People, Plants, and Gardens from the Region's Past
What Did They Grow and When Did They Grow It?
A Northwest Gardening Timeline from 1770 to c1900
Native Americans use fire to preserve and manage
highly productive prairies where useful plants, including camas,
Garry Oaks, trailing blackberries, and others flourish. These
prairies spread for miles across the Willamette Valley, Nisqually
Plains, Calispell Valley, in meadows around Lake Coeur d'Alene, and
Captain James Cook, of Britain's Royal Navy, is
the first European to study the region's flora. He notes many
plants, including two trees that might prove useful in repairing
vessels and several possible food plants.
Captain James Strange, a British fur trader on
leave from the East India Company, arrives at Nootka Sound on
Vancouver Island and assigns one of his crew the task of planting a garden of
British botanist Archibald Menzies makes the
first of two trips to the Northwest Coast. His duties –
investigate the region's natural history, collect plants and seeds,
and determine the coast's agricultural potential. He notes some 200
Esté José Martínez and his men
strengthen Spain's claim to the region by building a garrison and
planting a garden at Nootka Sound. They grow cabbage, turnips,
radishes, lettuce, onions, and potatoes.
Spain sends Captain Pedro Alberni and the
Catalonian Volunteers to Nootka Sound. They build Fort San Miguel
at a bay called Friendly Cove, and plant a garden of 19 crops,
including grains, legumes, and vegetables. The garden is the
region's first test plot. In it, Alberni conducts trials to find
out if the garden can produce enough food to feed the men at the
fort. Alberni digs ditches to carry water to the garden. It is the
first irrigation system in the region.
Joseph Whidbey, sailing with British explorer
George Vancouver, finds "some square patches of ground in a state
of cultivation" in the Queen Charlotte Islands. The crop in these
Native American gardens – a local tobacco now extinct.
Salvador Fidalgo and his men plant the first
European-style garden in what would become the State of Washington.
It is located at Puerto de Nuñez Gaona, later called Neah
Spanish botanist José Mariano Moziño
Suárez de Figueroa spends the summer at Nootka Sound, and
classifies more than 200 species of plants, animals, and
Captain Robert Gray, an American, recognizes
that the Columbia is a river not a bay, sails across the bar, and
Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery
begin their expedition to the Oregon Country. They will reach the
Pacific in November, 1805, and spend that winter at Fort Clatsop
near present-day Astoria. Among their duties – study the
plants of the Trans-Mississippi West.
Would-be fur entrepreneur Nathan Winship is the
first American to plant a garden in the Pacific Northwest. His
garden, which was located about 40 miles from the mouth of the
Columbia, lasts less than a month. Winship loses his crops in a
spring flood. When he moves his outpost to higher ground and tries
another garden, hostile Indians force him away.
Employees of John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur
Company plant a variety of seeds in a garden at Point George, near
the mouth of the Columbia. That fall, they harvest potatoes and
turnips. Although the results are meager, this is the first
successful garden planted by Americans in the Pacific
Daniel Williams Harmon, a North West Company
employee, plants a garden at Stuart Lake, later called Fort St.
James. It is the first garden on mainlaind B.C. Crops include
potatoes, barley, turnips, and others which Harmon does not
The North West Company acquires Astoria and
other assets of the Pacific Fur Company.
At Spokane House, North West Company workers
plant the first vegetable garden in the Inland Empire. The crops,
which included turnips, potatoes, cabbage, and other vegetables,
apparently do well.
Botanist Thomas Nuttall names Oregon Grape
in honor of Bernard M'Mahon, one of the leading horticulturists of the day.
M'Mahon, author of the classic
American Gardener's Calendar
operated a seed store and nursery through which many of the plant species
first seen by the Lewis & Clark Expedition were introduced to American
The Hudson's Bay Company acquires the North West
Botanist David Douglas, on a collecting
expedition for the Royal Horticultural Society, makes the first of
several visits to the Oregon Country. He will eventually introduce
some 50 trees and shrubs and about 100 herbaceous plants to
England. The most famous – his namesake tree, the Douglas
The HBC starts building Fort Vancouver,
headquarters of the company's Columbia Department. Dr. John
McLoughlin serves as Chief Factor. His workers plant three acres of
peas, one-quarter acre of beans, and one hundred bushels of
The William Prince Nursery in Flushing, NY
offers Oregon Grape. The plant is common in the Pacific Northwest,
but has only been in the nursery trade for a short time. The cost
– an astronomical $25 per plant.
Aemilius Simpson, who comes to the coast with
the HBC, introduces cultivated apples to the Pacific
The Horticultural Society of London sends seeds
to Fort Vancouver at the request of botanist David Douglas.
1827 – 1830
retire and start the first farms in the Willamette Valley.
The area, located between the Willamette and Pudding Rivers south
of present-day Champoeg State Park, becomes known as French
Fort Colville, another HBC facility, has a
kitchen garden, but it is not a success. Botanist William D.
