February ~ 2023



"Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle ... a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream."

- Barbara Winkler

The month of February has a reputation for being the snowiest, most wintery month, not a favorite time of year for some. It starts off with Groundhog Day and weather predictions determined by a rodent, a very curious custom when you stop and think about it.

It's also the month when deep inside, we feel the miracle of spring beginning to stir, so we eagerly study seed catalogs while dreaming of our gardens.  The newsletter team turned a spotlight on seeds to tie in with our own seasonal inclinations and with Marisa Hendron's upcoming program about seed stewardship.

Laura shares some thoughts about the question of whether to start with seeds or with transplants, and also gives us a closer look at an old-fashioned favorite -- sweet peas. Perri reviews a DVD about climate change's effects on growing food for the planet. Helen offers her delightful Reflections and Recipes with a delicious dish you can quickly put together and enjoy while you're reading other articles about new members' stories, the June picnic, and our transition to hybrid meetings.

And finally, since this issue comes out on Valentine's Day, we wanted to send out some love and appreciation to our Orcas friends and neighbors who support the Garden Club in a myriad of ways. We are so very blessed. Our hearts are full.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Nita Couchman

OIGC President

CLICK HERE to send us your comments, questions, photos, gardening stories, and newsletter ideas. Tell us how we’re doing. We are eager to hear from you!!!

Orcas Island Garden Club




February 15 @ 10:00 am

Madrona Room or via Zoom

Please join us on Wednesday, February 15th at 10:00 am for the Orcas Island Garden Club Hybrid meeting featuring Marisa Hendron. 

You may attend the presentation in person in the Madrona Room at Orcas Center OR click HERE to participate via Zoom. The meeting will be recorded and available for viewing on our website approximately one week after the program.

Marisa, the Orcas Island Public Library Seed Librarian, will describe how to participate in the Seed Library, emphasizing the role of the Seed Library in building a resilient seed stewardship community. She will also discuss designing and implementing effective seed saving practices at a home garden scale, no matter your style of garden.  The Orcas Island Seed Library, home to approximately 147 seed varieties, was created to make seeds of locally adapted plants freely available to all islanders.

Marisa has been an avid gardener in the Pacific Northwest for the past 15 years. She has been living and gardening on Orcas Island for the past 3 years, specifically devoting attention to building resilient local seed systems. She focuses on exploring the connections between landscapes, food and people.


OIGC PROGRAMS -- 2022/2023

We are now having HYBRID programs -- attend in person in the Madrona Room at Orcas Center or attend virtually via Zoom.

Meeting start time is now 10:00 am.

Whenever possible, programs will be recorded and posted for later viewing.

Wearing a mask at the in-person meetings is very much appreciated as we continue to be mindful of the health and safety of one another.

Social hour will resume in September 2023.

Click HERE to Join Zoom Meetings

Sept. 21   Thor Hanson ~ Hurricane Lizards & Plastic Squid

Oct. 19    James Most ~ Growing Fruit & Nut Trees in the San Juan Islands

Nov. 9   Paul Spriggs ~ Cracks and Crevices: The Art of the Crevice Garden

Dec. 14    Cindy Morgan ~ Holiday Arrangements

Jan. 18    Jason Ontjes ~ How to Be a Noxious Weed Warrior

Feb. 15   Marisa Hendron ~ Seed Stewardship for Locally Adapted Plants

March 15   Lindsey du Toit ~ Identifying and Preventing the Spread of Plant Diseases

April 19 Lynn Johnson -- Indoor Plant Care

May 17 Kevin Zobrist -- Caring for Native Trees in the San Juan Islands

June 14 -- NEW -- ANNUAL PICNIC at the Yacht Club

June 24 & 25  ~  ANNUAL GARDEN TOUR



Program Chair Extraordinaire


at the January 18th meeting.

She took home a lovely potted

cactus donated by

Lorna's Driftwood Nursery.


has won the Raffle Spin

for the book


donated by

Darvill's Bookstore

Names of new and renewing members are automatically added to the raffle list each month. If you haven't already done so, send in your renewal soon to get in on the fun!!!


