Why do native plants make our hearts skip a beat? So many reasons, we’re taking a whole week to tell you about it. Stick with us on the blog this week, as Forterra’s Stewardship staff pens a love letter to the plants that help us do our best work.
To understand the importance of native plants, imagine you go to the supermarket one day, planning to buy all of your basic food and household essentials, but when you walk in all they have is turnips. And you don’t even really like turnips. And then you go in another week and there’s nothing at all.
That’s what it’s like for native wildlife when invasive plants take over a landscape, pushing out the wide array of native plants that called it home: plants that flower and fruit at different times of the year, produce food that can be stored, and even provide shelter. Invasive plants grow so aggressively that eventually, they’re the only thing around. Some wildlife might manage eating invasive blackberries or nesting in ivy, but those plants may only be available for part of the year, and many species may not be able to get by at all.
But wildlife is only one part of it. The key is variety. Our native plants evolved together over hundreds and thousands of years, and they’ve adapted to co-exist so that no single one dominates. Instead they make a beautiful patchwork quilt of trees, shrubs, and smaller plants, each contributing its own bounty to the landscape. Some are great at feeding wildlife, others clean our waterways, keep steep slopes or sand dunes from falling apart, or capture carbon in the atmosphere. Best of all, they can thrive here without needing to be watered or fertilized—they’ve already been doing so for millennia. All of these awesome qualities allow native plants to blanket our wild places and urban jungles with the wide variety of life that is necessary for a healthy and sustainable environment.
Native plants are also a living part of the history of the Northwest. First Nations people depended on the plants that have grown here throughout their history, and their traditional uses reflect a deep knowledge of the natural history of the land and its plants, called ethnobotany. Learning about it is a fascinating way to understand native plants while connecting to the history of this place at the same time.
Throughout the rest of this week, we’ll be focusing on different fun and interesting aspects of native plants each day. Stay tuned and let us know what you think! We hope it inspires you to dig in with us at a volunteer project or plant some native plants in your own yard.
We’re excited to announce that the Green Seattle Partnership will be getting this year’s “Community Game Changer” award at Forterra’s Awards Breakfast on May 19th!
The Community Game Changer Award recognizes that a sustaining and sustainable renaissance and restoration of our city green spaces require visionaries who think beyond traditional, narrowly defined scopes and missions; collaboration and partnership among a broad coalition of people – from government agencies to organizations; from schools to businesses; and the hands-on hard work and green thumbs of devoted community volunteers. This Forterra award to the Green Seattle Partnership celebrates 10 years of outstanding service and dedication to Seattle’s parks and natural areas—a game-changer in our community that is now a nationally acclaimed and regionally replicated model.
Within the Partnership as a whole, Forterra is recognizing the contributions of the following standouts: Mayors of Seattle Greg Nichols, Mike McGinn, and Ed Murray for their vision, leadership, and ongoing commitment to green space and the idea that citizens who dig in and get their hands dirty are a very good thing for the health of our communities. Seattle’s Offices of Sustainability and the Environment, Public Utilities, and Parks and Recreation, GSP’s dynamic founding partners, for joining Forterra in launching the Green Seattle Partnership, advancing the importance of place-making, and furthering a ‘living’ project that has now enrolled over 1000 city acres into restoration – and along the way brought together residents of all ages and neighborhoods. Stewards and volunteers for their generosity in giving 722,500 hours in volunteer time to plant 169,000 trees in order to maintain ecologically balanced green spaces and provide for quality of life in the city of Seattle.
If you would like to attend the breakfast to see the award presentation, click here for more information. If you are a volunteer, put “Green Seattle Partnership” as your table captain.
Want to join a team of volunteers who make a BIG difference? If you’ve dropped in for a work party with your local Green City Partnership, you have a taste of what volunteer restoration is like. Take it to the next level and see how a longer-term restoration project can transform a park you love. Be a local leader, inspire others to get involved, and learn what it takes to keep urban forests, parks, and natural areas healthy and green.
Nature in the city gives us so much: clean air, beautiful places to enjoy and encourage more frequent exercise, open space to spend time with friends, a local connection with nature that reduces stress and improves mental health, habitat for local wildlife, stormwater retention to reduce flooding, carbon sequestration, and more. Stewards are the VIPs that enable volunteer projects to be successful in taking care of valuable public spaces in their own communities.
