Published on Thu, May 15, 2008
Read More News


Bellingham woman starts plant recovery business

By Tara Nelson

Next time your landscaping or home remodel project results in a pile of uprooted plants ready for the landfill, stop right there.

The Forest Garden Urban Ecology (FGUE) education and landscaping group will pick up your tired and hungry plants free of charge and rehabilitate them at their Bellingham-based center.

Owner Allain Van Laanen, a long-time landscape designer and horticulture educator said she started rehabilitating plants when she saw how an increase in Whatcom County developments were leaving many plants on the side of the road – literally.
“I would drive by these developments on my way to my landscaping jobs and see all these plants and I would stop and ask if I could take them. A lot of that material ends up in landfills otherwise,” Van Laanen said. “It started just watching development around the county.”

At first, Van Laanen said she started collecting “homeless” plants as a hobby, bringing them to health and sometimes reselling them at a below-market price. But she soon became overwhelmed with a surge of new drop-offs as people word began traveling about her project.

The drop-off site was popular with customers as well because it saved them money from dumps or landfills that charge by the pound for what are often heavy balls of roots and compacted soil.

Van Laanen said FGUE will accept most plants including ground covers, flowers, bushes, shrubs, small trees.

“Pretty much any type of land clearing, people should think of us,” she said. “Right now we pick up and deliver as a free service, but we really encourage people to drop their plants off.”

Van Laanen said she has more than 22 years of experience in the horticulture and landscaping fields.

She is a former employee of Cascade Cuts flower and herb farm in Whatcom County and has a degree in human and natural systems from Western Washington University’s Fairhaven college where she helped run The Outback, a student-operated garden.

In addition to plant recovery and landscape design, Van Laanen teaches plant selection, garden bed preparation, market gardening, companion planting, urban wetland management, permaculture and sustainable agricultural systems.

She also teaches at and runs the Center for Expressive Arts in Bellingham, an experiential education program for children of all ages and young adults.
Her “Backyard Buddies” program, for example, utilizes volunteers to help neighborhoods build their own community gardens or pocket parks.

“We try to create an educational component in everything we do,” she said.
Van Laanen said she is also looking to establish drop-off centers in Blaine and Birch Bay in the near future.

Forest Garden Urban Ecology center is located at 905 E. Victor Street in Bellingham and can be reached by calling 676-0691. Van Laanen’s email address is

Work parties are scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and are open to individuals wanting to learn more about a variety of gardening topics.

The Center for Expressive Arts is located at 1317 Commercial Street Suite 202 in Bellingham and can be reached by calling 360/671-5355.