skagit garden almanac : august 2020

part instruction, part aide-memoire, part skagit lore
Skagit River, North Cascades National Park, WA photo l. fowler

august 18, 2020

“If the first week of August is warm, the winter will be white and long.”

Weather Lore Calendar, 2022 Old Farmers Almanac

Summer is in full swing – Skagit is in the 80’s and after a scorching weekend that saw triple digits, this feels positively wonderful. Sunny with a few clouds breaking the horizon and the promise of a summer shower by Thursday.

As I proceeded with my morning walk-a-bout inspecting the beds along main street and checking irrigation timers, I was absentmindedly dead-heading the flowers and removing spent annuals. The hot days of August always leave me a bit peevish – the summers blooms have faded but falls brilliance has not yet arrived…but wait…tucked in the shady areas I spied beautiful foliage, full of color and texture. These little vignettes along the boarders and tucked in around the conifers and Japanese maples create a lush backdrop for the fading summer blooms.

photo, l. fowler

august 19, 2020

“Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

Miles Kington

I know how the doctor feels when a casual conversation ends up with someone describing a health issue and asking for medical advice! Maybe not the best analogy, but once someone knows you are a horticulturist or gardener, then out pop the ‘tomato questions‘. “My tomato’s leaves are yellow…they are wilting…or my personal tomato plant died – whats wrong with it?” Most of the time I could conjure a logical prescription with a little more probing and diagnostic inquires about watering, soil, and light – but I kind of felt like a fraud. I don’t grow vegetables!

To remedy, and to save my conscience this year, I ordered some lovely heirloom seeds in spring and propagated tomato’s in the glass house. All in all, it was a moderately successful endeavor. I learned tomato’s have unique personalities and are as quirky as the folks that grow them – but, mostly through trial and error, we are enjoying the fruit of my labors today.

Atomic Grape, Tie Dye, and Stuff -it tomatoes photo – l. fowler

august 21, 2020

“Flowers are happy things.”

P.G. Wodehouse

Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse KBE, English author and one of the most widely read humorist of the 20th century must have been referring to the little plant Houttuynia cordata ‘Variegata’. After all any plant named Hootenanny must be a blast and bring more a ton of happiness. It makes me happy every spring with its tiny white bloom that resembles a strawberry plant and later as its tri-colored leaves add interest to my beds and pots.

The happy little ground cover has the reputation of being a it of a bully (invasive) in some climates, but here in the our Zone (anywhere from 5 – 8 USDA…depending on where you are standing!) it is a slow starter and I find that in a controlled bed it behaves very well. I have had success in both sun and shade beds – it is dormant in the winter and at full color in late summer.

Houttuynia cordata ‘Variegata’ photo l. fowler

august 22, 2020

“Life begins the day you start a garden.”

Chinese Proverb

We took a walk this morning. The mist was rising off the river and through the trees. It had rained last night and droplets were on the leaves like a heavy dew. I could almost smell the change in the gardens. A little fall but undertones of the humid heavy feel after a summer rain.

It has been a satisfying season for me professionally – even with the late start to projects and the maintenance plan due to Washington’s ‘Stay Home – Stay Safe’ COVID shut down , I still finished a couple of installations and changes. Some areas had to prioritized and were therefore neglected – nothing that cannot be remedied this fall or next year. Patience, however, is a gift I have yet to relieve! I intellectually know that the renovation of historic gardens and natural areas here in Newhalem will take years – I emotionally want to complete the work in that moment – or at least before I retire!

In spite of my inner battles – I treasured my time this morning. The peace, the flurry of birds and insects, and the late summer beauty of the garden after a rain. Life not only begins with the garden – it thrives with the garden, whether we have tended it or left it to continue and in spite our distractions and fickle focus, the garden continues the cycle and succession. I may not be needed in the garden but I need the garden!

