20 years!

I officially started Tadpole Haven Native Plants exactly 20 years ago, in June 1998, (after having spent too much money to call it “dabbling”). Starting a business on our family’s property was a concept that my sister and sister-in-law and I had been kicking around for a while. We kept coming back to the idea of growing something. My brother got wind of our discussions. He is in the road construction business, and regularly perused the Daily Journal of Commerce to see what projects were coming up for bid. He pointed out that there were many of these projects that were calling out for native plantings. Maybe we could grow native plants?

The idea struck fire with me. It appealed to my environmental sensibilities and seemed like a natural fit for the land, which is mostly in a natural state. We enthusiastically began learning more about native plants and came up with a name for the business: “Swamp Sisters.” My business-minded cousin Andy talked us down from that decision and we settled on the slightly more sedate “Tadpole Haven” which, a couple of generations before us, had been the name of a business next door to the homestead which raised bullfrogs for the Seattle restaurant market. The original Tadpole Haven went “belly-up” (so to speak) during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Frog legs anyone?

My original partners contributed labor and encouragement during our initial experimentation with growing natives, but eventually moved on to other projects. I threw myself into learning about natives. I had no background in horticulture. Looking back, it may have been more efficient to have gone through one of our wonderful community college horticulture programs, because my mostly haphazard education is still costing me money and time! The biggest help in learning about natives was going through the Native Plant Steward program of the Washington Native Plant Society. I highly recommend WNPS and its programs as a way to expand your knowledge of native plants.

Tadpole Haven began as a very part-time project with one person. Now it has taken over my life and threatens to do the same for my current partners, Brian and Lisa. But it’s all good! We are constantly learning, with the goal of growing high-quality plants in an environmentally-friendly way. Most of our plants are purchased wholesale for restoration of local parks and natural areas. Landscapers buy them for their residential projects, and some local retail outlets carry Tadpole Haven’s plants. And we also make our plants available to retail customers who want to help improve the health of local streams or welcome birds, butterflies and other wildlife to their yards.

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Come on by for Columbines!

The red-and-yellow flowers of Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) are a-bloom in the nursery and in my yard. Earlier this spring, we discovered that many of our “Western Columbines” were imposters—hybrids with pink, purple and maroon flowers. Different species of columbines freely hybridize with each other (Brian* accuses them of being promiscuous) and undoubtedly, the seeds these sprouted from were off the native which had cross-pollinated with the neighborhood hussies. Shocking behavior! We sold some before we recognized that we had a ‘situation’; if you wound up with a non-native, we will happily replace it or otherwise make it right.

Western Columbine’s exotic flowers dangle from drooping stems like lanterns illuminating the garden. The blossoms stand higher than the foliage, up to 3 ½’ high. Western Columbines do well in full sun to partial shade and thrive in soil that is a little bit moist. Planted in compacted soil, a grouping of columbines—which have strong taproots—can help break up the soil, making it more friable.*

Aquilegia Formosa

Western Columbine (Aquilegia Formosa)

Columbines are perennial, dying back in the fall, re-sprouting in late winter, and bloom most profusely in spring and sporadically through the summer. Hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies come to the Western Columbine flowers for nectar, and birds such as finches, juncos and sparrows eat the seeds. Supposedly, the presence of Western Columbine will discourage deer from browsing (I think I will try that!).

One of the few orangey-colored flowers native in our area, Western Columbine is showy all by itself. But interplant it with other spring-blooming native perennials that appreciate similar conditions—for example, purple-flowered Big-leaf Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) and Showy Fleabane (Erigeron speciosus), creamy-flowered Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), pink Henderson’s Checkermallow (Sidalcea hendersonii)—and you’ll have a stunning spectacle, reminiscent of an alpine meadow.

Celebrating Wildlife and Mothers

In Tukwila this Saturday, we’ll be celebrating Wildlife; with our families on Sunday, we’ll celebrate our Mothers. You may think the two celebrations have no relation to one another, but you will discover the perfect convergence in our booth at the Backyard Wildlife Festival. Native Plants! They benefit the whole circle of Life AND make a great gift for your Mother, who gave you Life (you know I’m right).

 Here are a few ideas:

 Camas: Common Camas (Camassia quamash) and Great Camas (Camassia  leichtlinii)

  • Blue or purple flowers.
  • Grows from an edible bulb.
  • Does well in soil that holds winter moisture – can be completely inundated — but dries out in the summer.
  • Readily re-seed themselves, but it is easy to unwittingly weed out their seedlings, which resemble blades of grass.
  • Check out a previous blog entry for more info.
  • Beautiful and showy!

 

Small-flowered Alumroot (Heuchera micrantha)

  • Native perennial with neat, ruffly, glossy, semi-evergreen foliage and frothy white flowers taller than the leaves. With the flowers, they can be up to approximately 2½’ tall.
  • Partial to full shade, moist-to-wet soil.
  • Not as show-offy as some ornamental Heucheras, but honest and classy–like your mom, right?

 

Black Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata)

  • Deciduous shrub up to 9’ tall (in the sun, it grows full and fat; in the shade, tall and lanky).
  • Moist to wet soils.
  • Hummingbirds and butterflies come to the small paired yellow flowers which look like little trumpets and give way to two shiny black berries.
  • As the berries ripen, the bracts (petal-like leaves) which hold them turn a striking scarlet-purple.
  • Birds love the berries (inedible for humans)
  • Beside a stream or on a wet hillside, Twinberry’s roots anchor the soil against erosion.