How Brave Are You?

Everyone knows about Stinging Nettles right? Seemingly all bad experiences - stinging hands and/or legs. But did you know that one could make a nice soup using the leaves? Here's a recipe from the Island County WSU Master Gardeners. 

Stingi-Needle Soup

1/2 lb. Nettle Leaves

5 cups chicken stocks

2 cups cooked brown rice

1/2 tsp soy sauce

Using gloves, rinse the leaves and wad the nettle leaves into a tight mass. Slice mass into 1/2 inch widths and put into boiling water for 1 minute. Remove from heat and rinse in cold water. Set aside. In a large saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add cooked rice and soy sauce. Reduce heat. When stock stops boiling, add nettles. Simmer 1 minute and remove from heat. Makes 6 - 8 servings.

Good luck!


A New Entry Garden Takes Shape

Magnolia soulangean

Magnolia soulangean

The early months of the year came with mixed blessings. As gardeners, we welcome the cold snap that kills off overwintering pest and diseases but it also halted the project that has been the major focus of our work over the past two months: the redesign of what was previously the Hybrid Test Garden. 

The program of 'testing' new hybrid rhododendrons will no longer be formally observed in the garden and this section of the garden will now be known as the Entry Garden and will be devoted to display of our favorite rhododendrons and companion plants. Specifically, the work that was halted by frozen ground is the completion of Phase One improvements that include a new walkway, assembly area and new planting. 

Overall, the work has resulted in quite a disturbance and as the ground becomes workable again, we are moving ahead to make way for coming season of flowering by "capping off" the Phase One improvements with grading and planting scheduled for completion by early March. 

Phase Two will begin in August with the addition of two more walkways. The completion of these two phases will result in greater accessibility for visitors to the gardens. 

We will be adding more trees to this section of the garden to add to the ones already established here - Gingko biloba, Sorbus aria 'Lutescens', Magnolia soulangeana, Enkianthus campanulata and Crypomeria japonica. 

The  Entry Garden trees will contribute to the overall framework of the new design. We favor the idea of broadening the season of interest beyond rhodendrons to include some fall color. Forest Prince serviceberry, Amelanchier × grandiflora 'Forest Prince' and Franklinia Altamaha , Franklin tree would make a good start. At ground level we are looking forward to adding companion plants both woody and herbaceous to provide ground cover and added color. 

Come Visit the Early Bloomers

R. arboreum roseum

R. arboreum roseum

While the daffodils and crocus are just emerging from the soil, the early rhodie bloomers are stealing the show with blooms of pink, purple, and ruffled whites in the display gardens. 

In the Nursery visitors will find a sweetly freckled cross - R. irroratum  (var. "spatter paint") X 'Peter Faulk'. This was hybridized by Allen Johnson, a well-known and successful Washington hybridizer. Allen Johnson hybridized well into his nineties and is known as one of the first to try the species R. pseudochrysantum as a parent to impart low, spreading stature and outstanding foliage to his hybrids. (Journal Am. Rhododendron Society, Spring 1997, Vol. 1, Number 2).

Along the Easy Walking Path the R. ririei is in full bloom with beautiful light purple blossoms. This is a tall tree and can be seen from the driveway just before the Nursery. This plant is from the Szechwan region in China (Mt. Omei). Ann Meerkerk loved this species of rhody and is the only one in the gardens.

Just past the Entry Garden, in among the tall rhodies, make sure to look for two majestic rhodies. The deep red blossom of the R. elliottii and large pink blossoms of the R. arboreum roseum are sure to delight. Both were probably planted by Ann & Max Meerkerk. 

In the Entry Garden, a small R. moupinense has just about finished it's bloom. It's a beautiful white ruffled blossom with pink freckles. According to Greer's Guidebook, this rhodie has an added bonus of bright bronzy-red new growth, which gives a second display after the flowers are gone.

If visitors turn right after exiting the Gatehouse, they'll find 'Christmas Cheer'. This is always a favorite in the Nursery. Susie says, "Customers can be added to the wait list for this beauty." This rhodie has tough, medium size leaves which densely dress the well-shaped plant. (Greer's Guidebook)

Early spring is full of surprises at Meerkerk. It's a great time to discover for yourself the early bloomers of Meerkerk

What's in a Name?

The Douglas Fir is Washington's best known tree. It is the nation's number one lumber tree. Surprisingly, it is not Washington's state tree. Oregon got there first and claimed it as their state tree. Washington's state tree is the Western Hemlock. 

Maybe that's not so bad when you consider that the Douglas Fir is not a fir at all. It's botanical name is Pseudotsuga menziesii or - false hemlock. The specific name honors Archibald Menzies, the English botanist who visited Puget Sound in the 1790's.

How Many Bath Tubs?

And the Rain will Fall.....

And the Rain will Fall.....

Every winter Meerkerk experiences a tremendous amount of surface water drainage. This year we have been proactive in installing additional swales, improving culverts, and upgrading french drains to help move the water through the gardens to protect plants and facility structures. 

 We thought it would be interesting to calculate the total amount of water and convert the total drainage to bathtubs to help visualize the millions of gallons of surface water that Meerkerk has to manage each year. 

Thanks to Meerkerk’s Special Projects Manager Barton Cole for providing the calculations for this demonstration.

So here it goes.....

 Assume 20 acres of watershed.

Assume 24" of annual rainfall

thus, 40 acre-feet of water falls to the ground

(One acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land, about the size of a football field, one foot deep.).

That equals 13,000,000 gallons of rainfall - WOW!

Assume 80% evaporates/transpires/infiltrates.

Therefore 20% of annual rainfall becomes surface water for Meerkerk to manage.

13,000,000 x.2 = 2,600,000 gallons of surface water - WOW Again!

So how many bathtubs is that?

Average Bathtub holds 40 gallons of water and is 5 feet long.

2,600,000 divided by 40 = 65,000 bath tubs.


Here's the Visual:

Place the bathtubs end to end = 61.55 miles (Whidbey Island  is 51 miles long).

For those who are familiar with the Alderwood Mall: If it takes 7 bathtubs to fit into one parking lot space at the Seattle Alderwood Mall then 65,000 bathtubs would fill 9,285 parking spaces. The Alderwood Mall only has 6,300 spaces.


When is Peak Bloom?

Visitors want to know when the optimum time is to come and visit the Gardens. We always struggle with this question because we think the Gardens are special all year round. Peak Bloom is a cascade of color and texture instead of a single event. The rhodies open at different times during the warm spring weather and the blossoms of the trees add extra color and weight to the experience. 

If you can, Meerkerk is a garden that invites repeated visits. Even people that have been coming for years will comment that they have been delighted for the first time by a splash of unexpected color never seen before.

When is Peak Bloom? Hmmmm..... when is a woman at her most beautiful? If you know the answer to that-- then you will know the exact day to come to Meerkerk. Otherwise, come and behold beauty in all its stages.