Midst of winter

It hasn’t been terribly cold this winter, but cold enough to keep the snow falling in the mountains. What a good feeling to look east at the Cascades or west at the Olympics and see whole mountain ranges deep in snow, as they should be. The last straggling leaves have finally fallen from the deciduous trees and shrubs, and the stalks of herbaceous perennials and annuals are fading to brown, ready to return to the soil and recycle their nutrients for the next round. Wander through the misty pathways and catch a fleeting glimpse of a raptor or the last migrating Townsend’s warbler on its way to the tropics, look up at the sound of crows and you might see a family of raccoons asleep in a nearby tree, or follow the scent of truffle or some other mysterious fungus hidden beneath one of our oak trees; midwinter visitors to the Medicinal Herb Garden have much to experience if they pay close attention.

Speaking of mysterious fungus. This is growing on a wattle fence post north of Cascara Circle.

Speaking of mysterious fungus. This is growing on a wattle fence post north of Cascara Circle.

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Pipevine’s (Aristolochia macrophylla) twining mass of vines are leafless but mostly still green.

I've said it before but I'll say it again, wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is a better looking plant in winter than in summer.

Wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) spent inflorescence, now full of tiny seeds.

Snow berries (Symphoricarpus albus) could not be more aptly named. A native shrub yet no animals seem to eat their fruit.

Aptly named snow berry (Symphoricarpus albus) is a native shrub yet no animals seem to eat the fruit. Supposedly some of our native birds, such as resident towhees (Pipilo maculatus), robins (Turdus migratorius) and other thrushes, including the hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus) and varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius), and the waxwings (Bombycilla spp.) that pass through the garden in winter, will eat the fruit of snowberry, but you couldn’t prove it by me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dried vines of wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) . The deciduous tree at left in the background is the black cherry (Prunus serotina).

Dried vines of wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) . The deciduous tree at left in the background is the black cherry (Prunus serotina), a North American native whose bark is used to treat coughs. Three cheers for deciduous plants that add so much to the winter landscape.

Chuan dang (Codonopsis tangshen) still has fruit with some pigment though most have dried and turned brown. The mild weather is responsible for this irregular ripening.

Chuan dang (Codonopsis tangshen) still has fruit with some pigment though most have dried and turned brown. I believe the mild weather is responsible for this irregular ripening.

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) frit interwoven with Japanese wild yam vines (Dioscorea deltoidea).

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) fruit interwoven with Japanese wild yam vines (Dioscorea deltoidea). Unlike true bamboo which is in the grass family (Poaceae) and includes many genera and many, many species within those genera, heavenly bamboo is in the same family as Oregon grape, the Berberidaceae. Its red fruit, in large quantities, are toxic and even fatal to birds, but they go uneaten around here so I keep this plant in the garden. I’ll pull it if I hear compelling evidence that it is a serious threat to birds in this area. There’s so much else for them to eat in Seattle, even in winter, that an upset stomach or two after sampling these fruit probably leads them to steer clear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's already time for the mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) to wake up.

It’s already time for the mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) to wake up.

And the dwarf daylilies (Hemerocallis minor).

And the dwarf daylilies (Hemerocallis minor).

And something else in the family formerly known as Liliaceae.

And something else in the Liliaceae or one of the many families that have spun off from the Liliaceaea. Those taxonomists…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The camellias (Camellia japonica) on the northern border of section D have started flowering.

The camellias (Camellia japonica) on the northern border of section D have started flowering.  I’m not a huge fan of camellias (except tea, Camellia sinensis!) but they do brighten the winter days.

Camas (camassia leichtlinii) shoots already pushing up on January 25.

Camas (Camassia leichtlinii) shoots already pushing up on January 25.

Yesterday I heard cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) in the Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis). As usual, they wouldn't let me get close, hence the fuzzy zoom shots.

Yesterday I heard cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) in the Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis). As usual, they wouldn’t let me get close, hence the fuzzy zoom shots. This was their reconnaissance tree and…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was their destination, the cotoneaster (Cotoneaster racemiflorus). The fruit are quite bitter and I don't see the birds eating them until the middle of winter. Cotoneaster is a bit of a weed. The seeds pass through the birds and seedlings pop up wherever the birds' droppings land and there is bare soil. I wish someone would breed cotoneasters with ediblefruit. There's a lot of potential food biomass on a tree.

this was their destination, the cotoneaster (Cotoneaster racemiflorus). The fruit are quite bitter and I don’t see the birds eating them until the middle of winter. Cotoneaster is a bit of a weed around here. The seeds pass through the birds and seedlings pop up wherever the birds’ droppings land and there is bare soil. I wish someone would breed cotoneasters with edible fruit. There’s a lot of potential food biomass on a tree.

 

This is the time of year for filling seed orders and ordering seeds from botanic gardens all over the world. The middle of winter is a good time to plan for the future. Looking over a map of the garden and juggling where the new plants will go (if the seeds come up!) is a good challenge. There’s only so much space in a garden but…there’s always room for more plants.

The shipping and receiving area for seeds. Outgoing envelopes on the right await customs labels and then they're off to the far reaches of the world for a new life in some other garden.

The shipping and receiving area for seeds. Outgoing envelopes on the right are full of seeds and awaiting customs labels. Then they’re off to the far reaches of the world for a new life in some other garden.

Recently received seeds from France, Japan and Hungary.

Recently received seeds from France, Japan and Hungary.

Seed heads and seeds I collected in autumn.

Seed heads and seeds collected from the Medicinal Herb Garden in autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s the news for a quiet January. I hope everyone has some time and a safe, warm place to rest and reflect, sip tea and watch the rain (or snow) come down.

 

 

 

 

mandrake awakens

beneath the feeding waxwings

this midwinter day

 

 

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

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Into a new year

After a few hard frosts, we’re back to classic Seattle fall and winter weather. It’s been very rainy in the lowlands with daytime temperatures in the 40s and nights in the 30s, heavy snow is accumulating in the mountains and short days seem even shorter because the sun is nowhere to be seen. But today the days start getting longer. It’s winter solstice and a new year has begun.

Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana) leaves are still clinging to their branches, but most deciduous trees and shrubs are bare now.

Cascara tree in Cascara Circle.

Cascara tree in Cascara Circle.

Something likes to eat cascara leaves.

Something likes to eat cascara leaves. I wonder if the leaves are laxative like the bark.

 

The chestnut (Castanea sativa) stump next to the bus stop held its leaves until last week. I’m going to stop cutting it back and let it grow into a tree now that the fig tree (Ficus indica) has been ‘shortened’ and is out of the way.

The glorious chestnut stump.

