Slices of paradise bloom in the rainforest

KETCHIKAN — Rain can dampen spirits as well as the ground, but members of the garden club cheerfully tromped through Saturday’s downpour and squishy earth to visit gardens and “oooh” and “ahhh” at the blooms and greens on display.


The tour agenda included four gardens, each highlighting different aspects of gardening including hardscape, vegetables, structure, small space, whimsy and, of course, brightly colored blooms.

The Ketchikan Garden Club was incorporated in 1940 but, according to President Lee Skidmore, had been running long before that. Now the club, which has 65 members, gets together weekly to work at the Blue Star Memorial Garden and again once a month to learn something new, share information and socialize.

The garden tour is one event held at least once a year to give everyone an opportunity to explore the gardens and see how plants and flowers are flourishing for others.

This year the tour included yards belonging to Barbara Bigelow near Herring Cove, Gretchen Blanchard on South Tongass, Linda Hardin in the city and Sharyl Hall north of town.

If all goes as planned, the next garden tour will be in the fall, though last year they didn’t have one then. To be chosen for the tour, the club receives recommendations, and if the recommended gardener agrees to hosting 60-70 people in their yard for a while, they make the cut. The yards featured on the tour do not have to belong to garden club members.

For some, gardening can appear complicated and time-consuming, but it can be as simple as an herb in a pot.

“You don’t have to have a green thumb to grow a plant,” said Brian Ojeda at North Shore Nursery.

Ojeda, a nursery employee, said they are able to help any novice pick the right plant if they want to try their thumb at growing something. Whether the garden plot will contain cooking herbs or something a little more complicated, the ingredients of light, water and nutrients is the same.

“Plants are like children,” he said with a grin. “They might give you trouble at first but, for the most part, they turn out all right.”

Skidmore said a tricky part about gardening in Ketchikan is the average 13 feet of rain each year.

The native soil is mostly rock and mud so drainage can be an issue. Being careful of plant selection — not choosing drought-resistant plants that won’t survive the rainfall — and amending drainage problems are a couple things to look for, she said.

Sharyl Hall, officer of the garden club, has put the majority of her plants in containers. Her containers are large — sections of wood pipe from the old pulp mill flume, for example — and hold flowering trees and shrubs.

“My yard is a swamp, or solid roots and rocks,” she said. “I have to garden up, which makes it easier because you can pick your spot and just put the planter there.”

If a container is not on the menu, Ojeda suggested “mounding,” a technique which only half-buries the plant’s roots in the ground and builds up the earth around it, creating a mound around the base of the plant.

Containers and mounding can also solve the problem of poor nutrient content in the soil. Many gardeners in Ketchikan amend their soil with home-grown compost, something Ojeda said is not complicated and makes a big difference.

The nursery makes compost out of yard trimmings, leftover potting soil, kitchen scraps, fungus and a little store-bought compost mix-in. They combine the ingredients in a barrel-shaped mixer and give it a spin every so often to mix it up. Skidmore said most members of the garden club make their own compost, and a few have worm farms, which produce compost faster and with less smell.

No matter how it’s done, gardening can add color, life and a sense of accomplishment to anyone’s space.

“I truly feel that if you can set yourself one project a year and if you can complete that project, you should be proud of yourself,” Hill said.

Skidmore learned to love gardening while working alongside her grandmother in central California. In her garden, she nurtures hyacinthoides, a small plant that offers small blue bell-shaped flowers. The plant was her grandmother’s favorite and Skidmore brought the bulbs to Alaska when she came 20 years ago. She also has some violets she took from her mother’s plant when she went to college in 1964.

“Don’t say, ‘I’ve never done it, I can’t do it.’ Just try,” she said. “Wherever you are, you can have a pot of something.”


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