Planting Edmonds is a monthly column written by and for local gardeners.
Edmonds gardeners are so spoiled. Everything grows in this mild marine climate with very little effort. I marvel at how easy it is to garden here, after having lived for two decades in New Mexico where the air is bone dry, the sun is brutal and water is scarce. In New Mexico, we nursed little runts of plants, but here even the weeds are huge and entitled, and gardening means whacking back ridiculously exuberant trees and bushes.
You know those little nursery tags saying how large a plant will grow? Do NOT believe them.
The City of Edmonds takes its natural beauty seriously. From the Parks and Rec website:
We currently manage over 265 acres of parks and open space, providing nearly a mile of public waterfront access, active recreational facilities for team sports, playgrounds at 14 parks, more than 13 miles of walking paths and trails and approximately 80 acres of open space.
But the jewel in the crown is the city’s flower program, which began in the 1970s as part of a street beautification project. Eric Bird runs the “beautification” or “flower program” with assistance from Tim Kopp, the only other full-time employee, plus just one seasonal worker. They design, plant and manage 180 flower beds! I will never complain again about my garden being too much work.
In addition to the corner beds, they hang 100 flower baskets and water them three times a week. In past years, city staff created the baskets themselves, growing the flowers from plugs which were then transplanted twice into larger pots. Now the program has grown so much that the city greenhouse can’t support that volume, so they purchase baskets from a regional supplier.
Businesses and individuals can “adopt” hanging baskets and corner beds to help support the program.
The flower program is responsible for the beds from the Anderson Center to the beaches and from City Hall to Ace Hardware on Highway 104. They do not manage the new Civic Park, the Waterfront Center or the Cascadia Art Museum grounds.
You may have noticed that the corner beds have changed over the years. Eric says his goal is to create year-round interest. Spring bulbs, summer annuals, fall bloomers and winter-blooming shrubs keep the beds fresh in every season.
In the past, after the annuals died out in the fall, the beds stayed empty until spring. But now, he has redesigned each bed to incorporate landscape rocks, logs, containers, shrubs and perennials, forming a year-round palette of interesting colors and shapes. The city currently has 75 containers around town – big, beautiful, heavy, hard-to-steal containers.
Whereas city staff and volunteers used to plant some 20,000 annuals, Eric and Tim now raise about 4,000 plants (starting with plugs from Oregon) to put out in the corner beds. When the city dug up the intersection of 5th and Dayton, they cut the irrigation lines and didn’t replace them, so they are experimenting with growing succulents in those beds.
Water, of course, is an issue in the summer. The parks department has a water truck that they use to water the baskets and supplement irrigation of the corner beds. If you’re an early riser, you’ll catch them out watering as early as 6 a.m. most days.
Wonder what those bamboo Xs are around the beds? Besides containing the plantings, they are there to keep humans from trampling the beds and dogs from doing their business there.
Being eco-conscious, the staff tries to keep toxic substances out of the soil and water table. They use a slow-release natural organic fertilizer in the spring and an organic solution when watering. Then they use organic mulch to hold the valuable water in and add nutrients to the soil.
In 2022, the flower program received a nearly $2.9 million bequest from the estate of former Edmonds resident John A. Goffette, with specific instructions that it be used “for hanging baskets, street corner flower planting and maintenance.”
Next year, that money will go toward adding two full-time and two nine-month seasonal employees. Ben Small, who has been a seasonal employee, will come on full-time to help Eric, while Tim Kopp, who is a trained arborist, will work with Debra Dill taking care of the city’s trees. A new “gardening unit” will take over the Veterans Plaza beds, along with other landscape and maintenance jobs.
Edmonds is not just famous for its waterfront and stunning vistas; it is also beloved for the beautiful plantings all around downtown. “We take a lot of pride in keeping it looking great,” Eric says.
You are much too modest, Eric. You and your hard-working colleagues deserve so much credit for keeping Edmonds blooming and beautiful.
—Photos by well-known man-about-town Chris Walton, whom you’ll find working every week to restore the Edmonds Marsh
–Text by Marty Ronish
Dr. Ronish is the curator and editor of Planting Edmonds. She makes no claim to any gardening expertise but is a musicologist by profession, serving as the former editor of NPR’s Performance Today and producer of the national broadcasts of the Chicago Symphony.