Final Internship Report
Lauren Collier December 1, 2001

Organic Garden Native Plants Project

Reflections

I enjoyed working on my preferred internship, an investigation of native plants for the organic garden. Botany is my field of interest, so my research was exciting and very helpful for familiarizing myself with plant families and species in the Northwest. For the education of the community, particularly those interested members of the organic garden, I have compiled an informative and practical presentation about native plants, plus a suitable proposal for a native plant bed. The presentation includes the bed proposal, pictures of the plants, plant identification information, and additional information on their historical and current uses. The task seemed daunting at first, but the more information that I found, the more I wanted to uncover and share with the gardeners.

The best part of the project was presenting the information to the gardeners at the end. They are so enthusiastic to learn about useful indigenous plants that it makes my time seem very well used and my effort very beneficial. Other enjoyable parts of my work were attending the Native Plant Society meetings and spending time with local plant expert Jim Swayne, because I was able to see and learn about some native plants first-hand from other people with a common and sincere interest in botany. Throughout the project, I maintained contact with my supervisor, Julia Gilden, who was prompt and thorough in her responses to my questions about the garden and my objectives. The most helpful resources have been people, particularly the contacts listed in the “Key Contacts” section.


Goals and Objectives

Initial goals and objectives:

-Define “native plant”
-Investigate what plants are native to the region including their

-uses
-history
-compatibility with the organic garden

-Report to the garden club on Native Plant Society Meetings
-Create a proposal for a native plant bed including

-compatible plants
-uses
-where to buy them
-how to care for them

-Create a cumulative educational presentation (e.g. sign, plant collection,
pamphlet, etc.) to remain on location for the public
-Label existing native plants in the garden
-Orally present research, proposal, and presentation to the organic garden club

Later revisions:

-Focus on research and proposal for the native bed; delete the objectives dealing
with existing native plants.

Logistics

I began my investigation at the Walla Walla Native Plant Society on September 12, making contact with the president, Diane Ackerman, and learning from a local expert and speaker, Walter J. Gary. Ms. Ackerman offered a few literature suggestions, but my search at the Whitman College Library revealed none of the suggested titles nor any resources on plants, botany, or wildflowers of Washington state that specifically provided information on species native to the Columbia Basin.

My attendance at Washington State University professor Dr. Steven Link’s botany class on October 4 was an important step. I found his name on the Washington Native Plant Society’s web page, which listed Dr. Link as the Tri-Cities’ chapter president. I contacted him, and he invited me to take part in his class. He talked with me personally and recommended the book Sagebrush Country by Ronald J. Taylor and A Pocket Guide to the Umatilla National Forest. The Pocket Guide lists all plants that have been identified in Umatilla National Forest with their designation as native or introduced.

On October 5, I procured the Pocket Guide 1998 and several area maps at the Walla Walla County Umatilla National Forest Ranger Station. Also, I checked out Sagebrush Country from the library. On October 6 and October 14 respectively, I took trips to the Umatilla National Forest in Umatilla County, Oregon, and Hanford Reservation in Benton County, Washington, to collect plant samples; and I picked wildflowers at the Mill Creek Recreational Trail in Walla Walla County, Washington on October 12.

From my independent attempts to collect native plants I realized that, while they may be native, few of them are suited for growing in the garden, and fewer yet probably have useful properties. I needed to focus my research on the most useful and prevalent native speciess, which meant that I needed more focused questions to ask experts. Toward that goal, I interviewed Walter Gary of the Cooperative Extension Office in Walla Walla on October 17. I asked him what the most useful native species are, what species are commonly used in native gardening, and who in the area knows about native plants. He talked to me about cous, golden currant, bitterroot, camas, sweet grass, and chokecherry, several of which species can be noted in my final proposal. He gave me some written information to look over and told me to interview Gary Lentz. Also, he stressed the importance of testing the soil in the garden in order to determine what species could thrive there. It was a very successful and uplifting interview, because I finally had some species names to investigate, plus basic information about those species. While at his office, I also picked up several catalogues and pamphlets from local growers, which I used later on in my research.

I also emailed Diane Ackerman for her expertise in designing native plant gardens, and her suggestion was to talk to Jim Swayne. Additionally, I talked to Bob Carson about local seed dealers, and he gave me the Forest Farm catalogue. On October 25, I emailed Jim Swayne and Gary Lentz. Then, I tested the garden bed’s soil, which was a sandy loam, and I took measurements of it as well. I attempted to find out what plants were in the garden already, so that I could tell the gardeners whether they were native. I did discover a record of what was there, but answering the question of whether they were native was another issue. Each gardener referred me to another regarding my question of what native plants were there already, and we discovered that no one knew. My talk with Jim Swayne would change my perspective on this challenge of “labeling existing native plants.”

