How this garden, with native plants and canoe planters, can help save salmon, orcas

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Gardens aren't just for flowers. They can boost the recovery of salmon and orcas, too.

That's the concept brought to life at the Orca Recovery Garden, recently on display at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show at the Washington State Convention Center.

Garden designer Jessi Bloom, of NW Bloom Ecological Services, sees much more than plants when she looks at this . She envisions the possibility of connecting the human curated space of a garden with nature's ecological function, and a chance to nurture the wild around us.

Rethinking the lawn can be a first step toward living more within nature's rhythms, and helping to nurture the little lives that sustain even big orcas, Bloom said.

"Finding those connections is really important, to understand we are all just a small piece of a much larger system," she said.

The garden, created by NW Bloom and the King Conservation District, is scalable in its concepts and accessible to anyone, even an apartment dweller. The key ideas: Feeding and other insects by growing ; controlling pollution on your own ground with strategies to retain rain water runoff, such as in a rain garden; using natural materials in the garden, such as chips and logs; and being creative with innovative reuse for planters and other features.

Native plants are not only a beautiful and water-wise choice, but they also feed pollinators and bugs that feed the salmon, that feed the orcas. The southern resident orcas that visit Puget Sound are struggling for survival, because of boat noise, pollution and dwindling salmon runs.

The Orca Recovery Garden features two canoes retired from the University of Washington fleet for raised-bed planters. One is packed with rows of edibles—kale, chard and strawberries. The other is planted with herbs, including parsley, sage and chives.

The garden is a hit, winning a gold medal at the show, as well as the American Horticultural Society's Environmental Award and the an outdoor living award.

Plants are another zone for new thinking, said Matt Maria of the King Conservation District, which provides inexpensive native plants, technical assistance and even funding to help people become good stewards wherever they live.

The garden also includes a wide range of plants as well as trees, to provide a range of habitats in the garden, from canopy to understory. The display garden uses shredded wood called hog fuel that is inexpensive and breaks down into the soil, instead of gravel that is imported sometimes from across the country or the world.

Instead of for walls, the garden uses logs. One was textured with turkey tail mushrooms, a living design. There also were hemlock hunks, solid for sitting and beautiful in color and form. A tall snag installed in the center of the garden shows how a tree can provide a home for animals and insects, even in death.

Taking action toward a connection with our surroundings that supports not only ourselves, but other creatures can make a difference that's good not only for orcas, but us, too, Maria said. "As you take those actions, it's building your compassion, and that also can be transferred to the compassion we have for other people," he said.

There are many resources available to get going on an recovery garden project, however small. The website of the Puget Sound conservation district partnership has more tips for stewardship.

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