Winter Wrap-Up: Certainly NOT Boring…

March 29th, 2013 by UWBG Horticulturist

According to Cliff Mass, UW meteorologist, our past winter of 2012-2013 was the most “boring” on record. There were no major weather events such as wind storms, artic blasts, snowfalls in the lowlands or major flooding. This was indeed good news for the UWBG horticulture staff. Instead of spending the winter cleaning up after storms and worrying about how many plants would be affected from cold hardiness issues, we were able to focus on scheduled and planned work projects for a seasonal change of pace.  Here’s a rundown of several of these projects we were able to accomplish during this most boring winter.

Reclaimed View of Azalea Way from Lookout

Reclaimed View of Azalea Way from Lookout

An adjunct to the current Pacific Connections Garden – New Zealand construction work was taking on the long overdue renovation of the Lookout rockery and reclaiming the lost vistas from the Lookout viewpoints. Arguably the most interesting rock work in the arboretum, the rockery was essentially lost under overgrown plant collections. The crew certainly wasn’t bored with the thought of what new and exciting discoveries lay under the next pruning cut. When the Lookout gazebo reopens to the public, visitors will be able to see the pond and Azalea Way from inside the newly restored structure and experience the original 1941 design intent. In other words, the Lookout is once again a lookout. Also, check out the new  Rhododendron species planted along the Lookout trail in honor of Ben and Margaret Hall’s 80th birthdays. They are major supporters and donors of UW Botanic Gardens.

Raoulia australis close-up

Raoulia australis close-up

McVay Courtyard  Raoulia australis grndcvr

McVay Courtyard
Raoulia australis grndcvr

The McVay Courtyard renovation is mostly completed now thanks to Riz and Annie and contains many new additions. The original designer, Iain Robertson,  specified renewing the 3 distinct plant groups: Bulbs, Groundcovers and Shrubs. The existing grove of Acer palmatum ‘Aconitifolium’ which were carefully worked around and a few Osmanthus are all that remain of the original tree and shrub palette  Iain’s new design incorporates elements of interesting plant architecture, habits and striking bark. Hence his use of several types of Arctostaphylus, the unusual divaricating shrub, Corokia, Rhododendron moupinense, Rh schlippenbachii, and several tidy groundcovers that mimic inanimate forms, such as Raoulia and  Bolax. For the bulk of color, Iain chose a wide-range of spring and summer flowering bulbs.  Though the garden looks a bit austere at the moment, as any newly planted landscape does, we’re looking forward to a quick and healthy establishment and growth period this spring and summer. For those that miss the striking habit of the Nolinia, no need to panic, they were successfully transplanted  to the adjacent cistern slope and new stairs  to the south.
Washington Park Arboretum is once again a UW-Restoration Ecology Network capstone site. The student group known as the “A-Team” has designed a weir system in the north “wet” zone of the holly collection. They will be continuing construction and planting this spring. Ryan and company decided it’s better to flow with nature rather than fight it. This new feature will, over time, become a healthy wetland area and will immediately reduce both UWBG and City Parks maintenance input, i.e., mowing and weed control.

"A-Team" installing weirs

“A-Team” installing weirs

The Winter Garden was in showcase form as it should be during the winter. Roy has been busy procuring new plants primarily for the new drainage area in the SE quadrant of the garden. We’re looking forward to having an updated brochure and map next winter. There’s still time to catch some of the late winter, early spring flowering plants such as Corylopsis and Magnolia.
Gardeners, Rhett and Preston, took on the tatty northeastern most corner of Rhododendron Glen. Pruning out several years worth of Rhododendron rootstock growth and removing deadwood in the grove, removal of several poor or dead specimens, and lots of sheet mulching! Wow, I’ve never seen it so good and I’ve been around these parts a long time.

Chris and Darrin spent several days up at the double parking lot along the Broadmoor fence tackling deferred storm damage cleanup and improving view corridors. I would expect ne’erdowells will think twice about using this area for their dirty deeds for quite some time.

