Planting Edmonds: The crew that keeps Edmonds blooming

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.

Tim Kopp and Eric Bird

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.

Chris Walton

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.

  1. We love the garden beds and planters and appreciate all the effort that goes into maintaining them!

    1. I always enjoy the colorful displays of flowers in downtown Edmonds every summer. The hanging baskets are just beautiful and the corner beds are wonderful every year. I always wondered who planted and tended them. Thank you!

  2. There is so much beauty all around it is difficult to pick a favorite spot but I can say I really appreciate ALL THE HARD WORK that city staff and supporting volunteers provide to make Edmonds such a charming, appealing place to live! Thank you Tim Kopp and Eric Bird and all your colleagues!!

  3. What a pleasure to be in Edmonds with our gorgeous flower displays, so magnificent!
    Thank you to all the City of Edmonds employees who manage the planting and really perfect combinations of these areas. They are really appreciated for their fine work and craftmanship.

  4. All of th flower beds are a joy to behold. Thanks to the team for moving the effort forward with new strategies to keep the beds looking good all year round.

  5. I too enjoy the flowers, all the colorful foliage we see throughout our downtown. It’s part of what makes Edmonds special, a city unlike others in this county. But it would be nice to see such color and foliage in other parts of Edmonds also.

    At the 5 Corners roundabout, a dozen planting beds are arrayed around the circle, dividing the approach and departure lanes~ but instead of colorful plants and flowers, the beds are covered with faded wood chips. A forlorn sight in need of attention from the City’s flower program.

    Last year the flower program received a $2.9 million bequest from the Goffette estate with instructions to spend it “for hanging baskets, street corner flower planting and maintenance.” The City has money to beautify all of Edmonds, so why isn’t it happening?

    City Hall needs to recognize that Edmonds is more than just downtown, more than just the Bowl. We should begin creating One Edmonds for All.

    1. Roger, Thanks for this information about the Goffette estate’s gift to the city. Having known them a very little bit thru past antique car club associations and personal mutual friends, I can vouch for what great people they were. I certainly hope this generous gift is being spent wisely on what it was intended for. I have no reason to think otherwise, but some actual public accounting details might be in order if it was given to an official city department for use. No accusations; just think some transparency on such a large donation might be in order.

      1. Clinton, this article reports that the city is hiring the equivalent of 3.5 full time employees for the flower garden program. That will consume the bequest funding in about 4 years, when you also pay for the plants and the vehicles used by the employees. Remember that the Parks Dept outgrew their space in 2023 and starting paying for a leased maintenance yard. I see this spending strategy as less than optimal. Why weren’t more free volunteers used? Was there any consideration of intern positions made available to the students in the Edmonds Community College horticulture program? I assume we can pay an intern less than we pay an employee with benefits and a vehicle. EDCC is running a top notch program. Why doesn’t the city practice good small town governance create a symbiotic relationship with them?

    2. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing city staff speak about the finances and logistics of their various beautification projects. My understanding is that expanding the flower bed program beyond its current footprint would require a significant increase in staff, aka way more money. I do believe with the improvements coming to highway 99 that we should see more beautification in uptown soon!

      As citizens we can of course advocate that the city spend more on the flower program, but I think it’s important to understand first just how much money goes into maintaining what we have — and acknowledge that city hall knows beautification in other parts of the city is important.

      Also this article is so good! Eric and his team do such a good job with these programs.

  6. I love the flower beds! My gratitude for this beauty is tremendous! I appreciate hearing about the people behind the beautiful gardens and their efforts for not only creating beauty but maintaining sustainability and working toward making more and more possible. Thank you to Eric and Tim and all those who work on the plants!

  7. Thanks to all involved, and to those previously involved. Would someone please allocate a bit of time to further document, and post on the City web page, how we did it, how we now do it, what we have learned, and future hopes and plans. Many communities could learn from this, and perhaps we would learn something new as well. It would be tragic to lose the accumulated experience.

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