Friday, July 30, 2010

An Act of Vandalism

Shade Garden

My favorite spot in the yard has always been the Shade Garden.  It is a little island bordered by the road, my driveway, parking area and the neighbors' driveway.  Under a canopy of mature firs, I attempted to create a Northwest-style woodland setting with a bit of an Asian flavor.  I recall the day ten years ago I planted a single Oregon Oxalis, one of our regional natives.  It was cold and my fingers were freezing.  Over the years it spread to cover nearly 1000 square feet in two separate areas.  It was a joy to behold.

Oregon Oxalis with Ferns and Vine Maple

The bank behind the garden is road fill, which by design, is hostile to plant growth.  I struggled to find something that would grow in it.  I tried Salal, then Kinnikinnick, but even those tough natives could not survive.  Finally, the aggressive and rampant Vinca major slowly took hold and the ugly bank became hidden behind lush foliage.  Pachysandra from Japan gradually created a leafy island and Sweet Woodruff would pop up to fill in bare spots all over the garden.

Pachysandra with Fatsia and Astilbe

It was common to receive compliments on the garden from passers-by on the road.  The poor soil under the firs, the deep shade and the road fill all created special problems to be overcome.  I was pleased with the results of all the work and struggle and the ten years it took to achieve this little spot of beauty.  It was special and unique.  A characteristic of the woodland is biodiversity, many different organisms establishing an equilibrium with one another.  This had, more or less, been achieved with the plantings in the Shade Garden. 

Woodland Path

Last year I engaged a local landscape maintenance service to help with the routine stuff, mowing, weeding, trimming and the like.  This allowed me the time to focus on the creative side of gardening.  I was very pleased with the results as the yard took on a professional polish I never achieved on my own.  Then came the week of July 18th, 2010.  They sent a couple of guys out here who didn't know what they were doing and put weed-eaters in their hands.

Bushes and Dirt

In the span of a couple of hours, all of the ground covers were mowed down to bare earth.  I mean everything.  In some spots, they were even poisoned with weed killer, apparently to assure the destruction was permanent.

Bushes and Dirt

Many of the homes up and down the beach are landscaped in a style I call "bushes and dirt."  Neatly trimmed shrubs in bark mulch characterize the style.  The yards are tidy and easy to maintain, but uninspired and lifeless.  You find this sort of thing at your local bank or the Safeway parking lot.  In such a garden, you may never spot a robin on the hunt or a lingering butterfly.  Now, I also have my own bushes-and-dirt garden.

Bushes and Dirt

I cannot fathom what those guys were thinking.  Who would imagine that lush, healthy foliage, plants that were clearly not weeds, should be eliminated in favor of large plots of bare ground?  Who would take on such a task without asking first?  This was not a mistake or a misunderstanding.  It was an act of gross incompetence.  It was vandalism, plain and simple. 

Bushes and Dirt

I am struggling with my feelings over this.  The landscape firm has promised to make things right.  Frankly, I am not sure I have the wherewithal or another ten years in me to start over.  If they weren't poisoned, the Oxalis and the Sweet Woodruff might come back over time, but I fear the Vinca and the Pachysandra are gone for good.  Both took several years to get established.  Maybe it's time to sell this place and get a condo with some bushes and dirt.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Three Sentries

The Three Sentries

I have three fir trees in the front yard that stand as graceful sentries.  Like their military counterparts, they take charge of all property in view, maintain a military manner and observe everything that takes place within sight.  They speak to no one except in the line of duty and quit their post only when properly relieved. 

The three also chronicle the property as a home site as well as its geology.  The seedlings sprouted around the same time the house was built.  I've watched them grow their entire lives.  Although the tree on the right seems shortest, it is actually the tallest of the three.  In late 1990, record rainfall precipitated a landslide event affecting about 1500 feet of the South Fidalgo shoreline.  Only the southwest corner of my property was affected.  It slumped about 20 feet taking the little tree with it.  The tree survived and is now roughly 40 feet tall.  It is protected by a rip-rap sea wall added in 1999.  As if grateful for their survival, the trees return the favor by helping to stabilize the bluff against erosion.