Adding soil to Chilean Gateway via conveyor belt system along LWBlvd

Adding soil to Chilean Gateway via conveyor belt system along LWBlvd

The Lake Washington Blvd curbside area along the Chilean Gateway is vastly improved as a result of over 120 yards of new soil  brought in to create “fingers” at the toe of the slope. This new design will hopefully deter pedestrians from walking through the Gateway and stepping on our plants. Also, with improved drainage, we now can grow Elymus magellanicus without drowning its roots. There are also several new Chilean taxa planted throughout the Gateway that over time as they get bigger will create that Wow! sensation, either up close or from a distance. They include: Gunnera magellanica, Ourisia coccinea, Mitraria coccinea to name a few.

Will spring be as boring too? The UWBG horticulture staff certainly hopes so.

Cuba is for the birds!

March 29th, 2013 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director
Cuban tody, Todus multicolor. Photo by Jerryoldenettel.

Cuban tody, Todus multicolor. Photo by Jerryoldenettel.
Despite appearances the Cuban Tody is not related to hummingbirds.

I like to study plants for many reasons, but one of the primary ones is that plants sit very politely waiting for me to come along and find them. And they continue to sit until I am through examining and enjoying them. Birds, on the other hand, must be hunted down and no sooner to you find them, then they fly away without any consideration for my desire to admire them. I enjoy bird-watching, but find it to be very frustrating.

Our 2012 trip to Cuba did nothing to change my opinion. Oh sure, we saw the Cuban Emerald hummingbird, but despite valiant tries, we were unsuccessful at finding the Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world. One of our group saw the Cuban Parrot, but the rest of us were unsuccessful.

So, while birdwatching was one of our planned activities and I dutifully took my binoculars, I had low expectations. Wow! Was I wrong! We pretty much saw every bird on our list. And I have a new favorite bird, one who totally stole my heart, the Cuban Tody.  That is one adorable bird!

Our bird-watching was supposed to start in Soroa, where we had again engaged a wonderful naturalist named Alberto to lead a walk. Unfortunately, Alberto called in unavailable that morning, and our terrific trip guide, Yuli, made some frantic phone calls and soon we headed to Las Terrazas for a very nice 4.5K hike with a guide named Miquel. That is where I saw my new avian love, the tody (could it not have been given a more suitably adorable name?). It sat over the trail on a branch and sang for us. We also saw the CubanTrogon which is the national bird of Cuba because its colors mimic the colors of the Cuban flag. It is also one good-looking bird. We also saw the Yellow-headed warbler and the Red-legged warbler on this walk.


Bee Hummingbird, Mellisuga helenae. Photo by jonycunha.
The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world.

This walk was not only exciting for me – I think it may have converted Yuli to a nature girl. Before we left Havana she said she was a city girl and did not like the countryside (she specifically mentioned frogs as undesirable denizens of the countryside). But on this walk, she borrowed Miquel’s binoculars and soon was knowledgeably tossing out names of the birds we saw a second time. I teased her later that when she finishes guiding she was going to become an ornithologist.

But our next hike, on the Zapata Peninsula, was truly amazing. When our bus pulled up, our hike guide Orlando, met us and asked if we would like to see the Bee Hummingbird. Seriously? And there they were, swarming around palm flowers. If he could deliver those 60 seconds after we were off the bus, we were in for a great walk! And we were. Later he took us to a stump with a couple of holes, positioned us, and motioned for us to be quiet. He went over the stump and scratched it with his fingernails and out popped a male Screech Owl! After that, he confidently said we would later see the Cuban Pygmy Owl, the smallest owl in the world. I thought to myself that there is no way he could be sure of that and he really should not promise it, but…sure enough, later on he pointed to a branch and there was the owl! I could not see a tether on his leg, so I assume that Orlando had just lived there so long and was such an avid birder, he knew where each individual bird hung out.

Cuban screech owl, Glaucidium siju. Photo by lgooch.

Cuban screech owl, Gymnoglaux lawrencii. Photo by lgooch.
The Cuban Screech Owl is found only in Cuba and nest in abandoned woodpecker holes.

