Many of the volunteers who help us with our GreenFriends Greenbelt restoration project are students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science course. We are having a big work party this coming Saturday, May 12th, but I decided to offer one mid-week as well. Susan Zeman, a Green Seattle Partnership Forest Steward in a park just south of ours agreed to help me lead the work party. Seventeen students participated. They were a delight to work with.
Susan led a work group in an area that is packed with invasive holly, blackberries and bamboo. It is also an area that has many red twig dogwood plants and a red flower from a rhododendron bush can be seen in the distance. Susan’s group was tasked with starting the process of removing the invasive plants so that the native plants can thrive.
While it will take many work parties to free the area from invasive plants, the group made a lot of progress during this three hour work party.
They were even able to dig out a huge clump of bamboo.
Towards the end of the work party, the students carried all of the invasive plants they had removed to the “Rack Zone”, a place on the site where the debris dries out on racks. By being kept off the ground, the vines and other invasives will not be able to re-root.
The second group of students removed blackberry vines, bindweed and other weeds that had started to sprout in all of the planting areas.
They also removed any wood chip mulch that was too close to the base of the plants. (When we spread wood chip mulch we take care to create a “donut hole” around each plant, keeping the wood chips from actually touching the plants. When it rains, the chips tend to slide into that empty space.) These students cleaned weeds and chips from the donut holes around approximately 500 plants!
When they finished cleaning up the planting areas, they pulled out ivy, blackberry and bindweed vines that were in the paths and/or mixed in the ferns that are scattered throughout the site.
Every work party adds to the miracle that is occurring on this site. As I was writing this post, I came across a photo that was taken on March 15. It shows what one area looked like two weeks after trees, shrubs and ground covers were planted in it.
This is what that same area looks like today.
Next steps: On Saturday May 12 we will create a big bucket brigade for the purpose of spreading more wood chips around plants that were planted back in October and November of 2017. The work that the students did in this (May 9th) work party will make that process much easier. We will also be clearing ivy and other invasive plants from parts of the property that we have not worked on before.
This is the view from the upper deck of my house. The magnolia tree and the blue spruce are in my yard. Beyond them is the Greenbelt which is full trees and plants awakening.
I love watching ferns in their awakening process. Each of the photos below is of a different fern. Most of them are in the Greenbelt.
By June, many of them will look like this.
Amma teaches us to “Be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.” She also teaches us that “What we need will be provided” and to “Put in the effort and let go of the results.” Taking those attitudes can help us to stay in the moment which in turn can decrease the tendency to worry about the future. The Greenbelt restoration work parties we held during the last half of February provided me with many opportunities to practice each of those attitudes.
Students who take the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science course are required to do three hours of volunteer work. I had scheduled a work party for February 17 because it was the weekend before their assignment was due. That is always our biggest work party of the quarter.
I was concerned about that work party though, because the people who usually lead teams at our events were going to be at a retreat in Oregon that weekend. I decided to “think outside the box” and started inviting neighbors and people in the Amma community who weren’t going to the retreat. None of them had worked on this project before, but I knew they would do a good job. Pretty soon I had three volunteers. They all came to the site ahead of time for an orientation. We were ready!
I soon discovered more good news was in store. Someone who had planned to go to the retreat, decided not to go, and volunteered to help at the work party. She had lead teams many times so that was a real bonus. Then, the Forest Steward from Mt. Baker park wrote me and said he would help. Just before the work party, another neighbor volunteered to lead a team. I was excited. We had an abundance of staff. While all of this was coming together, 31 students registered for the work party. We were set. What a good example it had been of “What you need will be provided.”
Then “Be like a bird perched on a dry twig” took over. Days ahead of time, we heard that a big wind storm was coming on the same day as the work party. You can do forestry work in the rain, but you can’t do it in high winds; branches might break or trees might fall. On the 16th, it became obvious we couldn’t hold the work party. In fact, the Parks Department canceled work parties that day on a park by park basis. Ours was one that was canceled.
That left both me and the students in a dilemma. I needed to have the land prepared for a corporate group that was coming to plant trees, shrubs and ground covers on Monday, February 26. And the students needed their volunteer hours. I knew that most or all of the team leaders would be at work if I planned events during the week. I decided I would hold three small work parties on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and be prepared to lead them by myself.