The glorious chestnut stump.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roots, bark and leaves of bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) were widely used by northeastern Native Americans for a variety of conditions, including liver, urinary and lung complaints. Branches with fruit attached are sometimes woven into holiday wreaths back east.

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Bittersweet fruit in section E.

Hope for festive fruit on the tian men dong (Asparagus cochinchinensis) proved delusional. I had assumed they would look like the bright red fruit of garden asparagus (Asparagus officinalis). They’re about the same size and shape but not red.

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The ho hum fruit are barely visible. They look more like…

...look at the cool frog egg fruit!

…frog eggs than Christmas tree ornaments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the woods north of Cascara Circle, the male cones of the sugi or Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) are getting ready to drop their pollen some time this winter. Sugi, which can grow up to 200 feet or more (though usually less), is often planted around temples and shrines in Japan where it is native. Ours at the Medicinal Herb Garden has stayed small and bushy. I suspect it is a dwarf cultivar. There are much larger ones in Seattle, but I remember seeing a very impressive specimen at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, a Shinto shrine in Granite Falls, WA.

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Male cones on our sugi tree/bush.

A few yards away, a hedge of wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is looking better in winter dormancy than in summer growth. There’s something magical about the dried foliage of herbaceous perennials and the skeletal, sculptural branches of deciduous woody plants. I think it’s the negative space that opens up around these plants in winter. Wild hydrangea root is a diuretic that has been used to treat kidney stones and irritation of the bladder, urethra and prostate.

Wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) in the woods north of Cascara Circle. Some plants look better in winter

Wild hydrangea in the woods north of Cascara Circle. Reading Daniel Moerman’s wonderful book, Native American Ethnobotany, I discovered that the bark of wild hydrangea was used as both an emetic and an antiemetc by the Cherokees. I wonder if something wasn’t lost in translation by the recording ethnographer.

Even after its leaves have dropped, the eastern North American paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is the centerpiece north of Cascara Circle. Love that tree.

Even after its leaves have dropped, the eastern North American paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is the centerpiece north of Cascara Circle. Love that tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But not everything is dormant. Neither our native blackberry (Rubus ursinus) nor our two introduced blackberries (Rubus armeniacus and Rubus laciniatus) that grow in Medicinal Herb Garden borders do much resting in winter. They’re essentially evergreen here and they stand out when plants around them drop their leaves.

Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) showing why it's such an unstoppable weed. It's virtually evergreen around here.

Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) grows in all border areas.

Cutleaf or evergreen blackberry (Rubus laciniatus).

Cutleaf or evergreen blackberry (Rubus laciniatus) only grows on the west border of section C.

Trailing Pacific blackberry (Rubus ursinus) is native but quite invasive in the garden border areas.

Trailing Pacific blackberry (Rubus ursinus) is native but quite invasive in most garden border areas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luckily, all blackberries have edible fruit and medicinal leaves that are astringent, anti-inflammatory and high in antioxidants. I’m sure they have many more health benefits, and they’re free and almost everywhere. There’s no excuse not to have some of their dried leaves in your tea supplies, along with locally harvested dandelion roots (Taraxicum officinale) and stinging nettle (Urtica dioica).

 

 

 

 

dim light of solstice

reflecting the rainy glint

of blackberry leaves

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

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November snapshots

It’s not yet winter but we’re off to a good start with wintry weather. We got a lot of rain in the lowlands and snow in the mountains earlier in the month and now we’re getting clear skies and cold nights. Many of the deciduous trees are still holding onto their leaves, the green largely replaced by yellows and reds. Sunny days of autumn are a gift in Seattle and it is so good to be working outside. For those of you who don’t get out of the office much and those far away, here are some pictures of the garden before winter sets in.

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Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) conferring in section B. There’s something about crows in November: autumn is their season in Seattle. They’re already congregating at twilight in the cottonwoods (usually Populus trichocarpa around here) and alders(usually Alnus rubra around here) by the edge of Union Bay. Sometimes thousands roost at once, cawing and cawing as the sun goes down. It’s one of the great Seattle experiences to walk among and below them and their haunting chorus at day’s end, from Marsh Island to Foster Island and the north edge of the Arboretum and many other areas around the city. They’re engaging in some sort of ritual that is far older than human history.

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They’re also willing to eat slugs and cutworm (Noctua spp) pupae which I toss to them when I’m digging, as they follow me around, waiting to see what little creatures wind up on the soil surface. I once watched a crow peering intently at the ground  in one of the garden beds. Then it made a quick thrust into the soil with its beak. It had been watching a mole’s (Scapanus sp.) progress as it tunneled, slightly displacing the soil and betraying its position. Up came the beak with a small mole. It didn’t surprise me. Crows are smart and they’re always watching…everything…or so it seems.

Hops (Humulus lupulus) flowers long past the stage when they can be harvested for tea or beer.

Hops (Humulus lupulus) flowers in section A, long past the stage when they can be harvested for tea or beer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) still flowering in late November.

Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) still flowering in late November.

Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) in section D is one of the last plants to flower.

Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) in section D is one of the last plants to flower.

Trifoliate orange, zhi shi (Poncirus trifoliata) covered in green fruit which should turn orange if they don't freeze.

Trifoliate orange, zhi shi (Poncirus trifoliata) covered in green fruit which should turn orange if they don’t freeze.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) in section B.

Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) in section B.

Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) fruit in section D did well in the warmth this summer. It was a bumper year for fruit.

Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) fruit in section D did well in the warmth this summer. It was a bumper year for fruit.

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) fruit stay green all summer and then turn red in fall.

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) fruit stay green all summer and then turn red in fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit that split in the heavy rains.

Pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit that split in the heavy rains.

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Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) leaves in section A.

Western sweet shrub (Calycanthus occidentalis) catching the last light of afternoon in Cascara Circle.

Western sweet shrub (Calycanthus occidentalis) catching the last light of afternoon in Cascara Circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) with our guardian monkeys in the foreground and various conifers behind. I love that tree.

Golden foliage of the paper birch (Betula papyrifera) with our guardian monkeys in the foreground and various conifers behind. I love that birch tree.

Skunkbush (Rhus trilobata) in Cascara Circle looks a bit like western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). It's good to know the difference.

Skunkbush (Rhus trilobata) in Cascara Circle
looks a bit like western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). It’s good to know the difference. Skunkbush is used for natural dyeing and basketry.

Wild oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) in section D.

Wild oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) in section D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis) seed pods in section D.

Canadian milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis) seed pods in section D.

Purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) section D

Purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) in the same bed.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) foliage lighting up the woods north of Cascara Circle.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) foliage lighting up the woods north of Cascara Circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the leaves fall on the deciduous trees, it will become easier to spot the garden’s predatory bird visitors. For now though, the crows and jays lead me to their roosts. The barred owl (Strix varia) has been spending time in the conifers at the west end of the garden, but most recently at the east end of the garden. It’s pretty tolerant of my intrusions so I keep taking its picture.

