That was a long, cold winter

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

Here are some of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

see it blooming soon

Pacific rhododendron

that’s our state flower

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

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Quiet

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

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

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

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) in fall colors.

What a perfect place for a bench.

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

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

Black drupes of Aralia spinosa have many seeds.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

through chill winter air

a sound to silence babble

faint call of waxwings

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

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Solstice

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

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

In section B, looking west.

In section A looking east.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

sun low in the sky

day breaks late, night comes early

that’s winter solstice

 

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

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It’s not raining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the haul.

Some of the haul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Surprise!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s a long way down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3793514/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4557762/

 

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

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

 

 

 

first winter rain drops

soaking in and passing through

then falling again

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

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This cool air feels good

It was another hot summer, but thankfully, not as hot as last year. I have a freezer full of tomato sauce from a bumper crop of tomatoes, and not cherry tomatoes or paste tomatoes or mid-size tomatoes, but Black Krim and Brandywine, two of the best big slicers in the world. It’s a shame to turn slicers into sauce, but one can only eat so many fresh tomatoes so it’s the dryer or the saucepan for the rest. My clay soil retains water so well that I watered my tomato plants exactly once, on the day I planted them in late May. After years of planting into sandy soil, it’s nice to have clay.  But I digress…as usual. These days the air is crisp and it’s time to pull the annuals and tender perennials to get cover crops planted in their place. The garden needs its winter rest and we growers need to harvest the fruit of our labors.

I finally bought two traps to catch the rabbit(s). Hmm, if only it were that simple. Rabbits are smarter than I thought and I have a new respect for them. I’ve caught and released two squirrels but the rabbits are tougher customers. They’re steering clear of the traps. Maybe I’ll stop growing the grain bed for a few years, since that was a rabbit magnet and a disaster this year. It looked like it had been mowed in places. It’s always something in a garden. Ask any gardener and they’ll tell you a variation of my tale, “Something is eating my plants”. It might be a tiny insect or a huge ungulate, but unsolicited herbivory is part of the bargain when you grow a garden. And so it goes.

The snow is starting to fall higher up in the mountains and the rain is slowly returning to the lowlands. We need more rain for the fall mushroom season but I’m happy to say I’ve crossed paths with a few porcini (Boletus edulis) on backpacking trips in September. Matsutakes (Tricholoma magnivelare), if they’re going to appear, should be popping with this colder weather, but who knows? Last year’s summer drought and intense heat must have been hard on the mycelium. I didn’t bother foraging last fall and maybe this will be another fungal recovery year.

The oak tree (Quercus rober) that languished on the border of section C last year was finally declared dead and cut down. One of the evergreen huckleberries (Vaccinium ovatum), on the border of sections D and E, has lost some limbs and I won’t be surprised if it gives up the ghost. In a drought, all of the plants put more of their resources into finding water. Unfortunately, they’re all competing for the same limited resource. The nearby Sierra redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) has stretched its roots into adjacent beds, sucking up much of the water that the smaller plants need. It’s difficult to keep the plants on the east side of section D sufficiently irrigated. The soil surface might look damp but just below it’s bone dry and full of tree roots. The same is true on the east sides of sections E and F.  There are too many big trees much too close to the garden beds and they will be an increasing problem for a long, long time, especially as we live through the transition to warmer summers.

But it’s October now, harvest time, and the rain is here and heat is behind us as we brace for winter. Delicious ground cherries (Physalis spp.) are ripening. They’re an excellent fruit but they ripen late. Give them a very sunny and protected spot and start them at least as early as you start your tomatoes.

Ground cherry (Physalis pruinosa) fruit in its papery husk. This species is native to eastern North America. Another species, Physalis peruviana, is native to South America and looks quite similar. The fruit flavors are different but they're both delicious. At the nearby Beacon Food Forest, someone made a ground cherry pie as a dessert for a community dinner. It was a hit. This is an easy plant to grow. Grow some and make a ground cherry pie if you know what's good for you.

Ground cherry (Physalis pruinosa) fruit in its papery husk. This species is native to eastern North America. Another species, Physalis peruviana, is native to South America and looks quite similar. The fruit flavors are different but they’re both delicious. At the nearby Beacon Food Forest, someone made a ground cherry pie as a dessert for a community dinner. It was a hit. This is an easy plant to grow. Grow some and be the first one on your block to make a ground cherry pie.

Ground cherry fruit, ripe and ready to eat.

Ground cherry fruit, ripe and ready to eat.

Before retiring one of the tropical/subtropical beds for the winter,  I photographed the striped cucumber plants (Diplocyclos palmatus). The fruit have been used medicinally in India. They are toxic and not for eating, but they made a beautiful display on the trellis.

Too bad the striped cucumber fruit are toxic because they sure would look good in a salad.

Too bad striped cucumber fruit are toxic because they sure would look good in a salad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe try these Chilean guava (Ugni molinae) fruit instead, for a sweet, spicy addition to a savory salad. There was a small crop last year, but this year both bushes near section C were covered in fruit. The fruit forest from across the street is being reborn on the north border of section C and the lawn east of Benson Hall. The first prune plums (Prunus domestica), Nanking cherries (Prunus tomentosa) and Chilean myrtle berries (Luma apiculata) should be ready for harvest by 2018 and the paw paws (Asimina triloba) by 2019.

Chilean guava shrub (Ugni molinae) with mature fruit. They're sweet and spicy. These are situated near the top of a south facing slope and they're protected from winter winds. In short, they're in the right spot. In the wrong spot they can freeze in winter. A bad winter might trump a good spot but plants of borderline hardiness need to be planted in just the right spot which might not be exist where you live. Still, it's worth a try.

