Category: Woodland Landscaping

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Pacific treefrog affixed to a window

According to Amphiaweb.com, Pacific tree frogs (Pseudacris regilla) are usually the most common frog species where they occur in the Pacific Northwest. This summer in particular, I have observed them nearly everywhere I go on the property, clinging to leaves, logs, walls, and windows, leaping frantically from the mower blades and dangling from  my raspberry vines. It seems to be a takeover of sorts.

Standard green frog on blackberry leaf

Standard green frog on blackberry leaf

They breed in the wetland I refer to as the lake, which consistently fills up each winter, then mostly dries out in the summer as feeder streams bring sediment and vegetation gradually builds up. Apparently they enjoy ephemeral wetlands as they like calm, shallow waters. They usually begin their breeding chorus in February when sheer numbers create a wall of noise within which individual frogs are nearly undetectable.
During the summer, they leave aquatic habitats and migrate upland where they can be found nearly everywhere. Meanwhile, their breeding songs have been reduced to occasional dry ‘craaaaks’, as though to locate each other during their wanderings.

They can be found in a wide range of unexpected places. A little frog I named ‘Sir Splat’ liked to tuck up at the top of an outside door I use frequently. As I opened it, it would fall to the tile floor with a moist ‘splat’, then crawl away as though the equivalent of a human jump off of the Brooklyn Bridge had meant nothing to it.

Sir Splat on the top of the outside  basement door

Sir Splat on the top of the outside basement door

Before I noticed the frog, I had seen small black droppings on the door and around the recessed knob. I blamed the cats for failing to catch house mice, wondering nevertheless how a mouse could scale a vertical surface and leave pellets. Turns out it was frog scat I was seeing, a substance that comes in an array of sizes, the largest of which reveals the cast-off chitin of their insectivorous diet.

Other frogs inhabit window sills, where they press into corners with feet drawn up under them to conserve water.

Frog on windowsil

Frog on windowsil

Curiously, even during hot, sunny days, I would find the on the tops of leaves several feet above ground, exposed but pressed closely to the surface to stay moist.

Frog high on a leaf on a very warm day, legs tucked to conserve moisture

Frog high on a leaf on a very warm day, legs tucked to conserve moisture

Others preferred hiding under the bark of logs I intended to move. One log yielded three little green faces with black stripes peeping out at me as I carefully replaced the loose bark and left them alone. Mowing yielded an abundance of frogs frantically hopping to escape the blades like porpoises cresting a bow wave. While picking raspberries, a favorite froggy hangout, one fellow landed upon my arm so that I could feel his cool, sticky belly for the moment it took it to realize that I was too warm and hairy for a perch.
The Pacific tree frog has genetic variants in the population that are capable of changing color. Those I see here range from basic green to a pure, bright copper color with variations in between.

Alternative copper color

Alternative copper color

A rare few displayed a dark green tint that looked like the result of mixing brown and green. According to a paper by Wente and Phillips published in Animal Behavior (2005), some frogs maintain their color while others change from green to brown according to substrate. Frogs that do not change stick to background colors that match their own, but color-changing frogs do not.
As esoteric a substance as frog manure is, I may be able to collect enough to sell small samples for high prices if I convince fellow gardeners of the value of chitin for plant growth. Regardless, I enjoy the company of the little amphibians even though I’ve got to pay more attention to washing my salad greens.

The Ubiquitous (and Cute) Pacific Treefrog

Visit last fall from a  4-point buck

Visit last fall from a 4-point buck

I’ve created a new art form born of functionality and a tendency towards the use of metal as an art form.

Last year, I created a piece I call ‘Deer-Deterence’. It consists simply of two pieces of four-foot rebaror pipe and some barbed wire.

Deer Deterence:  Pipe and barbed wire

Deer Deterence: Pipe and barbed wireI

Rebar and barbed wire protecting a previously damaged Western redbud (Cercocarpis canadensis).

Rebar and barbed wire protecting a previously damaged Western redbud (Cercocarpis canadensis).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I intended it to protect my Western redbud, but it was after-the-fact as the local buck got to the lower limbs before I figured it need protecting. The bucks use small trees to rub the velvet from their antlers. Around here, the process begins around September. Native trees fall victim too; I have found alders badly gouged with ragged strings of bark hanging from their trunks. My pyrocantha shrubs along the driveway were badly mauled, and a beautiful dark blue flowered ceanothus lost several large limbs.

Taking a page from the Bloedel Reserve, which uses two metal fence posts driven into the ground at an angle to protect tree trunks, I’ve employed materials that I have on hand, namely rebar,  steel pipe, and barbed wire.  In some instances, I’ve also wrapped pieces of woven wire fencing around the trunks of larger trees. In other cases, I’ve placed a single pipe at angle.

metal pipe protecting Ceonothus 'Dark Star' which lost a large limb to antler damage last fall.

metal pipe protecting Ceonothus ‘Dark Star’ which lost a large limb to antler damage last fall.

Time will tell which will work the best, or if I will need to default to more extensive fencing measures. As of today, October 14, I’ve seen no evidence of fresh buck damage anywhere, although a summer herd of  four does continue to hang out around the gardens.

 

 

 

Deer-Deterence

The last of about 50 logs were picked up by truck last week, and I am left with about ten burn piles (I’ve already leveled 4) and a lot of understory to replant. In addition, there is the collateral damage to address: ragged, broken branches to trim, torn up soil to drag and smooth, a retention pond to re-dig (it ended up under a log pile), and a restoration seeding to slow the advance of weeds.


Other than the coralroot orchids, I don’t believe that I lost much in the way of locally rare native species. This grove was heavily disturbed years ago when my father built a series of roads and fields through what was then a 40 acre parcel. It doesn’t take much, I’ve found, to effectively eliminate small populations of native plants that don’t fair well in disturbed areas. However, there are places on the property that will remain off-limits. Between the house and the property boundary where my father limited his incursions, I’ve found Indian peace pipe, foam flower, and gooseberry, vanilla leaf, phacelia, and trillium. My experience as a professional ecologist and my observations as a land owner have led me to believe that even the more common (i.e. not listed as rare) native forbs are threatened by any type of ground disturbance that destroys and separates localized populations. Huckleberry, sword fern, and salal can endure a wide range of conditions and are nearly indomitable, but it is the specialists, the delicate species that are soil-dependent, or that require moist habitats free of invasive species that are lost. It is a major reason why the natural habitats of the Northwest are becoming increasingly homogenous. On my own property, I have only one natural population of foam flower, one of trillium, and several of vanilla leaf. In natural areas that have been protected, these plants are much more populous.

 

protected areas

 

I will restore natives to the extent possible with seed and transplants, but cost and difficulty of acquisition makes restoration an expensive proposition, and success is limited by the amount of soil disturbance and compaction.  This puts a premium on preservation.

My primary objective in both logged areas (about 2 acres total) will be to create an understory of colorful, flowering shrubs and trees with areas of ground cover where benches, rocks, and other points of interest will make an interesting place to stroll.

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Japanese maples, dogwood, and other mid-level trees and shrubs from my own collection will replace dense huckleberry and salal undergrowth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My own personal jungle:  five years later, dogwood, tall Oregon grape, and bear's breeches (Acanthus mollis) form an impenetrable mass of foilage by the barn where there was once a ragged hole. I hope that my forest garden plantings can be as successful.

My own personal jungle: five years later, dogwood, tall Oregon grape, and bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis) form an impenetrable mass of foilage by the barn where there was once a ragged hole. I hope that my forest garden plantings can be as successful.

 

 

 

Post-logging Planning: Designing the Woodland Garden