Permaculture, human endeavor with an environmental ethic

    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.Permaculture

    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!


Fern Gardens & Stumperies

    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.

Ferns grow nicely on the upturned roots of a fallen tree.

Ferns grow nicely on the upturned roots of a fallen tree.

  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.

Fiddleheads of Sword Fern

Fiddleheads of Sword 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, Polystichum munitum


    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

Lady Fern, Athyrium felix-femina

   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, Dryopteris expansa

Spreading Wood Fern, Dryopteris expansa


  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

Oak Fern

    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, Blechnum spicant

    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

Western Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum aleuticum

    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.

Western Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum aleuticum

Western Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum aleuticum

    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.”

Leathery Polypody, Polypodium scouleri,

Leathery Polypody, Polypodium scouleri,



   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!




Visit a Public Garden

    Need a break from working in the Garden? Visiting a public garden is a great way to get out on a nice day. Many farms and nurseries also have display gardens. These are some of my favorites as well as some that I keep meaning to visit. Many are free, but some have admission fees.

Gig Harbor/Key Peninsula

     Sehmel Homestead Park hosts a WSU Pierce County Master Gardener Demonstration Garden. It is open to the public Wednesdays 9-11:30 am year round. They host Plant Clinics the second Saturday of the month 10am – 2pm, April through September.  It features a raised vegetable garden and a Heritage Garden.  Wilkinson Farm Park Historic Homestead also has a Community Garden plus a 16-acre park to explore.

 037   Blue Willow Lavender Farm: The owners give personal tours & historical talks & demonstrations about Colonial America. Just between Vaughn and hwy. 302 on Wright Bliss Rd., it is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10-5 pm. If you can’t get enough of these blissfully fragrant flowers, explore at the Sequim Lavender Festival in July.


Kitsap & Olympic Peninsula

Elandan Gardens BonsaiElandan Gardens: If you like bonsai, this is the place for you. The artist, Dan Robinson, may give you a personal tour if he is out working in the garden and will explain how the trees grew and were trained and how an estimate of their age is determined. This waterfront garden is accessed right of the highway in Gorst. Their shop is filled with items for home décor.

CameraZOOM-20140524130305717*The Bloedel Reserve’s 150 acres are a blend of natural woodlands and beautifully landscaped gardens, including a Japanese Garden, a Moss Garden, and a Reflection Pool. Regular hours: Tuesday-Sunday: 10am-4pm.




    Heronswood in Kingston was founded by Dan Hinkley, a renowned Plant Explorer and Nurseryman; it is now owned and operated by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. It features thousands of plant varieties that have been carefully documented, cultivated and preserved for scientific, educational and ornamental purposes. While it is undergoing renovation, Heronswood is only available for wedding and special events. They occasionally host and Open Garden & Plant Sale.

    Albers Vista Gardens is an oasis in the heart of Bremerton focusing on sustainable landscapes. It is open for private tours and events.

    Whitney Rhododendron Gardens is one of my favorite stops when I do the loop around Hood Canal. It is located in Brinnon on the Olympic Peninsula between Quilcene & Hoodsport.


    Lakewold in Lakewood features 10 acres of rare and native plants, “State Champion” trees, rhododendrons, Japanese maples, stunning statuary and a Georgian-style mansion. It is open 10-4, Wednesday-Sunday, April to September; Friday-Saturday, October-March.

    Point Defiance Park encompasses 702-acres.  The Rose Garden was my wedding location. You may also enjoy the Japanese Garden and many other formal flower beds.  The Rhododendron Garden, at the beginning of 5-mile drive, features large, old rhododendrons in a forest setting. The Northwest Native Plant Garden is tucked away to the right as you leave the zoo’s parking area through the main entrance.  Just outside the park, Jungle Fever Nursery specializes in unusual, exotic landscape plants.