Chilean guava shrubs absolutely loaded
with mature fruit. They’re sweet and spicy. These are situated near the top of a south facing slope and they’re protected from winter winds. In short, they’re in the right spot. In the wrong spot they can freeze in winter. A bad winter might trump a good spot but plants of borderline hardiness need to be planted in just the right spot, even in a mild year. Alas, such a spot might not exist where you live. Still, it’s worth a try. They’re evergreen so they would make an excellent edible border hedge.

Some fruiting vines, shrubs and trees bear fruit pretty dependably, and others have productive years followed by nearly barren years. It takes a lot of energy to produce fruit and environmental stress, like too much heat or cold (that might damage the plant’s tissue or shut down its pollinators), not enough water, robust competition from neighboring plants, excessive herbivory, disease etc., can all play a part in irregular fruit output. I’d love to have the time to study the vagaries of fruit production but other duties call. The best I can do is try to be observant. So I do (when I remember) note on the seed collection envelopes, very high or low volume seed production years. If I lived a thousand years and kept very good records, maybe I’d gain some insights worth passing on, but there are so many variables…I’m not sure a thousand years would be enough.

Last year the maypop (Passiflora incarnata) was covered in fruit. This year there is only one.

Just a single passion fruit on the maypop (Passiflora incarnata) this year. The plant was covered in flowers but produced only one fruit. Hopefully it will ripen and be really, really, really good.

Just a single passion fruit on the maypop this year. The plant was covered in flowers but produced only one fruit. Hopefully it will ripen and be really, really, really good.

There were more trifoliate orange fruit last year, but they were all small, a very late second crop after the first crop dropped off, presumably due to the intense heat and lack of water. This year they’re fully ripening for the first time in about a decade. I know not why. If you want a life full of unending mystery, become a gardener.

Mature fruit of trifoliate orange or zhi shi (Poncirus trifoliata) in section D. This is the first time they've ripened in many years. They have been used in traditional Chinese medicine, but even when ripe, the small fruit are full of seeds and sour/bitter pulp with very little juice. It might be worth making candied rinds or marmalade from them.

Mature fruit of trifoliate orange or zhi shi (Poncirus trifoliata) in section D.  They have been used in traditional Chinese medicine, but even when ripe, the small fruit are full of seeds and sour/bitter pulp with very little juice. It might be worth making candied rinds, marmalade or zhi shi kosho from them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flowers of pigeon pea (Cajanas cajan), a popular and important food crop in subtropics and tropics

Flowers of pigeon pea (Cajanas cajan), a popular and important food crop in the subtropics and tropics. There are now some small pods developing but it’s getting colder and darker every day. I wouldn’t consider growing them as a food crop in the Pacific Northwest  but maybe as a colorful conversation piece. Look at those flowers!

Canary balm (Cedronella canariensis) flowers in section B. The foliage makes an excellent tea and the plant, though marginally hardy around here, will drop enough seeds to keep reappearing in your garden.

Canary balm (Cedronella canariensis) flowers in section B. The foliage makes an excellent tea and the plant, though marginally hardy around here, will drop enough seeds to keep reappearing in your garden. It’s called Canary balm because it originates in the Canary Islands.

Flowers of this unknown variety of grannyvine (Ipomoea tricolor) start out dark blue and white, then fade to pale blue, rose and white

Flowers of grannyvine (Ipomoea tricolor) start out dark blue and white, then fade to pale blue, rose and white.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since no charismatic predatory birds or adorable (Grrr!) bunnies would pose for the camera, this little spider had to step in for the obligatory fauna shot. What a handsome spider.

Unless you're afflicted with an extreme case of arachniphobia, it's hard not to like these little jumping spiders. They're amazing acrobats who can jump up to 25 times their length. I believe this is the bold jumping spider (Phiddipus audax), but I know little about spiders. It was hopping around on a bench in the greenhouse where I start seeds and grow seedlings.

Unless you’re afflicted with an extreme case of arachniphobia, it’s hard not to like these little jumping spiders. They’re amazing acrobats who can jump up to 25 times their length and their herky-jerky, robotic movements are so strange that they seem more like visitors from the land of misfit toys than real spiders.  I believe this is the bold jumping spider (Phiddipus audax), but I could be wrong. It was hopping around on a bench in the greenhouse where I start seeds and grow seedlings.

 

 

 

snowy mountaintop

view from an orchard ladder

harvest time again

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

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Cute as a bunny…or not.

A few mornings ago, as I set off to water on the east end of the garden, I passed through section C. That’s the section where the grains have been mysteriously disappearing into the stomach of the phantom herbivore. Make that formerly phantom herbivore:

What the…? Are you eating the ragleaf bahia (Bahia dissecta)?

What the…? Are you eating the ragleaf bahia (Bahia dissecta)?

Yes.

Yes, the bunny is finally busted.

Rabbits are fast and able to turn on a dime. Off s/he went to the protection of the thicket on the west edge of section C.

Rabbits (this is a young eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus) are fast and able to turn on a dime. Off it went to the protection of the thicket on the west edge of section C. Grrr!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure what to do. Eventually, I might get a live trap and relocate any rabbit(s) I catch to somewhere far enough away that returning will not be a viable option. The barred owl (Strix varia) seems to have moved on but maybe it will be back. Barred owls eat rabbits. For now, I’ll wait to see how bad the damage gets and how dense the rabbit population becomes. The good news is that that so far, with the exception of the grain bed, damage hasn’t been too bad. A lot of nibbled areas here and there, but nothing has been decimated. Peace for now, bunny.

While weeding recently, I came across these two:

Junco chicks (junco hyemalis) whose nest was hidden beneath leaves and understory plants on the garden's edge. I encountered them while weeding and the alarm calls of their parents tipped me off. The parents were getting pretty agitated so I had to quickly snap this shot and move on.

