Glimpse into the Past – Remembering the First Northwest Flower & Garden Show

February 4th, 2015 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

A former staff member, Rebecca Johnson, shared with me a copy of the “First Annual Northwest Flower and Garden Show” program, held on Presidents’ Day Weekend, February 17-20, 1989.   On February 10, 2015, the 26th Show will open. I am proud to say that I have attended each one, including the Preview Party, a benefit for the Washington Park Arboretum. This 48-page colored glossy printed program was a synopsis of horticulture in the Northwest at that time.  The cover photograph, taken by the late Jerry Sedenko, features the Streissguth Garden, now a public garden on the slope of north Capitol Hill.

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This indeed was an exciting event, showcasing such a sizable indoor garden  display never before seen here.  A dream come true of the founder and owner, Duane Kelly, it was patterned after the fabulous shows of Boston, New York, and  Philadelphia.  Jane Pepper (Philadelphia) and Richard Daley (Mass. Hort. Society)  were advisers.  Duane’s vision and enthusiasm for the Seattle show is expressed in the “Welcome to the Show” program introduction.  The appreciation list is a glimpse of Northwest horticulture leadership including Dr. Harold Tukey, Nancy Davidson Short, Steve Lorton, Jerry Wilmot, Egon Molbak, and Ann Lovejoy as well as Kathleen Brenzel of Sunset Magazine.

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The 25 gardens were built and sponsored by Molbak’s, Star Nursery, Iseli Nursery, Briggs Nursery, Swanson’s, Rodda and Sons, Weyerhaeuser Nursery Products,  Weyerhaeuser Specialty Plants, Price Ragen, Magnolia Lawn and Garden, Washington Park Arboretum, Barford’s Hardy Ferns, Furney’s, Seattle Water Department, Seattle Parks Volunteer Park Conservatory, Jackson and Perkins, Skagit Gardens/Wight’s, Highridge Corporation, Puget Sound Bonsai, Ikebana International, Big Rock Garden, Bamboo Brokerage, Columbia Greenhouse, FTD Florists, and Boeing Aerospace Company. There was also a children’s garden.  The entire garden layout plus all the retail booths were on the fourth floor.

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The center section of the program contained colored pictures and short descriptions of 26 Northwest public gardens in an article written by Nancy Clark Hewitt in which she states that “the Northwest is blessed with an excess of natural beauty inspired by nature’s bounty.  A rich gardening tradition has developed here, and is to be showcased in the show. “

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From the very moment of conception Duane wanted the Northwest Flower and Garden Show to be educational, and I was privileged to plan and lead these free lectures and seminars for those first years, then held on the sixth floor.  As stated by Duane, “these programs “represent the greatest amount of horticultural, floral, and landscape knowledge ever assembled under one roof in the Northwest.”  We were overwhelmed with attendees and early on struggled to contain waiting lines.  In addition the show offered free booth space to horticultural societies where the public could find answers and talk to local experts.

Over these 26 yrs, the NWFGS has changed with the times, but it is still one of the best indoor garden shows of the USA, if not the world.  Why not follow in the footsteps of thousands and attend the forthcoming Northwest Flower and Garden Show, “Romance Blossoms?”

A glimpse into the past – a remarkable issue of the Arboretum Bulletin

December 27th, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

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Cover of Arboretum Foundation Bulletin , Winter 1945.

Recently I was given a copy of the Arboretum Bulletin, Volume VIII , no. 4, Winter 1945, by Lyn Sauter, who was the first librarian for the collection of books that became the Miller Library. Lyn started her cataloging work in the early 1980s. The editor was John Hanley, the first director of the University of Washington Arboretum.  Arboretum Foundation membership was five dollars, the phone number was SEneca 0920 and the address was 516 Medical Arts Bldg., Seattle 1, Washington.

The issue of 32 pages was devoted to rhododendrons.  The Table of Contents, on the cover, included articles by R.H.M. Cox – foremost horticulturist in Great Britain; G.G. Nearing – one of the few rhododendron authorities in the USA; letters from three prominent award-winning rhododendron growers in Washington State; a  most interesting report on the details about planting Azalea Way by Paul D. Brown;  Iris Weber – enthusiastic UW student studying rhododendron fertilization;  Lord Aberconway on magnolias;  a most intriguing short history about the Arboretum and the University of  Washington Campus; a detailed article on Rhododendrons by Dr. Hanley; and a List of recommended Rhododendron Hybrids compiled by the Seattle Garden Club members.  In this issue, there were extensive indexes as well the obituary of Col. F. R. S. Balbour.

