Buck Lake gardeners go native

Volunteers spread mulch at a recent garden work party. - Susan Harrington/Courtesy Photo
Volunteers spread mulch at a recent garden work party.
— image credit: Susan Harrington/Courtesy Photo

HANSVILLE — Amid the wood sorrel and wild ginger in Buck Lake Native Plant Garden Tuesday, landscape designer Patrick Leuner stopped and stared at a bushy rhododendron and its single, bright bloom.

The offending plant had all the right green trappings. But its purple bloom — a shade darker than the native pink rhododendrons — betrayed it as an unwanted interloper.

“This,” Leuner said, gesturing accusingly at the non-native shrub, “is breaking the rules.”

Rules are important in this garden, where Leuner and other organizers have created not only a serene setting, but also a living demonstration of the benefits of gardening with native plants.

The more than 100 species and varieties of plants in the garden — aside from the condemned rhododendron, which probably slipped in through a labeling error — grow wild in the Pacific Northwest. Because they are at home in the maritime climate, enthusiasts say these native species require less water and fertilizer, and create better habitat for wildlife than most of their non-native counterparts.

“The native plants support the birds, they support the butterflies, so it’s very beneficial,” said Mary Booth, who helped design the Buck Lake garden. “We want to show people that you can grow a beautiful garden out of native plants.”

The volunteers have planted their garden on a small parcel of county land adjacent to Buck Lake County park at the entrance to the Hansville Greenway trail system. The property had been home to a bicycle motocross track, which fell into disrepair.

The vacant land caught the eye of Kitsap County Master Gardener Roland Malan, who in 2006 was looking for a site for a North Kitsap demonstration garden.

Malan, Booth and Leuner began laying out the garden. They used a 450-cubic-foot load of soil left over from a parking lot project at Buck Lake park to fill the berms and jumps of the bicycle track. Contractors volunteered their time re-contouring the property and building trails.

“We started with a clean slate,” Booth said.

From the beginning, the garden was an all-volunteer venture, supported by private donations and the Flotsam and Jetsam Garden Club. The plants went in a year ago and are flourishing, despite not having been watered this year. Organizers discovered on Tuesday that, by accident, the garden’s automated watering system wasn’t turned on this spring.

“That’s a testament to how healthy these native plants are,” volunteer Dody Solaas said.

The garden squeezes a huge variety into a small space. The entrance is shaded by a grove of paper birch trees, with their familiar flaky, white bark. A plant-lined trail winds to a grassy amphitheater, where classes can be held. One corner is dedicated to shade-loving plant varieties, while nearby a small meadow is sprouting with clover and wildflowers.

A seasonal stream bed runs through the midst of the garden. It will pick up water runoff, which will be cleansed by the roots of filtering plants like slough sedge, as it trickles toward Buck Lake.

All of these areas demonstrate ways gardeners can use natives in their own yards.

Leuner said native species are starting to catch on as an alternative to traditional lawns and garden plantings, but they still don’t take up much space on most nursery shelves.

“A lot of people don’t know about natives,” Leuner said. “It’s going to take a while.”

The public is invited to tour from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Docents will be available to answer questions and information on native gardening will be provided.

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