A little nature therapy

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We visited the Yashiro Japanese Garden in Olympia this week. The garden was completed in 1990 as a joint project of the Olympia-Yashiro Sister City Association and the City of Olympia. It’s one of the many parks and trails maintained by the City of Olympia. It’s just under three-quarters of an acre tucked in beside the Olympia Municipal Court on Plum Street in downtown Olympia. We’ve driven past it several times and we finally arranged a time to stop and check it out.

Even in early February, the park was quite beautiful and the hellebores were in bloom! Actually, a number of plants had buds and I felt like we were standing at the edge of early spring. The park is a small but tranquil oasis.

The park was designed by Robert Murase, a landscape architect. Born in San Francisco in 1938, Murase was a third-generation American of Japanese descent. When he was just three years old, his family was imprisoned in an internment camp during World War II. After his family’s release at the end of the war, they returned to San Francisco. Murase later earned a landscape architecture degree from UC Berkeley. Murase furthered his study at Kyoto University in Japan.  When Murase passed away in 2005 his colleague John Nesholm called him a “poet of stone and water.”

Learn more about the sister city association. This website also lists volunteer opportunities for those interested in helping to maintain the park. (I thought the origins of the modern sister city concept was interesting.)

Location: 1010 Plum Street SE
Admission is free, hours are dawn to dusk. Download a park brochure and map.

Nature = joy. Get outside!


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Today’s Weather: What a difference 5-10 degrees makes! It’s drizzly today but not cold. Makes me happy. 50°F for the morning dogwalk! 52 at about noon.


State Bird of Washington

Whenever I move to a new place, I always try to learn the local birds. One of the first birds we saw when we moved here was a bald eagle which feels to me like winning the bird watching lottery. A very large owl landed on a tree in my yard and took an uncomfortable interest in my dog. Since then, I am cautious even though my dogs weigh in at 50 lbs. or more. That owl looked like he wanted to earn his badass merit badge.

The state bird of Washington is the Willow Goldfinch also known as the American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis). The goldfinch was selected as the state bird by school children in 1951 (1). I recently bought a Nyjer thistle seed feeder and I am glad to know there is somebird that will enjoy. (I realize I should have done that the other way around. I got excited.)

I read an article that suggested feeding birds in the winter so they will help you would with pests in the spring and I thought that sounded like good advice. I love birds, my parent’s influence, I think. When I was younger they were part of the rare bird alert calling tree and would go out and look for rare birds. I thought that was pretty nerdy but now admit that I might do the same thing. Only now, we would just text the rare bird alerts. There is some controversy about bird feeders but I listen to my birder mother’s advice and feed birds in the winter. The rest of the year, I try to provide plants that offer food and protection to my bird friends. And it looks like the goldfinch population has benefitted from humans and their feeders.

Special thanks for the goldfinch photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash.

Be kind to our bird friends.


PS Please support free access to information by supporting the Wikimedia Foundation.

  1. McAuliffe, Emily (2003). Washington Facts and Symbols. Capstone Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-7368-2277-0.

Get thee to the Farmers Market!

Farmers Market

It’s Groundhog Day (Marmota monax) and you may be wondering if there are any groundhogs in Washington. From this range map it looks like we might have some in the upper northeast corner of the state but none in the Olympia area. And yes, Punxsutawney Phil saw his dreaded shadow so 6 more weeks of winter according to lore. Yay. I am going to don my “Wake me when winter is over” hoodie and grumble a little today.

Where were we? Ah, yes! The Olympia Farmers Market. If you ask anyone in Olympia about places to go here, they will mention the Farmers Market.

The Farmer’s Market is a large indoor/outdoor market that is going into its 43rd year. There are farm vendors, artisan foods, crafts and entertainment. The website has a lot of information about the vendors and you get a good idea of the breadth of offerings. It’s huge and it may take you a couple of times through to see everything. It’s a great place to walk through and you will certainly find something to delight you.

My favorite thing from the Farmers Market so far is the Kiwi Berries. I had visions of putting them on salads but I think we just ate them all right out of the container.

And if your brother wants you to pick up some apples, better get some details because the number of varieties is a tiny bit overwhelming in the fine state of Washington. 🙂

Located at 700 Capitol Way N in downtown Olympia. (360) 352-9096

Hours: Open every Saturday through March, 10 am-3 pm and then Thursday-Sunday, 10 am – 3 pm, April to October. There’s plenty of parking. Don’t forget to visit the demonstration garden on the east end of the market.

Spring is coming — it might just be taking the scenic route.


Today’s weather: more rain: surprise, surprise. But! It cleared up in the afternoon with temps over 50. Woohoo!

A special shoutout for Groundhog Day (affiliate link). Buy the movie and resolve to make a fresh start every day, even when it feels like the same thing over and over again.