On October 26, I visited Mr. Swayne’s garden, and he talked to me about the plants there. I asked him the same questions that I had asked Mr. Gary, and we discussed the meaning of the word “native.” He explained that one cannot section out and area of land so precisely; for instance, the Walla Walla Valley is in the Eastern Washington, is in the Columbia Basin, is in the American West. Each plant originally grew somewhere before the Europeans arrived and started transplanting them, and that general vicinity is that plant’s “native” region. Therefore, with each plant that we looked at, he would tell me not, “is it native” (every plant is native to somewhere), but to what region it is native. Some species that he recommended cultivating were penstemons, Oregon grape, camas, cous, bitterroot, Echinacea, wild onions, and the mock orange tree. Mr. Swayne also provided the names of many growers, catalogues, and web sites that he frequents when buying plants and seeds. Additionally, he suggested Native American web sites as good resources for plants’ medicinal and nutritional values.

In the following weeks, I used the internet and several texts to learn more about bitterroot (Lewisia Rediviva), Oregon grape (Mahonia or Berbis species), and Aroowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). There were other species that I began investigating, but stopped when it was clear that they were not suited for the garden or the climate. I also talked to Julia Gilden about our objectives, concerning the labeling of existing native plants in light of my talk with Jim Swayne. I could take each species name and tell the garden where it naturally grows, but instead we decided that I should focus my efforts on learning about plants from our region and climate that would be best suited for the native plant bed. In addition, I found the helpful text source, Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest listed in “Resources”

I never arranged an interview with Gary Lentz, because he was to speak at the Walla Walla Native Plant Society meeting on November 14. Instead, I watched his presentation on that night and talked to him afterwards. In his talk, he took on the role of a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, talking about the many plants that his men encountered on their journey and how the Natives taught them to use those plants. The extensive notes that I took that evening comprise a large part of the final product, being mostly incorporated into the “History” and “Uses” sections of my presentation for the garden. I talked to Mr. Lentz at the end of the night about my project, and many of his suggestions paralleled others that I had gotten.

From that point on, I worked independently to gather more information. I found a plethora of web sites dedicated to medicinal and edible plants, including a site built by collaboration of the Oregon State University and the Warm Springs Indians that was especially interesting (http://food.orst.edu/native/). Taking Jim Swayne’s suggestions, I frequented the Northwest Native Plant Catalogue site (www.nwplants.com) and the Rocky Mountain Rare Plants Alpine Seed Catalogue site (www.rmrp.com). The brochures that I picked up at the Cooperative Extension Office were good guides to what plants are drought and shade tolerant, and the books listed in “Resources” provided dependable information on the characteristics and indigenous regions of the plants. Finding pictures of the plants was also an important consideration as I searched online, and I used many from the CalPhotos site (http://elib.cs.berkeley.edu/photos/).

As specified in “Objectives,” I did attend several garden meetings to present the progress of my research. The gardeners were interested in both information on the plants that I would include in the proposal and information on other plants that were used in this region but would not fit the bed. In the end, I compiled information on five very different, useful and attractive species that could co-exist in the bed as well as four other plants of the region that were important to Native people but would not grow well in the shade of bed or would not fit physically. Those included in the proposal are Balsamorhiza sagittata, Lewisia rediviva, Lomatium cous, Mahonia repens, andPenstemon speciosus. The other plants included in the information are Camassia quamash, Erigonium umbellatum, Prunus virginiana, and plants of the Vacinum genus. I compiled the information with pictures in a folder, each sheet protected by a plastic covering so that it can be left in the garden information box for reference. I also included in the folder a list of growers and informational resources, all of the catalogues that may be useful for purchasing these and other native plants, and various informational brochures that I collected during the project.

As for the bed proposal proper, I visited the garden frequently during the course of the project and eventually began to visualize in that bed the five species that I had chosen. I considered color, height, and accessibility in my arrangement; I used a variety of colors, placed the shorter species in front, and made sure that those plants that will be picked for eating or using in another fashion are accessible from the path. Finally, I drew and color-coded a design for the bed with the proposed species, which is in the front pocket of the folder that I provided for the garden. I orally presented the information to the gardeners at a meeting last weekend and answered their questions about the plants and the process that I used to design the proposal..

Experience and Learning

I have learned that identifying good resources is key in getting a project on its feet. I uncovered many useful resources, which are listed the “Resources” section, and I have become more familiar with the people who are experts in the subjects of plants and native plants. I have become more aware of the climate and geography of the region, and I have greatly increased my familiarity with the characteristics of some plant species that are adapted to this area. By visiting Jim Swayne’s extensive garden and investigating Native American web sites, I have learned information, such as indigenous people’s uses of plants, that one does not typically learn in the classroom. Finally, the challenge of choosing complementary species to fit the bed was a learning experience in landscaping and garden planning.

Successful Parts:

I successfully identified a group of plants, varied in appearance and usefulness that will all grow in the shady and dry location of the native plant bed. For each plant, I compiled information on its history, uses, characteristics (including compatibility with the garden), and where to purchase it. Most growers provide information on cultivating plants, so although I provided basic information on this topic, I focused my energy on uses and history. The organic garden club members enjoyed the presentation, and they are excited about the prospect of planting a bed of native plants that can offer useful properties and survive in the shady conditions of the bed.