Current Stewards have this to say:
“This has been one of the most positive volunteer experiences I have ever had. . . I can’t believe how great the park looks since we started.” – Kaytlyn, Redmond
“The park is full of small, special spots, each with its own story.” , Seattle
“The Green Kent Partnership has a powerful message, and that is to conserve the beautiful environment that we live in. It is such an honor to be a part of this.” – Danielle, Kent
[Q:What do you get out of this mostly? A:] “Its fun!” – Glenn, Redmond
“I look forward to the day that I can walk through a forest that I helped create.’
HOW TO GET INVOLVED IN YOUR LOCAL PROGRAM:
In REDMOND: Lots of parks, including the top priorities shown on this map, are still looking for their own Forest Steward – could it be you?! An orientation for new Forest Stewards will be held on Monday, April 20th. For more information and to RSVP, click here.
In KIRKLAND: An orientation for new Green Kirkland Stewards on Sunday, May 9th welcomes you to jump in! Contact Katie to be placed on the list.
In EVERETT: This relatively new program is ready for Forest Stewards to take the reins in some awesome parks. Contact Joanna for more information on getting involved.
In TACOMA: There will be an orientation later this year for new Habitat Stewards. Contact Yvonne for more information.
In KENT: Find your own corner of Green Kent and dig in. Contact Desiree to find out when the next orientation will be held for new Stewards.
In SEATTLE: Join a team of Forest Stewards working in a park near you. They’ll be thrilled to have an extra set of helping hands, and you’ll learn hands-on restoration from the pros as you get great work done together. To get connected with a group, contact Andrea.
Seattle Parks is conducting a public input process this spring to find out what people value most in our public greenspaces. They want to hear from you! From now through mid-April, different questions will be posed here for your to make your voice heard. So check back frequently and contribute a thought about your favorite park or natural area. Public input matters!
This isn’t any old survey…. The intent of this effort is to develop values-based guidelines for the appropriate use of these areas. Check out some background information on this project, here.
And save the date for a mini-summit where the results of the public input process will be presented along with next steps:
Date: April 4, 2015; Time: 9:30-12:30
Location: Seattle Center Armory Loft
Thank you for giving your input to this process so that we can all help make Seattle’s park system the best it can be!
Why do we plant in the fall? Planting season in the Pacific Northwest coincides with rainier weather and cooler temperatures, meaning that new plantings get plenty of water, and their growth slows down so that they can get settled in their new home and establish their root systems before their first dry summer hits. There are also some great sales to be found at nurseries in September! Fall planting is delayed gratification, since you won’t see much growth until the following spring, but it’s much easier on the plants, and you’re rewarded with budding, happy plants once the weather warms up, while your neighbors are out there paying full price, working in the sun, and driving up their water bills.
Planting at the right time of year helps give plants the best chance of success. So does planting correctly. In our restoration projects, some of our native trees, if they’re lucky, can live for hundreds of years out in our parks. So it’s worth taking a few extra minutes to plant them well. Here are our top tips for planting season, that might be helpful in your own home planting projects too. Happy planting season!
- Don’t dig too deep.
Even though they need their roots underground, plants don’t like their other parts to be buried by soil. Planting too deep can cause stems (so fragile in very small plants) to rot, and prevents necessary air flow. Filling extra soil back into the hole after you realize you dug too deep means that your plant is sitting on a loose, churned up foundation and is likely to sink as soil underneath it settles over time. Instead, measure periodically as you dig and stop when you’ve gotten to the right depth. When you are finished, the root flare (or root collar) of your plant – the widened base of the main stem just above where the roots start – should be visible just above the ground. If your plant was in a pot before, dig a hole exactly as deep as the pot, try to leave the plant in the ground at the same depth that it was in its former pot.
- Dig wide.
While you don’t want to dig too deep under your plant, you do want a nice wide hole with plenty of room for all of the plant’s roots to spread out on all sides. Loosening up the soil around the plant also allows lateral (sideways) roots to grow easily. If your plant was in a pot, dig a hole that is twice as wide as the pot.
