People of PAS

Published in the Edmonds Beacon, Thursday, April 10, 2014

Demonstration garden is blooming -- naturally

Photo by: Paul Archipley

Volunteers Susie Schaefer, center, and Paula Parsons try to enlist a passing bicyclist to help out Saturday during a work party to clean up the native plant demonstration garden in Edmonds.

The title is a mouthful: The Wildlife Habitat Native Plant Demonstration Garden.

But that’s OK, because the garden is an eyeful.

Located just off Edmonds Way and Pine Street at the Willow Creek Hatchery, the garden has been growing more impressive since its grand opening in 2010.

Volunteers are cleaning it up and expanding it as another season begins for workshops, talks, tours and other events.

Susie Schaefer, one of the volunteers who helped get the garden growing, said the project launched when a group of residents began working to get Edmonds homes certified as Backyard Wildlife Habitats – a national recognition program for communities aiming to restore vital wildlife habitat “one property at a time.”

By making their yards more “friendly” to local wildlife, insects, and native plants, residents can help restore and revive the natural ecosystem even in the midst of an increasingly urban environment.

“My whole goal is to get people to have better backyards,” Schaefer said.

She envisions strings of homes between parks, gulches and native habitats that provide natural corridors for the wildlife that still live among us.

But how to do that? Asking homeowners to change their yards and gardens is one thing; showing them is another.

Thus was born the native plant garden at Willow Creek.

Securing agreements with the City and operators of the hatchery, and thanks to a grant from the Hubbard Foundation, volunteers enlisted wildlife experts to help them design a garden that would demonstrate the options for homeowners to turn their yards into low-cost, low-maintenance, natural habitats.

Now in its fourth year, the garden is filling out; trails meander through and plants are labeled, offering visitors ideas for their own gardens and yards.

Why water grass and fight dandelions when natural ground cover needs no watering and naturally crowds out most of the unwanted invaders?

Instead of paying – or praying – for bees to pollinate your fruit trees, why not put in plants and bushes that attract bees naturally?

You can attract friendly insects, birds, butterflies – even bats (they love mosquitoes) – by turning your yard into a natural habitat that looks good and improves the environment.

The demonstration garden will host a variety of programs and workshops over the next several months to help.

Upcoming events include “Save the Frogs Day” with Edmonds own Frog Lady, Thayer Cueter, from 1-3 p.m. Sunday, April 27.

From 1-3 the following day, April 28, local artist April Richardson hosts a “Native Seeds and Recycled Handmade Paper” workshop.

Future programs include talks about the birds and the bees – hummingbirds and mason bees, that is – an evening bat program, and how to attract birds to your garden.

For many longtime residents, it’s an important step back to a time when a more rural Edmonds was friendly to humans and wildlife alike.

“We haven’t been good stewards,” Schaefer said.

But she’s hopeful. “I think kids are taught more now,” she said.

Among those who remember a more idyllic era is Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas who was born and raised in Richmond Beach.

She used to ride horses from Woodway into downtown Edmonds, either on the two-lane dirt road that became State Highway 104 or along the beach.

The Edmonds Marsh was at least twice as big, reaching all the way to Dayton, she recalled.

She remembers riding her bike into town, too, in an era when parents didn’t have to worry about their kids being gone all afternoon.

She’d ride beside a stream, she guessed it was Willow Creek, stopping to explore the flora and fauna that flourished there.

“I used to catch frogs and polliwogs, and watch the small fish. It’s true, we’ve lost a lot of habitat through development,” Fraley-Monillas said.

Of course, the demonstration garden depends on volunteers to make it work.

Among those helping out last weekend was Jim Clark, who moved to Edmonds with his wife from Virginia about a year ago and attended one of the planning sessions about the garden.

“I raised my hand, said I can help, and I’ve been busy ever since,” Clark said.

On Saturday, he was helping direct a group of young volunteers from the county’s Juvenile Court Detention Alternatives program.

“It’s a great source of backbone and energy,” he said.

Work parties are slated from 10-1 on the first Saturday of every month until fall. Gloves, tools and training are all provided.

To learn about the coming lineup of workshops and talks, keep your eye on the calendar in the Beacon or go to