December ~ 2020

Greetings to all of you as we journey together through the last month of 2020. It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it?! We hope you enjoyed the recent 12 Days of Gardening that we sent out filled with ideas for your holiday wish lists. 

This month’s newsletter takes us through the A,B,Cs and all the way to Z -- A (apples), B (bees, books, bristlecone pines), C (classes and climate), and finally to Z (Zoom). The webinar featured this month is about how past climate can be read in bristlecone pine tree rings, which is timely as we prepare to ring in a new year. We’re moving forward with the times and modern technology and are planning our first guest speaker event with Thor Hanson on Zoom on January 20, 2021. Mark your calendars! If Zoom is new to you, we've included tips and a tutorial to help.

Try some of Helen's recipes, see what learning opportunities are out there, learn about mistletoe, check out favorite garden tools of board members, get to know member Cyndi Hawkins, relax with a solstice poem, and end with a little chuckle. Hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as we've enjoyed putting it together.

As always, we welcome your suggestions and comments. We’d love to hear from you. 

Wishing you all happy holidays!
Until we meet again!
Nita Couchman

Reconstructing Past Climate Using
Tree-Ring Data from Ancient Bristlecone Pines
Old-growth Great Basin bristlecone pine with ribbonwood in Cedar Breaks National Monument. Photo by Dr. Garon Smith. Photo retrieved from:
Perhaps, like me, you find you are often thinking about time. About how the seasons influence our relationship with our gardens and with other living creatures. Mostly I think about time on the scale of my personal life and experiences. I wonder that my grandson is 12 years old, that I was a nurse for 50 years, and I wonder when COVID-19 will be managed well enough that Garden Club members and guests can again meet in person. Even as I enjoy the shortening days and the amazing night skies, I look forward to the solstice and the lengthening light that will follow.

This month’s webinar, Reconstructing Past Climate using Tree-Ring Data from Ancient Bristlecone Pines, considers time, both human and geologic, on a very different scale from mine, and in the context of one plant species. Bristlecone pines (Pinus longeava) may live several thousand years. Andy Bunn, PhD, a professor at Western Washington University, describes how an understanding of variations in tree-rings contributes to knowledge about climatic, geologic, and human events. He shows an example of a tree-ring that was likely affected by sudden cooling temperatures in 2036 BCE. He discusses how changes in that tree-ring intersect with what geologists know about the timing of a volcanic eruption that likely resulted in a sudden and sustained drop in temperatures. He then describes what archaeologists know about a human civilization that collapsed about the same time period. He shows art inspired by the ancient pines. And, back to our time scale, he also mentions a Bristlecone pine cultivar that is available in commerce and that is growing in some Seattle area gardens.
Submitted by Lene Symes
This previously recorded webinar is made available through the Washington Native Plant Society, Koma Kulshan Chapter, on YouTube:

Click here to see a list of virtual presentations offered by the Washington State Native Plant Society:
Orcas Island Public Library

January 13, 2021 @ 10:00-10:30 am No charge
Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation -- Zoom Webinar

January 15, 2021 @ 10:00 am
Northwest Horticultural Society -- Zoom Webinar
January 16, 2021 @ 10:30 - 11:30 am  Members: $10; Non-members: $15
Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation -- Zoom Webinar

January 19, 2021 @ 8:30-10:30 am
Orcas Island Garden Club & Orcas Island Public Library

January 20, 2021 @ 10:30am
SJ County Master Gardeners / Orcas Island Garden Club / Lopez Garden Club

January 26, 2021 @ 1:00-3:00 pm FREE WEBINAR
SJ County Master Gardeners / Orcas Island Garden Club / Lopez Garden Club

