Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden

The month of September has been busy, hectic, noisy and at times worrisome. My son was home with us for two weeks recovering from surgery, my husband had a five hour ER visit, and we had our 30-year-old back decks rebuilt. In addition to the above, the Seattle area contended with heat and smoke from wildfires which kept us inside for a while. But, in between all the mess, banging, worry, and appointments, we found time to visit one of the premiere botanical gardens in the PNW – the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden. This gorgeous garden, located in Federal Way (south of Seattle, north of Tacoma), is an educational and creative wonder. Bill and I have visited many times, and have a membership with the Garden, so it was a treat to take our son there for a visit. His recovery from surgery has been fast and relatively easy – as expected from someone young – and he felt strong enough to walk the pathways and hills with us. And being among mosses, giant conifers and unique plants assists with healing. It was a beautiful day, as the following pictures show.

Deep shade dotted with sunlight offers perfect growing conditions for understory plants.

Giant seedpods.

Couldn’t find a label for this lily, but it’s at least 5 feet tall.

Its flowers are beautiful.

Rhododendron rex ssp. rex

Viburnum nervosum

Climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea anomala

The pond.

Giant magnolia leaves.

View from the Gazebo, at the top of the Alpine Garden

A moment in the mist.

A most unusual begonia in the Conservatory.

If you haven’t visited this most beautiful and unique botanical garden yet, take time to do so. Any time of year you will find rare and gorgeous treasures.

Wishing you good health, clear skies, and time to enjoy the sights.

Beauty from Destruction

Here in the PNW, we’re mostly surrounded by wildfire. To our north, to the east of us, and from the south. To our west is a breath of clean, fresh air – the Puget Sound. Beyond the Sound – the Olympic Mountains, the Salish Sea and the Pacific Ocean. And these bodies of water bring us onshore winds that cool and clean our increasingly hot, smoky summer days. Forest fires in our time of extreme and rapid climate change bring horrific destruction (excessive heat and drought causing fire to jump into tree canopies unlike fires of past centuries, fire tornados, thick smoke-filled air). But, fires also bring something else – stunning and surreal beauty of dramatic skies.

Last evening’s sunset – smoke-filled and unhealthy – was beautiful nonetheless. I stood on my front porch and watched the sky change as each minute passed. Other than human-created sounds, I heard nothing. No birds sang the day to close, no crows cawed goodnight to their world. Just cars, trucks, and wind. I said goodnight to the day, went inside, and closed the door to the smoke.

Falling into Autumn

A warm, smoky walk recently was interrupted with periodic cool, clean breezes, reminding me that autumn will soon arrive. Colors are changing, some plants come into their own this month, and days grow shorter. Before long, a vibrant and lively atmosphere will replace the worn out days of summer. I always look forward to the show. And here’s a preview of what’s heading our way.

Rudbeckia in my garden.

Exuberant chaos of my prairie garden.

Pennisetum setaceum. A more beautiful grass is hard to find.

A vibrant Sumac hedge on my walking route.

Clerodendrum trichotomum, Harlequin Glorybower. This little tree lives up to its name.

Brilliant Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) in my prairie bed.

And the classic summer Seattle lawn. This one is dotted with leaves from a lovely Paul’s Scarlet Hawthorne (Crataegus laevigata).

I wish you time to make the most of these brief days between seasons. They hold surprises of cool breezes and gorgeous colors.

Cleaning Out and Moving On

This post has nothing to do with gardening, hiking, travel, or any of the other topics I’ve written about to date. This post is a result of my spouse and I having cleaned out and vacated the storage unit we’ve had for decades. So, feel free to skip this one if you want. I’ll return to my primary topics soon.

Boxes upon boxes of books, photos, scrap books, vinyl albums (including my original mono Meet The Beatles album as well as my complete early Rolling Stones lp collection), an old desk, two framed classic Chinese paintings we’d forgotten about, and a 1940’s-era Persian carpet we inherited from our first landlord – that’s what we have finally finished sorting. In one of the boxes I found my grade school scrap book – names long forgotten that slowly returned along with some notes and cards from my first Very Best Friend in the World – Christine. We were closer to each other than we were with our own sisters and shared countless experiences. She moved to Canada after sixth grade, and eventually we lost track of each other.

I found photos from my first camping experience, when Bill and I took our very first vacation together. We went to a campground on the Oregon coast and experienced three beautiful days of warm, sunny beach exploration and clear, star-filled night skies. But our final day and night was something I have never forgotten – a full-force wind and rain storm that soaked us so thoroughly we ended up with standing water in bottom of our water-proof tent. Sleeping bags, clothes, coats, shoes, socks – everything thoroughly saturated with rain. I have never been that drenched. We packed up and drove home in one shot, and by the time we returned the seats of our car were so wet it took days for them to dry. We did take some lovely photos, however.