Cuban pygmy owl, Glaucidium siju. Photo by copepodo.
The Cuban Pygmy Owl is the smallest of the world’s 200 owl species.

Another fun bird that we saw here, as well as at our hotel in Soroa, was the Great Lizard Cuckoo. These birds are quite large, with very long tail feathers. The way they move around a tree looks exactly like a squirrel. They were great fun to watch.

As for the rest of the birds we saw in Zapata…all the birds we saw in Las Terrazas (Todys!) but also the Magnolia Warbler in on its winter vacation, the Black-throated Blue Warbler, West Indies Woodpecker, Northern Flickers (looking much like the ones in my garden in Seattle), Zenaida Dove, and so many other species that I don’t have room to write them all.  We did NOT see the Cuban Crow, despite much looking. I guess there is a reason to go back…

I may not shift to studying birds instead of plants, but I thoroughly enjoyed my foray into bird-watching in Cuba. I think I understand now why people work so hard to find those little winged jewels in the trees. And they have so amazing endemic species, found only in Cuba, that it was a real treat to be able to see them.

As we approach one month from our return, I am still pondering what I have learned in my two trips to Cuban. I will try to share my thoughts in the coming week.

Harbinger of Spring in Seattle – Early flowering cherries on Azalea Way!

March 25th, 2013 by UWBG Horticulturist

bird enjoying cherry flowersMost visitors experiencing the beauty of our historic Azalea Way flowering cherries from now through May probably have no idea of how intensive maintaining their health and prolonging their longevity truly is for the UW Botanic Gardens horticulture staff.   Just ask our Integrated Pest manager, Ryan Garrison. Ryan with staff support spends many a day throughout the year monitoring and controlling the numerous diseases and insect pests our 175 plus cherries are prone to suffer from. Our rainy climate doesn’t help one bit either, especially when dealing with our most notable disease during blossom time;  a fungus known as Cherry Blossom Brown Rot. Yucko!  The good news is any new cherries we plant need to show a reasonable level of resistance. The not so good news is many of our older earlier bloomers, the ones extremely susceptible to the brown rot fungus,  need to be protected with fungicide applications during their bloom period.  As with all of our pest issues, we start with cultural and mechanical control efforts before resorting to chemical controls. The following Integrated Pest management (IPM) program discusses our best management practices for the control of blossom brown rot.  If you are interested in planting cherries for your home garden, I’ve included a list of cherries recommended for our PNW climate, all have good to excellent resistance to blossom brown rot.

Cherry Blossom Brown Rot – causal fungal agent known as Monolinia fructicola. The fungus overwinters on infected twigs and dried fruit on the tree or ground.  The fungal spores are spread in the spring by wind and rain through the blossoms, causing twig dieback.  As part of the UWBG IPM program, moving toward our goal of eliminating the use of all synthetic pesticides is our ultimate goal.

IPM relies on many strategies to manage plant health care. 

  • Proper ID of the pest and its life cycle
  • Regular monitoring of the plants
  • The use of physical, mechanical, cultural, and biological controls
  • Chemical controls used as a last resort*
  • Least toxic chemicals used

* All spray applications are in compliance with WSDA pesticide regulations.  Sign postings are located at all entrances and Graham Visitor Center. Spray applications are scheduled based on timing and weather. We do our best to apply when public are not present. For more information, please contact, David Zuckerman at 206-543-8008 or

The cherries are pruned in early fall  to remove infected twigs and improve air circulation.  Tree rings are given a fresh coat of mulch in the fall to bury any infected plant material that may be on the ground.  In our Cherry Replacement program we are only using cultivars that are resistant to Blossom Brown Rot.

