Adventures with native plants
Updated: Jan 16, 2021
After a busy month full of friends, family, and rapidly changing plans, our last bit of spring planting has been a (very busy!) breath of fresh air. been digging a lot of holes and as I work my way through the mottled brown rocks the unique character of this place is present. I feel connected to the history of our farm.
The rocks were deposited here when the Cordilleran ice sheet receded, leaving behind glacial till; compact, hard, full of irregular stones. When I hold one in my hand or watch the pigs dig up rock after rock as they root in the dirt, I am aware of how we’re connected to the things that have happened here in the past.
This chance to think about that connection brings my awareness to how we are going to be a part of this story. This place looks pretty different from how it must have looked only fifty years ago. Somewhere near the turn of the century, this land was clear-cut, removing the majority of the trees and other plants that once lived on it.
Animals that lived here for thousands of years would have left, then, including the insects and microorganisms in the soil. Invasive species like scotch broom took advantage of the disruption to establish themselves. The people who lived here before us moved some of the glacial rocks I’m digging up now to line dirt roads, winding down to the barn around what were once horse paddocks, and now are homes for our ducks and pigs.
When we first came to this farm, it was late spring, nearly summer; there were daisies – everywhere. The whole place was covered in flowers, including flowering scotch broom and Himalayan blackberries. We were immediately in love. And the way that we wanted to love it was by supporting the health and well-being of this this patch of the Pacific Northwest through-and-through. We knew right away we needed to be intentional in making space to give the things that want to live here what they need to thrive: plants that want to grow here, insects, birds, right down through the soil.
That’s been keeping us busy – figuring out how to love this land in a way that sustains and honors it. That isn’t a clear path. We’ve started by planting some native species.
Native plants are not easy to find commercially. They are less likely to produce familiar foods and they’re not usually prized as ornamentals in gardens. Luckily, we have access to the Thurston Conservation District.
The Thurston Conservation District office is tucked away in the back of an industrial area, behind a parking lot filled with eighteen-wheelers. Inside it’s overflowing with potted plants and posters promising help with managing salmon-friendly farming and habitat restoration projects. On the bulletin board there are advertisements for organic vegetables, equipment rentals, local animals. Just walking through the doors, we’re welcomed into a community dedicated to loving this land.
Their annual native plant sale provided the native species we’ve been planting - kinnikinnick, black hawthorn, Garry oak, red flowering currant, mock orange, salmonberries, thimbleberries, and Nootka rose. Each of these plants has a complex relationship with the insects and animals indigenous to this area. Planting them will bring our farm a little bit more harmony with the world around it.
At the end of the day it feels good to look at the things we’ve put in the earth and know we’re stewarding and supporting life in the Puget Sound region. So, that’s the first part of our plan – and also what we’ve been doing these past few weeks. Digging rocks, planting things, and loving this place, just as it is.