It all started with Langley Main Street Association, a federal program, and the work of a large group of volunteers.

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THERE ARE ONLY two commercial streets in Langley, a historic town on the south end of Whidbey Island. First Street is lined with flower-filled pots and hanging baskets. Second Street has a new plaza and bump-outs on each side packed with flowering shrubs, perennials and edible plants, including sprawling pumpkins. Even City Hall, shaped like a child’s crayon drawing of a building, sports peas, beans and tomatoes growing in feed troughs and along the walkway to the front door.

The greening of Langley started a few years ago, when Janet Ploof, the first president of the Langley Main Street Association, was inspired by a TED talk. In it, Pam Warhurst told the story of turning the market town of Todmorden in Northern England into one big food garden. Now, people from around the world visit the town; Warhurst calls it vegetable tourism.

Langley, with a population of 1,100, is already a tourist town due to its location on the Salish Sea and proximity to Seattle. Merchants have long been planting roses and hollyhocks along the alleyways and in parking strips. A popular coffeehouse led the way on edibles with a garden planted in herbs, currants, blueberries and artichokes.

“Destination Langley: The Gardens”

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Any small town can start a Main Street Association. It’s a federal program, funded through states for the purpose of helping small, historic towns survive as important parts of American culture. Local businesses can choose to have a portion of their B&O tax spent in their own community in return for a partial tax credit, which is how Main Street Association events and projects are funded.

Pacific Northwest Magazine: Oct. 23 edition

Steven Matly poses with his son at “Mentoring In The Moment,” where tech professionals spend an afternoon of games, food and mentoring with at-risk youth. (Sophia Nahli Allison / The Seattle Times)
Steven Matly poses with his son at “Mentoring In The Moment,” where tech professionals spend an afternoon of games, food and mentoring with at-risk youth. Matly is the CEO and founder of SM Diversity, a minority-owned staffing and recruiting firm specializing in diversity and inclusion partnerships. (Sophia Nahli Allison / The Seattle Times)

So we — and I say we, because I’ve been involved as a volunteer for the past couple of years — started with the City Hall front garden. We planted small hedges to carry the garden through the winter, and commissioned art from local sculptors to lend height and to support beans and sweet pea vines. Volunteers now care for dahlias, plenty of pollinator-attracting plants, and an array of colorful fruits and vegetables. Visitors and locals stop to snack and take photos of the garden. We’ve heard tales of people moving to Langley because they fell in love with the idea of a town with such a friendly and food-filled municipal garden.

With continued leadership from Langley Main Street, donations and a cadre of volunteers, we moved on to plant gardens in the new streetside bump-outs created when Second Street was torn up for installation of utilities. To fit the scale and historic feel of the town, the gardens are casual and cottagey. Hebes and rock roses, strawberries and blueberries fill the beds.

There have been challenges, like lack of irrigation in the beds, and merchant concerns about blocking sightlines. So we’ve kept the plantings reasonably low, and hired summer interns to water. Sturdy barberries, little conifers, hellebores and heathers carry the gardens through winter. Many of the plants, like fragrant stock, marigolds and lavender, are familiar, yet there are also sky-blue agapanthus and a wide variety of textural grasses, as well as fruit and vegetables to create seasonal change. A ribbon of blueberry bushes runs the length of Second Street.

This is gardening as culture, visual language and community. From the get-go, the goal of our garden initiative has been to please and intrigue residents in every season, as well as to attract visitors to Langley. You can learn more through the video, “Destination Langley: The Gardens.”