Brackenridge sees the garden twelve years later in 1841, and blames
the garden's failure on bad seeds or bad management.
The garden at the HBC's Fort Langley has three
hot beds with glass panes.
Francis A. Lemont, a sailor on the
introduces peaches to the region.
John Ball, yet another would-be fur trader, is
the first American to plant a garden in the Willamette
William Bruce becomes the region's first
professional gardener. An HBC employee at Fort Vancouver, he tends
a seven-acre kitchen garden that produces dozens of crops.
Dr. William Fraser Tolmie brings dahlias from
Hawaii to Fort Vancouver.
Methodist missionary Jason Lee arrives at Fort
Vancouver. He will soon start missions with gardens at four sites
in the Oregon Country.
Rev. Samuel Parker sees citrus growing at Fort
Fur trade wannabe Nathaniel J. Wyeth builds Fort
William on what is now Sauvie Island, Oregon. There, he grafts
apples and perhaps other fruit trees. Although grafting was common
elsewhere, Wyeth may have been one of the first to bring this skill
to the Pacific Northwest.
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign
Missions sends Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and others to start
missions in the Oregon Country. The Whitmans settle at Waiilatpu
near present-day Walla Walla, Washington. They plant the first
Euro-American fruits and vegetables in that area.
Anna Maria Pittman marries Jason Lee, and
receives a 'Mission Rose' as a wedding present.
Red Wolf, a Nez Perce leader, plants apple trees
at Alpowa Creek near the Snake River in southeast Washington. He is
probably the first Native American in what is now eastern
Washington and Oregon known to have a European-style garden and
orchard. Red Wolf's trees lived for decades.
The HBC launches the Puget Sound Agricultural
Company (PSAC), an enterprise devoted to farming and livestock. The
first of its farms is located at Cowlitz Prairie, but the PSAC will
later have farms near Fort Nisqually and Fort Victoria. All will
The Great Migration brings American emigrants
overland to the Oregon Country. In the decades that follow, between
200,000 and 500,000 people (experts still do not know for sure)
will take the Oregon Trail west. For most, the 2,000 mile trek is
grueling. Disease, accidents, exposure, exhaustion, starvation,
drought, violence, and other tragedies will claim perhaps 1 in
Nurseryman Henderson Luelling introduces choice,
varietal fruit to Oregon. He brings two wagons loaded with about
700 selected fruits, nuts, berries, and grapes overland, and starts
a nursery at Milwaukie, Oregon.
Dr. Perry Prettyman settles on a donation claim
near Mount Tabor in Portland. To treat his patients, he plants a
medicinal herb that is now notorious – dandelions.
The U.S. Congress enacts the Donation Land Law,
which grants certain men a half-section of land (320 acres) in
Oregon, providing they occupied the land and cultivated it for four
years. Wives who met eligibility requirements could receive an
additional 320 acres. The act was later extended and modified,
reducing the amount of land to 160 acres, making provisions for
purchasing land after two years, and other changes.
The Hudson's Bay Company creates one of the
region's first parks. It is a traditional camas meadow overlooking
the Straits of Juan de Fuca in Victoria. Within a few years, it is
known as Beacon Hill Park.
Fort Victoria's garden includes mignonette,
stock, hollyhocks, and several other flowers.
Founding mother Louisa Boren Denny brings seeds
of the sweetbrier rose,
to Seattle from
Illinois. The roses, which may be the city's first introduced
ornamentals, flourish. A plant said to have been grown from a
cutting off one of Denny's original plants still survives.
Chief Kamiakin of the Yakima builds the first
irrigation ditch in the Yakima Valley. The ditch waters his garden
of Euro-American vegetables, and demonstrates that such crops could
flourish in the arid valley.
Portlanders Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove
plat downtown Portland. They set aside a public square in the south
end of town and a corridor that came to be known as the "Park
Preston W. Gillette, at Astoria, Oregon,
receives a shipment of plants with which he will start the region's
first nursery specializing in ornamentals. The plants, which come
from his father's nursery in Ohio, include several flowering
shrubs, shade trees, hedge plants, peonies, and more. The shipment
also includes 20 or 30 different roses.
Lewelling & Meek, a nursery in Milwaukie,
Oregon and three other locations, has 100,000 trees for sale. The
trees sell for $1.00 to $1.50.
Mary Waunch's dooryard garden in the Centralia,
Washington area includes sweet mullein, sweet William, and bachelor
buttons. She grows the flowers from seeds she brought west on the
San Francisco seedsman J. P. Sweeney takes out
an ad in the
Puget Sound Herald
, a Steilacoom, Washington
newspaper. He offers seeds for several vegetables, lawn grass, and
field crops, which he will send to his customers on the ships that
ply the coast.
