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April 1, 2023

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Botanical gardens get back to nature

Brush Prairie gardens are free, open to public, aim to nurture habitat, learning

By , Columbian Political Writer
4 Photos
Sue Rits oversees the "Hummingbird Garden" in Brush Prairie's wildlife botanical gardens.
Sue Rits oversees the "Hummingbird Garden" in Brush Prairie's wildlife botanical gardens. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

There is no hidden key required to enter, but in some ways the wildlife botanical gardens in Southwest Washington have the feel of being secret gardens.

On a recent sunny afternoon, Rick Brumble seemingly had the gardens to himself. Despite living in the area for two decades, he had only recently heard of them.

“It’s not on the way to anywhere,” Brumble said of the gardens. “If you’re lost, you might find it.”

Once found, it’s clear no one is really alone.

Follow the winding gravel paths and a world of mason bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, rabbits and toads emerge.

“I got a good picture of a frog sitting in the sun,” said Brumble, who was there to take pictures.

Later, he added, “I ran into Peter rabbit.”

Started in 1994 by a group of volunteers concerned Clark County’s development was displacing wildlife, the gardens have been cultivated with the purpose of fostering a nice habitat for both wildlife and humans. The gardens aim to educate others on how to use certain plants to foster backyard wildlife sanctuaries. There are nine different gardens, each with their own theme. NatureScaping of Southwest Washington is the all-volunteer, educational organization that oversees the wildlife botanicals gardens in Brush Prairie, which they call a “demonstration for creating backyard wildlife habitats.”

The Cottage Garden’s purpose is to show how even urban dwellers can transform their small green space into a ideal landing spot for birds. The NW Natives Garden is like its name suggests: a green cover of native plants. There’s the Homestead Garden, where the plants are edible for both humans and birds, and the Collector’s Garden, where silver grass and threadleaf cypress are on display.

The gardens are open every day and free to the public.

Meredith Hardin, president of NatureScaping of Southwest Washington, a nonprofit group that manages the wildlife botanical gardens, said the gardens are a labor of love, fueled by a small army of volunteers. They offer educational classes once a month and have a fundraiser every year.

Each garden has a coordinator who manages their area. There is also a master composters’ site, showing visitors how compost is made.

The gardens are located next to the Battle Ground Public Schools’ administrative office. Across the street is a picturesque rural scene of a large old barn and spotted cows.

Molly Stickler and Amy Webber, who both work at the nearby Battle Ground school offices, squeeze in a brisk walk during their lunch hour past the gardens.

Their view is ever changing, different flowering trees and bushes, depending on the season. Sometimes, they’ll enjoy lunch at one of the many picnic tables.

“It’s peaceful,” Webber said.

Columbian Political Writer