Nature posters deliver "green" messages on topics ranging from rain gardens to using native plants and eco-friendly hedgerows.

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by Valerie Easton

I GOT TO KNOW nature poster guru Timothy Coleman from the poems he occasionally sends out. Believe me, it’s a day-changer to come across wise words from Mary Oliver or Wendell Berry while buzzing through a glut of e-mail.

Coleman sees the fine-art posters he produces as affecting people like a good poem. “My work as a publisher is to pull people into a concept, slow them down and catch their attention,” he says. The posters have the 19th-century feel of a rich-with-detail still life, yet, paradoxically, couldn’t be produced and marketed without the Internet. Coleman collaborates from his home in Seattle with scientists and artists across North America.

He was immersed in green fundraising in 1992 when he ended up sharing an office with local nurseryman and illustrator Michael Lee. He shopped around one of Lee’s conifer sketches, found that the U.S. Forest Service was interested in spreading a conservation message through fine-art posters, and Good Nature Publishing was born. When he produced the classic “Northwest Native Conifers” poster in 1996, it was difficult for Coleman to find recycled paper for what he calls his little green business. Forty posters later, Coleman uses only Forest Stewardship Council certified paper, which means he can trace the “chain of custody” from his printer all the way back to the forest it grew in.

The newest “Rain Garden” poster is so beautiful you’d never suspect its insurrectionist back story. “Rip out that urban/suburban concrete and start restoring our ecosystems,” is Coleman’s message, disguised in pastels. The poster is an inspired blend of art and science, painted by Vermont artist John Pitcher. The idyllic scene is actually a working sponge-of-a-garden, designed to slow the passage of water, filter out toxins, and both protect and provide habitat. On the full-sized poster, the border is patterned with plant portraits, in this case key native species that thrive in damp conditions, including red-osier dogwood and Douglas spirea.

The “Rain Garden” poster is the first of a new Green Living series sponsored by a consortium of 10 public agencies and destined to be handed out to gardeners and hang on classroom walls around the Northwest. Upcoming topics include green roofs, permeable pavers, backyard wildlife habitat and driveways with a green swath down the middle.

The posters start with a client, a concept, or maybe a species list. Right now Coleman is prospecting around for climate-change art ideas. He plans a poster to celebrate Darwin’s 200th birthday next year. He advocates planting hedgerows down Seattle’s Fourth Avenue to bring wildlife back into the heart of the city; Good Nature’s “Northwest Hedgerows” poster remains one of the most popular ever produced.

Coleman remains an activist at heart, expressing his green message through the expertise and vision of the scientists and artists he inspires. To learn more, see www.goodnaturepublishing.com; the posters are also available at the University Book Store and Metsker Maps.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net.