The feature article contained 8 black and white photographs of rhododendrons: “The following group of rhododendron pictures, taken in the beautiful garden of Mr. and Mrs. Donald G. Graham, is displayed through their kindness and courtesy.”  I have included copies of the two of the featured pictures, although the texture of the paper is quite grainy.  Copies of the Arboretum Foundation Bulletins are archived in the Miller Library as well as with the Arboretum Foundation.

 

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“Azalea mollis ‘Primrose Yellow’ [sic],  Rhododendron ‘Pink Pearl’, Magnolia grandiflora, and Clematis montana.”

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“Mixed grouping of Azalea Hinomayo [sic], Rhododenron Mrs. E.C. Stirling, Kalmia latifolia, and Clematis montana.”

(Editor note: Listen to a oral history clip from Donald Graham Jr about his dad’s interest in the Arboretum and rhododendrons)

A glimpse into the past – Leissler’s 1934 design for the Arboretum

December 3rd, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

by John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

An historic document connected to the early “life” of the Washington Park Arboretum has been found.  It is the (believed) first design for the Arboretum, prepared in 1934 by Frederick Leissler, landscape architect in the Seattle Department of Parks.

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Copy of the Leissler Plan for Washington Park Arboretum

Scot Daniel Medbury in his M.S. thesis The Olmsted Taxonomic Arboretum and its Application to Washington Park, Seattle (1990), documents this plan (pg 99). Scot was able to interview Mr. Leissler shortly before his death.  Notes from these interviews are located in the Miller Library and UW Library Special Collections.  Medbury states “[Leissler’s] design was monumental in the Beaux-Arts style, and included a gigantic conservatory rising above an axial and symmetrical series of planting beds.”  Medbury reported that Leissler had adapted a design he made when he was a student that won a national prize for the first Arboretum plan.  The plan called for an intensive development and as Leissler himself was later to recall, “the plan would have cost a fortune to build.”  In a later draft, Leissler emphasized three main rock gardens, the “Alaska Rock Garden,” the “Northwest Rock Garden,” and the “Rock Garden of the Orient.”

It’s an interesting story of how I learned of the document’s existence. Leissler passed the original copy (signed by both Frederick Leissler and Hugo Winkenwerder, Dean of the UW College of Forestry) to Jon Stewart, a friend and colleague at Oregon State University. Recently, Mr. Stewart shared it with Raymond Williams, professor emeritus from OSU and a personal acquaintances from my time at Purdue University.  It so happens that Steve Garber, a long-time Arboretum Foundation member, former Foundation president and Japanese Garden Society officer is Raymonds’s brother-in-law.  Mr. Garber, in turn, brought it to my attention, and all of us are now involved with finding a permanent home for the document.

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Raymond Williams, professor emeritus, Oregon State University; Jon Stewart, owner of the document and donor, friend of Frederick Leissler; Steve Garber, Washington Park Arboretum long-time supporter. Taken August 2, 2013

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Steve Garber; John Wott, Director Emeritus, UWBG; Brian Thompson, Miller Library Manager and Curator of Horticultural Literature; Julie Coryell, Japanese Garden Society enthusiast and long time supporter.
Taken July 9, 2014

A glimpse into the past – a very low tide on Foster Island

November 4th, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John Wott, Director Emeritus

For many years both Lake Washington and Union Bay had variable water levels throughout the year.  The Army Corps of Engineers allowed the water of the Lake Washington system to drop several feet in order to have enough capacity for heavy spring rains and snow melt.  This frustrated many dock owners and also led to significant shoreline erosion.  Today they try to maintain a steady level, although it is difficult to predict both rainfall and rate of snow melt.

The photograph taken on September 12, 1958, show an extremely low water level on the north end of Foster Island. Currently the water level is usually near the top of the large stone works.  The gentleman standing there gives a perspective of at least a six foot drop.

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Low tide on Foster Island in September 1958.

