Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Botanic garden, Kousa dogwood, and kicking the shut-in habit

Photo of a Seattle bungalow in fall or winter, by Wonderlane, Flickr Creative Commons license.
One of the things I’ve learned in the past 10 days: When in a dark, rainy place without the need to leave home for work, and while living in a lovely Arts & Craft house, well-insulated and well-gardened, it’s easy to become a sleepy shut-in.

But, here at the housesit house, I’m leaving my slumber. I’m happy to say that soon I start a copywriting contract gig at an ecommerce company. Also, I’ve done some political canvassing.

Here’s to the vigorous productivity and growth that follow any plant’s necessary dormant period, right? Ha.

And, as we watch those flood waters slowly recede from New Jersey and New York—where I once lived, have dear friends, and remember well the turn of the streets and sounds of people’s voices—it’s good to know progress occurs.

(Last night I ordered a pizza and specified the “South Philly,” in honor of areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. Because it’s the least I could do, the “Brooklyn Bridge” was more expensive, and I figured I could add my own bell peppers, after all.)

Photo of pizza by Arnold Gatilao, Flickr Creative Commons license
On an active weekend recently, I took a field trip to Kruckeberg Botanic Garden. It's a 4-acre public garden in a north Seattle suburb, founded as a private garden in 1958 by
husband-and-wife botanists and horticulturists Arthur Kruckeberg and his wife Mareen. 

The place has more than 2,000 plant species, collected over 50 years.

Kruckeberg, a University of Washington botanist for decades, is known in regional horticulture circles for ground-breaking writing about Pacific Northwest and Western native plants.

His book, Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest (UW Press, 1996), is a comprehensive primer considered enviable by many regions.

The fact is, West Coast bio-climates are unique on the North American continent. They vary widely according to proximity to mountains, valleys, and the Pacific and other water -- and much of the contemporary planting research has taken place since the 1950s, including Sunset magazine’s Sunset Western Garden Book and Dr. Kruckeberg’s research.

What I mean is, these people have done important work -– so I looked forward to seeing Kruckeberg Garden. It has about 30% native plants and 70% exotics.

On a Sunday bus schedule, I took the bus to a spot five blocks east of the garden. I didn't realize that the blocks were long and terraced, descending toward Puget Sound’s Richmond Beach. The views of the Sound were pretty, but the streets were curving and sometimes steep. Luckily, no disabilities hindered my trip. (To those who go later: It's possible to transfer to a bus that travels further down the hill, then walk a level street to the garden.)

Plants seen along the way:

Pacific crabapple. I had been on the lookout for these, with their trademark oval shape. They are smaller than crabapples from some other regions – each an inch or less in length. They had rosy sides, and grew on trees in front of an elementary school. I’ve read that crabapples can vary from tree to tree; these had an unripe, bland taste. I collected a few, in case they’re better in jam mixed with berries.

Photo of (clockwise from top) spindletree (inedible), crabapple (edible), magnolia (inedible), and rose hip (edible), by Leslie Seaton, Flickr Creative Commons license. 

Red huckleberry bushes, with their light, multi-leveled grace, grew by someone’s mailbox. Unlike in most places around here, huckleberries still remained on the branches. They were next to the usual salal ground cover, which grows everywhere in the Northwest.

Photo of red huckleberries by waferboard, Flickr Creative Commons license.
An apple tree in a front yard was hung heavily with large apples. They were rosy and buoyant, indicative of the plenty that is everywhere if we let nature grow.

After winding down the hill and past many houses, I found myself outside the garden and its small, almost residential-sized parking lot.

Trees clustered gracefully at the lot’s edges. A Kousa dogwood, native to Asia, had fruit caught on slender limbs. Each was a small red sphere flecked with bumps. The flavor is mild; I’ve eaten several more since then, and their taste has grown on me. They are light-weight, white inside, and remind me of the light sponginess and look of a cerimoya.

Photo of Kousa dogwood fruit (not yet fully ripe/red), by liz west, Flickr Creative Commons license. 

Keep in mind that Kruckeberg Garden is a small public garden, not a standard-sized city arboretum. Once you're there, the trail passes MsK nursery, where native plants are sold -- then descends a slope to a spacious lower garden. This lower area is part statuary and setting for restful glades, and part labeled plants and trees. If you go, check out the online walking tour.

On the slope above the lower garden, a 100-foot-tall Giant Sequoia towers. It inspires awe, with a 20-foot trunk that fans wide like a woman’s hips at its base and becomes narrower higher on the trunk. This tree was transplanted to the garden by the Kruckebergs in 1958 as a six-foot sapling. Now it is the height of a 10-story building, and towers gloriously, with branches fanning like so many umbrella spines up its trunk.

Next time, when it isn’t raining, I’ll see more of the garden. I’ll look for the birds, since more than 40 species are found there, and because the garden is free of herbicides and uses organic fertilizers.

It's worth it for the sequoia alone.

Photo of a Giant Sequoia (taken at California's Kings Canyon NP) by upsilon andromadae, Flickr Creative Commons license.


  1. Wow, it's cool to hear that kousa dogwood fruit are a little like cerimoya!

  2. Thanks for the photos. That was a good reminder about crabapples! I've hardly thought about them but they are indeed everywhere -- and quite edible.

  3. By the way, Catherine, is there a way to subscribe to your blog via email? I'd like to, if so.

  4. Thanks, Becky! Currently I just have RSS feed on my blog, but I'll look into doing email subscriptions, too. Good idea.

    Yeah, as for crabapples, I'm interested in learning more -- such as whether there are just two types, standard and the oval-shaped, small Pacific Crabapples -- or more. And, as for the similar hawthorns (haws), I never see the thorns that I've read are on them. Maybe it's just a nub, not a thorn, in the Northwest, not sure. I always see info about various kinds of hawthorns -- black hawthorns, European (red) hawthorns. I'd like to see a comprehensive list. Have you used haws?


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