Art Kruckeberg leans on his walking stick to point up at a towering dawn redwood he started from a cutting. A state-champion striped bark maple looms nearby, the largest tree ...
ART KRUCKEBERG leans on his walking stick to point up at a towering dawn redwood he started from a cutting. A state-champion striped bark maple looms nearby, the largest tree of its kind in Washington. The Kruckeberg Botanic Garden is home to a rich botanical tapestry of mountain hemlock, unusual pines, oaks and all three of our native maples. “Being a purist is one extreme,” acknowledges Professor Kruckeberg, “but a mix of natives and exotics is quite compatible.”
Kruckeberg inspired generations of Northwest gardeners to go native. Over his many years as a University of Washington botany professor, he studied, collected and wrote about the plants that grow wild in our area’s mountains, prairies and woodlands. His late wife, Mareen, was the pruner, propagator, nurserywoman and garden designer, the artist to his scientist.
At age 86, Kruckeberg lives in the midst of the garden he’s tended for nearly half a century. There’s no better place to see our native rhododendron, maples, oaks and conifers grown mature in a residential-scale garden. The mix is about 30 percent native, 70 percent ornamental in both the garden and MsK Rare Plant Nursery at the garden. The eminent botanist writes so fondly and clearly about natives, from sweet little trilliums to towering Douglas fir, that he convinces us these plants have an important place in our gardens.
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Coppertina ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Minda’) is a big, new shrub with brilliant foliage. A cross between Dart’s Gold and the dark purple Diabolo ninebark, its foliage comes on copper-orange that deepens to rich red in summer. It grows 8 to 10 feet tall, colors up best in full sun, and has white, button-like summer flowers and red seed capsules in autumn.
ILLUSTRATED BY JULIE NOTARIANNI
Kruckeberg is never dogmatic in his enthusiasm, but rather points out the virtues of natives and explains what makes each a good garden plant — or not. His book, “Gardening With Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest” (University of Washington Press, $35), is the envy of gardeners in regions longing for such guidance about how to use their own native plants.
“We’re very keen on ferns,” Kruckeberg says of the licorice and sword ferns unfurling their fronds. Specialty collections include oaks from around the world, mountain ash and larches. There’s even an evergreen dogwood (Cornus capitata). When the five Kruckeberg kids were at home, the arboretum-like meadow garden was a horse pasture, but now it’s home to rare and exotic trees and shrubs. More than 2,000 species of plants fill the 4-acre garden.
You can visit the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden by joining a Shoreline or Edmonds Park Department tour, or by bringing your own group of six to 15 people. Visitors can take a self-guided tour when the nursery is open, Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To schedule a tour, call 206-542-4777, or check out previously scheduled tours at www.kruckeberg.org. The garden is at 20312 15th Ave. N.W. in Shoreline.
Plans are in place to preserve the garden for the enjoyment and education of the public, thanks to a conservation easement, the city of Shoreline’s desire to preserve open space and the fundraising of the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden Foundation. See the garden Web site to learn about the foundation.
Nearly every plant was grown from a seed or cutting, or was part of an exchange with botanical gardens near and far. At the front of the garden is a grove of Rhododendron auriculatum that Mareen grew from seed, waiting 30 years for them to bloom. Now white, fragrant flowers drip from the tree-like rhododendrons every spring.
These days, volunteers and a part-time employee or two care for the garden. The nursery is stocked with the natives, shade-tolerant and drought-tolerant plants Mareen was famous for producing, many from cuttings out of the garden. Docents lead garden-club and school tours, birders arrive with binoculars, hoping to see pileated woodpeckers, winter wrens or others of the 200 kinds of birds that have been spotted there. Scholars and students come to study the garden’s botanical riches. Kruckeberg describes the long collaboration that produced such a horticulturally rich and significant place: “My wife’s aim was to make a garden, and mine was to grow collections. We compromised.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.