Native Plant Nursery: Hoop It Up

by Karl Wirsing/SEFS

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.

Anna, at right, has made her work on the Native Plant Nursery the subject of her Master of Environmental Horticulture (MEH) thesis project.

Kelly Broadlick, left, and Anna Carragee, who has made her work on the Native Plant Nursery the subject of her Master of Environmental Horticulture (MEH) thesis project.

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.

In 2008, SEFS alumna Lauren Urgensen (’11, Ph.D.) founded SER-UW to bring together students at UW with a common interest in the science and practice of ecological restoration—and a common goal to restore and sustain the biodiversity of the campus.

In 2008, SEFS alumna Lauren Urgensen (’11, Ph.D.) founded SER-UW to bring together students at UW with a common interest in the science and practice of ecological restoration—and a common goal to restore and sustain the biodiversity of the campus.

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.

Early construction work at the hoop house site.

Early construction work at the hoop house site.

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 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.

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Get Involved: Centennial Woods Restoration at Union Bay Natural Area

In 2007, the SEFS Alumni Group helped organize a volunteer event to plant a wooded area, now known as the Centennial Woods, to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the College of Forest Resources. The chosen plot was a .67-acre site along the western edge of the Union Bay Natural Area at the Center for Urban Horticulture.

Alumni volunteers originally planted 400 trees there, but without a long-term plan to maintain the site, only 40 survived. Also, some bare-root saplings had been planted in thick mulch rather than in the soil below; others were planted in less than ideal locations for the species, and they didn’t get watered after planting. These factors, coupled with the re-growth of Himalayan blackberry on the site, contributed to the very low survival rate.

View of the site in 2009, two years after it was initially planted.

View of the site in 2009, two years after it was initially planted.

During those first few years, future SEFS alumnus Jon Diemer (’14, MEH) and his wife Martha started spending varying amounts of time volunteering at the site, trying to save trees and keep the blackberry and other invasive species at bay, with bindweed and thistle among the most troublesome. Some of the other non-native grass species, as well, grow taller than six feet by late spring, blocking the sun from the young trees, and their roots often out-compete the trees’ roots. With only two people tackling these challenges, though, there was only so much they could do.

Then, in 2011 Diemer enrolled in the Master of Environmental Horticulture program at SEFS and chose creating a restoration and management plan for the Centennial Woods as his research project. With some more help from his wife, other students, and student work parties, he was able to plant most of the trees that are out there now (about 250). The native species planted, in order from greatest to least number, include: Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), shore pine (Pinus contorta ‘Contorta’), western redcedar (Thuja plicata), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), grand fir (Abies grandis), bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) and vine maple (Acer circinatum). The non-natives from southern Oregon and California include incense-cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum).

While the woods have been better maintained than in the past, Diemer says the project would be a lot easier to manage with more help. This past summer, for example, with extended drought and record-breaking heat, proved especially challenging. Diemer and his wife spent 12 weekends trying to haul enough water to save the most stressed trees, and they did succeed in rescuing a few. Yet they didn’t have the time or resources to help as many as they hoped, and about a third of the 250 trees didn’t make it—including three larger trees (about 15 feet tall) that had survived from the original 2007 planting.

The restoration has recently picked up momentum, though, and three work parties of ESRM 100 students have helped replace about 30 dead trees. Yet they still have about 70 more to plant this fall, so they’re hoping to recruit more volunteers to help with the planting, blackberry removal and subsequent maintenance.

If you’d like to get involved, either on a short- or long-term basis, please contact Jon at jon.diemer@gmail. He would welcome any assistance you’re able to offer, whether through donations of trees, time or labor—and so would the woods!

Photos © Jon Diemer.

View of the Centennial Woods site taken in 2013.

Photo of the site taken in 2013.

Grad Student Spotlight: Cameron Newell

Few of our graduate students at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS) arrive here by following the exact same script. After all, the very nature of pursuing scientific training—always asking questions, always refining methods and ideas—tends to favor detours over simple, direct routes.

That’s why many of our students make their way here more like a pinball than an arrow; not out of aimlessness or lack of dedication, by any means, but by seeking diverse experiences and allowing those to shape and guide them. These students come with an appreciation that some of the most exciting discoveries and decisions can happen on the go, firsthand and unplanned, and that being open to the world is often the best way to find your place in it. In many ways, that’s how Cameron Newell found his way to the Master of Environmental Horticulture program at SEFS a year ago.

Cameron Newell

Newell on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos.

