This past summer, during Amma’s Chicago programs, ideas for how to design one of the planting areas in our Seattle forest restoration site started coming into my mind. The next day, I walked to the children’s program room, borrowed colored pencils and graph paper, and drew that design.
When I returned to Seattle, I transferred the design onto the ground as best as I could. It took hours and hours to accomplish that task as I was trying to lay it out perfectly. When I finally finished, I started laughing at myself. It had taken me that long to create placement for 12 plants. We had ordered more than 300 shrubs and ground covers. Clearly, that was not how I was going to maketo make planting plans for the whole site.
I enjoyed having “my area” though and dreamed of what it would look like in the future. This fall, I started noticing how often branches from nearby trees fell into “my area”. I also noticed that I was only seeing them in “my area”.
A few weeks ago we had a wind storm. In the photo below you can see some of the branches I took out of “my area” after the storm.
On November 15, we had the big planting work party. It was wonderful to finally have the native plants in “my area”. I day-dreamed about what the area would look like in the Spring.
Then I had a horrifying thought: “Those falling branches could kill ‘my plants’!” I’ve been resisting the apparent fact that in forestry 50% of what we plant may not survive. In fact, I haven’t dealt with it at all because I believe “our” plants will be different. And I hadn’t even considered the possibility that any of the plants in “my area” would die.”
At that point, I took a good look at the terrain surrounding “my area”.
The trees are really tall, they are old, and “my area” is closest to them.
As I reflected on this situation, I had many thoughts.
- These plants, and all of the plants in the restoration site, are not “mine,” they belong to Mother Nature. I can be an instrument and do my best to take care of them, but what lives and what dies is not in my hands.
- I knew that we would likely lose some plants in the summer since we now have long stretches with no rain, but it hadn’t occurred to me before that some plants are likely to die during the winter.
- I remembered the Tibetan monks who spend many hours making a sand mandala and then ritualistically take it apart as a way of acknowledging that life is transient, in a constant state of flux.
- While I will not purposely dismantle the area I have been thinking of it as “my area”, I am clearly getting an opportunity to let go and surrender. My job is to put in the effort and let go of the results.
- It is time for me to stop thinking about that area as “my area”. I am an instrument, I am not an owner. That area is no more important than any other area.
As I was writing this post, I thought about the title that the Green Seattle Partnership gave those of us whom they trained to lead forest restoration work parties. We are called Forest Stewards. I decided to look up steward to see exactly what the word means. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines steward as “a person hired to perform household or personal services.” It gives these words as synonyms: “domestic, flunky, lackey, menial, retainer, slavey, servant”. That’s it. I am not an owner, I am a servant of the forest.
I am a Forest Steward.
On November 18, I took a three hour Wetlands Best Practices class that was being offered to Green Seattle Partnership Forest Stewards. The class was held at Discovery Park. Seattle.gov says this about Discovery Park:
Discovery Park is a 534 acre natural area park operated by the Seattle Parks and Recreation. It is the largest city park in Seattle, and occupies most of the former Fort Lawton site. The site is one of breathtaking majesty. Situated on Magnolia Bluff overlooking Puget Sound, Discovery Park offers spectacular view of both the Cascade and the Olympic Mountain ranges. The secluded site includes two miles of protected tidal beaches as well as open meadow lands, dramatic sea cliffs, forest groves, active sand dunes, thickets and streams. The role of Discovery Park is to provide an open space of quiet and tranquility away from the stress and activity of the city, a sanctuary for wildlife, as well as an outdoor classroom for people to learn about the natural world. Maintained in its semi-natural condition the park will continue to offer a biologically rich and diverse natural area for urban dwellers and an unmatched opportunity for environmental education.
The park is immense. I can’t even imagine being a Forest Steward for this much property. My mind is totally occupied by the little patch of Greenbelt that I am a Forest Steward for and it is just under an acre in size.