Seed shopping

My Uprising Seeds catalog came in the mail yesterday. I didn’t know it was possible to be in love with a seed catalog — until now. Uprising Seeds is locally owned and operated in nearby Bellingham, Washington. One of the things that I don’t think I fully appreciated until I became dependent on open source software is the importance of open source anything, and that includes seeds. Open pollinated seeds contribute to plant diversity by encouraging seed saving and sharing. I never get tired of hearing the backstory on a seed’s origin. In the U.S. where most of us shop at grocery stores, it’s easy to believe that what’s in the grocery store is it, when in fact there is an unbelievable array of vegetables and fruits from all over the world. A lot of what is grown for the mass market is grown because it keeps well, ships easily, produces standard-sized fruit, etc. — not because it’s necessarily the best-tasting variety.

I already knew that I was missing out if I was only eating (or trying to grow) the standard American cucumber. But I didn’t know about Le Puy lentils. Then I read the entry for the Le Puy lentils in the Uprising Seed Catalog.

It is indeed true that these were not grown in Le Puy en Velay, France where they have been grown for over 2,000 years. They were grown here people, which means you too can grow them! (You cannot hear this but I am shouting with excitement!)  Sown a bit earlier in the Spring and harvested several weeks earlier than our earliest dry bean, these began as an experiment and ended as an incredibly beautiful seed crop. A seed crop we are having a hard time not eating because we grew lentils!! Low growing (to perhaps 1’) slender plants with seed pods encasing 1-2 beans. Speckled blue/green little lentils which readily soak up all matter of deliciousness you may throw at them. Rich, nutty, and eminently satisfying.”

Now I have to grow lentils! I have no idea what that entails. And threshing? Never done it–it sounds painful doesn’t it? But I am going to use my grit and give it a try.

I am also going to try watermelon this year. Again, their ode to seeded watermelon made me question why seedless watermelon is so popular. Are watermelon seeds really that much of an inconvenience? Have we lost all sense of fun? So I am going to grow seeded watermelon, spit my seeds and revel in it. You should, too.

Uprising Seeds is online but there’s nothing better than the feel of a seed catalog in your hands.

Ready, set, grow! Spring is coming!


Today’s weather: Rain, rain and more rain. When you have to change your clothes after a dog walk, that’s when you know it’s really coming down. About 44°F at 6 p.m.

The Masters

Gardening icons

Get to know your local Master Gardeners

The Thurston County Extension Service is one of the hundreds of county extension services in the United States that are provided by each state’s land-grant colleges or universities. The original land grants were established by the Morrill Act, named for US Representative Justin Smith Morrill who proposed the act. The act was proposed to make higher education available to the industrial classes and it opened the doors to college for many Americans.

The Morrill Act sought to provide a college education “without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

Additional land-grants were added via amendment in 1994. In Washington, the land-grant colleges are Washington State University and Northwest Indian College.

The Smith–Lever Act of 1914 added federal funding of cooperative extension, with the land-grant universities serving as agents in virtually every county in the United States. Today, the mission of cooperative extensions is to “advance agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities.” Cooperative extensions use a research-based approach to improve health and well being.

When it comes to being a gardener, there are many resources provided by cooperative extension offices. This is a great way to get information on proven methods for your area. As is true in many counties across the U.S., Thurston County offers a Master Gardener training program. Master Gardeners go through an intensive training program to learn about the best gardening practices for the country where they live. Once upon a time, I went through the training in another county and the main thing I learned is that you very often have to unlearn what you have learned when you move to a new place. What worked in one place may not help you in another.

After the training, Master Gardeners commit to ongoing volunteer work to train and advise the public on best practices, garden and pest troubleshooting, and they help maintain demonstration gardens.

Demonstration gardens provide great plant and layout ideas for novice and experienced gardeners alike.

In Thurston County, there are three demonstration gardens:

  1. Dirt Works Demonstration and Composting Garden in Yauger Park
    Located in West Olympia near Capital Mall.
    Open Tuesdays,  9 am- 1 pm, April–October and on select Saturdays. Check the website for details.
  2. Closed Loop Park Demonstration Garden at the Waste and Recovery Center
    Hours:  Closed Loop Park is open the same hours as the Waste and Recovery Center. Visit http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/solidwaste/garbage/garbage-hours.htm  for hours. When available, Master Gardeners staff the garden April-October, Fridays and Saturdays, 9 am to noon.
  3. Olympia Farmers Market Garden. Located on the east end of the Farmer’s Market in downtown Olympia.
    Hours: The garden is open from dawn until dusk, year-round. When available WSU Master Gardeners and/or Thurston County Master Recycler Composters staff the garden during the days and times the Market is open April-October, Thursday through Sunday 10 am – 3 pm.

WSU Extension also provides an online library on many topics including gardening. For example, see this PDF download on bumble bees in the home garden. Yay, pollinators! There’s a lot to learn at the extension site and it’s a great way to get specific gardening questions answered.

