Sunday, February 24, 2013

Going Native

Though it is still winter, this past week brought some activity to the garden.  My aspirations as a wildlife gardener took another step.  The perennial garden next to the driveway has been replaced by a new bed of native plants.  The old rockery which had been built from on-site stones was removed and replaced with a new stone wall.  The perennials which grew here have been moved to the beds in the front yard.  I believe this new native plant garden will be a more appropriate asset for attracting wildlife.

I was never happy with the old perennial bed.  In late spring, it looked pretty good (above).  By the midsummer drought, however, it became a bit overgrown and weedy looking, at least, to my taste.  Moles would burrow behind the rockery pushing dirt and rocks onto the driveway.  Despite my efforts to improve it, my glacial soil was never quite right for perennials.  The spectacular blooming display I had envisioned did not materialize.  The anticipated butterflies never came, yet garden slugs enjoyed a perennial smörgåsbord.

The inspiration for the new garden comes from what I see trailside at Deception Pass State Park, Washington Park in Anacortes, the Anacortes Community Forests and on Kiket Island.  Many of these plants are also indigenous to the property and well adapted to local climate, soil, pests and weather conditions.  They also provide the specialized food and shelter required by local wildlife.

The old rockery is now a pile of stones secluded behind rhododendrons at the edge of the yard.  Amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and small mammals are known to use such features for shelter and for raising young.  They provide escape from both the heat of summer and the cold of winter.  During the day, they will absorb heat that will provide comfort during chilly nights.  The new stone wall will also serve this purpose.  At least one Northern Alligator Lizard has found a home in a similar structure in my front yard.

The plantings include Salal (Gaultheria shalon), Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), all members of the Heath family (Ericaceae).  Along with Madronas and Rhododendrons, these native plants have learned to exploit fungi in our nutrient-poor soils for their nutrition.  The fungi also help provide drought and disease resistance, and eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.

Creeping Mahonia (Mahonia repens) is one of three native mahonias, including Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) and Longleaf Mahonia (Mahonia nervosa).  Both grow all over this end of the island, and I will be adding the latter one to the shady end of the bed as well.

The Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum) is one of my favorite plants.  Not only is it beautiful, this primitive plant is drought tolerant and requires little in the way of resources.  Ferns have an architectural quality that adds variety to the structure of the garden.  Western Sword Ferns and Lady Ferns (Athyrium felix-femina) are indigenous to the yard.

Ferns have an interesting reproductive cycle with an intermediate stage.  The spores visible on the underside of the fronds, do not produce adult ferns.  They grow into a plantlet called a gametophyte which has only half the genetic material of the adult.  The gametophyte produces egg and sperm cells, which combine in the presence of moisture to grow into an adult plant.

The small Madrona (Arbutus menziesii) which came up in the perennial bed will now feel more at home with its native companions.  I have also planted Red-flowering Currants (Ribes sanguineum), another indigenous shrub.  I look forward to moss growing in the crevices of the wall.  The Cordyline australis will be moved to the front yard.  As they become available, I will explore adding some native wildflowers to the bed.  These include Starflower, Shooting Star, Trillium, Heuchera and Blue-eyed Grass.  I will try growing Broad-leaved Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) in the crevices of the wall.

For the impatient gardener, (and most of us are, I think) the disadvantage of using these native plants is a very slow growth rate.  Typically, they might sit idle for a year or two after being planted.  This characteristic helps them survive under sparse growing conditions.  But once they settle in, the results will be very special and appreciated by people and wildlife alike.  Already this morning, I spotted deer tracks crossing the new bed.  ;-)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Foggy Morning

The sun came up yesterday under clear skies on South Fidalgo Island.  Since I was going to be downtown, I decided to take the camera to get some shots from the top of Cap Sante.  This is a hook-shaped peninsula at the northeast corner of Fidalgo Island adjacent to downtown Anacortes.  There are wonderful views from the top.

As luck would have it, Anacortes and the north end of the island were socked in with fog.  The only sight from the top of Cap Sante was a dense haze.  OK then, what now?  I decided to go down to the Cap Sante Boat Haven nearby.  I enjoy looking at the boats and also taking photos that portray the weather.  I did this once before, but I have a better camera now and my post-processing skills may have improved a little.

The Cap Sante Boat Haven is operated by the Port of Anacortes.  It is a major attraction adjacent to downtown with a lot of new development in recent years.  It sits sheltered inside the hook formed by the peninsula.  The main building houses the marina offices, U.S. Customs Port of Entry offices and other services.

Seafarers' Memorial Park is another feature in the marina complex.  The "Lady of the Sea" statue bears the inscription, "Dedicated to those who work and play in the sea, and the families and friends who wait for them."  It has an eighteenth century feel to it.  The memorial pylon bears the names of local people who have lost their lives working at sea.  The last name, entered in 2010, was Lloyd Tony Kelly.

Fog and the still air that accompanies it impart a special ambience to any scene.  This is particularly true of boats moored in a harbor.  Fog filters and disperses the light removing harsh shadows.  The glassy surface of the sea produces reflections like a mirror.  The wonderful scent of salt air is rich.  In some places, the sound of a foghorn will add a plaintive musical accompaniment to the scene.  In Anacortes, only the crows and gulls occasionally offer up this service.

Morning temperatures were right at the freezing point.  Thick, slippery frost had formed from the damp air on some of the floating walkways in the marina.  Notice that in the Pacific Northwest, some of our forests contain no trees.  One thing is for certain, this is a place where money lives.

The stern-wheeler W.T. Preston is on permanent display adjacent to the marina.  Until 1981 she worked to remove navigation hazards from local rivers.  The boat is open to the public for tours from April to September.

If you prefer your boating adventures at sea, there are charter boats that offer whale watching, fishing trips and sightseeing excursions through local waters.

The fog lifted a little as the morning progressed.  Cap Sante, in the background of the second photo above, remained obscured in the mist.  Ironically, when I got home to South Fidalgo 6 miles/10 km away,  I was back in blue sky and sunshine.  As evidence, I was able to catch some eagle photos from the yard, and posted one at Wild Fidalgo.

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

-Carl Sandburg