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Garden Tours: Orcas homesteads and more

Jun 6th, 2012 | Category: Features

by Marnie Jones

Beauty has been the central theme of the Orcas Island Garden Club’s annual Orcas in Bloom tour for nearly a decade, but organizers have something extra planned for 2012. This year’s event, scheduled for June 23 and 24, will offer the usual aesthetic rewards coupled with lessons in horticulture, a lunch of locally-grown cuisine, and a pass to the grounds of some of the island’s oldest working homesteads. “The emphasis, besides beauty, is on horticulture and history,” said tour committee co-chair Margaret Payne.

Farm quilt on a bright day. PHOTO BY MARGARET PAYNE

The idea of a homestead tour came from a desire to to honor Orcas’ agrarian roots and its current culture of sustainability. Three of the sites on the tour date back to the 1880s, explained Payne, while two are more recently settled homesteads. All five farms on the tour are located on the east side of the island, beyond Moran State Park.

Orcas Farm, a 27-acre homestead, has been farmed continuously since 1882. Payne describes current owner George Orster as “a commercial farmer with an amazing aesthetic and a great deal of horticultural knowledge,” calling his farm one of the most beautiful on the tour. According to Orcas Island Garden Club literature, Orster farms with an emphasis on “fertility, diversity, and resilience.” Orster provides produce to local restaurants, including Doe Bay Cafe and Resort.

While Doe Bay Resort supplements their produce with vegetables from Orcas Farm and other farms on the island, much of what they serve comes from an in-house organic farm. The Doe Bay Kitchen Garden, also on the Orcas in Bloom tour, has been in operation for six years, according to general manager Jami Mitchell. A full time garden manager oversees the one-acre garden, which Mitchell sees as an integral part of the resort’s identity as a sustainable business.

“Some of these vegetables never see the back of a truck,” Mitchell said. “They come, in baskets and in wagons, straight into the kitchen an hour before our guests are served.”

The Doe Bay Kitchen Garden has an education and outreach component too, according to Mitchell, serving as an outdoor classroom for visiting students and as a learning opportunity for volunteers from programs such as WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Mitchell is exciting about the upcoming garden tour and its focus on working farms. “I’m glad they’re looking at gardens that are functioning in the agricultural economy,” she said, “and that are not strictly ornamental.”

Outgoing Orcas Island Garden Club president Carol Kulminski is pleased with the way this year’s themed tour is developing and expects that new traditions will emerge. “The tour this year looks very different from the past,” she said. New aspects, according to Kulminksi, include the homestead theme, speaker sessions, and optional boxed lunches from local restaurants. “This looks like a direction we’ll continue to go in the future.”

The tour also features McCoy Garden, a 20-acre homestead which Garden Club literature describes as “testimony to the can-do, reuse, recycle, regift island ethic.” Another contemporary homestead, Seaview Farm, showcases the Gainor-Kos family’s commitment to a harmonious marriage between nature and human habitation. A fifth farm on the tour, Cherry Hill Farm, is famous for being the home of the original Red Gravenstein apple. Current owners Jerry and Marilyn have maintained the 1890s homestead by restoring natural habitats, battling invasive species, and maintaining a thriving garden.

Informative talks are scheduled at several tour stops, as follows:

• San Juan County noxious weeds: Saturday at noon,  Cherry Hill Farm.

• Composting: Saturday at 2 p.m., Doe Bay Kitchen Garden.

• Seed saving: Sunday at 2 p.m., Doe Bay Kitchen Garden.

• Doe Bay history with Tom Welch: Sundat at 3 p.m., Orcas Farm.

Tickets for the June 23 and 24 tour can be purchased at Driftwood Nursery, Darvill’s Bookstore, the Master Gardener Booth at Saturday’s Orcas Farmer’s Market, or online through brown Paper Tickets at Tickets are $20 each, or $30 with a boxed lunch. Boxed lunches or picnics brought from home may be enjoyed in select gardens on the tour.

For more information, visit

Additional garden & landscape tours

10th annual Imagine This! Home and Landscape Tour
The 10th Annual Imagine This! Home & Landscape Tour will be held June 23-24, featuring homes and landscapes using alternative energy and eco-friendly materials throughout Whatcom County. The tour, hosted by Sustainable Connections, includes examples of affordable energy efficiency retrofits, solar panel installations, compact downtown living, organic and native landscapes, green roofs, innovative use of building materials, and more. Tour participants can view a hand built cob cottage and learn how the cob cottage structures are built with resources from the building site itself, and see poticrete, a way in which your old toilet can be recycled and reused in a future sidewalk. In celebration of the 10th anniversary the tour will feature a couple of the most popular sites from the last decade. Admission includes access to all tour stops, and a detailed tour map and resource guide about the products and services featured. Tickets are $12 and available starting in early June at, and for sale at Village Books, the Community Food Co-op and other locations throughout Bellingham. For more information, visit or call (360) 647-7093.

Gardens of Note Garden Tour
The 5th Annual Gardens of Note Garden Tour will take place Sunday, June 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Presented by the Skagit Symphony, this self-guided tour features five private country gardens located south of Mount Vernon. Live music is performed at every site. Tickets are available for $25 each and may be purchased online at or by downloading a form from the Garden Tour link on the Symphony’s website at For more information, call (360) 848-9336.

San Juan Island Horticultural Society Garden Tour
The 2012 Garden Tour organized by the San Juan Horticultural Society and WSU Master Gardeners will take place on Saturday June 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $15 each and funds will go towards the organizers for activities, and greening the gravel pit. This year’ tour includes four gardens, three in Friday Harbor and the fourth near Roche Harbor. The Friday Harbor locations are easily accessible by car, and a shuttle will run from the IMA Sculpture Garden to and from the Roche Harbor garden. Tickets are now on sale at Browne’s Garden Center, Griffin Bay Bookstore, and Robin’s Nest or from the shuttle driver on the day. Directions available with tickets.

Guemes Island Garden Tour
The Guemes Island Garden tour will take place Saturday, June 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets will be sold at the Community Center, 7549 Guemes Island Road.  A shuttle service will be available from the ferry to all gardens, at a cost of $5 per person. Reservations can be made by calling (360) 293-4438.

Camano Island Habitat Garden Tour

The Camano Island Habitat Garden Tour takes place on Saturday, June 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The free self-guided tour features six gardens. Camano Island was certified as the 10th Community Wildlife Habitat in the nation by National Wildlife Federation. Gardens vary in size  and design, but all provide habitat for wildlife.  Guides will be at each garden to share specific garden information. Garden maps and brochures will be available for pick up at 10 a.m. at the Camano Multi-Purpose Building, 141 East Camano Dr.  The tour is hosted by the Camano Community Wildlife Habitat Project and sponsored by Friends of Camano Island Parks. For more information, contact  (360) 631-1616 or email

Published in the June 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine

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