The “Be like a bird” lesson continued as the weather forecasters talked about the possibility of breezy weather and snow. Would these work parties have to be canceled too? The first indication that what I needed would be provided was when I found out that two of the people who had been scheduled to lead teams on the 17th had the week off from work and would help with one of the work parties!
Wednesday, February 21
Wednesday arrived and all was well. In fact it was better than just “well.” A half hour before the work party began, Peter, the Forest Steward from Mt. Baker, emerged from the forest. Not only was he going to help with this work party, he was going to help with all three of them! What a surprise blessing he was. So we had two Forest Stewards and 7 students that day. We began to clear new areas of ivy and blackberries vines. We dug out some big blackberry roots!
(Click on the galleries to enlarge the photos.)
Thursday, February 22
Knowing that Peter would be helping made it possible for me to accept more students than I had originally planned. The work party grew to 23 students.
Maintaining the “Be like a bird” attitude was still important as the forecast was for snow and by Wednesday evening it was snowing, and sticking to the ground. Would I have to cancel the work party? I would decide in the morning.
Thursday’s work party had been scheduled to go from 2:30-5:30 to accommodate the students’ class schedule. The snow was very wet and was beginning to melt when I woke up that morning. Around 10 a.m. I decided to walk to the light rail and around the Greenbelt to see how much snow there was and whether we could work in it. I discovered the streets and sidewalks were clear and most of the Greenbelt was free of snow. What snow remained was melting. Even though the temperature was in the 30’s, it felt warmer than the day before because it was sunny.
My neighbor John also worked with us that day so we had three staff. We continued clearing the land that we had worked on the previous day.
After a snack break, we formed a bucket brigade and carried wood chips from the street into the site. The chips would be used as mulch during the February 26 planting work party.
While we were moving the wood chips, it started to snow lightly. When we finished, we cleaned and put away the tools and quickly headed back to our respective homes.
Friday, February 23
During the week’s third work party, we two Forest Stewards and three GreenFriends members served as staff. Twenty-one students participated. I experienced such a sense of abundance…. an abundance of staff and an abundance of students. Once again, what I had needed was provided.
About half of the students worked in the area we had been clearing during the previous work parties. We had cleared land that I hadn’t expected to clear until later this year! Peter, the Mt. Baker Forest Steward, worked with the students to create swale-like structures that will help prevent erosion. I appreciated learning new skills from him.
Another team worked in an area that has a big ivy mass. That team moved the big piles of ivy to the place on the site that has racks where ivy and blackberries can dry out rather than re-root.
A different group of students placed burlap around flags that were scattered through the site. Those flags marked the places we will be planting on the 26th.
After the break we formed another bucket brigade and finished moving the wood chips into the site.
After the remainder of the wood chips were onsite, we cleaned up and put away the tools, celebrated our accomplishments and went on our way.
What a week it had been. I was consistently challenged to stay in the moment, to let go, to trust what I need would be provided and to put in the effort and let go of the results. And I had certainly felt like a bird perched on a dry twig. We accomplished so much during these three work parties. Grace had flowed.
After every work party, I tell anyone who will listen that it was an amazing work party. And it always is. The transformation in the land that occurs during each three hour work party is mind-boggling, at least to my mind.
Four GreenFriends members, 3 neighbors and 21 students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class participated in the February 3rd event. Towards the beginning, we divided into 4 teams. The GreenFriends members, who were serving as team leaders, wore orange vests so that they could be spotted easily.
During our last work party, volunteers had focused on removing ivy from an evergreen tree and from the ground in an area on the northwest part of the site. At this work party, Team 1 continued that work, this time clearing ivy and blackberry root balls from an ever widening area. All of the debris was taken to an area we call The Rack Zone where it is put on racks that keep it from re-rooting. Having the vines and rootballs on the racks also enhances air flow and the debris will decompose faster than if it was left on the ground.
At the beginning of the work party the area looked like this:
The volunteers worked diligently and had a good time in the process. Even though I don’t have a “before” photo, know that the shed and stone wall shown in the last photo in this section was completely covered with ivy. Until recently, I didn’t even know there was a shed there.