    The W.W. Seymour Conservatory in Wright Park is a Victorian Style greenhouse. It features tropical plants and a seasonal flower displays. Just 8 blocks south of Wright Park, Gallucci Learning Garden is an urban demonstration garden designed to foster a gardening community and to teach people how to grow and cook fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables.

Puyallup & Orting

    The Puyallup Master Gardener Demonstration Garden is located directly across Pioneer from the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center. It features a Children’s Garden, Vegetable, Herb, Rose, & Shade Gardens & a Composting Demonstration Area.  It is open to the public Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10-1pm, March to October.

    Chase Garden is a 4½ acre Garden Conservancy preservation project located south of Orting near Mt. Rainier.  It features Japanese-inspired ponds and bridges, an alpine wildflower meadow, and a woodland garden with native shrubs, perennials & groundcovers. It is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from April through October, from 10-3 pm.

Federal Way & SeaTac:

    *Rhododendron Species Foundation Botanical Garden is home to one of the largest collections of species rhododendrons in the world, with over 700 species from North America, Europe, Asia, and northern Australia. It also is the home of the primary study garden of the Hardy Fern Foundation and its Victorian Stumpery. It is located on the Weyerhaeuser campus just off of I-5.  The Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection, at the same location, features 60 artistically miniaturized trees. Both are open Tuesday to Sunday, 10-4pm.

   The Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden covers 10.5 acres of display gardens of roses, irises, daylilies, fuchsias, and more, woodlands, and trails. It is open from dawn to dusk every day.

Kent & Auburn

    Soos Creek Botanical Garden in Auburn is part of an old homestead. The garden covers 22 acres, featuring a heritage flower garden, vegetable garden, an aviary, a pond garden, cedar grove and native woodland. It is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10- 3pm (Closed from late Novvember to mid-March).

    Lake Wilderness Arboretum in Kent features many specialty gardens, including Hydrangeas, Daylilies, Rhododendrons, Deciduous Azaleas and native plants. It is open daily, dawn to dusk.


    Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden at the Locks follows an English landscape style with more than 570 species from around the world. You can enjoy the garden and watch the ships making their way from Lake Union to the Puget Sound or watch Salmon at the fish ladder. The visitor center is open May-September: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. open daily; October-April: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

     Washington Park Arboretum is a city-owned 230 acre park, but the University of Washington owns and manages the trees and plant collections. A Japanese Garden is adjacent to the arboretum. Also at UW are the Medicinal Herb Garden, Erna Gunther Ethnobotanical Garden, and the Center for Urban Horticulture.

    Kruckeberg Botanic Garden has a unique blend of Pacific Northwest native plants and unusual exotics in a naturalistic, wooded setting. Located in Shoreline, Washington, the garden was founded by noted botanist Dr. Arthur Kruckeberg and his wife Mareen. It is open to the public Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A little further south is the Dunn Gardens, designed by the Olmsted Brothers. Reservations are required.

    The Seattle Parks & Recreation manages many gardens including the Woodland Park Rose Garden, Volunteer Park and Conservatory, Kubota Garden, and Beacon Food Forest at Jefferson Park.

    Seattle Tilth operates many organic farms & gardens throughout Seattle. The Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford is their original garden designed to teach organic gardening methods.

    Bastyr Medicinal Herb Garden and the Sacred Seeds Ethnobotanical Trail in Kenmore are open to the public for self-guided tours.

    Seattle Center has a few gardens tucked away amongst its other attractions, including the new Chihuly Garden and Glass.

    Streissguth Gardens is a privately owned hillside garden in the Capitol Hill Neighborhood, but visitors are welcome by appointment.

   In West Seattle, South Seattle Community College Arboretum features the Coenosium Rock Garden and contains one of the best collections of dwarf conifers. Adjacent is the Seattle Chinese Garden, which has a traditional Chinese courtyard and pond with koi fish. Also in West Seattle is the *Walker Rock Garden, a whimsical stone sculpture garden built in the backyard of a Boeing Mechanic. It is open Sunday afternoons in the summer.

