In the Presence of Trees, Part 8

I hear chirps in the Lawson cypress towering above me. A new nest with new life. The tree canopy is dense and dark – protection provided by age and size. On hot summer days the foliage smells pungent and dry but this afternoon – a cool, damp day after an early May heat wave – all I smell is sweet young growth. It is a beautiful tree. A neighbor, long moved away, planted it decades ago on the property line dividing our lots. Now its long, drooping branches swoop into our garden with graceful movements. On the hottest days of summer I sit under the tree and thank it for the shade. It has given protection to countless squirrels, a Steller’s Jay family, a young, hungry raccoon, countless crows, and a hawk who used it as home base for neighborhood hunting. And now another young family resides above me, chirping and calling for food.

Just one tree – all it provides to this garden, this street, this neighborhood, the surrounding region – just one tree provides more than we yet understand. Certainly, more than we appreciate. But, we are learning. Slowly, at a very late date, we are learning. I hope we fully understand before we are too late.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana

Day Trips

Not much traveling done this spring or summer. We are staying home to care for the kittens we adopted last November, and waiting until they’re one year old before leaving for extended trips. In the meantime, our days (and evenings) are filled with gardening, day trips, hikes, concerts, and projects. As I do miss our long vacations, I’ve found three travel blogs to follow. All are thoroughly enjoyable; well-written, beautifully photographed, and all include places I’ve not yet visited. (If you haven’t discovered these blogs, I recommend searching them out: Four Points Bulletin, Travelling Han, and Travels with Terri.)

But, between projects at home and kittens to train, we have found time to get out and enjoy our remarkable weather. The following pictures, from March through last week, show a few of the sites we’ve seen.

The above photo, and a few following, are of our yearly visit to the South Sound Prairie in Thurston County, south of Olympia (Wa). Abundant life in prairie soil may seem surprising due to its appearance, but decades of undisturbed cycles of life, death, and growth of plants creates remarkable soil. The majority of this continent’s interior was once fertile, rich soil.

Snuggled amid a field of Camassia quamash, we encountered this erratic – a remnant of its glacial past.

No prairie is complete without Balsamroot, Balsamorhiza sagittata.

And to our great delight, we encountered yellow Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja flava, in greater numbers than last year.

We visited a demonstration garden in Mt. Vernon, with a delightful, interactive Children’s Garden.

The following photos were taken in Dunn Gardens, in north Seattle. Bill and I are fortunate to live within walking distance of this 7-acre gem.

Lots of Star Flower, Trientalis borealis, a beautiful little wildflower native to much of the North American continent. I grow this little beauty at home.

The tough, hardy leaves of Rodgersia. It will produce tall plumes of gorgeous, delicate white or pink flowers.

The pond and small waterfall at Dunn.

The following photo was taken during a day hike in the La Conner area.

And last, the following pictures are of my garden. I don’t usually post photos of my garden but since it’s looking pretty good this year, I figured now is the time to do so.

We have a bank of Rhododendron kurume, Hino-Crimson Azalea, that date to when the house was built, 1942. They have never failed to put on a spectacular show each May.

I’d say this is my favorite group of Primula, but in truth, they all are my favorites.

The very beautiful Enkianthus perulatus. In the background is a containered Pinus schwerini, ‘Weithorst’, with this years’ candles.

A garden can never have too many primroses.

I hope your spring is filled with beauty, adventure, good weather, and a lovely walk along a primrose path.

Breaths of Fresh Air

Warm, beautiful weather has arrived here in the PNW. We’ve had almost six months of below normal temperatures so this warm blast is as appreciated as the first robin song of early March. But regardless of the weather (and the news), I’ve been out gardening, walking, hiking, and planning this spring’s travels. Below are a few pictures of what March and April have offered us so far. There is so much beauty to see, to take in – and to offer in return.

Nothing compares to Magnolia stellata.
Except, maybe, Amelanchier alnifolia.
Brilliant red of young maple leaves.
Pieris japonica, Brookside miniature and, in the container below, Acorus gramineus. My garden.
This sweet little stand of Hacquetia epipactis can be found at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden.
You probably know this beauty by its scent!
I bought this gorgeous Primula at a grocery store years ago. As most any crazy plant person will do, I’ll buy a beautiful plant anywhere I find one!
This lovely garden marks the mid-point of my long weekend walks.
Someone helped itself to a bite of Trillium.
The red of this Rhododendron is almost too vibrant!
The beautiful and tasty fiddleheads of Matteuccia struthiopteris, Ostrich Fern. This shot was taken at RSBG but I also grow this fern at home. And my kitten, Charlie, (8 months old now) has discovered how tasty it is!

