Three winters ago, the Society for Ecological Restoration – UW Chapter (SER-UW) started organizing native plant salvages, and by late April they had several burlap sacks filled with leftover plants from restoration projects around campus. SEFS doctoral candidate Jim Cronan remembers checking to see how well those plants were doing when a duck flew out of one of the bags. The fact that a duck family was nesting in a plant bag made them realize they might need a little better storage system, so they decided to organize their first potting party in the spring.
Initially, SER-UW had only planned a temporary holding for the plants until they could be planted. But that fall, Jim started envisioning a more structured nursery program as a way to hold surplus plants coming in from salvages. SER-UW got permission from the Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH) to use some bench space in one of the hoop houses for growing plants, and student employees at CUH started including their plants in the normal watering schedule in spring and summer. Then the native plant propagation class helped by donating prairie plants and setting up an irrigation system in spring 2014, and suddenly the Native Plant Nursery had taken root.
The next year, Jim approached fellow grad students Kelly Broadlick and Amanda Pole about becoming managers of the new nursery. They started recruiting volunteers and raising plants from seeds for the first time, and they ended up salvaging and potting about 1,000 plants that year. By spring 2015, SEFS master’s student Anna Carragee had gotten involved, and the nursery felt some real momentum. “Hey, we’re onto something!” Anna remembers thinking. “So we wrote a Campus Sustainability Fund (CSF) grant application and ended up getting $54,000 to build a permanent hoop house, fund two manager positions, and start propagating more plants.”
With a huge boost from the grant funding, SER-UW was able to formalize the nursery program starting in the fall of 2015. They coordinated a species list, recruited interns for the first time—two per quarter—and decided to organize a restoration work party every Friday to be more consistent and have more people involved. The work parties have really caught on, too. Through the course of 24 scheduled outings, Anna says they have worked with an impressive 248 volunteers, totaling 918 volunteer hours.
The Native Plant Nursery now has an inventory of more than 2,400 plants native to the forests and prairies of Lower Puget Sound, including more than 70 different species. The plants are available for educational purposes and put to real use in restoration projects around campus, including Whitman Walk and Kincaid Ravine. “We like to think of ourselves as an educational hub for horticultural learning, and we want to be like the UW Farm—except for native plants,” says Anna.
To build their inventory and make optimal use of resources, the nursery has made some creative partnerships, including with the King County Native Plant Salvage Program—which was how they originally secured plants for restoration projects—and collecting cuttings from UW gardeners to have them turned into live stakes and cuttings at the nursery. They enjoy a steady stream of volunteers from ESRM 100, which has a component requiring students to volunteer at least once during the quarter. The nursery also sells plants to Restoration Ecology Network capstone students for their projects (their course fees include a budget to purchase plants), as well as to the Restoration of North American Ecosystems class; Anna says they work really hard to grow the species those students want.
Those sales provide a little funding support, and the nursery is actively looking for more ways to keep growing and thriving. In fact, they just hired two new nursery managers (both first-year MEH students), Courtney Bobsin this past winter quarter and Mary-Margaret Greene starting this spring. Courtney and Mary-Margaret are off to a running start, too, as they’re writing a second CSF grant in search of funding for research assistant positions to develop curriculum for the nursery and study how best to develop propagation protocols for the nursery’s plants.
The biggest development from the original CSF grant, though, was getting a permanent hoop house built at CUH. Working with the honor society of UW’s Construction Management department, Sigma Lambda Chi, they were able to complete the project a couple weeks ago—and we’re not talking about some ordinary garden shed, either. The hoop house is 30 feet by 48 feet, and about 15 feet tall, and it vastly increases the space for the Native Plant Nursery to house its plants and operate. “With the building of the hoop house, we have a home base,” says Anna, “and it helps solidify our identity. We’re really here to stay.”
If you want to check out the newest structure at CUH, the Native Plant Nursery is hosting a ribbon-cutting party on Friday, April 22, from 5 p.m. to sunset. “It’s going to be a big party—and for once not a work party!” says Anna. They’ll have beer and wine, food, raffles and activity stations, and even a live band, Sweet Lou’s Sour Mash. (RSVP today!)
And if you’d like to get even more involved, check out the Native Plant Nursery website, which has an upcoming events page that includes work parties, and you can also email firstname.lastname@example.org. Anna says they always welcome extra hands on restoration projects, and also positive energy. “Showing up, being enthusiastic—that helps us keep going!”
Photos courtesy of the Native Plant Nursery.