LINDSEY du TOIT will be our March 15th speaker

March 15th at 10:00 am

Lindsey du Toit

Identifying and Preventing the Spread of Plant Diseases

Lindsey will describe how to identify plant diseases and manage risks for spreading plant diseases within and between gardens or farms. If you enjoy having visitors to your garden or farm and enjoy sharing plants and produce with others, this presentation is for you.

Lindsey is the Alfred Christianson Distinguished Professor in Vegetable Seed Science and Extension Plant Pathologist at Washington State University Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research & Extension Center and the WSU Dept. of Plant Pathology.

Her research specialty and interests are the epidemiology and management of diseases affecting vegetable seed crops in the Pacific Northwest. She has responsibility for a state-wide research & extension program on diseases affecting high-value, small-seeded vegetable seed crops grown in the Pacific Northwest USA. These seed crops produce 50-100% of the US supply and up to 50% of the world supply of seed for more than 30 species of vegetables.

Prior to starting in her current position at the WSU Mount Vernon NWREC in 2000, Lindsey served as a plant diagnostician for the WSU Puyallup Research & Extension Center from 1998-2000.

Looking for native plants?! 

The San Juan County Master Gardener Foundation Native Plant sale began Jan 28th! 

Click here for more information.

FEBRUARY 15 - 19, 2023

Seattle Convention Center

Purchase tickets before February 15th for the Early Bird rate of $21 per day.

Click HERE for more details.


by Nita Couchman

On January 18, 2023, in the Orcas Center's Madrona Room, the Garden Club's first hybrid meeting took place. Jason Ontjes gave an informative presentation about noxious weeds to the 17 folks in the room and the 33 participants on Zoom. For our first attempt, we felt pretty pleased at how well it worked.

After the meeting we reviewed areas where we could do better, and we'll be addressing those for upcoming programs.

We've also decided to postpone bringing back refreshments until next September so we can focus on mastering the technology of offering hybrid meetings. Hopefully by September, we'll be able to safely resume our social hour following meetings.

This event couldn't have happened without the work of an awesome team:

  • A big round of applause to our speaker, Jason Ontjes, for agreeing to participate in our first attempt at a hybrid meeting. A brave and gracious soul! Thank you, Jason.
  • Ingrid Mattson & Holly King of the Orcas Public Library shared their expertise on setting up the technology side of a hybrid Zoom meeting and hosted and recorded our program.
  • Mieka and Dimitri at the Orcas Center generously allowed us several practice sessions in the Madrona Room.
  • Board Members and Helpers: Lene Symes, Bill Symes, Kate Yturri, Perri Gibbons, Cyndi Hawkins, Laura Walker, Curtis Walker, Tony Suruda, Sally Hodson
  • And, of course, all of YOU who attended -- either in person or virtually !!!!


Let's do it again on February 15th.

For those of you who missed our January 18 program with Jason Ontjes about noxious weeds, you can now view the recorded program. Ongoing thanks to the Orcas Island Library for partnering with us on these recordings. So far this recording has been viewed 100 times. ENJOY!



AT LAST !!! The annual Garden Club Members Picnic is back on the calendar this year. Mark the date -- JUNE 14th -- and plan to picnic with us outdoors at the Yacht Club. All members are invited. More details will follow as we get closer to June, but we want to make sure you all have plenty of warning so you don't make other plans for that date.

LAST CALL FOR GARDENS for June Garden Tour

This seems to be the year that our garden search team keeps hearing, "My garden's not quite ready to be on tour, but we'll be ready next year." Without gardens we can't have a Garden Tour. So we're sending out a last call for gardens.

NOW is the time to speak up and tell us about a garden that would be fun to have on the Tour. Maybe it's YOUR garden ~ maybe it's a neighbor's or friend's garden.

We need to have enough gardens lined up for Tour before the end of February, so please contact us VERY SOON and we'll follow up on your suggestions.

Our 2023 Garden Tour is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 24 & 25th, with all gardens open from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm on both days.

If you know about any great gardens that might be suitable for our tour, please let us know and we’ll contact the owners to see if they’re interested.  