Looking here.

Looking here.

Looking there.

Looking there.

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Those dark eyes don’t miss much…I’m glad I’m not a rat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hidden by day’s light

holding nighttime in their eyes

they wait for sunset

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An owl, a pomegranate, some untimely flowers and a free clinic

It’s almost Halloween and look who’s back.

Barred owl (Strix varia) in woods north of Cascara Circle.

Barred owl (Strix varia) in woods north of Cascara Circle.

Hello.

Hello.

 

A barred owl was often around the Medicinal Herb Garden in 2013, but not so much in 2014. They’re good ratters and it’s exciting to see one in the garden. Owls are magical birds in myth and lore. They seem to have the power to hypnotize other birds as they sit in a tree, impassively waiting for night to fall. Two years ago, in woods adjacent to the Medicinal Herb Garden, a group of garden visitors and I watched two crows, a Steller’s jay, a hummingbird and a robin all perched on a branch and staring at another branch a few feet away, on which perched a barred owl who appeared to be casting a spell over them. The crows and jays normally make a racket around birds of prey, but they seemed calm, unconcerned and even entranced. If I hadn’t seen it I might not have believed it. Maybe our barred owl is a bard owl.

Some people in the Pacific Northwest don’t like barred owls because they have expanded their range from the east to the west and are alleged to be displacing the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis ssp caurina).  It appears they are guilty on both counts…but it’s not their fault. The most popular natural history narrative seems to be that they stayed on the eastern half of the continent for thousands of years because Native Americans kept the Great Plains as grassland by regularly setting fires. As the story goes, the treeless plains acted as a barrier for the owls. But European settlers planted trees as they spread  their homesteads, then towns and cities, westward. The barred owls followed the trees and the rats that came with the humans and their farms.  A few land managers have recently tried killing barred owls in spotted owl habitat but that could be a difficult management strategy to maintain (owls can fly, after all…). I haven’t heard of  any spotted owls on campus so I’m pulling for you, barred owls.

Earlier in the week, I harvested the biggest pomegranate in the Medicinal Herb Garden. I wanted to wait but it had a brown spot on the rind and I didn’t want to lose the fruit to rot.

Ready or not...

Ready or not…

...it's time for the table.

…it’s time for the table.

It's red inside. Good sign!

It’s red inside. Good sign!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At some point, you have to rip it apart and eat it. Eating pomegranate is a celebration.

At some point, you have to rip it apart and start eating.

 

To be honest, it was a bit tart, tarter than a pomegranate should be, in my opinion, and the seeds were proportionally bigger in the red, juicy arils than they are in the best store-bought pomegranates. But the most mature Medicinal Herb Garden pomegranate shrub is producing larger, juicier fruit every year and there are three younger shrubs growing on the garden’s borders.

The heat and drought this summer caused some plants to slow down and stop flowering…only to begin flowering again, much later, as the rains and cooler temperatures returned.

Purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) flowering again on October 21.

Purple poppymallow (Callirhoe involucrata) flowering again on October 21.

And the

And the European cranberry bush/crampbark (Viburnum opulus) is flowering right now on the border of section C. It normally blooms in May and June and it did that, but here it is, doing it again. If it’s happened before, I haven’t noticed.

This common dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) on the western border of the woods to the north of Cascara Circle has not, that I've noticed, flowered a second time in autumn...until now.

This common dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) on the western border of the woods to the north of Cascara Circle has not, that I’ve seen, flowered a second time in autumn…until now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the asafoetida (Ferula asafoetida) is springing back into action with new flowers.

Even the asafoetida (Ferula asafoetida) is springing back into action with new flowers. This picture was taken on October 20.

Slender cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis) normally flowers in early summer. This did and...yes, you guessed it, it's flowering again in late October.

Slender cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis) normally flowers in early summer. This did and…yes, you guessed it, it’s flowering again in late October.

ditto the arnica (Arnica montana)...

ditto the arnica (Arnica montana)…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...and this western snakeroot (Ageratina occidentalis).

…and this western snakeroot (Ageratina occidentalis).

I’m sure I missed other unusual plant behavior. I’ll be interested to see what changes the spring has to show in the garden. Because each year in the Medicinal Herb Garden I collect seeds for our international seed exchange program, I have written records of seed collection dates and whether there was a lot, a little or no seed collected each year from each species. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to study patterns of flower and seed production from year to year. It’s hard enough keeping the soil and plants healthy.

The spiders are looking great, as always. Though giant house spiders running along the walls and floors still give me the creeps, I love to have spiders in the garden. Talk about persistence and focus.  Bash through their webs accidentally, as I do almost every day, and they’re already starting repairs.

Zen master spider

Zen master spider

Ever at ease and ever ready. Let that be a model for all of us.

Ever at ease and ever ready; let that be a model for all of us.

I’ve not managed to penetrate the complexities of spider taxonomy…yet. But I’m working on it. Seems like these are some sort of garden orb weavers…or something.

 

Behold a Halloween miracle in the garden shed: the grannyvine that wouldn’t die. I needed to plant clover in its bed so I snipped the plants off at the soil level, then carried their tripod trellis into the garden shed. That was a month ago but…

It kept on flowering. This was on October 15, a month after I put them in the shed.

…it kept on flowering. This picture was taken on October 15, a month after I put them in the shed.

And this was on October 21. If the undead are to inhabit the garden, it might as well be the beautiful grannyvine whose seeds have been used traditionally in southern Mexico as a sacrament to open the portal to the realm of the gods.

And this was on October 21. If the undead are to inhabit the garden, it might as well be the beautiful grannyvine whose seeds have been used traditionally in central and southern Mexico as a sacred substance to be ingested before shamanic rituals.

 

Right on schedule, just as frost threatens and the pollinators are preparing for winter rest, out pop the monk’s hood/fu zi (Aconitum carmichaelii) flowers. Section F is a bit of an underdog, surrounded by big trees and somewhat hidden from view, but the fu zi catches the eyes of strollers in October. It is a powerful plant which can be quite poisonous, even in small doses, but its roots are used as an effective heart medication in traditional Chinese medicine.

Monk's hood/fu zi flowers showing off in section F.