February 2, 2021 @ 1:00-3:00 pm FREE WEBINAR
Submitted by Lene Symes, Program Committee Chair
In anticipation of our January 20, 2021 Zoom presentation by Thor Hanson, we’d like to introduce you to the work of Thor Hanson, world-renowned author, San Juan County resident, and conservation biologist. The Triumph of Seeds and Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees are both available at the Orcas Library ( and at Darvill’s Bookstore ( Both books are engaging and delightful to read. Both enhance our understanding of the amazing world we live in.
In Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees (2018), Hanson uses stories to recount the natural history of bees. Readers learn about the evolution of bees from wasps, the many species of bees, the co-evolution of bees and plants, and about the bee families of the world. Hanson makes clear why we need to take action to conserve bees in their diverse forms.
The Triumph of Seeds (2015) contains stories, and stories within stories. Descriptions of people and events, past and present, introduce information about seeds and related topics. For example, a discussion of coffee beans includes caffeine’s role as an insecticide, and as a stimulant that humans and honey bees respond to. Thor Hanson wrote: “Telling their [seeds] story reminds us of our fundamental connections to nature--to plants, animals, soil, seasons, and the process of evolution itself." (p. xvii).
Submitted by Helen Huber
A Zoom account is not required if you are just joining a Zoom Meeting as a participant. If someone invites you to their meeting, you can join as a participant without creating an account. 

To join a Zoom meeting:

1. Click on the invite link that the host has provided.

2. You may be prompted to download Zoom on your device. If that happens, the download is free and quick and will allow you to Join the meeting. Click Join.
3. Each meeting has a unique 9,10, or 11-digit number called a meeting ID that is required to join a Zoom meeting. If you are joining via telephone, you will need the teleconferencing number provided in your invite. Click the link to join the meeting.

4. The invite may require a password. Enter the password, exactly as it is shown in your invite, if requested.

5. You may be asked to wait for the host to begin the meeting or the meeting may be in session. 

6. Make sure the picture of the microphone and camera (that allows you to see others and for others to see you) on the bottom left part of your screen do not have a red line through them. If you see a red line, click on the microphone or video, and it will function normally.
Enjoy your Zoom experience!

If you want to host your own meeting, you will need to create an account. You can do so clicking on this link:

Zoom asks for your birthday and a work email. Although they do not store this information, feel free to make up a birthday if you prefer not to share your birthday. Enter the email you use for your work email.

You can download Zoom for a Mac or PC using this link:
Europeans coming to America brought with them both traditions and favorite plants.
Mistletoe was one of the most sacred plants in ancient druidic ritual and medicine. 

What made it so special was the linkage of two elements. It was associated with the sun, symbolic with fire, but also with air, because it never touches the ground. The ritual harvesting of the plant was generally performed at the winter solstice, often using a gold or silver sickle dropping the harvest onto a stretched out white cloth.

Due to the timing of the harvest, the plant became merged with other holiday symbols and became linked to the Christmas holiday.

This month we want to welcome new members Marie Baxter, Jane Jones and Candace Krick, and thank renewing members and donors Lynne Greene, Karen Johnston, Heather Dew Oaksen, Laurie St. Aubin, and Lene Symes. Thank you all for your support. Names of all new and renewing members and donors are included in our monthly drawing.

C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S !!!


Kosher Sea Salt
from the Dead Sea
39 oz (from Israel)
We've Made it Easier for You to Become a Member

We are happy to announce that memberships and donations can now all be done directly from our website at . We have added an electronic membership form and a PayPal option. For those of you who prefer to pay by check, you may still print and fill out a form and mail it to us with your check.

To renew your membership, become a member, or make a donation, please select whichever method works best for you. YOU could be the next lucky winner!!!!


As a THANK YOU to new and renewing members and donors, we're having a special drawing this month. The winner will receive a $25 gift certificate to Darvill's Bookstore.


Right now this is my favorite tool. There is much to rake up after our many wind storms. In spring, it will be another tool as favorite.
I use this handheld hoe and three-pronged cultivator constantly. With a 14-1/2 inch long handle and a hefty weight of 1lb 2oz, it is sturdy enough for digging and chopping.
This a Concave Cutter, from Japan. When you have Japanese Maple trees, like I do, and they’re in planter boxes, like mine, they have to be pulled out about every 5 years, root pruned and re-planted, and then trimmed back by about 1/3 on the top to match the diminished root ball. When you prune these little trees, the branch to be removed is cut either at the trunk or the main limb, from which it arose. This concave cutter makes a clean close cut, that makes a good looking scar without branch nubs on the limb!

