PNW Garden History Home

People Who Made Garden History

Olmsted in the PNW Famous People Timeline: 1770-1900 Rogues Gallery Heritage Trees, Plants Schwagerl in Seattle

Plants from the Past

Weigh Off Winners Local Plant Makes Good

Historic Public Gardens

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Cultivating Eden:
200 Years in Pacific Northwest Gardens

Gardening is more than 200 years old in the Pacific Northwest. The region's first gardeners were Native Americans, who cultivated a local tobacco. Europeans, who arrived on the coast in the eighteenth-century in search of the legendary northwest passage, brought seeds with them. They planted region's first vegetable gardens, hoping that however meager the return from these plots might be it would still be enough to stave off the scurvy that ravaged their crews.

However modest these beginnings, the region (now British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington) would soon make a name for itself in gardening. In just a few years, botanists from Europe were studying the region's flora, sending home plants that would find a place in royal gardens. By the middle of the nineteenth-century, the Pacific Northwest had become known as an horticultural Eden. Gardeners and farmers, even those with little skill, were almost certain of good crops, thanks to the mild climate, rich soil, and nearly pest-free growing conditions.

Subsequent generations of gardeners explored different ideas, styles, plants, fads, and fancies. Hard times motivated gardeners. Science and the hope of building a better lilac, lily, cherry, rhododendron, pansy, or improving another species spurred some to action. Others sought beauty, tranquility, and aesthetic pleasures in the garden. More than a few just enjoyed watching things grow. It is these and dozens of other stories about outstanding plantsmen and women, prize-winning plants, and world-class gardens that make up the region's gardening past. I hope to explore some of them on this website.

check People that Made Garden History in the Pacific Northwest

Dr. John McLoughlin, seen on a vintage postcard

John McLoughlin,
fur-trader and uber-gardener

Famous People You Never Heard Of

John McLoughlin, who once had the largest garden west of the Mississippi and north of California, was one of these notables. There were plenty of others. This page profiles a few of the gardeners, horticulturists, botanists, landscape gardeners (as landscape architects were once known), and the occasional gadfly who made gardening in the Pacific Northwest what it is today.

What Did They Grow and When Did They Grow It?

A timeline of the milestones in the region's gardening past, starting in the late 1700s when Europeans began visiting the coast and ending about 1900. This page is strong on "firsts" -- the first gardens, first vegetables and fruit, first ornamentals, first gardeners, first parks, and more. It also notes a few of the smart moves and good decisions of early gardeners, as well as a few of those less inspired choices about which later gardeners would ask "What could they have been thinking?"

E. O. Schwagerl, John C. Olmsted, and the Golden Age of Seattle Park Planning

In 1892, nationally-recognized landscape gardener Edward Schwagerl arrived in Seattle. He would soon prepare a grand (some might say visionary) scheme for the city's parks. It went nowhere. Ten years later, a boom-town, prosperous Seattle with a new taste for civic amenities imported the nation's biggest landscape design talent --The Olmsted Bros. Their plan, which was reminiscent of Schwagerl's in a number of ways, would change Seattle forever. Today, their plan for Seattle is recognized as one of the best-preserved examples of Olmsted work anywhere.

check Plants from the Region's Past

Bing cherry

'Bing' Cherry
Developed at Milwaukie, OR, circa 1875.

Weigh-Off Winners from Way Back When

Gardening has always had a competitive side, and early gardeners were immensely proud of the giant vegetables they grew. Records from local newspapers, fairs, and first-person accounts reveal just what it took to be a contender. Some of these are big enough to win competitions today.

Local Plant Makes Good

The 'Bing' cherry hails from the Northwest. So do plenty of other first-rate plants. Several of them are biggies —an International Rose of the Year, prize-winning rhododendrons, giant green beans, awesome lilies, and other cool plants.

Rogues Gallery

The slimy underbelly of Northwest gardening—slugs, blackberries, dandelions, scotch broom, and other big mistakes of gardeners past. Who can we blame for inflicting these invasive, non-native species on us?

The Heirloom Vegetable Gardener's Assistant

Since Europeans introduced vegetables to the Pacific Northwest, countless other gardeners have followed in their footsteps, planting subsistence gardens, Victory gardens, P-Patches, and plain old backyard gardens throughout the region. So what were vegetables like back then? Some of them have survived, and are popular again. This website explores these heirloom vegetables, suggesting which ones to grow and where to find seeds.

check Gardens, Parks, and Public Landscapes

Butchart Garden, as seen on vintage postcard

Butchart Gardens c. 1930

Historic Public Parks and Gardens to Visit

Step into the way-back machine and see what the region's gardens and parks, such as Victoria's Butchart Gardens, used to look like. The public gardens here are restorations or recreations of the region's past, including 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. Historic public parks and gardens to visit:

Heritage Trees and Plants

Say hello to some historic plants! The trees, shrubs, roses, and vines on this page were all planted by pioneers or early gardeners, or are native trees with special ties to their communities. The oldest plants here date back more than 150 years old, and even the youngsters in the group are pushing the century mark. This page profiles about two dozen of the oldies but goodies scattered in gardens, parks, and historic sites around the region.

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