New Low Impact Garden in Sequim

Before I get to the subject at hand, allow me to interject a brief commercial announcement. This Saturday we will be at the Fronderosa Frolic in Gold Bar with lots of other exciting nurseries! As usual, your special requests are welcome. Please note the event is only ONE DAY this year. This might be the region’s geekiest plant sale. Maybe we will get some thunderstorms. That would be exciting. See you there! Woohoo! And such. OK, moving along now. . .

I recently learned of this new “low impact” garden that has been installed at Sequim’s Carrie Blake Park (here and here). So I thought I had better go check it out and see what I think, since “low impact” and “water wise” are pretty much what we are about (along with excellent plantsmanship) here at the Desert Northwest.

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I ought to preface this post by noting that I had no idea any of this was going on until I read about it in the Sequim Gazette online. Some of our local nurseries donated plants to this project, but we were not contacted. I suppose that means there are a lot of people here in the area who still don’t know about our nursery. Well, we are not in a prominently visible location, which you will know if you have been here.

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The garden area is divided into several different sections, which I didn’t figure out until the end since I started at the “wrong” end of the garden and missed the interpretive sign. The larger part of the area consists of “open prairie” and “woodland” plantings. There are also demonstration rain gardens, seashore gardens and a rock garden.

I am glad they have the rock garden. Rock gardening is kind of a big deal when it comes to combining low-maintenance with plantsmanship. It is tempting to think of rock gardening as a dying fad for eccentric old geezers, as I (dare I admit) once did. I have been slow to get into it because of the amount of time and skill it takes to place the rocks. But there is certainly a such thing as a garden that combines the best of rock gardening and low maintenance.

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This rock garden was small but had a decent selection of plants. It will be interesting to see how the Agaves (A. montana and A. ‘Blue Glow’) do. It is great that someone thought to try them, but I would have started with A. parryi, and I would have started with at least a 2-gallon plant or nothing at all, since smaller sizes just don’t always make it through their first winter. But hey – maybe we’ll get lucky with these; you never know. The manzanita at the corner of the garden (left side of pic above) was not labeled as to species, but looks like probably a form of A. densiflora which means it will get way too big for the space, and grow into the parking lot and halfway over the rock garden if it is not cut back or eventually removed. Oh well.

I thought the rain garden was well done given the limitations of the space. I only wonder if enough water will run into there to sustain the plants that are supposed to benefit from the runoff. Time will tell, I guess.

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It is hard to say how the rest of the garden will look until it fills out, so I guess I won’t say much yet. Most of these plants are very small, and one gets the feeling that availability of source material was a major limitation when doing this project. That doesn’t surprise me. Conventional nurseries in our region continue to be pretty out of touch when it comes to offering plants that really like to live in our climate without getting irrigated all summer.

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A Madrona. Well that’s good.

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One can hardly go wrong with beach strawberry. As long as you keep it out of the rock garden!

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Calocedrus is another good choice. This one looks a bit stressed out, but ought to make it.

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Lots of kinnikkinnik here. One has to be cautious with it in our climate, I think, because of the prevailing availability of inferior clones like ‘Massachusetts’ that can burn in hotter gardens and aren’t as tough as people expect. ‘Point Reyes’ is probably the best selection for Northwest dry gardens.

Conceptually, I like this garden: it is something I can get behind. The different areas are well thought out. The careful planning, consideration and work that went into it is very much evident. The billboards are loaded with good information and even talk about how dry it is in the Olympic rainshadow.

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Here, we have a hose bib. Leading to. . .

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. . .a sprinkler. Oh well. It would be better to hand-water the plants to get them to grow deep root systems, but it is probably too many plants for that to be realistic. You can do it with a sprinkler too as long as it only comes on once every week or two.

To me the weakest link is simply plant material. I can’t imagine the full spectrum of plants that was desired was incorporated here (if it was, I have a lot more educating to do about drought tolerant plants for our climate. HINT: very few of them are available at most nurseries). I don’t know what their plant budget was, and it sounds like many items were donated; but my approach would have been to specify what plants were needed beforehand and have someone contract-grow most of them (as my first budget priority), excepting a few things that are readily available. I imagine a low impact garden in the Northwest being full of Callistemons, Grevilleas, Leptospermums, Olearias, a vast array of species Penstemons, Artemisias, Garrya, Baccharis, Yuccas, ice plants, other hardy cacti and succulents, and many more kinds of Cistus, Ceanothus and manzanita; to start with.

