Passions — a blog


Osoberry blossoms

One of the first shrubs to bloom in our woods is Osoberry, Oemleria cerasiformis. We usually see the first signs of blossoms opening in late February. Some plants are still showing flowers this week, although they’re starting to look a little aged by now. The photo above was made on March 23, showing flowers on one of the plants that bloomed a little later than others. Continue reading

Budding Maples

Vine Maple leaf buds detail

I was walking around the edge of our lawn a couple of days ago and noticed that the buds on our vine maples, Acer circinatum, are beginning to swell. It’s going to be a while before we see actual foliage but it’s encouraging to see that they’ve made it through the winter and we’ll soon be enjoying the brilliant green of new growth.

You’ll notice that the twigs are in pairs. That’s something that had escaped my notice in previous years. I knew that vine maple blossoms are always in pairs, as are their samaras (the helicopter-like seeds). I’ll have to look closely at the leaves as they emerge to see if they’re also mostly in pairs. Continue reading

On My Knees for Bleeding Heart

Pacific Bleeding Heart emerging flower buds

Our woods are blessed in many places with a large carpet of our native Pacific bleeding heart, Dicentra formosa. I’ve been seeing the foliage emerging from the ground for at least a couple of weeks now, but this was the first week that I’ve noticed any flower buds. It’s hard to see them unless you get down on your knees and look closely. The clusters of flower buds are less than 1/2 inch across, but growing bigger by the day. We’re still many days from the flowering opening. In 2019 I first photographed our bleeding heart on April 25, but I don’t recall when I saw the first precocious flower. Continue reading

Giant Purple Wakerobin

Giant Purple Wakerobin

I’ve been a sucker for trilliums as long as I can remember, going back to seeing them on the hillside as we drove from Glenville to my grandparents’ home in Spencer, West Virginia as a small child. The species we have in the Pacific Northwest are different from those in Appalachia, but no less beautiful.

Giant Purple Wakerobin, Trillium kurabayashii, is among the first of our trilliums to bloom. It’s native to southern Oregon and northern California but grows quite happily in our woodland-edge garden here in Bellingham. This is a plant that appreciates rich humus in woodland soil and a mix of sun and shade. In the wild I usually see it on forest edges. Continue reading

Grow Your Own Wipes?

Woolly Mullein
Woolly Mullein

With people hoarding toilet paper and none to be found on our grocery store shelves, I’ve seen several Facebook posts about natural alternatives — plants you can use instead. One of those is our common weed, woolly mullein (Verbascum thapsus). It’s a ubiquitous plant, introduced to and growing in every state and Canadian province, according to the USDA PLANTS database. Continue reading

On the Cusp

Early spring native shrub garden

Our front yard native shrub and perennial garden doesn’t look like much this week. The shrubs are just starting to leaf out, we haven’t cut back all of last year’s penstemon stems, and there are weeds everywhere. That’s pretty much the nature of gardens in early spring. We gardeners know what’s coming and get out in the sunshine to clean up the mess so we can enjoy the blooms that will soon start appearing.

We began this part of our garden in earnest in 2017 when we had a big truckload of soil delivered. We spread it out to a depth of one or two feet to improve the drainage. Who would have thought that a gentle slope would be waterlogged most of the winter and into the spring?

In the photo above you can see some of the native shrubs we’ve planted — red-flowering, golden, swamp, and prickly currants; serviceberry; Douglas’s hawthorn; red-twig dogwood; birchleaf spiraea; and ninebark. Native perennials fill in the gaps.

Early spring native shrub & perennial garden

Among the perennials are two species of penstemon, Cascades penstemon (native mostly west of the Cascades) and broad-leaved penstemon (native in scattered counties in the northwest). The green shoots at the base of last year’s penstemon stems are great camas.

Since we’re gardening a large property we tend to plant in large swaths for mass effect. It’s a good strategy for us since we have lots of space and we can propagate some of the material we plant. The camas started as a single clump a few years ago. We dug it up last summer after the foliage died down (just like you’d do with daffodils that need dividing) and replanted them in several new places.

While we don’t garden exclusively with northwest natives, we’re moving more in that direction. They’re beautiful and adapted to our climate. Over time they should require less work, less water, and less fertilizer than many common garden flowers from other parts of the world.

Currant Anticipation

Golden Currant emerging foliage
Golden Currant emerging foliage & flower buds

We’re enjoying balmy mid-50s sunny afternoons this week as we turn the corner from winter to spring. It’s still too early for many of our native (or non-native) plants to be blooming, yet we can be fairly sure that a profusion of blossoms isn’t too far away. Continue reading

Sweet Smell of Spring

Purple-leaf Plum blossoms in red vase

We had guests over for dinner last Saturday evening and in preparation Brian went out to the garden and trimmed our big purple-leaf plum, along with a few sprigs of cornelian cherry, to make an arrangement for our dining room table. He chose an antique red vase that’s been in our family for decades. The plum blossoms were just starting to open on Saturday, but a couple of days later they’d opened fully.

The vase continues to sit where we can enjoy the flowers and the sweet fragrance of the blossoms. We’ll come close and stick our noses right up to the flowers and inhale deeply. It’s a pleasantly sweet aroma, but not overpowering.

Continue reading

Northwest Flower & Garden Show 2020

Orca Recovery Garden

The Northwest Flower & Garden Show is Seattle’s way of saying, “spring is near.” The show includes 17 delightful display gardens (see video below), hundreds of vendors, myriad free seminars on a wide range of gardening topics, and informational booths from many regional organizations, public gardens, and plant societies. The show runs from today (Wednesday, February 26) through Sunday, March 1 at the Washington State Convention Center in the heart of Seattle. You can buy tickets online or at the door. Continue reading

Breitenbush Weekend

Breitenbush River
The Breitenbush River

Last weekend Brian and I escaped to Breitenbush Hot Springs for a long weekend of relaxation, learning, conversation, and celebration at the winter gathering of the Cascadia Radical Faeries. It was our fourth visit, and our third in the winter. There’s something wonderful about spending time with a bunch of eccentric and loving men in an environment where we can all feel safe to share our authentic selves.

Breitenbush is a retreat center near Detroit, Oregon. It’s completely off the grid and self-contained, including generating their own hydropower and heating all the buildings with the hot water that bubbles up out of the earth. Your cellphone doesn’t work there and there’s no wi-fi. We rarely spend time these days in a highly social environment where we can’t connect to the outside world. I love it. Continue reading