Pacific Northwest Feed

A Bird Built a Nest Inside Our Friend's Bathroom Window

Birdsill

This is my friend Kathy's window. And that is a bird nesting right there. Yes, it's a real bird, not a sculpture.

It started with the nest, which went up the last week of May, when the weather was nice enough for Kathy to crank open the louvered window. It's a lovely nest with a classic cup shape. Kathy lives in Seattle, Washington, which is still rainy and emerald this time of year. The nest was fashioned with a layer of twig in the center cushioned by an impressive gathering of  juicy green fronds around the outside.

Nest

When the pics first popped up on Instagram, I recognized the window from hanging out at Kathy's place in Seattle, Washington (excuse me while I feel a pang of longing for friends, flora, and fauna back in the Pacific Northwest!) This is her main floor bathroom window; I once spent a good amount of time clutching the commode underneath this window when I'd had one-too-many of the tasty Moscow mules Kathy will serve you in a copper mug when you're lucky enough to be a guest in her home. Not my proudest moment, mind you, and those mules are not to blame, but I spent enough time in Kathy's bathroom to recognize it in a photo.

The nest was special enough already, but then one day Kathy noticed an egg.

Oneegg

The next day, another egg appeared, and so on, for a total of five days. They're gorgeous, speckled eggs, blue and brown and white. 

5eggs

Kathy thinks this little uninvited but nonetheless welcome guest fits into the category known as "little brown birds," or LLBs for short. She might be a sparrow - or else a house finch, to get more specific (if you can ID her, please post in the comments below!). The bird comes and goes with no problems. "I haven't heard too much chirping," Kathy says. "She seems to be pretty content to just sit on her eggs."

This is the first time Kathy's ever had a nest in her window. She usually opens it wide, but due to the unseasonably warm weather for Seattle, she had it cracked a bit this time, which seems to have encouraged the mama bird to nest there.

Kathy rigged up a wifi camera to her phone so she could watch the Big Hatching Event even if it happens while she's away visiting friends and family in California.

Incubating

She's shared stills on Instagram and Facebook, and her friends and followers, including me, are obsessed. The Big Hatching Event will likely happen in about two weeks, and then the chicks will mature in the nest for another two weeks. 

Suffice to say, she's kept the window open.

All photos, credit: Kathy Samuelson. 

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Dragon Flower Farm: A Natural, Native Privacy Screen

Junipers

I apologize for leaving you hanging - on the fence, so to speak, over the winter, when I mentioned we had another solution in the works to screen the view of the apartment building that looks down into our little 1/4-acre. But here it is: trees.

From the get-go, even before we made the decision to replace the zigzaggy chainlink fence, we knew we wanted to screen the apartments with a row of tall, skinny evergreens. We had a bit of a dilemma, though, as the usual recommendations for an evergreen privacy screen just weren't suitable. Arborvitae is often used - too often, as it turns out, and the plant is suffering opportunistic disease as a result. We considered for a moment the lovely 'bracken's brown' magnolia, with its velvety undercoat of brown fuzz on the leaves and distinctive cream blossoms, and we nearly got talked into it by folks at our local garden center. However, we really wanted to stick to our guns on the native plant mission, and neither magnolia nor arborvitae is native to Missouri.

Eastern red cedar close

A good native evergreen is eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), but unfortunately, it grows too tall and wide to work as a screen in our narrow strip. However, remember when I told you about the St. Louis Audubon Society's Bring Conservation Home program? Through that program, the Audubon Society gave our yard an assessment, and sharing our green screen wishes with them, they came up with a great solution: Juniperus virginiana 'Taylor.' That's the tree you see here.

The Missouri Botanical Garden designated 'Taylor' as a "Plant of Merit," and its history I'll quote directly from their plant finder listing:

‘Taylor’ is an upright narrow columnar eastern red cedar that typically grows to 15-20' tall but to only 3-4' feet wide. Silvery blue-green foliage is attractive throughout the growing season. Foliage may take on some bronze tones in winter. 'Taylor' was reportedly discovered in Taylor, Nebraska as a chance seedling and was released in 1992 to the nursery trade by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. Release information does not list a sex for this cultivar but it is believed to be male. 

