06 January 2021


Gatehouse Globe Thistle 
(Echinops bannaticus)
Gatehouse seed packing 
for winter-spring planting.
Gatehouse shed on 
Squaw Bay Road, Shaw Island.

My idea of heaven is to spend the cold winter evenings going through the Chiltern's seed catalogue. Even if I don't order much, the knowledge gained from such a publication is time well spent. I try to order the seeds of at least five unfamiliar plants. Seed is relatively inexpensive and the surprise of success is fun.
          Most of our seeds are started on a heat table in an unheated greenhouse. Hardy perennials are started at the end of January but I wait until the end of March to sow my annual seeds. It does not help to start annuals too soon, most of them cannot be planted out until mid-May anyway.
          I make up a general seed starting mix by screening 2-parts potting soil and 1-part peat moss through a 3/4inch screen. I fill 4-inch plastic pots with the mixture. Since different seeds vary in their germination time it is better to have them in separate pots rather than several in one large tray. After filling the pots compress the soil a bit and then water until the soil is soaked through. This creates a smooth and even surface on which to sprinkle the seeds.
          The general rule of thumb for seed sowing is to cover the seed with a layer of soil the thickness of the seed. Big seeds like cardoon get a good 3/8-inch of soil cover. Fine seeds get about 1/8-inch. I water the seeds gently after sowing and put them in the greenhouse on the heat table. A good temperature for germinating most seeds is 70 degrees. Small propagating mats are available at Charley's Greenhouse.
          When the seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves they are transplanted into their own 4-inch pots. If they are to go into the garden within a couple of weeks they can go into six-pack pots.
          I always have a surplus of plants that I have grown from seed. How could something so huge come from such a little pack of seed? Do I really need all those plants? It is the lure of all those plants in January that is so irresistible. I guess this is the point at which people end up starting their own nurseries. Well, Molbaks can rest easy, I am not planning on quitting my day job.

Jennifer Titus
Seed Sowing
Courtesy of The Social Gardner
The Journal of the Whatcom Horticultural Society
Vol. 10.No.1 Spring 1998. Verbatim.

And lots more protected in lidded jars 
while we enjoy the humid season.
Stop by the Gatehouse,
Squaw Bay Road, Shaw Island.

24 December 2020


Asparagus ferns 
(Asparagus densiflorus 'Sprengeri')
invited from the Gatehouse garden to 
squeeze inside for winter.
Some report they are hardy USDA Zones 9-11.
There is a seed-grown strain 
"Hardy Sprengeri" reportedly 
hardy down to Zone 7b.
Dear Santa, I would like some please.
Photograph anno 24 December 2020.


At Christmas I no more 
desire a rose than wish a 
snow in May's newfangled 
mirth. But like of each 
thing that in season grows.

William Shakespeare

11 December 2020


(Digitalis purpurea)
A pollinator garden without a deer fence.
 Gatehouse Seeds,
Shaw Island,
San Juan Archipelago, WA.

Captain Leslie's Elecampane
(Inula helenium
happily growing in this pollinator 
 garden without a deer fence.
Gatehouse Seeds, 
Shaw Island,
San Juan Archipelago, WA.
Summer of 2020.
This plant was started from a root donation 
but packets of seeds are now available.

"Flowering tobacco"
(Nicotiana sylvestris) gracing this
pollinator garden that survives along 
with hundreds of local deer.
The Gatehouse,
Shaw Island, 
San Juan Archipelago, WA.