- Leave a mulch doughnut.
Mulch can be anything you put on top of the soil after you are finished planting: wood chips, bark, compost, or fallen leaves can all make good mulch for different kinds of plants. The right mulch for your plant helps keep it from drying out, keeps in warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather, and adds nutrients to the soil. But you don’t want anything that can rot to be anywhere near your plant’s roots! So keep mulch, and any leaves and sticks, out of the hole you dig to put the plant in, and don’t add mulch until the very end when your plant’s roots are all covered up. When you’re finished planting, your mulch should look like a nice doughnut around your plant. Just like you don’t want to bury your plant too deep, you also don’t want mulch touching the main stem of the plant itself, because that can cause it to rot too. Pull the mulch a few inches away from the plant to let air to flow all around the main stem, leaving a thick ring on the surface of the soil, on top of where the plant’s roots are.
- No J-roots or girdling roots.
Make sure you lay the roots of your plant out in the bottom of the hole so that they spread out and down. Roots that are pointing up underground (making the shape of the letter J) are bad for the health of the plant. Roots that wind around the hole, encircling the plant, will keep growing around and around – these are called girdling roots because they can strangle other roots. If you have J-roots or girdling roots on a plant that you take out of a pot, and they are too stiff to straighten out in your planting hole, it’s better to cut them before putting the plant in the ground, as long as it is a side-root. Never cut a tap root or the main connection from your plant’s stem to the rest of its roots.
- Right plant, right place.
Don’t ever plant invasive species! Plants that “escape” from people’s yards through fragments, suckers, spreading vines, or seeds carried by birds or the wind, eventually end up in our parks and other public lands, where they threaten our natural habitats. Choose from a wide variety of beautiful native plants, or non-invasive horticultural species, that will stay in their own space. Also make sure you understand how big your tree or large shrub will grow and how long it will live, so you can plant it far enough away from power lines, foundations, and other things it might encounter as it grows, or pick a species that stays small enough to plant closer.
Want to put these tips to good use? Sign up to help out on Green Seattle Day, Saturday, November 8th, as we plant the future of our forested parks! Or, if you live in Tacoma, Redmond, Kirkland, Everett, or Kent, check out upcoming volunteer opportunities closer to home.
Those of us who attended this year’s Green Seattle Partnership Shareholder’s meeting were treated to a brief address about the Public Engagement Committee by member-at-large, Rick Paulsen. We were so inspired we asked him to share his words on our blog. Rick is a volunteer with Friends of Lewis Park, an amazing and active group who has been transforming Lewis Park – check out their next work party for a chance to chat with Rick in person and get involved with their exciting new trail-building project!
Hi, I’ve been asked to speak to you today as a member of the Public Engagement Committee. We are made up of representatives from local government, non-profits and volunteers: the 3 constituents that make up the Green Seattle Partnership. As a group, we work on issues of outreach and engagement for the GSP as a whole. There are the monthly e-blasts to produce and planning for Green Seattle Day (put Nov 8th on your calendars, this is a great way to let the community know what we’re doing). In addition, this group provides an opportunity to consider some longer-range issues. These include working more closely with the community centers, bringing additional partners like local businesses into the GSP and striving to better reach out to the public in vital and inclusive ways so that we can involve the widest possible cross-section of the city in this work we are doing.
I am also speaking to you as a Volunteer Forest Steward. Lewis Park, the park I work in is a 5 acre wooded hillside on the north tip of Beacon Hill. We’re a group that is small, but mighty. My participation as a volunteer began almost 3 years ago at a meeting held by the Friends of Lewis Park. What I heard that day has changed my life in several ways, both large and small. Here is what I took away from that meeting:
Much of the initial work of clearing invasives and then planting and establishing native species had been accomplished. As the landscape was opened up, new challenges and possibilities had appeared. The park which had previously been a barrier between neighbors could become a bridge to bring us together. As the restoration took hold, the effort required would be changing from restoration to stewardship. Over the long term, if the park was to remain healthy and vital, the neighborhood (myself included) needed to take responsibility for it. We were being asked to contribute our ideas, our support and our time. There was a lot of enthusiasm at that meeting and I realized that this was something that I wanted to commit to. I signed on that day. Here I was, the “public” and I had been engaged.
