A small flourish of color and life wedged between a city street and a state highway, Fall City’s Totem Garden is one scrappy patch of ground. Sun-baked Russian sage and Cape fuchsias flap in the wind of passing cars, and the ceanothus remains a vibrant blue, smelling faintly of lilac in the late August heat.
Bees are about the only visitors to the garden right now, but as a stop on Fall City’s Art Walk, the place draws plenty of guests, and fans each year.
“I just love this garden,” Stacie Rose tells a Scouting mom, as her son Dwight finishes installing a sign on the southeast end of it. The two women agreed, the space was a beautiful escape from the city traffic, despite being right in the midst of it.
The sign, part of Dwight Rose’s Eagle project, marks the 10th anniversary of the garden. Its founder Vanessa Allen had wanted a sign for some time, though, just to let people know what the garden was—a gift to, and from, the community, like the namesake 45-foot totem pole dedicated in 1934, and the other art pieces within.
“It’s a community effort. It always has been,” Allen said, as she listed the many players involved, from the companies that donated rock and fill dirt, to the people who donated plants or cash, in making the garden happen.
It started, she explained, after the Fall City Community Association had acquired the last piece of the plot from the businesses across the highway—each of them was left with an unuseable sliver of the property after the highway went in, and eventually, they all sold theirs to the association, which Allen had served on for years.
With full ownership of the property by 2001, the association still didn’t have a plan for it. The land as essentially a long narrow vacant lot with the totem pole in the center (one of two that anchored the little park), two cherry trees, and, since 1982, the “Welcome to Fall City” sign on the north tip
“We really just mowed the weeds for years,” Allen said.
In 2003, she got the idea for the garden, and soon had enlisted the support of the businesses and residents alike.
“The minute I explained what I was doing, people wanted to help,” Allen said.
So as she planned and planted the roughly 40 by 180-foot garden, she’d simply let people know what she needed, say a bunch of large rocks for edging along the central pathways, and the next day, someone delivered a truckload. Plants and cash arrived the same way.
“I used to have people drive up and hand me a $20 bill when I was working in the garden,” Allen said. “They’d say ‘buy something pretty for the garden!’ and then drive off.”
Pretty was only one criteria that any plant going into Allen’s garden had to meet. They also had to be sturdy and, most importantly, drought-tolerant.
“There’s no water here,” Allen said. She’ll probably never forget that after one long summer of hand-watering all of the plants and shrubs.
Now, everything is drought-tolerant, which hummingbirds love, she says, and flourishing. Maintenance nowadays is more a matter of pulling the occasional weed — “My motto is never let anything go to seed,” — keeping the dirt covered, and watching the plants vie with each other in what she calls “a fight of whoever wants to take over.”
A lot of work is not too far off, though, as Allen eyes the larger shrubs. They’re due soon for some serious pruning and dividing, and “I’d love to give it a spruce-up after 10 years, she said.
Maybe this fall, or next spring, though. For now, she’s content to watch the plants battling for dominance.
“I think the ones that are going to win are awfully pretty,” she grins.
Anyone interested in helping with the spruce-up or general maintenance of the garden can contact Allen at email@example.com.
Flowers all but overwhelm the Totem Garden’s information sign about Julia Harshman, to whom the background totem pole, carved by H. H. Hinds, was dedicated in 1934. Harshman was a pioneer in Fall City, and the first telephone switchboard operator there.
Scouts used a level to ensure the new Totem Garden sign was installed correctly;
Totem Garden creator Vanessa Allen smiles as she watches the bees at work on one of her favorite plants, a brilliant orange butterfly weed.