NW native plants are Pipers Creek Nursery’s specialty

  • Written by Shannon Michael, Features Writer

Pipers CreekPhoto by Shannon Michael. Pipers Creek Nursery owner Alan Hensley stands in front of the entrance to a gardener’s gold mine for Northwest native plants. If you’re not paying attention, you just might drive right past it. But, just a few yards north of Bothell’s Country Village a small gold mine of plants perfect for Northwest gardens awaits the savvy gardener seeking plants that will thrive in our region.

It’s Pipers Creek Nursery, owned and operated by Alan Hensley, where gardeners will find one of the best selections of Northwest native plant species in the region. To Hensley’s knowledge, his nursery is the only one in the region specializing in Northwest natives that is open to the public.

Hensley chose to specialize in Northwest native plants because he was disappointed with what was offered by local nurseries.

"I found other gardeners were having the same trouble finding quality native plants available at a retail level. Recognizing the demand for a nursery specializing in Northwest natives and realizing the significance of native plants as a growing part of future project plans in area municipalities, I could see the trend towards an increasing popularity and necessity for native plants to be available to the public," he said.

Customer Emma Schumacher of Shoreline would agree. "I am doing a garden on a slope, looking for low-lying native plants. I liked the selection of native plants here," she said, adding that it was her online research for nurseries offering Northwest native plants that led her to make the drive to Pipers Creek Nursery.

A labor of love and a lot of trial and error for Hensley, he admits to no formal training before entering the plant nursery business in 2008. "Most of my plant knowledge is from hands-on experience, reading books, studying plant material, and observations of my own Pipers Creek Nursery Trial Garden," he explained.

"Plenty of time hiking in these Pacific Northwest woods has helped me, too – especially for native plant inspiration," he said.

While Hensley chooses to focus on Northwest native plants, the selection he is able to offer fluctuates with weather, availability from growers and other factors.

"I try to sell other plants that complement the landscape and still have attractive attributes and benefits similar to natives. Low-maintenance, non-natives are also offered at the nursery," he said.

More than half of the nursery is filled with native plants throughout the year.

But, it is the rare Northwest native plants that are the nursery’s specialty: oak fern, starflower, bog geum, Pacific yew, madrona, western azalea, skunk cabbage, Labrador tea, and disporum "Hockerii" are just some of the major offerings.

Because spring is perfect planting season, the nursery’s offerings right now include displays of evergreen natives like western and mountain hemlocks, deciduous native vine maple, shade edibles like evergreen and black huckleberries and native bloomers Oregon grape, golden currant and red flowering currant.

The nursery also offers selections for habitat restoration planting projects, rain gardens and bonsai gardens.

Novice gardeners may wonder what the benefits are of using native plants in the garden. Hensley explains, "Northwest native plants are lower water use, require less maintenance and create habitat.

"Native plants are best suited for our weather and soils. Since these plants basically take care of themselves, the gardener will have a higher rate of success, more free time to do other things, and the garden will have lots of happy birds. Ultimately, native plants save money and save energy."

Hensley’s love of native plants also encompasses his care and concern for the environment. He purposely purchases about 80 percent of his stock of plants and products he sells from vendors that operate within 50 miles of the nursery.

"It is very important to me to do as much business locally as I can. Keeping money in the community in which one does business is good business.

"Added benefits are: better quality of plants with less damage in transport and the plants/trees are already acclimated to the local weather, as well as a smaller carbon footprint," he explains.

Even the nursery’s website,, reflects Hensley’s commitment to the environment. It is powered by 100 percent wind energy. "Sustainability and smart energy use are two things that are near and dear to me," he says.

The nursery also sells birdhouses made locally from reclaimed cedar and redwood, pottery from Washington Pottery, composting worms and Azomite, an organic all-purpose fertilizer.

Gardeners seeking out heirloom and organic seeds for starting their own vegetable gardens will find a good selection of Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, a company based in Ellensburg.

The nursery has a special public event planned for June 21, a Summer Solstice Garden Party, from 5-8 p.m. The party will host an exhibit of Joseph Paul Ilig’s Northwest Coastal Native Art and live music by local musician Jerry Holland.