Monk’s hood/fu zi flowers holding down the fort in section F.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And last but not least, I recently had the privilege of attending the Dandelion Seed Conference in Olympia, Washington. I was impressed by the herbalists, growers and wildcrafters attending the conference, the excellent presenters (I met Mimi Kamp! Yes, that Mimi Kamp.) and the organizers who made things run so smoothly. The conference was a benefit for the Olympia Free Herbal Clinic.

http://www.dandelionseedcollective.org

Olympia has a free herbal clinic right downtown. Free, as in all of the dedicated herbalists and support people donate their time for the cause. Take a walk through downtown Olympia and you will see a lot of homeless people, many of them quite young. Living on the street takes a toll on the body and the spirit and, homeless or not, there aren’t a lot of alternative health care options when you’re uninsured and unemployed or low-income. Please give generously to this excellent community health clinic if you have the interest and the resources. Their services are free but their rent isn’t. The clinic is a beacon of light far beyond the city limits of Olympia. I hope their model can be widely replicated, especially in Seattle, where homelessness and drug addiction, especially to heroin, are the worst I’ve seen in my 31 years here. The wave of wealth that has swamped this town in recent years has not lifted all boats, but capsized many and, to torture the nautical metaphor even further, left many high and dry. Something is seriously wrong in a city where rents for long-term tenants can double when a new owner buys a building. A lot of people are in need of some healing (and affordable homes, not just tents by the freeway off-ramps).

 

 

 

in cool forest shade

crouched beside oplopanax

taking just enough

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cover crops, hungry birds, pale porcini and drought

The moist, cool air of early October mornings and the fragile warmth of its golden, hazy afternoons are treasures to savor and linger over before the dark and cold and rain of winter.  While there’s still some warmth to the days, I like to plant crimson clover as a cover crop on annual/tender perennial beds. Favas can go in almost any time if I start them in the greenhouse, but broadcasting clover has worked best for me when it’s done by early October. Otherwise the slugs mow it all down as it slowly germinates.  Usually, I sow the seeds, rake them in and sprinkle compost over the top. But this year, even more than they usually do, the birds have been eating the seeds that haven’t germinated and laying out, helter skelter, the seeds that have germinated. They can do a lot of damage very quickly. With all due respect for their need to eat, I wish they’d find somewhere else to forage. But they don’t, so this year I’m using a fabric, not Reemay, the floating row cover often seen on garden beds, but something called tulle or bridal veil. It definitely works. It allows water through the fabric, holds moisture in, is extremely tough and keeps the birds and squirrels out. Though squirrels don’t eat tiny clover seed (unless it’s in a bird feeder), they do a lot of digging and burying of acorns and other nuts in the nice, loose soil of the garden beds.

Newly planted cover crop beds in section C.

Newly planted cover crop beds in section C.

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Before getting covered,

 

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and after.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You can see the clover coming up, but I’ll wait until it’s a bit thicker before removing the covers.

 

On the way home from work the other day, while bicycling through a nearby neighborhood, I came across some Boletus barrowsii, a paler version of porcini. Most were creamy white. I’m surprised to find any, it’s been so dry.

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Appearing through the moss and duff, what a thrill it is to find mushrooms, especially porcini. Porcini!

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Isn’t that a sight for sore eyes? City porcini!

 

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In this kitchen light, the bottom two seem  darker, more like B. edulis, but the top two have the creamy white caps. The lighter ones were found near a hornbeam  (Carpinus sp.) and the  darker near a linden  (Tilia sp.).  Looking for mushrooms is an addiction you can only understand (like any addiction) if you’ve tried it and become addicted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But once they get in the pan with some butter, who cares? These were so firm that they gave off almost no water while cooking. And the flavor was as good as any I've had. Porcini...

Whether B. edulis or B. barrowsii, who cares? Once they get in the pan with some butter, they’re porcini. These were so firm that they gave off almost no water while cooking. And the flavor was as good as any I’ve had, maybe the best ever. Porcini…

The drought we experienced this summer was hard on many Medicinal Herb Garden  plants. Some were damaged, others died and some lost their fruit after flowering. That happened to the trifoliate orange (Ponciris trifoliata) in section D. But then, late in the summer, it flowered again and produced more fruit, by far the most I’ve ever seen on its branches. It must have had some energy stored up to do that and it seems like this second flush of fruit will deplete some of its energy for next year. But the ways of trees are mysterious. I once saw an apple tree that was almost completely hollowed out, with only a narrow, vertical strip of live wood leading up to the branches from the roots. This was in an abandoned orchard in the San Juan Islands, on Shaw Island. Many nearby trees had fallen over, collapsing under their own weight. But this tree, and a few others nearby, looked perfectly healthy above the hollow trunks. It seemed impossible. For all I know they might have toppled over the moment I turned my back or they could still be standing when my bones have turned to dust. The life force is strong and that is a hopeful sign in this time of  mass extinction and environmental devastation.

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Trifoliate orange (Ponciris trifoliata) in section D, having dropped its first set of fruit, flowered and produced fruit a second time in the same season. This picture was taken in late September and there are both flowers and fruit on display.

And check out the snow bush (Ceanothus cordulatus) which flowered and then, much later, flowered again. Hmmmm, never seen that before…

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This picture was taken on the first of May.

 

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This picture was taken on September 30. I’ve been growing snow bush for 15 years but this crazy summer of heat and drought and massive fires is the first time I’ve seen it flower a second time. It flowered again after we got some long-awaited rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon the autumn rains will come and we’ll forget all about this summer. But this summer was, perhaps, a herald of things to come. Forgetting might not be our best option. Maybe it’s time to start making informed plans to prepare for the future that awaits us. Hopefully, the UW and the City of Seattle will be considering best practices for choosing and growing extremely drought-and-heat-tolerant plants in our public landscapes. For a decade and a half, in the Medicinal Herb Garden, I’ve been experimenting with plants from the hot, arid lands. Some simply can’t handle the prolonged wetness of our winters, but others thrive here. I’ll continue experimenting but with a new urgency, following these last two summers of prolonged heat and drought.

Here’s an animated illustration of the changes to the USDA Hardiness Zones between 1990 and 2006. Hint: it got warmer.

https://www.climate.gov/teaching/resources/changes-hardiness-zones

And it’s gotten warmer since 2006. How warm? Here’s more from NOAA, and it doesn’t include 2015:

http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/summary-info/global/201412

But this does:

https://www.climate.gov/news-features/blogs/beyond-data/somewhat-very-extremely-how-likely-it-2015-will-be-new-warmest-year

We will adapt because we have to. And we will change our ways, little by little, as more and more people sense the urgency of our collective predicament. Maybe Seattle will take the lead in this change.

 

 

as the last glacier’s

waters trickle to the sea

snow bush blooms again

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Return of the rain

It’s been another hot and dry summer. Last year, the Carlton Complex fire was the largest in Washington state history. This year, the Okanogan Complex fire has surpassed it as the largest in state history, and it’s still burning and will be for some time and it seems likely that more acres of Washington forest will burn than have burned in any other year of the state’s history. Last year, 2014, was the hottest year on record for planet earth, and this year, 2015, is expected to easily surpass that record.  Anomalies or not, these are sobering statistics.

