Bellevue Botanical Garden

Daphne genkwa flowers above Susan Skelley’s hand-woven fence of western red cedar (Thuja plicata) in the West Border at Bellevue Botanical Gardens. Photograph by Lynne Harrison

Daphne genkwa flowers above Susan Skelley’s hand-woven fence of western red cedar (Thuja plicata) in the Northwest Perennial Alliance’s West Border at Bellevue Botanical Gardens. Photograph by Lynne Harrison

“I can’t believe we pulled it off” was a common refrain heard during the Bellevue Botanical Garden’s tenth anniversary celebration event on June 29, 2002. The Garden, just a hope and dream of local gardeners a mere decade ago, now boasts a visitation of over 300,000 annually. It is a unique urban space defined by dramatic display gardens, serene woodlands, and is used as a focus of community events and celebrations.

Situated between the sparkling waters of the Puget Sound and the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the Bellevue Botanical Garden mirrors the region’s natural setting of forested hills, wetlands, and meadows. The Garden is an oasis on the eastern edge of downtown Bellevue, a vibrant and growing city of 103,000 on the burgeoning eastside of the Puget Sound.

Community support has been a part of the Bellevue Botanical Garden since its inception. Cal and Harriet Shorts purchased seven acres in Bellevue in 1947 to enjoy the rural qualities of the area. By 1980, the region had developed dramatically and the Shorts wanted to support Bellevue’s growing and thriving parks system. They gave their home and land to the City with the stipulation that it become a public park. Strong support from neighbors and the formation of the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society were key in the establishment of a public botanical garden in the multi-use mix of the 106-acre Wilburton Hill Park.

Using the Shorts’s property as its core, the city of Bellevue purchased neighboring lands to create the thirty-six-acre botanical garden. The City owns and manages the Garden in close concert with the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society and a host of dedicated community groups, such as the Northwest Perennial Alliance. This combination of essential public support from the City and dedicated private financial and volunteer contributions ensures that the Garden flourishes. A master plan guides its forward movement. The Bellevue Botanical Garden’s existing plant displays were designed to show local homeowners what they might accomplish in their own yards.  The Garden is about thirty percent developed with much of its acreage to remain an urban botanical reserve, teaching the importance of land stewardship in restoring, enhancing, and creating native plant communities.

The initial garden developments included minor renovations of the Asian-inspired Shorts home into the current visitors center, development of the main perennial border, the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust-funded “rill” water feature, and the Shorts Ground Cover Garden. The collaborative efforts spurred interest and trust in the partnership concept and more garden development soon followed. The Eastside Fuchsia Society and Puget Sound Dahlia Association developed “temporary” displays that still dazzle summer visitors. Private funding assisted the development of the Alpine Rock Garden, Native Plant Garden, and additions to the ground cover garden, and perennial borders. The Parks and Utilities Departments partnered to develop a Waterwise Garden, and a sister-city association with Yao, Japan inspired an Asian-influenced stroll garden.

Planning and development continues with the recent construction of the South Loop Trail, providing public access to the botanical reserve. A new visitors center is being planned that will improve visitor orientation, provide space for community meetings, and facilitate hosting popular special and community events.

Much work remains to be done. Garden documentation, labeling, and interpretation is ongoing, and more garden “rooms” remain to be developed. The partnership concept will continue to be the driving force in the maintenance and development of the Bellevue Botanical Garden in the years to come.