Tag Archives: native plants

The Finer Points of Forest Restoration

In May 2014, I had several acres logged to open up the high parts of the property to light and earn a bit of income. The hope was that I could expand my non-native plantings into the newly opened areas and increase the diversity of native plantings.  Mature Douglas fir forests on the property are usually closed canopy with a middle layer of tall evergreen huckleberry – in excess of 10 ft high in some instances – and salal beneath which nothing grows. In the absence of a natural disturbance regime (e.g. fire), selective harvest is the most effective way to increase habitat for local understory species such as sword fern, wood fern, lady fern in damp areas, Oregon grape, Indian plum, ocean spray, and thimble berry.
The results were unpleasantly messy:

Coral root habitat - after
Logged area behind shed.
DSC_0006
Logged area by the barn
  1. I got more light, but was left with large debris piles, not necessarily a bad thing in terms of hiding places for small animals and birds, but quite unsightly.

    Debris pile (background)
    Debris pile (background)
  2. All of the top soil got scraped up into the debris piles. This was really disturbing and not anticipated. However, the loggers that I worked with were not particularly sensitive to environmental issues, so I likely wouldn’t have gotten too far with trying to prevent this.
  3. The coral root transplants failed: plantings in both established populations and a single new area of similar soil type.  However, I did note that  even established patches did poorly this year.

    Corallorhiza maculata
    Corallorhiza maculata
  4. I opened up large areas to weeds, including Himalayan blackberry and reed canary grass.

    A tarp used to reduce reed canary grass.
    A tarp used to reduce reed canary grass.

On the positive side, I have a new place in which to create paths and blend natives of other US regions, such as witch hazel and corylopsis, with Japanese maples and rhododendrons to establish a transition between landscaped areas and natural areas.

To control weeds and reduce erosion, I  planted a mix of grasses native to western rangelands, including fescue, bluebunch wheatgrass, and Indian rice grass. I’ve not mowed them this year as their flopping habitat seems to deter weed growth.

native grasses
Native grasses planted in areas scraped by logging equipment.

Since I’ve no large equipment and only myself as labor, the restoration of this area is a long, difficult task. I began by burning debris piles, although the largest one is about 10′ high x 50′ long and a tangle of limbs, small trees, soil, and a twisted scrap of metal roofing. I have been hauling scraped-off top soil from the pile to fill in around areas where I’m planting. I pull weeds by hand, and transplant small forbs such as foam flower, piggyback plant, bullrush and ferns around damp areas and old stumps (from logging many decades previous) where they will be sheltered and require less water. Despite proximity to a large shed with a faucet, it would be difficult and time consuming to extend hoses and water. In some cases I haul water buckets.  I’ve also planted mint in two low areas where water collects in winter, a long-ago result of an unintentional underground fire from debris my father burned.

The  low areas are difficult to manage as the top soil was lost years ago leaving several hundred square feet of clay pan that fills with several inches of water each year.  In summer, the clay dries and cracks, making it difficult to keep anything living there. I have been encroaching on these areas with loads of soil and plants such as yellow iris that appear to be tolerant  to wide variations in water levels. I transplanted these from a large clump in the lake.

One of two low areas that flood in winter and dry out in summer. A clump of yellow iris is visible to the right. These were under several inches of water but are now dry.
Pieces of an old dock my father dismantled and partly buried visible in front of a newly-planted maple. Cleaning up buried junk is another task I often face.

With large sums of money, I’d have dirt hauled in, but I must work at this slowly by hand. Without a full time job now, it has become a meditation to go out there each day to weed and water.  I see more this way: the birds, insects, and small plants and the cycles of the recovering landscape. It is a healing of both land and soul.

Post-logging Planning: Designing the Woodland Garden

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.

DSC_0002
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.

 

 

 

Things I learned in 2013

I’ve been here four years now, going on five, the longest that I’ve ever lived in one place since I left here as a teen to go to college.  The result is that I’m finally witnessing the long-term results of my landscaping efforts. Many of my installations are at least three years along, and I’ve had plenty of time to see what works and what doesn’t.

1. Use landscape fabric for walkways, and any other place that shouldn’t become a weedy mess.

Above  - looks nice at first (left), but later becomes a weed-infested mess (right). I am now taking up all of the stone (about 1 yard), all of the gravel (2 yds) and replacing with landscape fabric, bark, and pole timber.