Pipers Creek Nursery is located at 23622 Bothell-Everett Highway and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday-Monday, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

‘Assisted Living’ is a comedy with bite

  • Written by Deborah Stone
It’s a fact that we are living longer, and that we can attribute this increased life expectancy to continuous breakthroughs in medical research and technology. No one would have imagined years ago that we would be able to survive illness to the extent we are currently experiencing today. Yet, with this optimism comes a host of concerns and issues looming on the horizon, most significant among them a possible collapse of the healthcare marketplace.

Against this backdrop, Seattle playwright Katie Forgette  imagines aged baby boomers living in a “prisonlike” senior residence, shortly after the demise of Medicare.

In her play, “Assisted Living,” now having its world-premiere at ACT Theatre, such facilities, once penitentiaries, are now nursing homes operated by the government under the Senior Provision Act, a.k.a. “SPA.”

The elderly who occupy them are forced to sell all their assets to pay for every item needed for their government-run care, even oxygen and bags for bodily fluids.

In SPA Facility #273, the rules are strict, with specific times for chatting and for quiet.

At night, a robot named “Hal” patrols the darkened halls and during the day, the residents are in the care of the bitter, ever-controlling Nurse Claudia (Julie Briskman). She rules the ward with an iron hand and a hypodermic needle, viewing her elderly flock with complete disdain and resentment. To her, these people are all worthless and undeserving of respect or compassion.

She takes delight in stripping them of their dignity and in constantly reminding them of the bad habits they engaged in during their lives which led to their chronic health problems. In her mind, the residents are all leeches, who have drained society’s resources, leaving her generation without any entitlements.

Newly arrived resident Joe Taylor (Kurt Beattie) enters the scene to find an institutionalized community stripped of basic freedoms.

Disturbed by these conditions, he makes it his mission to elevate the spirits of the other residents, who though deeply unhappy, appear resigned to accept their situation without a fight. They know if they dare to upset the status quo, Nurse Claudia will threaten them with banishment to the first floor, better known as the “twilight ward,” where heavy sedation is the protocol. Those who are sent to this area of the facility never return.

Taylor, who had been an actor, discovers other former actors at the residence and he persuades them to read plays together and to give a holiday performance for families and other residents.

The activity becomes a way for the seniors to revolt against a dehumanizing system.

Joining Taylor in this endeavor are Beatrice “Judy” Hart (Marianne Owen), Wally Carmichael (Jeff Steitzer), and Mitzi Kramer (Laura Kenny).

Each of these individuals has learned to employ different mechanisms to cope with their predicaments.

As a former nurse, Mitzi, for example, tries to continue to care for others by doing her own “rounds” at the facility.

Beatrice does crossword puzzles and keeps her head in a book, while Wally, lost without the batteries to his hearing aids (Nurse Claudia withholds them from him), is forced to tune out the world around him.

With some help and cooperation from young orderly Kevin (Tim Gouran), the foursome rehearses in secret.

“Assisted Living” is a well-crafted drama that interlaces biting comedy with moments of tenderness and poignancy. Its darkly comical view of America’s healthcare system elicits much hearty laughter from the audience, but it also makes us squirm a bit.

The theme hits uncomfortably close to home, especially when one considers the statistics about aging boomers and the all-too-near-in-the-future impact they will have on the system.

As for the cast, each member embraces his/her role with gusto and gives laudable and memorable performances.

Comprised of mainly Seattle veteran actors, this group, under the deft direction of R. Hamilton Wright, is a dream ensemble that possesses talent and chemistry in spades. They are a joy to watch in this timely, compassionate and very funny production.

“Assisted Living” runs through May 12 at ACT Theatre in Seattle. For ticket information: (206) 292-7676 or

Laura Pyles: West Coast’s best new pastry chef

  • Written by Shannon Michael Staff Writer
Laura Pyles
Courtesy Photo Laura Pyles
When Laura Pyles graduated from Woodinville High School in 2001, she had her sights set on a psychology degree from the University of Washington. Working in restaurant kitchens through college, however, set her career path in a different direction.

Upon graduating from the UW, she attended the Culinary Institute of America, specializing in baking and pastry.

After stints at Seattle’s Dahlia Bakery, Ballard’s Bastille Café & Bar and Queen Anne’s Book Bindery, she became the pastry chef for Revel and Joule, two Korean fusion restaurants located in Seattle’s Fremont and Wallingford neighborhoods.

