Wattle to Watershed: How art became a tool for restoration

The Straw Garden installation at the Seattle Center. Photo from stacylevy.com.

By Judy Blanco, Cedar River Restoration Project Manager

As project manager of Forterra’s Cedar River Restoration Program, my day-to-day tasks are very diverse. Nonetheless, I never would have expected to begin a day of riparian revegetation work in the shadow of a Frank Gehry building.

Recently, I met with artist Stacy Levy at the Seattle Center to “adopt” portions of her Next 50 temporary art installation “Straw Garden: from Wattle to Watershed” and take them to a new permanent home along the Cedar River in Maple Valley, WA.

From Stacy’s website: “Straw Garden uses modern landscape restoration materials in a baroque garden configuration. The symmetrical parterre forms are based on Le Notre’s design for Versailles along with other Baroque garden influences. The straw waddles are most commonly used for sedimentation control while the coir (coconut fiber) wattles are used for erosion control, on slopes and streambanks.”

The Straw Garden installation at Seattle Center was a striking, playful piece, rich with historical reference and showcased our beautiful native plants in a provocative way, while giving us a glimpse of the tools used in riparian restoration. That’s my kind of art!

Loading up the wattles.

After the exhibit closed and the installation was dismantled, Stacy reached out to groups that might want to adopt the plants. We very happily accepted all the wattles we could fit onto the back of a flatbed truck for our Cedar River Stewardship in Action restoration program. Native plants such as Red-osier dogwood, willow species, pearly everlasting, lupine and others were caravanned out to one of the restoration properties owned by Seattle Public Utilities and managed by Forterra, where they will be installed by our dedicated Washington Conservation Corps crew. Stacy will map all the wattles’ new homes, extending the life of her project.

It was wonderful to meet and work with Stacy on this fun step of our long term Cedar River restoration effort. Thanks go to Jason Huff at Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, Cyndy Holtz, Seattle Public Utilities’ Habitat Conservation Plan Manager, and Rodger and Gary from SPU’s maintenance crew, for making this creative exchange happen!