Sprucing up a place for plants
It's underfunded, overlooked and, because of a lack of staffing, parts are just plain weedy. That's the 230 acres, with their 10,000 plants...
Seattle Times staff reporter
It's underfunded, overlooked and, because of a lack of staffing, parts are just plain weedy.
That's the 230 acres, with their 10,000 plants, that make up the Washington Park Arboretum in the middle of Seattle. Its enthusiasts admit the park is better known elsewhere than in its hometown.
It is one of the country's great botanical gardens, renowned for its collections that include oaks, hollies and rhododendrons.
Now, finally, there is discernible progress at the park.
A big, new, splashy garden, covering 12 acres, is being created.
In the local horticultural world, that is cause for great excitement.
It was in 1934, when the arboretum was founded, that the last such major garden work was done.
It almost seems inevitable that when your main product line includes trees, progress is measured very slowly. Still, that's a wait of 73 years.
"I think that because it's [at] our back door, people just see it as a park," said Mary Lou Smith, 55, a 10-year volunteer.
That's why an 11:30 a.m. ceremony Thursday at the arboretum — as hokey as it might appear as participants will follow a carved cedar pole as they shake gourd rattles — means so much to her. The pole will be used to support an interpretive shelter at the new garden.
"Everybody's excited. It's a big step forward," said Smith.
The new Pacific Connections Garden will have plants and mini-forests representing this region and four other countries in the Pacific Rim with similar climates.
Chosen as "iconic" plants from each region will be ginkgo trees from China; the New Zealand flax, a grassy perennial; the eucalyptus tree from Australia; the monkey puzzle tree from Chile; and, from here, the Western red cedar.
Money is the main reason why it took so long to bring about such a major project.
For example, said botanist David Mabberley, the arboretum's director, its budget gives it only six gardeners to look after all those 10,000 plants.
A master plan says the park really should have 40 gardeners if it had the same staffing as botanical centers in San Francisco or Vancouver, B.C.
"It does look a bit tatty," said Mabberley, using a term from his native England, about the arboretum's unkempt look.
During six sessions, under the guidance of the Pomegranate Center — an Issaquah nonprofit — some 40 volunteers used power and hand tools in carving the poles. Smith helped carve two of 12 such poles, all from cedar trees blown down in the park during last December's windstorm.
"I was dusty from head to toe," she said. "It gives you a sense of ownership."
A $2.2 million gift from the Arboretum Foundation, along with $450,000 from parks levy money, has made the initial work on the garden possible. Mabberley said several million dollars more will be needed to finish the project.
Smith also knows it'll be many years before the vision is a reality.
It's not just the money; ginkgo trees don't exactly grow fast.
There is no mandatory overtime for plants.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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