|Pacific Northwest||Garden History|
|People, Plants, and Gardens from the Region's Past|
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Historic Public Gardensin British Columbia in Oregon in Washington State About this site Contact
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Over the last 200 years, the Pacific Northwest has had its share of of talented and remarkable plantsmen and women. Many spent their lives here, or were long-time residents. Others visited briefly, making important contributions before moving on. Whether resident or visitors, these horticulturists, landscape gardeners (as landscape architects were once known), botanists, gardeners and the occasional gadfly have made gardening what it is today.
Their accomplishments are, by any measure, exceptional. They were pioneers in their respective fields. Some studied the native flora, introducing horticultural treasures to gardeners around the world. Others developed choice plant materials, including important rhododendrons, lilies, dahlias, fruits, berries, pansies, daffodils, lilacs, and others that still rank among the best known to horticulture. Still others designed gardens, parks, and landscapes that are counted among the nation's finest.
They are a diverse group, men and women from different times and cultures, with different dreams and visions. Some were professionally trained, but many were self-taught. Some set out to change the world; others did so by luck or circumstance. Each made a continuing contribution to gardening regionally, and some even made the big-time nationally winning prestigious awards and medals. These horticultural luminaries passed along what they found and what they learned. While each made their own unique contriubtions, each made gardening better. Pacific Northwest gardens would not be the same without them.
There are, of course, many other influential gardeners from the Pacific Northwest. As time allows, I hope to add others to this page. For now, here are a sampling of the famous people you never heard of.
1876 - 1962
Forest Grove and
Garden historian and preservationist who founded the Pioneer Rose Association (PRA) in 1936, and led the movement to find and save roses that emigrants brought west on the Oregon Trail.
Albro and the other members of the PRA searched throughout Oregon and Washington for living rose bushes that emigrants had planted before Oregon became a state in 1859. Eventually, they found at least 23 different roses. They took cuttings from the plants, grew them on, and planted them in three or four public gardens. One of these gardens has survived. Located at Lone Fir Cemetery in Portland, it displays historic roses that emigrants grew nearly 150 years ago.
1881 - 1976
Horticulturist and gardener who specialized in rhododendrons, primulas, alpines, and North American natives.
A collector of choice and rare plants, Mrs. Berry's skill at cultivating these then-unfamiliar plants helped popularize them. She started many of the plants from seeds she acquired from botanical gardens around the world, her own botanical excursions, and from plant explorers, including Kingdon Ward, Ludlow and Sherriff, and Joseph Rock. Botanists and horticulturists from all over the world visited her nine-acre garden in southwest Portland. There, Mrs. Berry shared critical information about starting these unfamiliar seeds and nurturing the young plants, many with exacting needs, into mature garden specimens.
Today, Mrs. Berry's garden is a botanic garden open to the public by appointment. For more information, see their website: The Berry Botanic Garden.
Prominent early-Seattle nurseryman and landscape gardener who was instrumental in developing the Washington Park Arboretum and other public landscapes.
Born and raised in France, Bonnell studied horticulture there and began his career at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. He quickly distinguished himself, so much so that in 1894 the French government sent him to San Francisco to report on California horticulture. As it did for so many others, California and the West offered unlimited possibilites. By 1897, Bonnell had finished his work for the French government, and he and his wife, Camille, set their sites on Seattle. They arrived on a wing and a prayer, spending their last $15 on food.
Working first as a gardener on the stylish First Hill estates, Bonnell soon became a florist, as commercial flower-growers were then known. From there, he moved on to the nursery business. Eventually, he would operate nurseries in the Montlake neighborhood, at Bryn Mawr near Renton, and in Kirkland next to the ferry terminal. Bonnell stocked his nurseries with the finest plants known at the time. He traveled throughout Europe, searching for choice plants for his nurseries. He also visited Japan, from which he imported the first tree peonies seen in Seattle. He also returned with Japanese iris, then unknown in the region.
In addition to the nurseries, Bonnell also made important contributions to public landscapes. The Olmsted Bros. selected him as the official florist of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a position which carried the responsiblity for providing literally tens of thousands of flowering plants. He also worked on the Washington State Capitol Campus, the Seattle Art Museum, and Peace Arch Park at the Canadian border. He was also active in developing the Washington Park Arboretum, contributing both his expertise and plant materials. By 1939, Bonnell had made so many important contributions to horticulture that his obituary called him "...one of Washington's most prominent citizens.." and noted that he was affectionately known as the "Burbank of the Northwest."
Grower and plant breeder who developed 'Golden Plume' celery, once described by those in the know as the best variety of celery in the world.
Fukuda, a Japanese-American, was originally a section hand for the railroad. In 1909, he took up farming at Lake Labish near Salem, Oregon, and began growing celery. Within a few years, he had developed a new variety called 'Golden Plume.' It was an early variety, one that turned clear yellow when it was blanched, a trait considered very desirable at the time. What set 'Golden Plume' apart from other varieties of celery was its exceptional quality. Burpee's 1941 catalog offered a rave review of this variety, noting "Some gardeners consider it the best early celery in existence…Plants …have a …thick, creamy heart of the highest table quality." Today, only a handful of seed companies still offer 'Golden Plume,' but Fukuda's contribution to celery-growing lives on. 'Golden Plume' is thought to be the forerunner of all choice varieties.
