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 shelters 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.





One thought on “That was a long, cold winter”

  1. Hello Keith –

    Glad to see another blog update. I agree, this winter was something unusual. I felt pretty good psychologically until January or so. After that, I realized that the winter funk seemed to be stronger than usual for the next few months. With today’s beautiful weather, working in my garden, I finally started feeling like our “normal” spring has finally begun.

    I hope you’re doing well.

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