by Jamie Bails
If you have not been to the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in Shoreline lately, this summer is a great time to visit. Along with public tours and family events each weekend, the on-site MSK Nursery offers native plants propagated directly from the garden. Admission to the garden is free, but donations are accepted and memberships are encouraged.
The public botanic garden is now part of the city of Shoreline’s park system, and it is managed by the non-profit Kruckeberg Botanic Garden Foundation. The foundation offers memberships, tours, and educational events.
In 1987, Mareen Kruckeberg opened her private garden and nursery for a small plant sale on Mother’s Day weekend as a way to make interesting and rare native plants available to the local community. Mareen, who passed away in 2003, spent years propagating a wide selection of plants that were rarely for sale in nurseries. Some of the species available include plants for every corner of the garden, wetland, shade, sunny and dry areas. A large selection of native potted trees, shrubs and ferns are ready to go home with you.
The history of the garden is as interesting as the plants grown. Art and Mareen Kruckeberg purchased the land and house in 1958. As noted on the history page of the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden website, “It was a place where Art and Mareen could realize a shared, passionate ambition to create a garden in which the native landscape would be preserved, but complemented with rare and unusual woody and herbaceous plants from other lands.” To find these plants, the Kruckeberg family travelled throughout Oregon and Washington, filling the cooler with plants along the way. Many other plants came as gifts from botanist friends across the world or through Art’s academic connections.
The Kruckeberg Botanic Garden boasts four State Champion trees, meaning they are the largest in the state in height and girth, and listed in the book Champion Trees of Washington State by Robert Van Pelt. The four are:
• Tanbark Oak (Lithocarpus densiflorus)
• A Mutant Tanbark Oak (Lithocarpus densiflorus f. attenuato-dentatus)
• Japanese Striped Bark Maple (Acer capillipes)
• Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana)
You can also see glorious examples of trees native to Washington State. A garden brochure pays special attention to Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) as the “tree of life” to Native American tribes on Puget Sound. The brochure notes that “Duwamish, Suquamish, and other native peoples used cedar to build canoes and longhouses, to weave baskets and cradles, and to fashion tools and bowls.”
Other native trees on site include the Western Larch (Larix occidentalis) and Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia). Western Larch is a deciduous conifer, with needles that emerge fresh green each spring and turn golden in the fall. Pacific Yew has flexible wood, useful for making bows, and it is the plant source for the anti-cancer drug taxol.
A native plant demonstration garden shows visitors how plant species can help native bees to thrive, and it showcases the beauty and ease of using natives in your garden. The staff has begun a Puget Prairies garden to display species that live in dry, nutrient poor soils. When you visit, take time to look for these new additions to the four acre garden. It is exciting to see the changes and the continued community support for the garden.
The garden frequently offers free one-hour tours that introduce visitors to the 2,500 plants on the site. Tours can view the four state champion trees, the numerous oaks in the meadow, and Mareen’s artful tree pruning.
While Mareen was busying propagating and selling plants to the community, Art was looking at additional ways to create public enthusiasm for plants. One of these was to co-found the Washington Native Plant Society in 1976.
Hours and directions can be found here.
If you visit, let us know what you most enjoyed about the garden. And tell us about other favorite native plant gardens you’ve visited.