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.

Where are the Chorus Frogs?

Here are a couple of friends that we hang out with in the nursery: a long-toed salamander I found under a flat of Henderson’s Checkermallow () and a rough-skinned newt my son Erik found in the Cardboard Pile (Cardboardius dampii).

20180417_145607LongToedSalamanderSMALL       20180402_144312NEWT Erik found in cardboard pile4-18Small

The swallows have been back for weeks, but I have yet to hear the Chorus Frogs calling here! I know it has been cold, but I’m a bit worried! Their new pond is waiting…

Paper Birches Support Life

The leaf buds on many of the deciduous trees and shrubs in the nursery have been stubbornly clamped shut until recently (a few still are holding out). A couple weeks ago, the Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) trees popped their fragrant orange buds off their newly expanding leaves. The smaller (up to 80’) Paper Birches (Betula papyrifera) are also sprouting their pointed, toothed leaves. BETULAPAPYRIFERA LEAVESPaper Birches are named for their papery, peeling bark that lightens with age until it is white. They tolerate shade and tend to grow on higher ground than the Cottonwoods, though they do fine planted in wet spots and actually provide good erosion-control beside streams and ditches.

A customer recently asked what specific wildlife value Paper Birch has, and I couldn’t answer except in the most general of terms. “Well, uh, yeah, it’s a native tree and, uh, native animals like native trees…” so I did a bit of research.

Planted along streambanks, Paper Birches help moderate temperature extremes that can harm aquatic life. Come autumn, the pretty yellow birch leaves fall into the stream, and along with bits of bark and other detritus sink and decay, becoming nutritious food for organisms at the bottom of the food chain. The overhanging branches harbor insects that fall from the trees and of course seeds provide food for creatures.

Paper Birch’s catkins produce many tiny seeds, food for bird such as grouse, pine siskin and goldfinch (our state bird!). Swallowtail (and other) butterfly larvae feed on the leaves. Birches can be prone to aphid infestations in the spring, but those aphids generally are harmless to an otherwise healthy tree AND provide meals to their natural predators,. Many other insects, including predator and other beneficial insects, call Paper Birch home, ‘inviting’ sapsuckers, warblers and chickadees to lunch.

As the tree ages (they live 60+ years), woodpeckers excavate holes in the trunk that are used by cavity-nesting animals—owls, squirrels, bats, for example. Paper Birch is deer-resistant (supposedly: just claiming deer-resistance inspires deer to take a liking to whatever they usually turn up their noses at). But indeed, the deer that browse the nursery leave the Paper Birch alone. Knock on wood.

Planting natives like Paper Birch supports life—wild and tame, natural and cultivated, owned and un-ownable.

Boycott the Easter Bunny!

It’s almost Easter, and my love-hate relationship with bunnies is coming to a head. The rabbit has been seen for centuries as a symbol of fertility. It wangled its way into European Easter celebrations about 500 years ago as a delivery-rodent for another symbol of fertility, the egg. Many say the rabbit was a companion of Eostre, the Germanic goddess of spring/fertility. Fertility symbols illustrate in a down-to-earth way the Christian concept of New Life

As darling as bunnies are, there are too many of them lately! The babies are so tame and cute and curious. Last year, my son carefully fenced off a poorly-sited rabbit nest, so Tyrannosaurus Gus couldn’t get the “kittens”. But that was only one of several nests within 100 yards of the nursery. By the end of summer, I was ready to sic the dogs on the whole lot of them, call in trained falcons or reintroduce wolves to Paradise Valley! We should rename the nursery “Tadpole Haven Native Plant Smorgasbord”. Brian has a theory that there is a disease cycle that wipes the rabbits out every so often, and right now they are healthy and very fertile. I had noticed population fluctuations, but I always attributed it to coyotes coming through. I’m very proud of the high quality wildlife habitat on our property where the nursery is. But the rabbits are giving habitat a bad name! Rabbitat! We’ve got plenty of high quality coyote habitat — where are those guys when we need them?

EasterFrog

So, I know this is late in the game, but I’d like to stop honoring the ravaging rabbit. So I urge everyone to boycott the Easter Bunny. In its place we will install the Easter Frog. The Easter Frog is an oversized Pacific Chorus Frog. The Pacific Chorus Frog actually LAYS eggs, thus is more qualified than a rabbit for the Easter job. If these little tree frogs haven’t started calling yet in your neighborhood, they will any day. At Tadpole Haven, we have a new pool waiting for them! We put in a couple types of vegetation suitable for attaching egg clutches: Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) twigs and Marsh Cinquefoil (Comarum palustre) stems. I tossed in three Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia a.k.a. Broad-leaved Arrowhead) bulbs. I am hoping that those will grow up and shade the pool from the hottest summer sun. This pool is much deeper than a kiddie pool, which we have used in the past. Those kiddie pools successfully raised several years’ worth of froglets, but they have gotten too hot during the last few summers, and all of the tadpoles perished, sadly. We will be celebrating Easter until summer’s end, watching the fertile New Life metamorphose and transform these small earthly beings.

Bald-Hip Rose

Happy Spring! The weather has been terrific, but may get temperamental just in time for our Open Days on Friday and Saturday. But the greenhouse is a good hangout! Enjoy Lisa’s cookies and poke your nose outside to check out plants like the Bald-Hip Rose.

Bald-Hip Rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) a.k.a. Dwarf Rose, a.k.a. Little Wild Rose has fragrant pink one-inch-wide flowers. This adaptable deciduous wild rose-bush thrives in well-drained soil, in dry to moist conditions. It tolerates full shade to full sun. Grown in bright or dappled shade, it happily produces lots of blooms; its stems tend to get thin and gangly in full shade. It reaches 5’ tall, but can handle being pruned back. Though it is rhizomatous, it does not spread aggressively like its cousin, Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana).

When the flowers fade, the “hips” form, containing seed. The hips of most species of rose retain the tiny, dried-up remnants of flower petals at the tip of the hip; the Bald-Hip Rose is called “Bald-Hip” because it sheds them. The smooth, brilliant red, somewhat pear-shaped hips are about 3/8” long and persist through winter, providing nutritious sustenance for native birds and bits of brightness on murky Northwest winter days.

Most of these hardy beauties in the nursery are just beginning to sprout new growth from their pruned back stems. They will fill out nicely as spring progresses.