Pacific Northwest
Garden History

Historic Public Gardens
British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington

British Columbia Gardens:Butchart   |  Keremeos Grist Mill   |  UBC Physick   |  Point Ellice House   |  Royal Roads/Hatley Park |
Oregon Gardens:Bishop's Close   |  Bybee/Howell   |  Deepwood   |  Lithia Park   |  Shore Acres |
Washington Gardens:Fort Vancouver   |  Kubota   |  Lakewold   |  Ohme   |  Olmsted Parks   |  Wright Park Conservatory |

Among the region's many fine public gardens are a surprising number of historic landscapes. Some are restorations of once-fine gardens that had fallen into disrepair and were brought back to their former glory. Others are originals that have survived for scores of years. A few are re-creations. These gardens are as diverse as the region's past. They include kitchen gardens planted by the Hudson's Bay Company during the fur trade, pioneer rose gardens, Victorian showplaces, historic conservatories, lavish estate gardens of the twentieth century, and more. Each of them welcomes visitors.

I've visited all of these gardens. While the ones I've seen were really wonderful, any garden can have a bad spell. There are all kinds of reasons for problems (the weather stinks, funding fell through, volunteers quit, etc.), but one does not want to book a flight and travel 3,000 miles to see them. To avoid such a debacle, contact the places in question and grill them for information. In other words, this page offers information, not endorsements or guarantees.

The Butchart Botanical Gardens

In Butchart's Gardens, Victoria, B.C.
Butchart Gardens c. 1930

Benvenuto Road 13 miles north of Victoria
PO Box 4010
Station A
Victoria, BC V8X 3X4
Phone: (866) 652-4422 Toll Free

Although this garden is nearly 100 years old, hardy anybody thinks of it as a historical landscape. Still, beneath the lavish flower displays for which it is famous, the garden has distinctively historic elements.

Jenny Butchart built these gardens starting in about 1904. One of her first projects was to beautify an old quarry. From the beginning, Mrs. Butchart thought big. She and a crew of workers moved mountains of soil to the site and brought in hundreds of choice ornamentals for the make-over. Today, the plantings are a lush tapestry of foliage, flowers, and form.

Over the next few decades, she added acres and acres of additional gardens. For example, the Japanese-style garden, which was inspired by a visit to Japan, dates from 1908. The rose garden, designed by notable landscape architect Butler Stevens Sturtevant, went in in 1929. Many of the garden's other displays also have rich histories.

Today, the gardens are awash in flowers virtually year round, but there is a renewed interest in their history, too. Curators have assembled vintage photographs, historic household items, garden memorabilia, and other items in a retrospective exhibit at the garden during the winter months.

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Keremeos Grist Mill or
The Grist Mill and Gardens

R.R.#1, Upper Bench Road
Keremeos, BC V0X 1N0
Phone: (250) 499-2888

The Keremeos grist mill, built by Barrington Price in 1877 and restored in the 1980s by B.C. Heritage, is the province's sole surviving grist mill that has both its original building and machinery. In addition to the historic mill, the site also has an orchard of heirloom apples, fields of historic varieties of wheat, and gardens of old-time vegetables.

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Physic Garden

University of British Columbia (UBC) Botanical Garden
6804 S.W. Marine Drive
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4
Phone: (604) 822-3928

Although built in recent years, the UBC's Physick Garden reflects a much earlier time -- the late Renaissance, to be precise. It is a replica of a monastery garden, re-created from a 16th-century Dutch engraving. Like many early herb gardens, this one is surrounded by a wall. Inside, the garden is designed in a circle. A sundial stands in the middle, surrounded by rings of beds outlined in brick. They display a variety of historic herbs and a few woody plants. Although herbalists of the day thought all of them were medicinal, later scientists have determined that some were helpful, some were really harmful or even deadly, and some were merely the stuff of old wives' tales.

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Point Ellice House

2616 Pleasant Street
Victoria, BC
Phone: (250) 380-6506
Fax: (250) 356-7796

In 1889, Peter and Caroline O'Reilly entertained Victoria's aristocracy in a garden at Point Ellice that was, from all reports, a showplace. Trees and shrubs complemented the Italianate home, and the 2.2 acre grounds were appointed with a tennis and croquet lawn, a rose garden, a kitchen garden, and other amenities. Today, this garden is being restored to its original design, and turn-of-the-century flowers once again bloom among the original trees and shrubs. Heirloom vegetables fill the kitchen garden. Old roses, lilacs, hardy fuchsias, camellias, magnolias, holly, elms, redwoods, and other period plants reveal the taste and style of old Victoria.