Junco chicks (Junco hyemalis) whose nest was hidden beneath leaves and understory plants on the garden’s edge. The alarm calls of their parents tipped me off. The parents were getting pretty agitated so I had to quickly snap this shot and move on.

It might be my misperception, but it seems like there is an increasing number of juncos and a decreasing number of white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) in the garden over the last decade or so.

They're less than an inch long, but Pacific crab apples (Malus fusca) have a bright, tangy apple taste. They were traditionally eaten by Pacific Northwest natives, from Alaska to California. Bark from the trees was used to treat long, heart, skin and eye conditions among other things.

They’re less than an inch long, but Pacific crabapples (Malus fusca) have a bright, tangy apple taste. They were traditionally eaten by Pacific Northwest natives, from Alaska to California. Bark from the trees was used to treat lung, heart, skin and eye conditions among other things. I’ve seen Pacific crabapple trees growing in an estuary in BC, near Bella Coola. They were sometimes flooded with brackish water and appeared none the worse for it.

Wild plums (Prunus americana) ripening near Cascara Circle. The skin is a bit thicker than most domesticated plums and the flesh resembles apricot (Prunus armeniaca).

Wild plums (Prunus americana) ripening near Cascara Circle. They have thicker skin than most domesticated plums and the flesh resembles the consistency and flavor of apricot (Prunus armeniaca).

Leafy goosefoot (Chenopodium foliosum) has edible, nutritious leaves. Its attractive red fruit are also edible but insipid. Leafy goosefoot used to be in the Chenopodiaceae, a plant family that included spinach (Spinacia oleracea), lamb's quarters (Cheopodium album), and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). All of the above are now in the Amaranthaceae. In an act of generic cleansing, the Chenopodiaceae has disappeared into the Amaranthaceae. It's hard to keep up with all of the changes happening in the world of plant systematics. Some labels in the garden are woefully out of date.

Leafy goosefoot (Chenopodium foliosum) has edible, nutritious leaves. Its attractive red fruit are also edible but dull. Leafy goosefoot used to be in the Chenopodiaceae, a plant family that included spinach (Spinacia oleracea),
lamb’s quarters (Cheopodium album), and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). All of the above are now in the Amaranthaceae. Recently, the family formerly known as Chenopodiaceae has disappeared, subsumed into the Amaranthaceae. I get dizzy, trying to keep up with all of the changes happening in the world of plant systematics.

Fruit on the Ephedra plants in the xeriscape bed. I'm growing two New World species, Ephedra chilensis and Ephedra nevadensis. Neither species is known to contain significant amounts of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or norpseudoephedrine. Some of the Old World species, like Ephedra sinica (ma huang), contain significant amounts of ephedrine alkaloids.

Fruit on the Ephedra plants in the xeriscape bed are edible. Though several sources describe them as sweet and insipid, I get a hint of sweet and a hint of bitter, and yes, they are insipid. I’m growing two New World species, Ephedra chilensis and Ephedra nevadensis. Neither species is known to contain significant amounts of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or norpseudoephedrine. Some of the Old World species, like Ephedra sinica (usually the species used in the ma huang of commerce), are high in ephedrine alkaloids. I would grow ma huang here but it has been stolen (repeatedly) in the past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's been a long time since I drank grape Kool-Aid or ate a grape Jolly Rancher, but those are what I think of when I smell the scent of this tarwi (Lupinus mutabilis).

The fruit of this plant in section B, near the fig tree, are lupine seeds but the flowers smell like grape Kool-Aid or  maybe grape Jolly Ranchers. It’s tarwi (Lupinus mutabilis), a food crop grown in the Andes. They get powdery mildew around this time every summer, but they’re covered in flowers right now, so smell them if you get the chance.

There's nothing about the indigo plants (Indigofera tinctoria) in section C that points to their importance as a dye plant of the bluest of blues. I expected them to at least have big blue flowers but they're small and pink.

There’s nothing about the indigo plants (Indigofera tinctoria) in section C that points to their importance as a dye plant of the bluest blues. I expected them to at least have blue flowers but they’re small and pink. Indigo is supposedly a zone 9 plant, so it might make it through the winter outside with protection around here.

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Flowers of the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), north of section A are similar though a bit larger than the flowers on the Chinese chaste tree (Vitex negundo) near section B. The seeds of chaste tree are sometimes referred to as monk’s pepper because they are considered to be an anaphrodisiac. They are currently used to help regulate the female reproductive system, especially to treat symptoms of PMS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of you might have heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I think I caught it on film. Either that or qu mai (Dianthus superbus).

You might have heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I think I caught it on film. Either that or qu mai (Dianthus superbus).

You can spend a lot of money buying summer purslane (Portulaca oleracea) as a fancypants vegetable at your local farmers market. Or you can come to the Medicinal Herb Garden and get an official authorization from me that will allow you, for a very limited time, to harvest as much summer purslane from the garden beds and pathways as you and you mule can carry home. Really.

Spend a lot of money buying summer purslane (Portulaca oleracea) as a fancypants vegetable at your local farmers market. Or you can come to the Medicinal Herb Garden and get an official authorization from me that will allow you, for a very limited time, to harvest as much summer purslane from the garden beds and pathways as you and your mule can carry home. Really.

