Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hurricane Ridge

As I've complained a few times already, this summer has been busy at work, with lots of overwhelming deadlines and business trips.  So I have hardly been gardening at all, let alone blogging, and I apologize if there was anyone out there who might have liked to see a post on this blog sometime in the past month.  In the midst of all this work-stuff, my husband had a business meeting in Seattle so we took a few days at the start of his trip and made a very short mini-vacation on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.

On one of those days, we went "hiking" on Hurricane Ridge.  I put hiking in quotes, because the people who were renting bear cans at the visitor center to put into their enormous packs probably would have laughed us right off the ridge.  My husband and I are both into photography and wildlife watching (and wildflower watching, as I'll share in a minute) and allow ourselves to be very easily distracted while out in nature.  We started off on a little loop trail in sub-alpine meadow next the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center that is pretty popular with families with little kids, tour groups, etc., and probably is sniffed at by real hikers.  But we spent lots of time here enjoying gorgeous wild views, wildflowers, and up-close-and-personal views of Black-tailed deer.
Here are two wildflowers found in the sub-alpine meadow.
Magenta Paintbrush, Castilleja parviflora var. olympica
False Hellebore, Veratrum viride
The Olympic Peninsula is about as far as you can get in the contiguous U.S. from Southeastern Virginia where I am most familiar with.  It's further north and at a higher elevation and I had to wear long sleeves and sweatshirts there for the first time in months.  But, surprisingly perhaps, it's in a warmer horticultural zone than where I am in Southeastern Virginia, Zone 8b for Olympic National Park compared to a recently promoted Zone 8a for home.  This is a great illustration of the fact that the horticultural zones refer to wintertime minimum temperatures and are a long way away from telling you everything you need to know about a climate for selecting plants for your gardens.  In this part of Washington, there is also a lot more moisture during the summer.  All in all, it just looks incredibly different.  In Washington I saw lots of evergreens that wouldn't survive the heat here at home very long, but in the rainiest areas I also saw trees covered with a lichen that looks quite a bit like Spanish moss, which to me seems very southern (this is something of a false comparison since the stuff in this photo is a lichen while the southeastern Spanish moss is not at all related and is actually a flowering plant).

While visiting Olympic National Park I was really struck by the large numbers of wildflowers.  I'm a big fan of native plants but many of the wildflowers of the Eastern woodlands are spring ephemerals that put on their show in the brief window of time before the tree canopy leafs out.  Roadside wildflowers are often non-native species that originated in European meadows and take advantage of the meadow-like conditions of a gap in the forest canopy and regular mowing (by Dept of Transportation workers, rather than by sheep and cattle).  But in the mountain settings I saw on vacation, there are always pockets where there are no trees, because of harsh winds, exposures on one side of the ridge versus the other, wildfire and landslides.  The wildflowers even along the roadsides were breathtaking.  
Indian paintbrush, Castilleja sp.
In particular, this "cottage garden" on a roadside slope knocked my socks off.  The variety of really showy wildflowers in this colony is better than anything I can accomplish in my garden even with lots of effort.  Just for context, here's a wider view.  The wildflowers are in clumps at the bottom of this bare slope, right next to the road.  This has to be just about the most harsh-looking garden environment there is.  Wow.