And, if you have a composting question, you can call the “Rot line”: 360-867-2163 or email [email protected]

Happy gardening, composting and learning!


Today’s weather: It was another build the ark day. Temps in the low 40s each time I looked.

Burn Baby Burn

Compost Bins

So. Much. Yard. Debris. I have seen several of my neighbors with fires and wondered: Is a permit needed to burn yard waste? The answer is yes if you live in unincorporated areas of Thurston County AND you have a permit.

Meet ORCAA. ORCAA is The Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) is a local government agency charged with regulatory and enforcement authority for air quality issues in Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston counties. You can fill out the permit online. Permits are free and are valid October 1 through July 14. A new permit must be obtained each year after Oct. 1. There’s a no-burn rule in effect July 15 through September 30.

ORCAA does encourage residents to find other ways to dispose of yard waste including the following ideas from their website:


  • Curb-side pickup service for yard waste material exists throughout most of Thurston County. Contact Thurston County Solid Waste.
  • Composting turns your yard waste into a great soil additive, at NO COST.
  • Chipping woody materials create an effective ground cover that blocks weed growth and improves drainage.
  • Dropping off yard waste at composting facilities and transfer stations is easy and cost-effective.


I am not a big fan of burning everything–I just feel like a pollution creator when I do. So, I look for alternatives when I can. I have been using curbside pickup (which actually means something a little different where I live, it means dragging my bin a quarter mile to the end of my street). But still, it is pretty convenient in the grand scheme of things. I get a pretty large bin and it’s picked up every two weeks.

This year, I am going to do more composting. I have a big yard and while the barrel helps, it’s not really enough. I already compost all of my kitchen waste and grass clippings. It’s time to add leaves, small branches and the millions of Douglas Fir pinecones to the mix.

In the recent windstorm, a couple of large branches came down so we are going to drop off a load at the Waste and Recovery Center–they also do composting in addition to recycling. One stop reduce, reuse and recycling!

When I am feeling low …

Lenten Rose

Just whisper, “Let’s go to the garden center.”

I confess, any garden center, any time of year is a pick me up. Even January in Olympia. We went to Lowe’s to pick up some clearcoat for the new Little Free Library. So, OF COURSE, I went to the garden center even though it looked abandoned from the parking lot.

I was not disappointed.

True, not much in the way of plants outside but I picked up a couple of clematis for an arbor out front. I need something that the deer might ignore. Last year’s effort barely got off the ground. 🙁 I was also pleasantly surprised by the air plant selection. They had quite a few types and different containers. Air plants are often misunderstood plants. Air plants or Tillandsias are actually a hugely varied genus from the Bromeliaceae family (yep, related to pineapples) with well over 500 species. Some are epiphytes, meaning they attach themselves to other plants. Some are aerophytes, with no roots. While air plants don’t need soil, they do need water. I soak my air plants in warmish water every 1-2 weeks and then let dry upside down. Tillandsias are not parasitic in that they don’t feed off the host plant, instead, they rely on other plants for structure and support. This opens up air plant display to all kinds of things. I purchased a 3-D metal ampersand with three air plants tucked in it plus an extra little guy for good luck.

Also in the houseplants, I picked up a very nice looking peace lily (Spathiphyllum). Peace lilies are easy plants to grow as long as you lay off the water. Seriously. Overwatering will kill these plants. They are actually drought tolerant and some people wait until they start to droop as a signal to water them. (Apparently this doesn’t have adverse effects and it’s preferable to overwatering.) As with most plants, if the soil seems damp, don’t water regardless of your watering schedule.

I also picked up a hellebore, commonly known as a Lenten rose. I recently became acquainted with this plant perusing my garden magazines because it blooms in winter. IT BLOOMS IN WINTER. It’s a pretty gray time to be a gardener so we need any pick-me-up we can get. In Olympia, that means Kale and hellebores!

Lowe’s is located at 230 Martin Way East, Olympia, WA 98516. Phone: (360) 486-0856

Hours: 6 am – 9 pm, Monday-Saturday and 8 am – 8 pm on Sunday. (It’s always a good idea to call around holidays to confirm hours.)

So, when you are feeling low, head to Lowe’s and hang out with the plants for a while. See you at the Garden Center!


Today’s weather: It was another “build the ark” day. May have seen a little blue in the sky–maybe. About 47 degrees at 5 pm.

Going native

Backyard trees.

Going native in the garden is a good idea for multiple reasons. First, native plants are better suited to your growing environment. They grow well in the soil, temperatures, and rainfall that you have. Second, some native plants out-compete invasive species. Invasive species can create a dangerous monoculture of undesirable plants that damage the ecosystem in multiple ways (erosion, outcompeting important plants, attracting pests, increasing fire risk, clogging waterways and more). Third, native plants support the ecosystem and help your part of it remain in balance with the surrounding areas. This can be especially important if you live in an area adjacent to forests or other naturalized areas. Non-native plants, even if they aren’t invasive can jump the perimeter of your property.

