All Shades of Green—-A Plant Perspective




Look at this beautiful plant.  Look at the green leathery leaves. Look at the soft fuzzy new growth.  Look at the fine bristly hairs, look at the petite urn-shaped flowers.  Look at those drooping little bells of white and pink. Look at this contrast of tender and tough.  Look at the smooth curve of the leaf and straight line of the stem.  Know this plant, one of the most common plants in the Pacific Northwest.  In the understory of our native forests.  Along roadways and sidewalks and very likely in your backyard if you live here.  Salal, or Gaultheria shallon, is a favorite of mine.  I noticed it today on Mother’s Day when my son gave me a lovely vase of flowers.  ‘Which one do you like best?’ he asked.  I immediately touched the Salal, in the center of the vase, and said ‘this one.’  Past the daisies and lilies I saw the Salal.  It’s used widely in the floral industry, but most people don’t even notice it.  It’s all over the West coast of Washington and some people don’t even know it’s name.  Perhaps they have never been properly introduced to this member of the Ericaceae, or heather,  family.  Well, it’s in full bloom now and bursting with energy as it sends out new shoots and leaves and flowers.  I saw this one last week at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, a magical place.  I like it best in the Spring when the new leaves are smooth, light green and perfect.  With age they become tough and can show signs of pests and disease.  In late summer the dark blue berries replace the flowers and are eaten by wildlife and humans.  Some day I want to make Salal jam.  Next time you take a walk through a NW forest, appreciate the Salal, often overlooked, but making our part of Washington evergreen.

Just the Facts
Gaultheria shallon    Salal
Height Variable with conditions 2′ to 10′ tall
Creeping to erect, spreads by layering, suckering and sprouting
Hairy branched stems
Leaves alternate, evergreen and leathery, finely toothed
Flowers white to pinkish, urn-shaped, 5-15 at branch ends
Fruits reddish blue to dark purple, edible
Favorite quote from Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Pojar and Mackinnon “You can make a tiny drinking cup by shaping a salal leaf into a cone.”


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I wouldn’t have noticed this tree unless I saw the sign right in front of it.  Most signs aren’t very interesting but when they’re in front of plants I stop and read them.  This one stated that when in flower, Azara smells like milk chocolate. What?! A chocolate plant? Yum….I immediately stepped into the under story of this suddenly fascinating plant and was surrounded by the warm delightful smell of chocolate.  It was 7:30 in the morning on a brisk March day and I was experiencing the unexpected. What a surprise to catch the scent of chocolate coming from a plant instead of from the kitchen.  What a strange and sweet species.  Azara is named after an eighteenth century Spanish patron of botany, JN Azara.  It comprises a genus of 10 species of evergreen shrubs and trees from South America. The azara tree usually grows on the edge of woodlands and near lakesides.  The leaves are simple, alternate  and glossy and the fragrant flowers are small and petalless with showy stamens. Azara microphylla is one of the hardiest species for our region and was introduced from Argentina to Europe in 1861.  It’s a favorite to those with limited space, only growing 3-12′ tall.  It’s described as having ‘vanilla’ scented yellow spring flowers.  Vanilla or chocolate?  Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle of our imagination.  Either way, it’s a great addition to the scented garden.



A Day in Seattle

Acer palmatumIt’s not fair that this Japanese Maple in Seattle is slowly unfurling it’s soft colorful leaves while my Japanese Maples in my new hometown of Duvall, a mere 25 miles East, are still holding their buds winter-tight.  I recently moved to Duvall and now I’m having gardeners remorse.  Too far from the water! Too many deer! Not enough sun!!! Somehow I’ll have to make the best of it.  I’m looking forward to watching how the sun hits the property and considering my options for garden beds.  ‘Let’s not be hasty’ I keep telling myself, I want to get this right. Before I start planting and digging I need time to plan.  So while my plants are in a holding pattern here in Duvall, I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful garden at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle today. Here is a little plant happiness:

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Swainson’s Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

It was summertime, deep into July.  I heard this haunting melody and was captivated.  I wondered if we had a visitor from another world.  With some help from a good friend I discovered it was the Swainson’s Thrush, a visitor in our woods for only a few months.  The call is heard in the early morning and late evening, just when the sun in making it’s entrance and exit to the day.  This bird is rarely seen, but the the song is not soon forgotten.  It has an upward, spiraling melody that is haunting and beautiful.  It’s a happy reflection on a cold and dark winter day.  To learn more, visit All About Birds, from Cornell as we wait for the days filled with light and the Swainson’s Thrush to return again.



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