A Guerrilla in the Forest

Two young Douglas Fir saplings grow deep in a remote part of a shady forest.  Spring-green needles soft as fur cover the young trees.  A mixed forest – big leaf maples, cascara, alder – growing with a wealth of understory plants.  Deep shade here; are the saplings in too much shade?  But light does stream through a gap in the canopy.  Beams of sunlight cover the young trees until late morning in summer.  Full sun in winter when leaves are down.  The young trees are well-placed.  They’ll be fine.

At some point companion plants are added.  Oregon grape, western bleeding heart, sword fern, redwood sorrel – a small council of native plants support the young saplings.  These do well in dappled shade.  Rich soil with more than 100 years of leaf mulch support the small community.  Old, downed limbs and wood debris – large, moss-covered, bent, broken – conceal the new community and disguise its youth.  It blends so efficiently with its surroundings that it becomes difficult to find when its caretaker returns to tend it.  As it should be.

A Heat Dome settles over the region.  People, animals, plants – all struggle in the extreme temperatures.  Many people die, countless animals and plants suffer.  The heat is numbing.  Drought haunts this year.  Soil is dry to the touch.  Streets are quiet, dust floats through the stifling air.  Heat settles in like threats from a bully.  Wildfires erupt through the region, and they add their own weather – winds, fire clouds, more heat.  More drought.

In the forest, the young sapling communities survive.  Someone tends to them occasionally.  Up-slope, deep within the forest in an almost inaccessible area resides another community.  This one is older – about 15 years of growth show clearly on these trees – and healthy.  The one who planted these trees is no longer the one who tends them; the honor of care for this community has been passed to another.  These trees, redwoods, far surpass their caretakers.  Someday the honor of care for these trees will be passed along again, and again, until they show proud, tall, and beautiful above the forest canopy. 

Then they will not need tending; instead, they will tend to the forest.  And to us. 

A Favorite Old Haunt

A day that could not be more beautiful enticed us to visit my spouse’s alma mater – the University of Washington. The UW Seattle campus is filled with history, beauty, and long distances offering good walking, unique sights, and intriguing gardens. The campus is home to historic trees, including its famed cherry trees which bring thousands of visitors to the campus each spring for cherry blossom viewing, a large rose garden surrounding Drumheller Fountain, some heirloom rhododendrons, and a most remarkable Medicinal Herb Garden. We have visited the Herb garden a few times over the past decades, and we have always been the only people visiting. It is not well-known, nor is it easily found if you are not familiar with the campus (it is just off Stevens Way). But visiting it is a treat for any horticulturist, gardener, botanist, or anyone interested in the history of plants. Its two and one-half acres contain over 1,000 plants from around the world. Plants are well-labeled with both botanical and common names, gravel pathways offer easy viewing of each plant, and a few benches are available. The garden contains both Old World and New World plants – some that neither my spouse nor I had heard of or read about before. It is a remarkable garden filled with many beautiful, unique, and beneficial gifts of nature.

To learn about the garden before visiting, visit UW Medicinal Herb Garden Home Page (use the link below). This site offers a link to a map of the garden as well as plant lists by botanical and common names.


The Medicinal Herb Garden is a magical place to spend a day, any time of year. And if weather cooperates, you may get a glimpse of our beautiful Mt. Tahoma (aka Mt. Rainier).

Drumheller Fountain and Mt. Tahoma

Neighborhood Gardens, Part 7

Making the Rounds

A classic spring day occurred recently – breezy, clean air, sun and clouds competing for dominance, and a true blue sky. How could I not get out and walk? The lock-down, though easing in our area, has been good for gardens and gardeners. And those of us who take long walks in areas other than our own neighborhoods are the happy recipients of an astounding amount of beauty.

Here are a few offerings from my recent 4.5-miler. Enjoy!

Walking west, Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains in the distance.
Maples and a gorgeous birch.
On the same street as the maples – a well-loved pine.
Nice use of Nassella tenuissima and all those rocks.
A child’s garden.
I didn’t know about this pedestrian-only path between two streets until recently. Nice short-cut!
I’ve admired this young pine for years as it has taken over an old stump and made itself at home.
Kalmia latifolia.
One can never have too many Kalmias.
Homeward bound.
This greeted me as I turned onto my street and headed home.

