A secret urban garden
A four-acre sustainable garden offers the opportunity for environmental education.
Stone paths meander up and down the hillside, connecting more than a dozen diverse botanical collections. Lush ground cover hugs the stones, trailing along from the far reaches of the Madrona Woods, through the Stroll Gallery and the Cutting Garden, all the way down to the John Lentz Garden, a memorial to the late rhododendron enthusiast.Eucalyptus trees stand guard along one section of the path. Heather and lavender spill over another section. Striped-bark maple trees shade yet another.Skip to next paragraph
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Planting areas in an urban environment are "good because it's going to help decrease the greenhouse gases effect in the urban environment," says property owner John Albers, speaking from his practical side.
He's quick to speak of sustainability and environmental responsibility.
But the first glimpse of "Albers Vista Gardens" reveals that he values a garden's beauty as well. Each section of the garden is an aesthetically pleasing collection of colors and textures, often creatively accented with a bench or whimsical sculpture. Mr. Albers says the landscape art is largely the domain of his wife, Santica.
John and Santica have spent the last 10 years creating an outdoor environmental laboratory that doubles as a peaceful haven. It's not finished, but the project is mature enough that John leads educational tours several times a year. They've established a nonprofit foundation and, long-term, they hope to donate the entire property for ongoing environmental education programs.
John says their motivation stems from a passion for sustainable horticulture. When they bought the property in 1998 they began by clearing blackberries and nonnative invasives, keeping only a few trees. Everything else has been carefully selected, with an eye toward plants that will "take care of themselves" once established, with a minimal need for watering or protection from garden pests.
"Replanting after removal of nonnative invasives takes a tremendous amount of time and work," says John. It also takes a plan, though he says most of the landscape design at Albers Vista has been "seat of the pants."
He calls horticulture a "passion" and says he's taken nearly every horticulture class offered at South Seattle Community College and the University of Washington.
The Alberses incorporate plenty of familiar species into their gardens, but John says the ideal collection of plants for a given Northwest landscape may well include plants that are not native to the area. He devotes a great deal of time to researching plants from around the world and has introduced hundreds of rare and unusual species, carefully monitoring how well they perform.
In spite of the horticultural sophistication he employs, John says he strives to make his tours and lectures helpful to the average gardener. Tours generally focus on a specific topic and he sends his visitors home with handouts and plant lists.