Orcas Island and
Founder, U.S. bulb industry, circa 1894.
In 1892, Gibbs, who had been growing apples and hazelnuts for nine years on Orcas Island, tried his hand at a different crop. He planted $5.00 worth of assorted bulbs. When he dug up the bulbs two years later, he discovered the bulbs had grown and multiplied like rabbits. When he tried to learn more about bulb growing, he sought out the Dutch growers, then the best in the world. He got no help there, since they considered their growing techniques to be trade secrets. Still, Gibbs persisted. In 1899, when he was 69 years old, he moved to a farm outside Bellingham, and began lobbying the U.S.D.A. to study bulb growing. In 1905, he landed a contract to grow 15,000 bulbs for the federal government. The test proved so successful that the U.S.D.A. went on to set up a bulb experiment station in Whatcom County in 1908. In just 16 years, Gibbs had laid the groundwork for what is now a giant industry, one that produced more than 100 million bulbs in 1988.
Early botanist who studied native plants and operated a native plant nursery.
In 1850, when he was just eight years old, Howell came west on the Oregon Trail. His family settled on Sauvie Island, on the Columbia River outside Portland. He took up botany as a child, collecting plants he found growing near his home. As an adult, he collected for Dr. Asa Gray, noted Harvard botanist. All told, Howell discovered more than 50 plant species. He also ran what may have been the region's first native plant nursery. His earliest catalog, issued in 1873, listed more than 2,000 species. Howell also wrote the region's first flora, Flora of Northwest America, during the years 1897 – 1903.
Horticulturist (known affectionately as the "Lilac Lady") who developed and introduced 62 varieties of lilacs.
In 1905, Klager, a self-taught gardener inspired by Luther Burbank, began breeding lilacs. Although she had already tried her hand at apples, roses, and dahlias, she found her passion with lilacs. She continued to work on them for 50 years, growing hundreds of seedlings, selecting the best ones, and introducing them to horticulture. Four of them are still available from the nursery trade: 'Ostrander' (sometimes called 'Ostrander Cooley,') 'Roland Mills,' 'My Favorite,' and 'Mrs. Morgan Cooley.' Many others survive at her lovely garden, which has been restored by the Hulda Klager Lilac Garden Society. Visitors are welcome, especially when the lilacs are in bloom from late April through May.
1820 - 1896
Pioneer nurseryman and horticulturist who introduced several important varieties of fruit, including the 'Black Republican' and 'Bing' cherries.
Lewelling came west on the Oregon Trail in 1850 and joined his brother Henderson Luelling at his nursery in Milwaukie in 1853. After Henderson left in 1854, Seth carried on, expanding the nursery. Over the years, Lewelling developed and introduced many fine varieties to horticulture. They include the 'Bing,' 'Black Republican,' 'Lincoln,' and 'Willamette' cherries, 'Lewelling' grape, 'Golden' prune, 'Sweet Alice' apple, and 'Lewelling' almond.
The first women with professional training to practice landscape architecture in the Pacific Northwest.
Graduates of the Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture for Women in Massachusetts, Lord and Schryver met in 1927 and formed a professional partnership that lasted for 40 years. They worked on about 250 gardens, mostly residential landscapes, in Salem, Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, and elsewhere in the region. Two of their designs are now gardens open to the public -- Deepwood in Salem and the Hoover-Minthorn House in Newberg, Oregon.
Pioneer nurseryman who introduced introduced hundreds of varieties of choice fruit to the old Oregon Country.
In 1847, Luelling, his wife, and eight children came west on the Oregon Trail, bringing a wagon loaded with an assortment of 50 or 60 varieties of apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries, quince, black walnuts, hickory nuts, gooseberries, currants, and grapes. All told, the wagon had about 700 young plants. By fall, he and his family had arrived safe and sound in Oregon. Settling in Milwaukie, Luelling started a nursery with his son-in-law, William Meek. He planted his "traveling orchard," and began grafting trees. By 1853, he had 100,000 trees for sale, selling them for $1 to $1.50 each. Orchardists snapped up these trees, using them to plant orchards and start nurseries. Before Luelling, growers relied on seedling fruit, which was often small, with insipid flavor, and other problems. By bringing the finest varieties of fruit to Oregon, Luelling moved gardening a giant step forward.
1784 - 1857
Fur trader, Chief Factor for the Hudson's Bay Company, and gardener who introduced dozens of fruits, vegetables, and berries to the Pacific Northwest.
Fort Vancouver, built circa 1825, was the headquarters of the Columbia Department, a network of 23 trading forts throughout British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. McLoughlin, a physician who rose through the ranks to become Chief Factor (a CEO, of sorts), made the fort an agricultural center. The fields of ripening crops, orchards laden with fruit, and pastures of sleek animals proved just how good Oregon agriculture could be. The farm was the point of introduction for many crops, many of which later appeared in emigrants' gardens. The farm showed not only what would grow, but also demonstrated good farming techniques. Local planting dates, for example, were all guesswork until the fort's workers figured out when to sow.
