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On Whidbey, it’s landscape by design

Stefan Petrie uses a pick ax to clear some dirt for stairs being built by Cottage Garden at a home in Greenbank.<p> - Stephen Mercer
Stefan Petrie uses a pick ax to clear some dirt for stairs being built by Cottage Garden at a home in Greenbank.

— image credit: Stephen Mercer

If you ask a Whidbey Island landscaper everything he or she does on a landscaping job, you will learn it takes more than showing up, digging holes and moving rocks.

With the early arrival of spring this year, island landscapers are on the move sooner than usual, on job sites with shovel in hand, tractors on trailers and garden dreams to create.

Landscaping often requires hours of consultation and drawing designs just to decide what type of plants someone should to buy and where to place those plants to best spruce up their yard.

For that service, Whidbey Island residents might turn to Bill Halstead, a landscape designer and horticulturist based at Maxwelton Valley Gardens in Clinton.

He said he first meets with a home or property owner for a consultation. Halstead also drives out to a client’s property to look at light conditions, the dryness of the land, shading, and proximity to water. Throughout the entire process, he jots down notes to provide clarity for the job.

“What kinds of things we want to do and the plants that will grow in those conditions,” he said.

After finishing the consultation, Halstead returns to a small greenhouse behind his French Road home. In many cases, he stretches out large sheets of paper over a drawing table and sketches out the design for where the plants will go and what type of plants to use.

Plants native to Whidbey Island — such as vine maple, service berries, Douglas Maples and huckleberries — are popular right now, Halstead said. To help keep those in stock, he grows many plants himself and keeps them in the pots that surround his home. So, it is not unusual to see an Oregon grape, native ferns and evergreen or huckleberry plants sprouting flowers or leaves. If he does not have the plant a client wants, he mainly buys them from either island growers or from a plant grower elsewhere in the state.

Halstead charges $30 an hour for his services. He said he began providing landscaping service in 1985. Because of health problems, though, he no longer is able to put in the plants in the ground. For planting, locals may call upon Langley’s the Cottage Garden or dozens of other landscaping contractors on the island.

Byron Moffett, who runs Cottage Garden with his wife, Dana, said the business installs rockeries, patios and paths, irrigation and landscape design, ponds, streams and installs trees and shrubs.

For example, in late February Moffett and employee Stefan Petrie were smoothing the ground beside a Greenbank home to install a cobblestone path and circular cobblestone patio.

Like Halstead, Byron Moffett starts by consulting with a client to develop a landscape design. The design process costs at least $500, he said. Upon completion of a design, a home or property owner may either do work themselves or they may hire Cottage Garden to do it. Projects can take up to a year and cost anywhere about $1,000 to $50,000, Moffett said. He mentioned Langley Garden as one particularly large project.

One thing Halstead and Moffett do not need to worry about is a lack of business. The landscaping business usually peaks in April and May, Halstead said. But steady business began early this year because of an unusually dry February.

In fact, Moffett, who began work as a landscaper on Whidbey Island in 1979, said this February provided steadier landscaping work than in any of the previous 25 Februaries he has worked on Whidbey Island.

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