You otter show up!

A couple weeks ago I was grumpy after a drizzly, unproductive day. Ready to head home, I started the car and the heater, put the dog in the car and last-minute decided to walk down to the dock, just to give myself an attitude adjustment.

I walked about six steps on the floating wooden walkway to the dock and – SURPRISE – 20 feet to my left, a small beaver splashed its tail as it slid into the water and disappeared. I looked all around to watch where it might come up, but bubbles coming up on both sides of the walk, along with some snuffling, gave away its hiding place under the walk – slowly moving toward the dock. I followed it on my hands and knees. It finally went under the dock.

I crept out onto the dock hoping to see the beaver through the gaps between the boards, but – SURPRISE –  the most horrendous racket burst forth from under the dock. The beaver had run into some other animal! The young beaver and the other animal fought, sounding like they were killing each other, screeching and scritching! Just as suddenly, the fight broke up. The small beaver swam around under the dock, snorting, upset and worn out. The other animal turned out to be two otters. Once they reached shore, they enthusiastically resumed splashing, screeching and grunting, but with a different attitude.

I left them to their family-making time and walked back to my warm car and my very tame dog, my Attitude Adjusted. And this episode told me once again, that nature will gift me with a surprise – all I have to do is show up!

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

RABBITS are driving us nuts. Pesky insects and diseases exploit helpless plants trapped in overly-soggy pots. So we move the plants undercover. And then rabbits finish them off! The rabbits are practically costing me my living! They shouldn’t be here. They are Eastern Cottontails. What right do they have to mow down whole blocks of plants? Grr.

But by the same token, what right do we have to live here, take up space here and make demands on the environment? Yet here we are, trying to block, trick, trap, squish, spray or otherwise murder* aphids and rabbits and microbes to keep them from a meal — so we can do … what? Something nice for nature?

Then I really get the gloomies when I watch the world news. Pandemics, Ukraine and nuclear threats; incivility, insurrection, unrest in the US; earthquakes, extinctions and insane weather. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Rabbits and microbes and bugs, oh my! 

Looking for hope**, I revisited something I had heard on the podcast “On Being”*** recently. “Take in the good”. Look for things that are positive, take note of them, be thankful for them.

 So I spent some time taking in the good. The Black Cottonwood trees’ (Populus trichocarpa), bare branches full of the joyful noise of a hundred red-winged blackbirds calling to Spring. The Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra Formosa) are coming up. The gray-green ruffles of Western Columbine’s (Aquilegia Formosa-see photo above) rosettes have popped above ground level. The Great Camas (Camassia leichtlinii-see photo below) has sent up green spikes.

The time of sticks is over. I can now see green leaf buds on the Nootka Roses (Rosa nutkana), evidence of life. The Honeysuckles, both the vines – Orange Trumpet (Lonicera ciliosa) and Hairy (Lonicera hispidula) – and the tall-growing Black Twinberry shrubs (Lonicera involucrata), sprouted leaves over the weekend!

I recognize that native plants are not the be all and end all for solving the world’s problems. Our plants are just one of the “goods” that we can “take in”. Planting for the planet’s health nurtures hope, hope gives us oomph, durability and a view toward the far future. Two steps forward and one step back.

Keep on keepin’ on!

*using all-organic methods, of course!

**Is it my imagination, or do I write this every winter?

**“On Being” with Krista Tippet. Toward the end of 2022 she had a short series of podcasts called “Foundations for Being Alive Now.”

Blessings of Liberty

Because I am feeling inspired by the election and by this beautiful day, some musings on community and freedom:

“The trees soon revealed startling secrets. I discovered that they are in a web of interdependence, linked by a system of underground channels, where they perceive and connect and relate with an ancient intricacy and wisdom that can no longer be denied.”… “The old trees nurture the young ones and provide them food and water just as we do with our own children. It is enough to make one pause, take a deep breath, and contemplate the nature of the forest and how this is critical for evolution. The fungal network appears to wire the trees for fitness. And more. These old trees are mothering their children.”

Simard, Suzanne. Finding the Mother Tree (pp. 4, 5). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Let music swell the breeze,

and ring from all the trees

sweet freedom’s song:

let mortal tongues awake,

let all that breathe partake;

let rocks their silence break,

the sound prolong.

