Reviewed by Karen Preuss
I hate to admit this, but I’ve lived in Seattle
two years now, and only last month made my first visit to the Bellevue
Botanical Garden. I know, I know—how could any self-respecting employee of one
botanic garden not visit
all of the others in the area? But sometimes, just crawling across the Montlake
Bridge to get to a meeting at the Washington Park Arboretum is such a daunting
task, I’m completely undone by the thought of driving across the lake to
Anyway, the visit to the Bellevue Botanical Garden
(hereafter referred to as the BBG) was serendipitously timed, as my copy of The Bellevue Botanical Garden:
the First 15 Years was sitting on my desk. Written by Marty Wingate
(who also happens to be a loyal volunteer here at the Miller Library), with a
foreword by Dan Hinkley, and published by The Bellevue Botanical Garden
Society, this is a gem of a book.
Like so many other gardens in this country, the BBG came
into existence through a confluence of persistence, generosity, collaboration,
and good timing. Cal and Harriet Shorts lived on seven pastoral acres in the
Wilburton Hill neighborhood of Bellevue, which in the 1940s and ’50s was still
farmland. Their original home was a log cabin, which was replaced in 1957 by
the house that now serves as the Shorts Visitor Center. They raised cows,
goats, chickens, and other animals, and soon turned their attention to plants
and nature. Members of the Cascade chapter of the American Rhododendron
Society, they hybridized and grew rhododendrons.
As the years went by,
development came to the Wilburton neighborhood. The City of Bellevue began
plans to turn forty acres surrounding the Shorts’ property into a government
center in the early 1980s. Wilburton neighbors were vocal in their opposition
to the plan; Cal and Harriet had no intention of selling their land. The City
dropped the plan and the Shorts offered their land to the City on the condition
that it be maintained as a park, and if the City would add another ten acres
adjacent to the property.
Enter Iris and Bob
Jewett, residents of the Wilburton Hill neighborhood. The Jewetts first brought
up the idea of creating a botanical garden on the site. They were persistent in
their belief that parks and gardens are important in cities, and were equally
persistent in their vision to save Wilburton Hill as a park. They met with Cal
and Harriet, joined forces, and held their first public meeting in October
1984. The rest, as they say, is history. The City of Bellevue was thrilled to
find enthusiastic, committed partners in the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society
and the horticultural groups that would develop and maintain display gardens in
the BBG. Land was acquired, and today the BBG is 53 acres set within the larger
Wilburton Hill Park. The BBG opened to the public on June 27, 1992, and
continues to grow and thrive, gaining international recognition and thousands
of visitors each year.
In The Bellevue
Botanical Garden: Celebrating the First 15 Years, Marty Wingate
tells the story of the creation of the BBG from its earliest days when it was
no more than an idea, through the design and installation of the gardens, to
the acquisition of seventeen more acres last year. Through Marty’s graceful
prose, the reader experiences the vision, commitment, and excitement those
involved in the creation of the BBG must have felt as opening day drew near.
Following the opening
chapters on the garden’s vision and
history are chapters on each of the display gardens that make up the BBG,
beginning with the Northwest Perennial Alliance Borders—for many, the crowning
glory of the BBG. Individual chapters lead the reader on a walk through the Yao
Japanese Garden, the Shorts Ground Cover Garden, the Waterwise Garden, Entrance
Garden, Alpine Rock Garden, Fuchsia Garden, Native Discovery Garden and the
Lost Meadow/Loop Trail.
Marty’s text is
accompanied by many luscious photographs,
so the reader is immersed, through words and pictures, in each of the gardens.
Credit must be given to the numerous photographers whose work is included in
these pages: Rob Cardillo, Nancy Daar, Andrew Drake, Virginia Hand, Lynne
Harrison, Terry Hayes, Anna Littlewood, Allan Mandell, Sandra Lee Reha, Jo Anne
Rosen, The Genus II Group, Bill and June Willard, and Barb Williams. The photos
from these individuals, along with photos from the collection of the BBG and
the City of Bellevue, beautifully illustrate the text.
Interspersed through the book are
sidebar profiles of
people who have been instrumental in the success of the BBG and who are richly
deserving of the recognition bestowed upon them in these pages. The final
chapter covers some of the experiences one can enjoy at the BBG, including the
Living Lab program for students and the winter Garden D’Lights show. A two-page
spread offers a sample chart of what is in bloom or of interest in each of the
gardens throughout the year.
Whether you’re a regular visitor to the BBG or, like me,
just beginning to appreciate all it has to offer, The Bellevue Botanical Garden: Celebrating the First 15 Years is
a beautiful publication you’ll enjoy owning. It’s available for purchase at the
BBG gift shop, or by calling the Society offices at (425) 451-3755. NWGN
Karen Preuss is
the Library Manager of the Elisabeth C. Miller Library at the University of
Washington Botanic Gardens.