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Seattle Academy Horticulture

“A Careful Evaluation of the Beds”

Photo of Seattle Academy Trish Eden and Zach Stratton

Some admire the fragility of Sedums and others step on the Sedum carefully only to watch for discarded gum, cigarette butts, and dog poo.  

Urban gardens are hardly worth the trouble. Though for some, they comprise a decade of work. 

“When I tell people I do the gardens at Seattle Academy, they go ‘I didn’t know they had gardens,’” says Trish. Trish Eden and Zach Stratton are garden designers and they have been tending to SAAS campus gardens since 2008. “We focus on keeping plants healthy.”

Urban gardeners contend with litter, pedestrian traffic, carbon emissions and disrupted daylight due to condensed buildings. To maintain green spaces in high-traffic cities takes dedication and an innate understanding of what plants need. Trish affirms it is no easy feat.

“You could do a whole anthropological study just based on the garbage found,” suggests Zach. 

Trish and Zach have been tending, moving, and adding varied species to our eclectic spaces. The conversation goes like this: How are plants doing? What needs to be moved to grow better? What is getting trampled? It is a balancing act managing the environmental needs of the plants while still keeping in mind necessary school operations, easements and daily movements.

“The kids are never helpful in this regard,” Trish breaks out laughing. She points out an area that was re-trampled recently. “There is no reason anyone should be in the [garden] bed that far. We thought we put in a big enough plant to withstand...Zach, we probably need another stone here.” 

Trish is lightheartedly joking in this statement but explains how large rocks provide a bit of a barrier and a discouragement of cutting through beds. They can also be a guide — both discouraging and encouraging students to use the rocks as stepping stones.

The boulder on the corner of 12th Avenue and Spring Street came from a beautiful brick church, built in the 20s or 30s, located up the street that was torn down three years ago. The head contractor that built the STREAM building took his excavator and grabbed the boulder for us; it was a verbal agreement rooted in happenstance and good timing. 

Other considerations include the light and the soil, how big the plants get (because we don’t want the shrubs to grow taller than our 6th-grade class) and trees. “There are a lot of trees and the trees really just zap all the water from the soil,” says Trish. “We want the trees, of course, so we add mulch to protect the soil and keep moisture in.”

Her favorite plants are the Nerines because they are very drought tolerant and they bloom late in the season. Verbena rigida is also drought tolerant. And Aucuba, which you don’t have to water because it is a hardy shrub tolerant of dry shade.

Mahonia — an Oregon grape — is a native plant. 

The Clematis (growing on the Middle School façade on 13th) is winter blooming; the Olearia macrodonta — with its corymbs of white flowers in the summer.

Campus is also home to Trilliums, ferns, Parthenocissus quinquefolia 'Virginia creeper,' Asarum caudatum 'wild ginger,' Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost,’ Dicentra spectabilis 'Bleeding hearts,' Euphorbia rigida and Hesperaloe.

Photo of Seattle Academy Urban Gardens on Campus

After an hour-long plant tour in virtually non-existent English — in plant tongue, an amalgamation of botanical Latin names and horticulture jargon  — it was plain to see that green gardens are not all alike. 

There are over 100 different species of plants living among the green spaces that are interspersed throughout the main campus block and Temple de Hirsch Sinai. Many are indigenous to the area, some are exotic. 

And the trick to it all is Zach and Trish’s careful shuttling of plants to different areas.

“The weather keeps changing, the plants keep growing — and that’s what happens with gardens. We just have to keep adapting.” Trish is explaining the process of urban gardening here on the main campus block (between Spring St. and Union, 12th Ave and 13th). “I move things around a lot,” says Trish.

Spring Street was planted in 2009 with an abundance of Hypericum, commonly known as St. John’s wort, that had to be removed and the beds replanted. Then it was a very hot season, with the heat reflecting off the cement and the glass of the STREAM building it got to be 120 degrees. The resulting planting now includes plants that are very heat and dry tolerant to be able to withstand such extreme conditions. 

Thirteenth Street was an ongoing process of editing and adding plant variety to the beds. Along the sidewalk were all laurels. So the duo, again, have slowly been removing them to have a bit more variety of size, leaf, growth pattern, and color.

Union Street was planted with the new Middle School in 2018. That was all Sarcococca humilis; everything low growing. “But I don’t really like monoculture,” says Trish, “so, over time we have studied and calculated what we can have here. The guiding principle in the beginning was to have it look the best during the school year: fall to spring. But then over the summer, I want it to look good too.” 

This is very much the sentiment behind all of Trish and Zach’s work. It is pride. 

“I think we add a lot to the community at large in terms of just having a nice environment,” says Trish.  

“There are very few buildings with semi-private/semi-public spaces, especially in this area, that have grounds that are this nice and this well maintained,” agrees Zach. “So it is kind of a special thing, in a way.”

“The school really has done a lot for the neighborhood,” concludes Trish.

And while this art has been transpiring weekly for over a decade, we dedicate this spotlight as a tribute to Trish who has recently retired just last month (November 2021). We’ll miss Trish who has been a part of the SAAS community for over a decade. Her son, Tristan Eden ’09, is also an alum. 

Zach, who is as integral to the operation as soil is to seeds, will assume sole artistic responsibility and maintenance of the SAAS campus gardens. 

And as to why urban gardens are worth the trouble, Trish imparts “it is a subconscious effect. People feel better knowing that campus is orderly and attractive. The thinking is, if you care for something, then other people will take care of it too, once you are gone.” 

Photo of Seattle Academy's Campus Gardener Trish Eden in 2021

In Focus, Spring 2022

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