    The Bellevue Botanic Garden has several special gardens featuring, fuchsias, alpines, groundcovers, perennials, and rhododendrons. It is open daily from dawn to dusk.


    The Delbert McBride Ethnobotanical Garden at the State Capital Museum is an interpretive display garden featuring native flora used by Northwest Natives for food, medicine, tools and clothing.  Unfortunately, The Capitol Conservatory was closed in 2008; a citizen group is trying to rescue it from demolition.

    So much to see & do!


What are your favorite gardens?

Please let me know of any more you think I should add or any corrections.


Bulbs, Corms, Rhizomes & Tubers


Common Camas, Camassia quamash, grows in wet prairies that dry out in the summer.

Common Camas, Camassia quamash, grows in wet prairies that dry out in the summer.

   Unlike people most plants are unable to move when drought, cold or other dangers threaten their survival. However, many plants have evolved strategies to help them survive through difficult times: They go dormant. Just like a hibernating animal, they store up food prior to withdrawing underground and going to “sleep.”

    Not all underground structures are roots; many are modified from stem tissue. The purpose for most is either food storage, or to help the plant spread more quickly to surrounding areas.

   The bulb is the most well-known underground structure. It is a short stem with thickened fleshy leaves. A bulb can be layered as an onion or scaly like a lily bulb. Most bulbs are monocots in the onion, lily (which includes tulips & hyacinths), amaryllis (which includes daffodils), and iris families. Camas bulbs were an important food for native people, but they also have attractive blue or white flowers. They grow in vernal wet meadows that dry up in the summer. Other attractive natives with bulbs include Nodding Onion, Chocolate Lily and Tiger Lily.

    A corm is a short, vertical underground stem with thin, papery leaves. Plants with corms include crocus, and gladiolus. Native flowers that have corms are Fawn, Avalanche, and Glacier Lilies. Just as for bulbs, corms may help a plant survive a dry summer or a long winter. It’s especially useful for alpine flowers that only have a couple months to grow and bloom when they are not blanketed with several feet of snow.

Rhizomes help plants spread like Redwood Sorrel, Oak Fern and False-lily-of-the-valley.

Rhizomes help plants spread like Redwood Sorrel, Oak Fern and False-lily-of-the-valley.

   A rhizome is a creeping, horizontal stem. Rhizomes help a plant spread more quickly to surrounding areas. It may also store extra food. Plants with rhizomes include ginger, canna, orchids, some irises, some grasses and many ferns.  Plants with rhizomes, such as bamboo, can be very aggressive.  Rhizomatic grasses are some of the most troublesome weeds. Rhizomes can help a plant survive many aboveground disasters, such as forest fires. Desirable plants with rhizomes are often easy to propagate by division. Native species that have rhizomes include Cattails, Solomon’s Seal, False-lily-of-the-valley, Vanilla Leaf, Inside-out Flower, Pacific Bleeding Heart, Redwood Sorrel, Wild Ginger, Bunchberry, and many ferns. Trilliums also have short fleshy rhizomes.

    A tuber is an underground stem or rhizome modified for food storage, bearing nodes and buds or “eyes.” The most famous is the potato. The potato was native to Peru and Chile but quickly spread to become a staple crop throughout much of the world. The Potato Blight is a fungus disease that caused the infamous Irish Potato Famine in the late 1840’s. The edible tubers of Oca, a type of oxalis, also native to the Andes, are gaining popularity. They are high in oxalic acid similar to Rhubarb. I bought some from Raintree Nursery, but have yet to taste them.  Cyclamen and tuberous begonias also have tubers. The tubers of Wapato, a native pond plant, were eaten by natives, either boiled or roasted.

    A tuberous root is a thickened root that resembles a tuber. It serves the same purpose of food storage as a stem tuber, but is derived from root tissue. Sweet Potatoes and dahlias are examples.

