Elisabeth C. Miller Library

Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Knowledgebase record #228

Garden On, Vashon! by Karen Dale, 2013

Reviewed by: Brian Thompson
Review date: 2015-04-01

Garden On, Vashon cover

“Garden On, Vashon!” is a most intriguing book, and one that’s hard to categorize. In some ways, it’s a basic gardening book, tailored to the specific soils and microclimates of Vashon and Maury Islands. At the same time, author Karen Dale is telling the history of the islands from a ground-up perspective, beginning with the last ice age, but rapidly moving to the human history of the last 100 years or so.

She easily moves from history to present day, from accounts she has researched to her own style of memoir. The result is charming and recommends this book to readers of regional history as well as gardening. Throughout there are lots of gardening tips, such as when to plant for winter crops and when/how to prune your apples. Or not. “All over the Island these old apple trees stand—carpeted with green moss, shagged over with lichen and mistletoe, into their second century but still bearing fruit.”

Vashon is famous for its history of fruit growing, with the Strawberry Festival a fixture of every July. Unfortunately, there are very few strawberries grown on the island anymore, even though the crop was a mainstay in 1909 when the Festival began. Why has this happened? This is a fascinating story, which this book addresses from a historical perspective, but also from the author’s empirical efforts to understand the difficulties of growing a good crop of this luscious fruit.

The stories of island nurseries—such as the Beale Greenhouses, once one of the largest producers of cut-flower roses and orchids—are thoroughly documented, as is the Vashon Garden Tour. This latter chapter includes a lot of names, but even a casual read through shows how closely tied the island horticultural community was and still is to Seattle and the rest of the mainland.

Excerpted from the Spring 2015 Arboretum Bulletin.

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