Driving home recently from a seven-day, occasionally smokey backpacking trip in the Pasayten Wilderness, which is adjacent to many of the state’s fires, I encountered an eerie scene of nearly-abandoned towns in the Methow Valley, charred hillsides along the Columbia River, caravans of fire vehicles and National Guard trucks heading from other regions to the fires, a leaden sky and near horizons framed by billowing smoke, and sad news that three firefighters had died fighting the Twisp fire.  Most of the state was blanketed in smoke, all the way to the Olympic Peninsula. Grim.

So, it’s good to have the rain back. Some heavy rain fell on the weekend and the moist, cool air today feels positively therapeutic. Let’s hope for more rain to damp down those fires and let them just creep along, burning off some of the ground fuel. Maybe, hopefully,  we will get a colder winter than last year’s, with a solid, long-lasting snowpack in the mountains.

The garden has come through the heat looking a bit crispy in places and the recent heavy wind and rain has nearly flattened some plants which I’m tying up as needed, but on the whole, it’s in pretty good shape right now. Here’s a little of what you would see if you were here.

 

One of the pomegranates has a fruit that is nearly regulation size (I said nearly.).

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Exhibit A: one fine looking pomegranate (Punica granatum…Really, it’s bigger than it looks and it’s not yet ripe) on the border of section A, next to the olive shrubs/trees which mysteriously produced no olives this year after producing profusely last year.

 

 

And for the first time, the bai bu is flowering, though you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t look closely at its small and inconspicuous flowers.

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Bai bu (Stemona japonica) in section B. It’s flowering for the first time. It’s also the sole representative of its family, the Stemonaceae, in the Medicinal Herb Garden.

The crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) in section D lost some branches while I was away, but it has produced more flowers than I have ever seen.

Crepe myrtle Lagersroemia indica) in section D. The whole tree was covered in flowers... and then the wind and rain came and a lot of branches came down. It still looks great, though.

Crepe myrtle (Lagersroemia indica) in section D. The whole tree was covered in flowers… and then the wind and rain came and a lot of branches broke off. Most of it still looks great,though.

Nuttall's sunflowe (Helianthus nuttallii) in section A comes into its own in September.

Nuttall’s sunflower (Helianthus nuttallii) in section A comes into its own in September.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faded cardoon (Cynara cardunculus ) flowers in section D. Soon they will open to allow the beautiful seeds to float away.

Faded cardoon (Cynara cardunculus ) flowers in section D. Soon they will open to allow the beautiful seeds to float away.

The chayote (Sechium edule) in section C suddenly has respectable fruit. Last I checked they were about the size of a marble. Don't turn your back on a chayote.

The chayote (Sechium edule) in section C suddenly has respectable fruit. Last time I checked, they were about the size of a marble and now some are just about mature. I’m surprised there aren’t more people growing these in Seattle.

Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) flower and immature fruits. It has, so far, been a banner year for maypops.

Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) flower and immature fruit. It has, so far, been a banner year for maypops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tian men dong (Asparagus cochinchinensis) took off this year. It ran up the tripod and looks like it would have kept growing upward if the tripod had been taller. It's covered in green fruit at the moment. When the fruit turn red it's going to be quite a spectacle.

Tian men dong (Asparagus cochinchinensis) took off this year. It ran up the tripod and looks like it would have kept growing upward if the tripod had been taller. It’s covered in green fruit at the moment. When the fruit turn red it’s going to be quite a spectacle.

This crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) just sat there for a couple years, but this year it needed something tall to run up. Next year, maybe, just maybe, it will flower.

This crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) in section E, just sat there for a couple years, but this year it needed something tall to run up. Next year, maybe, just maybe, it will flower.

Tall tickseed (Coreopsis tripteris) in section E. The rain had it splayed out on the ground when I got to work on Monday, so I retied the twine. It's over six feet tall.

Tall tickseed (Coreopsis tripteris) in section E. The rain had it splayed out on the ground when I got to work on Monday, so I retied the twine. It’s over six feet tall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, the prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) has so much weight in its flowering branches that it's almost impossible to keep it upright without making it look like a prisoner. It looks like a hard wind is blowing over it. In the wild, the tallgrass prairie, its native habitat, would help to support it, but...um...there's hardly any of the tallgrass prairie left. It once covered 170 million acres of North America. If you want to see the remnants, about 4% of the historic range, go to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas, where most of it is growing.

Unfortunately, the prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) has so much weight in its flowering branches that it’s almost impossible to keep it upright without making it look like a prisoner, tied up in twine. In the wild, the grasses and forbs of the tallgrass prairie, its native habitat, would help to support it, but…um…there’s hardly any of the tallgrass prairie left. It once covered 170 million acres of North America. If you want to see a large swath of its remnants, which equal about 4% of the historic range, go to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas, where most of it is growing. While you’re in Kansas, be sure to stop by The Land Institute to learn about their amazing work.

 

 

 

 

men shooting from trains

while bison graze lush grasses

last prairie vignette

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

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Disaster averted…the flowers prevail

July of 2015 turned out to be one for the record books. It was a scorcher, the hottest in Washington history. Compensating for a broken water pipe to the Medicinal Herb Garden turned out to be very difficult. There’s too much ground to cover and whole areas were drying out before I could get water to them. I suspect that some of the damage we sustained this year will not be seen until next spring, in the garden and around campus.

Luckily, Dale, from the overworked irrigation team, managed to fix the pipe to sections B and C last week, just when all looked lost. Way to go Dale, and James and Scott. Though I shake my head in disbelief whenever I think of it, there are only three people doing all of the irrigation repairs and installation for a 500 acre campus with 500 buildings. I honestly don’t know how they do it. Kudos, gentlemen. The priorities of the University of Washington are sometimes hard to fathom, but your work is appreciated by all of us who care about plants. Good work!

Salal (Gaultheria shalon) at the edible bus stop. It can handle dry conditions but the combination of extreme heat, dryness and thrips was hard.

Salal (Gaultheria shalon) at the edible bus stop. It can handle dry conditions but the combination of extreme heat, dryness, greenhouse thrips (Heliothrips haemorrhoidalis) and no irrigation was hard for it. It’s a tough plant. It should survive.

English oak (Quercus robur) at the northwest edge of section C. It's hard to imagine one hot summer without water would be enough to kill it, but it's not looking good

Oak (Quercus sp.) at the northwest edge of section C. It’s hard to imagine one hot summer without water would be enough to kill it, but it’s not looking good. Maybe it’s going into a drought-induced dormancy. Time will tell.

