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Archive for 4) Ecological Garden Designs
Also check out my articles on the Westside Home & Garden Blog:
And B&B online (The Official Publication of Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association):
Someone recently contacted the nursery where I work interested in buying plants that will improve her habitat for quail. This is what I came up with for her:
I am assuming you are referring to California Quail.
Habitat in general is the most important thing to consider. Quail eat tender leaves in late winter and spring, but rely mostly on seeds. They will also eat insects such as ants, beetles, grasshoppers & crickets. I always recommend that people who want to create habitat for wildlife should not be neatniks, because many of the plants that wildlife depend upon are considered weeds by people. And of course, as you mentioned in your email, they need shrubs for protection (cover) and access to water, too.
I am attaching scanned pages from American Wild life & Plants, A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits, by Alexander C. Martin, Et.al. (1951) (It is a Dover Publication published by agreement of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, so is not under copyright.) It lists weeds that you may want to encourage in your yard.
In addition, food plants that we have at the nursery would include:
Deerbrush, Ceanothus velutinus
Redstem Ceanothus, Ceanothus sanguineus
Pacific Mock Orange, Philadelphus lewisii
Coast Silktassel, Garrya elliptica
Nootka Rose, Peafruit Rose, Baldhip Rose, Rosa sp.
Salmonberry, Thimbleberry, Blackcap Raspberry, Dewberry, Rubus sp.
Redtwig Dogwood, Cornus sericea
Soapberry or Buffaloberry, Shepherdia Canadensis
Twinberry, Lonicera involucrata
Coast Strawberry, Wild Strawberry, Wood Strawberry, Fragaria Sp.
Permaculture is short for permanent agriculture. It is the conscious design and maintenance of food-producing ecosystems which have the diversity and resilience of natural ecosystems. It has grown to include the sustainable production of energy, shelter, and other materials.
The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against nature; creating a harmonious landscape ecosystem for people and wildlife — Permaculture is a creative design process, based on an environmental ethic, that encourages us to study, observe, & mimic the patterns and relationships we find in nature.
By adopting the ethics and applying these principles, we can make the transition from being dependent consumers to producing some of our own healthy food and materials. We can also relearn traditional skills, such as food preservation & general self-suffiency that our ancestors relied upon for survival. These skills and community-supported permaculture programs may help us to prepare for an uncertain future as populations increase and food & other resources become scarcer on our finite planet.
Central to permaculture are the three ethics: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share. They form the foundation for permaculture design and are also found in most traditional societies. Following are the 12 principles of permaculture as described by David Holmgren, with some of my own editorial comments:
1. Observe and Interact – Take the time to engage with nature. We are often focused on work and the task at hand such that we forget to appreciate what surrounds us…take notice of the flowers & the birds & the beauty that surrounds you.
2. Catch and Store Energy –Collect resources when they are abundant and use them in times of need: Catch water with rain barrels, compost to store nutrients for plants, & harvest & preserve food for future use.
3. Obtain a yield – Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as a result of the work you are doing…emotional and psychological rewards, as well as staple foods and sweet fruit– nature’s candy!
4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback –discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well…avoid chemicals and other harmful inputs to the ecology of your garden. Take notice to see what works…and what doesn’t.
5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services –Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources. I use the cheapest local sources for soils, natural fertilizers, mulches and other materials; reusing & repurposing what I can.
6. Produce No Waste –By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste…food scraps can go to pigs, chickens, or worms or can just be composted.
7. Design From Patterns to Details –By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go…getting inspiration from nature!
8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate – By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other… know whether plants need sun or shade, wet or fairly dry, or benefit from companion plants.
9. Use Small and Slow Solutions –Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes…Focus on small sections of your garden at a time, improving soil and building populations of beneficial organisms.
10. Use and Value Diversity – Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides. By growing several crops you avoid “putting all your eggs in one basket.” You will have some failures, but hopefully your successes outweigh the cost of a failure. In nature, some trees will produce heavily one year and sparsely the next as a strategy to control the population of frugivores or seed-eaters. By growing a variety of species you are more likely to have a healthy ecosystem and a more stable food source.
11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal –The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system. Edges of forests are the most diverse wildlife habitat and ideal growing conditions for many shrubs.
12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change –We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time. Use IPM, Integrated Pest Management techniques to monitor and control pest populations. Remember that landscapes are dynamic, constantly changing through the seasons, and through the years…
A Permaculture Garden can be divided into zones as follows:
Zone 0–The house, or home center in a permaculture design creates a harmonious, sustainable environment in which to live, work & play. It uses energy and water conservatively and incorporates sustainable energy systems such as wind, solar, or geothermal power.