— From “America (My country, ’tis of thee)”. Lyrics composed by Samuel Francis Smith (1832)

“To care about climate change, you only need to be one thing, and that’s a person living on planet Earth who wants a better future. Chances are, you’re already that person—and so is everyone else you know.”

— Hayhoe, Katharine. Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World (p. XII). Atria/One Signal Publishers. Kindle Edition.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

– preamble to the Constitution, 1787

It seems that the blessings of liberty are found in community.

The Re-Set Continues…

In all my spare time, when I haven’t been trying to keep up with the breakneck speed of spring in the nursery, I’ve been trying to shake off the fog of two years of Covid-19 and answer the simple question: What’s next? It feels like time for a re-set. Time to evaluate various aspects of my life—one of which is the ongoing project of Tadpole Haven Native Plants. So, like a bird on a high tree branch, I contemplate the big picture.

The path to present-day Tadpole Haven emerged from some creative family brainstorming in the late 1990s. Growing something seemed logical because of a resource at my disposal: we still owned the old homestead. My kids are the seventh generation to be part of this place: part field, part forest, mostly swamp, around the shoreline of a small lake. Bear Creek, an important salmon stream, runs through the lake.

Growing native plants was my brother’s idea; he was in the road construction business and noticed increasing numbers of projects that called for native plantings to mitigate damage to the environment. The idea struck fire with me. Raising native plants to help the environment fit with the place and with my values.

Northwestern Salamander

I love that in the process of producing more than one hundred native plant species for small-scale landscapes and larger restoration projects, we literally work side-by-side with Pileated Woodpeckers and Douglas Squirrels. Salamanders and Newts enjoy their hidey-holes excavated underneath flats of Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora) and Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana). It feels like we are working in partnership with this bit of earth for the health of the wider bioregion. It feels good.

Yes. It feels good. But last month, I was surprised to see Western Hemlocks (Tsuga heterophylla) that were shedding needles. Last year was a rough one for forests, which suffered terribly from the early-summer “heat dome.” How many trees are dying? And what will it take to get enough humans to partner with earth to restore the climate balance that has sustained life for eons? In hope, we plant. -Shirley


For two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has been messing with each of us. Though we’re “all in this together,” everyone’s experiences and reactions are unique. My reaction to the pandemic was not particularly creative; I hid from Covid-19, avoiding it like the plague. Oh, whoops, whadda-ya-know, it WAS the plague. WAS! I think the plague-level danger is in the past, and I feel like it has joined the ranks of deadly everyday hazards we manage to avoid: getting run over by a bus, catching some other dread disease, car wrecks, unfortunate run-ins with large predators. I’ve mainly been hiding out at Tadpole Haven, indulging my natural tendencies toward introversion and workaholism. Now I can barely carry on a coherent conversation…but the nursery is doing okay!

Actually, I think the nursery – and many other nurseries – did fine during the pandemic because people, stuck at home, discovered gardening. Working outside with living plants and soil promotes good mental health. It is an antidote to boredom and stress. Maybe it also relieves megalomania and paranoia—if only Vladimir Putin had spent the last two years out in his garden!

Two years in, Spring is coming, and this last week, I’ve been hearing a pair of Varied Thrushes calling to each other in the little urban forest Brian has been nurturing at our home in downtown Carnation. They reminded me that it’s time for a “re-set”; pull the nose away from the grindstone and allow for creativity and even a tad bit of adventure.

A bird’s-eye view of my life and all its facets may help me creatively choose a good path forward. I think I’ll take a look…In all my spare time. Ha!

Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale)

Sincerely, Shirley

Remember the Heat Dome

October 14, 2021

Remember the Heat Dome

The Hemlock (Western Hemlock/Tsuga heterophylla) needles have blended into the soil, the cracks in the patio and the gravel of the driveway. Falling leaves have further obscured them. But just one month ago, they carpeted the ground. They dropped en masse after the “heat dome” event at the end of June, bright green and silver fading quickly to gold. But the carnage continued through the summer: green-and-silver photosynthetic units kept falling, falling, an ongoing loss. I don’t want to forget.

Driving up over Tiger Mountain at the beginning of September, we noticed mature Douglas Firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) growing along Highway 18’s right-of-way; every branch tip was orange. The tender spring growth was all killed before it could harden.

What will happen next year? How can the trees survive? How many “heat domes” does it take to kill a tree? That event should inspire us to strive to find both small- and large-scale solutions for the climate crisis. We cannot let ourselves be lulled by Autumn’s coolness.