The lesson for me in this extremely dry, hot weather is to look closely and make note of plants that aren’t bothered by it. It will take planning to make the transition from what has been a cool Mediterranean climate to one that is hot. Water conservation is going to be so important as the population increases and the snowpack decreases in the Olympics and Cascades.

But enough about heat and drought. We’ve got both but others have it worse and we will get through it, hopefully a little wiser and better prepared for the future.

Now it’s time to look at some plants that are doing well.

Devil's bit scabious (Succisia pratensis) in section A. It's a recent addition to the garden and is flowering for the first time.

Devil’s bit scabious (Succisia pratensis) in section A. It’s a recent addition to the garden and is flowering for the first time.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) in section A. It's one of four species of Silphium growing in the garden.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) in section A. It’s one of four species of Silphium growing in the garden.

Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) in section B, surrounding a tripod trellis of pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla).

Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) in section B, surrounding a tripod trellis of pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And everyone's favorite morning glory, known as granny vine (Ipomoea tricolor) in section C, right near the...

And everyone’s favorite morning glory, known as granny vine (Ipomoea tricolor) in section C, right near the…

lion's paw/lion's ear (Leonurus nepetifolia).

lion’s paw/lion’s ear (Leonurus nepetifolia). This and the granny vine are magnets for garden visitors.

A closer look at the lion's paw flowers. Hummingbirds love this plant.

A closer look at the lion’s paw flowers. Hummingbirds love this plant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) in section C. It's about nine feet tall. Its other common name is gravel root because it has been used to treat gravel or kidney stones.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) in section C. It’s about ten feet tall. Its other common name is gravel root because it has been used to treat gravel or kidney stones.

Snake gourds (Trichosanthes cucumerina) looking snakey in section B.

Snake gourds (Trichosanthes cucumerina) looking snakey in section B.

Bitter melons (Momordica charantia) in section B.

Bitter melons (Momordica charantia) in section B.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale var. autumnale) and wild cucumber(Echinocystis lobata) in section A.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale var. autumnale) and wild cucumber(Echinocystis lobata) in section A. The bed to the right has hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum). No, it isn’t related to marijuana, not even in the same family. Its specific epithet, cannabinum, refers to the superficial resemblance of the leaves to Cannabis leaves. I’ve had to explain this to countless garden visitors. Let’s start teaching taxonomy in K-12!

The grain bed has been plundered by the birds this year. The first few years they didn't touch it but they've gotten better at foraging every year, learning to break the seed heads off and drag them to safe places to eat. Anything for the birds.

Note the broken stems. The grain bed, with six species of grain, has been frequented by the birds this year.  The first few years they didn’t touch it, but they’ve gotten better at foraging every year, learning to break the seed heads off and drag them to safe places to eat. Good for them. Anything for the birds.

The evidence. Oats (Avena sativa) seemed to go unnoticed until this year, when they have been eating everything.

The evidence. Oats (Avena sativa) seemed to go unnoticed until this year, when the birds have been eating almost every type of grain in the bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese winter melon (Benincasa hispida) section C.

Chinese winter melon/ dong gua  (Benincasa hispida) section C.

Safflowers/hong hua (Carthamus tinctorius) section C. They grew twice as tall as last year.

Safflowers/hong hua (Carthamus tinctorius) section C. They grew twice as tall as last year.

Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) section C. Some of the flowers stalks are 11 feet tall. Imafine what the tall grass prairies must have been like on foot, with grasses and forbs that tall...and grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) running around.

Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) section C. Some of the flowers stalks are 11 feet tall. Imagine what the tall grass prairies must have been like for humans, wandering on foot in grasses and forbs that tall…and, before we forced them out and nearly into extinction, plains grizzly bears (Ursus arctos), American buffalo (Bison bison) and Great Plains wolves (Canis lupus subsp. nubilus) running around. Now that’s adventure travel.

 

 

Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) in the border between sections A and B.

Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) in the border between sections A and B.

 

 

 

 

 

 

under prairie dock

the slumbering grizzly bear

dreams of buffalo

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

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Around the garden in mid-July

July is a good month for wandering in the Medicinal Herb Garden. Some plants haven’t flowered yet and some are long past, but there’s probably more flowering in July than any other month. For the first time since I started this plant a decade ago, the bush morning glory (Ipomoea leptophylla) is flowering. The bed where it lives has a problem with tree roots filling the space and sucking it dry. Until you’ve dug into an irrigated bed that has dense tree roots growing into it, you don’t know what dry is. Bone dry and powdery, that’s what the soil is like. Many trees are planted much too close to the garden’s borders and they know a good thing when they find it, so their roots wind up where the water is. It’s too late to change that. Instead, I remove as many roots as possible from as many of the problem beds as I can get to every spring, but it’s a stalemate at best.

Bush morning glory (Ipomoaea leptophylla) in section D, flowering for the first time. I'd almost given up on it.

Bush morning glory (Ipomoaea leptophylla) in section D, flowering for the first time. I’d almost given up on it.

This year I got around to clearing roots from the bed where the bush morning glory lives and I think the extra water getting down to its large taproot during the growing season did the trick. Either that or the taproot happened to store up enough energy over the decade to finally flower this year. Or maybe it was a combination of both factors. Who knows for sure? Learning to live without the comfort of surety is…hard…but necessary if my curious mind is to have any peace in this world.

Of course, as we all know, the bush morning glory is a close relative of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), which is native to southern Mexico and naturalized throughout much of the tropical world. The bush morning glory has a native range from southern, central Canada, south to Texas and New Mexico, west of the Mississippi and east of the Rocky Mountains. It’s roots are said to be sweet and edible when young, but bitter, tough and quite large, supposedly up to 40 pounds or more when older. I wonder if anyone is working on a cross between the two species that might be hardy in temperate regions, sweeter and faster growing than the bush morning glory. Maybe the amazing and inspiring Wes Jackson will take it on at the Land Institute.  http://landinstitute.org/

I’ve mentioned in the past on this blog, what a shining light of hope and determination we have in Wes Jackson and his colleagues at the Land Institute. Well, I’m doing so again and will surely find a way to do so in the future.

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Elecampane (Inula helenium) flowering and attracting bees in section B.

Bumblebees and honeybees are in the news a lot these days. Seems they’re not doing so well on this warming planet, constantly exposed to increasing heat and all sorts of environmental poisons like herbicides, pesticides and other residual toxins that are the result of our modern lifestyles. Alas, there’s only so much a gardener can do to help them, though I think most of us wish we could do more. But we can plant a wide array of  flowering plants from a variety of families, so the bees have the nectar and pollen they need to survive. This year, I have to say that bumblebees seem to be everywhere. I’m not sure why, but they seem to be present in greater numbers than past years, though I have no data to support my observations.