I received an early Christmas gift. It is a garden tool that I will love. It will help haul fertilizer and soil bags into garden and it will haul clippings out of the garden to the compost pile. I wanted one on Orcas, but never got around to purchase. My snowy Boise garden is in the background. I won’t be using this new tool until sometime after the spring thaw, but I can hardly wait.
My favorite gardening tool is this cultivator/hoe. I use it to dig, make rows for planting, weed and break up clods of dirt. 
My hands! My husband asks me why I don't use gloves when I come in with dirty hands and grimy fingernails. I tell him it's easier to pull weeds, extract rocks and plant seeds when I can feel them. But the truth is, I love the feel of warm soil on my hands deep in the earth. 
My favorite garden tools are fermentation crocks. This one was made in Poland. It has an illustration of Boletus edulis, the king bolete, which unfortunately we do not have in San Juan County.
My little Rhino Dymo label maker is my favorite garden tool. It helps in my quest to learn the botanical names of my plants and give them correct care. I have collected many unique perennials and I can rely on the stainless steel punched strips to permanently identify my plants.
I have a forest garden snuggled soundly beneath a forest of trees. With my garden's rocky and often slippery slopes, I need reliable boots to work, which happen to be my favorite garden tool. My faithful Sloggers garden shoes, that take me into my garden to work and play in all kinds of weather, have a good grip and are waterproof. Designed especially for gardeners, they are perfect for trudging in the mud. They come in many sizes and patterns. Everybody needs a pair of Sloggers!
Here is a picture of one of my favorite gardening tools. It is a Victorinox paring knife - great for getting out weeds in gravel and in small spaces.  
Many of our members may have noticed the woman behind the scenes at our presentations. She's the one skillfully handling the laptop, Power Point presentations and adjusting mics on the speakers. Cyndi has served as Program Chairman and has been our ongoing Audio/Visual Director for the past 9 years. What many of you may not know is that Cyndi's professional A/V experience has taken her to Broadway and beyond. The Club is lucky to have someone of her caliber on our team! Read on to learn more about her fascinating journey. 
From the Bright Lights of New York City to the Bright Sights of Orcas

I was incredibly lucky to spend my entire career working in the theatre on the design/technical side, which was my college major and the field I loved. I began my career in 1974 at the Seattle Rep as an assistant lighting designer and during summer breaks explored the PNW, including a trip to the San Juan Islands in 1976 where I fell in love with the islands.

 My career took me to NYC in 1979 where I worked in any theater that would hire me, from the NY Shakespeare Festival, a “gentleman’s” show in the Rainbow Grill atop Rockefeller Center, and at an off-off Broadway theater. Eventually I was offered a job as an assistant to one of the busiest sound designers on Broadway, and ended up working on “A Chorus Line,” “Cats,” “Kiss of the Spiderwoman,” and “Sunset Boulevard.” Tours took me from NYC to Australia to Vienna.

In 2004 I was hired as the Head Sound Engineer for the Jazz at Lincoln Center, the home of Wynton Marsalis’ orchestra and a center for the performance and education of jazz. Here I had input into the final details of the installation of the A/V systems, and stayed at this job for seven years, doing jazz and so much more.

Through the 32 years in NYC, my love of the San Juan Islands never diminished. In my small apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I longed to spend my days in a garden in the sunlight. In 2002 my husband and I bought our property on Orcas. Three years later we were ready to build, and we retired in 2010/2011 and moved permanently to Orcas. I’m fairly certain I attended my first Garden Club meeting that fall.
For the past 9 years I’ve kept adding fencing so that I now have about 5000 square feet of deer and rabbit resistant garden space, cultivated with fruits, vegetables and perennials. I love being able to go to the basement or freezer to retrieve makings for dinner that will taste of warm summer days. Having spent all my life working in dark windowless spaces, this outdoor life is quite wonderful.

I look forward to when we can have meetings again all together in person. Stay safe in 2021! It will be a better year.
We hope you enjoy our NEW monthly column featuring local finds for the devoted gardener. This month, we asked Jenny from Darvill's Bookstore to share some ideas.
Gardens and Books: A Beautiful Friendship

Orcas is fortunate to have that increasingly rare business, an independent bookstore. Darvill's, in the heart of Eastsound, has been serving the community for 35 years. They have been a great partner for the Garden Club by offering magazine door prizes and selling tickets for our annual garden tour. We hope you'll join us in support by browsing their terrific selection of books or relaxing in the cafe with tea and pastry.

Owner Jennifer Pederson has made some garden book suggestions especially for our club.