We noticed the suffering Douglas Firs on our way back from Mt. Rainier. We hadn’t noticed fresh needle-fall or toasted new growth on the mountain conifers up at Paradise. The excessive heat (106 degrees F. in Ashford!) must have hit before the new needles came on, so the higher-elevation trees escaped instantaneous damage.

Our hotel’s manager told us that the Nisqually River rose dramatically in the days immediately after the excessive heat. Rushing melt-waters flowing under the snow, softened the snowpack. Several hikers fell through into the creeks; one person drowned. The glaciers on The Mountain are melting.* Its slopes are bare of snow, all the ridges exposed.

Though I feel grief for what I can see with my own eyes we are losing, The Mountain and all it encompasses had a restorative effect on my soul. As we drove through the forest on the lowest slopes of the National Park, we took our time, pulling over frequently to let cars pass. So many people were in a hurry to “get there.” But we were greedily absorbing the view of the forest understory beside the road. So much GREEN. So much diversity. Huge patches of Scouler’s Corydalis (Corydalis scouleri), Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) and Vanilla Leaf (Achlys triphylla). Most of the species we saw were familiar to us, and many we grow (or attempt to grow!) at Tadpole Haven Native Plants. In one spot the size of my kitchen, we also identified 15 forest floor species plus a few we didn’t know the names of AND we weren’t counting trees or mosses and lichens.**

At last, we emerged from the shadows of the forest and ascended to the meadows of Paradise. The experience was as spiritually transporting as it sounds, though our huffing and puffing as we hiked up the steep paths and our wobbly legs as we descended reminded us that we are still mortal! Brilliant shades of green–again with the GREEN–predominated on the steep subalpine slopes. Groves of Mountain Hemlocks (Tsuga mertensiana) and Noble Firs (Abies procera), shrubs kept low by winter snows—huckleberries, mountain ash, spirea and every square inch between them packed with smaller, soft-stemmed wildflowers. Some I knew the name of; most I did not. A VERY few, we try to grow at Tadpole Haven. I am glad that most of these successfully defy the greed of gardeners and growers. We can only enjoy them if we come to them in their mountain home.

We came home to our lowland home fortified by The Mountain, a little bit stronger to deal with the harsh realities of life in 2021.

*check out the Seattle Times front-page article, Sept. 5, 2021, “In the Cascades, a landscape of dramatically shrinking glaciers.”

**Vaccinium membranaceum/Black Huckleberry

Trientalis latifolia/Broad-leaved Starflower

Trillium ovatum/Western Trillium

Maianthemum stellata/Star-Flowered False Solomon’s Seal

Maianthemum dilatatum/Wild Lily-of-the-Valley

Mahonia nervosa/Cascade Oregon Grape

Linnaea borealis/Twinflower

Goodyera oblongifolia/Rattlesnake Plantain

Gymnocarpium dryopteris/Oak Fern

Gaultheria shallon/Salal

Cornus unalaschkensis/Bunchberry

Blechnum spicant/Deer Fern

Athyrium filix-femina/Lady Fern

Aruncus dioicus/Goatsbeard

Companion Planting?

Won’t it feel great to be able to hug freely again? A hug is energizing, literally. Just think of all those happy synapses in your brain, releasing oxytocin. On Mother’s Day, it was difficult to refrain from hugging everyone; I have just had my 2nd vaccine, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But of course, this pandemic is not done with us yet. Perhaps I can get some satisfaction by living up to my reputation as a tree-hugger and engage in some cross-species communication. That will be my lunch-hour recreation: I will wrap my arms around a big old mama spruce, feel the chunky bark against my cheek, and imagine my feet connecting with her roots. Is that a ridiculous idea?

During the lead-up to Mother’s Day, I heard a radio interview1 with Suzanne Simard, a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, regarding her new book, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest.2 Her research has focused on communication between forest trees through webs of underground mycorrhizal fungi. Her findings include recognition of the important role played by large, old trees: “Mother Trees—the majestic hubs at the center of forest communication, protection, and sentience.” 2  A ‘mother tree’ has the most connections via fungi that sheath the roots of trees in a healthy forest. Thus it can sense when a young tree needs assistance, and send carbon molecules. Crazy!

