorum (white jasmine) section B

As if on cue, the jasmine breaks into flower when the last adjacent French roses (Rosa gallica) are losing their petals. The national flower of Pakistan, jasmine releases its delightful fragrance at dusk, just in time for an evening stroll through the Medicinal Herb Garden.

Callirhoe involucrata (purple poppymallow) section B

Callirhoe involucrata (purple poppy mallow) section B

Tough, easy to grow in full sun and drought tolerant, it self-sows but not too much to control . Some plants in the garden linger on but never really thrive. Others are a bit too successful and must be constantly managed, but purple poppy mallow, though a bit sprawled out and weedy looking, is a dependable space filler with dazzling blooms.

Nolina microcarpa (sacahuista, beargrass) section C

Nolina microcarpa (sacahuista, beargrass) section C

ditto

Bees!

Nolina microcarpa (sacahuista, beargrass) section C. It's flowering for the first time since I started it from seed 15 years ago. The flower spike is 8 feet tall.

Behold the magic wand of bee heaven.

Honeybees love the sacahuista. The entire flower spike, roughly 8 feet tall, is covered with bees on sunny days, as long as the flowers last. If you’re local and you don’t go to observe the honeybees, you’re missing out on an amazing phenomenon. There are thousands of flowers on the single spike and every day, more flowers open. The honeybees from the hives across the street have figured it out. It is truly a rare spectacle and it might not happen again here for a long time.

 

spire of lofty white

Nolina microcarpa

bee heaven here now

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

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Summer approaches

Tomorrow is the solstice, when summer officially begins. The garden is filling in and, the traffic noise from Stevens Way excepted, it feels like a little bit of paradise. After 15 years of growth, the sacahuista is flowering for the first time and in slow motion. First the spike emerged and grew until it topped out at about 8 feet, and now the little, white flowers are starting to open, a few at a time. If you can get here to see it, you should.

Nolina microcarpa (sacahuista, beargrass) section C. It's flowering for the first time since I started it from seed 15 years ago. The flower spike is 8 feet tall.

Nolina microcarpa (sacahuista, beargrass) section C.

Sundrops are in full bloom and the wood rose has finally flowered for the first time.

Oenothera fruticosa (sundrops) section E

Oenothera fruticosa (sundrops) section E

Rosa gymnocarpa (dwarf rose, wood rose) Cascara Circle

Rosa gymnocarpa (dwarf rose, wood rose) Cascara Circle

A pair of gadwalls, shy cousins of the mallards, stopped by for a visit to section B recently. A few days later the crows discovered their nest, hidden in one of the beds in section C. It was a bounteous feast of fresh eggs for the crows, but a setback for the gadwalls.

Anas strepera (gadwall) If they're looking for slugs, they have my vote.

Anas strepera (gadwall) If they’re looking for slugs, they have my vote.

Anas strepera (gadwall) briefly visiting section B

Anas strepera (gadwall) promenading through section B

The tian men dong is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat lung, kidney and heart conditions and it is flowering for the first time.

Asparagus cochinchinensis (tian men dong) section E

Asparagus cochinchinensis (tian men dong) section E

Asafoetida root resin is sometimes referred to as Devil’s dung because of its odor. The powdered resin is just the right spice for just the right meal, but its scent lingers stubbornly and unpleasantly.  It is used medicinally to treat respiratory, digestive and nervous conditions and other complaints.

Ferula assa-foetida (asafoetida) section A

Ferula assafoetida (asafoetida) section A

It’s cheating because I took these in the mountains of eastern Washington, but I have grown both species in the Medicinal Herb Garden. Scarlet gilia has been used medicinally and bitterroot has been used as food and medicine by Native Americans. Neither species ever looked as good here at the garden. Right plants, wrong place.

Lewisia rediviva (bitterroot) east slope, Washington Cascades, Iron Bear trail.

Lewisia rediviva (bitterroot) east slope, Washington Cascades, Iron Bear trail.

Ipomopsis aggregata (scarlet gilia) east slope Washington Cascades, Iron Bear trail

Ipomopsis aggregata (scarlet gilia) east slope Washington Cascades, Iron Bear trail

 

scarlet gilia

following the melting snow

a hint of summer

See you in the garden.

 

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Flower alert teaser

If you’re thinking about a stroll through the Medicinal Herb Garden, put on the flip-flops and start walking. It’s pretty colorful right now. Here are some very recent photos of the latest plants to flower, but there’s much, much more in bloom. Enjoy!