(You can enlarge the photos in a photo gallery by clicking on any of the photos.)
At the end of the work party, the space looked like this. There is still work to do in this area but so much was accomplished during those three hours.
The area where Team 2 worked is adjacent to Team 1’s section of the property. When English ivy grows unchecked and begins to flower, the leaves may change shape and become waxy. It may become a gigantic mass, developing thick stalks that may look more like a tree trunk than an ivy vine. One of the neighbors who has worked on this project from the beginning discovered such a mass in early January. Since then, he has been working to cut it down.
The first set of pictures below show what the area looked like at the beginning of the February 3rd work party. Notice the ivy mass in the background of the first photo. It is not nearly as big as it was originally but it is still huge. The second two photos show some of the piles we would be dealing with at this work party.
Here is a close up of different parts of that mass. It is SO dense.
The volunteers worked on the piles of debris, cutting the leaves and small branches of ivy away from the bigger branches. The leaves and small branches were moved to the rack zone to dry and the bigger branches either stayed in the area or were stacked near the rack zone.
By the end of this work party, the rack zone was almost completely full of ivy.
I wonder how long it will take for us to completely remove the mass. I suspect there will be many more work parties and many more piles before this task will be finished. But, at least, when the work party was over, the piles of debris that were there at the beginning were almost gone.
On February 26, Silver Capital Management employees are coming to plant trees, shrubs and ground covers in this Greenbelt site. Team 3 helped prepare the ground for that planting work party.
In the days prior to the February 3rd work party, pink flags were placed around the site, marking where each plant will go. Written on each flag was the type of plant that will be planted there.
We’ve found that planting proceeds smoother and faster if the areas where things will be planted are prepared ahead of time. Prior to the work party, I made two demonstration areas so that the volunteers could see what they would be doing. In one area, I used burlap that had been placed on the ground when we first cleared the land, and in the other I used new burlap.
Team 3 cleared weeds, if there were any, from around the flags and then placed burlap bags around them, leaving a place for the people who will be planting to dig a hole. Once the planting is finished the burlap will be adjusted, if necessary, and then covered with wood chips. Both the burlap and the wood chips will decompose and enrich the soil.
This team prepared spaces for about 70 plants. In the photos below, you can see the burlap that is now scattered throughout the site.
The fourth team cleared an area that our volunteers had not tackled before. Seattle Parks Department staff had done an initial cutting of the blackberry vines in that area in March 2017 and then cut them back again during the summer. At the February 3rd work party, the volunteers dug out blackberry root balls and removed ivy.
This is how that land looked at the beginning of the work party. (I think this would be a particularly good gallery for you to click on!)
After instruction on how to clear the land, the team “rolled up their sleeves” and went to work.
The students dug up many blackberry root balls. These are photos of the biggest one they found!
The transformation that took place was remarkable. By the end, this section was clear of invasive plants and covered by burlap bags (the bags help prevent weed growth).
While the students were working, my neighbor John started removing blackberry vines in a nearby area, one where the blackberries are even denser. A team will work in that section during our next work party.
On February 26, these newly restored areas will become home to seven Douglas Fir trees as well as a variety of shrubs and ground covers.
By 12:50 p.m., the tools we used had been cleaned and put away. We then gathered on the Hanford Stairs, which are on the north border of this site, to take a group photo and celebrate the completion of a very successful work party.
On November 18, I took a three hour Wetlands Best Practices class that was being offered to Green Seattle Partnership Forest Stewards. The class was held at Discovery Park. Seattle.gov says this about Discovery Park:
Discovery Park is a 534 acre natural area park operated by the Seattle Parks and Recreation. It is the largest city park in Seattle, and occupies most of the former Fort Lawton site. The site is one of breathtaking majesty. Situated on Magnolia Bluff overlooking Puget Sound, Discovery Park offers spectacular view of both the Cascade and the Olympic Mountain ranges. The secluded site includes two miles of protected tidal beaches as well as open meadow lands, dramatic sea cliffs, forest groves, active sand dunes, thickets and streams. The role of Discovery Park is to provide an open space of quiet and tranquility away from the stress and activity of the city, a sanctuary for wildlife, as well as an outdoor classroom for people to learn about the natural world. Maintained in its semi-natural condition the park will continue to offer a biologically rich and diverse natural area for urban dwellers and an unmatched opportunity for environmental education.