The class began with a lecture by Doug Gresham, a Wetlands Specialist at Washington State Department of Ecology. The lecture portion was held in the park’s Environmental Learning Center.
I was very interested to learn that wetlands have many functions. Among them are:
- flood control
- erosion control
- water quality improvement
- maintain stream base flow
- nutrient and chemical recycling
- nutrient production
- fish and wildlife habitat
- recreation and aesthetics
- education and research
We were told many ways to identify wetlands, the time of the year that it is appropriate to work there, the types of plants that will do well in wet soil, and much more. After the one hour introduction, we took a break and then walked into the park. Michael Yadrick, one of the Seattle Parks Department Plant Ecologists, led the experiential part of the class. Doug Gresham, whom I mentioned before, Lisa Ciecko, the Seattle Parks Department Plant Ecologist who supervises my work, and Elizabeth Housley the person who organizes trainings for Stewards who work with the Washington Native Plant Society and/or the Green Seattle Partnership, also participated in the outdoor segment.
Doug had taught us how to identify wetland soil. On the walk, he dug up some dirt and showed us the difference up close. This first photo is of dry, sandy soil that came from a slope on higher ground.
The wetland soil looked dramatically different. I think the photo below makes that point even though it is not as focused as I would like it to be.
There are many different types of drainage systems for dealing with underground springs. The first one we saw was quite artistic. It consisted of a series of these structures. The series started close to the top of a hill and then similar structures were placed along the slope, each one draining into the next.
Further on in our walk we saw another type of drain.
And then another. This one is more like the drains I have seen in the past.
We saw trees that were growing diagonally. Someone speculated that they grew that way because the dirt is so wet that it can’t support the weight of the tree trunks.
I wondered if the shape of the tree in the background of the photo below was the result of the wet land or if it occurred because the tree was seeking more light.
We were shown different types of wet lands and also land that was in different stages of restoration. At one point, we were taken to an area that had not been worked on at all. We were asked to spread out and explore the land, talking about how we would handle the restoration if we were in charge of that project, i.e. what area would we work on first, how many volunteers would we want to have, etc.
As we were walking back to the Environmental Learning Center, we saw some interesting plants. Someone said they thought this gigantic shrub was a huckleberry. Another person guessed that it was boxwood. I had never heard of boxwood before.
On our way out of the park, another shrub caught my eye. It was the white one in the photo below. I asked what it is called, and learned that it is known as Pearly Everlasting. The shrub in the foreground is really beautiful too. I will have to find out what it is. I hope they will both be available when we make our 2018 plant order!
There is no way I can share all the information that was given to me in this post, but hopefully I at least gave you a tiny glimpse of what I learned about wetlands during the class. I look forward to studying more about them in the future.
Wednesday, November 15 was a big day, one I’ve been eagerly awaiting. On that day, a corporate group from DocuSign came to our restoration site to plant the 330 shrubs and ground covers Seattle Parks Department had given us. November 15 was DocuSign’s Global Impact Day. I looked up the philosophy behind Global Impact and found this:
We believe character is defined through action. With DocuSign IMPACT, we are committed to putting this character into action by harnessing the power of DocuSign’s people, products, and profits to make a difference in the global communities in which our employees and customers live and work.
On that day, buses picked up the employees at their corporate headquarters and traveled to projects all over the city. I felt so grateful to have 42 of their volunteers helping us; and they were wonderful people to work with.
(Note: You might be wondering why we plant at this time of year. In the forest, planting starts after the fall rains begin. That way the plants have a chance to root before the summer comes. We’ve had almost no rain during the summer for a few years and there is no water source on this property. The plants have the best chance of survival if they have developed a healthy root system before the dry period.)
Prior to the work party, we prepared eight planting areas. Any remaining blackberry vines and rootballs, ivy and bindweed were removed and the areas were marked off with green and white, or yellow and black, tape. The University of Washington students who helped during our November 11 work party moved the potted shrubs and groundcovers to the areas where they would be planted.
