‘Zoo of plants’ grows near Stanwood

You’re driving north along I-5 northeast of Stanwood and all of a sudden you see it.

An array of big letters on red kiosks with green things growing on the rooftops.

What’s up with that?

It’s a botanical garden of dreams come true for David Thomsen, 71, a former high school biology teacher. He’s the force behind Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens, a 9-acre spread with a winding boardwalk path and enchanting pond.

“It’s a zoo of plants,” Thomsen said. “There are 1,000 native plants in Western Washington and our goal of the garden is to have them all.”

He makes it sound easy. “It’s mathematically possible,” he said. “If the number were 10,000 native plants it wouldn’t be.”

The simple wooden kiosks are teaching stations for humans and a rooftop cafe for our winged friends to dine.

“Each rooftop has a whole set of different plants to attract 16 specific types of native butterflies,” Thomsen said

What do those seemingly random spaced letters on the side of the kiosks spell?

Well, there’s a B and O and T and A and N and I …

Yep, you guessed it. Botanical Gardens.

Earlier this year the land around it was a sea of yellow daffodils. The area, once the village of Freeborn, is still home to a red schoolhouse and white-steepled Freeborn Lutheran Church. The garden is named in honor of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and scholar who was executed in 1945 in a Nazi Germany concentration camp.

Thomsen, president of the church and the learning center, had help starting the garden.

“It took five or six years to get the permits and allowances to do it,” he said. “We started it on May 7 of last year.”

It’s not finished, but it’s open.

It’s at Exit 215. Pull over. Hop out and have a look.

“People can walk around,” Thomsen said. “It’s in construction so you have to be careful. There will be handrails.”

The three-quarters of a mile boardwalk is wide and flat, made for strollers, walkers and wheelchairs.

“It is built for students and also for people who are over age 80, so older people can be out in nature,” he said. “And for wounded warriors.”

For kids, it’s three-dimensional learning, he said.

“Youngsters today spend all their time on flat screens. When you go outdoors you’re looking at three dimensions, plus you have the smell and touch and taste. This is the effective way to teach.”

There is no admission but donations are accepted.

Learn more at www.bonhoeffergardens.org.

Send What’s Up With That? suggestions to Andrea Brown at 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown. Read more What’s Up With That? at www.heraldnet.com/whatsup.

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