New Olde Burien merchant digs gardening
Special to the Times/News
Sean Yates is dredging up the dirt in Burien - for planting, that is.
Yates' passion for plants blossomed in May into a garden shop in Olde Burien brimming with a bounty of plants, gardening supplies, and nature-related arts and gifts.
For Yates, opening Grassroots: Home & Garden was the logical conclusion of an extended love affair with vegetation that left him dissatisfied with other career paths.
"I've had other jobs, and I haven't really enjoyed occupations that are not related to plants," Yates said recently.
It was likely during Yates' childhood - he was raised on his family's commercial orchard in Eastern Washington - that the seeds of his cultivation cravings were planted.
But it was only after a visit to the farmers' market in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood, where Yates lived at the time, that his horticultural hunger took root.
One of the market vendors, Matt Langley of Langley Fine Gardens on Vashon Island, happened to be one of Yates' childhood friends.
Talking with Langley got Yates so fired up that he began gardening.
Soon the yard was bursting with plants, and, Yates noted with a smile, "it got worse and worse every year."
Along the way, he honed his skills by reading plenty of gardening tomes and experimenting.
"I've committed many horticultural sins," Yates confessed.
His drive to try out different plants and gardening methods may have led to some failures but it has also given him a cornucopia of practical knowledge about what works well, particularly in this climate.
"You can have two different types of corn, and one will thrive well in our short season and another will entirely flop," he observed.
Some of Grassroots' seedlings are grown by Yates, who is planning to generate most of the fall crop starts.
"I use the ones that perform well for me because my garden is only four miles away," said Yates, who lives nearby with wife, Cory Smith, owner of Sweet Petula in Olde Burien.
Yates professes a particular fondness for growing edible plants.
"There's nothing better than eating out of your own garden. The flavor's better, and I think it takes a chunk out of the grocery bill when you grow some of your own food."
Naturally, Grassroots has a strong food focus. Much of the vegetation Yates sells, from fig trees to lemon verbena, has a culinary aspect.
The shop carries dishes with a consumable vegetation theme and cookbooks like The Garden Fresh Vegetable Cookbook by Andrea Chesman to help customers learn how to cook what they cultivate.
Beyond edible greenery, however, Grassroots offerings include such ornamentals as curling copper grasses, home decor featuring a variety of nature motifs, organic cleaning products and herb-scented body products.
"We have a philosophy that the garden is an extension of your house, and we're trying to carry things that will enhance your home life," Yates said.
Having grown up on a family farm that used no chemicals, Yates is passionate about promoting sustainable practices.
"We try to buy only from local producers as much as possible, organics as much as possible," said Cory.
Yates also plans to hold classes in the near future on a range of organic gardening methods. The Times/News' Lazy Gardener will be an instructor.
Still, he said, he is not trying to convert anybody to his methods of gardening.
"I just want them to have success. If you don't want to garden organically, that's fine with me."
Yates and his wife pointed out that Grassroots - with its organics, Yates' experience and lush courtyard humming with wildlife - is aiming to fill a niche rather than compete with large-scale nurseries and chain stores like Swanson's and Fred Meyer.
"We want to educate you, and Sean has the knowledge," Cory said of her husband.
Grassroots is the sort of shop where customers can find plant varieties specifically geared to excel in the Highline area's climate and benefit from Yates' tips on how to give those cultivars the best chance to thrive.
His customers appreciate that kind of expertise, according to Yates.
"Around here, people are into the trees and their neighbors' yards. One lady comes in and talks about the neighbors' plants, their sunflowers, and how her kids love them."
Grassroots: Home & Garden is located at 913 S.W. 152nd St., phone 206-242-5552. The hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.