Mahonia aquifolium, photo l. fowler

august 23, 2020

SALAL BERRY JAM   prep and cook time 50 minutes

10 cups of salal berries, rinsed and off the stem

4 TBLS of lemon juice

¼ cup of water

Zest of one lemon

A half cup of sugar add more if you want it sweeter

½ pack of liquid pectin

Lids for the jars, sterilized

4 half pint jars, sterilized with hot water, lids, and a big pot or canner to put the jelly jars into for a water bath


  1. First off sterilized your jelly jars by washing them in the dishwasher on the HOT water cycle or microwaving them full of water till they boil. Keep the jars warm while you make your jelly. I sterilized the lids by dropping them into a pot of boiling water that is off the heat. I leave them there until I am ready for them; then remove them from the hot water with a pair of tongs to place on the hot jars with jelly in them.
  2. Simmer the berries, lemon juice and water in a nice fat saucepot on medium heat. When the berries are getting broken down and the juice is very purple, about 10-15 minutes, mash the mix with a potato masher until it is all a fine mess. At this point you’ll want to strain it. You can do that by pressing it through a fine mesh or processing in a food mill. (You can skip this step if you want but the skins are kinda tough)
  3. Return the salal berry mash to the saucepot and add the sugar, pectin, lemon zest and rosemary and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and pour into your hot sterilized jars, put your hot lids on with the rings and put in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the water bath, let cool for about 10 minutes, remove the jelly jars onto a heat proof surface, and let set over night. Don’t touch them or jiggle them so they can seal. In the morning, tap the lids and you will be able to hear a tight sound if they are sealed. If not, open it up and eat it now! Keep in the fridge after opening.

Growing under the great Western Red Cedars and Douglas Fir along Trail of Cedars is one of my “go to” native plants – Salal , (Gaultheria shallon) I find it beautiful with its dark green leathery leaves and tiny urn shaped flowers (Ericaceae family), and this time it sports dark nutrient rich berries. The Native Americans living in the NW have used the salal as a source of food, in their medicines, and it is part of the lore. I always wonder why it has never been cultivated commercially and we tend to think of it as greenery for floral arrangements instead of a plentiful food source. Above is a recipe that I found for salal preserves – I think I may give it a try this season. I have been forewarned that the berry can discolor your hands and teeth for a day or so but it is on my ‘bucket list’ of things to try! Dear reader…if you have any thoughts or experiences with salal…please share!

Gaultheria shallon photo l. fowler

august 24, 2020

“Information is like compost; it does no good unless you spread it around.”

Eliot Coleman

Oh the magic of mulch! Nothing says healthy garden more then several inches of rich organic compost and nothing makes me feel like a good gardener more then tucking my beds in for a fruitful fall and long winter with mulch.

I watched a funny movie once “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where glass cleaner is praised as a cure all for everything from sore elbows to pimples – and this love continued in the sequel elevating the cleaner to have “Magical Powers”! So I suppose if a movie of my life were to be made “Mulch” would be the cure for everything that ailed your garden and it would probably be elevated to have ‘Magical Powers”, but sincerely it would be unlikely that this could come to pass – so my dear readers, you must settle for plants in power.

To be exact….Compost is full of nutrients that feed the soil and for the most part, mulch is a layer of organic materials placed on top of the soil as a protective cover. However, I do mulch with leaves, and arbor chips which in time break down and nourish the soil – so I tend to interchange the terms. For the purpose of this missive – I am technically using compost.

The magic takes place when it is applied twice yearly to build my soils, protect my plants from winter by insulating them, help retain moisture in summer and suppress weed germination in every season. In conservation areas it is used for erosion control also.

photo Ohio State University

august 25, 2020

“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” 

Thomas Jefferson

My employer invests a lot of time for training and investigating the “culture” of our work environment. We just recently discussed the results of a Decision Wise – culture poll taken last fall. It is on the news…culture of violence…culture of race relations…our culture…their culture…

I think we could all benefit from the ‘culture of the earth’. In other words…lets get back to the basics of life. If you Google Culture of Earth you get pages of information on Earth Culture, most with content that is political, social, or historical in nature. I find this arrogant, as humans, every subject is framed in our experience and revolves around man. The culture I am referring to today is earth…soil…the beginning of life and the source of sustaining life. Getting back to earth. The garden.