Neighborhood Gardens, Part 6

Sometimes my news feed is overwhelming – and not in a positive way. Shootings, on-going efforts to dismantle our democracy, voter suppression, environmental damage, bigotry and intolerance – working to improve my tiny corner of life sometimes seems pointless. At times it seems that the one step forward I take is followed by two steps backwards. But then I remember the people in my life and I am refreshed. There is optimism to be found by just looking around. Good people – honest, kind, diligent, industrious, compassionate – are everwhere.

Keep working, keep trying, keep loving. Good always outweighs bad.

I enjoy the cool shade of this tunnel.
An SEA (Street Edge Alternative) ditch in full bloom.
Paul’s Scarlet Hawthorn on my walking route.
My Friday morning get-away.
Neighborhood kids love this tree.

In the Presence of Trees, Part 4

A Sense of Something that Is.


  1. Awareness of oneself within and among ones’ environment.
  2. Sentience of internal and external being.
  3. Experiencing existence as one and as community.
  4. Descartes walks into a coffee shop, sits down at a table and reads the menu. A waiter comes up to him and asks, “Are you ready to order, sir?” Descartes answers, “I think not.” And disappears.

I have been reading the works of Peter Godfrey-Smith, PhD., recently. Specifically, Metazoa and Other Minds. Wonderful books, both, that focus on the origins of consciousness – its evolution and development throughout the animal kingdom. The primary subjects of these two books are octopuses and cuttlefish, although the books include the author’s experiences with other sea creatures. Many surprising findings with these animals have been discovered through research in recent years, but most impressive (though not surprising) to me is their creativity and intelligence – how these animals interact with each other, their environment, and with other species (including humans). Octopuses, in particular, are short-lived creatures with a lifespan of just one to six years depending upon species. But in their brief lifetime, they have highly developed interactions with other creatures. That an animal who lives such a short time can develop sophisticated problem-solving skills, a strong memory and, apparently, an keen awareness of self and others is a remarkable feat (according to many scientists).

How does consciousness manifest itself; how does it develop? What are signs of consciousness in beings? To start, in the animal kingdom an awareness of other beings is important. Being aware of who/what shares your environment and how those creatures respond is crucial in maintaining ones’ life. Memory plays an important role in awareness, also – being able to remember something/someone who caused pain or harm, memory of where food is most abundant and shelter most readily found, memory of solutions to problems or threats – all are crucial to a successful life (success being defined as finding adequate food and water, not being attacked, and living long enough to reproduce). In short, they learn and remember what they have learned. Consciousness is demonstrated through emotions, also. Countless examples of emotional life have been seen throughout the animal kingdom. Elephants, some corvids, whales, dogs, and many other animals grieve when one of their own (or someone they love) dies. In fact, many of the above animals have demonstrated behavior that indicates that they hold a funeral when one of their own dies. Joy and play are signs of consciousness, also. I can think of no clearer demonstration of joy than watching a dog romping through a field chasing a ball, a small animal, or playing with a companion. Awareness of others in your environment, memory, problem-solving, emotions – obvious manifestations of consciousness. What is most surprising to me is that even today some scientists refuse to ackowledge consciousness in non-human animals.

But what of plants? This is a very controversial subject, and one best not even considered according to some scientists. (Indeed, as I stated above, even with ample evidence to the contrary, some researchers in a variety of fields continually refuse to acknowledge that non-human animals demonstrate consciousness. Their loss, in my humble opinion.) But a few brave researchers are looking at the lives of plants with an objective mindset. Almost all plants respond to their environment – bending towards sunlight throughout day hours, curling their leaves in response to stress (drought, cold, insects, strong sunlight), flooding their tissues with noxious chemicals in response to insect damage – some plants will drop all their leaves in response to environmental stress and await better conditions before producing new growth. And most impressive to me, many plants share nutrients with their neighbors, even when those neighbors are not of the same genus or species. And communication and the sharing of vital resources between different species of trees has been proven in experiments conducted over decades by Drs. Suzanne Simard, Yuan Yuan Song, Theresa Ryan, and other dedicated botanists and researchers.

