When we first moved to Washington State 13 years ago, we were overwhelmed by the beauty and lush green of the native flora. Having traveled across the country and throughout South America and Asia, we could honestly say there was nothing like it anywhere we had been. Since living here we’ve immersed ourselves in nature, hiking the Olympics and Cascades, learning the names of the strange and beautiful plants that surrounded us.
When we bought our house in Shoreline two years ago, the yard felt like a blank canvas. Aside from a few fruit trees and a couple of evergreens, it was a clean slate, with grass from corner to corner. Soon we began planning our sanctuary, our own personal northwest forest. Being on a sloped lot, managing rainwater runoff was an important part of our landscape design. We wanted to channel the water coming off the roof away from the foundation and treat it onsite through a rain garden. This would reduce polluted stormwater from entering city storm drains, decrease moisture in the basement, and to help recharge the groundwater.
We found Shoreline’s Soak It Up rebate program and after a site visit from Cameron Reed, were pleased to find out we were just in time to apply for the 2019 funding cycle. We set to work designing our garden and selecting the plants. We designed a combination rain garden and native planting project which totaled the maximum 800 square feet allowable by the program. At $2.50 per square foot this added up to a $2,000 rebate! The application process was straight forward, and with the help of the Rain Garden Handbook for Western Washington, we soon had a plan.
Our timing was also just right to purchase plants through King Conservation District’s Native Plant Sale and Community Fair. We were able to get most of the species we were looking for at a fraction of the cost you would pay at a nursery. Our plant list was extensive and included native species that provide edible fruits, privacy screens and food for native pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
With our plans in place and plants on order we got down to the fun part- digging in the dirt! The project started by removing a diseased apple tree and an overcrowded fir tree, as well as over 600 square feet of lawn. We saved the wood from both trees to re-use in the landscaping.
Next, we rented a mini-excavator and dug out the basin of the rain garden and what would become the dry creek channel. We brought in over 8 yards of compost and used a rototiller to amend the top 6″ of native soil, which was mostly sand and rocks. In the process of digging and amending the soil, we carefully excavated and saved hundreds of potato-sized rocks that we reused in the streambed and the bottom of the rain garden. Good friend Cole Thompson, owner of West Edge Landworks helped layout the design on the ground and provided expert advice on constructing the berms and physical land features.
We lined the creek bed with 45 mil pond liner and connected the gutter downspout via a 4″ pipe buried underground and hidden behind a section of the felled fir tree. The pipe and pond liner ensured a hard-plumbed connection between the roof and the rain garden, a requirement of the rebate program. We used the rest of the fir tree to build steps along the steepest section of the hill, to complete the hiking trail feel.
Finally it was time to plant! Jacobus Saperstein, KCD Senior Resource Specialist and another good friend, helped us finalize our layout and “heal in” the delicate plants. This involved temporarily planting all the plants in bunches to protect their roots. This was an important step as it took us nearly two weeks to plant all of the plants, digging over 140 holes! While we were outside at night after work planting by headlamp, the remaining plants were safe and happy in their temporary homes.
We supplemented our bareroot order with a few species from local nurseries including some juncus, sedge slough, and a couple paper and river birches. The hardest part of planting the rain garden was finding the right “Zone 1” plants, the ones at the bottom of the basin. We dubbed these “unicorn plants,” as they needed to tolerate wet feet all winter and drought like conditions all summer. While one of the big benefits of planting a native garden is that eventually it has low watering requirements, it’s important to water for the first few years until established.
Once the plants were in the ground we were in the home stretch. We spent a few more weeks finalizing the rocks in the dry streambed and the rain garden and installed a flagstone and wood round walkway. The topcoat of woody mulch went on in late May and Cameron stopped by to give us the City of Shoreline’s final seal of approval!
This project was a true community effort and we couldn’t have done it without the help of our friends and family. Having worked in the environmental field for over a decade, it was fun for both of us to bring a big project like this to fruition, to feel like we’re doing our part to help restore the beauty and ecosystem of this place we call home.
Andy Gregory is the Environmental Engagement Program Manager for SeaTac Airport where he works with community groups to help improve their urban environment through a small matching grants program.
Mandy Gregory is the Development and Operations Director for Forterra where she helps to secure the resources needed to conserve land and create thriving communities.
When they’re not working in their backyard, they can be found road tripping in their van with their daughter Hazel throughout the northwest wilderness which inspires them. Follow their adventures on Instagram.