    The leaves of some flowering bulbs may sometimes become unsightly, but you should allow them to grow and manufacture food for next year. Most bulbs do best with little or no irrigation in the summer.

    If you buy a new home, it is best to wait a year before you do any major landscaping; there may be botanical treasures hidden beneath the surface!

(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on May 8, 2013 as “Underground structures key to plant growth.”)

Invaluable Invertebrates

   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.

A bumblebee on a thistle flower.

A bumblebee on a thistle flower.

   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.




A butterfly from the Butterfly House at Pacific Science Center

A butterfly from the Butterfly House at Pacific Science Center

   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!

Many tiny insects pollinate flowers and are prey for songbirds.

Many tiny insects pollinate flowers and are prey for songbirds.


   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.

A Night Train Millipede a common decomposer

A Night Train Millipede a common decomposer

    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.)

Physical & Mental Health Benefits of Gardening

    We hear over and over again in the news about the obesity epidemic and that many Americans need to get more exercise and adopt a more healthy diet. Gardening can help!

Planting my living roof

Planting my living roof

   Gardening can improve physical health by strengthening muscles and improving coordination, balance, endurance, and even boosting immune function. Digging, planting, weeding are excellent forms of low-impact exercise.  People who are older, recovering from physical illness, have disabilities, suffer from chronic pain and that find more vigorous exercise a challenge may benefit from garden activities. I used to know many older Master Gardeners; I admired and respected them and believed that just keeping active helped them live longer!

   A word of caution, however, many gardeners have problems with their backs, wrists and knees. It is important to learn the proper way to stand, sit, lift and carry. Planting in raised beds may reduce both back strain and knee problems.

   One advantage gardening has over other forms of exercise is that it is a goal-oriented outdoor activity. There is a definite purpose, either to grow food or to create beauty. People are more likely to stick with it and do it often. But make sure your goals don’t cause you to “overdo” such that you will be in pain the following day. You should know your limits!

   You may still need to find a way to get a better cardio workout: running, biking, hiking, dancing, etc. Maybe you can dance amongst the flowers in your garden!  I am also finding that as I get older with painful, creaky arthritic joints, a little yoga in the morning to stretch out helps, too!

   Being outside in the fresh air and sunshine gets you some natural Vitamin D, too—but wear a hat and use sunscreen on sunny days to prevent skin damage.

   The mental benefits of gardening can sometimes outweigh any physical discomfort. You can be proud of a job well done! Gardening may even help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve your mood, combat depression, and lower the risk of developing dementia. Nothing beats communing with nature for spiritual well-being! The Horticulture Therapy Association website has more information on the health benefits of gardening and even discusses how to create a “Therapeutic Garden.”

     Planting a garden can also be a means of expressing your creativity.  Every spring I plant up containers with cheerful, colorful annuals—they make me smile 🙂 … As you are working, don’t forget to pause and smell the flowers, listen to the birds, and appreciate other tiny creatures within the natural beauty that surrounds you!

    You can also grow your own fruits, vegetables and herbs.  Your home-grown produce may be the freshest, best-tasting, healthiest food you ever ate. Studies of after-school gardening programs even show that kids who garden are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables– And they’re a lot more adventurous about giving new foods a try.

Putting my son to work.

Putting my son to work.

   Gardening can also be a social activity. You can participate in community gardens or share seedling plant starts and produce. Harvest-time is a great time to have a get together with family and friends.

    You don’t need a big backyard or a green thumb. If you have little space, you can start enjoying gardening, the favorite American pastime, with a few houseplants or some containers on a balcony or patio.

    When I was a young girl, weeding the garden was a hated chore.  Now, working in the garden is a pleasant escape from dishes, laundry and other indoor drudgery—I often can’t wait to get outside!