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All things considered, it still looks like a pretty good life, being a bumblebee.

 

 

 

 

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This coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) shot was taken at the Beacon Food Forest. The nearby catnip (Nepeta cataria) was alive with bees, probably hundreds of them, but my camera couldn’t do them justice. If you haven’t been to the Beacon Food Forest, you should get over there as soon as possible. It’s an inspiration.

chuan dang (Codonopsis tangshen) in section B is one of three species of Codonopsis in the garden. It has the fanciest flowers.

chuan dang (Codonopsis tangshen) in section B is one of three species of Codonopsis in the garden. It has the fanciest flowers.

Some perennials, like the above chuan dang, flower in their first year, while others, like the opopanax, which is flowering for the first time in this border area, take many years to flower.

opopanax (Opoponax chironium) in section A and adjacent border has a resin which was once used for medicine and is still used in perfumery, but I planted it because it is the name of one of my favorite novels, the Opopanax, by Monique Wittig.

Opopanax (Opoponax chironium) in section A and adjacent border has a resin which was once used for medicine and is still used in perfumery, but I planted it because it is the name of one of my favorite novels, The Opopanax, by Monique Wittig.

Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) in the border areas is not hugely important as a medicinal herb, but it attracts hummingbirds.

Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) in the border areas is not hugely important as a medicinal herb, but it attracts hummingbirds.

 

 

There’s probably a hummingbird hovering nearby. Plant scarlet sage if you want to see hummingbirds.

 

 

 

 

 

I wonder why they call it pineapple lily (Eucommis autumnalis)? Section A

Hmmm…I wonder why they call it pineapple lily? (Eucommis autumnalis) Section A

sacred datura flower (Datura inoxia) which is night-scented to attract its moth pollinators.

Sacred datura flower (Datura inoxia) in section C, which is night-scented to attract its moth pollinators.

 

Yes, that’s the extremely problematic, invasive weed, milk thistle, and it is growing in the Medicinal Herb Garden. Why?

Milk thistle flower (Silybum marianum) section A.

Milk thistle flower (Silybum marianum) section A.

Because milk thistle saves lives, that’s why. I remove the flowers before they produce seeds.

The two signs posted in the milk thistle bed.

The two signs posted in the milk thistle bed.

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Pleated gentian (Gentiana affinis) in Cascara Circle is looking better every year. It seems to like being next to the canal by the bog and it has survived being stepped on. But please don’t step on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixed bed of blazing star (Liatris spicata) and button eryngo (Eryngium yuccifolium), pale coneflower (Echinacea pallida) and slimflower scurfpea (Psoralidium tenuiflorum) in section C

Mixed bed of blazing star (Liatris spicata) and button eryngo (Eryngium yuccifolium), pale coneflower (Echinacea pallida) and slimflower scurfpea (Psoralidium tenuiflorum) in section C

Wild artichoke (Cynara syriaca) floweing in section C right now.

Wild artichoke (Cynara syriaca) flowering in section C right now.

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Closely related cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) in section E. The flowers smell so good that if I were a bee, I too would be sprawled out on this cardoon flower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 flowers open to

hummingbirds and bumblebees

closing the circle

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cucurbits

This year, there are nine species of cucurbits growing in the Medicinal Herb Garden.  Cucurbits are representatives of the Cucurbitaceae, the plant family that supplies us with squash, melons and cucumbers. All of the species in the garden except the squirting cucumber (Ecbalium elaterium) in section C, are vines with tendrils which are grown on trellises because they would otherwise cover the pathways and get stepped on.

Starting in section A on the west side of the garden is the wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata), a widespread native of North America. The spiny fruit has four large, black or brown seeds and not much else but some bitter juice. The clusters of small, white flowers are fragrant. Because they’re annuals, they can run up a fence or trellis and not cause a maintenance problem. Just pull the old foliage off after it dies back. Wild cucumber has been used in many ways by Native Americans, but perhaps most importantly as a bitter tonic.

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Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) section A. Smell those flowers!

Up the steps, to the east in section B, I’m growing an annual snake gourd (Trichosanthes cucumerina) from southeast Asia, next to bitter melon/bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) from the Old World tropics. Both are used for food and medicine and both are bitter, so best eaten when young and after cooking. Various parts of snake gourd, at different stages of maturity, are considered anti-inflammatory, anthelmintic, purgative, hypoglycemic, gastroprotective and so much more. Bitter melon is used throughout southeast Asia as a medicinal food for a variety of ailments, but most commonly, to treat diabetes.

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Snake gourd flower in section B

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Bitter melon flower in the same bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few feet away is a vine whose foliage is considered one of the great adaptogens (plants that help our bodies adapt to all sorts of stress), with medicinal properties similar to those of ginseng (Panax spp.). Jiao gu lan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum), from eastern Asia, is an herbaceous perennial which grows without much help from me. My kind of plant! Its flowers are tiny and inconspicuous, its fruit green and the size of a small pea. The leaves are commonly eaten right off the plant or brewed into an infusion while fresh or  after drying. It makes sense to dry some for the winter, when the plants are dormant. This is a plant to have on a trellis in your medicine garden at home.

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Jiao gu lan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) section B. I eat a few leaves every day.

Moving east across Okanogan Lane to Section C, cucurbits are all over the place but none of them are in the same genus. In the northwest corner is the Chinese winter melon or dong gua ren (Benincasa hispida). If you’ve ever been to one of the produce markets in Seattle’s International District, you’ve seen winter melon, often cut up in large pieces because the melons can get huge. They’re eaten like squash and  when you cut them open, they smell like cucumber mixed with fresh spring air. Their flesh turns translucent when cooked and the melons are considered a food medicine with many healing powers in much of eastern Asia. The juice is used to treat peptic ulcers and the seeds to expel intestinal worms.

Chinese winter melon/dong gua ren (Benincasa hispida) in section C.

Fuzzy leaves of Chinese winter melon/dong gua ren (Benincasa hispida) in section C.

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And here’s last year’s bounty of winter melons. The white blush you see on them is normal, though it looks like powdery mildew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few feet away are the luffas (Luffa aegyptiaca). The luffa ‘sponge’ you might buy for your shower is the same luffa eaten by millions in eastern Asia. They’re prepared in many ways, as you would zucchini. The trick is to pick them before they become tough and fibrous. Once they reach that stage, you can wait until the end of the season and harvest them to make your own luffa sponge. No, they’re not the marine organisms we know as sponges, and calling them sponges probably complicates matters. I just call them luffas.