— R.H. Swaney 

If words are seeds, 

let flowers grow 

from your mouth,

not weeds. 

If hearts are gardens, 

plant those flowers

in the chest of the ones

who exist around you. 


We love getting to know our members, both new and long-standing, and are so pleased to introduce Andrea Bearce to everyone. Here's her story:

I spent the first half of 2016 living in Shanghai, where I was confronted daily with disturbing levels of pollution in the air, water, and food. I knew that when I returned home (to Austin, at the time) I wanted to learn to grow my own food and make steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

I got bit by the gardening bug fairly quickly and joined FarmShare Austin where I learned organic farming techniques and the basics of soil science. From there I studied under Dr. Elaine Ingham at her Soil Food Web School and did a deep dive into the world of soil microbiology. I learned how beneficial microbes help build soil structure, infiltrate and hold water, protect against pests and disease, boost yield and nutrient cycling, and draw down huge amounts of carbon. Now I work with growers of all sizes as a soil biology lab tech and consultant.

I’m still fairly new to Orcas and am working to get my garden started this Spring. My current focus is inoculating the soil with abundant beneficial microbes to give my seeds and starts the optimum growing environment. I use thermophilic composting techniques to breed these microbes, then make aerobic teas and extracts to distribute them over my plots.

Thermophilic compost works by getting things hot enough (up to 170 degrees!) that all the microbes—beneficial and pathogenic—go dormant. As the pile cools, I’m careful to keep it aerated so that only the beneficial organisms “wake up” and proliferate. What’s left in the end is worlds apart from commercial bags of compost from the store. Under the microscope, I can see scores of fungi, nematodes, protozoa, and bacteria. Once applied to the soil, these little creatures will do most of the work for me, freeing me from needing additional inputs and fertilizers.

Since this is a new-to-me growing climate, I’m looking forward to trying new veggie varietals and having a go at some cut flowers. These garden club newsletters have been so helpful in getting me oriented to this region's growing calendar and particular pests and diseases. I’m looking forward to the in-person meetings this year and can’t wait to continue learning from such a deeply knowledgeable and skilled bunch!

Welcome, Andrea! Hope to meet you in person soon.


Start from Seed or Buy Transplants?

by Laura Walker

The great spring gardening quandary begins with the question, “Should I start from seed or buy transplants?”  Let’s explore more.  On a cold and stormy winter night, we cozy up with the multitude of seed catalogs that somehow show up in our mailbox.  It’s easy to get swept away with the beautiful enticing pictures of exotic selections, but making the decision to grow seeds is worth careful consideration.  There are advantages and disadvantages.  

Quality and Diversity

Knowing the source and quality of what you are growing is a great motivator for gardeners.  The choices in seed varieties are nearly limitless, allowing the grower many options.  Nursery starts are healthy, most likely raised in the optimum culture, whereas seedlings started from home are more prone to fungal issues without adequate air circulation.  However, seedlings from conventionally grown vegetables can often contain pesticide residue. 

Cost and Time

Purchasing seeds is less expensive yet the process requires additional resources.  Specialized starter mix, heat mats and grow lights can become expensive and require disciplined monitoring.  Lack of seed germination takes time to reseed.  Unused seeds must be kept organized and stored properly to preserve.  Buying seedlings can become very costly, yet it allows the grower to buy only what they want to grow, and transplants will save you time.  Long season varieties like melons, tomatoes and peppers will fruit faster.  

Learning and Pride

Seed starting comes with a substantial learning curve.  Sometimes it can be horribly disappointing. The task involves research, preparation, and execution from starting, succession planting and hardening off schedules. Despite all that work, there is also tremendous satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment from growing one’s own seeds successfully.  The sensory activity and adventure offer a more immersive experience than just buying the plants that someone else has grown. 

Gardeners tend to do a bit of both seeds and purchased transplants. Yet the true motivation is the fascination about watching nature happen. It's truly magical to observe.  Thor Hanson states, “seeds come pre-equipped with a baby plant’s first meal, everything needed to send forth incipient root, shoot, and leaf.”  How can I turn down this extraordinary challenge?