O’ Tannenbaum, Selecting a Christmas Tree

 033   One of my favorite Christmas tree stories is from when I worked at the Seymour Botanical Conservatory in Tacoma.  A young, urban minister from one of the nearby churches came in around March to ask why his tree was dying.  After Christmas he had put it on his balcony and had been faithfully watering it.  Seeking more information, I asked him whether it was balled-and-burlapped or in a pot.  I had to stifle a guffaw when he told me it was in its stand!  The cut tree he had been nurturing for three months was essentially dead.  To give him some credit, it may have lived if it had been a willow!

An artificial tree can be chosen that is just the right size & shape.

An artificial tree can be chosen that is just the right size & shape.

   But today, which really is the “greenest” option, an artificial, cut, or living tree?  I admit to having owned an artificial tree (our son got over-eager one year and decided to put it up himself. He improperly, forcibly bent the branches down by mistake, basically ruining the tree for future use).  It was convenient, cheaper and was reused year after year.  (My husband would like to buy another, but I am resisting.) The problem is that artificial trees are not biodegradable and will eventually end up in a landfill.  Additionally, they are made of PVC plastic that may contain toxic chemicals. –Not what we want our children gathered ‘round.  Most are made in and shipped from China, adding to their carbon footprint.


A Natural Douglas Fir

A Natural Douglas Fir



   In contrast, cut trees are grown locally and can sequester a significant amount of carbon while they are growing–and they are renewable.  Some farms may use pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Perhaps you can find an organic tree farm; I have some I grew myself, but they are getting too big now, I may use the tops of the nonnative species sometime in the future. After the holidays, the tree can be recycled into mulch, returning to and improving the soil for other plants.

Picking out a Christmas Tree in Olympic National Forest

Picking out a Christmas Tree in Olympic National Forest

    Another option for a family outing is to head to our National Forests and find a “natural” tree to thin from our timberlands.  By issuing permits, the Forest Service controls the species, location, the quantity, and size of trees collected.  Basic permits are $5.00 in the Olympic National Forest and $10.00 in Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.  Contact a ranger station for more information.

   If you bring a live tree inside, try to limit the time kept inside to less than a week.  Afterwards, keep it in a cool, well-lit area until outside temperatures are less frigid (in the 50’s)– do not allow the soil to dry out!  If it lives, it may become a treasured part of your landscape.

An older Noble Fir with cones

An older Noble Fir with cones

   My favorite species is the Noble Fir.  It is open and ornaments hang from it nicely.  Grand Fir has long, dark-green, flat needles.  California’s White Fir is similar, but has a bluish color.  The popular, Fraser Fir, from the southern Appalachians, is nicely pyramidal. All firs have a lovely, balsamy smell.

    Douglas Fir is so common here that many don’t appreciate it’s natural beauty.  It is often sheared to make a perfect pyramid, but an irregularly-shaped Douglas fir is often the “Charlie Brown” tree that is best loved!

Western White Pine

Western White Pine

   Those with allergies may prefer the less aromatic pines.  Western White Pine has soft, long needles with flexible branches. The more traditional Scotch Pine, with its stiffer branches and sharp needles can support heavier ornaments.

    Surprisingly, our native Sitka Spruce is sometimes used as a large, civic Christmas tree in the British Isles.  Live Colorado Blue Spruce should be avoided in the northwest due insect pest problems.  All the spruces are very prickly!

   Western Red Cedar branchlets are often used in garlands and wreaths for aromatic, festive decorations.

    As is appropriate, many other evergreen species of fir, pine, and spruce are used in other regions where they are native.  Even Eastern Red Cedar (a juniper) and the hybrid Leyland Cypress have graced holiday festivities.

    Whatever you choose, have a “Green” Holiday and enjoy decorating your beautiful tree with your family!


Keep Flowering Gift Plants Alive


A Christmas Cactus I have had for many years. To the left with the white flowers is an Oxalis, I received one year as "Shamrocks" on St. Patrick's Day.