I hope your days are filled with all the beauty spring provides.


Who are we?

Who are we? Have we changed since the last mass shooting – just last week? Just yesterday? Are we different from the last time we heard someone insult, belittle, or mock another? Have we changed since the last child was murdered – by gun, by neglect, by stranger or parent or relative? Since the last bystander was murdered? Have we grown kinder, colder, more compassionate or more distant? Have our hearts been broken so many times that healing is impossible? Have our hearts grown numb? Or, were they always numb?

Who are we? So many words spoken that say, ultimately, the same thing. Over and over, again and again – the same thing. Who are we to allow children to be murdered? To allow innocent people to be murdered? Grandparents, parents, single people, working folks – crucial people all. In a school. In a church. In a grocery store. In a parking lot. On a playground. In a nightclub. In a safe space. At a sweet 16 birthday party. In a park. Who are we?

Who are we to allow anyone who wants one – anyone! – to own an assault rifle? Why? Who are we to allow this country to have more guns than people? A country with more guns than people. More guns than human beings.

Maybe a better question is this: what are we?

Neighborhood Gardens, Part 10

Am I there yet?

Early spring, and the work piles on. But, it is as joyful as it is hectic. Hectic because of the kittens – now almost 8 months old – joyful because it’s spring. Gardening season has begun, slowly in fits and starts, but moving forward all the same. In between planning multiple spring hiking trips (one with son, one with spouse, one alone), leash-training the kittens to the outside world, prepping garden beds, and beginning long-planned projects here at home, I’ve found time to resume long walks throughout neighborhoods near and not-so-near. And here is what I’ve seen.

Daffys and dandelion in a ditch.
I’ve admired this large, healthy Senecio for years.
Children are prepping gardens for the summer.
Fresh new growth one of the many native roses along Seattle’s SEA streets.
One of the many characteristics of rhododendron that I love – indumentum.
I love walking under this canopy.
My red-edge hebe made it through a tough winter with no problems.
A well-loved heirloom.
The beautiful, sweet Magnolia stellata, pink form.
A swath of Oxalis oregana at Kruckeberg Botanical Garden.
Bill and I fell in love with cowslip when we hiked the Cotswold region (England), and began growing them at home in 2020. They’re doing well in spite of summer heat and drought.
The color purple is stunning. This is Aubrieta, rock cress, nestled in a covering of Cotoneaster microphyllus.

Among the residue of winter are beautiful signs of life. But I look at my garden and wonder if it will ever be complete. Like most aspects of life, there is always more to do – something needs completion, places need visiting, sights need to be seen. Will I ever get there? Probably not. And that’s a big part of the fun of life.


The Adventures of Kate and Charlie

Part two: Attack of the halters, lots of work, and beautiful walks.

It feels like just last week that I wrote about these two little terrors – time is flying by in clumps of fur, tangles of halters, and mad dashes towards the door. But I see that almost one month has flown by since my first Cat Post. (These young cats eat up time like a spring hummingbird drinks up nectar.) So, here’s what’s happening in my house these days – halter/leash training, keeping cats off counters (please don’t laugh), late winter/early spring gardening, and prepping for travel later this year.

First up – halter/leash training. If ever there was an exercise in patience, diligence, and stifling a laugh (or dozens), it’s the first 3 – 10 times we’ve put halters on Kate and Charlie. The following pictures will give you an idea of their responses and our tenacity.

That’s Katie in purple and Charlie in red.

“I’ll bite my way out of this contraption!”

Short attention span.

Back to fighting the halter.

“Maybe if I hide they’ll go away.”

At this writing, we’ve succeeded in getting them haltered up and outside on leashes 4 times. Everyone is still in one piece, so we’re claiming success.

About kitchen counters – if anyone has successfully trained a cat to stay off a kitchen counter, I would love to hear your secret. We’ve tried foil, loud noises, distraction, diversion, and treats. So far, the foil became a toy, loud noises resulted in the feline equivalent of an eye-roll, distraction and diversion lasted 3 – 5 minutes tops, and treats brought the opposite response. (I did learn that Charlie loves butter. Katie, not so much.)

As for late winter clean-up, that happens as time allows. We have had 3 hard freezes this winter, resulting in the loss of a few prized succulents that were over-wintered in the shed – thoroughly wrapped and protected. This winter, also, brought the realization that our fish pond is on the way out. A raccoon punctured another hole in the thick, tough pond liner and caught at least 2 of the biggest and most colorful fish, leaving a mess in the process. As a result, Bill and I will give away the remaining fish and fill in the pond by summer. Sad, because we built this pond almost 30 years ago. But, I will be relieved to have one less big job to do during the spring/summer/autumn months (cleaning the pond gets harder each year). On a more positive note, we’ve started seeds, veggie starts, and planting some annuals for color this year. Winter has been cold, long, and dark and we’re looking forward to good gardening season.