Two varieties of fir are indiginous to the yard, or more correctly, one kind of fir and one that is not a hemlock.  I guess that requires explanation. The pair of handsome, darker trees on the left are Grand Firs (Abies grandis) and these are true firs.  You can recognize a fir by its cones which point upwards:

Grand Fir cones point upward

The lighter, spindlier tree on the right is a Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).  Despite its common name, this tree is not a true fir.  Pseudotsuga means "false hemlock."  Its cones point downward:

Douglas Fir cones point downward

Don't be mislead by the comparatively puny aspect of this young tree.  Only the California Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) grows larger.  The majority of homes in the United States are framed and sheathed with the lumber and plywood from this tree.  The history of the Pacific Northwest is closely linked to the Douglas Fir and this includes the 5,000 years or more of Native American history. 

This is the first season in my recollection the three sentries have borne cones.  This makes it possible to confirm their identities.  I have several firs in the back yard that are much older and larger forming a canopy.  There was one old growth fir on the site when I purchased the property.  It had to be removed since excavating for the foundation would have rendered the big tree unstable.  In 1988 I counted 521 rings, give or take, which means it was a sapling when Columbus sailed from Spain.  The trunk was nearly five feet in diameter at the base.  I left as many of the big trees on the site as possible.  After building the house, five subsequently died and had to be removed.  This was probably due to regrading.  Since the three sentries are windward to the house, they may also need to be removed in the future.  For the time being, however, I will enjoy their company and the beauty they provide.

Backyard Canopy

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Three's Company?

8:54 AM, Temp 62.1° F, Dew Point 56.2° F, Barometer 30.09 in, Wind WSW 3 mph, Humidity 81%

Great Blue Herons

At first glance, this photo may seem run-of-the-mill, but it reveals something quite unusual.  I have never seen three herons foraging the eel grass beds this close together.  Normally, they space themselves along the beach 100 to 200 feet (30-60 m) apart.  They seem to carefully avoid intruding into each other's territory while feeding.  This gathering may have been an uncomfortable situation for them.  The postures of the birds are not relaxed.  The extended necks of the two in the water indicate alarm.  By the time I had zoomed in for a tighter shot, the bird on the left had flown off.  The remaining pair did not stick together much longer. 

The spacing of herons along the beach may be an example of conflict avoidance.  It is interesting how various animals have adopted postures and behaviors with this purpose.  Many wolves, for example, have light-colored spots above their eyes.  This is thought to help them avoid eye contact which would be interpreted as a challenge.  Genetically identical to wolves, several breeds of domestic dogs have retained those eye spot markings.  Check out the black and tan breeds such as dobermans, dachshunds and Gordon setters.  When encountering the meeting of two male dogs, watch how vigorously they avoid eye contact.  If only we humans, with all of our intellect, could get this figured out as the animals have.

While the Great Blue Heron may prefer to feed in isolation, they breed in large communal rookeries which can number a hundred birds or more.  The March's Point Heronry on Fidalgo Island currently numbers more than 400 nests.  The birds in this photo are probably members of that colony.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mystery Solved: Purple Toadflax

Purple Toadflax
Purple Toadflax (Linaria purpurea)

The Mystery Flower posted last week has been identified as Purple Toadflax, Linaria purpurea .  It turns out the flower, a native of Italy, has become naturalized in Washington State, California and British Columbia, Canada.  One of the key characteristics is the dome in the center of each little flower shown in the photo below.  The flowers look like Sherlock Holmes hats.  Two friends stepped up to help with identification. I want to thank both Billy and Malcolm who are responsible for helping me get this mystery solved.  Perhaps admitting how pleased I am to get this figured out speaks to my consummate geekdom.  I do like to know what the things are that I see around me.

Purple Toadflax

Now if I could just determine what this is:

Mystery Shrub

It is an attractive, volunteer evergreen shrub and one has grown to 6 feet (2 m) tall.  New growth is reddish and the leaves are shiny, ovate, pointed, 2-3 inches long (5-7.5  cm), with smooth edges and lighter undersides.  The leaves do not change color in the winter and have a mildly sweet odor.  It is extremely drought-tolerant and likes to come up in shady spots.  I have never seen flowers or fruit.  I have explored laurels, bays, kalmia and vaccinia without success.

