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Bellevue Botanical Garden Celebrates With New Book

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Oh, my aching muscles...

The Bellevue Botanical Garden: Celebrating the First 15 Years

By Marty Wingate112 pages with color photos

The Bellevue Botanical Garden Society, 2007, $19.95

Reviewed by Karen Preuss

I hate to admit this, but I’ve lived in Seattle for nearly 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 Bellevue.

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: Celebrating 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.

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