Now, Pyles’ eclectic offerings of desserts at Revel and Joule have garnered her national attention in the food world.

Food & Wine magazine recently announced Pyles was voted People’s Choice Best New Pastry Chef on the West Coast. It is her first culinary award.

Food & Wine had been tipped off to her baking skills from their network of journalists, chefs and food industry insiders when they were seeking recommendations.

A few of their editors, being fans of Revel and Joule’s chef/owners Rachel Yang and Seif Cherchi, visited the restaurants to sample Pyles’ desserts, and they came away impressed.

“Laura is a very talented and dedicated pastry chef who does pastries for both Revel and Joule. She is really great at coming up with unique flavor combination using various techniques. She delivers exciting and eclectic and yet comforting and uncomplicated desserts,” said chef/owners Rachel Yang and Seif Cherchi.

The process of earning the recognition was lengthy. The magazine contacted Pyles late last year for a phone interview. She was told in January she was a nominee.

She found out she’d won the honor when she awoke April 9 to a string of text messages on her phone from well-wishers across the country who had seen the winners posted on the magazine’s website earlier in the morning.

Her parents, Woodinville residents Bob and Linda Pyles, receive admiring credit from their daughter.

“I come from a long line of people who are enthusiastic about food. It wasn’t uncommon in our house to be sitting down to one dinner and already talking about what we would have for our next one. My parents are both great cooks, and my mom always kept my brother and me interested in what she was whipping up in the kitchen,” said Laura.

“We were both delighted and very proud that she received this recognition.  One of the benefits of being the parents of a pastry chef is that we can enjoy the desserts she makes for us when she comes home to visit in Woodinville,” her dad Bob Pyles said.

Pyles has been working for Revel and Joule since April 2012 where she develops and frequently changes the dessert and brunch menus.

“Both restaurants lean towards Asian, more specifically Korean flavors, and it’s a lot of fun exploring herbs, fruits, teas and other ingredients I’ve never really used before,” said Pyles.

To gain inspiration, she is always looking for new cookbooks and revisiting old favorites.

She keeps up with current trends through cooking magazines and blogs, plus eating out at new places as much as she can.

Because the menu at Revel changes every month, it’s hard for Pyles to choose her favorite dessert, but admitted, “It would probably be the peanut butter pie with potato chip crust and roasted cocoa nib butter. I love sweet and salty combinations!”

Part of the fun of creating new offerings each month is that Pyles gets to experiment with different ingredients that are often seasonal.

“Jasmine is probably my favorite of the moment because it pairs so beautifully with the fruit that is starting to come in. It tastes like spring, so light and refreshing,” she said.

Looking back to her Woodinville High School and college days, Pyles offered some advice to students who aspire to have a career in the food industry.

“It’s important to get a job or internship somewhere and try it out!,” she offered, adding that aspiring chefs might find they like working in a bakery rather than a restaurant, or vice versa. “There are a lot of other more specific areas to choose from,” she explained, “but you won’t know until you give it a shot.”

It’s a good thing Pyles gave being a pastry chef a shot. Seattle area diners are the lucky benefactors of that career choice.

A Fresh Start to your College Savings

  • Written by GET Program

Spring is in full bloom – tax day has passed and it’s time for your finances to get a fresh start! April is Financial Literacy Month, and as it draws to a close, what’s a more appropriate topic than budgeting for your child’s future?

Becoming a parent brings a lot of new responsibilities and expenses. It’s important to create a plan to balance managing today’s costs with preparing for the future. An often overlooked but sizable expenditure that continues to increase is college tuition. In fact, the price tag of a single year of tuition at a four-year public university is quickly approaching that of a new car!

What debt can cost

As college costs continue to grow, many families turn to financial aid to cover the gap. What many don’t realize is that the average financial aid award is nearly 40% loans (says a report by The College Board) that must be repaid with substantial interest. Further, a recent FICO study finds that the average student loan debt is more than $27,000!

Balance your budget

Putting away as much as possible while your children are young is the most effective way to reduce future student loan debt. Saving for college may require making some tradeoffs, especially on a tight budget, but it doesn’t mean you must sacrifice everything. Finding another $50, $100 or $150 a month can go a long way. Consider the following:

-The average U.S. family spends more than $200 eating out each month. Cut that in half for ten years and you could have over $12,000 to add to your college savings.