Mirabilis multiflora (Colorado four o'clock) section C

Mirabilis multiflora (Colorado four o’clock) section C

Sidalcea neomexicana (pink checkermallow) section C

Sidalcea neomexicana (pink checkermallow) section C

Gentiana macrophylla (qin jiao) section B

Gentiana macrophylla (qin jiao) section B

Veratrum viride (green false hellebore)

Veratrum viride (green false hellebore) section A

Philadelphus lewisii (Lewis' mock orange) Cascara Circle

Philadelphus lewisii (Lewis’ mock orange) Cascara Circle

Baptisia australis (blue false-indigo)

Baptisia australis (blue false-indigo) section F

Opuntia polyacantha (plains pricklypear) xeriscape bed

Opuntia polyacantha (plains pricklypear) xeriscape bed

Triteleia laxa (grassnut) section C

Triteleia laxa (grassnut) section C

Vaccinium macrocarpon (cranberry) section C

Vaccinium macrocarpon (cranberry) section C

Rhodiola kirilowii (roseroot, hong jing tian) section C

Rhodiola kirilowii (roseroot, hong jing tian) section

 

 

 

 

 

Allium canadense (wild garlic) section D

Allium canadense (wild garlic) section D

 

 

 

 

 

 

flowerless summer

imaginable but grim

no, perish the thought

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

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Weather

IMG_0970

Porteranthus trifoliatus (bowman’s root) section A, has been used as an emetic, among other things, by Native Americans.

The spring rush is finally beginning to ease a bit. Spring at the Medicinal Herb Garden can be a blur. It’s busy and exhilarating but a little nerve-wracking at the same time. In a public garden that is on view every day of the year, there is the constant need for improvisation. A hard winter kills plants unexpectedly, leaving big gaps in the beds or borders; seeds that came up easily last year, mysteriously don’t come up or take much longer to germinate; winter hangs on into June, making it difficult to move tender plants into the garden, or seedlings get hit by damping-off disease in the greenhouse. It’s always something. This year I started a whole flat (36 rose pots) of Porteranthus trifoliatus (bowman’s root) and watched half of them wilt and flop over from damping-off.  A quick treatment with cinnamon, which is a pretty effective fungicide, seemed to work though it’s hard to say for sure whether or not the seedlings left standing are the tough ones that would have survived anyway. But cinnamon is cheap, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Sophora flavescens (ku shen) section A

Sophora flavescens (ku shen) section A. It’s used to treat skin conditions in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

And what about Sophora flavescens (ku shen)? No sign of life yet, though it was thriving last summer. We had a cold winter, but it is supposedly hardy to zone 6. Unfortunately, it has a big root crown that sits right at the soil surface, making it susceptible to hard freezes when there is no protective blanket of snow, and that is exactly what we got last winter. Sophora and the Astragalus membranaceus (huang qi) in the same bed are always a bit slow to emerge, so there’s still hope. The Astragalus is just waking up.

Astragalus membranaceus (huang qi) section A

Astragalus membranaceus (huang qi) section A. Huang qi is a tonic herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

For years I’ve wondered why there aren’t seedlings of Eupatorium aromaticum (boneset) or Inula helenium (elecampane, xuan fu hua) surrounding their garden beds.

Eupatorium aromaticum (boneset) seedlings in section B

Eupatorium aromaticum (boneset) seedlings in section B. Boneset has been used in Native American herbalism and homeopathy.

Inula helenium (elecampane, xuan fu hua) in section B pathway with Eupatorium aromaticum seedling.

Inula helenium (elecampane, xuan fu hua) in section B pathway with a Eupatorium aromaticum seedling, is used to treat lung conditions.

They both produce a lot of seeds but they are both clumpers, meaning the plants slowly spread outward from the roots over time. There’s only so much room in a bed and I have to thin them at the edges every few years. It’s possible that there’s not a group of individual  plants anymore, just one big clonal mass. Could it be that neither species can make viable seeds because of self-incompatibility? Apparently not because this year, out of the blue, seedlings of both  have appeared in profusion. What triggered this sudden emergence? I don’t know. Seed banks resting in the soil and gravel pathways of the garden have a way of germinating unexpectedly on their own mysterious schedule, so it helps to expect the unexpected. A constant state of expectancy in the natural world probably best describes the consciousness of perceptive, curious gardeners and other naturalists I’m lucky to know.

IMG_0974

Withania somnifera (ashwaganda) section A. This tonic herb from India is easy to grow from seeds, as you would tomatoes.