Over time, my level of commitment grew and this past winter I became a Forest Steward. As I’ve become involved, I realize there is more to this than I first expected. In addition to building our park, we are also building our community. In order to recruit the neighbors who will care for the park in the future, we have to find them, meet them, ask for their input and invite them to join us. In supervising volunteers at work parties, through relationships with school groups and neighborhood teenagers, when hosting community meetings and tabling, and by communicating with other organizations in the neighborhood, we have tried to do just this. There have been a lot of successes but also many unmet challenges. So now, here I am, the “public”, I have been engaged and find myself in the position of needing engage a broader “public”. I am living both sides of this idea of “public engagement”.
So, who are the members of the broader “public” we need to reach? They are our neighbors and coworkers, our children’s schoolmates, the people we ride the bus with, folks who shop where we shop, local business owners and many others. They are all around us every day but it is often difficult to make connections. It is quite possible, and important, to describe a city like Seattle by identifying groups that are distinct and different from each other. You can subdivide the population along the lines of ethnicity, culture, economic resources, language, physical abilities, education, and age to name a few. These distinctions are important. I greatly value the diversity of this city and have learned and gained much from sometimes being a minority in the neighborhood where I live.
As a Forest Steward, I want the volunteers that work in Lewis Park to represent as much of that diversity as possible. The more connections that Green Seattle Partnership can make among the many diverse groups, the stronger our parks will be. If we can achieve this, we can build a demographic of people who love their parks and want to work hard to preserve and protect them. This new group, made up of diverse individuals and united by a common purpose, our forests, will be the next generation of Forest Stewards, valuing our urban forests for decades to come. For that is our true mission within the Green Seattle Partnership.
After two years working with Forterra, outgoing Stewardship Associate, Mariska Kecskes, is prone to nightmares about invasive plants – like knotweed being planted in her front yard or a tattoo of a Western hemlock being mistakenly inked on her arm as English ivy.
In the past year as our AmeriCorps Individual Placement, Mariska lead over 900 volunteers to complete over 63,000 square feet of restoration and maintenance and install over 1,000 native trees and shrubs. She spent her first year with Forterra as part of the restoration crew with Washington Conservation Corps, ripping out invasive species throughout the Puget Sound region.
Mariska is busy wrapping up loose ends during her last few days with Forterra but took some time to answer a few questions.
First things first. Do you like eating blackberries anymore?
Yes. I like to think that by eating blackberries, I’m preventing birds from eating them and spreading them everywhere.
Why did you decide to work a second year with Forterra?
I have always been impressed by Forterra’s holistic approach to environmental issues so I applied to their Stewardship Associate – AmeriCorps Individual Placement position. I believe that it’s important to not just focus on one isolated issue.
What was rewarding about your job?
It was great to see the progress that can be made during one work party. You start with a huge blackberry bush patch and by the end feel so accomplished. It helps you feel proactive about restoration and understand why maintaining a healthy habitat in and outside of the city is a long but necessary process.
What is challenging about your job?
Sometimes it’s hard to detach myself from my restoration work. Driving along I-5 is a struggle now because I look around and can’t help but get stressed out by the amount of weeds along the highway.
What’s something cool you’ve learned?
I’m happy that I’m able to identify so many plants. Not only does it impress colleagues, turns out it’s also a great way to impress dates on hikes! Nothing makes you an object of desire like pointing out all the edible wild berries or saving someone from a stinging nettle.
Before you leave us, do you have any tips to share?
First, if you ever take part in restoration – as a volunteer or otherwise – try to visit the site again in the future. It is really gratifying to watch your impact literally grow and it helps you understand the importance of the work you did. Second, when you spend a lot of time pulling blackberry bushes and have endless scratches, it’s easiest to just tell people that you have angry cats.
Mariska will be heading to graduate school for an MSc in Environmental Science & Policy at Central European University. We wish her the best of luck and thank her for her incredible two years of service! If you or someone you know is interested in joining Forterra’s Restoration Crew through the Washington Conservation Corps, check out WCC’s website for more information!