July 15, 2016
There are any number of summer blooming white wildflowers. Some are very distinct. Others may be difficult to differentiate. For instance, can you tell the difference between relatively innocuous and possibly edible Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) and its terribly toxic Apiaceae cousins poison hemlock (Conicum maculatum) or giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)? For that matter, can you tell the difference between these and their highly cultivated vegetable garden cousins the simple carrot or cilantro?
If not, don’t despair! Even highly trained horticulturists may find themselves stumped by these similar looking plants. Just being aware that lookalikes exist and using caution when plucking wildflowers on a trail is a great first step!
Just the other day I was strolling on a beach trail, thrilling to the sight of all the wildflowers in bloom. Delicate Queen Anne’s lace was one of the many. It’s a flower I’ve encountered all my life in wild settings from the Virginia countryside to the hillsides of northern California to the PacNW bay that I now call home. This non-native carrot family member has made itself at home throughout the United States — to the point of being declared noxious by many states. Noxious or not, the flowers of this beauty are a magnet for important pollinators that both feed and breed on it.
Not far from the Queen Anne’s lace, and interspersed with it throughout the trail, were sprouts of its more dangerous cousins. The nearby towers of giant hogweed were past their bloom cycle and unlikely to confuse the toddlers plucking trail-side flowers. But, intermittent wispy sprouts of poison hemlock appeared to be masquerading among the profusion of Queen Anne’s lace — just waiting for an unsuspecting posy plucker to make a dangerous mistake.
So, just a word of caution: if in doubt, don’t pluck it out. Don’t even touch it. That giant hogweed could burn and blind you. The poison hemlock could, well, poison you — to death. Instead, leave these umbels of white to dance in the breeze and provide habitat for pollinators that in turn will help bring your summer crops to fruition. Take a picture. As they say, “it’ll last longer.” (Of course, if any of these unwanted dangers pop up in your home garden or neighborhood, do your research to learn how to safely eradicate them before they take hold.)
July 08, 2016
When your garden includes ponds and streams, water testing is probably a good idea. Earlier this year, we attended a seminar on retaining and recycling water in rural locations. One of the conservationists who spoke made a point of saying (paraphrasing): “There’s no such thing as a clean babbling brook on our rural properties anymore.” His point being human development and agriculture have contaminated a lot of the running water on land.
When we purchased our new property that includes a couple of ponds and a small creek that receive water from livestock land uphill and then empty downhill into a county ditch that then empties into a slough that then passes into a protected wildlife estuary, I put in a call to the Skagit Conservation District for help getting information on our pond and stream water quality.
Our goal wasn’t to start raising koi in the ponds or to drink the water from it. Rather, we wanted to get a good understanding of whether the water would be toxic for the dogs that jump into it and drink from it. We wanted to be sure that the existing population of native tadpoles, frogs, salamanders, water insects and predators would continue to thrive. And, we wanted to understand what level of nastiness might be both passing into and out of our property via the existing water ways.
Our local conservationist helped connect us with a local water testing lab, Edge Analytical. Edge helped us choose a few tests to run to set a healthy baseline on our water. We began with basic tests for things like nitrates and fecal coliforms. Certainly, we could run any number of additional tests, but both the conservation district and the lab suggested these were where we should start. Both told us to expect some naturally occurring levels of coliforms as any open water has animal traffic, and, well, shit happens. (more…)
July 01, 2016
Relocating to lawn-filled acreage means we need lawn mowers! A few years ago we had eliminated the last of our Seattle garden’s lawn. Our new garden in Mount Vernon, WA came with about an acre + of rolling lawns. That takes a lot of mowing in spring when rain and sun take turns pushing new growth everywhere!
Our new home came with an old John Deere lawn tractor. Yes! We have a tractor! But, as with most things on this new property, it’s a fixer and went into the shop for repairs recently.
Fortunately, our friends at Fiskars* sent us one of their fantastic reel lawn mowers as a bit of a housewarming gift. And, it arrived a day after the John Deere went in for repairs – perfect timing!
Originally, we had intended to use the Fiskars Stay-sharp™ Max Reel mower under some the lower, weeping trees on the property where it’s really tough to drive the John Deere, and we had planned to use it on our septic mound where minimal weight impact is important. Yes, we can drive the motorized mower over the mound, but the area is small, so we’d prefer to keep as much weight off of this bio-filter as possible.
But we decided to put our new reel mower to work when the abundant lawn clover began blooming profusely in the most-used part of our new lawn. We traverse this lawn multiple times a day. It’s a great fetching space for our dog, lounging space for us and while it does slope slightly, it’ll be a fun croquet and lawn bowling space. (more…)
June 24, 2016
Have you ever had to rescue a hummingbird?
This week a couple of our many hummingbirds decided that our open front door was an invitation to explore inside. They’ve been darting about just outside the door for weeks now, feeding on blooming Acanthus, Fuchsia and other tasty nectar sources.
And, based on flight behavior and the chirping I know Annas do as they approach their nests, it’s likely there’s a nest not far from the door too — high in a Serbian spruce. So, it wasn’t terribly surprising that one would make their way into the house. Still, it was quite a worrisome moment. Never have I touched a hummingbird, let alone rescued one!
So, what happens when a hummingbird comes inside?
Well, this pair both flew straight for our large windows, which stopped them in their tracks. And, whether they were stunned by the impact or simply surprised, both froze with wings expanded into a corner of the windows. The contractor working on our house gently gathered up the first and released it into the air outside. I followed, carefully lifting the tiny bird and cupping her in the palm of my hand. She was awake but remained frozen, likely playing possum. In fact when I opened my fingers wide outside the door, she would neither fly away nor latch onto the Acanthus in front of her. So I delicately set her inert body on the soil of a hanging planter, high above the ground where predators probably wouldn’t reach her. Yet, she still didn’t move.
Thinking this might be an interesting photo opportunity, I grabbed my nearby phone, began to focus it near her, and bzzzzt! she was gone.
Want to learn more about living and gardening with hummingbirds?
Join me on Saturday, June 25, 2016 at Swanson’s Nursery in Seattle for a free seminar at 10am. Seating is limited, so be sure to arrive early!
June 17, 2016
Choosing the perfect ornamental grasses for your garden can be challenging for a number of reasons. In fact, while some plants may have the word grass in their name, they aren’t actually grasses. Instead, they may be sedges, rushes, lilies or any number of other non-grass plants. And, while there’s a grass or grass-like plant to fit just about any environmental garden challenge, determining the right one for your spot may be overwhelming.
In the world of grasses and grass-like plants, there’s much to choose from. Some are evergreen. Some have showy flowers. Some need deep shade. Some want hot, dry sunlight. Others, like it soggy — seasonally or always. Many will rot in wet. And, many can be weedy and even invasive. So, how to choose? (more…)