2. Deer fencing should keep out the bucks that jump as well as the fawns that crawl beneath. Therefore, it must be a solid barrier at least 6 ft high. And a frightened deer can run through plastic mesh like it wasn’t there so a few rounds of wire are necessary too.

 Cute, but they can get through anything.

3. Absolutely every stick of native plant that I buy from Pierce Conservation District must be protected from deer with fencing or mesh. To do otherwise means that all of my red-osier dogwood, red-flowering currant, cedar, and other plants will be browsed down to maintain a permanent stature of about 2 feet.

Protected willow cutting I propagated over the summer.

4. For many shrubs, fast results require soil enrichment. American highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus  var. americanum), for instance, will remain three feet tall unless planted in an enriched soil environment. The difference is about four feet in two years.

Above left – Viburnum growing in a cedar stump that acts like a nurse log; Above right - plants of the same age in more compacted soil along the driveway.

5. My favorite shrubs are the ones that have fall and winter color – they carry me through the grey northwest winters.

Cherry trees from North Carolina – planted from seed 38 years ago. They now freely reseed themselves.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) - everyone should have this plant.

6. When in doubt, plant fern. Here, they are freely available (I speak of the native sword fern), grow about anywhere that is not too wet, and give year ’round green cover.

 Native sword fern fills in where I have removed blackberry vines.

 

Accessorize with colored ferns like Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn fern) which take on a yellow-orange color in winter.

Not  my yard, but wish it was.

7. Improved soil = improved growth = fewer weeds. I now buy mulch for trees and shrubs.  Also starting with larger stock helps save a few years. My gardening resolution for the year is to purchase more large trees and shrubs of the sort that I acquired in December (15 ft plus). However, I will expand my propagation efforts too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking the high road: manual labor with hand tools as a path to Tao

I study Buddhism, and perhaps some of my ideas about the worth of valuing the present time has driven me to my choice of working almost entirely with hand.  On the other hand, I retain a healthy fear of moving blades and flying balls, which is why I excelled in neither woodworking nor sports.  Anyway, I’m a bit of a hermit and enjoy passing successive days in comparative silence working on my endless list of landscape tasks, aware of the subtleties of the world around me while I saw down small trees with a double-toothed hand saw. Me and my handsaw, pruners, and poler cutter manage most of the vegetation on the property. I do rely increasingly upon motorized wheeled vehicles, such as my power wheelbarrow, rototiller, and two mowers to save my back. However, I still posses a push mower and I am not above edging with shears. The cheap electric string trimmer that I bought last summer has a 10-to-1 ratio of time spent fixing the line feet to time actually trimming something. Its failure seemed almost to prove something to me about the implicit value of work done by hand.

So I work in peace and quiet most of the time. I am, remember, surrounded by 20 acres in a rural community with only a partial view of one neighbor, so isolation is easy.  I work in the rain, in the freezing cold, and in the rare instances of hot sun. I don’t mind at all. I like the feel of my body heating up on a cold day as I take my hand saw to a small sapling. I like clipping blackberry canes with my hand shears. I’ve leveled entire swaths of the nasty vines this way; it gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I patiently cut limbs from a ladder, then carve them into pieces to decompose in piles on the ground, or place them on the fall burn pile.

Anyone who has known me is aware of my signature lack of patience for most of life’s impositions. Yet for this work, I find both patience and peace.

The men in my life seem to have little understanding for this curious approach to otherwise boring tasks. My father’s excavator is a favorite tool for accomplishing most anything, including tree removal that a chain saw could just as easily accomplish. I spend much of my time here attempting to re-educate my father and his associates, showing them how to avoid tearing up the soil, explaining why heavy equipment under tree roots is not advisable, describing how to prune properly even with an electric pole saw (which later died in action while my hand saw keeps going), and emphasizing the reasons why it is important to leave native vegetation intact. I have been called crazy, and had men shake their heads at me as I refuse the help of heavy power equipment. Whether or not they respect me, the well-trained among them now know to inquire as to whether ‘something is planted in there’ before falling a tree or taking on a mowing project. I know this place in detail now; I know what natives grow where, where the rock piles are, the nurse logs, the remnant yews and hemlocks. I protect them all.

 

My next project:  revitalizing the orchard. My father planted three plum and two apple trees in the late 70’s in an area that was once open but has now grown over with Douglas firs. All are now decrepit, poor produces, and two of the plums are over 30 feet tall.  Besides contemplating their replacements, the recent removal of two firs for firewood has now opened up space for about seven new trees. With this has come the realization that I now have an excuse to buy more plants. I can hardly wait.