Zone 1–The zone nearest to the house is for those elements in the system that require frequent attention. It may include a kitchen garden with raised beds for growing salad crops, vegetable & herb plants, strawberries, or other berries, propagation areas (greenhouse and cold frames), a chicken coop, and/or a worm compost bin for kitchen waste.
Zone 2 –Contains perennial plants that require less frequent maintenance. This may include orchards, berry bushes, squashes etc. beehives, larger scale composting bins, and so on.
Zone 3–The area where field crops are grown or livestock is pastured, both for domestic use and for trade purposes. After establishment, care and maintenance required, such as watering or weed control, are fairly minimal (maybe once a week). Livestock may need to be visited more often.
Zone 4–A semi-wild area. This zone is mainly used for forage and collecting wild food as well as production of timber for construction or firewood.
Zone 5–A wilderness area. There is no human intervention in zone 5 apart from the observation of natural ecosystems and cycles. Through this zone we build up a natural reserve of bacteria, molds and insects that can aid the zones above it. Eradication of invasive species may be needed at times.
One of my family’s favorite sitcoms is the 1970’s British TV show: “The Good Life” or“Good Neighbors.” In the show, Tom Good quits his job and he and his wife, Barbara, adopt a self-sufficient lifestyle in their suburban neighborhood to the horror of their good friends and neighbors. They grow fruits & vegetables in their front and back gardens. They raise chickens, pigs, and a goat. They even generate their own electricity, using methane from animal waste and attempt to make their own clothes. They sell or barter surplus crops for essentials they cannot make themselves. Although this lifestyle is probably not really feasible on a small suburban lot (but it makes for a funny sitcom!), and is difficult for those that have more property, we can try to adopt some of these goals and ideas, even though we can’t go all the way and quit our wage-earning jobs!
There are many local community groups that hold workshops on Permaculture. A quick internet search may find one near you!
Stumpery! –A new word for me, even though it has been around a century & a half! A stumpery is similar to a rockery but is made from whole stumps, logs, and pieces of bark. Plants, such as ferns, mosses and lichens, are artistically arranged to grow around or on them. The first stumpery was built in 1856 at Biddulph Grange in Victorian Britain.
I learned about stumperies and the Victorian Stumpery recently constructed at the Rhododendron Species Foundation when I went to a lecture by John van den Meerendonk, the President of the Hardy Fern Foundation, hosted by the Bayshore Garden Club at the Key Center Library.
A Stumpery seems an ideal design concept to incorporate in a Pacific Northwest woodland garden. If you are a hiker, like me, you can envision how this art can imitate nature. Stumps, fallen trees and their upturned roots create many more nooks & crannies and surfaces to be populated by botanical treasures.
Ferns are like flowering plants in that they have true leaves and a vascular system to transport water and nutrients. But they do not produce seeds. Instead, they have a complex life cycle consisting of two alternate generations. The diploid sporophyte generation is the one we recognize as a fern. Ferns produce spores on the undersides of their fronds, which after they are released and fall to an amenable substrate, will grow into moss-like plants called prothallia. These haploid gametophytes are free-living organisms. They in turn produce gametes (sperm and eggs). A mobile, flagellate sperm seeks out an egg to fertilize. The presence of water during this stage is critical and is why most ferns need to live in a moist climate, such as our rainforests. Once an egg is fertilized, it will grow into what we recognize as a fern.
We have several native ferns that could be used in a stumpery or woodland garden. Although some people eat the fiddleheads or rhizomes of some ferns, (sometimes considered a “famine food” by natives) most should probably be avoided due to possible presence of carcinogens or other toxins. Many ferns are, however, often browsed by deer, elk, bear and Mountain Beaver.
Western Sword Fern, Polystichum munitum Western Sword Fern is the most widespread and versatile of all our native ferns. Although at home in woodlands, it often adapts to drier, sunnier sites in landscapes. Its tall arching fronds are most impressive planted in drifts in a woodland garden. Fronds partially unroll their “fiddleheads” by late May. The fronds were used frequently for lining baking pits and storage baskets; and were spread on drying racks to prevent berries from sticking. They were variously used for placemats, floor coverings, bedding; and for games, dancing skirts and other decorations. They are frequently used today in flower arrangements. Anderson’s Holly Fern, P. andersonii, and Braun’s Holly Fern, P. braunii, are similar species in the same genus.