Other expenses to look at are monthly cell phone, TV and Internet bills – bundling services can often save you money. And holding off buying that new car for just a couple more years could easily add another few hundred a month. Every little bit can add up to big savings.

‘GET’ ahead on saving

Once you’ve found a way to set some dollars aside, it’s important to find a secure option that maximizes your savings. College-specific savings vehicles called 529 plans are one of the most effective ways to grow those dollars. You may have heard of Washington’s 529 Plan - the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) Program. GET is a prepaid college tuition plan that offers the investment security of conventional savings accounts and bonds, but with tax-free growth and the potential for much higher returns.

Here’s an example of the ‘GET advantage’:

-You have a newborn and put $5,000 dollars into a GET account this year. Leave it there for 18 years until she’s ready for college, and that same $5,000 could be worth over $10,600 (60% more than putting that same amount in a conventional savings account)!

Opening a GET account is most rewarding while your children are young. The earlier you start, the more time GET’s steady growth has to add to your account. You can watch the value increase year after year, with no worries about market volatility. While it may require some adjusting to fit into your family’s financial picture, remember the cost and concerns it saves you down the road. So go ahead – take control of future college costs by planning ahead, sticking to a budget and finding options that maximize your investment returns.

GET is Washington’s 529 prepaid college tuition plan, celebrating 15 years of helping families save for their children’s college education. GET accounts are guaranteed by the state of Washington to increase in value along with rising tuition costs, no matter how much they increase.

ECO Foam aims to help companies recycle their unwanted packaging foam

  • Written by Deborah Stone
EcoFoam sign
Courtesy photo
Plastic foam is ubiquitous in our society.

Unfortunately, most of it eventually makes its way to landfills, where it sits for hundreds of years. Left untouched, the foam, which is not biodegradable, kills animals that end up eating it, as well as dirties our landscape.

ECO Foam Recyclers wants to do its part to help the environment by educating people about the need to recycle this waste, allowing the product to be used once again.

The newly formed company works with businesses around the region to help better service their recycling needs with regards to expanded polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam), expanded polyethylene (flexible foam that often comes in sheets) and expanded polypropylene (often comes in the form of thin foam wrapped around large appliances.

The company, which is owned by Joe Baba and Kari McKibben, recently opened its doors in a 2,500- square-foot warehouse in Woodinville; a space that also occupies the couple’s other business venture, Bigfoot Tobacco and Supplies.

Declining sales for Bigfoot motivated the couple to look for a new endeavor.

“One of our employees at Bigfoot, Eric Ulfwengren, who is also an independent consultant, came to us with the foam recycling idea,” says Joshua Baba, marketing director for ECO Foam Recyclers. “The idea appealed to us because of the fact that it’s environmentally conscious and saves businesses money.”

Baba explains that as long as the foam is clean and dry, the company will take it without charge if it’s dropped off at its warehouse location; otherwise, it will be happy to pick up the product from its source, for a fee.

Once received, the company puts the foam through a densifying process of grinding and melting before it extrudes out of the machine in a molten state.

Then it is formed into a mold weighing 25 pounds per block and sold back into the plastic industry, which uses it in all kinds of different plastic components or even has it re-blown back into foam.

“Recycling this product instead of disposing of it in the environment makes perfect sense,” comments Baba. “The goal is to try and take all of it out of the waste stream and put it back to use. Letting our environment fill up with unwanted foam is both a misuse of our beautiful landscape and a waste of the land we have.”

The company, which is the only polyethylene recycler in the area (there are others that recycle polystyrene), is reaching out to as many small and midsize companies as possible to make them aware of its services.

Some, according to Baba, are very receptive, as they want to be green and realize they can save money.

Others, he notes, are not motivated to recycle.

“Our biggest challenge is trying to connect with large corporations like Boeing, Microsoft and Nintendo,” he says. “These companies use a lot of these products, but there’s so much red tape you have to get through to work with them.”

Baba is excited about the business, but realizes that it is a start-up and it will take time to build momentum.

He adds, “Each week, things gets better, and each client we find becomes a repeat customer, which is our objective.

“Right now, we’re working with companies in Woodinville, Redmond, Bothell, Lynwood, Seattle, Bellevue, Mukilteo and other surrounding areas, with the plan to expand further in the future.”