Floral fish nearly fills Washington border

Welcoming steelhead is a new challenge for volunteer gardening organization

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter


photoPlants set out Saturday should fill out by summer, revealing a multi-colored steelhead trout beside Interstate 5. Volunteers and workers with the Washington State Department of Transportation help tend to the plants.

(/The Columbian)

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Fish facts

• Steelhead trout, found along the Pacific Coast and in tributaries of the Columbia River, are ray-finned members of the salmonid family. They typically weigh about 8 pounds, but can reach 50 pounds. They’re born in fresh water, emigrate to the sea and return to their native fresh water to spawn. They are almost the same as rainbow trout, but rainbow trout stay in fresh water.

• Unlike salmon, which die after spawning, steelhead can spawn several times.

• Fishing for hatchery steelhead opened Thursday in the Columbia River between the Interstate 5 Bridge and Tongue Point.

Plant sale raised $35,000+

The Master Gardener Foundation of Clark County raised more than $35,000 at last weekend’s Mother’s Day plant sale. The all-volunteer foundation raises money for youth and educational programs, including 4-H, helps with efforts to feed the poor, supplies plants and money to the garden at Fort Vancouver, tends to other community gardens and supports the Master Gardener program, which offers gardening advice.

Plants leftover from Saturday’s planting at the “Welcome to Washington” sign will be planted elsewhere in the community.

The foundation has 142 members and there are more than 300 Master Gardener volunteers in Clark County.


The Master Gardener Foundation of Clark County.

WSU Extension.

Motorists, particularly those who fish, may do a double-take as they drive north through Vancouver on Interstate 5. Volunteer gardeners planted a large steelhead trout Saturday morning in the "Welcome to Washington" sign, and it looks to be the state's biggest catch yet.

After two years of planting the state fruit, the apple, this year's annual planting took on the state fish. The apple was a simple but time-consuming design, because it was so large and filled in the entire outline of the state, said volunteer Sandy Burckhard. The steelhead is one of the most ambitious ideas the Master Gardener Foundation of Clark County has seen through.

"Every year, we learn a little bit more," said Burckhard, who's in her third year of volunteering with the nonprofit foundation. "We're doing better each year."

After setting down edging and a weed barrier in the shape of a trout, the master gardeners worked swiftly to carefully place about 2,000 plants inside the outline. They used rulers to

measure out the distances between each pair of plants -- 9 inches or 14 inches, depending on the plant. They started forming the fins and upper body, which is made out of kale; the gills are alyssum; the body is made of kale and pink and red begonias with spots of blue marine lobelia; the belly is dusty miller. The bubbles surrounding the fish are made of additional alyssum and lobelia. Contrasting shades of bark dust fill in the gaps.

The trained eye will notice the small fin on top that makes it a wild fish. This fin is clipped in fish raised in hatcheries.

The fish below the "Welcome to Washington" sign was raised by a group of gardeners, among them amateurs, experts and one with a doctorate in soil sciences.

Heavy morning rain dampened the ground, making ideal conditions for planting, said volunteer Chris Tobkin. It took less than three hours for about 24 volunteers to complete the project. Some of the plants were fed time-released fertilizer to give them extra oomph. By summer, the plants should fill out and flourish.

It took careful planning, starting in December, to figure out the best plants for the shapes and colors of the fish.

"We hope it turns out looking like a fish," Burckhard said. The design was backed by fishers involved in the Master Gardener Foundation and among the Washington State Department of Transportation crew that helps the project happen each year. As volunteers planted, WSDOT workers brought in soil and trimmed weeds around the sign.

How long will the fish live? It depends on when the first frost hits. As with any garden, weeds are a constant threat. However, wild fish are said to be more aware of predators than hatchery fish, so perhaps this steelie will fare well.