The photo below is of the Dogwood Area, so named because it is near a large area of red twig dogwood and because a small patch of red twig dogwood came up within this planting area during the summer.
Another way we prepared for the work party was to create and distribute photo galleries of the plants that would go in each area. That way the workers could see the beauty they were helping to create.
I already mentioned that the DocuSign group was wonderful to work with. We had a dream staff too, consisting of Joanna Nelson de Flores, the director of Forterra’s Green Cities program, Nichole Marcotte, Forterra’s Stewardship Coordinator, Anavadya Oravec a Master Gardener and GreenFriends member and me! The staff arrived an hour and a half early so I had a chance to show them around the site. We spent part of our November 15th pre-work party time placing each plant on the spot where the DocuSign employees would plant it.
When the participants arrived, I talked about the history of the project and gave information about safety relating to this particular site. Then the group was divided in half and walked to the part of the property where they would soon be planting. Joanna and Nichole each led a group. They talked about tool safety and then showed participants how to plant the shrubs and ground covers. I really appreciated having the opportunity to hear the experts teach! During the work party, all four of us supervised the work and helped as needed. (Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.)
After each plant was planted, a blue and white tape was tied loosely on one of its branches, or on a stick that was placed next to it. Every year, Seattle Parks Department uses a different color of tape to tag the plants. So from here on out, whenever we see a blue and white tape in any of Seattle’s parks, we will know that the item was planted in 2017!
Once a shrub or groundcover was planted, four burlap bags were placed around it. When all of the planting in an area was complete and the burlap was down, the entire area was covered with wood chips. (The burlap and wood chips reduce weed growth, retain moisture, and prevent erosion. Both the burlap and the chips will decompose and enrich the soil.)
Below are photos of the completed planting areas. You can see the blue and white tape I mentioned throughout them.
And this is a photo of the empty pots!
I am so excited for Spring to arrive so I can see every bud, every flower, and every berry! I hope most (or better yet, all) of the plants survive the winter.
On Saturday, November 11, we held another large restoration work party. Two GreenFriends members (Theresa and me), my new roommate (Jamie), and a Forest Steward that normally works on a different site (Susan) led work teams. My neighbor John who has attended almost every work party we’ve offered, and has worked endless hours on his own, did the amazing work he does every time. Blackberry root balls have no chance when they meet his pick ax.
After an initial orientation, twenty-nine awesome students from a University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class picked the teams they wanted to join and the work began. Our main task for the day was to get our eight designated planting areas ready for the DocuSign corporate group that is coming on November 15. That group will be planting more than 300 shrubs and ground covers. “Getting the areas ready” entailed digging out any remaining root balls and removing the burlap bags that had been laid down when the area was originally cleared. The burlap helps decrease weed growth and prevents erosion. In one area, the bags were covered by a heavy layer of branches and blackberry debris so that had to be removed before we could pick up the burlap.
Normally by now, the burlap bags would have decomposed but since there was almost no rain this summer, most of the bags were still whole. In places there were three layers of burlap, which would make it impossible to dig holes for the plants. With the burlap gone, it will be easy for the DocuSign group to plant the shrubs and ground covers. Once the plants are in the ground, they will replace the burlap and then cover it with wood chips.
While three of the teams did the work described above, the fourth carried 500 cubic feet of new burlap from the street to our restoration site and placed it in two stacks on the property. Once they finished that job, they started distributing the pots of shrubs and ground covers to the appropriate planting areas.
Normally the weather during our work parties turns out to be better than the forecast, but this day was an exception. It rained on and off throughout the work party, more on than off. Taking a 15-minute snack break in the pouring rain was not at all inviting. We decided to carry everything out of the Greenbelt and stand under the deck of my house.
It was during the break that I realized I hadn’t taken a single photo. Taking a group photo under the deck seemed like a good place to start! I think the photo at the top of this post and the one below reflect this work party well; everyone was both wet and happy.
