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, www.thepiperscreeknursery.com, 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.