IMG_0973

Stevia rebaudiana (stevia) section A. A natural, sugar-free sweetener that is easy to grow and to root from cuttings. You can keep it inside by a window for winter.

 

There’s nothing like abrupt changes in the garden to inspire the inquisitive among us to get down and inspect closely, looking for effects and their causes . This spring, many of us are seeing the effects of last winter’s extreme cold in our gardens, but in the first few years of the 21st century, we had some winters in Seattle that barely went below freezing. Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) and stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) made it through the winter outside, a feat unheard of in recent years, but unfortunately, so did greenhouse thrips (Heliothrips haemorrhoidalis). They had their way with many species in the Ericaceae family and nearly decimated the salal (Gaultheria shalon) in the Medicinal Herb Garden. A solemn meeting was convened with the concerned parties on campus and all sorts of solutions were suggested. But some very cold winters did the work for us and put the thrips to rout.

IMG_0977

Gaultheria shalon (salal) Cascara Circle. Salal fruit are sweet and tasty, raw or cooked

Who knows for sure how future weather patterns will play out? The overwhelming scientific consensus is that we are heading into a period of increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather events. That’s reason enough to get out into the garden (yours, a friend’s, a public garden, p-patch etc.) and experience it through all of the seasons, from starting seeds to collecting seeds. Working the whole year in the garden seems like the best way to get the fullest picture and the most useful knowledge. To learn a lot in a short period, if you’re new to gardening, you might try keeping notes on planting and harvest dates, weather data, insect infestations, heavy and light fruit tree harvest years, and on and on. If you keep accurate and consistent notes and have friends and neighbors who will do the same, your contributions can add to your community’s sense of food security, resilience and interdependence.  Plus, it’s enjoyable to sit around on dark winter days, comparing notes and trading seeds and bits of wisdom over food and drink.

That few children are being taught good gardening skills (including composting, basic taxonomy, natural history of plants, animals, soils, watersheds etc.) in the public schools from preschool onward says much about our collective priorities. There are two long- out-of-print books called Among School Gardens (1911) by Louise M. Greene, and Children’s Gardens for School and Home: A Manual of Cooperative Gardening (1904) by Louise Klein Miller. Well, lucky us, they’ve both been recently reprinted and you can get the former for about $15 and the latter for about $10. They are both classics and an inspiration and will hopefully be a call to action for anyone who reads them, especially teachers, though they are in a tough place, trying to do more with leaner resources in our oddly depleted 21st century in which the rich keep getting richer while our basic social service institutions suffer slow death by a thousand cuts. May the gardens return soon to all schools everywhere.

 

weather permitting

our age of agriculture

this place we call home

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

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The flower procession is picking up speed

It’s getting harder to keep up with everything that is flowering. The pictures in this post are a fraction of what is has come into bloom.  Recent warm weather and a little rain have been ideal. Compared to the last two springs, this has been easy so far.

Leuzea carthamoides (maralroot) section B

Leuzea carthamoides (maralroot) section B

From northeast Asia, maralroot is considered an adaptogen and has been used by Russian and Chinese athletes to improve recovery after intense physical activity.

Fremontodendron californicum ( fremontia, flannel bush) border areas

Fremontodendron californicum ( fremontia, flannel bush) border areas

Native to California and Arizona, fremontia does well in protected, relatively sunny, well-drained spots in Seattle. They’re evergreen, the flowers last a long time and the inner bark has been used to treat irritated skin and mucous membrane. Ironically, the fuzzy outer bark causes irritation of skin and mucous membrane.

Lilium columbianum (Columbia lily) section A

Lilium columbianum (Columbia lily) section A

Growing in our western mountains, from British Columbia to California, Columbia lily bulbs and flowers are edible. Native Americans have traditionally eaten the bulbs, usually either steamed in pits or mashed, dried into cakes and stored for winter use.

 

Saussurea costus

Saussurea costus (mu xiang, kushtha, kutha) section A

Known in Traditional Chinese Medicine by its Chinese name, mu xiang, and in Ayurvedic Medicine by its Indian names, kushtha or kutha, Saussurea costus is used to treat a wide range of digestive and respiratory ailments and other illnesses. Oil extracted from the roots is an ingredient in some perfumes. Like so many medicinal plants, Saussurea costus has been overharvested in its native habitat, in this case the Himalayas. Luckily, it is being grown commercially which brings the price down so there’s not as much economic incentive to harvest from wild populations of the plant. We’ve seen the same problem in the USA with American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)  and other plants. Hopefully, all over the world, more people will start commercially growing their native medicinal plants to help take the pressure off the endangered wild populations.