I also took photos that showed the work we had already done that day. In the first gallery you can see what it looked like to start with an area that was covered with burlap covered by branches. (That particular photo was taken in August right after the area was cleared.) The second photo shows many of the branches that were removed on November 11th and the third is the pile of burlap that was picked up. I was astounded when I saw how neat this team’s pile was. It is going to make it so much easier to use than the chaotic stacks we usually create. I will to do their way in the future. The fourth photo is what the land looks like now… i.e. ready for planting! (Click on any gallery to enlarge the photos.)
This is one of the piles of new burlap that students carried in from the street.
The students found some carpet and a fold out bed in one of the planting areas. Work party participants have attempted to dig these items out in the past, but this team was able to do it! When I tried to push/pull the bed, it didn’t move at all. I hope Seattle Parks Department will send a crew to remove them from the site. They regularly carry out trash piles for us, but these items are very heavy and are located at the top of a hill; one where there is no easy way to get the garbage down, especially without damaging newly planted trees.
After the break, some students continued distributing the plants to the areas where they will be planted. Before long most of the potted shrubs and ground covers were gone from the holding area.
Other work party participants resumed clearing the land of branches, blackberry vines and blackberry root balls.
Almost everyone spent the last 45 minutes of the work party participating in a bucket brigade, moving wood chips from the street, down the stairs and into piles on the site.
Afterwards, we celebrated all that we had accomplished, cleaned the tools, brushed the mud out of our shoes and went on our individual ways. What an incredible three-hour work party it had been.
On October 22, our GreenFriends group planted 37 trees in our Greenbelt Restoration site (Tree Planting Day). That was a major development in this project, and another one is coming soon. On November 15, a corporate group from DocuSign will be planting more than 330 shrubs and ground covers for us. We’ve been busy preparing for that day.
Our fall plant order was submitted to the Seattle Parks Department in early May. The plants would be delivered the end of October or early November. Prior to then we needed to decide where to plant each of the plants. I identified eight planting sites and marked them with green and white or yellow and black tape. Then Ananya and I created a planting plan.
In June, I had taken a plant identification course. During the course, the instructor mentioned that when the plants were delivered, they would not be marked. I panicked. How would I be able to identify 360 plants when I only knew a few of them? To make matters worse, by that time we received them many would be in their winter state and might not even have leaves. I calmed myself down by reminding myself that we had been required to order everything in groups of 10 so I only had 26 different plants to identify. I didn’t know how I would do that either, but it definitely seemed more doable than 360. I also knew I could ask for help if I needed it.
As the date drew closer, I made a label for each plant, writing the name of the plant and how big it will get on each of the sticks.
It was possible that our plants wouldn’t be delivered until the second week in November. Since our planting day was scheduled for November 15, I was nervous about how I would do all that needed to be done to identify and mark the plants before that date. I was ecstatic when I looked out my window late in October and saw a Seattle Parks Department truck in front of my house. The plants had arrived!
As I had been forewarned, the plants were unmarked. To further complicate things, they were carried into the Greenbelt by hand and/or in a wheelbarrow. Some remained in their groupings but many were placed on the ground randomly. When the delivery crew left, I started to sort them. I discovered that I was able to identify quite a few of the plants. When I knew what the plant was, I placed the appropriate stick in the pot.
I doubted some of my identifications. Jayanand, a friend who lives on the Olympic Peninsula, came to mind. I knew Jayanand had worked for 18 years as a botanist and ecologist for the National Park Service. I sent photos of the plants I was concerned about to him. He was able to correct some of my mistakes as well as identify some that I hadn’t been able to figure out. With his help, it wasn’t long before all of the plants were labeled.
Today (November 11) we had a big work party to finish preparing the land for the November 15 planting. It was a wonderful work party, one that I will tell you about in my next post!