Exploring Garden Treasures Series Beginning with Dunn GardensApril 27, 2009
Beginning today. Beginning with Seattle’s Dunn Gardens, I will begin a new Gardenhelp.org series, Garden Treasures, introducing readers to fantastic public and private gardens, farms and great outdoor spaces.
It’s been just under a year since I discovered Seattle’s Dunn Gardens. For years horty friends have urged me to visit them, but it wasn’t until their wine tasting fundraiser last year that I finally made it to the gardens. And what fantastic gardens they are! I signed on as a member and continue to support the gardens in various ways. I encourage you to consider visiting the gardens, and if you like wine, you might start with this year’s winetasting tour at Dunn on Sunday, May 17, 2009.
In the meantime, here is the first in what will be a three-part interview with my friend Sue Nevler, Executive Director of Dunn Gardens. Additional segments will be posted over the next few weeks, so stay tuned in!
Robin: I discovered Dunn Gardens last year after hearing from many horty friends that it was a must-see garden destination in Seattle. I can’t believe it took me so many years to make the visit. What brought you to the gardens and what keeps you working on its preservation?
Sue: I came to the gardens through rowing friends. Gretchen Hull was the first docent coordinator, and she invited me to check out the gardens which were right in my own Broadview neighborhood. Once I realized what a beautiful, interesting place it was, I was hooked, became a docent, docent coordinator, spent 6 years on the board and was invited to be the first executive director last year. Each year I’ve spent in the gardens I am more convinced of the necessity of preserving such a uniquely important landscape.
Robin: What does it take to maintain a garden of this size in Seattle? It must be expensive, and it must require a lot of dedicated volunteers!
Sue: The garden is 7.5 acres, so it does take work. Our curators Charles Price and Glenn Withey maintain the curators’ garden behind the house and work on special projects throughout the gardens. Our head gardener, Roger Lackman has been with us since the gardens’ inception in 1994, and Zsolt Lehocsky our staff gardener does an amazing job of keeping up with the maintenance of such a large garden. We totally rely on donations and membership, so that support is critical for us. The docents all volunteer their time to lead the tours. They are exceptional in their dedication as ambassadors of the gardens. We are now benefitting from Seattle Works volunteers coming periodically too, and that has been essential this year. We’ve had to cut all staff hours due to the economic downturn, so that’s been a little scary (so don’t forget contributions really count!).
Robin: What is your favorite time of year at Dunn Gardens and why?
Sue: That’s a tough one.. I tend to say early spring as there’s just so much happening, the snowdrops, magnolia, trillium, erythronium, hellebores, hepaticas, and more. But each season as I walk through the garden something new pops out and grabs my attention. I have to admit, this winter when I spent time in the snow covered gardens, that was totally enchanting.
Robin: Every garden goes through a cycle of living and dying. During your tenure with the garden what has been the saddest loss in the garden?
Sue: Sorry, that hits a personal note. My husband died this year right after we’d held a firepit fundraiser in the gardens. That’s been extremely hard, but I have found solace in seeing my loss within the natural cycles of life and death in the garden. I think that’s one of the most valuable lessons learned in a natural setting. I don’t think you find that comfort in a fabricated environment. You gain perspective through the natural world. But horticulturally for the gardens, we did lose a very large Scarlet Oak to disease this year, and that has taken some time to adjust to it’s absence too.
Robin: Dunn has several fundraising events each year. Can you tell me a bit about each of them. For instance, when do they occur, what do they cost, how much do they raise for the garden fund, who are some of the artists in the art tour/wineries in the wine tour/etc, and how can I attend?
Sue: I’d counsel checking the website for all the details: We do have a changing list of exciting events throughout the season, so keep checking in there. The next event is the wine tasting on May 17th, Sunday 4-6pm. That’ll be a delight with 7 wineries this year: Domanico Cellars, Efeste, Firesteed Cellars, Sparkman Cellars, Thurston Wolfe, Yellow Hawk Cellar and Long Shadows. I think it’s a really outstanding lineup and its a critical fundraiser for us in this wobbly economy (it’s $50, so a good value too). We do this each May in honor of preservation month. You’ll want to RSVP to the office as soon as possible. And for the ArtWalk, we’ll have more details coming out soon, but the lineup there is stellar too.
That wraps up part one of my interview with Sue. Read Part II here.
If you are involved with a garden of merit and would like to participate in this new series, please get in touch here. If you’re on the board of a private garden, a hardworking volunteer in a public park, have a sustainable farm to feature, or if you just love a local garden in your neighborhood, feel free to get in touch to suggest it for this series!