Arisaema triphyllum (Jack in the pulpit) section E

Arisaema triphyllum (Jack in the pulpit) section E

If you look closely, you will see Jack in his pulpit.

Wyethia angustifolia (narrow-leaf mule's ears) section A. This gives balsamroot (Balsamorhiza spp.) a run for its money.

Wyethia angustifolia (narrow-leaf mule’s ears) section C

For springtime glory, mule’s ears (Wyethia spp.) gives balsamroot (Balsamorhiza spp.) a run for its money and grows well on the west side of the Cascades in full sun and well-drained soil. Native Americans used leaves and roots medicinally and ground the seeds for pinole.

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Sphaeralcea coccinea (scarlet globemallow) section D

Give this globemallow plenty of sun and a very well-drained soil and leave it alone. It’s a credit to any rock garden.

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Rosa gallica (French rose) section B

Yes, it gets black spot and rust and it suckers like crazy, but who cares! The beauty and fragrance are all that matters. The French rose is in a bed adjacent to the Chinese peonies and their flowering times overlap. Don’t miss them. If not for the awful sodium-vapor (or whatever they are) lights nearby, I would lay my sleeping bag out between the two on some spring night. The dreams I would have…

Paeonia lactiflora (common peony, bai-shao) section B

Paeonia lactiflora (common peony, bai shao) section B. Be sure to click on the image for a closeup.

Peonies know how to put on a show. If you come to look,  get close enough to sample their scent, more subtle than the French rose but quite intoxicating. Just as these flowers start to wane, the French roses hit their peak.

Dodecatheon jeffreyi (Sierra shooting star) section A

Dodecatheon jeffreyi (Sierra shooting star) section A

I once came across a whole meadow of Sierra shooting star, flowering in the upper part of the Ingalls Creek valley in the Washington Cascades.

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Leptospermum scoparium (manuka) section D border

The bees of New Zealand make a potent honey from manuka flowers. The shrub can grow to 15 feet or more in New Zealand. I’d be happy to get mine to 15 inches. Our short but extreme cold spells have really knocked them back the last few years. I should cover them as I do the olives and capers. Resolved! This year I will.

Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle) section C

Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle) section C

Vincristine and vinblastine, two of the alkaloids found in Madagascar periwinkle, are used to effectively treat various cancers, including childhood leukemia.

Tragopogon porrifolius (salsify, oyster plant) Section C

Tragopogon porrifolius (salsify, oyster plant) Section C

Scorzonera hispanica (Spanish salsify, black salsify) section C

Scorzonera hispanica (Spanish salsify, black salsify) section C

They’re both called salsify and their roots, flowers, spring growth and seeds are edible. Tragopogon porrifolius roots are considered a food medicine to treat liver and gallbladder conditions.

Thymus vulgaris (common thyme) border between sections A and B

Thymus vulgaris (common thyme) border between sections A and B

 

Common or not, thyme is a very important culinary herb and medicine with antibacterial and antifungal properties. It should be growing in every yard in the country. It’s easy to grow. Once established in a sunny spot, you can forget about it until you need it. Mediterranean herbs, where would we be without them?

Olea europea (olive)

Olea europea (olive) section A border

The flowers aren’t big or exciting, but consider how diminished our lives (or at least mine) would be without olives or olive oil. Though it has contenders, if any plant is fit to represent the Mediterranean it is the olive. I’m growing three cultivars, Arbequina and Manzanillo from Spain, and a Leccino from Italy. May the olive trees of the world live long and be fruitful.

grey-green olive tree

add grapes and figs and almonds

then thyme and culture

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Birds are part of a healing garden

As an attentive observer of birds, it pains me that my little point-and-shoot camera, perfectly fine for flower shots, cannot do justice to the beautiful birds of the Medicinal Herb Garden. Luckily, Emile Pitre, Associate Vice President at the UW Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, has been skillfully photographing the flora and fauna of the garden for several years. Emile is a very patient man; whether on the trail of bees, butterflies or birds, his calm, quiet persistence is enviable and serves as a reminder to me to settle myself and be more observant. Emile volunteered his wonderful photographs of some representatives of the Medicinal Garden birds for this post. Thank you, Emile.