By Mary Murfin

There is an inherent paradox for anyone gardening in the SanJuan Islands because the natural landscape is already rich in beauty. Thick, cushiony moss, pine-trees dramatically dwarfed and twisted by their scramble for a foothold on rocks, smooth-skinned madrona trees which blossom in the spring and provide Christmassy berries in winter, and hedgerows of dog roses and snowberry are all part of the complex texture of the islands' natural wild gardens. It might seem more madness to try to improve on this, but any gardener worth his salt is challenged by the chance to enhance, focus, and frame such a masterpiece--or else, simply wants to plant potatoes.
      To some old-timers "garden" means "vegetable garden" and nothing else, as per a statement by an old friend. "she's got so many flowers she hasn't got room for her garden." But gardening on the islands, in any sense of the word, whether for the practical pleasure of delicious home-grown vegetable, to rehabilitate an area disturbed by construction or logging, or simply for the love of gardening, is beset by limitations. The soil is not always good, being often either rocky or boggy. Destructive high winds come whipping off the sound. Late summers can be drought-dry. But the one biggest enemy of the island garden is the deer.
      The attitude of islanders towards deer is completely schizophrenic. Everyone loves them and everyone hates them, alternately -- depending on whether they are presenting a charming tableau (doe, fawn, and buck in the meadow) or raising havoc in the flowerbeds. The most common solution to the problem of the deer is a completely fenced garden but a better solution is planting a garden that uses deer-resistant materials.
      It must be admitted that no deer-resistant material is absolutely deer-proof. In areas where the deer population is sufficiently dense, gardens have been stripped clear of all plants, including parts of young pines. But in an area with an average deer population, and this would include the major San Juan Islands, the creatures will be steadfastly uninterested in deer-resistant plantings and wander off to where a greenhorn island gardener has unwittingly planted deer feasts of cabbage roses.
      The variety and beauty of plant materials--native and non-native--that don't tempt the deer is surprising. One might assume that these would be dry, unappetizing little seedlings and prickly grasses. It is quite the contrary. Take, for example, the daffodils that grow abundantly on the islands. Planted first, by early settlers, they are now nearly native in their prolificity. Another native favorite is the foamy Queen Anne's lace, which blooms in summer.
      Other attractive plantings, unattractive to the deer, are the shiny-leafed barberry with its red clusters of beads; the frothy, sliver-pronged Santolina; heathers, both white and purple; most types of Rhododendrons; sweet-smelling Daphne; lavender; and almost all herbs. Boxwood and cotoneaster shrubs are good safe plantings. So are the evergreen Mexican orange (Choisya) and nandina, better known as heavenly bamboo. Of course, all types of conifer, juniper, pines, and yew are useful deer-resistant basics.
      Surprisingly, most old fashioned perennials will be passed up by the deer as well. Those include Oriental poppies, bleeding hearts, Lupine, Iris, and Shasta daisies.
      More unusual is the blue-flowered Ceanothus, which also attracts bees and butterflies, the Cistus rock rose and the pheasant's eye Narcissus. Also unusual and irresistibly beautiful is the hellebore, with a translucent green or grape-colored flower.
      With this range of choice, many types of deer-resistant gardens are possible: herb gardens, herbaceous borders, bog gardens, even formal gardens.
      Some of the most beautiful island gardens are the old farm gardens with meadows and fruit trees supplemented by a fenced vegetable garden. One very successful type of garden, which is inspired by the farm garden and taken its cue from nature, is the meadow garden. It is easy to put in and easy to maintain. the native landscape is allowed to run right up to the house on two or three sides and the front of the house is a meadow instead of a lawn. Planted in the meadow are daffodils, Queen Anne's lace, Oriental poppies, lupin, and other perennials. The flowers, which are planted randomly, provide glorious color but still look natural and almost accidental. The meadow lawn needs to be mowed only once or twice a year, in late spring after the daffodils have gone.
      Close to the house, borders of lavender, hellebores, Santolina, euphorbia, etc., could be put in. Complementing this would be a small fenced area for a vegetable and cutting garden. One can grow abundant lettuce, carrots, peas, squash, tomatoes, and other vegetables in a relatively small area, leaving fenced room for roses, anemones, and other cutting flowers.
      Another aspect of island gardening is the weekend or summer gardener. For summer and weekend gardeners the solution lies in permanent plantings of native deer-and -drought-resistant materials and the importation of big planter pots full of brightly colored annuals to place on a deck or porch.
      Island gardeners, working within the limitations set by weather, terrain, hungry deer, and an already beautiful natural setting, often come up with gardens that are more successful because of these very limitations.

The Pilot
Published by the Island Record, San Juan County, Wa.
Vol. 3, No. 1, April/May 1983.

07 December 2020


(Lunaria annua)
Inside for processing the seeds,
grown on Shaw Island,
San Juan Archipelago, WA.
A good Lunaria crop this year,
so the packets are generous.

The Puritans called it "Honesty" and took it to Massachusetts and planted it in their first gardens. Why? It was not grown for food nor was it an herb for healing ills or seasoning food. It added nothing whatever to the welfare of the colony. There seems to be but one excuse for such worldly indulgence -- that honesty sustained homesick hearts through the first bitter winters. Bouquets of its silvery pods decorated mantels and corner cupboards –– nostalgic symbols of former gaiety. Vanity? Perhaps. But generations have smiled and noted ironically that the only seed the Pilgrims brought to New England was honesty. The sentiment with which it was regarded is conveyed by the folk names that still cling to it. Some sound mercenary: silver penny, moneywort, money-in-the-pocket, pennyflower, and moneyseed. Others are more descriptive: white satin, satin seed, satinpod. But honesty acquired an older name -- prick-song flower, which suggests songfests in early English homes -- from the needle-sharp point on each seed pod., which was once used to prick out notes of songs on thin paper, a common practice before music was printed.