As a nursery owner, I tend to focus on individual species, forgetting that all the plants we grow are destined to be members of a community. Simard’s research challenged prevailing forestry principles and practices which made that mistake as well, for example, planting monocultures of Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Paper Birches (Betula papyrifera), which would naturally grow up alongside Doug Firs, were considered ‘weed’ trees that shaded and slowed growth of Doug Firs. But Simard observed that Doug Fir monocultures were susceptible to attack by Armilleria root rot fungus. Through experiments using radioactive isotopes to trace the movement of carbon underground between the two species, she showed that the network of mycorrhizal fungi allowed exchanges of chemical signals and nutrients between the two species, resulting in healthier trees.

This puts a whole new spin on the gardening concept of ‘companion planting.’ I am just a couple of chapters into this book, and I am excited to learn more about forests as cooperative societies. Maybe HUMAN societies could learn intra- AND inter-species mutuality from forests. Is that such a ridiculous idea?


1Fresh Air, Tuesday, May 4, 2021:

2Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard. Ebook. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2021.

Habitat Champion: Black Twinberry

The underrated Black Twinberry is a habitat champion when it comes to birds. I hope you can fit one into  your yard!

Black Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata) is a fast-growing deciduous shrub that grows to about 9’. In the sun, it grows full and fat; in mostly shade, taller and lanky. It thrives in moist to wet soil, equally at home in soppy winter soil or in garden soil that holds some moisture, either with the help of organic mulch or soil that is a little bit on the clay-ey side.

An extremely valuable wildlife habitat plant, its small, paired, trumpet-like yellow flowers bloom mid-spring to mid-summer, attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. Two shiny black berries form; as they ripen, the bracts (petal-like leaves) which hold them turn a striking scarlet-purple. Birds love the berries, but the fruit is inedible for humans.

Beside a stream or on a wet hillside, Twinberry’s roots do a good job of anchoring the soil against erosion.

Lupines in the Snow

Can we take anything for granted anymore? A couple weeks ago we were buried in ten inches of snow. After the apocalyptic winter of pestilence, politics and deadly riots, any degree of confidence that spring will come again strikes me as foolish; we should put that dangerous Sound-of-Music cliché out of its misery. The world could shift on its axis this afternoon, and there we’d be, with the cockroaches and horsetails, trying to adapt.

Nevertheless, some lupines (Big-leaf Lupine/Lupinus polyphyllus), sheltered from snow by a tiny table, caught my eye. Despite the cold they were already growing, opening their leaves. I realized that a few inches away, still deep under snow, more lupines were lifting their leaves, pushing back against the weight of winter. The lupines know light. Days lengthen, sunlight strengthens; spring is coming. Sure enough.

Spring is a gift from the universe, from the sun, a side effect of the laws of nature that keep us in orbit, that keep our blue planet spinning. Our histories and memories melt away and dribble into the duff, revealing lupines, more lupines, and the small round leaves of shooting-star (Broad-leaved Shootingstar/Dodecatheon hendersonii), which—now I’m remembering a piece of reassuring history—were but green tips emerging before the snow fell.

Scary Plants!

They say (whoever THEY are) that the chilling descent of rain and darkness upon the Pacific Northwest breeds creatures, nay, organisms, that defy explanation or categorization. We at Tadpole Haven, coupled with our eco-friendly practices, impose a strict discipline upon our plants — under which some simply snap. Ugly, sometimes gruesome, some belonging to the brotherhood of the walking dead, these threaten to “go tadpole” on us … Lisa and I, fearing for our welfare, dare not spend the winter surrounded by them.

If you are brave enough, take the opportunity to come to the nursery and peruse these frightening specimens to determine whether you are capable of reforming them.  Over the next few days, we will hunt, stalk, corner, capture, exhume, root out, seize and otherwise incarcerate these gnarliest denizens of our horticultural establishment. We will make them available for adoption for a mere pittance-$1 for plants 1-gallon or smaller, $2-$5 for larger plants. Perhaps you, more saintly members of the community, have the spiritual wherewithal to inspire these plants into wholesomeness once again.

Our Scary Plant Sale runs through November 6. We will be OPEN (no appointment needed) on Friday, October 30 from 10 AM to 4 PM & Saturday, October 31 (Halloween) from 10 AM to 3 PM. We will be available by appointment on the other sale days.

Of course, we will have our usual wonderful selection of perfectly well-adjusted native plants which are also seeking good homes.


Shirley Doolittle

Tadpole Haven Native Plants