Cherries recommended for the PNW:

    • Prunus ‘Berry Cascade Snow’
    • Prunus ‘Kwanzan’ syn. ‘Sekiyama’
    • Prunus ‘Pink Flair®’
    • Prunus ‘Royal Burgundy’
    • Prunus ‘Shirofugen’
    • Prunus ‘Shirotae’
    • Prunus ‘Snow Goose’
    • Prunus subhirtella var. ascendens
    • Prunus x yedoensis ‘Shidare Yoshino’

The Red Maples are flowering

March 24th, 2013 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

acer rubrum flowerThe Red or Swamp Maple, Acer rubrum, is always noticed for its intense flame color in the fall, but I love these trees best right now – when they are covered in flowers prior to foliation.

From a distance the light gray bark of the tree sets off the pink & maroon flowers creating a stunning effect – it’s as if the tree is full of red fuzz.  In order to see these gorgeous tiny flowers, you need to find a tree with low hanging branches and get up close; they are only about an 1-1 1/2″ long.

The Acer rubrum is native to North America, East of the Mississippi from the Southern US to Canada.  The tree is monoecious and carries both male and female flowers, but bears them on separate branches.   The flowers with a darker red color are identified as the females. It is a very popular street tree in Seattle, so keep your eyes open while traveling around the city right now, you can’t miss them.


March Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum
(Part II)

March 24th, 2013 by Pat Chinn-Sloan

Selected cuttings from the Pacific Connections Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum (March 18 - 31, 2013)

Pacific Connections Garden

1)  Corokia x virgata    ‘Sunsplash’

  • An odd shrub from New Zealand with variegated foliage and wiry, twisty branches.
  • This carefree evergreen tolerates some dry and looks great in containers.
  • Specimens can be found in the New Zealand Entry Garden.

2)  Grevillea victoriae

  • Fine-textured foliage, long thin flower clusters and drought tolerance make these evergreen shrubs very popular.
  • Also known as Royal Grevillea, it is endemic to parts of Victoria in Australia.
  • Several varieties of Grevillea can be found in the Australian Entry Garden.

3)  Gaultheria mucronata   ‘Rubra’ 

  • A hardy evergreen shrub with pinkish-white bell-shaped flowers followed by beautiful red berries late summer through winter.
  • Often referred to as “female prickly heath”, it needs a male plant to ensure fruiting.
  • Beautiful masses of G. mucronata can be found in the Chilean Gateway Garden.

4)  Phyllostachys dulcis

  • Sweet shoot bamboo is considered one of the best edible bamboos.
  • Large drooping leaves, thick culms and a white ring at the node make this a very beautiful bamboo.
  • A lovely drift graces the Chinese Entry Garden.

5)  Ribes sanguineum cv.

  • Flowering current is native to western coastal North America.
  • It and its varieties and cultivars are valued for their brightly-colored spring flowers and bird and habitat support.
  • Enjoy the incredible display of Ribes currently blooming in the Cascadian Entry Garden.

Fiddleheads Forest School: A Nature Preschool at the UW Botanic Gardens

March 22nd, 2013 by Sarah Heller, Community Programs Coordinator & Fiddleheads Forest School Director

In September, the UW Botanic Gardens will open an outdoor, nature-based preschool. The Fiddlehead Forest School is a play-based, exploratory and outdoor program that creates opportunities for children to develop meaningful and caring relationships with one another and the natural world.


Fiddleheads Forest School: A Nature Preschool at the UW Botanic Gardens

Take a mSH_fiddleheadphotooment to envision a three year old. This person is probably full of energy and exuding curiosity. Their hands are on everything, tuning into the world with their senses. Their excitement, energy and curiosity are contagious. This small human is developing on a massive scale. They are creating neural connections faster than at any other point in their development. They are learning about the world, and their curiosity knows no bounds. They are also learning about themselves and how to interact with other humans.

Now envision a preschool with those energetic, curious three-year-olds at the UWBG Washington Park Arboretum. Those small, curious hands look for bugs in the leaf litter of our forested areas. Their eyes and ears are fine-tuned by looking and listening for birds in our wetlands, their noses by smelling flowers in our Winter Garden, their taste buds by tasting ripe huckleberries in the Woodland Garden and their imaginations by laying in the grass along Azalea Way looking for cloud shapes.SSHChildleaves

The Fiddleheads Forest School believes in supporting the growth of the whole child through attention to their social and emotional development, self-regulation and physical development.

