(2013 aerial of Dragonfly Garden/Pavilion, by Long Bach Nguyen)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Sometimes one face-to-face conversation is worth a thousand email chains.
On Thursday, Parks Department staffers met with community volunteers at the Dragonfly Park garden in North Delridge (28th/Dakota), to listen to concerns about a Parks plan to cover its distinctive but weed-plagued beds with grass (reported here last week).
A sizable portion of the meeting was spent straightening out one reason for the volunteers having been blindsided by news of the plan: Though they had been in communication with Parks for years – including the recently retired lead gardener – their group’s existence was not officially on record. They had done their part, filling out documentation of work parties, even working toward the type of official agreement Parks has with “Friends of” groups that donate a lot of time and effort to some parks … but it had never been finalized and entered into the system.
Parks is in a time of transition, explained the four staffers who were there – not just with new leadership (Jesús Aguirre‘s recent return as superintendent), but also with 100 jobs open and a lot of other changes, such as, they said, the department being down to 6 crew chiefs from the previous 9.
But all that aside … what about the Dragonfly Park garden’s future? About a dozen concerned community members turned out for the noontime meeting, with the Parks delegation led by regional supervisor Carol Baker.
They explained that while the wing-shaped garden beds were “a wonderful concept” when the park – originally a Seattle Public Utilities project as explained here – was created more than 15 years ago (intended as “a landscaped area demonstrating salmon friendly and water-wise gardening techniques”), the beds have repeatedly failed, and been repeatedly replanted.
The only things that really thrive are invasive horsetail and thistle. Trying to create a sustainable landscape true to the original vision hasn’t worked out, and has been taking “tons of resources,” Parks says.
The soil might be the problem, they agreed. And maybe if a solution is found, the garden could be tried again – the blocks that outline the beds aren’t being removed. But for now, they want to try this lower-maintenance plan for a few years.
Laura Bruco, who has been leading the Friends of Dragonfly Park group for the past 2+ years, with 100 committed volunteers on the list, explained that the park “is a real center of our community and people take a lot of pride in it. … These gardens are essential to the art of this park.” She and group members had been planning to replant the beds when their contact at Parks, the now-retired lead gardener, told them to hold off – and then they didn’t hear anything until the cover-with-grass plan suddenly emerged, via email that Bruco said left her “stunned.”
Another group member pointed out that the volunteers had devoted two seasons of work just to prepare the beds for new plantings. They had plans to apply for grants, work with local businesses on fundraisers, but were told to “hold off.”
Once the “how did we get here?” was hashed out, it was on to “what can we do?” Baker stressed that she wasn’t able to promise that the plan in motion could be put on hold – signage was supposed to go up in the park today explaining the plan (as of noontime, Bruco tells us she hasn’t seen a crew show up), and a different division would have to agree to put the plan on hold.
When talk turned to “how to fix the soil?” there was some discussion of seeding the beds with clover instead of putting down sod. Clover can “fix” the soil and potentially improve it for future plantings. (No one was sure if the soil had ever been tested to try to sleuth the problem.) Some even wondered if just letting the horsetail and thistle go for a while would be so bad – the former, at least, dies back in the winter. That, however, didn’t gain much traction.
Baker reiterated that pursuing the grass-for-now plan wouldn’t necessarily pre-empt trying something else in the future, but one attendee said it seemed like a “terrible idea” to spend money on that now if undoing it was already being pondered.
Ultimately, Baker promised to take the concerns back to her colleagues, while stressing she couldn’t make any other commitments. Bruco requested a followup meeting in a few weeks. Some other work at the park will proceed, such as removal of a problematic low hedge along the sidewalk.
P.S. Though this wasn’t mentioned at the meeting, it’s worth noting – if you have concerns about this park or any others in West Seattle – Superintendent Aguirre is scheduled to be at the Highland Park Action Committee meeting next Wednesday, 7 pm August 28th (1116 SW Holden).