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Royal Roads and Hatley Park Gardens

Hatley Park, Residence of Hon. James Dunsmuir, Victoria, B.C.
Hatley Park Gardens
2005 Sooke Road
Victoria BC, Canada V9B 5Y2
Phone: (250) 391-2600, extension 4456

In about 1908, James Dunsmuir, a coal and railroad magnate, built his dream house, a 17,000 square foot home on 650 acres overlooking the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Nicknamed "The Castle," it was complemented by suitably elaborate grounds featuring a Japanese garden, an Italian formal garden, a rose garden, a conservatory, sweeping lawns, specimen trees and banks of shrubs. Although Dunsmuir died in 1920, the family owned the estate until the late 1930s. Since then, it has been home to a military college, and is currently a university campus.

In recent years, much of the original landscape (except the still-absent conservatory) has been renovated. Today, the grounds are once again appointed with formal gardens, manicured perennial borders, heritage trees, and assorted ponds and fountains. Across sweeping lawns, the grounds also include a Japanese garden, an English natural garden, a rose garden, and a rock garden.

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The Bishop's Close

11800 SW Military Lane
Portland, OR 97219-8436
Phone: (800) 452-2562 or (503) 636-5613
Fax: (503) 636-5616

Once the estate of wealthy wheat exporter Peter Kerr, the Bishop's Close is an exquisite 13-acre garden designed, in part, by John C. Olmsted. It features choice trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants planted in borders and large-scale island beds arranged around expansive lawns. Kerr started this garden in 1914 and worked on it for more than 50 years. Today, the plantings have matured and the perfectly-composed plantings are a work of art.

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James F. Bybee House and Howell Territorial Park

Howell Park Road, off NW Sauvie Island Road
Sauvie Island, OR
Phone: (509) 222-1741

The Bybee-Howell House, a pioneer home, has been restored and furnished to re-create life on Sauvie Island from 1855-85. The grounds are suitably historic, and include an herb garden, a collection of old roses, a small agricultural museum, and the Pioneer Orchard, an extensive collection of fruit varieties grown by pioneers. The orchard has more than 115 different varieties of apples, and smaller collections of pears, plums, cherries, and other fruit.

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Deepwood Estate

1116 Mission Street SE
Salem, OR 97302
Phone: (503) 363-1825

Deepwood is an 1894 Victorian mansion surrounded by four acres of elegant grounds designed by Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, the first women to practice landscape architecture in the Pacific Northwest. The gardens, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, include mixed borders, boxwood-lined paths, and outdoor rooms. Though they date from the late 1920s, they feature Victorian touches, such as latticework, topiary, vintage plants, and a gazebo. In addition to the original landscape, the grounds also include a perennial border, a conservatory, and a nature walk.

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Lithia Park

Scene in Lithia Park - Ashland, Oregon
Scene in Lithia Park - Ashland, Oregon
Between Granite Street and Pioneer Street south of Winburn Way
Ashland Parks and Recreation
20 East Main St
Ashland, OR 97520
Phone: (541) 488-5340

Old-fashioned without being frumpy, Lithia Park has historic shade trees, a rose garden, a Japanese garden, an Elizabethan herb garden, duck ponds, fountains, and a lovely walk through the woods. The park dates from the 1890s, when the Southern Oregon Chautauqua Association occupied the site. While the men were building the hall, the Ladies Chautauqua Club set about beautifying the grounds. They planted trees, grass, and flowers, and the grounds became the first park in southern Oregon. By 1908, the Women's Civic Improvement Club had launched and won a campaign to make the park bigger, extending it up the creek for nearly a mile. In about 1914, Ashland hired the West Coast's premier landscape architect, John McLaren, to design the park. McLaren's plan encouraged many uses. Gentle paths and a curvilinear road let visitors explore the natural beauty of Ashland Creek. Tennis courts and other facilities encouraged active sports. Gardens and plazas offered places for strolling and for informal gatherings. Construction was started in 1915. Lithia Springs Park was dedicated on the fourth of July, 1916. Over the years, the park has had the inevitable ups and downs, but a restoration started in 1979 returned the park to its former glory.

Lithia Park is located in the heart of Ashland next to the Elizabethan Theatre. The park extends south of the town plaza along Winburn Way. It is bounded by Granite Street on the west and Pioneer Street on the east. Lithia Park is open daily during daylight hours.

