In May of 2019 I began volunteering on the grounds of the Seattle Temple. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I’ve often visited the Seattle Temple and admired the beautiful and extensive gardens surrounding it. It wasn’t until I saw a job posting for a groundskeeper that the idea entered my mind to volunteer. My application was accepted and I’ve been enjoying my work in the garden once a week and learning a lot in the process. Here are a few of the projects I’ve been working on.
It takes a lot of work to keep the grounds looking as beautiful as they do. The grounds crew is dedicated and hard-working. I’ve been having fun learning about the maintenance and upkeep and practicing my pruning skills on many of the trees and shrubs. One of my first tasks was pruning the rhododendrons which stretch around the front of the temple. They have grown and were getting so tall they covered the sign which shows when the temple was built. My job was to thin them out, creating space between the plants and within the shrubs. I removed several of the oldest and thickest branches on each plant and also cut off the tallest branches, lowering the height to about five feet. You can see in the above photo the rhodies off to the right are tall and still hadn’t been pruned. We also tried to create a natural look, no straight sheared tops. We left some branches tall and some short for an uneven surface. We might have sacrificed a few blooms for next year, but it was great to create some space in this rhododendron path.
The iris clumps had grown so big over time that after blooming they flopped and fell onto the ground, especially after a rain. I cut off a lot of leaves from the perimeter of the clumps and then tied the lower third to help them stand up. It probably will be beneficial to divide these enormous clumps in the Fall so they don’t get so heavy with foliage.
In between jobs I’m always pulling weeds and pruning out dead wood from trees and shrubs. I found an Aucuba shrub recently that had quite a bit of dead, probably winter damage. Once the dead wood is removed things instantly improve. The first great secret of pruning-take out the dead! It’s always fun to do this with Japanese Maples. If it’s done every year it’s not a problem, but you’ve probably seen those maples that have never had the dead wood removed and they are twiggy little monsters. Winter is a bad time for them, a dense nest of dead wood which catches all the dead leaves, double trouble.
I really enjoyed pruning the weeping Katsura. Being a volunteer I don’t have a tight schedule. I can relax and take my time, making cuts, observing, looking at it from various positions. Watching the wind blow through the branches. The tree had grown so densel that you couldn’t see into the center and it was also covering the parking spaces on either side. I removed the larger limbs that were hanging over the parking areas and thinned out the remaining branches, creating windows into the interior. I also tried to stagger the length of the branches so they looked like they were cascading down. Like a waterfall swooshing down a mountain. It might be hard to see in the photo, but it worked in my mind.
Each day that I work at the temple is a new learning experience for me. It’s so interesting to take care of plants. To tend them and watch them and help them show off their best selves. To help them grow. To create designs with them and watch as the colors of the seasons unfold. Sometimes pruning is hard, when the limbs are thick and gnarly. Some days are hot and toasty and other days are filled with Seattle drizzle. But each day ends with a feeling of accomplishment. I wonder what my next job will be?