Looking west is the University of Washington Stadium, which depicts only the southern section (now demolished and rebuilt in 2012). The campus buildings are quite low and mostly indistinguishable, and the smoke stack from the UW heating plant has been replaced with the newer large one.

A glimpse into the past – Lookout rockery renovations

September 30th, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

One of the most interesting rockeries in the Washington Park Arboretum is located just below and north of the now restored Lookout.  It is an impressive wall of granite stones which gives great strength to the area on the southern edge of the large pond near the southern boundaries of Azalea Way. The original work was done by the Works Progress Administration laborers who defined many features within the Arboretum.

It would appear that it was neglected for much of its early life, and these photographs document its state in 1967. Taken by Brian O. Mulligan, then Director, the photos show the over-growth of grasses and other trashy plants. They were taken on July 2, 1967, and marked as the “north bank of Lookout, before reconstruction”.

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For the next nearly 50 years, this has been a formidable rockery, with several prominent rhododendrons and other plants clinging to it. With the renovation of the Lookout, the plants at the top ridge have been removed, so again one can see north to the University District. The rockery is very steep and rugged for visitors to climb, even though many brave “souls” do.

Currently the UWBG staff is working on a renovation plan and they have been clearing much of the overgrown vegetation. Several new rhododendrons have been planted in honor of Professor Ben Hall and his wife Margaret, for his life-time research on rhododendrons.  So as you walk around this beautiful “bowl” at the south end of Azalea Way, watch for the rockery to again be a prominent feature in this section of the Arboretum.

A glimpse into the past – origins of the Holmdahl Rockery

September 3rd, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

One of more famous locations in the Washington Park Arboretum is known as the Holmdahl Rockery, located along Lake Washington Boulevard E., and now the location of the Gateway to Chile Forest in the Pacific Connections Gardens section.

As cited in the Washington Park Historic Review, September 2003, page 78:

Otto Holmdahl was trained as a naval architect in Sweden, but became known as one of the best garden designers in the Northwest. Holmdahl consulted unofficially on the Arboretum for several years. He was well known to Sophie Krauss, who recommended that he be included in its planning: “I am sure some plan could be worked out for using some of the most competent men, such as Mr. Holmdahl who really does the most perfect rock gardens I think can be done…” In the summer of 1934, Holmdahl prepared a preliminary plan for the (entire) Arboretum, which was presented to the Advisory Committee. This plan has since been lost.

Frederick Leissler, Seattle Dept. of Parks Landscape Architect, had proposed the rock garden be located at the southwestern intersection of the Upper Road with Lake Washington Boulevard, where a steep hillside with southwest exposure provided better conditions for alpine plants. Leissler anticipated the rock garden would encompass 10 acres, but started the WPA (Works Progress Administration) crew in early 1937 laying basalt rock on the southernmost portion, and repairing the road cut made by the original construction of the boulevard. Otto Holmdahl supervised placement of stonework for the rock garden.

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Planting the Holmdahl Rockery. Click to enlarge.

Note the accession numbers jotted on to the photo to document the plantings. Click to enlarge.

Note the accession numbers jotted on to the photo to document the plantings. Click to enlarge.

Verbal legends passed by successive Arboretum staff indicated that several attempts were made to “populate” the rockery, but all met with ultimate failure, either due to the steep exposed terrain but mostly due to thievery of the small specialized plants. The photographs above, titled “Penstemon Plantings, 12 – 1954”, show an unidentified worker laying out specimens. A large number of accession numbers were added onto the photographs, and assumed planted. Needless to say, the penstemons also did not survive. Note the small sign pointing out the City of Seattle “Scenic Drive” on Arboretum Drive E.

A glimpse into the past – new buildings for visitors and crew

August 4th, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff
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Looking east, new sewer lines were installed behind the old apartment (aka barn).

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

The first buildings to be added to the grounds of the Washington Park Arboretum were begun in 1985, as defined in the Jones and Jones Master Plan Update for the Washington Park Arboretum. It took almost ten years for the building plans to be finalized and the funds to be raised. The public building was named the Donald B. Graham Visitors Center, and it housed offices, meeting spaces, public information space and a gift shop.

