One of the colorful delights—and challenges—of life on Whidbey Island is the profusion of gardens, both public and private. If we islanders have a signature passion, it’s gardening.
Large-scale gardens open to the public include the famed Meerkerk Gardens, 10 acres of rhododendrons located off Hwy. 525 just south of Greenbank. There’s also the 72-acre Earth Sanctuary near Freeland, where more than 4,800 new native plants are restoring an area logged 20 years ago.
Private back yard and front yard gardens abound in Langley and everywhere else on Whidbey. Everything but cactus thrives here, from spectacular tomatoes to ornamental Japanese maples. There are Asian-themed gardens, front yards strategically designed so that something colorful is happening at every time of the year, and practical working gardens that flood whole neighborhoods with strawberries or peas. Many Whidbey gardeners integrate frog ponds and hummingbird-attracting flowers such as honeysuckle and columbines for wildlife-friendly gardens.
That “wildlife,” however, constitutes the prime challenge confronting Whidbey gardeners. We suffer a profusion of deer and, of course, rabbits. The upside is that a lot of island residents put considerable architectural imagination into their fences, which enhance their homes and gardens.
How to learn about gardening on the island? There are half a dozen commercial nurseries with a wealth of local expertise on staff. Every year in June the Whidbey Island Garden Tour arranges to open several private gardens to public visiting, and donates the proceeds to island charities. The Whidbey Island Master Gardener Foundation presents workshops with ideas and techniques geared specifically to our island environment.
And if you need inspiration, a midsummer visit to the Bayview Farmers Market on Saturdays (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) will always do the job. The herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables for sale at the market illustrate what’s possible in a Whidbey Island garden. With just a little dirty work and a good fence.