What is it about certain shades of yellow and white that confounds my cheap little camera. I couldn't focus, but finally decided the dreamy, haunting haze around the flowers was, no kidding, just the effect I was looking for. The plant is sweet yellow bells (Hermannia incana) from South Africa. It was used traditionally to treat diarrhea, stomach ache, nausea and vomiting. It's effectiveness in treating diarrhea has been confirmed by recent tests on rats. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20383343

What is it about certain shades of yellow and white that confounds my cheap little camera? I couldn’t focus, but finally decided the dreamy, haunting haze around the flowers was, no kidding, just the effect I was looking for.
The plant is sweet yellow bells (Hermannia incana) from South Africa. It has been used traditionally to treat diarrhoea, stomach ache, nausea and vomiting. Its effectiveness in treating diarrhoea seems to be confirmed by recent tests on rats. Living in a wealthy, industrialized nation, it is hard to believe, but the World Health Organization reports that diarrhoeal diseases are the second leading cause of death  worldwide, for children under the age of five.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flowers of thyme-leaved savory (Satureja thymbra) in section B. I recently bought a big jar of Lebanese olives that was packed with thyme-leaved savory. It added a bitterness that was addictive. Olives, who can eat just one.

Flowers of thyme-leaved savory (Satureja thymbra) in section B. I recently bought a big jar of Lebanese olives that was packed with thyme-leaved savory. It added a bitterness that was addictive. Olives, who can eat just one?

The manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) that I planted a couple of years ago has grown quickly. I wonder if it isn't a different variety than I've grown in the past. We have had some hot summers and warm winters, so that probably is a factor, but the newer manuka is as tall as I am and the much older plants are less than a foot tall

The manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) that I planted a couple of years ago has grown quickly. I wonder if it isn’t a different variety than I’ve grown in the past. We have had some hot summers and warm winters, so the weather could be a factor, but the newer manuka is as tall as I am and the much older plants are less than a foot tall. Hmmm.

It's easy to walk past wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Its pale pink flowers aren't as showy as scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma), but it's worth inspecting more closely the things we take for granted. The flowers have a subtle beauty up close.

It’s easy to walk past wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Its pale pink flowers aren’t as showy as scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma), but it’s sometimes worth inspecting more closely the things we take for granted. The flowers have a subtle beauty up close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild senna (Senna marilandica) flowers profusely every year and the plants are vigorous. Unfortunately, the plants rarely produce seeds. I'm not sure why.

Wild senna (Senna marilandica) flowers profusely every year and the plants are vigorous. Unfortunately, they rarely produce seeds. I’m not sure why.

Leaves on one of the chokeberry bushes have started to turn bright red, as they normally do in autumn.

Leaves on one of the chokeberry bushes have started to turn bright red, as they would normally do later on in autumn. It might be caused by drought stress.

Sometimes the flowers compose themselves in such a way that I can't help taking a picture. The pink flowers are showy tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense), the yellow are safflowers (Carthamus tinctorius) and the blue are gentian sage (Salvia patens).

Floral display in the border between sections A and B. The pink flowers are showy tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense), the yellow are safflowers (Carthamus tinctorius) and the blue are gentian sage (Salvia patens).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you make it to the Medicinal Herb Garden, be sure to walk across the street and view the site of the future Life Sciences Building and Biology Greenhouse. It changes from day to day.

If you have a special attachment to the southwest corner of the Plant Lab basement, this is the last shot you will ever see of it. It's amazing how quickly this is going from a demolition site to a building site.

That is the southwest corner of the Plant Lab basement and this is the last shot you will ever see of it. It’s amazing how quickly this lot is going from a demolition site to a building site.

 

 

 

 

surprised once again

as always by late summer

we savor these days

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

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The phantom herbivore, new open space and other wonders

Somewhere in or near the Medicinal Herb Garden lives an herbivore whose ways are quite mysterious. It has eaten all the oats (Avena sativa) and has moved on to the spelt (Triticum spelta) and the einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum). Last year I thought it might be birds, but now I don’t think so.

Nibbled stalks in the grain bed in section C. Who is eating the grain? Mountain beaver, rat, rabbit? I wish I knew. There's no scat or prints left behind. A recent rabbit sighting (first ever, to my knowledge) has me worried. Rabbits are not a gardener's best friend. Oh well, life in a public garden..what can you do?

Nibbled stalks in the grain bed in section C. Who is eating the grain? Mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa), rat (Rattus sp.), rabbit (until proven otherwise, I will assume ours are the introduced eastern cottontails, (Sylvilagus floridanus)? I wish I knew. There’s no scat or prints left behind. A recent rabbit sighting (first ever in the garden, to my knowledge) has me worried. Rabbits are not a gardener’s best friend. Oh well, life in a public garden..what can you do?

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The stalks provide a nice thatch for the soil and probably help retain moisture but…small consolation for losing all the grain. And the song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) and juncos (Junco hyemalis) are eating the smaller grains. It’s always something.

Well, after much preparation, the clearing of the space for the new Life Sciences Building and Biology Greenhouse has begun. The contractors work really fast.

The former fruit forest area being cleared.

The former fruit forest area being cleared.

Don't blink. It happened quickly.

Don’t blink. It happened quickly.

The greenhouse was next.

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First the south side.

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Then the north.  The pile in the center looks a little like a piece of John Chamberlain sculpture.

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Then the Plant Lab. They should paint that demolition excavator to look like Tyrranosaurus rex.

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Now they’re sorting out recyclable metal, leveling the ground and doing what needs to be done to build a new building.

Meanwhile, back in the garden, I have a followup report from the last blog post. No, the other yi ye qiu (Flueggea suffruticosa) is not female so I need to get more plants started and yes, the Leccino olive (Olea europaea) has a few olives forming, so it must be marginally self-fertile.

Exhibit A, Leccino olives.

Exhibit A: a few Leccino olives forming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a good time to visit the Medicinal Herb Garden if you want to see flowers on display, or insects sipping nectar and gathering pollen, birds and maybe rabbits eating the grains from the grain bed and even a raccoon taking a nap in a tree. Listen for the crows who see all and report on it to those who listen.