Many of us have followed Monty Don through the year on his TV show BBC Gardeners World.
Here are two of his books -- Down to Earth: Gardening Wisdom (2019) and American Gardens (2020)
New this year is Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants, and Gardens by Daniel Hinkley, an inspiring celebration of Dan Hinkley's world-renowned private garden on Puget Sound.
~ Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us--listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight
This shortest day
As promise wakens in the sleeping land.
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.
Welcome Yule!

I grew up on Sunnyside Lane in Hicksville, New York, home to the fighting Comets! and a small, gnarled tree that produced an abundance of hard chartreuse apples, mostly useful for hitting my sister across a carpet of fallen leaves. But the autumn I turned nine, those apples paved the pathway to my lifelong delight of both apples and cooking.

I was finally allowed to use a knife for food preparation. And so I gathered, washed, peeled, cored, and cut the apples. I turned on the gas stove, myself, (very exciting), and made applesauce, the first of many apple adventures.

And now I live in Washington state, the epicenter of apple joy. There are three varieties of apples growing on our property. The local stores, farm stands, and sharing from friends fill a void I didn't know I had. Following are some fine ways to enjoy the rich abundance of available apples.   

-Helen Huber, OIGC Communication Chair and apple aficionado
Many Ways Poached Apple Recipes

Easy yet impressive
from Helen Huber

  • Cooking apples such as Fuji, Cortland, Jonathan, Gala or your local favorite, peeled, with the stem on (which makes it easier to turn when it cooks).
  • Liquid:
  • Wine is both pretty and delicious. I like a fruity red, or rose, which makes the apples a pretty color although whites or even orange wines are good plus ½ to ¾ cup sugar
  • (Alcohol-free and child-friendly) Spiced cinnamon cider (or juice) -- Add 1 stick of cinnamon and a ½” piece of fresh ginger to enough cider to come half-way up the apples in a saucepan
  • Syrup -- any combination that makes 1 cup of sweetener; white or brown sugar, half honey or maple syrup and sugar, 3 cups water, zest (peel without the white pith) of an orange and lemon peeled into long curling strands, one stick cinnamon, and either a vanilla bean, sliced in half and scraped into the syrup or a teaspoon of vanilla extract

  • Put the liquid, sweetener and any spices or flavorings you’re using into a pan large enough to half cover the apples with liquid.
  • Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer for 30 minutes, gently turning the apples by their handy stem and pouring liquid over them as they gently cook.
  • After 30 minutes, gently remove the apples to a plate, and simmer the liquid for another 10-15 minutes until it is the right kind of syrupy consistency. You’ll know. Or 15 minutes will go by.  
  • If you’re serving them immediately, return the apples to the poaching liquid, heat gently and pour some poaching liquid into a pretty dish. Add the apples. Ice cream or whipped cream are unnecessary but some people like that sort of adornment.
  • If you are going to serve the apples any time in the next five days, place the apples and liquid in a sealed container and chill until ready to serve.

Note: This is a great make-ahead dessert, sure to impress guests, someday, when guests are possible. In the meantime, practice with apples and pears.

Click the links below for MORE YUMMY RECIPES WITH APPLES
We're still looking for old Garden Club photos and stories: We'd love to include your old Garden Club stories and old photos in our upcoming issue on the Garden Club's past. You can send them by snail mail to P.O. Box 452, Eastsound, WA 98245 OR email them to us at

PayPal now available for membership dues and donations: We're pleased to announce that our website now gives the option of using an electronic membership/donation form with PayPal for receiving your payments. Snail mail is still accepted as well.

Non-Profit status: The Orcas Island Garden Club is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit with the IRS. This makes us a tax-exempt, charitable organization and donations to the Club can now be tax-deductible.

Mason Bees are Coming: There will be an article on Mason Bees in the February newsletter with a raffle of bee cocoons in March. If you've been wanting to try hosting some Mason Bees, this could be your opportunity.


And now it's YOUR turn.
Tell us what you think about the newsletter.
How can we make it better?
Your ideas? What would you like to read about?
Nita Couchman
Lene Symes
Perri Gibbons
Karen Hiller
Sally Hodson
Laura Walker 
Jan Jacobson
Tony Suruda
Helen Huber
Linda Armstrong
Email Nita
Email Lene
Email Perri
Email Karen
Email Sally
Email Laura
Email Jan
Email Tony
Email Helen
Email Linda
Orcas Island Garden Club
P. O. Box 452
Eastsound, WA 98245

Newsletter Editors: Laura Walker & Nita Couchman