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Fashion meets function at water district HQ

Silverdale Water District Groundskeeper Christi Hickerson works on one of the several gardens at the district’s headquarters. The gardens showcase many different kinds of plants native and non-native to the region and help people choose greenery for their own gardens. - Paul Balcerak/staff photo
Silverdale Water District Groundskeeper Christi Hickerson works on one of the several gardens at the district’s headquarters. The gardens showcase many different kinds of plants native and non-native to the region and help people choose greenery for their own gardens.
— image credit: Paul Balcerak/staff photo

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

Planning a spring garden but don’t know where to start? A good place might be the Internet, suggests Silverdale Water District Groundskeeper Christi Hickerson. But when conventional research is exhausted, local gardeners might want to follow up with a visit to the water district’s headquarters on Newberry Hill Road in Silverdale.

“I’ve had folks come out here (who were completely inexperienced gardeners) ... and I can help them and give them a couple ideas on their choices,” Hickerson said.

It may be a little known fact to those who have visited the water district’s offices, but the gardens that encircle the building are more than just exterior dressings.

“These are pretty extensive gardens for just an office building,” Water District Environmental Technician Laurelin Ward said.

As a matter of fact, they were built with the intent to be both learning tools for the community and living experiments to show how little water is sometimes needed to maintain a healthy garden.

As spring weather approaches, people can use the gardens as a sort of template to planning their own.

There are many different kinds of plants featured in the gardens and each garden has a unique theme that changes as one walks clockwise around the building from the front entrance.

Most of the plants featured near the front are species native to Washington and the district displays them prominently for a reason.

“Most of the plants we have out here are drought-tolerant to promote water-wise gardening,” Hickerson said.

That distinction tends to throw some people off, she added. People tend to think cacti when “drought tolerant” is mentioned, but the district’s gardens tend to prove otherwise.

“You look around here and wow — you can really have a lot of vegetation and it’s beautiful,” Ward said.

Drought tolerant plants also make gardening a lot easier because there’s much less maintenance involved.

Still, the gardens exist to give people choices, not just suggestions and a person’s choice of garden plants really comes down to personal preference.

“It’s the right plant, right place,” Hickerson said.

Around the back of the building, the gardens become very distinct and are separated by color. The red/orange plants, like blood grass, eventually give way to yellow/greens and blue/violets like blue fescue.

The water levels required for each vary, too.

“We try to keep the gardens separate — different type plants in different areas,” Hickerson said.

“That helps us to guide people (in choosing what plants they want),” Ward added.

People also can get tips on how to best water their gardens.

Most of the district’s gardens feature soaker hoses, underground hoses that water the roots of grasses and plants. They can cost a little more to install — Hickerson and Ward weren’t sure just how much — but save money in the long run. Since the plants are watered underground, they don’t lose irrigation water to evaporation like they would with conventional watering systems (i.e. sprinklers). That, in turn, can save people money in the long run on their water bill.

Traditional sprinkler systems are featured on site as well.

“The reason we didn’t do soaker hoses throughout the whole thing is because we wanted to show the different types of irrigation,” Ward said.

And that’s not all that’s on hand to showcase the benefits of water conservation. In some cases, the district has similar grasses planted in separate sections side-by-side. This allows the district to experiment with watering techniques and amounts and show people — since the lawns look the same — how little water is needed to maintain certain grasses.

Sometimes their experiments don’t work out all that well. One garden in apparent disrepair represented a failed attempt to grow chamomile.

Nevertheless, “you can learn lessons from everything that happens,” Ward said.

Though people are already planning their gardens — three or four have contacted Hickerson this year already — now isn’t the ideal time to visit the gardens.

“You’ve gotta see this place when everything’s blooming,” Hickerson said.

Some of the more popular plants in the gardens include Mexican orange, a hedge-looking plant and nooka rose, a pink rose with very straight, prickly stems.

“A lot of people just dig this plant,” Hickerson said of the nooka rose, adding that the Mexican orange in bloom is “just gorgeous.”

Not a lot of people take advantage of Hickerson’s knowledge right now, but that could change soon. Since the creation of E3 Washington, a state-sponsored initiative to increase environmental education, the district has been called upon to increase public awareness of environmental issues. Accordingly, they have plans to further publicize the gardens and the work that the water district does to conserve water in Central Kitsap.

“We have a finite resource here,” Ward said. “We’re not strained for water yet, but it will happen as development continues.”

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