The park is immense. I can’t even imagine being a Forest Steward for this much property. My mind is totally occupied by the little patch of Greenbelt that I am a Forest Steward for and it is just under an acre in size.
The class began with a lecture by Doug Gresham, a Wetlands Specialist at Washington State Department of Ecology. The lecture portion was held in the park’s Environmental Learning Center.
I was very interested to learn that wetlands have many functions. Among them are:
We were told many ways to identify wetlands, the time of the year that it is appropriate to work there, the types of plants that will do well in wet soil, and much more. After the one hour introduction, we took a break and then walked into the park. Michael Yadrick, one of the Seattle Parks Department Plant Ecologists, led the experiential part of the class. Doug Gresham, whom I mentioned before, Lisa Ciecko, the Seattle Parks Department Plant Ecologist who supervises my work, and Elizabeth Housley the person who organizes trainings for Stewards who work with the Washington Native Plant Society and/or the Green Seattle Partnership, also participated in the outdoor segment.
Doug had taught us how to identify wetland soil. On the walk, he dug up some dirt and showed us the difference up close. This first photo is of dry, sandy soil that came from a slope on higher ground.
The wetland soil looked dramatically different. I think the photo below makes that point even though it is not as focused as I would like it to be.
There are many different types of drainage systems for dealing with underground springs. The first one we saw was quite artistic. It consisted of a series of these structures. The series started close to the top of a hill and then similar structures were placed along the slope, each one draining into the next.
Further on in our walk we saw another type of drain.
And then another. This one is more like the drains I have seen in the past.
We saw trees that were growing diagonally. Someone speculated that they grew that way because the dirt is so wet that it can’t support the weight of the tree trunks.
I wondered if the shape of the tree in the background of the photo below was the result of the wet land or if it occurred because the tree was seeking more light.
We were shown different types of wet lands and also land that was in different stages of restoration. At one point, we were taken to an area that had not been worked on at all. We were asked to spread out and explore the land, talking about how we would handle the restoration if we were in charge of that project, i.e. what area would we work on first, how many volunteers would we want to have, etc.
As we were walking back to the Environmental Learning Center, we saw some interesting plants. Someone said they thought this gigantic shrub was a huckleberry. Another person guessed that it was boxwood. I had never heard of boxwood before.
On our way out of the park, another shrub caught my eye. It was the white one in the photo below. I asked what it is called, and learned that it is known as Pearly Everlasting. The shrub in the foreground is really beautiful too. I will have to find out what it is. I hope they will both be available when we make our 2018 plant order!
There is no way I can share all the information that was given to me in this post, but hopefully I at least gave you a tiny glimpse of what I learned about wetlands during the class. I look forward to studying more about them in the future.
Wednesday, November 15 was a big day, one I’ve been eagerly awaiting. On that day, a corporate group from DocuSign came to our restoration site to plant the 330 shrubs and ground covers Seattle Parks Department had given us. November 15 was DocuSign’s Global Impact Day. I looked up the philosophy behind Global Impact and found this:
We believe character is defined through action. With DocuSign IMPACT, we are committed to putting this character into action by harnessing the power of DocuSign’s people, products, and profits to make a difference in the global communities in which our employees and customers live and work.
On that day, buses picked up the employees at their corporate headquarters and traveled to projects all over the city. I felt so grateful to have 42 of their volunteers helping us; and they were wonderful people to work with.
(Note: You might be wondering why we plant at this time of year. In the forest, planting starts after the fall rains begin. That way the plants have a chance to root before the summer comes. We’ve had almost no rain during the summer for a few years and there is no water source on this property. The plants have the best chance of survival if they have developed a healthy root system before the dry period.)
Prior to the work party, we prepared eight planting areas. Any remaining blackberry vines and rootballs, ivy and bindweed were removed and the areas were marked off with green and white, or yellow and black, tape. The University of Washington students who helped during our November 11 work party moved the potted shrubs and groundcovers to the areas where they would be planted.
