Visiting the Okanogan

Last week my mother and I went to visit family in the Okanogan area of eastern Washington. We didn't manage as much hiking as I had hoped, and we had missed the peak display of wildflowers, but despite some people's belief to the contrary, I was truly and simply pleased just to be there in good company, regardless of a good floral display. Not that a few flowers ever hurts.

Ribes cereum, or squaw currant,  provides an important supply of nectar for hummingbirds when it flowers early in the season. The berries are edible, but are so bland they are better left for the birds.

One of several species of Erigeron native to the area.

Eriogonum heracleoides, or parsnip-flowered buckwheat, is a good nectar source for bees and was used by Native Americans to treat a wide range of ailments. 

The cream to yellow flowers often age to a ruddy pink. 

The fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) was coming into bloom. In areas recently disturbed (usually by fire) this plant can establish huge colonies blazing bright pink when in bloom.

I'm fairly certain this is Penstemon procerus, or small-flowered penstemon, though it could be Penstemon pruinosus. The former has flowers 8-12 mm long while the latter has flowers over 13 mm long and is generally hairier. I admit I was mostly just admiring the beautiful little flowers and not really paying close attention to distinguishing features.

After a welcome rain shower, Purshia tridentata, or antelope brush, displays beautiful dark bark that contrasts with the small green leaves and yellow/reddish seed capsules.

Calochortus lyallii, also called Lyall's mariposa lily or cat's ears, is a lovely member of the lily family. It grows abundantly in the Okanogan area and throughout central Washington and north into British Columbia. There have to be some perks to living east of the Cascades, after all.

Water! This wide marshy area must provide welcome relief for the animals living in the area, though at this particular moment it's mostly a playground for the two canine companions in the lower right.

Shepherdia canadensis, or soopolallie, is a relative of Eleagnus native to Canada and the western and northern United States. It is also known as russet buffalo berry, but soopolallie is so much more fun to say. Apparently Native Americans used the berries dried, boiled into a syrup for beverages, or mixed them with a little water and whipped them into a light froth called Indian ice cream. The berries were an important trade item and all parts of the plant were used to treat a wide variety of maladies.

Galls have always fascinated me. They can be formed by insects, mites, and fungi. Roses are subject to many kinds of galls. These bright red galls were restricted to the leaves.

This gall was forming from young side shoots.

Always a favorite of mine when I visit the Okanogan is this Ipomopsis aggregata, or scarlet gilia. I just love the bright red flowers, often subtly mottled with lighter and darker shades. The finely dissected leaves, which I couldn't get a good picture of, have a coating of matted grey hairs, giving them an overall silvery appearance.

One morning we awoke to a young bull moose just a few yards away from the house. Forgive me my blurry photo. It was far enough away that I had some trouble stabilizing the camera at my maximum zoom. 

Here's a less blurry shot, just before he moved out of sight over the hill. Unfortunately I didn't see his flying squirrel companion.

The Okanogan is also a place of panoramic vistas, enhanced by building clouds. 
 On the drive home, we stopped to walk through Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee. This garden stands on the rocky tip of a ridge above the town. It forms a little oasis above the hustle and bustle of highways, packing houses, and the dry desert.

Without a doubt, one of the outstanding features of Ohme is the rock work. Walls, paths, pools, and benches all showcase native rock, matching the natural outcroppings.

Several historic structures exist on the property, including this one, supported by these wonderful gnarled logs.

The garden boasts several pools, complete with gorgeous waterfalls and lush plantings.

Much of the garden is covered in low ground covers and other low-growing plants to provide beautiful open views.

Oh to have natural rock outcroppings like this to play with!

A swallow-tail butterfly was enjoying the lavender.

Some of the paths are a little challenging. I'm glad I'm not afraid of heights!

I love Asplenium trichomanes, or maidenhair spleenwort. Ohme has some of the healthiest patches I've seen in their shadier nooks. Provided they have enough water, this fern loves growing in shady rock crevices.

Seriously, can I have that bench? Complete with rocky cliff, of course.

A view down to the lower pond, with juniper and fireweed in the foreground.

Looking up from a low path, the trees rise up like pinnacles on a rocky fortress.

Creeping Jenny is a widely used ground cover in this garden and is very effective with the grey rocks. In a garden west of the Cascades I would be too afraid of it taking over completely, but here it is a tough and wonderful ground cover.

Another perilous path winds down and along the side of the ridge.

Below and beyond the garden are fruit-packing houses, highways, and the Columbia River.

 While the garden as a whole is beautiful, it is full of many rather common plants. Nothing wrong with things like cotoneaster, thyme, geraniums, and creeping Jenny, they just aren't terribly exciting to me. But one plant always draws me in when I visit this garden: Dryas octopetala, commonly called white mountain avens.

A member of the rose family, the white flowers perhaps resemble more closely a buttercup or anemone.

The feather seed heads add further to the resemblance to anemones or pasque flowers, yet this mat-forming woody sub-shrub is indeed a member of the Rosaceae.

Both the flowers and feather seed heads are lovely, but my favorite feature of this plant is the leaves. Held almost vertically, the bright green upper surface contrasts beautifully with the lighter undersides. A few sedum flowers rise through the foliage here to produce an even more magical display. 
And that's the story of why I was so quiet last week. I have a lot of catching up to do. So much has happened in the garden in just one week!


  1. So much great stuff in one post! I sometimes forget how beautiful the other side of the state is. Thanks for sharing the interesting natives, a group of plants about which I need to learn more. More hiking in the wild is in order! Love the leaves of the mountain avens!

    1. I forget how beautiful it is, too. Usually when I picture eastern Washington it's the rolling, wheat-covered hills of the Palouse or the barren desert around the Tri-Cities, neither of which appeals to me. The northern areas have some spectacular scenery and some beautiful native plants.

  2. Sounds like you had a good visit to the other side. And thanks for sharing your photos from Ohme, I visited there about 2 years ago, and started to put a post together from my photos, but I never did finish it, or publish the post.

    1. I love Ohme. It's such a unique and picturesque garden.

  3. I really love the views of this post. Sometimes one needs to just sit back and relax, let nature come to you. I enjoy seeing native plants and flowers, and hear about there use by native americans; this was a fun tour.

    1. Thanks, chav. I like learning about the different uses for native plants as well.

  4. You still found plenty of interest, even if you did miss the most floriferous days. Sometimes I think the slightly off-season is even more alluring.

    1. I agree. My hosts were constantly lamenting the lack of flowers. I thought there was plenty to see!

  5. I enjoy seeing these wilder, open spaces - it's quite a change for a Los Angeleno! Good catch on the moose photos too (even without Rocky).

    1. This must be quite different from what you're used to seeing. I wish I had gotten some clearer shots of the moose.

  6. The rocks, the pool, the pathways, the vistas, wow! And some nice plants too that are new to me too!

    1. Ohme is a lovely and unique garden. It's my favorite stop whenever I go that way.

  7. Ah the first part of this post has me a little homesick...

    1. It may be a harsh climate, but the northeast part of the state does have some beautiful scenery.

  8. I love both the indigenous and the plants in this garden. And the rocks are to die for. What a fun place to visit.

    1. Those rocks have me drooling every time I visit.


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