Facts are a Wonderful Alternative

We recently got Cable TV. For years, we have been blissfully out of touch with fear-inducing TV news stories of deadly car wrecks and mini-mart stickups. Seeking to soothe my jangled nerves, I discovered that botanical research calms me and expands my mind and horizons in a chemical-and stress-free manner.

Yesterday I decided to learn more about Henderson’s Checkermallow (Sidalcea hendersonii), also known as Marsh Hollyhock. I like to think that I know something about this perennial member of the Mallow family (Malvaceae). The flower stalks reach much higher than its basal leaves. The bright columns of pink blossoms can be over four feet tall. I know that it does well in moist to wet sunny conditions, but can also thrive in partial shade or in relatively dry soil. Full afternoon sun and sandy soil cause it to suffer – I know — I’m guilty of Checkermallow abuse—lock me up!). It seeds itself prolifically (sometimes you may have too much of a good thing). But I did not know what plants are its natural companions in the wild; I have never seen it in nature!

Though it thrives in a cultivated garden, Henderson’s Checkermallow is surprisingly rare throughout its range (SE Alaska south to Oregon’s coast). In fact , it is classed as rare in British Columbia and Oregon. Perhaps it used to be more common, before human-caused habitat destruction. It grows in a smattering of coastal locations, including at least one site on Whidbey Island, in tidal marshes and estuaries, ditches and meadows near salt water. I learned that researchers had found it growing with bulrushes and grasses, including Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampsia caespitosa). Also with the yellow-flowering groundcover, Pacific Silverweed (Argentina egedii), the Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) shrub and Hooker’s Willow (Salix hookeriana).


So there you have it! Don’t you feel better? I’ll bet you have momentarily forgotten the increasIng nuclear capabilities of North Korea, the composition of the three-drug death penalty cocktail and the danger of falling prey to a texting driver! Facts are a wonderful alternative!

Mother Nature tries to get our attention

Another week of mud. And recuperating from last week’s windstorm. Mother Nature sure knows how to get my attention – three Cedar trees fell down in the field! So we are still huddling in the greenhouse, where the Camas is beginning to bloom their lovely blue spikes of star-shaped flowers.  They are in an unnatural condition, under cover and in pots..  In nature, you might find some near and around Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) trees in prairie areas (e.g. south of Olympia). They may have as companions the shrub Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor), the native perennial Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) or fellow bulbs Tiger Lily (Lilium columbianum) or Broad-leaved Shootingstar (Dodecatheon hendersonii).

The Great Camas (Cammassia leichtlinii) is taller than the Common Camas (Cammassia quamash): its grass-like leaves up to 2’ tall, with flower stalks up to 4’ (Common Camas is half that size).  I am anxious to watch them side-by-side to compare how they bloom; I know that the Great Camas flowers open a few at a time, and I want to see for myself whether all the flowers on a Common Camas flower spike really open all at once. I haven’t paid enough attention in the past.

The weather should start to improve (according to the weatherman), so we should respond by getting out into Mother Nature’s realm and paying attention to her small beauties as well as her fiercer glories!


March 25

Finally, the Pacific Chorus Frogs are chirping. The swallows are back– which means the insects are back. The swallows dip and swoop in big loops over the lake surface. The Northwestern Salamanders have laid their eggs along the lakeshore. I haven’t actually seen any salamanders yet this year, though I have found a few sluggish newts hunkered down underneath flats of Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora).


The Lily-family plants are poking above the ground: Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum), Large-Flower Fairy Bells (Prosartes smithii),Star-Flowered False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellata) , Tiger (or Columbia) Lilies (Lilium columbianum) AND White Fawn Lilies (Erythronium oregonum)! Many of the White Fawn Lilies will be blooming shortly. These diminutive showoffs have nodding flowers with pointed petals that curve back. They will be in their full glory shortly, and after their blooms wither and they set seed (and they will probably seed themselves in your garden) their foliage will also die back to nothing by summer. White Fawn Lilies thrive in bright shade, although we have a patch doing well in deep shade under a spruce tree in our yard.

Fern fronds are unfurling as the days lengthen and the temperature creeps up. The Deer Ferns (Blechnum spicant) in the greenhouse are just beginning to develop new fronds. They still have their evergreen foliage from last year, but aren’t quite mature enough to have developed the vertical spore-bearing fronds that makes Deer Fern such a striking plant. They like moist shady areas best.

Spring, Wet or Dry

Hummingbirds are back in full force and big furry baby bees are bumbling about. If you go for a hike, you’ll see Trilliums (Trillium ovatum) in their full glory. Spring must be here! But why are we still slip-sliding through mud? Enough already!


So we head for the greenhouse, where we can work in the dry. The Deer Ferns (Blechnum spicant) unfurl their fiddleheads, the Broad-leaved Shootingstars (Dodecatheon hendersonii) tease us with lots of foliage — but are they going to bloom? The Douglas and Pacific Coast Hybrid Irises (Iris douglasiana, Iris sp.) sprout new leaves and several mystery pots declare themselves Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanum)! And good news for bees and hummers (birds not mini-tanks), Western Columbine (pictured) (Aquilegia formosa) is ready to par-tay! No blossoms yet, but healthy blue-green foliage.