I love that this "chance seedling" from the native eastern red cedar is the perfect narrowness and height to soften the fence line and help screen the view from the neighbors' balconies without overwhelming the yard. Here they are going in.

Trees in truck

Trees from above

I realize the Taylors might look dinky tiny from above like this, but late this spring three of them had already crested well over the top of the fence, and the others are right behind. In a few years' time they should provide a better sense of privacy as well as soften all the hardscape we've got with the tall apartment building and its parking strip of residents' cars.

They're already providing important habitat, shade, and food for birds and insects, and that was our goal number one.

I've always loved the look of juniper berries. What really sold my husband, Anthony, on the Taylors is the fact that juniper berries are not only good for the birds, but they're useful to humans as well. We've seen red cedar fronds laden with berries used to smoke salmon in the Pacific Northwest, and the berries have numerous culinary uses - from the obvious gin flavoring to the more obscure addition to fruitcake. 

Juniper berries

This is important to us because we want to accomplish two things with the Dragon Flower Farm project:

  1. rescue our 1/4-acre from exotic invasives and resource-intensive grass lawn and reframe it as an oasis for native pollinators and
  2. blend that mission with our need to become much more self-sufficient with homegrown food and other products.

There's an aesthetic benefit here as well. The trees smell good, feel good, look good.

And guess what? We managed to squeeze in a couple of true eastern red cedars as well, finds from a native plant sale in our neighborhood last fall. They're like miniature trees right now, they're so tiny, but eventually, they will grow to 65 feet!

Eastern red cedars

Note we planted all of these red cedars in the fall. It seems a lot of people don't know you can plant that time of year, but it's actually better to put in trees and shrubs in autumn because they can go dormant and rest all winter, and then by spring, they're already established and rarin' to go. 

While the row of juniper 'Taylors' were a great start on that native, natural privacy screen, our plan was to fill in around the house for even more privacy, not to mention the attractive aspect of shade. Our yard has exactly no tree shade at the moment, and this ain't the Pacific Northwest, people! It gets HOT.

So, nearer to the house, we added two more plants last fall: a persimmon and a serviceberry.

The persimmon is a special kind of fruit. I'm not talking about the Asian ones you get at the grocery store, but these yummy Midwestern natives. We pretty much gorged ourselves on persimmons from our neighborhood farmer's market last summer and knew we had to plant a persimmon tree at Dragon Flower Farm. The trick is that the trees are pretty dang tall, growing to 60 feet tall and as much as 35 feet wide. Plus, you need two, a male and a female, to ensure pollination and fruiting.

To the rescue: a grafted variety from Stark Bros. When we planted it last fall, it looked like a stick in the ground.

Persimmon stick

Seriously, I had to keep telling the fence guys when they came to install the other side that this was a tree and not to maul it. 

The serviceberry we picked up at the same neighborhood native plant sale where we got the two true eastern red cedars. We planted it where we'd be able to look out the kitchen window and see its snowy white shower of blooms in the spring. It has the added benefit of filling in the space to further screen the view of the apartment building, AND the berries are edible for both humans and critters! It had been around a bit longer than the persimmon graft, so it went in already with some leaves, looking more like a tree.

Serviceberry

Of course, it lost all its leaves come fall, but this spring, the serviceberry was the first to awaken, and it seemed triumphant!

Serviceberry buds

That's one of the other cool reasons to plant in fall - so you can watch this little gift to yourself and the world unwrap itself in spring. 

We were worried about the persimmon, though, as at first it didn't seem to understand it was springtime. But then it budded out as well, slowly and with more determination, it seemed, which is befitting for a tree that will take its time but eventually stretch up past 60 feet.

Persimmon buds

It will be a couple years, at least, before we get to reap the fruits of these labors, but in the meantime, the birds and bugs already seem pleased. 

