Bog Candle, Swamp Lantern, Skunk Cabbage, Lysichiton americanus — whatever you call it, this northwest native wetland plant is one of the first to brighten our spring. It seems to light up the wet places in our woods and wet meadows at this time of year. Continue reading
Yesterday evening I walked down our woodland path to check on our small patch of Western Trilliums, Trillium ovatum. We have them in three or four places along the paths in our woods and I’d seen the first two stems, with their leaves just beginning to unfurl, among the Bleeding Heart a few days earlier. Those were a bit further along and I spied a third stem a couple of feet away.
What I hadn’t seen a few days ago was this little clump of four stems among the moss on the other side of the path. But here they were, leaves unfurled and tiny white dots suggesting flowers would be coming along soon. Why didn’t I see them before? Probably because they were a couple of feet further back from the path than I’d remembered. Continue reading
Henbit, also known as Purple Dead-nettle or Red Dead-nettle and in Latin as Lamium purpureum, is a unibiquitous garden weed in much of North America. It’s one of the first plants I learned as a child in my dad’s garden in West Virginia. Dead-nettle refers to the foliage vaguely resembling stinging nettle leaves, but dead-nettle doesn’t have any stiff stinging hairs. In fact, the foliage is soft and fuzzy to the touch.
It’s an easy plant to identify and a rather pretty weed. Look for the somewhat velvety, triangular shaped leaves surrounding the square stem (characteristic of members of the mint family). Small pinkish flowers are nestled among the foliage at the tip of the stem. The upper leaves are usually reddish-purple while the lower leaves tend to be more green. Continue reading
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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