Lady Fern, Athyrium felix-femina This species, with its graceful, lacy, bright, yellow-green fronds, is very eye-catching. It may, however be a little too aggressive for a formal garden, but is ideal for a wild, moist, woodland garden, where it can freely multiply. It dies back completely in winter.
Spreading Wood Fern or Shield Fern, Dryopteris expansa, Spreading Wood Fern is easy to grow and its fine-textured, lacy leaves are ideal for a woodland garden.
Oak Fern, Gymnocarpium dryopteris, or Pacific Oak Fern, Gymnocarpium disjunctum Oak Ferns make a nice groundcover in a woodland garden; their lush, bright green fronds brighten a dark forest floor. They can be propagated by division.
Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, is found throughout much of the northeast and across Canada; but only reaches the west coast in southern Alaska and British Columbia. Sterile, bright-green deciduous fronds grow to nearly 6 feet, in vase-like clusters, in moist, moderate climates.
Deer Fern, Blechnum spicant, Deer fern has two types of fronds: narrow, evergreen, sterile leaves spreading outward, and even narrower, taller, fertile fronds, which grow erect, from the center. Hitchcock writes: Deer Fern “is a truly choice fern usable in many places in the garden, but so common as to have little appeal to most gardeners.” That said, it is one of the best native ferns for landscapes, second only to Sword Fern. Although at home in a woodland garden, it can adapt to many situations, given adequate shade and/or moisture. Deer Fern has also been used as a houseplant.
Giant Chain Fern, Woodwardia fimbriata Giant Chain Fern has been found on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and in the Puget Sound region of Washington where it is listed as sensitive. About Woodwardia fimbriata, Hitchcock writes: “This is surely our choicest large fern.” Being the largest, it is certainly the most impressive of all our ferns, it performs best in a woodland garden especially next to streams, bogs, springs or ponds, but it can also grow in full sun with adequate summer moisture. It can be very striking as a focal point or when planted against a wall in a shady location. It readily produces “sporeling plants” in wet areas. It also may be propagated in the spring by division of the rhizomes–but judicious collection of spores is preferable where this species is rare.
Western Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum aleuticum Maidenhair Ferns are prized by gardeners for their delicate, airy fronds. Western Maidenhair is sure to evoke memories for avid hikers of enchanting waterfalls, where it grows on cliffs within reach of water spray. Gardeners should make sure this charmer gets planted in a shady place with plenty of moisture. Natives used the black stems of Maidenhair Fern in basketry designs.
Maidenhair Spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes Kruckeberg writes: “It is one of our best rock garden ferns, and a superb container plant;” Hitchcock writes: “Both our plants (aspleniums) are attractive, but A. trichomanes is much nicer and the more tractable.” It can be grown in wall crevices.
Narrow Beech Fern, Phegopteris connectilis This species grows in moist to wet forests, streambanks, and shady, seepy cliff crevices. Narrow Beech Fern resembles Oak Fern, but is larger, and a darker green, with long, triangular fronds. Hitchcock thought this was perhaps the best ornamental species of our Marsh Ferns.
Licorice Fern, Polypodium glycrrhiza, This fern usually grows epiphytically on tree trunks, especially Big Leaf Maples, also mossy logs, rocks & moist banks. Licorice-flavored rhizomes were used by natives for flavor and for colds, sore throats and coughs.
A related species, Leathery Polypody, Polypodium scouleri, Grows in tree trunks and exposed cliffs and banks often within reach of salt spray. Hitchcock writes “…is by far the most attractive species, and of course the most difficult to grow successfully.”
Red Huckleberry, Vaccinium parvifolium would also be ideal in a stumpery, because it is often found growing on stumps and nurse logs in the forest! Be creative! You could even turn your stumpery into a Fairy Garden!
What is your reaction when you see a creepy-crawly bug? Do you want to instantly kill it, or are you respectful of this other life form, maybe even fascinated by the appearance and behavior of the tiny creature? People tend to place other organisms in categories of good or bad either due to their effect on us or our things, or just because of some ingrained prejudice. Most “bugs,” in fact, cause us no harm, some are beneficial.
Bees are the star pollinators. In addition to the introduced European Honeybee, there are about 4000 native bees in North America. Our native Mason Bees are well known as excellent pollinators of orchard crops. Bumblebees and many other bees are also important pollinators.
Butterflies and moths are the showiest insects. They are attractive as they flutter from flower to flower or take a sip from a puddle. They pollinate flowers, but remember that you can’t have any butterflies if you kill all the caterpillars!