Problems and Difficulties

The most difficult part of this project was getting good footing in the beginning. Although I started early by attending the local native plant society meeting, the fruit of my talk with the president that night became the biggest speed bump. I asked her a lot of questions about what classifies a plant as “native” and how I can determine what plants are native or where I can learn more about native plants. Basically, she told me that she did not know any of those answers, nor did she have any suggestions about who else I should talk to. The books that she suggested were about Washington state in general, not the southeast specifically, and many were not available in the library. After my talk with her and especially after a fruitless library search for resources on native plants, I felt completely stuck. If the president of the local native plant society did not know how or where I could find out what plants are native to the region or even how to define “native”, how am I to start finding these answers? After I got some hands-on experience at Jim Swayne’s garden, however, the project really took off. The other problem, of course, has been the high pressures of exams in other classes that left me pressed for time.

Time Commitment

 

Dates

Time Spent Working

Week 1

9/7-9/13

3 hrs

Week 2

9/14-9/20

2.5 hrs

Week 3

9/21-9/27

0 hrs

Week 4

9/28-10/4

4 hrs

Week 5

10/5-10/11

9.5 hrs

Week 6

10/12-10/18

11 hrs

Week 7

10/19-10/25

2 hrs

Week 8

10/26-11/1

3 hrs

Week 9

11/2-11/8

4 hrs

Week 10

11/9-11/15

3 hrs

Week 11

11/16-11/21

2 hrs

Week 12

11/22-11/28

5 hrs

Week 13

11/29-12/6

11 hrs

The average time that I spent on the internship was just over 4.3 hours per week. These numbers reflect only physical time dedicated to research and plant collection toward the internship goals. Incidental time increments dedicated to emailing, leaving phone messages, spontaneous internet searching, organizing materials, and light reading are not reflected in this table. I typically spent a half hour of additional time each week in reflection; this also is not factored into the numbers above.


Recommendations for the Future:

One recommendation to make the project easier: Give the intern the names of several people with knowledge in the field to help start the research aspect of the project. One suggestion to make the project more challenging: Give the intern a budget and have the proposal include how many of each plant to buy within that budget. This would be a more real-world landscaping exercise. Combining these two suggestions would make for a challenging and feasible, educational landscaping project.

Key Contacts

Diane Ackerman, President of the Walla Walla Native Plant Society.

Walter J. Gary, Chair of Washington State University’s Walla Walla County Cooperative Extension Office.

Gary Lentz, Lewis and Clark Trail State Park

Dr. Steven O. Link, Botanist, Washington State University at Tri-Cities, President of Columbia Basin chapter of Washington Native Plant Society.

Jim Swayne, Penstemon Society, Walla Walla 2020, Walla Walla Native Plant Society, native plant gardener.


Resources:

Breen, Patrick. Mahonia repens (aka Berbis repens). 1999-2000. Oregon State University. 5 Nov. 2001. http://www.orst.edu/dept/ldplants/mare.htm.

Digital Library Project. CalPhotos. 2001. University of California, Berkley. 5 Nov. 2001.
http://elib.cs.berkeley.edu/photos/.

Goroff, Iza. NARGS: Plant of the Month: June 2000. 2000. North American Rock Garden Society. 5 Nov. 2001. http://www.nargs.org/potm/potm_jun00.html.

Idaho State Historical Society. Biscuitroot. 2001. Idaho State Historical Society. 20 Nov 2001.

Kruckeberg, Arthur R. Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle: University of Washington Press. 1982.

Oregon State University. Nutritive Values of Native Foods of Warm Springs Indians. 2001. Oregon State University. 20 Nov 2001. http://food.orst.edu/native/.

Plants of the Southwest. Plants of the Southwest. 1998-1999. Plants of the Southwest.
http://www.plantsofthesouthwest.com/index.html.

Taylor, Ronald J. Sagebrush Country: A Wildflower Sanctuary. Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 1992.

Telegraph Group Limited. Gardening.telegraph.co.uk - In focus: Lewisia. 2001. Telegraph Group Limited. 5 Nov. 2001.
http://www.portal.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=P8&targetRule=10&xml=%2Fgardening%2F2001%2F04%2F28%2Ftgfoc28.xml.

Ward, Tom. The Common Chokecherry. 1997. University of Saskatchewan Department of Horticulture. 29 Nov. 2001. http://www.ag.usask.ca/cofa/departments/hort/hortinfo/fruit/choke.html.

Willis, Cindy. Herbs to Know – Oregon Grape. 1998. Wise Touch. 5 Nov. 2001.

Woodworth, Don. The Color Forms of Lewisia. 2001. Wenatchee Chapter Washington Native Plant Society. 5 Nov. 2001. http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/2745/lindex.html