Let’s Make America Grateful Again

The bitter election season is behind us and the Holiday Season is before us. Thanksgiving is a national day to “count your blessings”, a phrase that conjures in my mind an old-fashioned Grandma telling her grandchildren to stop complaining. But as I look around the nursery, there is so much that needs to be done! It’s hard work. It doesn’t pay that great. It’s rainy and cold outside. And it feels like no matter how many native plants I grow, whole ecosystems are being destroyed faster than I can shake a live stake at!

“Come on”, says Grandma, “a smile is just a frown turned upside down! Turn your attitude into gratitude!”

So I take another look at the nursery. I get to participate in this lovely little business, which gets me outside, gives me plenty of exercise and supports environmental healing. I can be thankful for the plants that I don’t see in front of me, that now are part of that healing. They have become (however briefly) Money-in-the-Bank, preparing to become part of the local economy. I’m thankful for my customers and suppliers, the other growers that do this good work and for the growing public appreciation of native plants and natural areas.

“Good! Good!!” coaxes the Grandma-voice. “But can you think bigger? Remember, Gratitude becomes Kindness!”

Can I expand my gratitude beyond my own personal world? Can I expand my gratitude to include not only the obvious blessings I enjoy as an inhabitant of the USA but also the national-character-building challenges we face? Why not?

So Happy Thanksgiving from this Douglas Fir-hugging, Huckleberry-munching Libtard Eco-freak Grandma to all the inhabitants of these amazing united states of America! Let’s make America grateful again!

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Bear Poop Follow-up!

Exactly one year ago, I planted some seed-laced bear poop: https://tadpolehaven.com/2017/09/14/bears-about/. Well, the verdict is in: that bear had been eating blackberries. Not our delicious native berries, Trailing Blackberry (Rubus ursinus), but two species of non-natives, the invasive Evergreen and Himalayan Blackberries. Sheesh. So much for that experiment. But, ever the optimist, I got hold of another gob of ursine excrement and I’m trying again. I am pretty sure the seeds in this scat-pile are seeds of Cascade Oregon Grape (Mahonia nervosa). I really should be seeking scat before the Evergreen and Himalayan Blackberries ripen. I would probably find more diversity of plant seeds represented in a batch of early-July leavings.

All this talk of berries (and it’s been a great year for wild berries) is making me hungry. Smoothies anyone?

Robust Natives at Home

“Is it invasive?” — a common question gardeners ask me while plant-shopping. The word “invasive” gets bandied about a little too freely, in my opinion. I save the “I” word for non-native plants that have invaded our wild landscapes and pose a danger to the ecosystem’s balance. English Ivy suffocates trees and forest-floor plants alike; Purple Loosestrife gradually infests wetlands; Yellow Archangel smothers the forest floor: those are the evil genies that have escaped from their native habitats and flung off the constraints of their natural predators and ailments.*

Of course, some native plants are greedy for territory while some are fairly sedentary, content with their assigned space in the garden. Every plant in any native ecosystem has a niche to occupy that benefits the rest of the system. As gardeners, we do our best to provide a space for each plant that replicates, to some degree, the natural conditions each species has evolved to prefer.

Some plants have evolved to spread quickly, covering ground that has been disturbed by natural forces (fire, windstorm) or human forces (bulldozer, plow). Quick-spreading thicket-forming shrubs such as Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana) and Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) prevent erosion and ready the land for trees such as Red Alder (Alnus rubra) and Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa). Where winter storms have scoured the beaches, Coastal Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) recovers quickly, sending out rapidly-growing runners several inches at a pop, while the more mature plants anchor their roots deep in the sand. The rapid spread and evergreen leaves give cover to vulnerable dunes and limit erosion. Meanwhile, in the mature forest where the shade is too dark for many species, Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana) happily thrives, its brittle white-and-pink rhizomes rampantly occupying territory until finding equilibrium with fellow native groundcovers. Even in dry areas of the forest, Redwood Sorrel has it made in the shade. The foliage efficiently photosynthesizes limited sunlight. The more moisture it has available, the happier it is, spreading its lush clover-like leaves flat to gather in as much light as possible, folding them down to protect them from rain damage.

These native plants act honestly according to their nature. They are not invaders in their own home territory; they are just doing their job, thriving in their natural niche. If someone plants them, expecting them to remain within artificial boundaries when it is obvious to the plant in question that more territory with favorable conditions is available, the personalities of the human gardener and the active native plant may clash. Understanding is called for on the part of the human (we are supposed to be the smart ones J). I prefer acknowledging the energy of these particular natives by describing them as vigorous, robust, rampant or perhaps even aggressive. Please don’t call them invasive – they are at home!

*Some good resources on TRULY invasive species:

Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board, https://www.nwcb.wa.gov/

King County Noxious Weed List, https://www.kingcounty.gov/services/environment/animals-and-plants/noxious-weeds/laws.aspx

Snohomish County Noxious Weeds, https://snohomishcountywa.gov/722/Noxious-Weeds

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.

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…