Crows alerted me but they quickly lost interest when they realized s/he was taking a nap and not out foraging for eggs.

Crows alerted me to you-know-who, but they quickly lost interest when they realized s/he was taking a nap and not out foraging for their eggs.

Tufted evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) in section C. Though it is a perennial, it rots in our wet winters. Next year I'll try growing it in the xeriscape bed to see if it will overwinter.

Tufted evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) in section C. Though it is a perennial, it rots in our wet winters. Next year I’ll try growing it in the xeriscape bed to see if it will overwinter.

Blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis)…is an iris…but who's counting?

Blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis)…is an iris…but who’s counting?

Farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena) has several varieties and subspecies, some 'showier' than others but I prefer the subtle coloration these display. They're in the border between sections A and B. The Miwok people of what is now northern California, traditionally ground the seeds for food.

Farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena) has several varieties and subspecies, some ‘showier’ than others but I prefer the subtle coloration these display. They’re in the border between sections A and B. The Miwok people of what is now northern California, traditionally ground the seeds for food.

Great golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus). They feed exclusively on flower nectar and plant sap which they're apparently finding on the goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), a plant that draws in a lot of insects. If I weren't being paid to do other things, I could stand there for hours watching the insect visitors to the goldenrod and hundreds of other plant species in the garden. What's your excuse?

Great golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) foraging in section D. They feed exclusively on flower nectar and plant sap which they’re apparently finding on the goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), a plant that draws in a lot of insects. If I weren’t being paid to do other things, I could stand there for hours watching the insect visitors to the goldenrod and hundreds of other plant species in the garden. What’s your excuse?

By the way, great golden digger wasps are very gentle and won't sting you if you don't try to handle them. They are solitary, make their nests in the ground, catch and paralyze katydids, grasshoppers and cicadas which they fly or drag back to their nest. There they deposit one egg on each insect they collect. When the eggs hatch in a few days, the larvae begin eating the insect beneath them.

By the way, great golden digger wasps are very gentle and won’t sting you if you don’t try to handle them. They are solitary and make their nests in the ground. Their claim to fame: they catch and paralyze katydids, grasshoppers and cicadas(and who knows what else) which they fly or drag back to their nest. There they deposit one egg on each insect they collect. When the eggs hatch in a few days, the larvae begin eating the insects beneath them. Be glad you’re not a katydid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The downy sunflower (Helianthus mollis) is an altogether joyful plant to behold. It is pretty drought tolerant and will fill in wasteland to crowd out invasive colonizers of disturbed soils. I love this plant…but something about this picture of a developing flower gives me the creeps.

The downy sunflower (Helianthus mollis) is an altogether joyful plant to behold. It is pretty drought tolerant and will fill in wasteland to crowd out invasive colonizers of disturbed soils. I love this plant…but something about this picture of a developing flower gives me the creeps. It’s in section D.

Dayflower (Commelina tuberosa) has starchy, edible roots which like to spread, so, beautiful though it is, you might want to plant it in a wild border. Wild borders are all I have in the garden. Borders, in my opinion, are a good place to let plants establish their own order

Dayflower (Commelina tuberosa) has starchy, edible roots which like to spread, so, beautiful though it is, you might want to plant it in a wild border. Wild borders are all I have in the garden. Borders, in my opinion, are a good place to let plants establish their own order.

Section B 'just-so' composition.

Section B ‘just-so’ composition.

Common mallow (Malva alcea) in section A.

Common mallow (Malva alcea) in section A.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You saw the flowers of mountain avens (Dryas octopetala) in a previous post. Their seed heads resemble those of prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) another member of the Rosaceae.

You saw the flowers of mountain avens (Dryas octopetala) in a previous post. Their seed heads, shown here, resemble those of prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), another member of the Rosaceae.

 

If you have wandered through section C and wondered what is going on with the mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum), fear not. This has been a big year for aphids on a lot of plants, but the predators finally arrived. I smushed many aphids at first, but once the ladybugs showed up, I passed the duty to them.

Larval stage of the ladybug (Coccinella sp.) on its way to cleaning up the aphid explosion.

Larval stage of the ladybug (Coccinella sp.) on its way to cleaning up the aphid explosion.

Chinese chaste tree (Vitex negundo) branch whose flowers refused to be photographed in the light breeze. They're small enough to go unnoticed but they're worth close inspection.

Chinese chaste tree (Vitex negundo) branch whose flowers refused to be photographed in the light breeze. They’re small enough to go unnoticed but they’re worth close inspection.

The whole Chinese chaste tree in its full glory. I'm planting at least one of these in my yard as a neighbor screen.

The whole Chinese chaste tree in its full glory near the garden shed. I’m planting at least one of these in my yard as a neighbor screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update:  Most of the herons have flown the coop. To the best of my knowledge, all of the fledglings made it. Maybe the eagles were busy with the larger rookery in Ballard.

The flower show doesn’t last forever, so hurry if you want to see the garden at its peak. Life is short and it’s good to get outside. Really good.

 

 

 

 

glare of hot gravel

cool shade of Chinese chaste tree

a day in July

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Warm spring, cool summer and some close encounters

At the risk of jinxing the string of recent good gardening weather, I have to say it’s been nice to get some rain and cooler temperatures after the extreme heat of spring. It rained last night and the night before. It’s cool and breezy today and the air has the freshness of April, but not this April, which felt more like August. After an explosion of flowers on the Leccino olive tree, I had high hopes that we might get another good crop, two years after the first. But I noticed yesterday that neither the Arbequinas nor the Manzanillos flowered at all. Dang! It so happens that, of the three cultivars, only the Arbequinas are supposed to be self-fertile. So the Leccino, unless another olive cultivar was flowering synchronously nearby while I had my back turned, will likely be barren again this year.  Ouch.

