I just spent a couple of weeks in Western Washington. While most of my time was filled with giggling granddaughters, a good friend and I managed to sneak away to visit a tiny gem of a botanic garden, one I’d never heard of in spite of our frequent visits to the area. Located in a quiet neighborhood in Federal Way, just north of Tacoma, PowellsWood is well worth a stop. (It’s also conveniently close to one of my favorite Indian restaurants, East India Grill. But I digress… )
I’m thankful that I can call Colorado home, as there’s no place I’d rather live, but my second choice would definitely be Washington. I don’t mind clouds and rain, and all that water, plus a relatively benign climate, results in gardens that can only be described as stunning. PowellsWood is no exception.
While some species are easy to identify, many birds present challenges. Look-alike species such as scaups (below), sandpipers, gulls, and the notoriously difficult Empidonax flycatchers, are enough to keep birders working to improve their skills for years to come.
But as if that wasn’t hard enough, just as we begin to feel confident, fall arrives. Birds are migrating, males become drab and the world is flooded with a new crop of immature birds. It makes me feel like a beginner birder, all over again!
Last month I wrote about Scotch Thistles, a noxious weed in Colorado and in many other states. Then there are Bull Thistles, Musk Thistles, Plumeless Thistles, and Canada Thistles, also on the Colorado noxious weed list. This begs the question, are all thistles invasive, nasty plants, or are there some good guys among them?
When we think of adding warm shades to our garden—yellow and orange, gold, lime and chartreuse—we immediately start listing flowers. But it’s time to think beyond the blooms and consider the leaves. Foliage comes in a variety of warm tones, and the color lasts all season—or longer. We don’t need to wait for fall; many of these plants make spectacular focal points in the landscape all summer long.
Birds are sometimes amazing at disguising themselves, but we birders can rise to the challenge and spot them anyway. Just for fun, I think it’s time for a little quiz. No, not an ID quiz—this one is simply “Can you find the bird?”
We’re nearing the end of August, and both the garden and the gardener are… tired. This has been a long, hot, summer, and the entire state of Colorado is in a drought. The unending parade of 90+ degree days, unusual for our elevation, has left the plants bedraggled, the flowers faded, the leaves with crispy brown edges.
The large pots of color on our deck are the worst. The violas that looked so pretty in June are now covered with powdery mildew. In spite of what the seed packets promised, the cosmos and zinnias grew too tall, towering over the petunias, and the snapdragons stayed too short. My chard leaves are tunneled with leaf miners, and it’s nearly impossible to keep them sufficiently watered. (Memo to self—do not plant chard ‘Bright Lights’ in a container with more xeric annuals, no matter how colorful the stems or how many seedlings are left over after planting the veggie beds!)
I frequently take walks through our newly-built neighborhood. While my primary motivation is exercise, I also enjoy checking out the landscaping choices made by the new homeowners. The plants are still small, but it’s easy to imagine what the yards will eventually look like. Some clearly have potential, with trees framing a select palette of shrubs, grasses, and perennials. Others are mostly rocks, with the minimum number of widely-spaced shrubs—mostly junipers and shrubby cinquefoil—added to appease the HOA. Social distancing is great for staying healthy, but please don’t make your plants stand on their own. Even a gorgeous star needs a supporting cast.
We’re gearing up for a long-awaited road trip to Washington state. I can’t wait to see the grandkids (and their parents) and, since we’re driving, of course I can’t pass up the opportunity to bird somewhere that isn’t home.
We had wanted to go this past spring, but we all know how that turned out. I don’t often get the opportunity to bird the coasts, so I was eager to finally see shorebirds heading north in their easy-to-ID breeding plumage. Now, all those birds have morphed into migrants heading the other way in drab white and tan. Still, we’ve included several days at wildlife refuges known for vast numbers of migrating sandpipers, and in the meantime, I’m brushing up on my sandpiper ID skills.