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.

Native Plants & Treefrogs: Everything Works Together

Native plants are beautiful and interesting, but they are not an end in themselves. They cooperate with other biological or ecological factors such as climate and geology to create resilient habitat. Everything works together!

Any day now, the Pacific Chorus Frogs (a.k.a. Pacific Treefrog) will start raising a ruckus in the wetlands around Tadpole Haven. So far, the weather has been too cold for them. They have already begun calling in warmer parts of the Puget Sound region, such as Seattle.

This time of year, they migrate toward water to find mates. The males are the noisy ones! Once they breed, the females lay their brown-and-cream colored eggs in golf-ball-sized clumps of clear jelly on plants and twigs along  sunny, well-vegetated shorelines. They seem to prefer to lay their eggs on thin twigs and stems; sedges, rushes, Marsh Cinquefoil (Comarum palustre), and stems of Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea) that have draped into the water are some common choices.

The ideal pond for Chorus Frog breeding dries up in late summer, making it an unattractive place for the predatory, invasive Bullfrog, which needs year-round water.

But mating season is only part of the story. After the lovefest is over, the adults go back into the forest (or your frog-friendly backyard). And after the tadpoles hatch, grow and metamorphose into tiny frogs, they also hop into the woods. If you can stand in your own yard and are able to hear them calling from a nearby pond, you can provide them somewhere to go during the rest of the year. They will need the native plants and trees growing in your yard in order to thrive. During a Western Washington winter, they don’t hibernate in the classic sense; they’ll seek shelter from the extremes, only going dormant or inactive when it’s really cold out. Throughout the winter, you may hear an occasional low cri-i-i-i-k of a Pacific Chorus Frog in the forest or hospitable garden.*

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has a very informative pdf you can print out at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/frogs.pdf

Wikipedia has a good entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_tree_frog

*Thank you to Brian Bodenbach of Biosphere Landscape, brian@biospherecompany.com

Riotous Roses And Pussy Hats

I am excited. My friend Linda crocheted me my very own pussy hat, complete with cute pink ears. And on Saturday morning I am going to grab my pussy hat and dive headfirst into the Seattle throngs at the Women’s March. We’ll speak our minds – politely – as a way to encourage each other and to object to (harrible, harrible) domination-based values hurtful to People, Peace and Mother Earth.

Pink is not really my best color but it sure looks nice on a Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana). Fragrant and beautiful, the Nootka Rose is flagrantly aggressive and prickly. So it’s a wonderful plant in a sunny hedgerow or exposed slope where its rhizomes can spread and form a thicket (terrific shelter for birds).

More ladylike (really only a virtue anymore if you happen to be a plant), the Bald-Hip Rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) also has beautiful pink flowers but stays where you put her. In the Spirit of Mutuality, she won’t run rampant over the smaller citizens of your garden. Definitely a candidate for Miss Congeniality! And she likes shade!

Subalpine Spirea (Spiraea splendens) is a standout shrub that has the virtue of staying pretty short — usually under 4 feet tall. In June, she blooms — dark pink clusters of tiny flowers. Subalpine Spirea thrives in sunny places, as long as the soil has some moisture in it. It will spread, but relatively slowly. Wonderful, wonderful plant. I love that plant.

I’ve saved the most glamorous shrub for last: Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale). Like Subalpine Spirea, it does best in sunny, moist conditions. This dignified deciduous beauty will grow up to 8 feet tall. The blossoms are very, very (very) fragrant and delicately tinged with pink, peach and/or yellow. Its natural range is Southern Oregon to Northern California so it is a “Northwest” native (as opposed to locally native).

Hope to see you soon! Your Pinko Purveyor of Native Plants,

Shirley Doolittle-Egerdahl, owner

Tadpole Haven Native Plants

S.A.D.?? Look at our native plants!

I CAN FEEL IT. Seasonal Affective Disorder is setting in. These two sunny days are a temporary respite from the dark. The dark rain. The dark election. The dark afternoons. It’s all getting to me!

Now that the wind and rain have blown the bright yellow leaves off the Big-Leaf Maples (Acer macrophyllum), there is nothing to trick my brain into thinking that the summer light is still here. We have entered the days dreaded by erstwhile Californians — days when the only color you see is the green-and-black of forest rising around.

We are surrounded by evergreen trees, shadowing our winter lives.

Cheer up! That is the way our Western Washington forests should look! A resident of Forks (on the Olympic Peninsula), which annually receives an ungodly 120 inches of rainfall, gave me a hot tip: the Rain Forest is most beautiful when it’s raining! Need open skies? Go for a tromp in a swamp! Need dry weather? During a downpour, stand with your back against a big old Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata). (Am I sounding so chirpy that you want to slap me? Sorry—two days of sun and I go giddy…)

If the only thing consoling you is the thought of that extra hour of sleep you’ll get on Saturday night, take a look around. Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora) still looks happy, with its deep green ruffled leaves. It hunkers down and stays green during mild winters especially when under the shelter of tall evergreens. Since it readily self-seeds, it acts as a semi-evergreen groundcover, sprouting 3-foot tall stems of cute yellow spring flowers.

And look at all our festive evergreen Sword Ferns (Polystichum munitum)! They look elegant and maaaavelous all year. And as previous years’ fronds gradually melt into the ground, they form a protective “skirt” – high-fashion winter shelter for amphibians such as ensatinas and salamanders, and invertebrates—insects, centipedes, beetles.

So quit huddling in your house and get outside!