PICT8137

Winter Planning

Lake - summer 09The Lake – Summer 09

 

I defected to Southern California this Thanksgiving to visit friends. The weather was warm, as usual, and I spent two days drawing and taking photographs at the Los Angeles County Botanical Garden in Arcadia, one of my most favorite places. Still, I was glad to return to this place where I was raised, where the sun never gets much above the horizon in December, and the ground is already saturated and muddy. Of course, it is wet, chilly, and above all, gloomy in winter. Yet looking beyond the human need for warmth and light, it is only just another place on earth with its own grace and beauty beyond what we demand of it. Peace can be found anywhere, and the tone that we set for own lives makes us flourish despite the weather.

My outdoor activities have slowed considerably in the wake of the heavy rainfalls. I have injured my shoulder, and the soil that I had hoped to place in my new rock garden is too wet and heavy to haul. Still, there are numerous chores requiring less endurance that await me, one of which is planning.

Between my design and business classes, I have sketched and schemed until I have the layout for my penultimate garden firmly fixed in my head. How to get it onto paper is a far different matter. A back issue of Pacific Horticulture featuring a man near Woodinville with a 30 acre garden surrounding two wetlands that he restored after years of logging gave me hope. If he can do it, so can I.

I need a landuse plan first of all, something that inventories what I have and where I want to go with it. I know what the final outcome will look like, now, how do I get there?

lake narrow  - summer 09lake and south shore

The Lake – Fall 09

 

My goals are as follows:

  1. House and three acres: A Northwest Naturalistic landscape (after Ann Lovejoy) that incorporates both natives and non-natives in a mix of perennial gardens, rock gardens, meadows, and rhododendron gardens.
  2. The rest: A natural woodland devoid of invasives such as ivy and blackberry, with a few trails that allow an easy walk around the lake and up through the back of the property to the house.
  3. Around the barn: A small permaculture-based agricultural section with a chicken house, blueberry field, vegetable garden, fruit trees, and potting area. Some of this is already in place.

 

The information that I need to map so that I can develop a plan for where things should be placed will be:

  1. Gradient – I have a contour map in AutoCad that I can start with.
  2. Soils – based upon the web-based Natural Resource Conservation Soil maps.
  3. Vegetation – my own inventories of vegetation types, mostly upland Douglas fir with evergreen huckleberry, swordfern, and salal, lowland redcedar and red alder, willow riparian, and wetlands ranging from skunk cabbage marsh to seasonally inundated sedge and cattail wetlands.
  4. Exposure – based upon observations of wind and sun.
  5. Wildlife habitat – the deer bed in the lake, pileated wood pecker nests, barred owl nests, etc.

 future lakeside parks

 Future sitting area by the lakeshore

 I am fortunate enough to have already spent 10 years on the property in the 70’s and 80’s, so that I already know the lay of the land. Now, I view it not through the eyes of child, but as an adult ecologist, so I see it quite a bit differently now.

My rules to live by will be:

  1. No deliberately introduced invasives (including ivies and periwinkle (Vinca))
  2. Maintain areas of no non-natives, particularly around the lake.
  3. Maintain snags and wood piles for wildlife.
  4. Restore and maintain the original channels that feed the lake.
  5. Maintain soil integrity to the extent possible, which translates into minimal grading.

 

Each day, I observe the patterns of the sun, the shady areas, the wet areas, where the water flows in winter. I have noticed that the driveway has potholes in the low areas and have planned where the water bars should go. I’ve learned where the seeps area and planned how best to allow the water to cross the driveway and reach the lake. I’ve noted which Douglas firs are too spindly and close-set to survive and should be removed. I see the barred owl pair that peers at me in the thin light of dawn from an alder, and wonder where they nest. I mull over which snags the pileated woodpeckers prefer, and I see the Douglas tree squirrels moving to warmer quarters under my father’s shop.

My head spins with plans. It will be my challenge, both with this project as with my life, to take a deep breath, set my priorities, and find the strength and tenancity to see each one through to its conclusion.

