Tukwila Backyard Habitat Tour

The 11th annual Tukwila Backyard Wildlife Festival took place last weekend in Tukwila, Washington. Tukwila has the distinction of being the first  community in the state of Washington, and only the fourth in the nation, to become certified by the National Wildlife Federation as Community Wildlife Habitat. In addition to yards, all of Tukwila’s schools were certified along with several businesses. The festival included a series of talks including topics on hummingbirds, pollinators and backyard habitat as well as booths set up by local organizations, an art show, kids activities and a garden tour.

Tukwila is located just south of Seattle at the intersection of two major highways, Interstates 5 and 405, and along the Duwamish River which flows to the north and empties into Elliott Bay. Toxic runoff from industrial sites, the airport and other sources have tainted the Duwamish River to the point that over 42 chemicals are above the state safety levels. Today there is a great, coordinated effort to clean up the river. The homeowners on the backyard tour all recognize their potential impact on the river by living in close proximity, some right on the river, and have taken great strides in making their yards not only great habitat, but also river-friendly.

There were six yards on the tour, and like the Edmonds Backyard Habitat tour, all very unique. Each homeowner had taken different approaches to habitat, many merging their personal interests into the gardens. All of the gardens had put forth tremendous efforts and each was a ‘work in progress’. Some were fairly new while others were established. Like with the Edmonds tour, each had it’s own personality and again, I was amazed by how creatively each had solved their own challenges. Above all, I was inspired by the efforts taken by these individuals to be responsible and share their yards simply because they wanted to or felt it was the right thing to do.

Click on any image below to view many more photos of each garden or visit the link directly: Tukwila Backyard Habitat Tour album.

Alford Garden

This garden is a mixed native and ornamental with newly planted beds in the backyard. The lawn has been getting smaller to make room for new vegetable beds and other edibles. The far back is lined with a native woodland planting offering habitat and privacy. Close to the patio is the edible and colorful beds where they will be most enjoyed by the summer activity. The font yard contains a native oak along with many low-growing native plants such as camas and fescues. The front garden is planned to add prairie species for butterflies and other insects. All of the plants in this yard must stand on their own because the owners don’t pamper any of them. The limited watering during the middle of summer comes from reclaimed house water. Much of the yard retains the reclaimed theme because many of the materials used throughout the landscape have been reclaimed or were extra unused materials. This is a garden that has a very comfortable and welcoming feeling, aided in part by the very friendly family dog.

Cobert Farms

The second garden, overlooking the Duwamish River, had a heavy focus on urban farming containing many raised vegetable beds, bee hives, fruit trees and a very impressive chicken coop. The backyard had the very difficult challenge of being on a rather steep slope, but one that the owners overcame with great success. Creating terraces and a beautiful rock wall with succulents creeping out of many nooks, the yard  felt cozy and organized while offering a nice view of the surrounding hills. There is a mix of ornamental plants and natives and houses for birds, solitary bees and bats. They have also added restored native habitats. The patio sits along one corner overlooking the entire garden and I imagine it is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. It’s amazing what can be accomplished in only 5 years on 1/4 acre. This yard provides food, water and shelter for the wildlife as well as the owners and it blends them beautifully.

Shumate Garden

The third garden sits directly along the Duwamish River and offers a true sense of the Pacific Northwest. Only three years old, this half acre landscape is very impressive because when the owners started, the lot was overgrown with blackberry, morning glory, ivy and other invasive and aggressive plants. Since 2007 they have put forth great energy to transform this yard into a beautiful landscape. Once the owners had removed thousands of pounds of invasive plants, they used a sheet mulching technique to battle the invasives. Plants were acquired from plant salvages, friends, nurseries and conservation district sales. The Green River Trail, a popular biking, jogging and walking path bisects their lot between the river and house. They actively worked on the riverbank as well and found many native plants surviving underneath all of the invasive plants. They also discovered a beaver living along the bank of their property. What started with a few ferns is now on it’s way to becoming a perfect wildlife habitat.

Linder Garden

Fourth on the tour was the garden of the tour organizer. The tour description of this garden states that “wildlife practices have been incorporated into this plant collector’s overly full garden.” Walking through this garden, there is no doubt the owner loves collecting plants. It feels a little like Alice in Wonderland, walking through mazes of trails, lost in the layers of plants. You have to look closely though for all of the hidden details in the garden. Native plants sit side-by-side with ornamentals, bird baths are tucked away among the plants, bird and bee houses are scattered around, logs and other wood are hidden away in the shrubs and small ornaments, art and decoration are found in the most unlikely places. In the center of the garden is a very unique pond with koi and catfish. It feels like a massive garden thanks to all of the paths, nooks and hidden corners. There are dozens of places for the reader to hide away with a good book.

Scanlon Garden

This garden was lucky enough to contain a salmon-bearing natural stream along the back of the property. The owner includes a salmon incubator and teaches kids about it by having them help release the young salmon. The natural woodland borders two sides of the property where birds nest. The garden is large, country-like and includes fruit trees and butterfly plantings. A series of mason bee houses, with a variety of nesting materials including reeds, paper tubes and manufactured containers are set up in close proximity to the orchard trees. Also included throughout the yard are bird feeders, nest boxes and feeders full of nesting materials. The vegetable garden closer to the house rounds out this large backyard.

Lorenzen/Takami Garden

The final garden on the tour has another challenge, one of noise. It sits along Interstate 5, a tremendously noisy highway and to complicate it, the new Link Lightrail runs elevated between this yard and the highway. The owners have worked to plant tall vegetation between themselves and the lightrail and highway along with other decorative barriers. This is another garden that blends the owners interest in plants, here clematis and an heirloom peony collection, with native plants and wildlife habitat. In the back of the yard, behind a greenhouse, a robin recently raised a family. The thick and lush vegetation provides a great amount of shelter for the local wildlife and in addition, stones near the house have been set up for amphibians. The landscape includes wetlands, woodlands and open fields. A Thai-style temple over the hot tub, dinosaurs on the railing and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figure in a container make this garden completely unique and memorable.

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Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist, writer and photographer based in Seattle. She is the author of NATURE OBSCURA: A City’s Hidden Natural World, coming April 1, 2020 from Mountaineers Books. She writes freelance articles about natural history and has bylines in Crosscut, Popular Science, National Wildlife Magazine and others. On the side she writes fiction.

Kelly holds a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon and a certificate in non-fiction writing from the University of Washington.
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  1. This is so wonderful to see a community band together to create habitat for wildlife! I really hope we begin to see more and more communities doing this.

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