Sound complicated? It’s not really and there’s a great organization that helps landowners in Thurston County. The Thurston Conservation District promotes non-regulatory and voluntary stewardship, a fancy way of saying that they help people do the right thing on their property. The Thurston Conservation District has been around since 1947. A conservation district is a legal subdivision of state government that administers programs to conserve natural resources. These conservation districts exist in almost every county in the United States. Their services are free and they are committed to meeting the needs of local land-users for the conservation of soil, water and related resources.

To aid in conservations efforts, the Thurston Conservation District holds an Annual Native Plant Festival & Sale the first weekend of March each year. The 2018 sale will be Saturday, March 3  from 10 am – 3 pm. This is a great opportunity to purchase low-cost native plants for your yard.

You can also pre-order plants online until January 31 and pick them up the day of the sale.

Learn more about the Thurston Conservation District and the goals of the TCD in their strategic plan. It has some pretty interesting data if you want to learn more about Olympia and land use over time.

Top 10 Most Wanted Noxious Weeds in Thurston CountyIt’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the list of plants that are considered noxious weeds in Thurston County. If you have any of these on your property, I urge you to remove them and replant with native plants. We are doing battle with the dreaded blackberry in our yard. I think we can get the rest of it out this year.

Love your town.


Today’s weather: Drizzly and a little gloomy but warmer with temps in the mid-50s. The rain backed off long enough for me to help fill potholes on our gravel street and I was able to clearcoat the little library and its post AND I filled our green barrel with all of the little branches that came down in the wind over the last several days.

Sylvester Park: End of the Oregon Trail Marker

End of the Oregon Trail marker in Sylvester Park, Olympia

Stop by Sylvester Park in Olympia to see the End of the Oregon Trail marker, dedicated in 1913 by the Sacajawea Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. You might wonder, “How did this get here?”It’s probably an example of good old-fashioned marketing and seizing an opportunity to lend historical importance to the area. It helps that there was not a set path for the Oregon Trail. And it was the idea of Ezra Meeker who eventually made the trip by plane, train and automobile — and covered wagon. Meeker was an advocate of preserving the history of the route.

Location: Capitol Way S and Legion Way SE, Olympia, WA 98501. Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the winter and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the summer.

There are free concerts during the summer months in Sylvester Park. The concerts are held every Wednesday at 7 p.m. Check the Olympia Downtown site for details.


Today’s weather: cold and wet with high winds in the morning and a power outage most of the day in our neighborhood.

King Solomon’s Reef

Yummy potato gems

We went to King Solomon’s Reef diner with an out-of-town guest and they had something for everyone including the vegetarians who lean toward the vegan end of the spectrum. It’s a quirky place but the service was friendly and we felt right at home. (Some readers of this blog might like to point out that I am also a little quirky. Guilty as charged; I am a vernacular girl.)

I had the “Chicken-Fried” Tofu Burger. They pretty much had me at tofu. I am one of those apparently rare individuals who really like tofu and I am always up for a new take on my long-time love. My better half had the Buffalo Tempeh and our guest had the Monte Carlo. We all had pie for dessert. If you are a vegetarian, desserts can be few and far between. But King Solomon’s has vegan pie, people! More than one! Choices!

Fun fact: While we were ordering we learned that our octogenarian guest had never had tater tots, one of the sides offered with his sandwich. How do you describe a tater tot to someone who has never had one? Tasty fried nuggets of potato deliciousness?

I did a little research and learned that Tater Tots is a registered trademark of Ore-Ida. Ore-Ida’s founders created Tater Tots in 1953 as a way to use up all the extra pieces of potato. According to Wikipedia, Americans eat 70 million pounds of potato gems per year.

Please, for the love of diner food, please don’t wait until you are in your 80s to try tots. You may not like them, but they might be your new favorite side dish.

Located in downtown Olympia at 212 4th Avenue E, Olympia, WA 98501, (360) 742-3199
King Solomon’s Reef is open every day, 8am-3am; always a good idea to call ahead on holidays.


PS Check out the Olympia Downtown Associations guide to shopping and dining.

PPS I support the Wikimedia Foundation and I encourage everyone to do the same. From their site: “The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual, educational content, and to providing the full content of these wiki-based projects to the public free of charge. The Wikimedia Foundation operates some of the largest collaboratively edited reference projects in the world, including Wikipedia, a top-ten internet property.”

Today’s weather: A little colder today, highs in the 30s the couple times that I checked. Drizzly rain on all three dog walks. The Evergreen State is also the Evergloom State sometimes. Just keepin’ it real.