UPDATE:  A Mystery Solved and Some Wildlife Too This Evergreen has been identified.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

Coreopsis 'Sunray'
Coreopsis (C. grandiflora 'Sunray')

Daylilly 'Stella de Oro'
Daylilly (Hemerocallis 'Stella de Oro')

Euphorbia 'Blue Haze'
Euphorbia 'Blue Haze'

As some may be aware, I undertook a fairly extensive makeover of much of the yard last year.  In front, I ripped out more than 100 feet of Escallonia hedges and replaced them with perennial beds, ornamental grasses and shrubs.  This year, the perennials are starting to come into their own.  The splashes of yellow from Daylillies and Coreopsis are turning out especially nice. 

Every year I plant  annuals in containers on the basement patio.  It has been a challenge to find attractive plants that are not also craved by the local slugs, snails and rabbits.  This year I decided to save some money and just stick some nasturtium seeds in the pots.  The humble little flower has been the perfect solution; a lush, colorful display with no appeal for mollusc or rodent.  This demonstrates the simplest solutions are often the best choices.

Another problem was a bare spot between a big Douglas' Fir and a flagstone path.  It is dry and sandy and in the sun it gets hot.  I decided to try Euphorbia and it seems to be thriving.  The yellow parts are actually modified leaves surrounding an indistinct flower.  Remember, the Euphorbia family includes the Christmas Poinsettia in which the red "petals" are also just modified leaves.

The following photos show the same plants in context.  The Coreopsis and Daylillies are joined by Lavender, Russian Sage, Verbena, Gaura, Sea Holly and Rose Campion.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

Rose Campion
Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria 'Gardener's World')

False Spirea
False Spirea (Astilbe x arendsii 'Diamond')

Cranesbill (Geranium himalayense 'Johnson's Blue')

This cool and cloudy Fourth provides an opportunity to feature three flowers in the garden that might be overlooked at any other time.  It is astonishing that a recent poll indicates that 26% of Americans cannot name the country from which we gained our independence.  Some of the guesses were China, Spain and Mexico.  I sometimes wonder how the British view this day, or if they even think about it at all.  Once we got past that little skirmish in 1814 when they burned down the White House, we became steadfast allies.  We even share the red, white and blue colors which mark the day.  Here is a salute to both America and to our good friends in the UK and the values that we share.

Mystery Flower

Mystery Flower

There are plants growing in the yard that I cannot identify and that bugs me.  This tall perennial flower escaped from the neighbors with several sprouting in a gravel pile I had.  That might be a clue to its identity.  I moved them to the garden where they have done well.  The neighbor thought it was a kind of lavender, but I am skeptical.  It doesn't smell like lavender.  It fact, it has no fragrance at all.  Internet searches have turned up nothing.  If anyone knows what this is, I would appreciate hearing from you. 

While you're at it,  can you also identify the leafy shrub behind it?  It comes up wild in the yard, has reddish new growth, stays green all winter and has never borne flowers or fruit.  None of my native plant books reveal its identity.  Somebody out there must surely know what these plants are.  I will be grateful to get these mysteries solved.

UPDATE:  The mystery is solved 7/11/2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Blogger Stats

Blogger Stats Screenshot

Today, I discovered "Blogger Stats" and what a welcome enhancement it is.  As some may be aware, I am new here at Blogger, a refugee from Windows Live Spaces.  A wave of updates at Spaces has ruined it as a useful platform.  The last straw was the elimination of visitor stats.  What a pleasant surprise to discover Blogger Stats.  If you activate Blogger in Draft, you will find a new "Stats" link in your Dashboard, and a new "Stats" tab in "Settings."  It is reminiscent of Google Analytics which I had already added.  The advantage is that it is built right into your blog account.  It appears that Google giveth what Microsoft taketh away.

The Lighthouse

The 'lighthouse' at Lighthouse Point

The previous post from Lighthouse Point seemed incomplete without a photo of the "lighthouse," so here it is in all of its glory.  From the perspective of this photo, we now have our backs to the Deception Pass Bridge.  Beyond to the west is the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  The bridge is the most-photographed structure in the State of Washington.  The light is not.  Perhaps a grand tower with a lonely keeper would be more picturesque, but not in this setting.  The bridge is the star here and that's how it should be.

Weather Statistics for June, 2010

TemperatureHigh 73.4° FLow 46.5° FMean 55.2° F
Rainfall1.36 inches 
WindHigh 28.0 mphAverage 1.5 mphDom Dir SW

South Fidalgo Station Data (See Climate page for complete climatological data)