Just in time to inspire local gardeners and plant lovers for spring planting, Soos Creek Botanical Garden and Heritage Center opened for the season on April 5th. They have 22 breathtaking acres of strolling gardens that are open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10AM-3PM.

Carriage in Heritage Center

The garden was originally part of 200 acres that Norwegian immigrants Ole Evensen Oie and Andrew Oie purchased between 1891 and 1905. For many years, Andrew Oie, Maurice
Skagen’s ancestor, farmed the land on which the garden is located. Maurice Skagen’s parents purchased a five acre portion of the property in the 1960s. His parents then deeded the land to him in 1968. Over the years Maurice added to the original five acres with the purchase of 17 additional adjoining acres. The garden now extends from 132nd Avenue SE in Auburn, Washington, to a tributary of Soos Creek and a couple of acres beyond.

Forty-nine years ago, there was nothing other than the native trees and plant life such as Douglas firs, western red cedars, hemlocks, vine maples, big leaf maples, and native perennials, ranging from trilliums to skunk cabbage along the creek. In 1963 Maurice began acquiring plants as research for his master’s thesis. Initial purchases included a large selection of conifers, azaleas, rhododendrons, and other evergreen shrubs. These have grown into some of the larger specimens in the garden.

In the mid 1980’s Maurice toured gardens in England and Japan. This inspired him to create stroll type gardens at home. A number of plants were purchased during these trips, such as tree peonies from Kyoto, Japan and Sorbus from England. Over the past 40 years a wide variety of plants were acquired from Pacific Northwest specialty nurseries.

Maurice, a librarian, planted and cared for the garden mostly by himself for 45 years on weekends and days off, an amazing feat when you walk through it. In 2011 the garden was opened to the public as a non-profit. It’s maintained by volunteers, every year growing a little more, while they clear out brush to extend the gardens and maintain the existing ones.

As you walk through the 10 different sections of the botanical garden, you will also see the
 large hoop house where they start plants, an aviary including a large peacock and doves, a big red barn where they hold workshops, a gorgeous pond, and an area where they hold their plant sales.

There is also a heritage center devoted to the history of the early settlers of the 70 square mile area called the Soos Creek Plateau. An extensive collection of early photos, historical maps and artifacts of the ancestors of the region is on display.

The Franklin Tree

They have many rare plants, but one that stood out was a Franklinia alatamaha, or Franklin tree. Discovered in the wild in Georgia in 1765 by botanists John and William Bartram, “this beautiful landscape tree is considered extinct in the wild. The Bartrams named the plant in honor of their friend Benjamin Franklin. All Franklinias today are descended from those propagated by the Bartrams in their Philadelphia garden.” (Fine Gardening)

They also have banana trees they protect all winter that actually produce small bananas here in the Pacific Northwest, and a tree whose leaves smell like peanut butter.

You will see many Eagle Scout projects scattered throughout the garden. Local boy scouts have built trellises, benches and the like. Green River Community College students have made several metal sculptures donated to the garden as well as the beautiful gate at the garden’s entrance. A woman who grows award winning dahlias plants them in May, when the threat of frost is past.

The WSU Master Gardeners  & the Master Gardener Foundation of King County have created a vegetable garden near the hoop house. All of the food grown there is donated to Kent and Auburn food banks. Last year they donated 1635 lbs of fresh produce.

The garden has about 30 volunteers doing things ranging from garden maintenance, plant propagation, being a docent at the heritage center, marketing and working during events. The more volunteers they get, the more they can do. Their next project is recreating a prairie habitat with native Oaks on the far side of the creek.

Once a month, the Soos Creek Botanical Gardens have educational “Red Barn Programs”. They are the third Wednesday of each month from 12:30-2PM. The next couple are:

-May 17, 12:30 — Integrated Pest Management, (IPM)

Presented by John Valentine

IPM is an environmentally friendly, common sense approach to controlling pests. A well-defined IPM is a program based on prevention, monitoring, and control which offers the opportunity to eliminate or drastically reduce the use of pesticides. IPM does this by utilizing a variety of methods and techniques, including cultural, biological and structural strategies to control a multitude of pest problems.

-June 21, 12:30 — Gardening with Native Plants

Presented by Marcia Rivers Smith, Native Plant Steward and board member of Washington Native Plant Society (WNPS)

Marcia will share her extensive knowledge of native plants and how to incorporate them into residential landscapes. She will discuss the ‘What, Where, Why and How of using Native Plants in your landscape to reduce the use of water and chemicals, and attract wildlife.

Ken Malidore and Barbara Nagel

Every month is like visiting a new garden, with different plants blooming or leafing out. Check out their Facebook page  for what is blooming each week. My tour guides, Ken Malidore and Barbara Nagel said May especially is a beautiful month to visit and as a bonus, their first plant sale of the season is Mother’s Day Weekend, May 12th and 13th.

The Soos Creek Botanical Garden is located at: 29308 132nd Ave SE, Auburn, WA 98092 and their website is: www.sooscreekbotanicalgarden.org.

Michelle Gehlman-Teeter

Michelle Gehlman-Teeter is a writer and photographer from Kent, Washington. Michelle is a contributor to iLoveKent.net. She loves to find interesting places to go and fun things to do and share them with her readers. Click links to see her writing, photography or Facebook page.

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