I found two old scrap books I inherited from my maternal grandmother upon her death. Letters, cards, old pictures – touching notes from her son who was stationed in China in the early 1940’s; a menu from a 1930’s diner someplace in the mid-west named Sid’s Halfway House and calling itself “The Original Spearfish-Deadwood Stage Coach Stop”, offering coffee and other beverages for 5 cents, T-Bone steak for $1.75, and sandwiches for 50 cents; mementos from my mother’s early life, and a beautiful photo of the old barn from my grandparents’ house in Hood River.

Some of these items I have decided to keep and treasure. Some have been offered to other family members. Others, I have thrown away. One item in particular, the receipt from a camping trip my spouse and I took with my sister and her daughters, brought back some very unpleasant memories. When my eldest sister and her two young daughters moved to Washington state from Alaska (she had been in Alaska for years), the entire family was very happy. All of us helped out in every way possible to make them feel at home, and one of those ways was to take short weekend trips or day-outings together. My sister said she wanted to keep these outings small to help her daughters adjust to the changes – just Bill and I and the three of them, or my younger sister and her spouse and the three of them, or sometimes just our brother and the three of them. Unbeknownst to me, my younger sister and her spouse were not aware of my (older) sister’s desire to keep these outings small, and as a result, felt left out. This went on for a few years until my mother took me aside and told me that my younger sister was very angry and hurt because “you and Bill are leaving them out”. Apparently, my older sister had indicated to my younger sister that Bill and I had chosen to not include them on these outings rather than telling our sister that it was her decision to keep the outings small. My younger sister’s anger and resentment grew over time until it became unresolvable. To my knowledge, my older sister never did admit her role in the confusion, and Bill and I took the blame. I remember talking to my brother about the issue and he said he understood and agreed with why our older sister wanted small outings. Needless to say, those receipts from what should have been a lovely time together have been thrown away.

Today, the storage unit is vacated! Keepsakes that bring joy are kept and treasured, those that are unpleasant are gone, items that are still of use have been donated, and the feeling of accomplishment is tremendous. It feels good to clean out and move on – from both good and bad times.

After all, so much remains ahead!

I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it!

You know how you do something that you didn’t mean to do, and as you’re doing it you know it’s wrong, but you can’t stop yourself? Like, for instance, squishing a bug? Or, smashing a bee? Or, maybe . . . like sending a spider flying over your hedge and into your neighbor’s yard so fast that the poor arachnid almost broke the sound barrier just because it was making its web in front of your face as you’re walking through your garden, minding your own business, and you walk full-face-first into a sticky, enormous web with the innocent spider in the middle? I really didn’t mean to send it flying like that. But – spiders!! What can I say? I know and appreciate their environmental importance. They eat aphids, for god’s sake! They’re important! Their webs are beautiful (when not in my face and hair and arms and legs.) But – spiders!!

And they’re almost invisible!

And this one I saw on my walk this morning.

Next time, I’ll try to be kinder.

In the Shade of Giants

I was offered cool, refreshing shade on a long walk early one warm July morning. This gift is received with much gratitude – I wish I could reciprocate.

Amelanchier alnifolia

Cedrus deodara

A few young Acer macrophyllum
Cornus (Dogwood)

Abies nobilis

Quercus garryana
The road home through lush canopies.

What they give us, we must treasure and protect.

Summer Delights

So far, this summer has been beautiful. Gentle weather, stunning skies, no drought (yet), thriving plants – not much more to ask for this small corner of our planet. In between long day trips and longer weekends of travel, I’ve been taking in the sites on my various walking routes. I thought I’d share with you some of the delights – old and new – that have come my way.

This little guy has been around for many years. My beagle used to protect me from him, until he (Pips the beagle) decided the cub presented no threat.

I found this little planter at Goodwill for $1.50. Decided a Sempervivum tectorum would fit it nicely. In the background is Astrantia major, masterwort.

This pretty much sums up summer so far.

As does my rose. I only grow species roses (and just a few) because they’re so easy to care for.

Baptisia australis. One of my favorite prairie plants (my garden).

A wild blast of color on my walking route. (Helianthemum nummularium)

Along a shady sidewalk, this gardener has planted native iris. Not sure which one but my guess is Iris douglasiana.

My Rhododendron alabamense. I grow this gorgeous azalea in a container in order to give it the large amount of water it needs. Worth all the work, in my opinion.

I hope your summer so far is just as you desire. And I wish for you blue skies, easy walks, and well-behaved wildlife.

Cowiche Canyon Trails, Yakima

Part 2 of our Yakima Summer brought us to the Cowiche Canyon trail system, maintained by Cowiche Canyon Conservancy and the BLM. In dry, windy heat we came to see the immense and unique beauty of this shrub-steppe landscape. Arid, sparse, rocky, rugged and at times disorienting – with over 30 miles of hiking trails through landscapes as varied as meadows, oak woods, and bone-dry basalt cliffs – this is 5,000 acres of truly wild beauty.