Historical musings

A moss covered rock wall built by my mother in the 70's or 80's.
A moss covered rock wall built by my mother in the 70's or 80's.
This old stump was cut back during the days of springboards and whipsaws. A 8" x 3" rectangular mark indicates where the end of a board was inserted to allow a man to stand further up the trunk to make the cut. Many of these old stumps remain on the property. They serve as 'nurse stumps' and make great garden centerpieces.
This old stump was cut back during the days of springboards and whipsaws. A 8" x 3" rectangular mark indicates where the end of a board was inserted to allow a man to stand further up the trunk to make the cut. Many of these old stumps remain on the property. They serve as 'nurse stumps' and make great garden centerpieces.

The yard upon which I have started is but a small piece of the larger 20, which consists mostly of disturbed Douglas fir forest mixed with Pacific madrone, redcedar, red alder, the occasional dying hemlock, and an understory of mostly huckleberry and salal.

The place was logged over back when they used springboards, and a stump in back of the house bears its marks.

My father purchased it as part of a 40 acre spread in the early 70’s when it was undeveloped. A large wetland area occupied the northeastern side; he still retains full ownership of this 3-acre area. I used to skate on it in winter and paddle it in my rubber raft in summer, but it is now gradually filling in. As a kid, I kept up to three horses on the property, riding them through trails and field that my father made. It was the reason I loved the outdoors, and precipitated my decision to become a biologist.

My mother, a former librarian and later full-time homemaker, landscaped the three acres surrounding the house with rocks that she personally grubbed from the property, and plants ‘borrowed’ from many places, including a mountain laurel from her home state of North Carolina. I still find her many rock walls hidden under the encroaching native shrubbery, covered in moss, encircling the places that she loved best. It feels like finding the remnants of some forgotten civilization.

Within this context, I arrive to try and turn the place into the botanical garden that I truly believe that it can be. The front yard was the easy part, a warm up to give myself something to admire each day so that I can begin the long effort of convincing myself that I am up to this. It is, really, a dream of mine that never came through with the postage stamp yards of the houses that I could afford, or the rentals that I had to leave in California.

I approach it with the zest of the suppressed artist that I never became, and the analytical scientist that I was trained to be. Before I even left SoCal, back when this was just my notes during long management meetings or weekends when I was totally fed up with work in general, I prepared sketches and management plants. Arriving in late May, I already had the plans for the front yard in my head. But that is only about 1% of what I really want to do.

To create a garden of this size, you need a plan, a theme, a feeling of unity and continuity. I want to enjoy this but I also want to make it my own personal legacy. The mulling, dreaming, planning and scheming are the best part of this, my own tabla rasa.

Focus is critical. The front yard is nearly done but for the grass, but there is so much more. Here is what we fondly used to call ‘the center thing’, a circular planter of rock surrounding a 100 ft+ Douglas fir in the center of the driveway between the house and garage. A patch of weedy daylily fills an area between the planter and the driveway split. The peonies, heather, and other flowers that my mother planted there 30 years ago area long gone, and the place used as a holding area for logging chains and boxes of nails.

Then there is a cove in the woods above that where the driveway splits*, a weedy disaster harboring the property’s first known incidence (quickly eradicated with snips and motor oil to finish the job) of poison oak. Once home to roses, redhot poker, purple bearded iris and pinks, the place has been overtaken and the domestics have long died.

Beyond that is an area that my mother designed as a little creek for winter runoff that is now a lumpy mess of bulldozed soil, weeds, and a 100’ x 5’ ditch ripped last winter to abate the flood that resulted in the destruction of the front yard.

Surrounding the once domesticated areas are woods full of blackberries, English ivy, and Scotch broom deserving to be tamed and turned into placid places to stroll amidst ferns while gazing at the remnants of the lake.

Yard as Vegetable Garden

Due to the technical difficulties posed by not being a website designer, I missed a month or two on updates. Still, I when I did get back on, I was pleased to see comments (thank you all!). I hope to be more diligent now in my postings.

In the interim, I completed the wall using scrap rock from the original wall plus whatever else was lying about.  The rock-a-day technique worked well, and without the Bobcat I might add, which, while desperately needed for other projects around here likely would not have worked so well.  Hand-placing the rock was the key, and over the course of about 3 weeks, I was able to create a two-tiered wall now planted with fern and a creeping evening primrose. Money saved on equipment rentals, however, was money spent on massages to relieve the re-emergence of my long-running thoracic outlet syndrome  (http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/thoracic/thoracic.htm).  One saving grace has been my father’s motorized dumping wheelbarrow with an 800 lb capacity. With it, I have already moved several thousand pounds of rock around the yard for a variety of smaller projects. Although I am normally adverse to loud, motorized equipment, it has made my life much easier and saved me many sleepless nights with shooting nerve pain.