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Shore Acres State Park

Off US 101, 13 mi. SW of Coos Bay
Charleston, OR 97420
Phone: (541) 888-3732

In 1905, Louie Simpson, a wealthy lumber tycoon and heir to a shipping empire, purchased 320 acres on the southern Oregon coast and started planning his summer retreat. Two years later, he moved into his new home. It was a massive structure (the living room alone measured more than 1,800 square feet) with a commanding view of the Pacific Ocean.

As a suitable counterpoint to the house, Simpson created a five-acre formal garden. The grounds, which were once cared for by five full-time gardeners, included choice exotics that Simpson's ships picked up all over the world. Some had never been grown in Oregon before. In addition, the grounds had a Japanese garden, lavish flower displays, and manicured lawns. The gardens remained a showplace through much of the 1920s, but Simpson's circumstances changed. He sold the estate to Oregon State Parks in 1942. By then, the house (it was actually the Simpson's second mansion; the first was destroyed by fire) was a derelict, and had to be razed.

In 1971, park officials began to restore the long-neglected gardens. Even after 30 years, many of the original plants survived, as had original and revised plans for the design. Within four years, workers had returned Shore Acres to its former glory. Today, the Asian garden looks like it did during Simpson's tenure, and the formal plantings of roses, hydrangeas, dahlias, and lavish flower displays are all perfected maintained.

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Fort Vancouver Heritage Garden

612 E. Reserve St.
Vancouver, WA 98661-3897
Phone: (360) 696-7655 ex. 17 or 1-800-832-3599

Established in 1825 by the British Hudson's Bay Company, Fort Vancouver was once the headquarters of the fur trade in the Northwest. To feed its men, the fort operated farms and had a 7-acre garden filled with vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. Today, the fort and vegetable garden have been re-created. All the vegetables in this garden, including British soldier beans, citron, yellow pear tomatoes and dozens of others, are heirlooms. So are the herbs and flowers. For that matter, so are some of the gardeners. They dress in period attire and bring to life some of the original workers of the Hudson's Bay Company.

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Kubota Gardens

9600 Renton Avenue South
Seattle, WA
Phone: Seattle Parks Department, (206) 684-4075

In 1929, Fujitaro Kubota, a native of Kochi Prefecture in Japan, bought five acres in south Seattle, started a landscaping business, and began building a garden and nursery. Over the next 50 years, he developed a garden rich in Japanese traditions. He built ponds and waterfalls, bridges and winding paths, and planted an extraordinary collection of choice ornamentals. Eventually, he expanded his holdings to 20 acres. Kubota, who never intended his to be a classic Japanese garden, created a remarkable place that is a fusion of Asian and Pacific Northwest garden styles. In 1987, after Kubota's death, the City of Seattle acquired the property. By then, the garden had declined, but restoration efforts are gradually returning this garden to its former glory. Today, the hillside garden is once again a tapestry of foliage textures and colors. The pond and waterways reflect the plants that hug the shoreline. The meadows open to views over the gardens and to borrowed scenery. While it will take time to finish the restoration, this garden already shows Mr. Kubota's genius as a plantsman and designer.

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12317 Gravelly Lake Drive SW
P. O. Box 39780
Lakewood, WA 98439-0780
Phone: 1-888-858-4106

Another of the region's fine estate gardens, Lakewold has deep roots. In the early 1900s, the Olmsted Bros., noted landscape architects, worked here. They are credited with designing the garden's prominent brick walk, as well as other elements. The remainder of the garden started to take shape when Corydon and Eulalie Wagner purchased the property in 1940. During their tenure, they assembled a sizeable collection of choice and rare plants, especially meconopsis (blue poppies), alpines, rhododendrons, shade-tolerant species, and woody ornamentals. They also developed several "gardens within the garden," including a traditional herb knot garden, a dry-shade garden, a rose garden, and elegant parterres. In addition, the grounds include elements by yet another renowned landscape architect, Thomas Church.

Today, Lakewold is a public garden, but it still has the feel of a mid-twentieth century estate. The ten-acre grounds feature large-scale mixed borders and island beds, woodland walks, sweeping lawns, and intimate pocket gardens. The plants here are exceptional, from delicate alpines the size of a tea cup to an arboretum-worth of the best and brightest woody plants horticulture has to offer. It is, of course, not as perfect as it was when the Wagners were here, but it remains one of the finest estate gardens in the Pacific Northwest.