Luckily, the fig in section B is finally recovering from the radical reconstructive surgery I performed on it over the last five years. It’s more like a fig bush than a fig tree now, but it’s bearing fruit again. The fruit used to go almost entirely to the birds, but humans are now sharing the bounty.

It is July and, of course, many flowers and fruit are still in the process of developing, but others are in full display. The native roses have already flowered, but their fruit persist on the plants for a long time, food for an array of herbivores, including some humans.

Wood's rose (Rosa woodsii)

Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii) in Cascara Circle.

Cluster rose or pea rose (Rosa pisocarpa) in Cascacara Circle.

Cluster rose or pea rose (Rosa pisocarpa) in Cascara Circle. They haven’t turned red yet, but they will.

Baldhip rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) in Cascara Circle.

Baldhip rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) in Cascara Circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) in Cascara Circle.

Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) in Cascara Circle. They have the largest fruit and I would imagine that they would provide a nice, tart paste if run through a food processor.  By the way, Cascara Circle is a little grassy glade at the west end of the garden and it has almost exclusively Pacific Northwest native plants, although some of our natives are circumboreal, so they also occur in other parts of the boreal (northern temperate) regions of the world.

Fifty feet to the west, the American plum has produced fruit. Last year’s heat (or something) caused it to abort all of its fruit. I think they will ripen this summer.

American plum (Prunus americana) on the outer northwestern edge of the woods, north of Cascara Circle.

American plum (Prunus americana) on the outer northwestern edge of the woods, north of Cascara Circle.

According to the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens (KRBG) website, Alexander the Great, while out conquering and adventuring, lost men who made the mistake of skewering their meat for grilling on the toxic branches of oleander. Yes, it is quite toxic, but, as KRBG also points out, oleander can be used by some heart patients as an alternative to digitalis. The same is true of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis). The oleander in the garden made it through the last (mild) winter with no damage. How it will do if temperatures get below 20F for a week or two, I don’t know. I’ll have to wait and see.

Oleander (Nereum oleander) in section B.

Oleander (Nerium oleander) in section B.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most species of milkweed in the Medicinal Herb Garden have no discernible scent (nothing that I’ve noticed anyway), but the showy milkweed has beautiful, star-shaped flowers with a delicious aroma that draws people in as if by gravitational pull, as they try to figure out where the scent originates. Perhaps they’re human-nose pollinated. Once before, I grew showy milkweed in section C and it performed dismally. It seems to like its new spot and is thriving as one of the garden’s more charismatic specimens. If it spreads out of its bed like the nearby Chinese licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis) and American licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota), well, so be it. Garden borders are an unnatural encumbrance (as are gardens…) and I support all plants that will not be neatly domesticated. Amen. Anyway, it’s a small price to pay for being able to grow wild plants.

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) in section B.

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) in section B.

And then there’s yi ye qiu; the flowers are tiny and unremarkable, but who cares? It just happens to be one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. It doesn’t need to look good. Unfortunately, I neglected to look closely at the flowers on the other plant. Yi ye qiu is dioecious, meaning there are both plants with only male flowers, and plants with only female flowers. These pictured below are male (or staminate) flowers, so, first duty on Monday is to investigate the flowers on the other plant to see if they’re female (or pistillate). If not, I need to start more plants to hopefully grow a female to plant near the male and get some fruit (small, unremarkable seed capsules…).

Yi ye qiu (Flueggea suffruticosa) in the northern border of section A.

Yi ye qiu (Flueggea suffruticosa) in the northern border of section A.

This has been a banner year for the eastern prickly pears in the xeriscape bed, but this is the only species of Opuntia that is flowering. Don’t ask why. What you see is what you get.

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) flowering in the xeriscape bed.

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) flowering in the xeriscape bed.

Look at those flowers!

They just keep flowering.

Nearby the Opuntias, showy evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) in xeriscape bed foreground with butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in the background.

Nearby the Opuntias, showy evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) in xeriscape bed foreground with butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) directly behind it.

Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) a few feet away in the xeriscape bed. It's putting out new growth from the base of the stem, just when I thought it might be on its last legs.

Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) a few feet away in the xeriscape bed. It’s putting out new growth from the base of the stem, just when I thought it might be on its last legs.

Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) growing next to Benson Hall. These loquat trees were planted by Dr. Art Kruckeberg while he was a professor of Botany at the UW. Loquats are delicious, relatively free of pests and diseases, its flowers are scented and it's foliage is evergreen. If you can't find one at a local garden store, you can order them by mail from the excellent Burnt Ridge Nursery.

Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) growing next to Benson Hall. These loquat trees were planted by the late Dr. Art Kruckeberg while he was a professor of Botany at the UW. Loquats are delicious, relatively free of pests and diseases, with scented flowers and attractive, evergreen foliage. Most of the leaves in the picture are inverted. The tops of the leaves are glossy, dark green. If you can’t find one at a local garden store, you can order them by mail from the excellent Burnt Ridge Nursery in Onalaska, WA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White marsh marigolds (Caltha leptosepala) that I photographed recently near Bald Mountain in the Cascades. There were some in the Cascara Circle stream but they mysteriously disappeared last year. They look better in the mountains.

White marsh marigolds (Caltha leptosepala) that I photographed recently near Bald Mountain in the Cascades. There were some in the Cascara Circle stream but they mysteriously disappeared last year. They look better in the mountains.

 

That’s the flora report. Now for the fauna report. Raccoons, herons and coyotes…and now deer. The edge of the University of Washington campus has a lot of green space connected to other green spaces around the city. These green spaces are excellent corridors that allow animals to pass through the city without being seen. Sometimes it feels more like a park than a college campus.

