Winter garden at Lacey's Closed Loop Park is worth a stop

craig.sailor@thenewstribune.comJanuary 30, 2013 

It’s easy to pass the winter garden by. After all, it’s just a mere shadow of its summer glory. But gardens have secrets and revelations that disappear when warm weather returns. A close look reveals sculptural branches, seed heads, berries, colorful bark and even the occasional flower.

At Closed Loop Park in Lacey, WSU Thurston County Master Gardeners operate a demonstration garden that has plenty to offer underneath its frosty coating.

But let’s get one thing straight: Closed Loop is a dump. Specifically, it’s the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center. The park sits atop a restored portion of the Hawk’s Prairie landfill. It “closes the loop” by returning the former dump to a scenic and productive space.

The 2-acre demonstration garden is planted in about 18 inches of soil on top of an impermeable protective liner. Mount Rainier rises in the background while a small creek gurgles past. Grassy areas and benches offer respite.

At the entrance to the park (near a busy dog park) a hillside holds nearly 150 varieties of Sedum. Nearby, clumps of green and yellow variegated yucca look as good now as they do in summer.

A winter garden is as much about what’s missing as what’s present. Trees and shrubs are bare of leaves and their bark, with its interesting patterns and vibrant colors, is revealed. Berries and seeds stand out on denuded shrubs. And the few plants that bloom in the winter seem even more precious.

At Closed Loop orange-red rose hips adorn a row of Nootka roses. They seem to be a favorite perch for birds as they nibble at the vitamin C-rich fruit. The garden is a refuge for robins while LBBs (little brown birds) gobble down holly berries.

Intertwining and contrasting with the rose hips are the white spheres of snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus). They look like little marshmallows already on the stick, ready for roasting. Like the Nootka, rose snowberry is a native.

The garden makes much use of red osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera). It’s a fountain-shaped North American native shrub with vibrant red bark. Near a grassy run a young paperbark maple (Acer griseum) sheds its namesake orange bark. With its trifoliate leaves that turn fire engine red in fall the paperbark is a true four-season tree.

Witch hazels, with their yellow, orange or red spider-like blossoms, are a delight in the winter garden. They reliably bloom shortly after the New Year. Close Loop features an orange flowered ‘Jelena’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’).

Like any garden that shows well in the winter Closed Loop makes extensive use of evergreen plants. They range from the thin needles of pines to the large glossy leaves of an evergreen magnolia. Hollies, barberries, sword ferns and Euphorbias add to the evergreen repertoire.

Closed Loop Park is a test garden for Great Plant Picks – a program utilizing horticultural experts who evaluate reliable plants for the Pacific Northwest garden.

Closed Loop isn’t all play and no work. The park also houses a demonstration area displaying several different kinds of composting methods and devices.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541 craig.sailor@thenewstribune.com

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