Seattle Parks’ commitment to environmental stewardship often starts in the greenhouse

Seattle Parks and Recreation encourages all citizens to be good stewards of the environment, and it’s our job to lead by example. Our department has a long history of enhancing the beauty and sustainability of public forests and parks by using diverse and adaptable plants in city landscapes to promote the conservation of native plant and wildlife habitat.

Planting season is upon us, and we’re gearing up to put more than 15,000 plants in the ground.

So where do our plants come from? And how do we make sure the plants are healthy?  The answers lie in the Jefferson Park Horticulture facility on Beacon Hill. Parks’ greenhouse and nursery grow more than 250,000 annual and woody plants each year. The plants are cultivated and then strategically placed in parks and greenspaces where they will thrive.

Johan Schorer is a senior gardener at the greenhouse and every day he’s charged with keeping parks’ precious plants flourishing. “No one day is the same,” Schorer said. “My work changes with the seasons. I focus on watering, transplanting, checking for disease and insect problems.”

And spreadsheets. The gardening staff have spreadsheets that note the number of plants they need to secure each season, the park they will be located in and the pests that commonly affect those plants. Schorer gets plant requests from each of the park crew chiefs. Some of the plants require only a few months to grow in the greenhouse while others may be there for a few years.

It’s safe to say, the gardeners know their plants. Schorer has Devil’s Club germinating in a refrigerator because it’s good for native restoration. And rows and rows of sword fern are growing in the cold frame behind the greenhouse because it’s in high demand. “The sword fern is one of the most-requested plants for our parks,” Schorer said. “It’s nearly indestructible. It’s evergreen. And it grows well in the sun or shade. It’s perfect for the Pacific Northwest.”

The snowbelle is also popular, but mainly with the bees.  Schorer goes to great lengths not to disturb the pollinators as he goes about his daily tasks. “Bees go crazy for snowbelles, and I worry about them when I water,” Schorer said. “Usually I’ll just lightly mist the plant beforehand to give the bees a warning. I don’t want to knock them to the ground. I don’t want to get them all soggy.”

The greenhouse is divided into sections by native plants, bare roots, winter annuals, plants for the Home and Garden show and others. In fact, there’s even a sectioned-off plant hospital.

Inside the greenhouse near the windowsill stand a variety of different plant species. Schorer points out one plant that arrived from Kubota Garden and another one that came from a Seattle City Councilmember’s office. “We take in plants that aren’t doing so well, rehabilitate them and give them back to their owners,” Schorer said. “We help out when where we can.”

This fall when you’re walking on a Parks’ trail and spot a young tree or when you’re admiring the greenery along Bell Street Park, you’ll know the plants probably started as a request on a spreadsheet, grew up in the greenhouse and a senior gardener probably referred to them as “my babies” once or twice.

It’s all part of our commitment to environmental stewardship.