By Henry Dulemba
After eight years in Hawaii, my wife Tori and I returned to the Pacific Northwest and spent about a year searching for a new home. Although many people believe Hawaii is paradise, Puget Sound is our home, and we believe that this is the real paradise.
We looked at literally hundreds of properties before arriving at a quiet 1.5-acre site on Hood Canal with a well-kept house, 300 feet of waterfront, wildlife and a tiny year-round creek. We knew instantly that we were home.
The house sits on Sisters Point — the narrowest part of the entire canal. The one thing we found seriously lacking was the landscaping. The original owner, a master gardener, had created picture-perfect gardens and rockeries all around the house. But the intervening owner had no time for upkeep, and we found plants that had grown beyond huge, along with rapidly developing erosion problems along the shore.
Tori is an incredible gardener, but she knew that the wrong choices of plants and erosion control could result in unexpected problems, and she wanted to do things right. We checked in with Mason County Department of Community Development, where we found Rebecca Hersha friendly and informative. She reviewed our plans, offered Internet links to fabulous publications and directed us to Karin Strelioff at Mason Conservation District.
A few weeks later, Karin arrived at our home, armed with shoreline maps and photos that provided a historical look at the various changes that had taken place on our property. For three hours, we tramped up and down slopes, through trees and brush, as Karin showed us native and invasive plants and pointed out problem areas. She agreed that the shoreline erosion would get worse over time and suggested possible solutions. As she left, she said she would get back to us.
Holy smokes, did she get back to us! She provided 15 pages of reports, including photographs of each area, options for treatment and lists of plants — those we have, those we should have and those we should eradicate. She explained how we could safely stabilize our slopes. She also told us about a grant program through the conservation district, and we later submitted our plans and qualified for matching funds.
Getting ready for planting was not easy. Weeds were removed, and compost was worked into the rocks we call soil. We hauled dirt, compost and wood chips by bucket and wheelbarrow for a couple months getting ready. Planting was easy in comparison, but balancing on a 45-degree slope holding onto a plant, a shovel and a bucket of compost all at once still made us into expert rock climbers.
A final sign-off inspection by Katrinka Hibler of the conservation district was scheduled so we could receive the grant money. What we thought would be a quick visit turned into an incredibly productive session. We learned how to protect the native plants from summer drought and care for them as they mature through the years.
It has been hugely rewarding to see the plan come together bit by bit. We look forward to watching our new native plants grow and our small section of Hood Canal return to the way it was many years ago. We have become advocates at a personal level, sharing our experiences with friends and neighbors, encouraging them to take advantage of these tremendous local resources to recreate a natural Hood Canal.
Henry Dulemba worked with environment reporter Christopher Dunagan to tell his Shore Friendly Mason story.