 

When I was not moving rocks, I began preparing the front yard.  [At this point, those in the know may feel free to comment upon my methods, which are derived from a combination of experience, book-learning, and educated guesswork.]  From a local farm, I obtained 10 yards of heat-treated horse manure/chips/sand and rototilled it six inches into the sandy clay soil that represents the efforts of one of my father’s past wives. I also reconstructed the walk from the pavers not broken by my father’s excavator excursions to lead visitors through the gazebo and to the front door.  The plan, based upon reading my landscape design books, is to draw visitors away from the kitchen door, which is misplaced on the front of the house, and to the more formal ‘front’ door which leads directly into the living room. The yellow gazebo will be reinforced and painted a warm grey and the cement overlain with tiles. Cement planters with benches will be installed to the right to cordon off a part of the patio for entertaining. A perennial garden in purple and violet tones will grow between the walk and the patio, a lawn to left flanked by a Japanese maple and the neon blue hydrangea. Foundation plantings of red pygmy barberry will flank the reddish brick wall, while to the right of the door, a white azalea and small rhodoendron will provide a visual draw toward the door.a view from the driveway

To the right in the overview photo  is the nascent perennial garden featuring several types of Salvia (my fav genus), Miscanthus, Dianthus, Penstemon, and Hosta in the shade. To the left will be a narrow strip of grass sweeping around the cedar, beneath which will grow a selection of NW natives and shade-tolerant plants, including a grove of sword fern, woodfern, bunchberry, Oregon oxalis, Hellebore, salal, Mitella, and others. I have even added half of a Douglas fir log behind the neon blue hydrangea in which I hope to cultivate licorice fern. (I will be adding a plant list here shortly from the Excel file that I am keeping).

The beans, squash, peas, cucumbers and potatoes, however, are not a part of the long-term plan. Reading about the best time to seed a northwest lawn, I have elected to wait until September to further till and refine the soil for planting grass seed. Meanwhile, I have planted a sward of leguminous crops along with a few other tasty species to add nitrogen and out-compete the weeds. So far, the growth from my early June plantings has exceeded my expectations and yields of snow peas and yellow squash are beginning to outstrip our capacity to eat them. The notable exception is the pole beans, which dominate the scene on tall bamboo frames at seven feet and growing. I believe that the high-nitrogen mix that I applied has encouraged them to grow only leaves, for I am still awaiting the beans to emerge from the lush vegetation.

beans to the left squash to the right

As a break from all of that, I also constructed a modest pool with a foot-high falls.  Ferns and large-leaved plants yet to be chosen will grace the now arid borders. The climbing rose will be leaving the scene too, perhaps to be espaliered on a wall. For now, I have a few Spirea, Japanese blood grass (in pots, so they stay put), Ribes sanguinum, horsetail, Alaska fern, lady fern, sword fern, and a lonely bog rosemary. The story of the pool will follow later, including my experimentation with building techniques for those who might want to try this at home.

eventual overgrowth of veg should cure the green

Now, as the July sun wanes and the August sky is cloudy and threatening rain, I stand back and feel a mixture of pride and concern. It still doesn’t look quite as I’d hoped; I have a substantial budget, but not enough to spend on large numbers of expensive plants. My shopping techniques range from Lowe’s and Home Depot bargains, local nursery 50% off sales, natives from other parts of the property, freebies from volunteer work that I am doing in my horticulture class, and a few splurges for nice, full-price selections.  There are most definitely gaps. Materials are hauled in pickup truck, and the work is solely my own.  I  am beginning to explore the limits of my own 42-year-old body, seasoned as it may be from years of running and hiking, and the natural impatience that I have also exhibited towards things that take more than one year to complete.  I realize once again, that this is an exercise in how things are done, a lesson in the patience of time. Soon enough, September will come and I will be taking two more horticulture classes, and maybe,  just maybe, taking the time to care of myself. I miss yoga, I miss my art, there is a meditation group I want to join.  The rains will buy me time to slow down and savor the slow passage of time as the things that I have begun mature, and new ideas emerge.

 

For additional reading on the progress of the back 10 acres, see “Hinterlands”.