As wife Shannon watches from below Noah Katka of Seattle helps daughter Abigale explore a giant tree root ball that resembles a crocodile.

Northwest garden pioneers’ legacy endures in Shoreline

  • By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, June 14, 2016 4:19pm
  • Life

SHORELINE — Just over the south Snohomish County line is a four-acre garden treasure, established more than 50 years ago by the late Arthur and Mareen Kruckeberg.

The garden features 2,000 species of Northwest native trees, shrubs and flowers, along with unusual plants from Asia and other places, all situated in a natural wooded setting.

Art Kruckeberg, who died May 25 at age 96, had a long career as a popular University of Washington botany professor. “Dr. K” also was a co-founder of the Washington Native Plant Society.

Kruckeberg was instrumental in establishing the regional garden movement that preaches the use of native plants. One can see his influence in public gardens throughout Western Washington and in backyard gardens planted to attract wildlife.

The bible of this trend has been Kruckeberg’s book “Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest,” published by the University of Washington Press.

As Kruckeberg says in the book, “The largely untapped potential of gardening with Northwest natives needs to become a way of life for those who look to the plant for beauty and serenity.”

Sunset magazine has raved about the book for decades.

“Few parts of America have as many native plants that excel in the garden as the Pacific Northwest,” a Sunset writer opined. “The main body of the book is divided into encyclopedic sections on grasses, trees, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials, including information about where they grow in the wild, how to propagate them, and how they fit into home gardens.”

As a weekend gardener, I bought into the use of native plants as soon as I could start collecting them. The benefits include less watering, easy stewardship and homes for birds.

One of the nice things about the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden is the on-site plant nursery, begun by Mareen Schultz Kruckeberg, who died in 2003. Named for her, the MsK Nursery offers sales of native plants as well as exotics that grow well in our climate. The staff propagates many of the plants growing there, allowing people to take home a piece of the botanical garden. Proceeds help cover the operating costs of the garden, which is overseen by the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden Foundation and owned by the city of Shoreline.

Art Kruckeberg earned his doctorate in botany from the University of California at Berkeley. He began teaching at the UW in the early 1950s, and that’s where he met Mareen.

The Kruckebergs bought their place in the Richmond Beach area in 1958 and their garden grew up around their home. The Kruckeberg children — Janet, Patricia, Caroline, Enid and Arle — were raised there and continue to be part of the effort to keep the garden going. Enid, who lives in Snohomish, serves on the foundation board.

I met one of his daughters at a Northwest Flower and Garden Show a while back and remember talking with her about her father’s native plants book.

She told the story about how her father insisted that our region’s skunk cabbage, a bright yellow bloom and spike amid broad leaves, should instead be called the swamp lantern.

I never forgot that. It was a perfect description and a nice way to remember Art Kruckeberg.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

If you go

The Kruckeberg Botanic Garden is open to the public free of charge. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday through October (and until 3 p.m. in the winter months) at 20312 15th Ave. NW, Shoreline. More information is available at kruckeberg.org.

The garden hosts events for children on Fridays, classes for adults (such as those in propagation) primarily on Saturdays, and monthly guided tours of the garden. Reserve a place on a Saturday’s tour (at either 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. June 18) by calling 206-546-1281. Find out more at programs@kruckeberg.org.

A public memorial for Art Kruckeberg is set for 2 p.m. July 24 at the Center for Urban Horticulture on the University of Washington campus. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden, PO Box 60035, Shoreline, WA, 98160.

Whimsy prevails among the pathways in the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden.

Behind a dawn redwood tree from China, Shannon (left) and Noah Katka take a break on a log with their daughter, Abigale. The Katkas visit so often, they decided to become members at the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden.

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