Category Archives: Trees

Fresh New Growth—Yum!



Today as I was admiring the fresh new growth on my Japanese Maple and saw something disturbing.   The buds were just breaking open with our warming April weather, unfurling delicious colors that were vibrant with life.  It must have been a signal to the Japanese Maple-eating pests, the dinner bell was ringing!  There were little black dots all over these new leaves. Black spots on the tips of the branches.  Upon closer inspection I noticed that they were soft and easily scraped off.  Unfortunately the leaves were so tender that it was hard not to damage them as well as I tried to remove the little black bugs.  As I looked closer at the photo and did a little research, it seems that they may by some type of black aphid.  Could it really be aphid season already?  I’m not prepared for this!  I have been winter lazy, thinking everything was hibernating still.  But spring is here!  Even though I’m still wearing sweaters and dashing through rain showers, the pests are right on schedule.  Tomorrow I’ll try and pull off more of these little black bugs and watch them for a while.  The tree is small enough that I can easily take care of them without sprays.  What do you think?  Have the aphids arrived?

The Magnolia Walk

Magnolia stellata

Star Magnolia

Star magnolias are in bloom and I’m spotting them everywhere.  Since we’ve moved into our new house in the backwoods of King County, we’ve started exploring the neighborhood.  It’s always fun to walk around a new neighborhood and check out the plants.  While my kids are staring at the dog in the driveway I can’t take my eyes off of the well-placed alpine fir.  Others might be interested in the size of the house, but I’m interested in the size of the garden….are those grow boxes? Look at that nice mulch!  I can’t believe they planted those Leyland Cypress two feet apart!!! Every walk becomes a review of sorts.  An assessment.  What kind of neighborhood am I living in?  Is it the typical Northwest rhodies and heather look?  Maybe with an occasional sword fern thrown in?  Or is it the manicured sheared hedges, lot of evergreen balls and squares?  The landscrapers have been here! Often it’s overgrown.

Once in a while there are delightful surprises.  Like the other day on a walk we passed a yard that made me pause.  There was a small metal sign placed on a Douglas Fir that proclaimed it a Certified Wildlife Habitat.  Of course I had to stop and look.  I’m always curious about trees with small metal signs.  I wonder what the tree would proclaim if it had a sign nailed to it.  Maybe ‘Dog Free Zone’ or ‘Oxygen For Sale’ or ‘Hug Me’?  Or perhaps a tree doesn’t really have to talk, it’s sufficient to just be, if you are a tree.  So I was curious about this sign and this yard that was before me.  I looked and saw a large open meadow filled with Grand Firs.  Odd, to have so many grand firs together, a typical homeowner might plant one, perhaps two.  But in this landscape there were ten, maybe fifteen grand firs.  Suddenly I remembered a regular customer from the nursery that I worked at that bought just that many grand firs.  I remember loading them into his truck.  Week after week he came back for grand firs.  As I continued to scan the yard I saw a beautiful wooden birdhouse custom built by another employee at the nursery.  I knew that this customer loved wildlife.  Then I started to recognize a whole lot of plants that this customer has bought over the past five years.  What a fun surprise to find my old friends only half a mile from my new house!  It was like a mini family reunion.  ‘Oh, I haven’t seen you for years, look how you’ve grown! Your needles are a beautiful glossy green, which vitamins are you taking, N, P or K? Yes, I’ve got a new job now and miss all our friends at the nursery!’  It brought a smile to my face to see this happy familiar garden.

Since I’m a regular walker, I like to have designated routes in the neighborhood.  This way I can plan ahead how long I am going to walk.  Maybe I have time for only the short loop, or I might want to go all-the-way-around for a long walk.  And of course I need to name these walks.  Just as I like to know the names of plants, I like to name my walks.  So the walk to the customers house with the little metal plate became the ‘grand fir walk’.  The short walk down the next street over has several beautiful star magnolias, so it’s now ‘the magnolia walk’.  A few streets over there’s a barn with the sign ‘Get R Done’ so now we have the get-r-done loop. Somehow it makes exercising more exciting, and it’s really fun to say get-r-done.  It’s time to start writing more…get-r-done!

Star Magnolia

Star Magnolia

“I Am Vertical

But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.

Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them–
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
The the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.

“I Am Vertical”, 28 March 1961”
― Sylvia PlathThe Collected Poems

Washington’s Best Kept Secret

This is what people think about Washington—It rains all the time, the skies are always gray, everything is gray, we all wear gray polar fleece and disappear into the fog, hibernating most of the winter.  Don’t let out our little secret, but this is what it’s really like in Washington in January.  There are flowers, bright and beautiful, teasing us out of winter. I just took these pictures today at the Washington Park Arboretum and I wish somehow I could capture their scents with a photograph.  It was brilliance! Sweeter than sweet. Sparkling and rich. Delightful, fresh and transforming. Unforgettable love at first scent.

Which winter flower is your favorite?

Baby Monkey

Monkey Puzzle Tree Seedling

Monkey Puzzle Tree Seedling

Now that I’m working at the Horticultural Program at Lake Washington Institute of Technology I have access to a greenhouse.  The students grow all types of crops, from vegetables to fuchsia baskets to perennials.  The season is in full swing and I’ve been learning a lot about greenhouse growing.  Everything is different inside.  Watering and controlling pests and diseases takes on a new perspective from inside a 65F greenhouse.  Some of the students have been trying to germinate the seeds of Araucaria araucana, the Monkey Puzzle tree.  It took about two months, but just a few of them have begun to sprout, and they are so cute!  Tiny little baby monkeys coming from a surprising seed.  This tree is so pokey and sharp that it was said to  be a puzzle for a monkey to climb it.  I first met this tree in Spreckels Park in central California.  It grows directly over the childrens playground and not a good tree for tender little feet.  The branches dry up and fall off onto the sand and are as sharp as a knives.  A dangerous tree in that respect.  It’s also rather pokey in the nursery and best handled with care.  The monkey puzzle tree is dioecious and has separate male and female trees with the female producing edible nut-like seeds.  Unfortunately, this tree is listed as endangered in it’s native Chile due to fire, logging and grazing.

Just the Facts
Araucaria araucana    Monkey Puzzle Tree or Chilean Pine
Height 50-80 (15-24m)
Width 20-30 (6-9m)
Zones 7-10
Full sun
Native to Chile and Argentina

Bike in Tree

Click the link below to read the fascinating story of the bicycle in the woods! This is a good bit of sleuthing by author Eric Johnson from Komo News in Seattle.  Has anyone ever seen a tree grow around an object like this?

Bike in Tree on Vashon Island, Washington

Winter Interest Plants

On a recent early morning outing to the Bellevue Botanical Gardens I enjoyed seeing the winter garden.  The plants that really stood out for me were the grasses.  Most were drying and golden brown, but the texture and shape was outstanding.  While many plants drop their leaves and disappear below the frosty substrate, the grasses are standing tall.  They are moving and sparkling in the sunlight.  It seems as if the earth is inhaling and exhaling, like the air rushing out of the a whale’s blowhole.  The earth is spouting grasses!  They haven’t melted into the earth, but rather are upright and true, greeting the distant winter sun.

Other plants were noticeable for their berries, fruit or flowers. Camellias are a sure bet for the winter, but I was surprised to see this Daphne still in bloom.  The rose hips were shiny and bright and are a great point of winter interest.  These were from a white rugosa rose.

Finally, winter would not be complete without the beautiful and graceful silhouette of a Japanese Maple.  Normally hidden from view, winter is the time to admire the searching stems and breathless branches of Acer palmatum, one of my favorite trees.

Japanese Maple

Japanese Maple