The question of where consciousness resides, or occurs, is unsettled at this time. Does it manifest from a brain or central nervous system? Dr. Godfrey-Smith writes in his book Metazoa, that the arms of an octopus have the ability to act independently from each other – “There is a primary or most complex self – the central brain – but also eight smaller ones.” He goes on to say, “The networks of nerve cells in the arms of an ocotopus are not only connected to the central brain, but connected “sideways” to each other, at the top of the arms.” These short-lived animals learn quickly and remember well, which allows them to interact with each other and their environment successfully. “Network” seems to be key here.

With the above definitions and examples in mind, how do we understand the learning capacity of some plants? For example, the plant Mimosa pundica has demonstrated that it not only learns (quickly) but remembers what it has learned (as discovered at the University of Western Australia, 2014). Slime molds have demonstrated the ability to learn and remember, also (2016 study by CNRS and Universite Toulouse). As I see it, the resprouting of a tree from its roots after it has been felled is that trees’ memory made tangible. From the interconnectedness of plant roots with the surrounding mycorrhizal fungal networks, and roots of neighboring plant communities, communication between individuals occurs on levels science is just beginning to understand. A Mother Tree supports her kin as well as trees of different species, and gives additional nutritional support to ailing individuals through the network of her roots and fungal companions. Dying trees give more of their carbon (and nutrients) to neighboring trees than do healthy trees. Doesn’t this demonstrate an awareness of self; in short, consciousness? The tree clearly demonstrates awareness of its condition, of its mortality, and responds by giving what remains of its health to its community.

Carl Sagan said, “humans are the stuff of the cosmos explaining itself.” I would only change one word of this insightful observation, and that would be to change “humans” to “life”. I believe that all life contains consciousness on some level – be it animal (human and non-human) or plant. There truly does appear to be a network of connection between living beings. The mystery of consciousness is being unlocked – slowly – and is bringing us the gifts of greater awareness and appreciation of life in all its miraculous forms. And with this knowledge and awareness comes responsibility – not of dominion over other lives but of shared kinship with other lives.

Trees show us how to respond to life – their knowledge has always been freely available to us – and now is the time for us to act in accord with that wisdom.

Neighborhood Gardens, Part 5

As Spring moves towards Summer

This is the busiest time of my gardening year, and most of my thoughts are centered around plants, soil, and weather. (My family is always on my mind, but, you know, sometimes gardening sneaks in there first.)

As the colors of spring change from the beauty of the early days – pastels, pinks, the palest green – to mid and late spring, vibrant reds, purples, blues, and yellows take center stage. But among the kaleidoscope of color exists a restful, gentle offering. This color tells the gardener to rest a moment, move from high-spirited energy to a quiet, thoughtful glance at the garden as a whole – and an instant of peace before the outburst of summer arrives.

Exochorda x macrantha, ‘The Bride’. Few plants are as beautiful in bloom as Exochorda.
Chionanthus retusus, Chinese Fringe Tree
Cornus florida, a very good Dogwood
The palest pink carpets my walk.

I wish you peaceful gardening, with ample energy when needed.

Gardening in the Rain and dreaming about Travel, Part 2

A Day Trip

Last week my spouse and I took a trip to the Kitsap Peninsula to visit a nursery or two, a botanical garden, and the charming little town of Poulsbo. Our weather was as lovely as the Pacific Northwest can offer. A short ferry ride and a sunny car ride through green landscape, blue skies, and with favorite music brought us to our first stop – Savage Plants and Landscape. This is a beautifully organized, structured, and landscaped nursery that was a joy to visit and difficult to leave.

From the ferry.
Savage Plants and Landscape Nursery

From Savage Plants nursery, we continued on to Heronswood Botanic Garden in Kingston. Here, we wandered for hours among communities of plants – some familiar, a few new, and all in unique and intriguing settings. I have a deep appreciation for any garden I visit where I learn much more than I anticipated learning.

Lysichiton camtschatcensis, Asian Skunk Cabbage
Trilliums in bloom.
I didn’t find a label for this beautiful group, so my next visit will include learning about this flower.

