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Rhododendrons to adorn Washington license plates, boost Meerkerk Gardens

Clinton artist Barbara Cornelson displays the new license plate she designed that will help raise money for Meerkerk Gardens.  -
Clinton artist Barbara Cornelson displays the new license plate she designed that will help raise money for Meerkerk Gardens.
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The claim is that it’s the most beautiful Washington State license plate.

Just out this year, the new state flower plate is rapidly taking front stage to be one of the most popular specialty plates in the state.

“Yes, it is beautiful, in more ways than one,” said Don Meehan, vice president of Meerkerk Gardens in Greenbank. “It comes to support Meerkerk Gardens at a time when many nonprofits are struggling and needing financial help.”

This plate joins an existing 35 specialty license plates available to drivers in the state.

The flower on the plate is the native rhododendron macrophyllum which is Washington’s state flower and grows throughout central Whidbey along the main highway.

Artist and Meerkerk volunteer Barbara Cornelsen from Clinton designed the plate working closely with the Meerkerk Gardens staff and board members before it was approved by the State Department of Licensing.

To demonstrate to the Legislature the desire to have such a plate in service, Meerkerk got over 3,500 signatures of people who felt they would purchase such a plate if it became available.

“We didn’t have to twist people’s arms to get them to sign our petition,” said Don Lee, president and lead on signature gathering. “Once they saw what the plate was going to look like they had no trouble putting pen to paper in support of our effort.”

It took over two years of work to get the Legislature to open the specialty plate process for the state flower plate. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen and Rep. Norma Smith led the charge at the legislative level working with Lee and Meehan.

Two plates have been approved each year over the last two years. Along with the state flower plate, the 4-H plate was also approved and became available in January. 4-H is a youth program of Washington State University. Funds from that plate go to the State 4-H Foundation to support 4-H statewide.

The rhododendron plate is the second specialty license plate designed specifically to support Whidbey Island non-profit organizations. The lighthouse plate became available seven years ago. It supports the Admiralty Head Lighthouse docent program as well as other environmental education programs of Washington State University Extension. Meehan said that plate currently has sold well over 5,000 with slightly more than 3,600 presently active.

The rhododendron plate will benefit Whidbey’s Meerkerk Gardens located just south of Greenbank off Resort Road. Meehan said the funds will be used for operations, maintenance and expanded use of the 50-acre garden and woodland setting. In addition, the Meerkerk board of directors chose to set aside some of the funds that come from the license to provide grants to other organizations throughout the state working with native plates and rhododendrons.

The plates are sold at all licensing offices throughout Washington. There are “rhody plates” available for cars, trucks, motorcycles and trailers. To get a specialty plate one needs to pay extra, beginning with a $40 fee the first year and then $30 each year after that. Of that, $28 is set aside by the state DOL for the sponsoring organization for every plate purchased or renewed. Each purchaser can declare the $28 as a donation on their taxes each year. The state keeps $2 for administrative handling of the process. Plates can also be personalized for an additional fee. Those funds go to Washington State Department of Wildlife and only benefit Whidbey Island indirectly, Meehan said.

For more information, call Meerkerk Gardens at 360-678-1912.

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