Decision Made and There is Work to be Done.

Start by researching what the expected last frost date is for your area and build a planting calendar to document your seed sowing schedule. 

Gather your supplies.  You’ll need:

  • Quality Seeds – a few favorites are Botanical Interests, Johnny’s Seeds, West Coast Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange and Territorial
  • Pots and trays to hold and support them
  • Seed starting mix – many prefer a fluffy medium to help seedlings emerge
  • Clear dome lids – to increase humidity
  • Heat mats – to warm the soil temperature and activate growth
  • Grow lights – to ensure enough hours of light
  • Plant tags – to track what varieties you've planted
  • Planner – to document your project and note learnings to apply next year

Don’t go it alone.  There are lots of tenured gardeners who can pass on their knowledge and experience to guide you in your journey.  There are valuable sources on the internet as well.

Growing your own seeds not only brings you happiness but it also allows you to share your bounty with others because it’s typical to end up having way more than you need! 


Thor Hanson, author of the book, The Triumph of Seeds

Five Reasons to Garden From Seed ~ Botanical Interests

Starting Seeds versus Buying Plants ~ Gardening Know How Blog


by Nita Couchman

The Carrot Seed is a timeless classic children's book by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Crockett Johnson. The Carrot Seed has been in print continuously since its first publication in 1945 -- 78 years now.

I'm guessing most of us read this little book as children, or have read it to our children or grandchildren. It speaks simply but eloquently about the virtues of persistence and tenderly caring for the seeds we plant, about the miracle contained in a seed, and about believing that good things will come of our efforts.

Not only is the story wonderful to share with young folks in our lives to plant the gardening seed in their minds (pun intended) -- it is also a beautiful reminder to all gardeners -- from the novice to the most seasoned -- to have faith and carry on in spite of obstacles or discouragement. A gardening story ~ a LIFE story.

Perhaps you'd like to share this book with someone YOU love?


by Helen Huber

Our suburban house in Hicksville was built in the late 1950s. It was equipped with the latest technology, including a gas oven in the kitchen. I was seven when we moved in, not tall enough to peer through the wall-oven’s glass window where all the magical transformations occurred. I desperately wanted to be a baker girl on my own but wasn’t old or tall enough to allow for that. In order to watch things bake, I needed to drag a chair over, climb up, and make sure I didn’t crash into the hot oven, ruining both my mother’s day and my beautiful young face. This particular oven inspired countless lectures on the dangers that unsuspecting children, such as myself, might encounter when baking. 

Its most dangerous aspect, besides my own potential burning, was the lighting of the oven. There was a hole of horror at the bottom of said oven. It required someone (who was not me) to perfectly insert a long lit match into the hole while slowly turning the temperature knob with safe-cracker precision. If disaster didn't strike, the match would ignite the pilot light and the oven would heat. Or the house might explode. It was always tense waiting to see the outcome, hopeful my mother succeeded in this gas-lighting gauntlet so I could bake some brownies. I did burn my fingers a couple of times, but I managed to make it through my childhood and adult life with that Hicksville kitchen intact. 

Today’s recipe is child-friendly if you have one or more hanging around. It would be just as fine to make this on your own. My awesome Aussie friend Katrina shared her recipe for the uber-popular Australian brekkie (breakfast), lunch or snack cleverly called the Slice of Delight, also known as the Zucchini Slice. It is infinitely adaptable to what you have on hand, delicious hot, cold or room temperature, and is frequently seen in Australian lunchboxes.

Give it a go. The only thing that might explode are your taste buds.



Terraced Attack

By Suzette Lamb

Join Garden Club members, Suzette Lamb and Brett Lansing, as they share their garden project progress through this mini series.

Moving to our new home in East Olga in the peak of summer 2021 was glorious. The weather, the view, and the tranquility. But we had major league rookie gardening work to do. We chose to start our campaign nearest the house: three levels of terraced rock work with 1000 square feet of fenced garden planting space. We just couldn’t see it through all the tall grass and forest of daisies.