A Christmas Cactus I have had for many years. To the left with the white flowers is an Oxalis, I received one year as “Shamrocks” on St. Patrick’s Day.

    Most potted plants sold in the florist industry seem to be destined for a short moment of glory before ending up in the compost pile. Plants such as Persian Violet, Exacum; Pocket book Plant, Calceolaria; Cineraria, Senecio sp.; and Ornamental Peppers are usually short-lived and best treated as annuals. Some flowering plants, however, can be kept alive and may bloom again if you know how to care for them. Many of these plants are forced to bloom for a particular holiday even though their natural bloom time may be in an entirely different season.

    Poinsettias can make an attractive houseplant throughout the year if kept in a bright place. To force back into bloom, they need at least 12 hours of complete darkness each night beginning in early October–even a small amount of red light will interrupt flower initiation. At the Point Defiance Greenhouses we were able to grow poinsettias without shading because there was no light pollution to interrupt the natural night period. Flowering Kalanchoe, similarly, needs 3-6 weeks of at least 14 hours of darkness.

    Christmas and Thanksgiving Cacti also benefit from 12 to 14 hours of darkness at night but are not as sensitive to light pollution. They do best when given cool night temperatures. I bring mine in from the greenhouse every year when it flowers.

I plant out forced bulbs later in the garden. I keep amaryllis in my greenhouse after they finish blooming.

I plant out forced bulbs later in the garden. I keep amaryllis in my greenhouse after they finish blooming.

   Many bulb species such as Tulip, Narcissus, Lily, Crocus, Hyacinth, and Iris can simply be planted outside later. You should keep them watered in a bright spot after the flowers have withered until the weather is mild enough to replant outside. Paper-Whites are not as hardy as other Narcissus but are zoned for the Puget Sound region. Although many flowering bulbs may eventually fade away, some, like Daffodils & Easter Lilies, consistently bloom every year in my garden.

    Giant Amaryllis, Hippeastrum sp., bears spectacular, large flowers. Just as for other bulbs, keep watering until leaves begin to fade; then let the plant dry out for a while. I bring mine back inside from the greenhouse whenever I see a new flower bud developing.

    Azaleas need to go through a seasonal temperature regime –warm for flower bud initiation –a cold dormancy period–a warm “spring” to bloom again. Two main hybrid groups of Azaleas are used for flower forcing. Non-hardy Southern Indica varieties must be kept in a cool greenhouse over winter. Kurume Hybrids may be planted outside in our area.  It may be worth a try to plant your azalea outside, but be prepared if it does not survive.

   Cyclamens like cooler temperatures and often wither quickly in a warm house. They are best given bright light in a cool room. Tubers go dormant in hot weather and may later grow and bloom again after several leaves have developed. Oxalis species, grown as shamrocks also benefit from a rest period.

   I predict that most of the expensive Orchids I see people purchase are doomed. Beginners may have some success with Cymbidium, Phalaenopsis, Oncidium or Paphiopedilum species.

   Hardy species of Primroses, Primula can be planted outside; non-hardy species, P. malacoides, P. obconica, & P. sinensus are best treated as annuals. Miniature Roses need to be kept on a bright windowsill or planted outside.

    Chrysanthemums come in many flower forms and colors. There are thousands of cultivated varieties. It’s worth a try to plant them out in the garden; however, some varieties may bloom too late for our climate.

Edible Native Berries

   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.



Evergreen Huckleberry

Evergreen Huckleberry

    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.


Tall Oregon Grape

Tall Oregon Grape

    Tall Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium, and Low Oregon Grape, M. nervosa, have tart berries. They can be mixed with other sweeter berries and be made into jelly or wine.

    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 Elderberry, Sambucus caerulea

Blue Elderberry, Sambucus caerulea

    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!

Should pet cats be kept indoors?


My cat Silky and our new kitten, Cougar in back

My cat Silky and our new kitten, Cougar in back

   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!

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