John Bennett, once described as the "Luther
Burbank of Puget Sound," arrives Sehome, now in Bellingham,
Washington. He will later have a garden there that will include
roses, flowering shrubs, choice landscape trees, and more. He will
also introduce several new fruit cultivars, including the 'Bennett'
The U.S. Congress enacts the Homestead Act,
which allows qualified settlers to claim 160 acres of public land,
providing they live on it for five years and cultivate the
Hiram Francis (Okanogan) Smith plants the first
orchard on the eastern shore of Osoyoos Lake.
Philip Ritz opens a fruit tree nursery in Walla
Walla. Within a decade, it would be described, perhaps accurately,
as the largest nursery on the West Coast.
William Simmons' St. Helena Nursery in Marion
County, Oregon issues a catalog listing at least 54 different
Portland seedsmen Knapp, Burrell & Co. send
out free catalogs listing an assortment of vegetable, herb, field,
grass, and other seeds. They offer to ship seeds in packets or bulk
to customers anywhere on the West Coast.
British Columbia becomes a province.
Frederick Law Olmsted, the nation's most
influential landscape architect, submits his design for Tacoma.
Like other Olmsted designs, it makes the most of the natural
features of the land, preserving views, creating parks, nestling
building lots in the contours of the land, and threading
curvilinear streets among them. Tacomans, accustomed to cities with
square blocks and streets that meet at right angles, are appalled.
They reject the plan and dismiss Olmsted.
Thomas Jefferson Howell, a self-taught botanist,
starts a native-plant nursery on Sauvie Island in Oregon and issues
a catalog offering 2,000 species for sale.
Seth Lewelling introduces the 'Bing' cherry. He
names it in honor of his foreman, Ah Sit Bing, who had worked at
the Milwaukie, Oregon nursery for years and cared for the rows in
which the cherry was found.
Seed companies operated by horticultural
luminaries James J. H. Gregory and James Vick advertise in the
These national seed companies give
Northwest gardeners access to the best horticulture has to
Workers complete the transcontinental
Seattle founders David and Louisa Denny give the
city land for its first park. The five-acre parcel, which was part
of their original homestead, is known today as Denny Park.
Orchardists alarmed at the downturn in Oregon's
fruit industry organize the Oregon State Horticultural Society.
They elect Dr. J. R. Cardwell as their first president. Cardwell, a
dentist and orchardist who had earlier founded the state's prune
industry, will hold that office for 22 years.
Leschi Park, a large amusement park developed by
a private entrepreneur, opens in Seattle. Visitors can go roller
skating, attend a concert at the bandstand, gamble at the casino,
visit the zoo, see a vaudeville show, or rent a boat.
Portland socialite Georgiana Burton Pittock
hosts a rose show in a tent near the rose garden in her back yard.
The event will become an annual festival known first as the
Portland Rose Carnival and later as the Portland Rose
Peter and Caroline O'Reilly entertain Victoria's
social elite in their garden at Point Ellice. To complement the
Italianate home, the landscape features elegant borders and beds of
choice ornamentals, including roses, lilacs, hardy fuchsias, holly,
elms, redwoods, and more. In addition to the plants, the 2.2 acre
grounds are appointed with a tennis and croquet lawn, a rose
garden, a kitchen garden, and other amenities.
Architect Henry J. Cresswell wins
Victoria's competition to design Beacon Hill Park. Three and a half weeks
reasons still unknown, Victoria changes its mind, and decides to hire landscape
gardener John Blair
Blair's design for the park will be on display in September, and work on the
park begins almost immediately. Improvements will continue for decades.
Washington becomes a state.
Seattle real estate developer George Kinnear
sells the city land for its second park. Located on Queen Anne
Hill, the 14-acre site has panoramic views of Puget Sound and the
Olympic Mountains. The price – $1.00.
Tacoma hires nationally-recognized landscape
gardener E. O. Schwagerl to design Wright Park.
Seattle hires E. O. Schwagerl, late of Tacoma
Parks, as its new park superintendent. He completes Denny and
Kinnear Parks, and prepares a comprehensive plan for Seattle parks
and boulevards. He also proposes an arboretum, a Japanese garden, a
demonstration orchard, and a major botanical garden. His plan,
though accepted and praised by civic leaders, goes nowhere.
The Southern Oregon Chautauqua Association in
Ashland, Oregon begins building a huge lecture hall next to Ashland
Creek. While the men are busy with construction, the Ladies
Chautauqua Club beautifies the grounds. They plant trees, grass,
and flowers, and the grounds are the first park in southern Oregon.
Today, the site is part of Lithia Park, and some of the original
The City of Seattle's nursery is stocked with
117,000 plants. The collection includes natives, landscape
ornamentals, perennials, grasses, and more. The plants, which come
from vendors throughout the U.S. and Europe, include many choice
species and cultivars new to Seattle.
Copyright© 1999 -
2009 Kathy Mendelson, All Rights Reserved