Several of the former owner's plantings had survived and we had the original planting map. To start learning the island and how to garden, we took a tour of Bullock’s Permaculture Homestead. Our guide impressed us so much we hired her the next week as our consultant.

A great collaboration ensued, we wrote a permaculture plan and set to work on the daunting task of rehabilitating the space. What followed was back- and wallet-breaking: a blur of tool purchases, sore feet and knees, mud in the house, and the smell of guano and other manures. Finally in August, we rented a U Haul truck for a run to Christianson’s. Dozens more wheelbarrows of soil, mulch, and sweat followed, but we had also returned with more than 100 shrubs and plants. A small platoon of helping hands spent two long days digging and planting, but we did it; the soil had been rehabilitated and replanted.

We’re still learning how to feed, prune, cull and otherwise nurture each shrub, plant and flower. We had a few casualties along the way but surprised ourselves (and probably our consultant) with enough success to enjoy a beautiful, colorful landscape that the butterflies and hummingbirds seemed to appreciate for the first year. But as the saying goes, there is no rest for the weary, and we were already on to our next project which was to stop the spread of an established, noxious enemy. 



from the Garden Club Board

It takes a village. Yes, in a small, somewhat isolated island like ours, it becomes even more apparent that we depend on one another. Our interconnections make us all better than we could be on our own.

In February, the month of love, it seems especially appropriate to declare our appreciation and recognize OUR community partners.

Orcas Island Library ~ How do we even begin to express our thanks for the many ways the Library supports our club and our community? Holly & Ingrid have been our partners in hosting Zoom meetings and most recently with technology training for hybrid meetings. Thanks for giving our community the Seed Bank, DVDs and books on gardening and for being a resource for program speakers.

Lorna's Driftwood Nursery

Darvill's Bookstore

Both Lorna's Driftwood Nursery and Darvill's Bookstore are mainstay collaborators of the Garden Club. Both sell Garden Tour tickets for us each year, and generously offer donations of plants and books for our monthly raffle prizes. Thank you !!!

Where would we be without the folks who help us spread the word -- about our programs, about becoming members, about our annual Garden Tour??? THANK YOU !!!

Washington State University Extension Service in an invaluable resource: programs, information, speakers!

WSU Master Gardeners

(Training program through WSU)


Master Gardener Foundation of San Juan County

Created to support the Master Gardener program, members volunteer at Q&A Tables, and hold spring native plant sales and an annual fall gardening workshop

The Noxious Weed Program through WSU Extension provides education, hands-on help with noxious weed identification and control, information booths at Garden Tour, and speakers like Jason who help educate us.

Garden Clubs on Lopez and San Juan Islands

Farm to Cafeteria Garden

at the Public School


Student Permaculture Project

at Orcas Christian School

Both school gardens have been featured on Garden Tours and are educating young generations of gardeners.

Orcas Island Community Foundation

for maximizing the investment of funds for many island non-profit organizations like ours for the benefit of our entire community.


February's official flower is the violet, known for its heart-shaped clusters of petals and delicate scent. According to Greek legend, the goddess Artemis changed one of her nymphs into a violet to protect her from unwanted advances from the god Apollo. Violets are edible and are often used as decorative garnish in salads. They are also candied and may be eaten on their own or used to decorate pastries. Violets symbolize faithfulness and modesty.


Reviewed by Perri Gibbons

Marisa Hendron’s upcoming presentation, Seed Stewardship for Locally Adapted Plants, motivated me to check out the “Seeds of Time” DVD from the Orcas Library. This is a fascinating documentary about the race against time to preserve and protect the diversity of our food stock. Agricultural pioneer, Cary Fowler, takes us on a beautifully filmed whirlwind tour from an indigenous people’s potato harvest in Peru to a high tech gene bunker in the icy Norwegian tundra.

I learned that frozen preserved seed vaults are an important aspect in the preservation of seed diversity, but there is another way uniquely suited to the gardening community. Fowler calls gardeners the “first line of defense in plant diversity.” We can make informed choices about what we plant and, so, participate in a kind of on-site preservation. For example, Seed Saver’s Exchange based in Iowa is one of the largest non-governmental seed banks in the U.S. Their mission is to preserve heirloom varieties through sales, distribution and exchange. Supporting this non-profit group through membership or seed purchases are ways to contribute.

