In the Medicinal Herb Garden, this was the Year of the Rabbit. There is no rabbit fence on the perimeter to keep them out, so visitors can expect to see hardware cloth covering or surrounding certain plants. It’s not a permanent solution but a necessary one for now. Rabbits, like any living thing, will eat their preferred foods first. If those foods aren’t available, they move on to something else that is. In winter, with less herbaceous growth to consume, they’re forced to eat more woody matter. There’s a lot of energy invested in living wood, so a little damage goes a long way. These wild rabbits seem quite open to trying new plants, a bite here and a bite there, and that’s probably why they do so well. As soon as I enclose one species of shrub they move on to something else.
That’s the last of the news for 2017. Happy solstice.
After numerous reports of coyote sightings near the Medicinal Herb Garden, the time finally came to set up a camera in adjacent woods and hope the scent of several brands of dog food and dog treats made of lamb, beef, pork and salmon and far too many cereal fillers, would be enough to entice him or her close to be photographed. It was.
Along with several shots of a rabbit, a rat and several raccoons, another photo of a mysterious, unknown member of the weasel family, the Mustelidae, turned out to be a squirrel’s tail sticking upright through the ivy. Sorry, that photo was…um…accidentally deleted. Thank you to Jeff Bradley, mammalogist at the Burke Museum, for tactfully pointing out the obvious. To be honest, the mystery mustelid looked more like a sock puppet version of a mink (or maybe a marmot or a gopher), but the Nessie/Sasquatch/UFO effect of a black and white, grainy image on the imagination of an eager, hopeful viewer is powerful. Still, this early in the wildlife monitoring effort, it’s reasonable to maintain that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Hope dies last.
In plant news, the medlars (Mespilus germanica) are fruiting prolifically as they do every year. Why can’t all fruit trees be like that?
It’s shaping up to be a good year for fall color. The cooler nights this week will help. If the heavy winds hold off until November, it could be quite a show. Do yourself a huge favor and get out and enjoy it while it lasts.
We finally got some rain and cooler temperatures after setting a new Seattle record of 56 days without rain. And many of those days were really hot. This summer there are a lot of stressed plants in Seattle.
The barred owl is back and a coyote has been seen recently in the Medicinal Herb Garden.
Though we were a bit north of the totality path of the recent eclipse, there were some unusual shadows to see, for those of us without eclipse glasses. Wandering through section E, waiting for something to happen, it finally did.
Some new flowers have made their appearance this summer.
Grape flowers aren’t much to look at but the fruit are.
Where does the time go? The heat wave has passed, and thanks to the lady beetles, the aphid infestation of the plum trees is over. The heron chicks have fledged and the deer seems to have moved on for now. The rabbits have more or less acquired squatters’ rights in the Medicinal Herb Garden. Sure, they’ve eaten some of the planting beds bare, but the visiting public enjoys seeing them, and where would a public garden be without visitors. Next year, some of the hardest hit plants will probably have to go or be featured on the edges where it won’t be noticeable if they get nibbled away. It’s always something in a garden. At least rabbits are small. Imagine the challenges of gardening in elephant territory or being visited by a herd of hungry elk.
One of the fledgling herons didn’t gain enough altitude to get back to the nest on its first flight. It made it safe and sound to the ground but couldn’t get back aloft. Don’t worry, it was rescued and has probably been released to the wild by now.
The raccoons must have been making the rounds elsewhere but then one day, a mother and three kits showed up in a tree by the bus stop.
The aphids were out of control this summer. I’ve never seen them so thickly covering a tree and they stayed for weeks, until the lady beetles and their larvae got to work.
Speaking of insects…
August is a good time for a garden visit. We should have a new memorial bench in section C soon. There are fewer people on campus in summer so it’s even more peaceful and quiet than usual in the garden (construction noise excepted). Enjoy the rest of the summer.
The growing population of rabbits in the Medicinal Herb Garden have provided a good educational experience. It’s helpful to know what they do and don’t like to eat. Luckily, most of what they eat is close to the ground, though they occasionally saw off and topple taller plants, like valerian (Valeriana officinalis). But that is an exception to the rule. Yes, it’s a good thing that rabbits can’t climb into the shrubs and trees.
So when I noticed leaves and branch tips up high on the prune plum (Prunus domestica) and the chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) getting nibbled down to nubbins, my first thought was, “Oh no, we have flying rabbits!”. After all, the only other suspect, and equally unlikely though at least known to exist, would be a deer…on campus…in the middle of the city. Not likely. Well, likely or not, there it was one recent morning, a deer in the Medicinal Herb Garden.
It’s an open question, how it will work out in the garden with rabbits and deer eating many of the plants. Their pressure will almost certainly drive plant selection as I begin to exclude plants that get eaten repeatedly. It’s definitely a dynamic situation and a learning opportunity.
That’s the news. If you see beds that are a bit sparse, look closely and you might see signs of herbivory by our new residents. Or, if you visit during the twilit hours and remain still long enough you might just see an actual deer or rabbit out grazing, or a coyote, or some day, maybe even a mountain lion. The Burke-Gilman Trail that enables the four-footed herbivores to travel easily through the city, provides the same service to the four-footed carnivores. All in good time…
This cool, rainy spring has been good for the slugs. Every year, the earliest spring plantings are a gamble. I know I could wait a bit longer to transplant seedlings into the garden but I never do. The show must go on. So the slugs and the rabbits are eating well. Luckily, rabbits are a bit finicky, more so than slugs anyway. I’m still puzzled by how we so quickly wound up with a spreading population of eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) in Seattle. They were introduced to the state as game animals in the 1930s but were nowhere to be seen in these parts until the last few years. Suddenly they are everywhere. Maybe it just took them a while to get to the center of Seattle. Mapping their movement into new territory would be a great citizen science project.
For now, most gardeners I know are grudgingly accepting them as new members of the local herbivores. You can spot their work by the neatly angled cuts they make with their teeth on the plant stems. Love them or hate them, they’re here, though I haven’t yet seen any where I live in Rainier Valley. Knock on wood. Seems like they’ve made it north and south around Lake Washington from the east and are pulling a pincer movement on those of us west of the lake. Applying the old lemons-into-lemonade wisdom, I humbly submit that there are many excellent recipes for rabbit in cookbooks and on the internet. The rest is up to you.
But the world is big and rabbits are just a small part of it. What about those great blue herons (Ardea herodias)?
Though it has been a wintery springtime that has been hard on the poor seedlings I’ve put out, the year-round residents are flowering on schedule, more or less.
Oh, I almost forgot…the mandrake. Whatever magic rituals the thieves have planned, they’d best be careful. It’s a potent plant. I might have to stop growing it if people keep stealing it. That could spell doom for future Harry Potter tours.
Though today feels like late November, it’s supposed to warm up with clear skies by the end of the week. Almost time to put the tomatoes out, once the nights get over 50F. The young herons should start to fledge in the next month. That spectacle is always high drama if you can be there to see it. Maybe the male western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) will again stop over for a short stay at Cascara Circle, and a rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) will pass though the garden on its way to the mountains. You’ll only know if you come by for a visit.
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.
It was actually quite beautiful for a couple of hours before the snow turned to rain.
Remember the rabbit? I found one of its little shelters in a plant bed.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
Happy solstice. Here are some scenes from the last few weeks in the garden.
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.