My new friend. This raccoon (Procyon lotor) keeps popping up in the herb garden. S/he doesn't mess with the plants so we are peacefully coexisting.

My new friend. This raccoon (Procyon lotor) keeps popping up in the herb garden, often in this Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis). S/he doesn’t mess with the plants so we are peacefully coexisting.

Across Stevens Way, these fledgling herons (Ardea herodias), if you can spot them in the blur of my weak zoom lens, are testing their wings, ready for their first attempt at flight. Maybe they will have taken flight by Monday. Good luck, big birds!

Across Stevens Way, these fledgling herons (Ardea herodias), if you can spot them in the blur of my weak zoom lens, are testing their wings, ready for their first attempt at flight. Maybe they will have taken flight by Monday. Good luck, big birds!

I wanted to get pictures of the coyote (Canis latrans) pups by the Union Bay Natural Area (near where I’m starting my plants for the next two years, until the new Biology Greenhouse is built), but I was too late. Apparently a few of the  neighbors felt they could not live near coyotes that had a den nearby, so they called in the USDA to shoot the mother and two pups last week. I suspect there will be more coyotes. They’ve been seen in that area for years, so the habitat must be good for them. They haven’t acquired the title of Trickster for nothing. My guess is that shooting a few coyotes, assuming at least one escaped, is the first step in selecting for stealthier, wilier coyotes. If they learn to stay out of sight, only those of us who look for their signs will know they’re here.

Last week, on the same day I heard about the coyote extermination, my source told me that a deer (Odocoileus virginianus) had been seen walking through the same area. There aren’t many off-leash dogs running around the north end of the city and there are a lot of  gardens with tasty plants to browse, so it’s probably a pretty nice place for a deer to bed down for a while. It’s exciting to know that a walk at first light or evening twilight might lead any of us to a close encounter with a wilderness visitor, creeping in at the edges, outside our control. Here’s a YouTube link to a favorite song by Exene Cervenka, written from the perspective of that irreverent  outlaw, the coyote.

 

 

 

 

eyes catching firelight

nearby but beyond our reach

watching us depart

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Busy, busy spring

I took some photos a while ago, hoping to write an April blog post but that didn’t happen. It has been very busy around here. Spring is the busiest season at the Medicinal Herb Garden and in most gardens. It always feels like a juggling act with hundreds of seedlings to be planted, unpredictable weather, the challenges of slugs and snails and weeds.  The extra stresses of the move out of the greenhouse and having to maintain my plants in multiple locations have sapped my energy a bit, and writing blog posts has been low on the list of things to do. But here’s a slim update.

It was the hottest April on record here in Seattle,  and May started out hot, but it is cool and overcast and we’ve had some good rains recently. What a blessing spring rain is in a Mediterranean climate. If we can get another couple of inches before summer hits, I will be very happy. Plus, this rain is good for the morel and spring porcini forecast. Porcini!

Here are some recent(ish) photos from around the garden.

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Eriogonum umbellatum (sulphur-flower buckwheat) in full floral display, section C.

Dictamnus albus var. purpureus (gas plant, dittany) in section C.

Dictamnus albus var. purpureus (gas plant, dittany) in section C.

Chionanthus virginicus (fringe tree) from southeastern USA flowers in May and June and is quite a spectacle. It's west of Cascara Circle.

Chionanthus virginicus (fringe tree) from southeastern USA flowers in May and June and is quite a spectacle. It’s west of Cascara Circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sanicula europea (wood sanicle) in section E is one of the few plants to thrive in the dense shade beneath the giant oak.

Sanicula europea (wood sanicle) in section E is   one of the few plants to thrive in the dense shade beneath the giant oak.

Dryas octopetala (mountain avens) is a circumpolar species from the tundras of the world. It creeps inconspicuously along until it flowers.

Dryas octopetala (mountain avens) is a circumpolar/boreal species from the tundras and  mountains. It creeps inconspicuously along until it flowers.

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Prunus americana (American plum) west of the woods to the north of Cascara Circle. The drought (or something) last year caused it to abort its fruit. The April flower display this year was a good sign.

Procyon lotor (raccoon) in the woods north of section D.

You again! Procyon lotor (raccoon) in the woods north of section D. I have nothing against raccoons, but it would be nice to get some more coyotes (Canis latrans) on campus to keep them on their toes.

Valeriana sitchensis (Sitka valerian) in section A. On a backpacking trip in the Cascades, on Pilot Ridge, I collected the seeds to grow these plants. The sour smell of valerian is well known to anyone who hikes the western mountains in late summer.

Valeriana sitchensis (Sitka valerian) in section A. On a backpacking trip in the Cascades, on Pilot Ridge, I collected the seeds to grow these plants. The sour smell of valerian is well known to anyone who hikes the western mountains in late summer.

Malus fusca (Pacific crabapple) with buds getting ready to open (...on April 6).

Malus fusca (Pacific crabapple) with buds getting ready to open (…on April 6).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rheum palmatum (Chinese rhubarb) in section C, unfurling its leaves after a winter of rest.

Rheum palmatum (Chinese rhubarb) in section C, unfurling its leaves after a winter of rest.

 

There’s so much more to see but this will have to do for now. I’m exhausted and very soon I will need some blissful time in the mountains to recover.

 

 

 

 

May soil slowly warms

under intermittent rain

flowers appearing

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March winds

A couple of weeks ago we met with a windstorm that took a toll on some of the big trees of Seattle. In the Medicinal Herb Garden, a large, upright branch of a deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) came down on the southwest edge of Cascara Circle.

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The monkey saw it happen.