The photo below is of the Dogwood Area, so named because it is near a large area of red twig dogwood and because a small patch of red twig dogwood came up within this planting area during the summer.
Another way we prepared for the work party was to create and distribute photo galleries of the plants that would go in each area. That way the workers could see the beauty they were helping to create.
I already mentioned that the DocuSign group was wonderful to work with. We had a dream staff too, consisting of Joanna Nelson de Flores, the director of Forterra’s Green Cities program, Nichole Marcotte, Forterra’s Stewardship Coordinator, Anavadya Oravec a Master Gardener and GreenFriends member and me! The staff arrived an hour and a half early so I had a chance to show them around the site. We spent part of our November 15th pre-work party time placing each plant on the spot where the DocuSign employees would plant it.
When the participants arrived, I talked about the history of the project and gave information about safety relating to this particular site. Then the group was divided in half and walked to the part of the property where they would soon be planting. Joanna and Nichole each led a group. They talked about tool safety and then showed participants how to plant the shrubs and ground covers. I really appreciated having the opportunity to hear the experts teach! During the work party, all four of us supervised the work and helped as needed. (Click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.)
After each plant was planted, a blue and white tape was tied loosely on one of its branches, or on a stick that was placed next to it. Every year, Seattle Parks Department uses a different color of tape to tag the plants. So from here on out, whenever we see a blue and white tape in any of Seattle’s parks, we will know that the item was planted in 2017!
Once a shrub or groundcover was planted, four burlap bags were placed around it. When all of the planting in an area was complete and the burlap was down, the entire area was covered with wood chips. (The burlap and wood chips reduce weed growth, retain moisture, and prevent erosion. Both the burlap and the chips will decompose and enrich the soil.)
Below are photos of the completed planting areas. You can see the blue and white tape I mentioned throughout them.
And this is a photo of the empty pots!
I am so excited for Spring to arrive so I can see every bud, every flower, and every berry! I hope most (or better yet, all) of the plants survive the winter.
On Saturday, November 11, we held another large restoration work party. Two GreenFriends members (Theresa and me), my new roommate (Jamie), and a Forest Steward that normally works on a different site (Susan) led work teams. My neighbor John who has attended almost every work party we’ve offered, and has worked endless hours on his own, did the amazing work he does every time. Blackberry root balls have no chance when they meet his pick ax.
After an initial orientation, twenty-nine awesome students from a University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science class picked the teams they wanted to join and the work began. Our main task for the day was to get our eight designated planting areas ready for the DocuSign corporate group that is coming on November 15. That group will be planting more than 300 shrubs and ground covers. “Getting the areas ready” entailed digging out any remaining root balls and removing the burlap bags that had been laid down when the area was originally cleared. The burlap helps decrease weed growth and prevents erosion. In one area, the bags were covered by a heavy layer of branches and blackberry debris so that had to be removed before we could pick up the burlap.
Normally by now, the burlap bags would have decomposed but since there was almost no rain this summer, most of the bags were still whole. In places there were three layers of burlap, which would make it impossible to dig holes for the plants. With the burlap gone, it will be easy for the DocuSign group to plant the shrubs and ground covers. Once the plants are in the ground, they will replace the burlap and then cover it with wood chips.
While three of the teams did the work described above, the fourth carried 500 cubic feet of new burlap from the street to our restoration site and placed it in two stacks on the property. Once they finished that job, they started distributing the pots of shrubs and ground covers to the appropriate planting areas.
Normally the weather during our work parties turns out to be better than the forecast, but this day was an exception. It rained on and off throughout the work party, more on than off. Taking a 15-minute snack break in the pouring rain was not at all inviting. We decided to carry everything out of the Greenbelt and stand under the deck of my house.
It was during the break that I realized I hadn’t taken a single photo. Taking a group photo under the deck seemed like a good place to start! I think the photo at the top of this post and the one below reflect this work party well; everyone was both wet and happy.