Syrphid or Hover Flies are good pollinators and they feed on aphids and other insects. Beetles and flies usually are the major pollinators of “stinky” flowers, such as Skunk Cabbage. It may take an entomologist to identify all of the tiny little insects that one may see gathering nectar and pollen from many different flowers!
A few wasps are pollinators, but most are more useful for pest control. Many small wasp species parasitize other insects, such as aphids and caterpillars. Yellowjackets are important predators & scavengers but are aggressive and will sting repeatedly in defense of their nests.
Spiders and Daddy-Long-Legs, or Harvestmen, are major predators of insects. Although many people hate spiders and will kill them on sight, I figure that they are probably helping to control more numerous insects. The only spider in our area that can give a nasty bite is the non-native Hobo Spider or Aggressive House Spider; it spins a funnel web and is often found in basements and outbuildings. Predatory Mites are spider relatives that prey on their cousins, the Spider Mites, which live on the undersides of leaves, sucking out plant juices.
Many ants may go about their business, causing us no concern. In the forest, Carpenter Ants fulfill an important role as major decomposers, but just like termites, they can cause major damage to wood structures. I always get Sugar Ants in my house at certain times of the year. A few “scouts” don’t bother me, but when they start nesting in my house, I will put out poison bait.
Many children are fascinated by Pillbugs or Roly-Polies. These are actually land crustaceans that can roll themselves entirely up into a ball. Other Woodlice, also known as Sow Bugs, Chiggy-wigs or Potato Bugs, may not be able to roll up entirely. They are also mostly decomposers, but may take a few bites out of your strawberries.
Millipedes, such as the Night Train Millipede are generally decomposers; centipedes prey on insects and other small creatures, killing them with a venomous bite.
Praying Mantis, Assassin Bugs, Lady Bugs, many beetles, Flower Flies, & Lacewings all help to control damaging pest species. Just make sure you don’t kill their larval forms—I have sometimes pleaded with homeowners not to spray the creepy-crawly Ladybug larvae they found in their fruit trees.
And don’t forget the lowly worm. It is a major decomposer and creates the lovely “vegetable mould” or compost that nourishes the garden.
“Bugs” are an important food source for many songbirds, amphibians, reptiles, and some small mammals. They play a vital role in the local ecology. Be careful when spraying pest species; try to garden organically!
(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on April 17, 2013 as Don’t fear bugs in your garden, they could be helping.)
The Pacific Northwest is ideal for growing many kinds of edible berries. There are many native species that produce delicious berries that people go out of their way to collect. Many people have favorite berry patches that they return to year after year to harvest nature’s bounty. By planting these species in your landscape, you can have quick access to these flavorful treats!
Native peoples ate berries fresh and dried (like raisins), cooked, mashed and dried into cakes, or they preserved them in fats such as oolichan grease made from a small, smelt-like fish— their olive oil! Today we may eat them fresh, in desserts, baked into muffins or pies, or made into jams, syrups or wines.
Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis, is one of the earliest berries to ripen; some patches have tastier berries so keep sampling! Blackcap Raspberries, R. leucodermis, are good in jellies and syrups. Thimbleberrries, R. parviflorus, are seedy, but can be eaten fresh or dried. Dewberry or Trailing Blackberry, R. ursinus, is our only native blackberry, its small, sweet berries are refreshing in late summer.
Oval-leaved Blueberries, Vaccinium ovalifolium, are highly regarded; they fruit early in July after Salmonberry. Black Huckleberry, V. membranaceum, is one of the most delicious, found mid-summer to fall at middle to high elevations. Cascade Huckleberry, V. deliciosum, also found in subalpine meadows, is worthy of its species name. Dwarf Blueberry, V. caespitosum, found in low elevation bogs and subalpine wet meadows is said to be the “most preferred” blueberry. Red Huckleberry, V. parvifolium, is a favorite, on-the-trail, snack for hikers. Lingonberries, V. vitis-idea, are well-liked by natives of Alaska and BC as well as Scandinavia. Small Cranberries, V. oxycoccus, are found in bogs along the coast. Evergreen Huckleberries, V. ovatum, although usually small and black, some are bigger, like blueberries; they are said to taste sweeter after the first frost. All are good baked in muffins or they can be collected along the trail for a great addition to your morning pancakes when you are backpacking!
Along with Evergreen Huckleberry, Salal, Gaultheria shallon, is one of our most plentiful natives. It is very sweet, but its texture is rather mealy. It is good mixed with other, tarter berries in jellies or preserves.
