History of our Demonstration Site

Handmade Gardens Demo Garden History

Welcome to our home!

4446 NE Going St.

-the Blueberry Collective


When we bought this place in 2007, it was mostly a blank slate, i.e. lawn.  

Front yard: in front of the porch (north) were two rhododendrons, planted inches from the porch with roots under the foundation.  

The strip west of the driveway held 4 or 5 scraggly rosebushes.  Two more were by the west wall of the house just east of the driveway.

The bay tree you see today was a shoot growing through a laurel pruned into a ball shape.  The hazel tree was growing through one of the scraggly rosebushes.

A weigelia in need of serious pruning grew by the chimney.

The camellia was here, as were the day lilies and white iris.

Back yard: The three mature fruit trees at the back (south end) were here.  The lawn ended about 25′ from the southern property line and the ground around the trees was covered with a layer of black plastic, over which was about 2 inches of well-decomposed bark mulch and lots of weeds. Under the black plastic the soil was dead and full of trash.  The Bartlett pear was so sickly and full of dead wood that we could not identify it.

The European mock orange in the SE corner was overgrown with blackberries and full of dead wood.

The house was an “as-is” fixer-upper, full of “stuff”, needing cleaning.  But the land was our first priority.

Our land conversion process:

What priority was that?  To create a habitat for ourselves and the wild things around us.  We wanted an integrated agro-ecosystem that would feed all of us – lots of food for ourselves and a native ecosystem that felt wild like the forest and meadows.  

Our general philosophy is that all plants are beautiful, so we would rather devote our limited space to those that take least and give most.

Back yard: On March 1, 2007, the sale closed.  On March 2 we double-dug our first four vegetable beds in the back yard.

Over the next two months, we dug more beds in the lawn, removed the black plastic and trash from under the fruit trees, mulched the fruit trees and paths with free wood chips from tree trimmers, planted the blueberry patch, fig tree, asparagus and marion berries.

Front yard: we collected large pieces of heavy cardboard and laid them out in a “shingle” pattern over the lawn.  Several tree companies dumped many truckloads of wood chips directly on top of the cardboard.  All we had to do was spread them.  The final layout was about 12″ thick with settled wood chips. This process is known as “sheet mulching”.

We cut down and dug out the rhododendrons because they blocked the porch and had roots under the foundation.  The sculptural hunk of twisty wood by the porch is what remains of the root ball of the larger one.  We dug out and gave away all the roses, sheet mulched that strip, and planted six evergreen huckleberries.   

We cut the laurel to the ground, grubbed out its roots, and chose the best shoot of bay to be the tree.  Similarly, we released the hazel tree from the half-dead rosebush.  We kept the day lilies because they were edible, thinned out the white iris to improve their bloom but kept a few for their beauty.

The two roses by the house were in rough shape as well.  They went to a neighbor and were replaced first with heavy mulching and ultimately with the larger vine maple.  The vine maple is dedicated to the memory of Laila Ruth Dewitt, Rachel’s childhood best friend who passed in 2009.

In April we planted the two younger pear trees and two madrones (the second one died).  The raspberries, lowbush blueberries, rhubarb and Oregon grape also went in that year.

Since much open, sunny space remained between our young fruit trees and berries, we planted more vegetables in those spaces while waiting for the trees to fill in.

Soil building

Our soil amendments are nearly all organic waste from our own homestead or from the society in which we live.  Wood chips from arborists, lawn trimmings from neighbors, weeds and prunings from Rachel’s landscaping business, fall leaves, produce cullings from the Alberta Coop, manure from our ducks, etc, etc.  The one exception is that the vegetable beds receive an annual dose of complete organic fertilizer, made of cottonseed meal, dolomite lime, rock phosphate and kelp meal.  

We are free of any pesticides except that we have occasionally used iron phosphate (Sluggo) to protect especially precious plants.  

Design and evolution

Although Rachel designs and cares for gardens as her livelihood, we have never had a “design” on paper per se.  Rachel and Robert both studied forest ecology in school, and the garden has grown like an ecosystem.  The garden and our understanding of it have evolved together.  We have placed plants and then changed our minds.  We have gotten a hankering for something and had to find a place for it.  We have gone to the nursery for one thing and come home with something extra that we needed space for.  The “plan” is our overall vision for responsible land stewardship, sustainable food and habitat.

We do map our garden, and keep records of planting and major issues.

Some of the original ornamentals remain because they are beautiful and we don’t have an urgent need to put something else there.  We dug out the weigelia by the chimney, to make room for the jostaberry.  We still have a patch of lovely purple European iris by the north wall of the house.  If we think of another native or edible plant that we need a spot for, they may move on.  

We plan the annual vegetable garden carefully to maintain our soil and prevent disease.   For the last 10 years we have grown all of our own vegetables nearly year-round, sometimes running out in mid-February.  In this recent very mild winter we never ran out. Our winter diet is enriched by wild salad greens like dandelions.  Rachel teaches classes and gives tours here, mostly focused on food production but also showcasing the beauty and functionality of our Northwest natives.


Rachel has lived here continuously since 2007.  In that time a series of land-mates have shared meals, space, camaraderie and as much decision-making as possible.  It helps with the bills and enriches all of our lives.  We have plans to convert the house to cooperative ownership.  Tel has lived here for about a year and may be the beginning of that process.

We also enjoy a strong sense of community with our neighbors, especially those in closest proximity.  We have only an approximate sense of where the property line is, and it just doesn’t matter that much.  The households on this block help each other out, share tools, produce, animal care, social gatherings, and our lives.  Not so long ago this is what folks meant when they said “neighborhood.”