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Ohme Gardens

Ohme Gardens, Wenatchee, Washington
View from Ohme Gardens, Wenatchee, Washington
3327 Ohme Rd
Wenatchee WA 98801
Phone: (509) 662-5785

Ohme Gardens began in 1929, when Herman and Ruth Ohme bought 40 acres of land outside Wenatchee. They planted a good-sized orchard, but wondered what to do with the remainder of their property. Nine acres of it was a high, rocky bluff overlooking the confluence of the Columbia and Wenatchee Rivers. Dry as dust, the bluff supported little besides desert sage and rattlesnakes. Herman Ohme saw it through different eyes, seeing instead the perfect spot for an alpine garden. He set to work, and transformed this bluff into a garden so fine that garden writers of the day repeatedly declared it one of the top ten in the country. Today, trees (brought in from nearby mountains) and ground covers provide the verdant greens of a subalpine meadow. Weathered rocks, boulders, and flagstones hauled in one truck load at a time supply the appropriate mountain cragginess. Ponds capture the look of alpine lakes filled with crystalline melt-water. Sun and endless sky open to views that fall away from this aerie to Wenatchee and beyond. Taken together, these elements form a garden that presents an idealized version of the mountain high country.

In the beginning, the Ohmes thought they were building a private garden, but it was not to be so. Visitors started coming to the garden to see what was happening. Within ten years, the Ohmes yielded to public demand. They opened the garden to the public in 1939. It remained in the family until recently, when the family sold the garden to Washington State Parks. Today, Chelan County manages the gardens, which welcome visitors year-round.

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Seattle Olmsted Parks

The Lake Washington Boulevard and Mt. Rainier, Seattle, U.S.A.
Lake Washington Boulevard and Mt. Rainier
Phone: Seattle Parks Department, (206) 684-4075

Working in their trademark, naturalistic style, the Olmsted Brothers developed a grand plan for Seattle in 1903. It identified more than 30 potential parks and playgrounds scattered throughout the city, and some 23 miles of scenic drives that linked the parks. It set aside long stretches of the Lake Washington shoreline in parks and a boulevard. It saved salt water beaches and view points overlooking Puget Sound. It reserved all of Green Lake, tracts of old growth forests, views of Mount Rainier, and other places of scenic beauty. The plan was well-received. Over the next three decades, much of it was built. Today, Seattle's Olmsted parks have gained national recognition. Taken together, they are the third-largest Olmsted design in the country, and experts rank them among the best preserved.

"Seattle's Olmsted Parks", a brochure produced by Friends of Seattle's Olmsted Parks, provides a brief history and detailed map of the parks. It is available from the Seattle Parks Department, (206)684-4075. Only one small section of it, however, is signed. The "Olmsted Legacy Circle Scenic Drive" loops from Colman Park through wooded ravines to Frink Park. Both of these parks are located on Lake Washington Boulevard.

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Wright Park and Seymour Conservatory

Wright Park Conservatory, Tacoma, Washington
Wright Park Conservatory
Sixth Avenue and I Street
Tacoma, WA
Phone: (253) 591-5330

One of the region's oldest parks, Wright Park dates from about 1886, when Charles B. Wright donated the land to Tacoma for a park. About four years later, prominent landscape gardener Edward O. Schwagerl prepared a design for the park. His plan created a classic Victorian scene, the kind of landscape usually reserved for estates. It called for tree-lined walks, a pair of lakes, formal statuary, rose garden, and a wading pool, all complemented by a mix of choice trees and shrubs. Today, the trees have matured, and this park has one of the two finest collections of deciduous trees in the state.

Added to the park in 1908, the Seymour Conservatory is one of only three Victorian-style glasshouses on the West Coast and is a National Historic Landmark. Following an architectural tradition that stressed flights of fancy, this conservatory has a copper-clad, twelve-sided central dome that stands about 60 feet tall and two side wings. The oldest plant in this glasshouse is a Queen Saga, Cycas circinalus . Workers grew it from a seed planted in 1895. The plant, which looks like a small palm but is actually a cycad, stands about 12 to 15 feet tall. In addition to this plant, the glasshouse also displays other tropical trees and ornamentals, lavish seasonal color displays, a fish pond, and artwork.

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Kathy Mendelson prepared this Website. A botanist by training, she has worked in public gardens, taught plant science at the community college level, and served as a consultant and speaker on garden history. She is particularly interested in the early gardens of the Pacific Northwest.

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Last updated: February 24, 2004

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