In addition to the farm, Fort Vancouver also had a kitchen garden. In the 1830s, the garden occupied a little less than seven acres. It was divided into eleven beds, planted with beans, beets, cabbage, cucumbers, melons, peas, tomatoes, and "every kind of vegetable" according to one observer of the day. The garden even had walks lined with strawberries, and a summer house covered with grape vines. At the time, this was the largest garden west of the Mississippi River and north of Spanish California.
1852 - 1920
Landscape architect whose firm designed nearly 200 municipal parks, private estates, and other facilities in the Pacific Northwest.
John C. Olmsted was arguably the nation's premier landscape architect during the first half of the twentieth century.His well-earned reputation was based on naturalistic parks that offered weary urbanites a respite from the stresses of city life. Working in a style pioneered by his father, Frederick Law Olmsted, John C. Olmsted's designs capitalized on views, natural water features, rock outcrops, and other such elements and complemented them with sweeping lawns, choice landscape trees and shrubs in informal groupings, and small lakes linked by curvilinear walks or drives. While these parks appeared natural, they were actually nature perfected. Each At their best, these parks were nothing less than works of art.
In the Pacific Northwest, the Olmsted Bros. designed parks and the grounds of estates and public institutions. They prepared a comprehensive plan for Seattle parks in 1903, and designed parks or park systems for Bellingham, Portland, Spokane, and Walla Walla. The Olmsteds also designed estates. Several of them are now public gardens, including The Dunn Garden in Seattle, the Bishop's Close in Portland, and Marymoor Park in Redmond. Finally, they prepared plans for the grounds of several institutions, including the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Reed College, University of Oregon, and the Washington State Capitol campus.
Nurseryman, award-winning rhododendron hybridizer, and founding member of the Seattle Rhododendron Society.
Though rhododendrons are hugely popular throughout the maritime Northwest now, it wasn't always so. Until the 1930s or a little earlier, not very many people grew them. That changed, due to the work of dedicated and skilled specialists including Endre Ostbo. He worked with rhododendrons for decades, and developed at least eight prominent varieties. His introductions include 'King of Shrubs,' 'Mrs. Donald Graham,' 'Ostbo's Low Yellow,' and the 'Olympic Lady' hybrids. Ostbo also worked with kalmias, introducing a choice red cultivar named 'Ostbo's Red.' In addition to his work hybridizing, he ran a specialty nursery and was a founding member of the Seattle Rhododendron Society. For his many contributions, the American Rhododendron Society awarded him their Gold Medal.
All that remains of his 'King of Shrubs' nursery are a few plants that bloom each spring among the native wetland vegetation that has nearly reclaimed the site. It is located at 2102 Bellevue Way SE, Bellevue, in the park behind the Winters House Museum.
Farmer who developed the Northwest's most famous onion, the 'Walla Walla Sweet.'
Around 1900, Peter Pieri settled in Walla Walla, bringing with him some onion seeds from Corsica. He planted the seeds in mid-summer, hoping to sell them as green onions in the fall. Unfortunately for Pieri (but very fortunately for onion fanciers), he couldn't sell the whole crop. He left the orphan onions in the field all winter. Much to his surprise, they survived the cold, and set seed the following summer. The potential in these winter-hardy onions was not lost on Pieri or the area's other market gardeners. They saved the seeds, and began selecting the best onions.
By 1925, one of the growers had developed the big, globe-shaped onions that tasted mild and sweet. Over the years, these onions became more and more popular, but they were not known as 'Walla Walla Sweets' until 1960. That year, Arbini Brother Farms decided to send some of their onions back east. Caroline Arbini, searching for a name that would set her family's onions apart, came up with the name 'Walla Walla Sweets.' Although growers elsewhere sometimes call their onions 'Walla Walla Sweets,' the real items come only from the area around Walla Walla, Washington.
Seattle and Tacoma,
Nationally-recognized landscape gardener who designed parks, estates, college campuses, and cemeteries in the Pacific Northwest.
In about 1880, Schwagerl helped design River View Cemetery just outside Portland. His plan incorporated many of the features that had made "rural cemeteries" popular back East. Critics now recognize these facilities as the precursors of naturalistic, urban parks. In 1890, Schwagerl accepted a position in Tacoma, where he prepared plans for Wright and Point Defiance Parks. Two years later, he became Superintendent of Seattle Parks, only the second person to serve in that position. In Seattle, he designed Kinnear Park, Denny Park, proposed a major botanical garden and a smaller Japanese garden, and built a six-acre nursery stocked with the finest plant material available from European and American sources. Schwagerl also prepared a comprehensive plan for Seattle's parks. It proposed large parks at the four corners of the cityAlki, Ft. Lawton, Sand Point, Seward Parkconnected by boulevards and drives. Schwagerl's plan was later eclipsed by that of the Olmsted Bros.