Garry Oak: Deep Roots in the Pacific Northwest{15}

Greene, E.L., Illustrations of West American oaks, t. 36, fig. 1 (1889-1890) [G. Hansen]

Greene, E.L., Illustrations of West American oaks, t. 36, fig. 1 (1889-1890) [G. Hansen]

True confession: I’m a collector of plants. I can (and do) have a greenhouse of flora, weeds, seeds, bulbs and starts, with nary an inch of space to spare, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find room for one more specimen should the opportunity arise. One summer I recall a ridiculous self-inflicted edict; I told myself I could not buy or secure any new plants until all of my other potted plants were rooted in terra firma.  Ha! That lofty aspiration lasted all but a few days.

Garry Oak seedlings

Garry Oak seedlings leaving the greenhouse in my little red wagon

Last week in the greenhouse, I did notice my taproot-cramped Garry Oak seedlings were pining (so to speak) for a forever home in the ground. These wonderfully beautiful oaks, the only native oak to Washington, have a very limited range within the state. Surprisingly, the hand of man and woman created and encouraged the tree’s unique habitat and ecosystem. Indigenous people of the region would start brush fires to clear the understory around these oak groves. The annual practice promoted the growth of an important vegetative food source: camas tubers. As the practice declined, so did the range of the groves. Firs trees would quickly encroach and begin reforestation. Bye, bye Garry Oak? Not so fast…

Greenhouse with cover crop of buckwheat

Greenhouse last spring with a cover crop of buckwheat to be tilled in before planting began.

I became more familiar with Garry Oaks on three occasions: first, my discovery of one massive tree here on Vashon Island;  secondly, on a side trip to Marrowstone Island where I found a gnarly grove sidling the road on Indian Island (near Port Townsend); and finally, when I came across some striking south Sound groves on the way to Steilacoom.

Garry Oak on Vashon Island

Magnificent Garry Oak on Vashon Island in the town of Burton

Moved by their scarcity, beauty and native status, I started collecting Garry Oak seedlings as I found them for sale; first at the Chimacum Corner Farmstand, and then, here on Vashon at the Land Trust native plant sale.  No fan of containers, the trees needed to be planted outside sooner than later. I chose the north end of my front field, flanking a handsome screen of firs.

big dipper grove

Plotting, pacing, placing and planting

For now, trust me, the arrows are pointing to some promising little transplants.  I look forward to posting photos of the trees when you can actually seem them.  As the proverb goes, “Great oaks from little acorns grow.” (Good thing I’m patient and hopefully long-lived.)

oak trees plantings

On clear nights, I can see the Big Dipper and North Star from my back porch. I thought it a fitting tribute to my favorite collection of stars to plant the oak seedlings in a similar formation. Neither perfectly spaced nor properly scaled, the grove will look just fine from eye level, plus this time, the stars will have something to gaze upon.

big Dipper

big Dipper

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