Exploring Orcas’ hidden treasures

Along with blooming flowers and the return of leaves to the trees, there’s one other annual event that can be expected: the Orcas Island Garden Club’s “Orcas in Bloom Garden Tour.”

This year’s tour, titled “Hidden Treasures,” features six island gardens in unexpected locations.

At their leisure, plant lovers can travel to each location and enjoy the beauty contained within from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. on June 23 and 24. Tickets are $20 and available at Driftwood Nursery, Darvill’s Bookstore and Crow Valley Gallery. You can also purchase a ticket at any of the stops on the days of the tour.

The annual affair brings an average of 250 visitors to six gardens scattered across Orcas Island and requires approximately 50 volunteers to keep organized. Revenue from tickets allows the garden club to bring in guest speakers to its monthly meetings to speak on a variety of island related topics and toward funding community grants. The club has provided funds for enhancing the public school garden as well as Salmonberry’s school garden.

The gardens

Located down a gravel driveway that meanders through island forest lies the home of Syd Exton, Orcas Pottery proprietor and tender of a seaside garden strewn with handmade ceramics. The property has been in Exton’s family for more than 60 years. Enter the shoreline sanctuary via a short path past native fauna and emerge into a greenway dotted with clay artwork and surrounded by irises, lilies, poppies, roses and more. Fairies, “living” flowers and sea life clay sculptures can be found throughout the property.

Located in a valley at Camp Orkila, this innovative patch of land was created to teach campgoers about horticulture while providing fresh food to the camp. Specialty areas include pizza-ingredient and tea-making gardens. There are fig, kiwi and plum trees, berries, roses, vegetables and herbs. New projects at the YMCA camp include a rain catchment system and solar powered irrigation.

Hidden away amidst a shady forest setting, Elizabeth Star’s property features a wide variety of flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables. On Star’s deck lives a collection of potted plants and flowers. She said she likes having the ability to move the pots and rearrange her deck. Farther into the property are three additional gardens, home to roses, herbs, fruit, berries and a colorful assortment of other native and non-native flowers. Iron sculptures adorn the landscape and, a large rabbit statue keeps vigil.

The Farm-to-Cafeteria School Garden returns this year. Featured on the tour in 2016, it is designed to teach elementary school students about sustainable agriculture methods. Children learn how to cultivate plants for birds, bees, butterflies and for people. There are vegetables, teas, medicinal plants, herbs, native plants, perennial flowers, shiitake mushroom logs, worm and compost bins, art murals, a greenhouse and an adobe oven.

Designed by Sam Bullock, Wendy Thomas’ flower and vegetable garden features friendly farm animals and a house designed by Jonathan White. A stroll down charming stone pathways past blooming potted plants leads to lush perennial and vegetable beds, ornamental plots and fruit trees.

Set in a picturesque valley on the eastern side of the island, Orcas Farm produces an abundance of vegetables, fruit and flowers utilizing natural horticulture methods. Enter through a Zach Leck-designed gate to visit a greenhouse, and perennial, kitchen herb and vegetable gardens.

“[We’re] helping the next generation be eco-friendly … and also helping the older generations who are trying to work in a sustainable way on the island,” said Sally Hodson, Orcas Island Garden Tour co-chairwoman. “(The Orcas Garden Club) is sort of a bunch of people who love plants!”