This is a 10-month preschool with two class options, M/W/F or Tu/Th from 9am-12pm. See the information packet and application on our website.

Earth Day at the Arboretum

March 21st, 2013 by Sarah Heller, Community Programs Coordinator & Fiddleheads Forest School Director

Join Wilderness Awareness School on April 20th from 10am-1pm at the Washington Park Arboretum for a free, fun-filled afternoon of nature connection activities to celebrate Earth Day. Bring yourself, your buddies and the whole family for nature games that will expand your senses and enrich a deeper connection to the earth.


Cuba, Una Vez Más

March 21st, 2013 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

The student musicians at the KORIMACAO Project sang several wonderful songs for us. The singer in red on the left was excellent and would be an easy winner for Cuban Idol, if that existed.

[Note: Because last year I blogged about the various legs of our trip and activities, and this year had many of the same events, I am taking a wider view. However, Joan Wells, one of our 2013 trip members, is blogging about her experience. You might want to follow along for Joan’s vibrant descriptions]

At the end of February, another band of intrepid adventurers joined me for my return trip to Cuba. Since my last reflections on the previous trip, I have continued to read about Cuba and 2012 previous travelers have had two reunions and traded numerous emails and articles about this fascinating and confusing country. I was very curious to see what my reactions would be for this trip.

What was the same? We went to many of the same places and heard from many of the same people. Even when there were different people, the impressions were often the same. For instance, I was again impressed with the musical abilities of so many people. Again, we almost always had live music in restaurants and it was common on the streets. Last year we saw a rehearsal by a very talented group of young people at the KORIMACAO Project in Zapata. We did enjoy them again this year, but we also saw a powerful performance in Havana of the Opera de la Calle. This mix of professional and amateur artists has a great musical show that starts out telling the story of Cuba in Spanish, and then somewhat surreally breaks into “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen (in English), as shown in this video from a previous performance. Following that song, they moved into a beautiful rendition of “Imagine” by John Lennon. This is always a powerful song, but tears came to my eyes when the Cuban singer looked out into the small, almost entirely American audience and sang:

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace”


After a fun but soggy hike through the clinging mud of Mil Cumbres, our group attempts to scrap about 50 collective pounds of mud off of our boots.

Indeed. Imagine what these young people’s lives could be. Should be. I never understood that song more than in that minute. Imagine what the last two generations of Cubans could have become and done if U.S. and Cuban politics had not hijacked their options.


The beauty of the country is also unchanged. Havana has marvelous colonial architecture in states between ruins to restoration. The countryside is still gorgeous, even though we had some very Seattle-ish rainy weather while we were in the countryside. Everyone’s spirits were up and no one complained, though hiking in red Mil Cumbres mud resulted in impressive accumulations of mud on our boots, leading us to drag our feet like we were wearing 10 lb. ankle weights. I had particularly been looking forward to seeing ethereal Viñales again and sharing it with the group. It was still beautiful, but our desire to explore the town and surrounding areas was…dampened.


Beautiful Viñales in the sunshine, 2012



Beautiful Viñales in the rainy mist, 2013

What was different? It is a little hard to say, but it seemed like Cubans felt more comfortable with us. I did not sense the anxiety about tips from our group. Yes, they wanted and needed them, but it seemed like they were less concerned that they might not get them. They seemed more giving in talking about the political situation there. Perhaps less concerned about the consequences of being frank with us?

One notable discussion was arranged by our travel partner organization, the Fund for Reconciliation and Development. Our speaker was a retired former diplomat for the Cuban government, with friends obviously in high places. We had a very open discussion about the rights and wrongs of both the Cuban and American governments over the past 50 years and beyond. Last year we danced around the subject of the Cuban Five and Alan Gross, but here we laid out the arguments. I felt emboldened to raise the issue about the lack of free press and access of almost everyone to the Internet (there are no Internet cafes and even at our very nice Havana hotel, the Internet was not available most of the time we were there, and out of the price range for ordinary Cubans). He quickly agreed with me that Cuba will not advance without either and surprised us by saying that since he is retired, he also no longer has access to the Internet! Imagine that – we have smart phones that allow us to access the Internet anywhere, but in Cuba even retired government officials have limited access to it. That we were even having this conversation, however, made me hopeful for their future.

