If a gravestone does not seem like a lasting tribute to a friend or family member, then consider a tree.
Branching off from the normal traditions of memorializing a loved one, South Whidbey’s Earth Sanctuary is offering a ripe opportunity. The 3-in-1 nature preserve, sculpture garden and retreat center near Langley began allowing people in January the chance to purchase a tree in honor of someone special.
Chuck Pettis, the owner and founder of the 72 acres of wilderness and sculpture garden, started the Memorial Tree program this year after several people asked him about planting a tree to remember someone.
“I can tell it means a lot to people,” he said. “Not everyone wants to be in a cemetery and have a tombstone.”
The program also aligns with Pettis’ 500-year plan to restore the landscape’s old growth forest, wetlands and streams, providing the optimal habitat for the greatest possible diversity of bird and animal species native to Whidbey.
It may seem like an ambitious plan, but over 15,000 plants have already been planted, including 80 native species — although non-native plants have also been added.
And over 3,250 trees have been planted.
Pettis has difficulty picking a favorite type of tree, but lists spruces, western white pines, redwoods and sequoias as a few of his preferences.
“I love big trees,” he said.
From May to July, Earth Sanctuary experienced a 44 percent increase in visitors.
“We certainly aren’t Disneyland, but we’re doing a spiritual service,” Pettis said.
Seattle resident Erin Osborne helped raise $4,000 this year to plant two trees honoring a childhood friend who passed away in 2019.
She said she had been looking for a fitting way to honor her friend, something that was permanent and meaningful without feeling contrived.
The start of the Memorial Tree program coincided with the anniversary of the death of Osborne’s friend, and it felt like the perfect concept.
“It’s for the greater good,” she said. “It’s what we all need to be thinking about right now, climate change and making the world a better place.”
With the additional money raised, a bench will be installed near the two sitka spruces.
And in this forest, trees are not just for those who have passed away.
“I personally like the idea of getting a tree for a young person,” Pettis said.
He has trees dedicated to several of his family members, many who are still among the living.
Pettis plants trees in the winter. A newly planted Memorial Tree costs between $750 and $1,500, depending on its location in Earth Sanctuary.
Pettis explained that the cost goes toward the upkeep of the tree, which needs excessive watering and monitoring during the first few years of its life.
A tree that has already been planted costs $500. Markers are placed discreetly near the trees. So far, the forest has 10 Memorial Trees.
For a low-cost alternative, people can donate up to $50, which will help plant conifers and other trees in the red alder forest.
Those contributions will earn donors a name on the sign in the red alder forest.
n To find out more about planting or purchasing a Memorial Tree, visit earthsanctuary.org