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Mooseberry/highbush cranberry (Viburnum edule…barely visible in the center of the picture) on the edge of the bog was crushed…but it survived. Plants are tough.

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Those branches each weigh hundreds of pounds. Ouch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The jack pine (Pinus banksiana) that I started from seed a decade ago was flattened under this tree debris.

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But it popped right back once I cut away everything on top of it.

 

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Raccoons (Procyon lotor) on the move.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe this pair lost their nest tree in the storm and were out searching for a new home, when out of nowhere popped the paparazzi. I tried to be discreet but they wanted none of it. Usually people move away from raccoons. They seemed uncomfortable with my breech of protocol as I moved closer to snap their picture.

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Why can’t we be friends?

I once tried to shoo a raccoon off my enclosed front porch. It was eating the garbage from a garbage bag I’d put there…to keep it away from the raccoons. The intrepid, wily omnivore got on the porch by pulling open the screen door. So I opened the kitchen window a crack and thrust a broomstick out to jab it and scare it off. It grabbed the broomstick with its teeth and tried to pull it out of my hands, then charged me when I wouldn’t relent. That was enough for me and I retreated. Raccoons are tenacious.

And so are some seeds, clinging to dormancy when they should be germinating. Starting seeds seems like a pretty simple proposition. If you’re starting broccoli seeds, it is. Your wait will be short and your rate of germination will be high. But wild plants can be a bit trickier. They exist beyond the pale of human selection, so they have evolved in environments with very specific natural conditions. What months does the rain fall, and how much rain? How cold are the winters and how long? In what sort of soil do they grow? How hot are the summers, what is the elevation and latitude, which herbivores (if any) consume and spread the plants’ seeds, etc., etc.  There are many pieces to the puzzle of how to propagate wild plants from seeds, trying to replicate the conditions of their natural habitat. Some are so easy and some are so hard. Cracking the code of how best to germinate seeds (and keep them alive) is the mission of plant propagators everywhere. Patience can pay off sometimes.

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Eleutherococcus henryi…finally!

I received and quickly planted these Eleutherococcus henryi seeds in March of 2014. They got ninety days of cold (in the refrigerator) then proceeded to do nothing all summer in the hoop house behind the greenhouse. The next winter they got five months of cold and still there was no action that spring and summer. This winter, they got another five months in the refrigerator. When I pulled them out in late February, I had low expectations. Then they all started to sprout. So it took three winters and two summers, plus scarification with some rough sand paper (Eleutherococcus seed coats are hard) before sowing to get these plants started. You can see all the moss that has grown on the flat. I broke it up each spring to make it easier for the seedlings to grow through.

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More or less the same story with this Sanicula marilandica, though three seedlings came up last spring. The balance seem to have sprouted this spring. Good things come to those who wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Even the Eleutherococcus sessiliflorus got into the act. Don’t, repeat, don’t throw out your ‘failed’ seed flats in frustration. Hang in there, have hope, be patient. It’s worth it.

 

More perennials are emerging from their underground dormancy. This week we’re supposed to have temperatures pushing 70 F.

Codonopsis tangshen/spring growth

Codonopsis tangshen/spring growth. Of the three species of Codonopsis I grow, C. tangshen is always up first.

March is a transition month here. Most of it is technically winter but gardeners in the Pacific Northwest know that spring begins long before March 20.

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Owl clover (Aralia californica) making its first appearance after winter dormancy on March 24. It is the only member of the ginseng family (Araliaceae) native to California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus).

Speaking of the Araliaceae, in a nearby bed is one of its more charismatic members, the Siberian ginseng, a tough, spiny shrub. Common names are often confusing. Though it is called ginseng, E. senticosus is in a different genus than the plants we normally call ginseng. Those plants, both the Old World Panax ginseng and related species, and the New World Panax quinquefolius, are herbaceous perennials, not shrubs.

The other skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) from eastern North America, smaller than our western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). Both fall into the category of marginal survival foods of last resort. As we mushroomers say, better kicked than picked.

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

The other skunk cabbage, from eastern North America, is smaller and less striking (though these are just two years old) than our western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). Both fall into the category of marginal survival foods (after cooking) of last resort. As we mushroomers say, better kicked than picked.

Camphor bush (Cinnamomum camphora) is a native of eastern Asia, from warm temperate zones to the tropics.

Camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camphor tree is a native of eastern Asia, from warm temperate zones to the tropics. An essential oil with a wide range of medicinal uses is extracted from the leaves and twigs. A really cold spell here in winter can kill off much of the top growth. We’re not quite zone 9 yet. But we’re getting there…

Oxlip (Primula elatior) at the east end of the garden. Its young leaves are edible and its roots are both diuretic and expectorant.

Oxlip (Primula elatior) at the east end of the garden. Its young leaves are edible and its roots are both diuretic and expectorant.

Caraway (Carum carvi) is biennial, meaning it goes to seed and dies in its second year. It's a great plant to let naturalize in your garden. All parts are edible.

Caraway (Carum carvi) is biennial, meaning it goes to seed and dies in its second year. It’s a great plant to let naturalize in your garden. All parts are edible.

Chinese angelica (Angelica sinensis)

Chinese angelica/dang gui (Angelica sinensis) waking up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peony/bai shao (Paeonia lactiflora)

Peony/bai shao (Paeonia lactiflora)

Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa) that I moved to the outer edge of Cascara Circle. It flowers so early that I worry about it not getting pollinated. Fingers, crossed I look forward to eating cherries this summer.

Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa) that I moved from the former fruit forest to the outer edge of Cascara Circle. It flowers so early that I worry about it not getting pollinated. Fingers crossed, I look forward to eating cherries this summer.

 

 

 

 

 

rain and hail today

tomorrow sunny and warm

 fickle days of March

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

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