In the garden we can transcend Man’s Cultures and find delight as Jefferson alluded to. Perhaps we can also find peace and a sense of belonging – for all are welcome in the Culture of Earth!

North Cascades National Park photo l. fowler

august 26, 2020

“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”

John Muir

Since ancient times tree’s have represented spiritual substance, transformation and liberation, union and fertility. They have long inspired interest, discussion, poetry and books. They give us hope, insight, and teach perseverance in harsh conditions. They also provide the practical benefits of survival like clean air, filtered water, shade and food.

Today as I look up through the forest and I am reminded of John Muir – Between every two pines is a doorway….. perhaps a doorway for the imagination to travel, a place to find peace, or simply an escape from the daily reality. For me, today, it is a doorway of inspiration to fill this day with what could be – or even what has been – and I wonder how many have walked this path and stood in this grove looking up and imagining a new world

august 27, 2020

“Sometimes we have to soak ourselves in the tears and fears of the past to water our future gardens.”

Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun

Aging – I always thought it would be a graceful transition into knowledge and contentment – it is proving a bit more complicated then the’long’ thoughts of youth.

I have never been overly burdened with fear, regret, and grief from stemming from a lack of motivation, inspiration, the memory of unkindness, or failure to achieve my goals in the years past – I think that my youth came and went in a state of living – and for that I have no regrets.

Today, as I examine the fears and tears of the past, it is less of a personal reflection and more of a reflection on humanity. My metaphoric garden of life will honor what has gone before. I will endeavor to learn from the moments, real life, and real stories to achieve a healthier garden for today and a sustainable garden for the future.

august 28, 2020

“A garden is like the self. It has so many layers and winding paths, real or imagined, that it can never be known, completely, even by the most intimate of friends.”

Anne Raver, contemporary American garden writer

Recently I was rebuked. “It’s complicated” the person told me and although the context of that conversation is not important anymore, the abiding feeling left me contemplative. So stepping into the gardens today, my thoughts are on the congruent lines of self and the garden. Layers and winding paths – weaving intricate relationships between pollinator and plant, water and soil, life and the end to the season – and as in nature, it is with the self. Relationships with family and friends, our physical and emotional wellness, social and political ideology – what we feel, what we speak, what we do – it is always in motion and perhaps it is complicated.

I cannot expect to know myself or those in my life completely. For as it is in the garden it is with ourselves. Layer upon layer of idiosyncrasy and the mystery is what keeps the relationship alive; to discover the intimate details that form lasting relationships both in our lives and with nature.

Follow the winding paths, real and imagined. The layers are what makes it worth the journey!

august 29, 2020

“All flowers are flirtatious – particularly if the carry hyphenated names. the more hyphens in the name, the flirtier the flower. The one-hyphen flowers – black-eyed Susan; lady-smockmusk-rose – may give you only a shy glance and then drop their eyes; the two-hyphen flowers – for-get-me notflower-de-luce – keep glancing. Flowers with three or more hyphens flirt all over the garden and continue even when they are cut and arranged in vases. John-go-to-bed-at-noon does not go there just to sleep.”

 Willard R. Epsy American editor, philologist, writer, poet, and local historian
Gorge Inn, Newhalem, WA

august 30, 2020

“You want to be the tallest tree in the forest and let all the trees see you easily; but remember that lightnings will easily see you as well!”

Mehmet Murat ildan,Turkish writer

I’m thinking today that it is better to be unseen and although having ones work recognized is satisfying and can even be inspiring…. that attention usually leads to requests and demands that exceed the capacity to maintain and expectations that are unrealistic – usually from those who do not get their ‘boots dirty’.

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