After two hours at Heronswood, on we drove to Poulsbo. This is a pleasant town to visit, and on a warm sunny day I felt like I was on vacation for the first time since January 2020. After visiting the bakery and Liberty Bay Bookstore, the waterfront, and a few historic sites, our time to leave arrived. This was just a day out – just one day. But, for all its brevity the day filled me with a sense of relief, a touch of freedom, and an intuition that soon all will be well.

From the waterfront of Poulsbo.
Other than induldging in plants, I can think of no better way of ending the day!

I wish you clear skies, smooth roads, and one heckin’ good pastry!

Neighborhood Gardens, Part 4

The Gardener comes to a fork in the road and a kitchen sink.

Glorious weather brings me outside from dawn to late afternoon. Spring is a busy season for us gardeners – more so than summer, autumn, and a few weeks of winter. So, to take a break from the tending of plants, containers, soil, and wildlife, I went out for a long walk. Much to my surprise, I see that my neighborhood is experiencing an increase in the creativity during these past COVID months. Some of what I’ve seen is offered here. I hope you enjoy, appreciate, are amused by, and/or feel kinship with the deep urge to find beauty and humor amid the onslaught of trauma in our world today.


As Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” Good advice, but I left it.
A nascent play area on a very quiet street.
New garden – young plants, old rocks.
Another beautiful Prunus and a Magnolia stellata.
I love the shadows a sunny days offers us.
A sweet Ericaceous combination. Coincidently, all my most loved plants are in this family. Here, the beautiful Pieris japonica is paired with a rhododendron.
A very young garden – installed last week. The gardener has added a kitchen sink to the plantings. Good use of one of the necessities of life.

Before the Storm

The sun has shone bright this week. Lately, we have enjoyed a short run of lovely spring weather – sunny days, slight breeze, clear skies, and stars intensely visible and luminous at night. Not just the gardener has enjoyed this weather – birds and wildlife who come through this garden appear to be happy, more active than usual, and hungry! Especially the rabbits. Especially them.

Plants are sprouting, flowers are opening, colors appear. Do they look more vivid than last spring, I wonder? Pinks, yellows, orange, purples, blues, and vibrant whites surround us. This is a beautiful time of year. It can be. It should be.

A storm is forecast for this weekend. Rain, more snow in the mountains, wind. But, we take the bad with the good. Does “it all balance out”? I don’t know. This week’s news has been horrific: two mass shootings in two days; a small boy found alone, wandering along the US-Mexico border after being abandoned by the group he had been traveling with, hungry, frightened, completely alone; the grief and guilt felt by the witnessess to the murder of George Floyd. A storm of pain. The bad with the good – where is the good? The young boy has been helped. Maybe justice will finally be given to the Floyd family. Maybe gun restrictions will finally be put in place. Maybe we will see the beauty surrounding us and appreciate it – in all its forms. I put away the newspaper – turn off the news – and walk outside into the sun.

Primula vulgaris

Pulsatilla vulgarius
Kalmiopsis leachiana, Umpqua Form
Cherry trees on the campus of University of Washington.
Someone has the right idea.

Early Spring in the Neighborhood, and at Home

Neighborhood Gardens, Part 3

We’ve had some gorgeous weather lately. Sunny, warm-ish days, lovely sunrises and sunsets, and much birdsong. Our robins are singing, crows are talking, and Steller’s jays are telling anyone and everyone within earshot that cold winter days are just a memory. In addition to all the work in the garden my spouse and I have been doing, I’ve been out walking in various neighborhoods to take in buds and early blooms. After a tough winter and a long 2020, my walking route is filled with folks who are enthusiastic and busy. Following are a few pictures from my walks – and from my garden.


One of the more popular children’s play areas on my walking route.
A new rock garden borders this yard. Something tells me the gardener is tired of weeding.
New container planting greets visitors at this retirement facility.
I appreciate this planting along a very busy street. Nassella tenuissima.

And from my garden:

My Leucothoe fontanesianna in full bloom.
Few plants more beautiful than manzanita.
Skimmia japonica.
Ribes sanquinenum, ‘White Icicle’
Helleborus orientalis, ‘Snow Fever’
H. x hybridus ‘Maid of Honor’
And from the borrowed landscape – my neighbor’s heirloom cherry tree gracefully drapes into our side garden.

I hope your spring is filled with beauty, peace, and good gardening!