Ridgefield senior gardener shares passion for sustainability and pollinators


Passionate for plants, Ridgefield senior gardener Kathy Winters works diligently at the city’s Community Garden tending plants, weeding the paths and sharing her knowledge with residents.

Raised by her German family in Ohio, Winters, 88, moved to Washington to start a farm with her husband and firstborn son in 1985. She settled in Ridgefield in 2003 and became involved with the Ridgefield Community Garden, 224 S. Fifth Ave., after its establishment in 2011.

Since moving to Washington, Winters has been interested in agricultural studies. She reads about native plants and sustainable gardening practices in scientific journals and magazines. She shares her wealth of knowledge with her fellow community gardeners.

“It’s amazing how gardening has changed since I first started,” Winters said. “We used to double-dig the soil, to keep the ground fertile. Now, they say you shouldn’t chew it up at all because plants [have adapted to] grow with the layered soil.”

Winters became the unofficial caretaker of the community garden, managed by Ridgefield’s Parks, Trails and Recreation department, shortly after it opened in 2011. The city planned to use herbicides to control the unruly weeds clogging the garden’s paths. Winters volunteered to become the caretaker so the city could forgo using chemicals that could potentially harm pollinators, Winters said. She has pulled weeds and tended the pathways between the garden plots ever since.

Though Winters admits she’s “slowing down a little,” she attributes her health, energy and mobility to her work at the community garden.

Working at the garden has allowed her to put her knowledge of modern agriculture to good use. Her most recent project, and one of her favorites, has involved embracing her German heritage through hügelkultur garden beds. Beneficial to the environment, hügelkultur improves soil fertility, water retention and soil warming, Winters said.

Created in collaboration with Ridgefield High School, Winters instructed the students on hügelkultur gardening, which is a German term meaning hillock or mound cultivation, according to Washington State University Extension. This method creates garden beds using wood material, garden debris and soil arranged in layers.

For Winters’ raised hügelkultur beds, students drilled 1-inch holes into the bottom of the wooden planters for drainage. Each hole was covered with terracotta shards, to keep soil from spilling out the bottom. Then they stacked split logs, sourced from a fallen tree in downtown Ridgefield, atop the terracotta. Finally, a layer of twigs and decaying plant matter was added before being covered with soil.

The hügelkultur beds are currently home to native plants and pollinator-attracting flowers, such as yarrow and dandelions. Beneath the soil dwells hundreds of earthworms, added by Winters to boost the decomposition of plant matter beneath the soil.

Winters aids her gardening efforts through her smartphone, which she uses as a resource for learning new information and gardening techniques and identifying weeds.

This wealth of knowledge at her fingertips has led Winters to realize that unsustainable gardening is harming the environment, Winters said.

“The more I read about how important the soil is, the more I realize that we’re killing ourselves with artificial fertilizer, plowing up and killing all the mycorrhiza [fungal roots] that are in the soil,” Winters said. “The fungus, plants and trees communicate and are dependent on each other. They’re all connected within our ecosystem.”

When not working in the community garden, Winters volunteers at the Ridgefield Garden Club. She is currently part of a team advocating for the planting of native vegetation within the roundabouts across Ridgefield, Winters said.

“Native plants require less care once they’re established. They need water and weeding for the first year, but then they’re easy,” Winters said.

Using native plants within the roundabouts would provide a valuable resource for wildlife, require less maintenance from Public Works and would cost the city less due to reduced watering bills, Winters said.