The Medicinal Herb Garden has a lot of features that birds find favorable. There’s a variety of large and small trees, shrubs and clumps of herbaceous perennials to perch on, observe from and hide in. Food is plentiful, from berries, seeds, insects, arthropods and annelids to food waste left behind by careless humans; and there’s water. Water is a magnet for most animals and birds are no exception. I’ve had hummingbirds hover to drink at the stream cascading from my watering can. When the irrigation heads start spraying water in the garden beds, mixed flocks of bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus) and black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) arrive in the safely sheltered areas of the garden to drink and bathe. Every year a pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) takes up residence in spring, near the cistern in Cascara Circle.

Sagittaria latifolia (wapato) Cascara Circle

Sagittaria latifolia (wapato) Cascara Circle

They feed in the stream that runs to the bog, so I’ve put wire mesh over the wapato (Sagittaria latifolia). Ducks love wapato tubers and they would eat them all if they could.

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Poecile atricapillus (black-capped chickadee)

Many of Emile’s pictures were taken in Cascara Circle. If you visit the garden, stop for a rest there by the water, have a seat on the grass or on the new bench and take a few deep breaths to slow yourself down and quiet your mind. It won’t take long before you notice movement all around. Suddenly appearing out of thin air, birds add a delightful and mysterious element of fluidity in the garden, .

They are obviously aware of fairly predictable actions and watch closely. When I begin preparing a bed for planting, I will quickly receive a visit from a guest, ready to eat whatever is unearthed and attempts to crawl away. Usually, the visitor is a crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) or a robin (Turdus migratorius). Some are quite trusting and, as long as my actions express nonchalance, they will shadow me, an arm’s length away.

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Corvus brachyrhynchos (American crow)

Smart, wily, mischievous, the American crow is ever observant and a quick learner. Love them or hate them, they’re an impressive and entertaining bird. And, if you know what’s good for you, don’t get too close to their fledgelings. The adults are boldly protective of their young, occasionally making physical contact with the heads of intrusive humans. If they’re menacing you on your visit to the garden in spring, simply hold your hand up over your head and they will leave you alone.

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Turdus migratorius (American robin) This one is likely getting ready to build another nest after the rascally crows got into the last one.

The humble robins, how lucky we are to have them around. Their commonness masks their greatness. Beautiful singers, welcoming the day before first light, at home in remote mountains and city parks, guileless victims of raiding crows who eat their eggs, the buoyant robins are remarkably successful. They simply start over and get on with it when disaster strikes. If I had my way, they’d be our national bird.

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Cyanocitta stelleri (Steller’s jay)

The jaunty Steller’s jays are strikingly beautiful, statuesque birds that always seem out of place,  like they hopped out of a Gaugin painting and are mystified by their new land. Though related to crows they seem to go about their business and leave trouble alone. Ever ready to alert the world to a nearby threat (real or imaginary), their brash, screechy vocalizations are strangely endearing. They and the crows are the predator early warning system of the Medicinal Herb Garden.

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Pipilo maculatus (spotted towhee)

After scuffing about in the underbrush, its usual habitat, this towhee is taking a well-earned bath.

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Colaptes auratus (northern flicker)

Their exotic calls, dazzling plumage and large size make flickers unmistakeable. Their brilliant orange tail feathers, when happened upon, are a treasure for the finder.

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Junco hyemalis (dark-eyed junco)

The dark-eyed juncos are all around. We have a pair that have taken up residence in the greenhouse. They’ve made themselves quite at home and we all hope they’ll stay.

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Calypte anna (Anna’s hummingbird)

A miracle with wings, these tiny hummingbirds manage to survive our winters.

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Sitta canadensis (red-breasted nuthatch)

The red-breasted nuthatches can often be seen going up and down the furrowed bark of conifers, finding tiny insects and other things to eat. Sometimes they will visit the Cascara Circle bog with the golden-crowned kinglets (Regulus satrapa) and brown creepers (Certhia americana). All three species seem to do well in each other’s company, high up in big, old conifers. Look for them in the deodar cedar trees (Cedrus deodara) near Cascara Circle.

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Piranga ludoviciana (western tanager)

Finally, a spring visitor to Cascara Circle every year, the western tanager is an eye catcher and a sure sign that it is May. They wisely spend their winters in southern Mexico and Central America, then come north for the summer. We should all be so lucky!

I’ll do my best to talk Emile into taking more bird photos. These represent a small sample of Medicinal Herb Garden birds. Some stay all year and some are here for a day. But their flitting presence is a gift and an integral part of the Medicinal Herb Garden’s allure.

we envy the birds

lifting off, those words alone

stir our deepest dreams

See you in the garden.

 

 

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