Last, we are preparing for a late spring/early summer season filled with short hiking trips. You know, it will be nice to be away from our beautiful kittens for a while. But in the meantime, while the Katie and Charlie nap, I’ve been gardening and walking.

Iris reticulata – my rock garden.
I do love primroses – even those we can buy at a grocery store.
Crocus nestled among sedum – my garden.
Gaultheria in full berry – a bit winter-burned but no worse for the wear.
A beautiful Mahonia on one of my walking routes.
A secret neighborhood path that opens onto a beautiful view.
And the beautiful Olympic Mountains.

I hope winter is easing its way into a beautiful spring for you and all you love.

The Adventures of Kate and Charlie

Part One: Cuddles, Chaos and things that Crash in the night.

You know how sometimes life runs smoothly and all seems settled and well thought-out? Maybe you’ve planned your next vacations, or decided upon a new direction for your garden, or become deeply involved in a volunteer or work project and are happy with the direction in which it is moving? These are good times, you think. No need to change anything. So, I asked myself the other morning around 4a.m. after hearing a loud crash in the kitchen, “why did we do this?? Why did we change things?” Well, to start, because we love cats and missed sharing our life with cats. Also, in our long life together we had raised 7 cats and 1 dog and now were living a pet-less life, and wanted to share our life with a little 4-legged friend (or two) even while thoroughly appreciating our freedom from pet responsibilities. But this is what Bill and I did – we adopted 2 kittens. We adopted them from a well-staffed rescue organization here in Seattle. These gorgeous little siblings are beautifully socialized (a result of such good staffing), lively, healthy, and very, very active. Active all over the house. Everywhere. We’ve needed to baby-proof the kitchen cupboards again, our kitchen counters are lined with foil (although that no longer works as a deterrent), plants once in windowsills are now wintering over in the shed, and our once-beautiful rugs now look like shag carpets from the 1960’s. But, you know, none of that matters because these little kittens are as fun, funny, lively, and creative as any pet could be. Even when they push an overly-ripe banana off the kitchen counter and look down on the mess as if to say, “Look at that. It spats!” And active – I mentioned that, right?

So, enough introduction. Here they are:

Katie looking adorable, Charlie watching the world.
Charlie waking up.

A few more pictures will give you an idea of their personalities. (I apologize for the blurry photos – it’s tough to take pictures while the targets are moving.) Our vet calls Charlie “a little spit-fire”. Katie is a cuddly, friendly, squeaky and very silly little girl. She seems to favor Bill and Charlie seems to be my girl. (By the way, Charlie is named after a character in one of my favorite movies, Brian and Charles. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it.)

Mornings start with a wrestle, of course.

The aftermath of climbing the shoe rack in the back hallway.

Catching a few zzzz’s. That’s Katie in a favorite sleeping position.

More exercise.

The beautiful Katie. But keep in mind – looks are deceiving.

Since Katie and Charlie are coming up on 6 months old, we’ve begun leash-training them. My next post will be about the long, lively, and very athletic responses we’ve received while training them to halter and leash. It’s exhausting – as much from laughing as from the gymnastics. These little kittens are flexible!

Stay tuned!

Kruckeberg Botanic Garden

In Shoreline (Washington), a small, beautiful, intriguing botanical garden is tucked away in a deep, shady ravine. This woodland garden was created by Dr. Arthur Kruckeberg and his wife Mareen in 1958. Dr. Kruckeberg taught botany at University of Washington for many years (my spouse took a class from him and has fond memories of Dr. Kruckeberg), and Mareen was a self-taught botanist. Mareen started the on-site Kruckeberg Nursery, and both botanists started many of the plants seen in the Garden from seed. I will give you a link to the Garden at the end of this post.

The following pictures are from a winter morning walk through the Garden, which I have visited many times over the years in all seasons. The Garden evolves, changes, and grows in dynamic ways, creating something new to enjoy and learn about each time I visit.

The Garden is home to many old, stately trees.

A remarkable tree.

Creative use of rocks and woody debris is seen throughout.

A beautiful Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) graces this area.

A lovely, small stream planted with wetland plants occupies a portion of the lower garden.

Equisetum is one of my favorite plants, but I can grow it only in pots.
A beautiful Hamamelis x intermedia, Witch Hazel, graces this bed.