And as for the green screen, we've got a succession of canopy layers that will do the job better than anything else. The serviceberry will fill in faster than the fence line trees, and it will give shade before the persimmon does. Where the juniper Taylors stop, the persimmon will eventually fill in, growing taller than the serviceberry and likely filling in to provide a remarkable tower of greenery, offering itself as a host for pollinators of many kinds, and providing valuable shade as well as a bounty of tasty fruit for us and all. 

We ask a lot of trees, and they give it.

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Inspiration Garden: My Father's... Grandmother's Garden...?


Inspiration Garden: My Father’s… Grandmother’s Garden…?

IMG_0147
Three generations in the garden. From left to right, myself, Zander (my son) and Don (my father).

Note: This is the first in a series on gardens that have inspired us. First up is Anthony Valterra (the other half here at Dragon Flower Farm, in case you didn't know), giving a lovely snapshot of a garden I've admired ever since we met, as it's in the fam. - Lisa

I don’t have any clear memory of a time when my father wasn’t gardening. Even when we were renting small houses on the outskirts of Walla Walla, Washington, we at least had a vegetable patch. Every year I remember watching my dad buy and plant seeds. Of course, our family also canned fruit, made salsa, and had a root cellar. My father was the son of dairy farmers and my mother the daughter of very poor immigrants. It makes sense that they would continue to see the dangers of the world being mitigated by a small garden and some canned foods on a shelf under the house.

But as time passed, both my mother and father moved from gardens that were purely practical to ones that were a combination of practical and decorative. My parent’s divorced, and although my mother continued gardening, for her it became a hobby. But my father, after he retired from teaching, went pro. He now runs Thompson Landscaping in Walla Walla. And he helps his current wife (my stepmother) Cyndi Thompson with her business, My Grandmother’s Garden. The two businesses are located on their property in Walla Walla, and where one begins and the other ends is probably not terribly clear to someone arriving for the first time. The small cabin that is My Grandmother’s Garden moves seamlessly into the landscape and greenhouses that is Thompson Landscapes. Dear old dad has even had a bit of national recognition with a pictorial of his and Cyndi’s home in Sunset Magazine (about 1989). We're hard-pressed to find a copy, but here's a shot my wife recently took of the entrance to My Grandmother's Garden to make up for it.

IMG_0303
'Seamless' is not hyperbolic. 

After I had gone off to college, Dad’s interest in and skill at gardening and garden art kept developing. His skill with layout and plants was always good, but it quickly become noted enough for him to be contracted to landscape local wineries, the local community college, and private homes (often of the people who owned the wineries – lots of money there). But one of the more ironic twists in my father’s gardening journey was his discovery that dried grapevines make a terrific artistic medium. My father taught junior high and coached. All his life he has been an avid sports fan – both professional and college. Being a teacher, and a sports fan - he would sometimes remark on the academic potential of college athletes who seemed (at least in interviews) to not be terribly bright. My dad’s go-to comment was that they were taking “basket weaving” classes.

IMG_0290
Lisa tells me these are not grapes. Shows what I know.

As I said, my father grew up poor, and so he has the attitude of, "Well, why should I buy that? I can make it myself?" One of the first businesses he and Cyndi tackled was flowers for weddings. And one of the common elements of those arrangements is a "flower basket." They grew the flowers, but where to get the baskets? Dad convinced himself (and his clients) that he could weave them out of dried grapevines. And he succeeded. Thus my father found that weaving baskets was not something to be taken lightly, and also (when filled with flowers for a wedding) could be very lucrative.

IMG_0149
A friendly visitor.... wild grasses... and a Honeysuckle Trumpet (not all Dad's plants are natives)

Now in his late 70’s, my father has slowed down. The garden around his home is still immaculate. It is filled with gorgeous flowers, grasses, and trees. He does have some edible plants, but they are mostly planted for their appearance - such as an exquisite dwarf lemon tree - rather than to be eaten. His garden attracts all manner of pollinators and even the occasional wild animal (moose, fox, deer, rabbits have all been seen wandering onto the property). He still has large greenhouses where he grows plants both to sell and for landscaping. But nowadays he spends most of his time designing, and he lets younger hands lift the heavy trees and do the planting.