There are still lessons we can learn from them, however. The visit to the Alamar Organoponic Gardens and the National Institute for Research on Tropical Agriculture [note that I am not linking you to the actual institutional websites because they do not have them] was again inspirational. Their practical attitude about food security and food sovereignty may have been born of necessity from The Special Period but it is taking them in a direction we could learn from. And at Las Terrazas, we heard from the Director of the field station that they have 30 years of data about the phenology (timing of plant flowering, leaf growth, etc.) that gives them a good record for tracking climate change. Not many places here have that.

On this trip we also had a wonderful time bird-watching. Bee hummingbird? Cuban tody? Pygmy owl? Sí!  More about that next…

What’s Going on Around the Burnt Tree?

March 12th, 2013 by UWBG Communication Staff

By Andrew Fraser

Preparing the area to be planted with native grasses and flowers near Shoveler's Pond

Preparing the area to be planted with native grasses and flowers near Shoveler’s Pond

If you have walked around Shoveler’s Pond in the Union Bay Natural Area (Montlake Fill) this month you have seen the area undergoing a flurry of activity from plowing to bulldozers moving dirt. This is all part of the ESRM 473 restoration project. Each winter quarter, students in the class design and implement a restoration project in the Union Bay Natural Area. Previous year projects have included mound construction and prairie plant installation around Shoveler’s Pond, trimming the willows and clearing up the area around the large central pond, wetland construction and prairie conversion of the E5 parking lot.


Planting native grasses near Shoveler’s Pond.

This year is the first of a multi-year process of converting the non-native grassland of UBNA into that of the local South Puget Sound Prairies and Gary Oak Savannas. Students have selected, propagated and purchased a large quantity of plants and seeds of  native flora and have begun installing them this week. The goal of these projects is to help our native flora to get a leg up over the large number of non-native plants in the area and provide an easy view location of some of the beautiful local native grasses and wildflowers. Within the next two years, this year’s project site will change from an open gravel and sand patch to a prairie landscape covered with native grasses such as Idaho Fescue, Blue Wildrye, and Tufted Hairgrass with wildflowers such as Common Camas, White Fawn lily, Chocolate lilies, Prairie lupine, Scarlet Paint Brush, and Broad-leafed Shooting Start blooming in the area from Early Spring to Early Summer.

Please forgive our mess and come see the next stage of UBNA’s transformation from the Montlake Dump to a premier Seattle natural area.

Building the New Zealand Forest, Pacific Connections Update

March 11th, 2013 by UWBG Horticulturist

The 2.5 acre New Zealand  forest construction project is scheduled to be completed by the end of June.  W.S. Contractors LLC  is currently finishing up infrastructure details, including the future bus turnaround and toilet area located across Arboretum Drive from the NZ  forest in the future Australia exhibit. Irrigation system installation will begin later this month through May. Planting will begin in June. There will be approximately 10,000 total plants representing over 90 taxa for the 9 plant communities that will be represented.  Garden dedications have been tentatively set for September 13 and 14.

In tandem with the 2.5 acre NZ focal forest project, the Lake Washington Blvd street lighting upgrade through WPA is completed. The Olmsted inspired lamps installed with modern LED bulbs is a huge aesthetic and vehicular safety improvement.   Also, the lower section of the Chilean Gateway re-do will be wrapping up with new plantings in the coming weeks. Our goal for the lower Chilean Gateway is to make it uninviting for pedestrians to walk curbside and trample our plants. We accomplished this by creating raised “fingers” and small berms close to the curb by adding over 120 yards of soil amendment. The well-draining soil-mix will also provide much better growing conditions for the Chilean blue wheatgrass, Elymus megellanicus, than before.