If you have visited the Grays Harbor County Fair, you have probably seen the incredible garden display. And maybe you have wondered, “Is this always here?” The answer is, yes! The Grays Harbor Demonstration Garden is lovingly grown by the Grays Harbor/Pacific County Master Gardeners group. Since the 1990s, it has been a place where plants, knowledge and community grow.

History of the Grays Harbor Demonstration Garden at the Grays Harbor County Fairgrounds

WSU County Extension Agent Don Tapio oversaw the Grays Harbor/Pacific County Master Gardeners in the early 1990s. Working at the Washington State Department of Ecology, he wrote several grant proposals to secure a place for a demonstration garden. “Don’s grants were successful, initiating a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship between the Master Gardeners and the Grays Harbor County Fairgrounds,” explains Cindy Burton, a Grays Habor/Pacific County Master Gardener who has held many positions in the organization over the years, including committee chair for the Demonstration Garden. “For the demo garden to be located in this highly accessible location makes our garden ‘the face of the Master Gardeners’ in the county.”

The Grays Harbor Garden Today

The demonstration garden is a third of an acre, making it the largest in Grays and Pacific counties. The Master Gardeners grow a wide range of plants, trees and food crops, focusing a lot on ornamental plants used in home landscaping. “Many of the plants in the garden are mature, having been planted two to three decades ago,” shares Cindy. “But we are continuously adding new plants and moving plants to more suitable locations.”

Raised beds in the Grays Harbor Demonstration Garden. “This is the hardest working part of the garden where we actively plan, plant, manage and harvest most of our vegetable crops. We also depend on a mixing flowers with our vegetable plants in these beds, to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects,” shares Cindy Burton. Photo courtesy: Grays Harbor/Pacific County Master Gardeners

She notes that a prime mission for the garden is to show area residents what plants can thrive in our climate. The garden includes showy shrubs like hydrangeas, lilacs, rhododendrons and fuchsias; a wetland area with water-loving plants; a shade garden including Japanese forest grass; a section of drought-tolerant plants; and a native plant garden, which shows people just how beautiful our native plants can be. “Our interest in native plants goes way beyond aesthetics,” adds Cindy. “Native plants support the insects that have evolved with them and so are a way for any of us to support native habitat and ripples out to support all wildlife as part of the food web.” She notes that those insects are an important food source for area birds, whose numbers are declining.

The Grays Harbor Demonstration Garden also has container gardening and raised beds for vegetable growing. “The double-high raised beds were purposefully made to ease the stress on those of us gardeners who can no longer get down on our hands and knees,” Cindy says. “And they are also the perfect height for children who like to help with gardening. In this case, we are using these lovely new raised beds to demonstrate how to make gardening more accessible to adults and children of all abilities. We want everyone who wants to garden to see with their own eyes some ways that they may wish to try gardening at home.”

Grays Harbor Demonstration Garden Feeds the Community

Not just a pretty face, the Grays Harbor Demonstration Garden provides food for our community. “Even before COVID isolated all of us, we had begun to use our garden greenhouse as a way to grow plants for food bank clients who wanted to grow some of their own food,” shares Cindy. “During COVID, we hit our stride and continue to share over 5,000 seedlings and young food plants with local food banks every year.” All the produce they grow themselves is also donated, which amounts to 350-450 pounds a year.

hundreds of basil seedlings up and growing, soon to be shared with Elma Food Bank clients. Photo courtesy: Grays Harbor/Pacific County Master Gardeners

Learn About Gardening From Grays Harbor Master Gardeners

At its core, the Grays Harbor Demonstration Garden is a place for learning about gardening from the Master Gardeners. Whether you are looking to add to your native landscape, create an exotic oasis or grow your own food, a trip to the garden can give you knowledge and inspiration.

The garden is open to the public year-round whenever the Grays Harbor County Fairgrounds is open. While it might not be as pretty in the fall and winter months, there is always something to learn. For example, fall and winter are when you need to prep your soil for spring or plant those early blooms like tulips. And for those who don’t have a garden at home, it’s the perfect place to commune with nature. “We have lots of pathways to enjoy and have added many benches for visitors to just sit and listen to the frog chorus, watch the hummingbirds or just ponder life,” shares Cindy.

If you would like to talk to someone about gardening, Cindy says she is there most mornings doing chores. On Thursdays, the Master Gardeners have their work party from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. This is a great time to come and ask questions. You can also volunteer even if you are not a Master Gardener! You just need to sign a liability waiver. To schedule a time to work in the garden, contact Cindy at cindyaburton@comcast.net.

Master Gardener Garnet Kuronen is showing off our fresh, clean strawberries and blueberries picked that morning from the garden. This fruit will be delivered to the Elma Food Bank. Photo courtesy: Grays Harbor/Pacific County Master Gardeners

Grays Harbor Demonstration Garden Events

Be sure to stop by the Demonstration Garden during the next Grays Harbor County Fair. You also won’t want to miss their Seed Saver Harvest Celebration event every October, where they share hundreds of seed packets full of seeds from their annual flowers. They also share potted or bare root plants, dried plant material for decoration and more. “Similar to our time during the country fair, Seed Savers is an event where visitors and Master Gardeners end the day with big smiles and lots of time spent talking about our gardens,” says Cindy.

For more information, visit the Demonstration Garden webpage.

“From its beginning, the garden is an on-going effort, passed from one generation to the next,” Cindy says. “We garden upon the soil prepped by those who came before us, and we will continue to do so. Where would we be without the first gardeners who turned the soil and planted the first shrubs in this garden?  Their work gave us a strong foundation and purpose. What makes us love working in this garden is knowing that what we do supports our community and the natural world in ways that matter. And we do it surrounded by beauty. Can’t ask for more than that.”

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