Tag: native plants

  • Hazel? Are you Nuts?

    July 18, 2012
    Ripening Hazelnuts

    Ripening Hazelnuts

    Hazelnuts, aka filberts,  are ripening fast in the Pacific Northwest. These trees seem to pop up everywhere. Hazel trees (Corylus, not Hamamelis) is native to this area. To many, they’re a pesky weed. To others, they’re a perfect food producing tree – with one catch.


    Those fuzzy-tailed rats, um, I mean rodents, will gobble up your hazelnuts faster than you. They’ll eat them before they’re totally ripe — just to be sure they get them.

    The trick? Well, it’s not perfect, but here goes.

    Start by planting the tree where you can monitor it closely. When the fruit begins to look as ripe as the one photographed, try picking one or two. Check to see how formed the interior flesh is. If they’re ripe. Harvest. If not, keep monitoring. Perhaps even wrap nut-filled branches with bird netting, which can make it tough for the squirrels too.

    Then, later, if you start seeing broken shells on the ground, immediately harvest the nuts. Those broken shells mean the squirrels are getting at’m, and they’ll be gone fast.

  • Plant Profile – Ribes sanguineum

    April 20, 2012
    Ribes Mary's Peak

    Ribes sanguineum ‘Mary’s Peak’ combined with burgundy Japanese Maple & Hardy Geranium

    One of my favorite Pacific Northwest native plants has to be Ribes sanguineum. In mid-April they’re in full glory, so now’s the time to sing their praises!

    This medium size shrub reaches about ten feet tall at maturity. And although it doesn’t get large, it also doesn’t take it long to grow to size in the garden. (Hint: that means you can buy a small one and only have a couple of years to wait until it gets big.) (more…)

  • Pacific Native Goes Naked All Winter

    September 27, 2011
    Cornus nuttallii

    Cornus nuttallii: a Naked-budded West Coast Native Tree

    The Cornus genus encompasses a fantastic array of plants ranging from the minute, spreading groundcover C. canadensis to yellow & red, shrubby, twiggy C. sericea to a number of trees that have been cultivated in landscapes around the world.

    When I was in horticulture school, struggling to memorize common names, botanical names, bloom time, size, disease and all those other things that go with each plant we learned, I often had to make up crazy stories to keep things straight. Its strange how the brain works — make up a convoluted, nonsensical story, and suddenly information sticks. Now, whenever I see a dogwood tree — especially a Pacific dogwood tree — my brain kicks into gear with the crazy memorizing story tool I made up.

    And that’s exactly what happened when we rounded a bend during our hike around Lake Siskiyou just below Mount Shasta where we camped for a few days recently. There, on one of the shadier slopes, not many feet from a stand of Manzanita in hot baking sun, were a number of Cornus nuttallii — covered in coloring clusters of this year’s fruit beside naked flower buds for the coming spring and clothed in leaves showing first hints of red fall color.

    How’d I know it was actually C. nuttallii? Well, key ID study from school told me so. And, my crazy little memorizing story helped as well.

    Fair warning: if you read on, you may never look at a dogwood tree quite the same again.

    Once I’ve determined a tree is indeed a Cornus, the story begins to tell itself in my head…

    Cornus nuttallii…that’s the one that comes from the Pacific, like California, where all us “nutty” people live. Yeah, nuttallii…okay, and those crazy, nuttii people in California well, they run around naked (aka naked buds) in all that warm California sunshine. And, yeah, they’re the ones that bloom first in spring — flower power…San Francisco…yeah, nuttii people running around naked and leading the way of the flowers.

    I think I’ll leave it at that. You really don’t want to get the whole Cornus florida and Cornus kousa stories. It just gets worse from here on out. I may be just a little bit crazy. But, really, I am pretty good at my plant ID — whatever the cost in getting me there.

    Oh, and no, I don’t run around naked all winter. I’ll leave that to the natives — um, to the native plants that is.