I also took photos that showed the work we had already done that day. In the first gallery you can see what it looked like to start with an area that was covered with burlap covered by branches. (That particular photo was taken in August right after the area was cleared.) The second photo shows many of the branches that were removed on November 11th and the third is the pile of burlap that was picked up. I was astounded when I saw how neat this team’s pile was. It is going to make it so much easier to use than the chaotic stacks we usually create. I will to do their way in the future. The fourth photo is what the land looks like now… i.e. ready for planting! (Click on any gallery to enlarge the photos.)
This is one of the piles of new burlap that students carried in from the street.
The students found some carpet and a fold out bed in one of the planting areas. Work party participants have attempted to dig these items out in the past, but this team was able to do it! When I tried to push/pull the bed, it didn’t move at all. I hope Seattle Parks Department will send a crew to remove them from the site. They regularly carry out trash piles for us, but these items are very heavy and are located at the top of a hill; one where there is no easy way to get the garbage down, especially without damaging newly planted trees.
After the break, some students continued distributing the plants to the areas where they will be planted. Before long most of the potted shrubs and ground covers were gone from the holding area.
Other work party participants resumed clearing the land of branches, blackberry vines and blackberry root balls.
Almost everyone spent the last 45 minutes of the work party participating in a bucket brigade, moving wood chips from the street, down the stairs and into piles on the site.
Afterwards, we celebrated all that we had accomplished, cleaned the tools, brushed the mud out of our shoes and went on our individual ways. What an incredible three-hour work party it had been.
On October 22, our GreenFriends group planted 37 trees in our Greenbelt Restoration site (Tree Planting Day). That was a major development in this project, and another one is coming soon. On November 15, a corporate group from DocuSign will be planting more than 330 shrubs and ground covers for us. We’ve been busy preparing for that day.
Our fall plant order was submitted to the Seattle Parks Department in early May. The plants would be delivered the end of October or early November. Prior to then we needed to decide where to plant each of the plants. I identified eight planting sites and marked them with green and white or yellow and black tape. Then Ananya and I created a planting plan.
In June, I had taken a plant identification course. During the course, the instructor mentioned that when the plants were delivered, they would not be marked. I panicked. How would I be able to identify 360 plants when I only knew a few of them? To make matters worse, by that time we received them many would be in their winter state and might not even have leaves. I calmed myself down by reminding myself that we had been required to order everything in groups of 10 so I only had 26 different plants to identify. I didn’t know how I would do that either, but it definitely seemed more doable than 360. I also knew I could ask for help if I needed it.
As the date drew closer, I made a label for each plant, writing the name of the plant and how big it will get on each of the sticks.
It was possible that our plants wouldn’t be delivered until the second week in November. Since our planting day was scheduled for November 15, I was nervous about how I would do all that needed to be done to identify and mark the plants before that date. I was ecstatic when I looked out my window late in October and saw a Seattle Parks Department truck in front of my house. The plants had arrived!
As I had been forewarned, the plants were unmarked. To further complicate things, they were carried into the Greenbelt by hand and/or in a wheelbarrow. Some remained in their groupings but many were placed on the ground randomly. When the delivery crew left, I started to sort them. I discovered that I was able to identify quite a few of the plants. When I knew what the plant was, I placed the appropriate stick in the pot.
I doubted some of my identifications. Jayanand, a friend who lives on the Olympic Peninsula, came to mind. I knew Jayanand had worked for 18 years as a botanist and ecologist for the National Park Service. I sent photos of the plants I was concerned about to him. He was able to correct some of my mistakes as well as identify some that I hadn’t been able to figure out. With his help, it wasn’t long before all of the plants were labeled.
Today (November 11) we had a big work party to finish preparing the land for the November 15 planting. It was a wonderful work party, one that I will tell you about in my next post!
On October 1, we held our first forest restoration work party since the end of July. Participants included five members of our GreenFriends group, twelve students from the Introduction to Environmental Science class at the University of Washington, a neighbor, a high school student, a Green Seattle Partnership Forest Steward and two other Seattle residents.
In less than three hours, we …
removed blackberry, bindweed and ivy vines and dug out blackberry root balls from 2050 sq ft of property that had previously been cleared…
cleared 750 sq ft of land for the first time… Continue reading “Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: October 1, 2017”
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