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A Cistus. It’s doing splendidly – so why just two of them in the whole project?

I (cautiously) mention budget priorities in relation to plant selection because I think it is important to “wow” people before they are interested enough in a project like this to want to be informed about it through brochures, signage, etc. A lot of people aren’t going to be motivated to try something different if they aren’t immediately impressed. I guess I just don’t want anyone to get the idea that low impact gardens are boring or visually underwhelming. I don’t want anyone to feel like a compromise is involved when aiming to conserve water in your garden. There are thousands of drought tolerant plants out there that are suited to our climate, and a water-wise garden can look like a lot of different things.

If, on the other hand, the goal of this project was to get people to use plants that are already easy to find in the nursery trade, then we have a bigger problem: nurseries, largely, aren’t growing the right plants for our region. This sounds like a fine topic for another blog post. And I am now sounding like a broken record.

I hope this review has come off as well balanced and not too scathing. I get it that these plants are not easy to find: it can be a major challenge, but not impossible. I also get it that funding was limited.

So with all that in mind, I wish to let anyone who reads this know that I am happy to contribute plants to this project, or similar projects in the future, especially if they are close to home here in Sequim. That includes both donations (subject to current availability and within reasonable limits) and competitively priced contract growing for specialty items. I’m here. But you still have to find my web site and blog: I just don’t want to seem like a pushy sort of person, I guess.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Loree / danger garden
    Aug 08, 2013 @ 09:08:27

    Agave ‘Blue Glow?’ Are you guys really that warm in the winter?

    I’m amazed they didn’t contact you. Granted some people can be blind to things right around the corner if their eyes haven’t been opened to them, but not even one person involved in the planning and execution knew of you? That’s sad. Perhaps you need to do a little self promotion closer to home?

    Reply

  2. Ian
    Aug 08, 2013 @ 11:38:10

    Loree, I’m pretty sure I met Joe Holtrop (project coordinator) at the Sequim Garden Show in March. Apparently my booth didn’t leave enough of an impression! Yeah, researching Agave ‘Blue Glow’, I suppose it doesn’t have much of a chance… oh well… maybe that’s why it was not on my radar.

    Reply

  3. loren kinman
    Aug 08, 2013 @ 18:56:38

    Hi Ian, I enjoyed your post. I put together a ‘wish list’ of plants I would like to purchase from you. I hope you will have a few available at the Frolic on Saturday. I had a friend pick up 2 Grevilleas from you at the sale a couple of years ago and they are doing well here in Fremont. Here is my list: G. ‘Audrey’, G. rosmarinifolia, Embothrium coccineum, white mountain banksia, G. juniperina var. sulphurea, G. ‘scarlet sprite’, Hakea microcarpa, C. ‘wetland challenged mutant’, and C. linearis var. punila. You probably guessed I am looking for Proteas which tend to be on the hardy side. Thanks and see you Saturday. -Loren

    Reply

  4. Peter/Outlaw
    Aug 08, 2013 @ 20:56:51

    Interesting. I have blue glow in a pot that comes inside for the winter. Never thought it would survive here. We’ll see I guess. Looking forward to seeing you and your plants at the Frolic!

    Reply

  5. Ian
    Aug 08, 2013 @ 23:21:01

    Loren, got your plants – thanks. Except ‘Scarlet Sprite’, which we seem to have sold out of.

    Peter, no, ‘Blue Glow’ won’t survive here… in all likelihood, anyway. See you Saturday.

    Reply

  6. Preston
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 11:22:26

    Great write up Ian!… No, it’s not everything it could be but I like that they are getting the idea out there and trying to educate people about the plants that thrive in our climate. Loren you may also be aware of Lomatia myricoides… Another great Proteaceae that seems to do well in the Seattle area, although it may eat your yard.

    Preston

    Reply

  7. Desert Dweller
    Aug 16, 2013 @ 15:18:16

    Nice to see, though I can’t tell if they used the high water plant low and the low water plants high!

    Availability is such a big determiner in what happens to a landscape design…way too often. I wish them the best on the water harvesting functioning as intended (it just might) and that madrone growing!

    Reply

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