When Jennifer Harrell plants a tree, birds pay attention.
“It’s cool to see a bird nesting in a tree we planted five years ago,” said Harrell, manager of the city of Kent’s Green River Nursery along Russell Road.
Although Harrell’s job title is a city environmental technician for the Public Works Department, what she does is grow and plant flowers, bushes and trees for the city’s 310-acre Green River Natural Resources Area and other city wetlands. Hawks, eagles, blue herons, cedar waxwings and goldfinches are among the birds spotted by Harrell.
Not a bad job for someone who received a first assignment as a city intern at age 17 to draw a map of where to place garbage cans in downtown Kent.
Harrell, 29, who started as an intern in 1997, has become the city’s queen of plants. The city plants as many as 15,000 plants per year and all of the plants come from the nursery where Harrell has worked for the last 10 years.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Harrell said Tuesday at the city nursery. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
With the outdoors as her office, Harrell’s job duties change with the seasons. She spends most of her time in the Green River Natural Resources Area that sits west of 64th Avenue South between South 228th Street and South 212th Street. The area includes storm water ponds, wetlands, a wildlife refuge, a public walking trail and three observation towers.
In the summer, Harrell makes sure everything stays watered in the natural resources area. She also goes to parks to collect seeds and berries to prepare for growing at the nursery. She cleans the seeds and puts them in an envelop for storage in a refrigerator. She puts the seeds in pots in October.
Harrell plants in the fall and winter. She has planted more than 40 types of bushes and trees in the natural resources area.
“I don’t think that place would be what it is without her running it,” said Joe Codiga, a city street-vegetation lead worker who has known Harrell for 10 years.
Harrell once planted 700 plants in a day. Five others on the work crew planted a total of 500 that day.
“She plants faster than anybody else,” Codiga said. “She runs circles around me.”
When asked about her speedy planting skills of 700 plants in one day, Harrell remained modest.
“They were small ones,” she said.
Besides learning planting skills on the job, Harrell earned a two-year degree in landscape horticulture from South Seattle Community College. She would work at the nursery during the day and go to school at night.
“It took me five years to get a two-year degree,” Harrell said.
In the spring, Harrell helps run the city’s annual Youth Tree Education Program. Harrell and other city employees go out to 23 Kent elementary schools and now have more than 2,000 students each year learn how to plant a bush or tree.
The interest in plants started for Harrell in a landscaping class at Kentridge High School. Harrell ran the floral shop that provided 75 bud vases each Monday morning for the Kent School District. She thought about becoming a florist. Then her high-school landscaping teacher encouraged her to take an internship with the city during her senior year.
Harrell graduated from Kentridge in 1997 and one year later helped start the city’s new nursery at the Green River Natural Resources Area. She has worked on a master plan for planting the resources area that is expected to be completed next year.
Outside of work, Harrell is married and has a 6-month-old son. She met her husband, Mike Harrell, when he worked for the city’s Public Works Department. Mike now stays at home with their son.
Harrell enjoys fishing, camping and gardening at her Lake Tapps home, where she grows fruits and vegetables.
Last year, Harrell became certified as an arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. An arborist can assess trees to determine the health, structure and safety of the tree. She said the city gets numerous calls about trees in the wetlands.
“You need to have a good knowledge base about whether or not a tree can be saved,” Harrell said. “I like to try to keep all trees.”