Newell grew up about an hour northwest of Melbourne, Australia. After earning a bachelor of science with majors in botany and zoology at Monash University in Melbourne, he spent a few years exploring an assortment of jobs, from driving seeding drills and rouseabouting on farms in the west, to working for the Victorian state government one summer as a firefighter. “It was the wettest summer in 100 years,” he says, “so I ended up filling sandbags more than putting out fires. It was a good thing, I guess, but you don’t make as much money that way.”

For one 18-month stretch, Newell hooked up with a filmmaker who was looking for a camera assistant on a documentary. The project involved capturing a year in the life of crocodiles, following them from babies and nesting mothers on through to mating. Newell didn’t have any experience as a cameraman, but before he knew it he was spending weeks in the field filming up around Darwin and other remote reaches of the country. “It was kind of scary most of the time,” he says, “sitting in a little flat-bottom boat filming crocodiles.”

At the end of that string of jobs, Newell set off with his brother on a seven-month backpacking adventure through South America. They flew into Santiago, Chile, and then trekked through Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador before spending a short time in Colombia. Near the tail end of the journey, while still in Ecuador, Newell met Susan North—his “soul mate, an amazing woman from San Diego,” he says. “My plans changed a bit from there.”

So after their last stop in Colombia, the brothers headed their separate ways, with Newell traveling up to the United States with Susie. From there, they would spend the next two and a half years dating long distance while Newell worked on several other documentaries—including films about kangaroos, flying foxes and red crabs—and applied for a green card to live in the country. When he was finally able to join Susie in San Diego full-time, he spent about two and a half years working in environmental consulting.


Newell, left, working on the documentary about crocodiles he helped film in Australia.

During that time, he’d been thinking about ways to get more engaged with environmental restoration and sustainable farming. “My parents had a nursery growing up,” he says, “so I was always growing plants. I had my own little side business doing small-scale stuff on farms, putting in windbreaks, things like that. But sustainable agriculture has become a bigger interest of mine through time and jobs, and I wanted to work out a way to pair agriculture and restoration.”

He started digging into potential graduate programs that would give him the flexibility and hands-on field application he wanted. That’s what attracted him to the Master of Environmental Horticulture degree program with SEFS, where he’s now working with Professors Kern Ewing and Jim Fridley. His research focuses on habitat restoration for pollinators in small agricultural areas in Seattle and surrounding communities, including Duvall and Carnation. “Pollination is a big thing at the moment with the collapse of the honey bee populations,” he says. “There’s going to be an increased need for native pollinators.”

Newell has just completed his first year here, and this summer he’s carrying out some pollinator surveys in a few local towns to determine which pollinators are around and active. He’s also gotten involved with the local project tracking the reemergence of Western Bumble Bees in the Seattle area, so he’ll be out chasing bees from time to time.

He has about a year left in his program, and after that Newell says he’d eventually like to work in Africa or somewhere else in the developing world. What happens in the meantime, of course, is all part of the adventure—and could end up leading him in another direction entirely!

All photos © Cameron Newell.

Traveling is still very much in Newell’s blood. In fact, he just got back from 10 days in Canada with his father. “My old man came out,” he says, “and we rented an RV in Vancouver and drove up to Banff and Jasper.”

Thesis Defense: Rosemary Baker!

At 9:30 a.m. tomorrow on Tuesday, June 11, Rosemary Baker will be presenting her Master of Environmental Horticulture research in the Douglass Classroom at the Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH): “Elwha Revegetation Project: 2012 Lake Aldwell Seeding Trials.”

Rosemary Baker

Lake Aldwell/Elwha River, 2012

Landmark restoration of the Elwha River by the Olympic National Park and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe began in 2011 and involves planting native woody trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs throughout two recently exposed reservoirs. Revegetating by direct seed application supplements these efforts and is intended to speed ecosystem processes by quickly adding organic matter and building soils on fine and coarse glacial sediments. Revegetation efforts are expected to reduce sediment erosion on valley walls and terraces and assist in the natural succession process within the context of restoring relatively pristine riparian habitat for the return of salmonids following a 100-year absence from the Elwha River.

Practical seeding methods and several species mixes were tested on the shoreline of former Lake Aldwell in 2012 and monitored for successful germination, initial growth and resulting stand densities through the summer drought period. Colonization by priority weeds and native tree and shrub recruitment was also assessed.

So make your way to CUH to hear Baker talk about her work during the past two years and its context within the restoration of the Elwha River. All are welcome!

Image © Rosemary Baker.