Due to the heat (and how I respond to it), we barely touched the tip of the Canyon, but what we saw was stunning. We walked along Cowiche Creek a short way. Lined with sparse, twisted willows (Salix sp.) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), the sound of the creek harmonized with bird song, insect buzzing, and dry leaves moving in the wind. We crossed a small wooden bridge and the trail turned, leaving the creek behind. Before us rose sharp rocky cliffs accompanied by some of the thirstiest plant life I’ve seen since hiking Canyon de Chelly (Arizona) years ago. But life thrives here in the Canyon: black bear, cougar, coyotes, rattlesnakes and a wide variety of birds. And the variety of plant life is astounding. At this time, the University of Washington is attempting to introduce a very rare plant (found only in one place on Earth) to the Canyon – the Umtanum Desert Buckwheat, Eriogonum codium. A small population of this plant was found in 1995 in the Hanford Reach National Monument region. Because this area is so prone to wildfire, and habitat destruction by human activity, the desert buckwheat (also known as the basalt desert buckwheat) is experiencing population decline at an alarming rate. Therefore, the University of Washington’s goal is to develop of population of this plant in the Cowiche Canyon where the plant can be protected.

As I mentioned, we barely touched the surface of this wild, beautiful region of Washington state. This autumn we plan to return and hike most, if not all of, the trails. But in the meantime, these few pictures will give you an idea of what this landscape has to offer.

At the trailhead.

Surprisingly green at the trailhead.

Cowiche Creek

Leaving the creek area and entering the Canyon.

I believe these trees are black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) but I didn’t get close enough to confirm.

I was getting lightheaded from the heat so this picture is blurry, but I think this plant is desert parsley (Lomatium dissectum).

Ahead of us, the green faded into beiges, grays, and browns. And at this point, we turned back. For more information about the Cowiche Canyon area, the site below offers good information:


I hope you will have the time to visit this most unique and wild area. And in the meantime, I wish you clear skies, cool water, and time enough to enjoy it all.

The Cookie Journal, Part 2

This morning was beautiful – an overcast thin and pale, a breeze slight and easy, warmth from the east countering cool from the west, and streets quiet and empty. Beautiful PNW morning. On early mornings such as this when I am between projects and work and chores, walking is even more appreciated than at most other times. When I encounter no one else on the roads my mind wanders to previous walks or hikes. As I passed a large, healthy stand of sedum in a hefty rockery, my mind wandered back to our first hiking trip to Canyon de Chelly. Heat surrounded us like the reflected images from mirrors front and behind – infinite shimmering heat. And dust. Duct as prevalent as rock in the canyon. I remembered that sweat evaporated as soon as it appeared. Our packs, soaked with sweat, dried as soon as we took them off our backs. Instant desiccation. And beauty. Stunning, surprising beauty. Surprising to see shots of green in such a brown/red/orange world. And then I came upon a blast of color that shocked me out of the desert and into a beautiful garden.

I found myself walking into a high-end neighborhood – north and west of my neighborhood by a couple of miles. Homes of manicured lawns, perfectly pruned old shrubs, gates locked at the driveways, and large homes with expansive views of Puget Sound. Not like my street which is filled with unique and original landscapes – few of them manicured (thank goodness). It reminded me of our long walks in England a few years ago. Soon, I passed a meditating frog which took my thoughts to Japan and the countless small shrines we passed as we walked along city streets.

Nice way to start a day.

Three miles out, my stomach growled. But that garden in the block ahead called me forward with a blast of golden yellow, and I walked on.

I don’t know the name of this rose, but it is stunning.

Time to cross the street and head back home. I thought about our next small trip coming up and the chores I need to finish before we leave. By this time, I was getting hungry. A peanut butter cookie came to mind. I thought about the coffee shop a few blocks east of my street and decided to head there. On the way, I passed one of the lovelier examples of color contrast on this street. I look forward to this garden when I take this route.

Salal and Persicaria share space.

As I turned up the street towards the coffee shop, rabbits appeared. We have many in our area these days, but these two are better behaved than most.

Soon enough I entered the coffee shop. A long line of customers (it was 9:30am after all), and this time I didn’t see cookies. My turn at the counter finally arrived, and as I ordered my coffee I asked if there were any cookies. “Yep, we have one peanut butter cookie left.” It was meant to be!

I wish you good walks, happy memories, and a treat to sweeten the road.

Yakima Area Arboretum Garden Tour

A few more pictures from a thoroughly enjoyable garden tour, sponsored by the Arboretum. A wide range of garden styles, sizes and ages were represented. One garden, in particular, filled a luxurious five acres with beds of full sun to full shade perennials, on slopes and flat areas, two very large ponds, and a unique tree house. Another garden filled almost two acres with roses, clematis, anemone, and “annual” geraniums almost six feet in height (over-wintered in an ample greenhouse).

This garden tour is held yearly in June – missing the past 2 years due to Covid – and is a beloved and well-attended event. We plan to attend again next year, and I hope you will, as well.

Owner-built tree house.

Largest Sambucus nigra, Black lace, I’ve ever seen.

This is the only variegated Ginkgo I’ve seen. Didn’t know this plant existed.

A spectacular tri-color Beech, Fagus sylvatica.

Wishing you good gardening, fine weather, and enjoyment in all you do.