Saskatoon Serviceberries, Amelanchier alnifolia, are sweet, eaten fresh, used in baking or made into jams or jellies.
All of our strawberries produce edible berries, albeit smaller (but often more flavorful) than commercial strawberries. Coastal or Beach Strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis, is used in hybridizing and is a parent of many cultivated varieties. Many prefer Wild Strawberry, F. virginiana. Wood Strawberries, F. vesca, are somewhat dry, but are good added to rhubarb pies!
Currants native to the east side of the Cascades such as Golden Currant, R. aureum, and Squaw (or Wax) Currant, R. cereum, are good-eating. Black Swamp Gooseberry, R. lacustre , Wild Black Gooseberry, R. divaricatum, and Stink Currant, R. bracteosum, are also edible.
Blue Elderberries, S. caerulea, are used to make a tangy jelly or wine. Because raw berries cause nausea, the berries should always be cooked.
Pacific Crabapple, Malus fusca, and Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum edule, were both harvested by natives in fall and stored in boxes with water and oil, the tart fruits became sweeter over time. Highbush cranberries can be blended with other cranberries to make sauces and preserves.
Soapberries, Shepherdia canadensis, although bitter, can be mixed with water, whipped to a froth, and then sweetened with salal berries.
Always be careful when eating wild berries. Make sure they are identified correctly before you enjoy the eating any of these flavorful fruits!
Many wildlife enthusiasts insist that pet cats should be kept indoors due to the devastating effect they can have on wildlife. Some cat lovers insist, however, that cats that are allowed outside have a much more fulfilling and happy life.
Cats are instinctual hunters and even well fed cats and cats that have not been trained to hunt by their mother for food, will kill or lethally injure small animals. They are drawn to movements made by small animals and will pounce and cruelly play with any unfortunate creature. Individual cats vary in their hunting prowess. The average outdoor cat kills over 100 animals each year, but individual cats have been known to kill over 1000 animals in a year. Of the animals killed by domestic cats about 60-70% are small mammals, 20-30% are birds, the remaining ~10% include amphibians, reptiles and insects.
We know that cats were domesticated by the Egyptians as early as 8,000 years ago. Cats were domesticated in other parts of the world, as well. Throughout history, people have appreciated and even revered their cats for controlling rodent populations; especially when people depended on their grain stores for surviving the winter or to last through a long sea voyage. Ironically, cats and cat-lovers were persecuted during the time of the bubonic plague. They were thought to be Satan’s familiars and their owners, witches. The killing of cats allowed rat populations to explode, expanding the spread of the fleas that carried the disease!
Should today’s cats be simply pets, or house decorations? Or can they still carry on their historical purpose? Where you live and the personality of your cat may help you to decide. People that live in rural areas or businesses (such as plant nurseries) that carry items that are attractive to rodents often still keep “barn cats” for rodent control.
Unfortunately it has been shown that cats usually kill a disproportionate number of native species versus the target non-native pest species. I live in a rural area and liked to think our outside cat controlled the mice and voles that are sometimes a problem. But he often preyed on birds– and every time native squirrels or chipmunks moved into the area, they were soon eradicated.
Cat owners in urban and suburban areas should seriously consider keeping their cat indoors. Do your neighbors have outside cats? Do you have any idea of the total number of outside cats in your area that may be impacting wildlife populations? (Other neighbors may also be happy not to have cats digging in their gardens!)
Living outdoors, in general, is more dangerous for cats. They may become prey themselves or get run over by a vehicle. They are exposed to more diseases and parasites and often are injured in fights with other cats or wild animals, or they may simply get lost or stolen. Outdoor cats have an average lifespan of 3-5 years, whereas indoor cats usually live into the late teens. We only have indoor cats now for these reasons.
Domestic cats are not a natural part of our ecosystem. Feral cats should be controlled. Native predators such as foxes and raptors compete for and depend on the prey species that cats kill.
It is much easier to keep a cat inside that has never been allowed outside. Certain breeds may adapt better to a confined life. (I had a neurotic Abyssinian—it may have been due to inbreeding, but I believe he would have been happier if he had been allowed outside, as many Abby breeders recommend.) Each cat is different. Some cats prefer the safety and security inside; others like the excitement of the outside world. Some cat-owners go to great lengths to keep their cat sufficiently entertained inside their home; buying toys and building special play areas.
Each cat owner will have to make a decision. If you do decide to let your cat roam, be aware of the effect your cat may have on native wildlife populations and that your cat may become prey for other predators!