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luffa/si gua luo (Luffa aegyptiaca) section C.

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Immature fruit a week later. All of the cucurbits are looking great this year. They love the heat.

This is the first year I’ve grown chayote (Sechium edule), native to Mexico but grown and eaten widely throughout the world. I got the chayote that grew into this plant from my coworker and friend Binh, who grew up in Vietnam. He prefers the spiny chayotes so that’s what he gave me. Chayotes have one big seed, like an avocado seed but smaller, softer and edible. The seed Binh gave me was sprouting right out of the squash so I planted the whole thing, which, it turns out, is the proper way to start a chayote plant. I’m looking forward to trying spiny chayote for the first time this year. Thanks, Binh.

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Chayote growing in section C is already reaching the top of the tripod. I’ve seen them growing on a trellis in a yard in the Beacon Hill neighborhood and they produce a lot of food! If you like to grow squash, try these.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many years I’ve been growing the eastern Asian, perennial snake gourd (Trichosanthes kirilowii), which has roots called tian hua fen and fruits called gua lou in China. Unlike the annual snake gourd in section B, the fruits of this vine, though they are used for food, are more commonly put to a wide variety of medicinal uses. Because the plants are dioecious, you must have at least one male plant to pollinate your female plants, if you want fruit. Male plants are preferred for root production. Unfortunately, even with five or six plants, all started from seeds many years ago, I still haven’t gotten fruit. The fruit form and then drop off the vine before maturity. I think it’s time to move them to a new location.

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Perennial snake gourd leaves and tendrils in section C. It’s flowers resemble the annual snake gourd’s flowers…but it hasn’t flowered yet this year.

Our only Medicinal Herb Garden cucurbit that isn’t a vine, from the Mediterranean region, the inconspicuous squirting cucumber (Ecbalium elaterium) has fruit which can eject their seeds far from the plant. How far? I’m not sure but I’ve found seedlings growing in nearby beds at least ten feet away. I wear safety glasses when collecting the seeds. The cucumbers, by the way, are quite bitter and toxic, though the juice has been used medicinally in very small doses.

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Squirting cucumber, like many cucurbits, is monoecious, having both male and female flowers on the same plant.

 

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These are immature fruit. When they lighten in color and the seeds are ripe, the least touch can set them off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cucumber salad

grilled chayote and luffa

then watermelon

 

 

See you in the garden.

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Sprinklers and other strange sights

Our unseasonably hot spring has turned into unseasonably hot summer. What a year for the mainline water pipe that controls irrigation to a third of the garden beds, all surrounding borders and other areas beyond the Medicinal Herb Garden, to break. And it’s not going to be fixed any time soon. Why? I couldn’t tell you. I’ve learned not to ask questions about budget priorities at a large institution. I just take care of the garden, come hell or high water, or in this case, drought and heat. For a couple weeks, I watered by hand with a watering wand and it took a very long time. When certain soils get too dry, they become hydrophobic, meaning they repel rather than absorb water. Watering wands put out a lot of volume and that overwhelmed the ability of the soil to soak it up. Oh, the frustration!

So I turned to sprinklers. They use up almost as much time because they need to be repositioned often. But they soak the soil more gradually than the watering wands and that means no more runoff. They also soak the gravel and everything else in the area and waste a lot of water through evaporation. Oh well…

 

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It’s not the best sprinkler for garden beds but it will do in an emergency and this is a year of sustained emergency.

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This overhead sprinkler, like the kind we used to run through as children, works quite well but it needs to be moved a lot to cover the vast area that is without irrigation this year. I’ll do what I must to keep the plants alive.

 

Last week, someone passing through the garden mentioned that there were thousands of bees massing along the Burke-Gilman Trail, close to the greenhouse. That got my attention so off I ran to investigate. Bees! This is what I saw.

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Honey bee (Apis mellifera) swarm on the artichoke plants (Cynara scolymus) near the southeast corner of the greenhouse.

 

I called our resident entomologist and beekeeping instructor, Evan Sugden. Luckily he answered his phone and agreed to come right over. I didn’t get a chance to see him wave his magic wand, but he somehow coaxed the bees into this bee box. Good work, Evan.

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New home for the honeybees.

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Bees slowly settling into their new space. Once they had set up house, Evan moved them to the bee village where the rest of the bee boxes are placed. Protected from extreme weather by nearby woods and surrounded by a wide variety of flowering plants, the bee boxes are in an excellent spot but will have to move soon to make room for construction of a new building. Hopefully, their new home, wherever it is, will be as well situated. Good luck, bees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the warm, dry days of summer, many birds take dust baths, presumably to clean their feathers and remove parasites. I often find smooth, rounded, shallow indentations in  the garden beds where there is bare ground. I used to wonder what mysterious force acted upon the soil to create these strange circles of various sizes. Hmmm… And then one day I saw this behavior.

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A Steller’s jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) had to do a little work to get to the dry soil beneath the forest litter. I’ve seen lots of different birds take dust baths in the garden, but most often jays, robins and crows. Sometimes the indentation is etched deeply enough that the bird appears as though it’s been flattened by a steamroller or has flown up from the netherworld and is assessing the situation before disappearing again below the surface, like a whale coming up for air and a view of the sky.

 

I’d rather bathe in water than dust but to each his own. Wherever the sprinkler is watering there are birds taking water baths and drinking. Maybe that’s their reward after taking a dust bath. Speaking of birds, look who wandered into the woods north of section D today.

 

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Fledgeling great blue heron (Ardea herodias) that wandered into the woods after failing to get back to the nest on its maiden voyage. Some concerned citizens who work on campus were looking on when I took this photograph. We agreed to give it our best shot to see if there’s a sanctuary that will accept this beautiful bird. Otherwise, the raccoons will be getting a fresh meal soon. The heron rookery, under which the bird stands, seems to be thriving this year after the herons nearly deserted the area last year.

 

The flowers are opening from the bottom to the top of the inflorescence on this glorious Agave xylonacantha outside the west end of the Botany Greenhouse. It’s listing to the south so I had to lie on the ground to get its picture. Please stop by to see it if you get the chance.

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Agave xylonacantha, a native of Mexico, flowering between the greenhouse and Kincaid Hall. The inflorescence is about 18 feet long.

It’s blazing hot and humid from yesterday morning’s brief thundershower. The ground is parched, fires are starting on the east side of the state and even on the Olympic Peninsula, in the rain forest of the Queets River Valley. More than a million acres of Alaska are burning with hundreds of forest fires as I write. It’s going to be a long summer.

 

 

keep near the water

 sage words from the desert lands

whisper on the wind

 

 

See you in the garden.

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