04 April 2021

A Happy Easter


"No winter lasts forever;
no spring skips its turn."

Hal Borlan

14 February 2021

Blind Bay Pussy Willow


Blind Bay Pussy Willow
To view the sugar glaze,
please click the image.
Planted from a sprig
of Mrs. Difford's floral bouquet
many years ago.
The photo was taken Valentine's Day 2021
Shaw Island, Washington.

"Time does make a difference in any garden. At first, you wonder if anything will ever get large enough to count in the general picture. Then you wonder if there is any way to keep it from growing further. For years the little Cunninghamia, say, a favorite shrub, then all of a sudden it becomes a small tree, then after a while, you start thinking of it as a gnarled and marvelous fixture of the garden and can hardly think back to the time before you had it.
      The great trick, I am now sure, is to flow with the tide."
Henry Mitchell, please be my Valentine.

09 February 2021


Blooming on Shaw Island,
San Juan Archipelago, WA., 
before the SNOW.
9 February 2021.

"Some gardeners think of the Winter Aconite as the first flower of spring but I have never done much with those pleasant little yellow flowers and the shooting of the “Snowdrop leaves is my particular signal that spring, even if far away, will come in time. It is strange that no country name compares Snowdrops with bells for they are bell-like as they swing to and fro. How they do swing on those delicate threads which connect flower to stem. You’d think they would be torn off. But they can stand any gale that blows. They yield to the wind rather than oppose it. A tree may be blown down in the night but never a single Snowdrop head is blown off. Their strength is that they know when to give in. There is moral in that somewhere.”

H.L.V. Fletcher, Popular Flowering Plants. 

21 January 2021


Cyclamen coum
Blooming on Shaw Island 
this day of
21 January 2021 

"Cyclamen is a genus of some seventeen species, dispersed in southern Europe and countries bordering the Mediterranean, through Turkey and southern Russia to Iran. Most occur in deciduous or light coniferous woodland or in shaded sites on rocky hillsides, with a general altitude range from 1,000 to 7,000 feet, although some grow near sea level.
      Willam Turner, the "father of English botany," had not seen Cyclamen in Britain when, in his New Herbal of 1551, he proposed the common name sowesbread, "lest it should be nameless, if ether it should be brought into England, or be found in anye place in England." According to Philip Miller, "it is call'd Sowbread, because the root is like a loaf, and the Sows eat it." Know as pain de porceau in France, it is said to have provided food for wild boars in parts of southern Europe and Turkey. Mrs. Beeton, the famous Victorian cookery writer, claimed that the pigs' diet of Cyclamen bulbs imparted special flavour to the pork products of the Perigord.
      Cyclamen were valued by apothecaries long before they were cultivated but curiously, in view of their reputed medicinal properties, Cyclamen were not known in Britain until the late 16th C. when Gerard had in his garden two of the common species cultivated today, Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum.
      Among gardeners, particularly rock garden and alpine enthusiasts, there has been a great demand for Cyclamen species in recent years.
      Propagation by the division of the tubers, formed in Cyclamen from the swollen hypocotyl, the tissue between root and shoot, is occasionally successful. However, the species are best raised from seed which, with few exceptions, is freely produced and will germinate readily if sown fresh, as will old seed soaked in water for a day or so. The young seedlings should be encouraged to continue growing as long as possible and not dried off. Even after the leaves have died down, the tubers should be kept slightly moist to avoid shriveling. Using a gritty, free-draining, leafy compost, with an annual top dressing as they come into growth each season, they will thrive in containers for several years.
      While measures to stop the over-collecting of Cyclamen in the wild must not be relaxed, the maintenance, increase, and distribution of almost all the species from material already in cultivation represents a success story. It is vital that this conservation model should be followed for other endangered plants in the future."

Christopher Brickell and Fay Sharman.
The Vanishing Garden, A Conservation Guide to Garden Plants. London.
John Murray Publisher; in association with the Royal Horticulture Society. 1986


There was another Cyclamen that had been growing for many years near the Shaw Island ferry landing. It was rescued from the path of a bulldozer preparing for asphalt ferry traffic lanes. Here is a post about Cyclamen hederifolium happily, still with us. Click here
Some year there will be seeds available in little packages in the seed shed. 

06 January 2021


Gatehouse Globe Thistle 
(Echinops bannaticus)
Island seeds being packed 
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 seeds? 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.

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.