But, we also have a local seed bank in our very own library. I look forward to Marisa’s presentation and hope to learn more about this local initiative, to be inspired, and to find ways to commit to this important issue.


by Laura Walker

Roses are red, violets are blue;

Sweet peas are multicolored

And ‘sow’ easy to grow!

Early February each year, around my favorite holiday, I leap into soaking, sprouting and starting sweet pea seeds, anticipating their fragrant blossoms to enjoy throughout the summer. This year, I invited a few friends to a sweet pea party! Everyone brought their favorite variety of seeds, planting equipment and enthusiasm. We each approached the task with a slightly different method as an experiment. No one wore gloves as we eagerly dove into the moist cool planting medium. All in all, by the end of the planting day, we had potted up 574 seeds that are now sitting snuggly on warmed mats in my greenhouse. This will definitely be an annual event!

Years ago while living on Lopez, it was a treat to see the annual arrival of colorful sweet peas growing along the roadside in patches. Did you know that there are two types of sweet peas?  These wild ones are the perennial, Lathyrus latifolius and have very little scent but make a colorful bouquet in a vase. The most common variety though is the annual, Lathyrus odoratus which is highly fragrant and now can be found in more than 150 varieties. Heirloom varieties are those that have been around for at least 40 to 50 years. The blooms tend to be smaller than newer hybrids, but the blooms have a sweeter and stronger fragrance. Continued breeding of sweet peas brings increased disease resistance, longer blooms and more colors to choose from.  At the same time, the oldest known forms are being preserved through institutions such as Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, storing over 2.4 billion seeds representing almost 40,000 different species. 

Plant history is always fascinating to me. Originating in southern Italy and Sicily, the plant initially grew wild. It’s said that in the late 17th century, Francisco Cupani, a Sicilian monk, admired the flower so much, he began sending the seeds to plant collectors and botanical institutions all over the world. His favorite was Cupani’s Original and it is still grown today featuring pink and burgundy flowers. Henry Eckford, a Scottish nurseryman, was especially recognized for the development and hybridization of the plants. This once wildflower became one of the most popular flowers in the Victorian era. For his contribution, Eckford was granted a Victoria Medal of Honor by the Royal Horticultural Society. 

Though simple to grow, sweet peas do need a few things to be successful. They require water frequently in well-drained soil, with full sun and plenty of amendments of manure and compost. Pinch the top set of leaves to encourage branching. To grow sturdy stalks, provide a fan, if inside, to replicate the same air movement that occurs naturally outside. Ensure you have a support structure for climbing varieties that can grow as tall as 10 feet. Harvest often to promote continued blooms and early in the day when the blossoms are more hydrated to last longer in the vase.

As a note of caution, sweet peas are poisonous to humans and pets, so grow with care. Then smile, knowing that all types of sweet peas attract and nurture bees and other pollinators and you are providing for these vital creatures.


It’s easy to join or renew! 

Click HERE to print a membership form. Fill in the form and mail it with your check to OIGC Membership, P. O. Box 452, Eastsound, WA 98245.

OR . . . you can go to our website and fill in the online form and pay your membership fees online as well.

As an added bonus, names of new and renewing members are automatically entered into our monthly raffle drawing.

Membership Fees :

Individual : $25 / year

Couple : $35 / year

156 Members as of February 13

Renewals ------------121

New Members -------21

Lifetime Members --- 8

Comp Members ------ 6


PRESIDENT: Nita Couchman


TREASURER: Tony Suruda

SECRETARY: Margaret Payne

PROGRAMS: Lene Symes & Kate Yturri


MEMBERSHIP: Karen Hiller

GARDEN TOUR: Sally Hodson & Laura Walker

Orcas Island Garden Club
P. O. Box 452
Eastsound, WA 98245

Newsletter Editors: Nita Couchman & Laura Walker