Olympia’s Baker Is A Gardener – Percival Landing Landscaping



Submitted by Cathy Johnson

Despite his last name, Sam Baker doesn’t work in a kitchen. His true avocation is working in the great outdoors.

Sam loves his job as the Olympia Parks Department maintenance staff lead, and he has helped make our parks beautiful for 23 years.  First working for the parks department in 1986 as a seasonal employee, Sam quickly knew that being outside and working with plants would be a career, not just a job.  After being hired full time, he “climbed the corporate pruning ladder” over the years and now leads the crew.

Sam and his co-workers have the huge responsibility of caring for the 40 park sites in Olympia.  There is a three person mowing crew and a three person landscape crew, and they are always busy tending to the diverse needs of each of the park sites.

Because Percival Landing is so well loved and used, a seasonal employee is dedicated to help care for it during the summer months.  Percival Landing is probably the most visible of the parks and can be challenging to maintain because of the amount of foot and vehicle traffic it receives.  With the playground areas, boating access, restaurants, office traffic, and leisurely strolls along the waterfront, Percival is used frequently.

The plants need to be low maintenance and resilient to thrive in the full sun with dogs, people, and vehicles all around (and sometimes in) them.  The Otto Luyken Laurel, St. John’s wort, and other tough plants do the job.  Perennials in the large planting boxes provide wonderful seasonal interest.  Percival Landing is especially enjoyed during Lakefair and the other fun downtown events, and Sam and his team treat it like the crown jewel that is.

The City of Olympia has a well-deserved reputation for being “green” , so weed killing chemicals are generally not used, and organic fertilizer is used as much as possible.  The most challenging area for Sam and the staff is the 4th Avenue corridor, where horsetail was accidentally brought in with new topsoil.  Since horsetail is almost impossible to eradicate, the parks department added plants to “mask” the horsetail.  This was a great low cost solution in lieu of chemicals and labor intensive (costly) removal.

The Olympia Garden Club has adopted the Memorial Shade and Bog Gardens in Priest Point Park. Their dedication and expertise free up the park staff so they can turn their attention to other areas. Sam would welcome any expansion of this volunteer effort by other local groups with the time and training to adopt other parks.

Sam and the crew single out the colorful hanging baskets downtown as one of their two favorite aspects of Olympia. The baskets seem to give life and a visual boost to the city streets. Their other favorite is the community garden beds.  Sadly, the planting beds are in short supply, so those folks who are lucky enough to have one always seem to make the most of them.   Certainly we all enjoy seeing  how people use their five by ten foot plots – flowers, vegetables, fruit, herbs, etc.

When not hard at work, Sam enjoys being home with his family.  His property is patrolled by five chickens which keep his family happily in the egg business.  I asked him if his chickens were named Poached, Fried, Scrambled, Pot Pie, and Cordon Blue, but he just smiled!

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