A Cascade Adventure with Heronswood
One of the most important steps in continuing to grow and thrive as a botanical garden is providing a stimulating and intellectually challenging workplace. Heronswood is growing in new and exciting ways and this isn’t possible without staff growth as well. This past week I was privileged to travel with my staff to the Wenatchee Mountains of central Washington to observe the composition, function and inter-relationships that exist in our wild mountain habitats. The Traveler’s Garden will be composed of 1/3 native Washington and PNW habitats, with a large portion representative of the Cascades. The exhibit will be designed, planted and managed by staff and we need an intimate knowledge of the special places we will be creating. You can read all about the component species, the ecological conditions, and still never be able to translate the habitat onto the ground in a garden if you don’t experience it and understand how it “feels.”
Our intrepid group departed Heronswood for the early ferry to Edmonds and a day filled with beauty, adventure and lots of plants. Bernie Folz, Matt Jevnikar, Debby Purser and myself quickly found our way to the cool woodlands along the Wenatchee River. The first stop was to familiarize ourselves with the structure of woodlands, rather than forests. You might think the two words are interchangeable, but in ecological terms they mean something quite different. A forest has a closed canopy of overlapping layers and is heavily shaded in most sections. A woodland is more open with wider-spaced trees without overlapping canopies. The woodland understory is often bathed in more light and in these mountains, filled with interesting wildflowers. Our first stop revealed a fine, red-stemmed form of our common Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum racemosum), lots of Heart-leaved Arnica (Arnica cordifolia) and some very interesting ferns growing on the boulders including two that are found in the Rock Garden at Heronswood: Cliff Sword Fern (Polystichum imbricans) and American Parsley Fern (Cryptogramma acrostichoides). The opportunity to observe these ferns in the wild makes us much better at providing them with the proper care at home.
Climbing into the hills north of Leavenworth we entered one of the planet’s most spectacular woodlands. The higher elevations brought us seemingly endless fields of Sagittate Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and Northern Mule’s Ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis). Scattered here and there among this carpet of yellow we found the extremely odd (Trillium petiolatum) and our only native peony, Brown’s Peony (Paeonia brownii). On exposed road cuts the tiny pink flowers of Snow Douglasia (Douglasia nivalis) were in full flower. You need a close inspection to realize that these adorable little plants are relatives of our garden primrose. Perhaps the biggest thrill was seeing Tweedy’s Lewisia (Lewisiopsis tweedyi) with its massive flowers (for a lewisia) in every shade from pink to orange.
The last stop of the day was perhaps the most meaningful – Camaslands/Camassia Meadows Natural Area, on the way to Bluet Pass. The meadow was at near peak bloom with many thousands of the namesake Quamash Lily (Camassia quamash) and an equal number of Bare-stemmed Biscuit-root (Lomatium nudicaule). The view was stunning but more meaningful to me was the wisdom shared by Bernie about the plants and the connection to so many generations of management by people who depended on the plants here. Just before heading home we spotted multiple clumps of Striped Coralroot (Corallorhiza striata) and Fairy Slippers (Calypso bulbosa) – two stunning native orchids. I was able to share the fact that the Fairy Slippers produce an intoxicating and strong odor of perfume just as the flowers mature. It took several tries but we found one with the odor befitting the mythological Calypso – intoxicating!
I believe the day was well-spent, in fact, one of the most important days I’ve shared with this talented and dedicated staff. We understand, as a unit, what our target experience is for the visitor when bringing these habitats into the garden and we shared our stories and our wisdom and our love for all things green. We all look forward to sharing the plants and the experiences of our native woodlands with you as our Traveler’s Garden takes shape. I encourage you to share your support of this project with us by helping us achieve this goal through your continued membership and donations to the projects that are keeping Heronswood on the cutting edge of horticulture. Thank you for all you do, without your support our continued growth would not be possible.
– Dr. Patrick McMillan, Director