But if you ever get out to Walla Walla (and trust me, the only reason you would wind up in Walla Walla is if that was your destination) – it is worth a short trip down 3rd street to see My Grandmother’s Garden and Thompson Landscapes.

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Over the Wing and Into Your Heart

Overthewing_stl
Leaving St. Louis in the rain.

I love a good over-the-wing shot, and this one in particular makes me proud. I snapped it just before we taxied away from the terminal here in St. Louis this summer.

Shots like this capture the drama of travel, the wistfulness of leaving one place, and in this next photo, the excitement of arriving somewhere else, where mountains suddenly appear on the horizon.

Overthewing_mountains
Heading westward, toward Washington state.

I thought "over the wing" shots were more of a thing, but a Google search reveals that "over the wing" means birds more than airplane wings. And I'm OK with that.

The reason wing shots work, at least for me, is because they provide a context for the aerial view. They orient the gaze to the perspective of the airplane passenger, nestled safely in her cabin, able to lean in and enjoy a view only brought to her by the miracle of flight, something called "lift." (We don't even know why lift works, but it does, reliably.) 

Years of studying visual narrative tells me these shots are also rich in story progression, giving us the beginning of the travel tale, the start of the journey. There's forward movement in the shot, too; even with a static image, we can feel the hum of the engines, the rush through clouds and air... All this begs the question, What happens next?

We can look at wing shots in terms of camera technique as well. The perspective in my St. Louis terminal shot above works, with both the ground striping and the wing taking your eye to the terminal, aglow in the early morning storm. The out-of-focus drops cast a watery mood. I had to work really hard with my little iPhone camera (new, still getting used to the updates) to get it not to focus on those window drops.

Overthewing_mo
Art from the sky.

In my Google search, I did find one blogger addressing "How to take a photograph out of a plane window," so apparently wing shots are kind of a thing, even if SEO isn't recognizing the phrase. Without thinking about it too much, I followed Darren Rowse's point #5, "look for points of interest." In the above shot, taken during liftoff over Missouri, the meandering rivers are the stars. 

Sometimes, you see something you don't entirely understand--and won't forget. This, over Salt Lake City.

Overthewing_saltlake
What's happening here, exactly?

If you know something about these colorful, divided lakes, tell me in the comments below.

 


Cool Announcement Coming Soon... For Now, Lessons from the Garden

Table w coreopsis

 It's hot today, with the thermometer already at 94 degrees and steadily climbing. So I'm inside, working on a cool announcement I'll be making this week, hopefully. In the meantime, here are some pics of my garden. 

I keep moving my household to different homes, so I haven't been able to get to the point of a well-established garden yet, but the upside is that I've experimented a lot. It's fun and creative in a different way than writing. I love playing with the color and texture of leaves and flowers, growing my own food, and the challenges and victories of a totally organic garden. I've rescued many a rose and turned lackluster yards into whimsical retreats. I always leave a place better than it was when I found it.

Rose swirl

Like many of you, I'm sure, I often feel emotionally shredded by dismal environmental news, like bee colony collapse. I'm very sad to have witnessed the reduction in the numbers of butterflies in my lifetime. So much of that feels outside my control, but the garden is all mine. I plant the flowers the bees and butterflies like, and my own hands are the only weedkillers. 

Chive flowers w bee

The garden is great therapy, too. I know I feel restored when I can putter around out there planting, relocating, deadheading, trimming, and the like. But did you know there's scientific evidence that gardens really do reduce depression? There's a microbe in the soil that could actually improve your coping ability, according to this study. Mice exposed to the microbe were much less likely to give up trying to find an exit route when submerged in water (sucky thing to do to mice, though). So working in a garden might actually make you better able to escape the next time you feel in danger or trapped, or at least find a solution to your next big problem!

Other studies show that the microbiome of your garden can be good for your gut. And since we seem to be finding out more and more how important gut health is for general wellbeing, it's safe to say a little dirt can do you good.

As soon as it cools off, I'm going to pick some arugula for dinner. (I love that pungent green, which works well in both stir-fries and salads.) Happy Sunday!

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