  • The Genus of the Grape

    September 22, 2011
    Vitis Grape

    Vitis Grapes on display at the National Heirloom Expo 2011

    What do you think of when you hear “grape”?

    (Okay, besides Gilbert and what’s eating him.)

    Maybe table grapes come to mind. Or wine. Or even a stuffed leaf to eat. All of these delicious edibles come from the genus Vitis and within that genus are a number of species. But among them you will not find the North American native often called “Oregon Grape”.

    Yes, the Oregon Grape is edible. And, according to Pojar & McKinnon in Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, they were a part of the Native American diet — though used sparingly because they’re both tart and potent. I’m not sure what’s potent about them, but I can tell you they aren’t particularly tasty. I’ve tasted a few, and didn’t find them intoxicating, deadly or something I’d spend hours picking for pies and jams. Then again, if I were starving in the woods, I’d be glad to eat them.

    Native Mahonia

    Mahonia Aquifolium vining through a native Plant Thicket - note the spiny leaves and purple fruits

    So what is the Oregon Grape?

    Botanically, it is a member of the Mahonia genus. And, there are a number of species within that genus — from low creeping forms to tall, showy cultivars. And, no, you wouldn’t want to make a dolma with their prickly, holly-like leaves. Just the berries, and in moderation.

    So, why the hang up on grapes right now?

    Well, during our recent drive through wine country we saw all sorts of amazing, beautifully pruned wine grape vines. (And, yes, we drank and bought some wine along the way too!)  Then, at the National Heirloom Expo, I spied the beautifully colored grapes shown above; they were tucked into the corner of one of the many magnificent displays. And then today, while walking the dog, I spied the first Oregon grape plant that actually looked like grapes to me. Usually, they look like holly shrubs with a bunch of purplish berries. Today, what I saw was a plant, wrapping vine-like through surrounding native vine maple and snowberry, dripping with berries — like any good grape should.

  • Getting Away Brings the Gardener in Me Home

    July 11, 2011

    As much as I love my garden, sometimes I need to get away from it for a while to recharge. I devote a lot of time, energy and attention to our little plot of mixed edibles, natives and ornamentals. And its a shame when I begin to view it as more of a burden than a joy. Really, I do love my garden. But, sometimes our harmony becomes discordant, and it takes some time apart for us to regain our usual near-perfect pitch.

    Kula Loving The Freedom of Burton Acres' Off Leash Trails

    Kula Loving The Freedom of Burton Acres' Off Leash Trails

    Recently, we escaped for a few days away. We visited Vashon Island, which is just a short ferry ride from Seattle but feels like a world away. We stayed in a tiny cabin built on a pier in the 1930s. When the tide came it, it sloshed under the bedroom floor at night. When it went out during the day, we crunched across barnacles to explore the chilly waters. And, when the tides were somewhere in between, we watched raccoon families leave their wild cherry treetop banquets to scramble along the shore digging up tasty crabs, mussels, clams, oysters and any number of other protein-rich sea-snacks.

    When the sunshine was bright on the deck, our lattes were long-finished and the pup needed to stretch her legs, we would cross the one road into Burton Acres park. Here, through dappled sunlight, we listened to varied bird calls from the treetops and underbrush, as we strolled aimlessly along easy paths through second-growth Alder, Doug Fir, Hemlock and Maple. A flash of red would catch my eye – red huckleberry is ripe. A glimpse of golden – salmonberry too. The sun would suddenly appear through the canopy,  and a hillside of ferns would brighten just beside us. All of it refreshing and inspiring. And, all very different from my unforested home garden.

    To augment all the great, fresh food from our own garden and our fantastic CSA, we made daily stops at several of the roadside honor stands where farmers set out the freshest of their harvest for locals to take, trusting they’ll leave a few dollars in the lock box behind. In town, we snatched up fresh, raw milk and delicious porchetta from the island’s famed Sea Breeze farm. Certainly, we ate well — rarely at a restaurant — while we were away. (more…)

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