Claire Shaver Haughton, Green Immigrants

Honesty seed pods after they have released 
their mature seeds for extra fat packets 
for the Gatehouse seed shed,
Squaw Bay Road, Shaw Island.
Usually deer resistant and easy for 
woodland gardeners to cultivate for 
the pollinators we need on board. 

"Honesty" harvest,
Gatehouse Seeds.
Grown on Shaw Island, WA.
Anno September 2020.

10 November 2020


Wild, perennial Sweet Pea
(Lathyrus latifolius)
Grown and harvested from one of 
the few remaining hideaways for this 
native perennial occurring  on 
Shaw Island. 
Harvested summer of 2020.

"Although a thoughtful bee still travels
And midge-ball ravels and unravels,
Yet strewn along the pathway lie
Like small open sarcophagi
The hazel-nuts broken in two
And cobwebs catch the seed-pearl dew.
Now summer’s flowers are winter’s weeds,
I think of all the sleeping seeds;
Winds were their robins and by night
Frosts glue their leafy cover tight;
Snow may shake down its dizzy feathers,
They will sleep safely through all weathers."

Andrew Young.
Autumn Seeds.
From Cottage Flowers. Marie Angel. London; 
Pelham Books Ltd. 1980.

01 November 2020

“An Amorous Medicine?”

Ivy-leaf Cyclamen
Cyclamen hederifolium 'album'
[syn. Cyclamen neapolitanum]
a tuberous perennial that grows 
through the winter and then goes dormant 
in the summer when the seeds ripen & split open.
Now, just finishing her autumn bloom period with
aged bulbs originating at the former garden of 
Shaw Islander, Elsie Crawford Wood. 

"A cottage friend of mine who grows some superb Cyclamen on her kitchen windowsill tells me that her grandmother advised her to water them with weak tea. This may sound like an old wife’s tale, but the tales of some old wives sometimes turn out to be right.
      There are two kinds of Cyclamen: the Persian [Cyclamen persicum], which is the one your friends give you and which is not hardy, and the small, outdoor one, a tiny edition of the big Persian, as hardy as a snowdrop. These little Cyclamen are among the longest-lived of garden plants. A Cyclamen corm will keep itself going for more years than its owner is likely to live. They have other advantages:

1. They will grow under trees, for they tolerate, and indeed enjoy, shade.
2. They do not object to limey soil.
3. They will seed themselves and
4. They will take you around the calendar by a judicious planting of different sorts. C. neapolitanum, for instance, will precede its ivy-like leaves by its little pink flower in late autumn, white flowers if you get the variety album.  C. coum, pink, white, or lilac, will flower from December to March;  Ibericum from February to the end of March; C. balearicum will then carry on, followed by C. repandum, which takes you into the summer; and finally, C. europaeum for the late summer and early autumn. 

Some botanists believe this to be a native [to England]; it was certainly recorded here in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when, if beaten into little flat cakes, it was considered ‘a good amorous medicine to make one in love."

No seeds for sale yet, but the bubs are multiplying!

Vita Sackville-West. In Your Garden.
Quote from Cottage Flowers by Marie Angel. Pelham Books, London. 1980

07 October 2020



Globe Thistle
Ripening her seeds
in the Gatehouse garden 
on Shaw Island,
San Juan Archipelago, WA.
Summer 2020 

Scientific Name: Echinops bannaticus 'Taplow Blue'

Life cycle: Herbaceous perennial 

Native Range: Central and S.E. Europe; Central Asia

Zone: 3-8

Height: 3-5'

Bloom time: July to September

Degree of Difficulty: Easy

Water: Needs little to no supplemental water.

Soil: Good drainage is important.

Flower: Upright, showy; good for cutting; good dried, if harvested before the seeds scatter.

Fertilizer: No fertilizer for the Globe Thistle. Plants may flop in conditions too rich.

Attracts: Butterflies, bees, and gardeners. These flowers are an important source of nectar but also provide food as a host plant for painted lady butterflies (see below.)

Tolerates: drought, dry, rocky soil, and deer!!

Growing from seeds: Sow outdoors, where germination will occur naturally in the spring. If starting inside, stratify seeds in the refrigerator for the best germination. Use large cell packs to accommodate the long tap roots that begin to form after germination. The seeds need light to germinate so cover with only a very thin layer of compost.

Notes: This is an eye-catching yet undemanding perennial for the back of a mixed border. Monet grew this at Giverny.

"Painted Lady"

"Painted Lady"

Gatehouse Globe Thistle
(Echinops bannaticus 'Taplow Blue' )
seed packets coming together for 
purchase this spring/summer .
Gatehouse Seeds, Shaw Island,
San Juan Archipelago.

01 October 2020



"October is the treasurer of the year; 

And all the months pay bounty to her store."

Paul Lawrence Dunbar