This beautiful sculpture, made of redwood and copper, is titled Wood Wave. It was created by the artist Bruce Johnson and gifted to the Garden in 2013.

Creative use of downed limbs makes a charming entrance to a children’s area.

Hardy winter Cyclamen is a beautiful groundcover.
The bark of a Pacific Yew, Taxus brevifolia. The tree has Landmark status.

Looking down into the Garden gives the feeling of entering a magical space. To learn more about Kruckeberg Botanic Garden, go to

I hope you are able to visit this small, unique, and beautiful garden. You will be rewarded with inspiration and appreciation for the gifts a woodland garden offers.

In Deep Midwinter

Darks days, short in duration and long in cold, a hike in dim morning light ends in dusk. Subdued, quiet colors and shades abound. The blue in gray, the green in brown, a peek of sun through clouds. There is more to see in winter than we remember from season to season.

Early Ceanothus
Raindrops on my Himalayan Pine (Pinus wallichiana)
Winter Hazel
A friendly fellow gardener.
Raindrops on my Rhodocoma capensis, Cape Restio.
Mahonia will bloom soon and shrug off winter damage.

The beauty of midwinter is not bleak as the beautiful, old hymn says. Instead, it is a gift of beauty – slightly hidden but freely given.

And yours to enjoy.

A Moment in Time

So far, this winter has given our corner of the Pacific Northwest a variety of storms – wind, rain, snow, and ice. (In fact, it is snowing as I write this but rain will return soon.) All winter storms take a toll on a landscape, especially in our old, protected urban forests. We are lucky here in Seattle as we have many such forests. One forest, in particular, is very close to my heart (and my house) – Carkeek Park. I began my career as a Forest Steward in 2008, under the tutelage of a retired, Scandinavian forester, Lex, who completed his PhD in Liberia decades before I met him. When I met Lex his interest was, and remains now, focused on the health and restoration of the forests of Carkeek Park, located in northwest Seattle. (My experience in Carkeek includes being lead steward of the Demonstration Gardens for almost 10 years, occasional forest steward since 2008, and work with the trails crew on occasion.) Carkeek forest is a mixed deciduous/conifer forest of Acer macrophyllum (Big Leaf maple), Alnus rubra (Red Alder), Abies procera (Noble Fir), Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas Fir), Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar), Arbutus menziesii (Pacific Madrone), and many other conifers, deciduous trees and willows (Salix spp.). It is a beautiful, healthy, aging forest lovingly maintained by a truly dedicated, educated, and hearty group of volunteers who love the work. But, as I said, the forest is aging. And with age comes instability. Old limbs crack, break and fall under the weight of snow and/or ice, or when pushed by strong winds. In a forest as dense and varied as Carkeek, walking or working under such a canopy can be tricky – one moment all is quiet and safe, the next moment down comes a huge limb. When my work in the Demonstration Gardens ended, I resumed forestry work. And with the required permission of Seattle Parks, in 2019 I began work in an area populated mostly with maples and alders, and a healthy groups of ivy and blackberry vines. (Maples and alders tend to drop limbs more often than conifers.) After clearing the area of the undesirables, I began planting. As the area is home to many very large, healthy sword ferns (Polystichum munitum), I decided to add some native flowering plants such as Bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana), False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa), and a variety of other understory plants. I outlined a path to a sitting area that was just beginning to take shape and circled the area with vine maples and twinberry. Good results from the new plants were observed last autumn, and during my visit in early December. However, when I returned last week to check on the condition of my work, I found a mess. Downed limbs, a tree down in the middle of the path, and the sitting circle filled with wood debris too large for me to clear as the following pictures show.

Walking into my work area, showing the outline of the path. The downed tree trunk is visible ahead.

The path obscured and the sitting circle buried under debris.

So much for the path! A couple of ferns took it on the chin, also.

On the slope, most ferns are intact but there is much wood debris to remove.

I took a quiet moment to stand in the middle of my work area and take in the mess but soon heard a very sharp Crack above and slightly ahead of me. As in such a forest as Carkeek, that sound only means one thing! I turned sharp and fast and ran out to the main path. Another loud Crack and I hurried down the trail. I didn’t return to my area to see the additional damage but when I do, I won’t be surprised by what I find. After all, that is the nature of a forest. But as the day was beautiful and I had time, I decided to walk down to the beach. A day like this was not to be wasted.

On a beach, you can see a storm coming long before it arrives. Not so in a deep forest. In a forest, there resides a feeling of enclosure and protection, occasionally broken by a moment in time. And that is what we share – all forms of life on this planet – a moment in time.

I wish you sunny skies, bright days, and a moment or two to enjoy it all.