Semiahmoo resident takes on green gardening with WSU Extension course


Semiahmoo resident Danette Morse and her husband are recent transplants from Florida now living and gardening in a newly constructed neighborhood. Morse took the Washington State University Whatcom County Extension’s gardening green course in March 2023 to learn about sustainable landscaping in this new environment. WSU Extension followed up with Morse to learn how the classes  have served her and how her landscaping project is going.

The front of Morse’s property consists of a lawn and small garden area that conform to the homeowner association standards and the back abuts a conservation area that she plans to complement with mostly native plants. Her goal is to blend the HOA-compliant landscaping in the front with the native plant landscaping in the back, with a long-term goal of slowly shrinking the front lawn and expanding the perennial plantings.

Morse was motivated by the success she had with native plants in Florida and appreciated that they required less maintenance, meaning less time in the hot Florida sun. While summer gardening tasks are much more enjoyable in the Pacific Northwest, her motivation to reduce the maintenance needs of her landscape remains the same. She and her husband like to travel, and she intends to cultivate a landscape that can survive their periodic absences.

Morse says she likes to plant plants that are going to be healthy and happy because the environment suits them, and she has always “planted for critters.” She wants to avoid creating the negative impacts that pesticides and fertilizers can have on the environment and believes sustainability around water issues is important.

Morse learned the importance of soil structure, and how to nourish healthy, living soil. She’s seen the benefits of using a wood chip mulch to nourish soil health firsthand. Last spring, she and her husband used a thick layer of wood chips to put an area of the landscape into a “holding pattern” while they considered what they wanted to do next. When they moved the wood chips aside, they could see the soil texture started to change.

Another new experience for Morse was planting bare root plants. The Whatcom Conservation District’s annual plant sale offers native plants at affordable prices. Morse said she initially wasn’t confident “$35 worth of sticks” she and her husband purchased from the sale would turn into plants, but she’s happy to report that they have.

Master Gardener Program volunteers, who work with Washington State University’s Whatcom County Extension to educate the public on gardening practices, are one of the resources Morse has taken advantage of on a couple of occasions, including when she recently asked them for advice on a shore pine that she transplanted.

“The resources were amazing, and I really appreciated how they were organized,” she said. “It’s a wonderful service.”

Morse started using an app to help her learn the Pacific Northwest plant palette. For now, she and her husband are focused on establishing the structure of their garden – those larger scale features such as trees, shrubs, or built structures that make up the “bones” of the landscape.

“The most challenging thing is all the options for plants, and thinking down the road to their size at maturity,” she said.

Morse advises that gardens don’t have to look perfect all of the time, and it’s important for people to give themselves permission to make mistakes. For example, someone might be better served by replacing a plant that isn’t well adapted to the site conditions, rather than struggle year after year to keep it healthy.

As for other people who are interested in adopting greener landscaping practices, Morse recommends, “Just do it. It’s fun. You meet cool and interesting people. It seems harder at first but it’s like changing your diet – you say goodbye to old favorites but welcome new favorites. Over time you’ll come to appreciate the ease. It’s totally worth it.”

Cheryl Lovato Niles is the water resources educator at Washington State University’s Whatcom County Extension and instructor for the gardening green course. 


WSU Extension to hold upcoming Birch Bay green gardening course

Washington State University’s Whatcom County Extension will hold a gardening green class series at the BP Heron Center at Birch Bay State Park every Saturday morning, from February 24 through March 30.

The gardening green course will teach participants about natural landscaping that improves soil health, saves water, reduces yard maintenance and relies less on fertilizer and pesticides, according to the WSU Whatcom County Extension’s website. The course will teach participants about finding the right plants for their yards, mulching, and watering and planting techniques.

The green gardening class will run from 10 a.m. to noon each week, with two to four hours of homework per week. The course charges a $36 fee for a soil lab test that will analyze soil pH, nutrients, texture and organic matter in participants’ yards.

In addition to the Birch Bay course, WSU Whatcom County Extension will hold a live, online series 5-7 p.m., Thursday evenings from March 7 through March 28 and on the afternoon of Saturday, March 30. The course will cost $36 for soil testing.

WSU Whatcom County Extension has also scheduled an online course, without scheduled meetings, April 15-May 24. Participants will be given new materials each week and are expected to add to weekly group discussions. The course is $25, and limited fee waivers are available.

For more information on the courses, visit


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