The Arboretum Foundation conducted the fund raising campaign, with the City of Seattle Parks Department supervising the project.

The original Works Progress Administration-constructed office/crew building was razed. A near-by large barn/apartment building was converted into the current crew headquarters and shop, with the upstairs apartment eventually being converted to office space. A new machine storage shed was added and the terrain of the land greatly changed.

The photographs taken March/April 1985 show sewer work and the building foundation and beginning walls of the storage shed. The new facilities were dedicated in 1986.

 

 

 

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Looking north to the new shed under construction and re-purposed apartment (aka barn).

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Walls for the new storage shed being poured.

A glimpse into the past – Joe Witt in the “pit house”

July 1st, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

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Joseph A. Witt inspecting seed flats and cuttings in the “pit houses” of the University of Washington Greenhouses at Washington Park Arboretum. April 1976,

This photograph taken in April 1976, shows Joseph A. Witt inspecting seed flats and cuttings in the “pit houses” of the University of Washington Greenhouses at Washington Park Arboretum. Joe, as he preferred to be called, was a prominent staff member of the Arboretum for more than 30 yrs. Officially the Curator, he was also appointed as a Professor of Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture, when it officially opened in 1980.

Joe was a “people person” and was instrumental in assisting the Arboretum Foundation in starting many programs, including encouraging volunteers, “fun days” in weeding, and other educational events. As curator, he was in charge of bringing many new plants into the collection and for the leadership of the UW grounds crew. He was an expert on the horticultural and native flora of the Pacific Northwest. He was renowned and sought-after for his teaching of plant materials, both to UW students and to thousands of horticulturists who came to the Arboretum during his tenure. He also experimented with plant breeding and many of his unnamed rhododendron hybrids still “lurk” within the Arboretum collections. He named many plants and the famed Acer tegmentosum ‘Joe Witt’, a highly striped form of the Manchurian Stripebark Maple, is now  found in increasing numbers on Seattle streets.

His widow, Jean, still active in her mid-90’s, was a keen iris breeder and together they were well known and respected in the native and hardy plant societies of the world. I personally remember several memorable field study trips to the Cascades and east side of Washington in the early 1980’s, whereby Joe spoke about the plants and Jean spoke about the geology. As Joe approached retirement age, he was stricken with cancer and died in May 1984, a great loss to the Northwest horticultural community. However, his legacy lives on.

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Joe and Jean Witt, Arboretum Foundation Annual Dinner, June 1972

A glimpse into the past – a view of MOHAI before SR 520

June 3rd, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

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In the Montlake Section in the Washington Park Arboretum looking NE down the site of the canal fill, with the Museum of History and Industry in the background.

This photo of the Montlake Section in the Washington Park Arboretum was taken September 10, 1953. The label states that you are “looking NE down the site of the canal fill, with the Museum of History and Industry in the background.” It is suspected that the small trees on the right are Japanese Cherry trees, which were later moved into the Quad on the University of Washington campus. A few of the conifers on the left side of MOHAI are probably in the wedge of UW property still evident as you currently exit the SR 520 ramp. When SR 520 was built in the early 1960’s, this entire area was destroyed in order to make the approach to the ramps and the new floating bridge. In the very near future, the newest SR 520 bridge and interchanges will take away the remaining area plus MOHAI itself.

A glimpse into the past: a 1950’s view from the lookout

May 6th, 2014 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

This photograph, taken on April 4, 1950, is located somewhere to the left of the location of the Lookout Shelter. It points southwest. Originally, the hillside held a large collection of Ceanothus, but they were killed during severe winters and never replaced. If one looks closely you can see “tracks” on Azalea Way, the outline of Arboretum Creek, and East Lake Washington Boulevard. It appears there is one house on the lower level of Interlaken Boulevard East, and of course, many homes on the slopes of Capitol Hill are easily seen.

Looking southwest to Lake Washington Blvd and Capitol Hill from Ceonanthus area by the Lookout Shelter

Looking southwest to Lake Washington Blvd and Capitol Hill from Ceanothus area by the Lookout Shelter

 

The kiosk at the intersection of East Lake Washington Boulevard and Interlaken Boulevard East is visible. Note how open the area is with small collection plantings and few towering native trees. This was taken before the construction of the Japanese Garden.