Late last fall we were approached by Noah Oldham, a dedicated visitor and repeat customer here at the garden. He wanted to be more involved and provide support to our efforts and offered to write a few blog posts. What started as a way to use writing about the garden and its plants to learn more about it, has turned into a passionate dive into the archives. We’re pleased to share with you his musings and discoveries, the enthusiasm and thoughtfulness that he has so generously put down in words.
Take it away, Noah!
Writing a blog article for the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden is a daunting task. Because of this, I’ve chosen to embark on this project by looking at Art and Mareen Kruckeberg through the plants that they loved the best. I hope through poking through their library, talking to the people that they worked with both at home and at the university and most of all through trying to see these special plants through their eyes I can gain some insight into this lyrical and eloquent plant lover, the woman who loved him and the incredible garden they created together.
I confess that I didn’t know the Kruckebergs’. Mareen died before I had ever even heard of the garden and sadly Art died the year after I discovered it. I bought their excellent book “Gardening with Plants of the Pacific Northwest” and read it like a bible. I shopped the nursery and bothered the ever faithful employees with questions. I marveled at the graceful Stewartia monodelphia in the front yard, and the huge spreading Hamamelis with long contorted branches like a witch’s hand.
I made lists of plants that I was interested in so that when I visited the garden I would have at least some focus to my wandering. With my blinders on I could finally head down the front path, find the plant I was interested in as a mature specimen in the garden, head back to the nursery to try and choose one, bug Heidi or Vicki with some questions and head home. I was so overwhelmed by the garden that I had to force myself to take manageable bites.
Then finally, on Mother’s day in 2016, I took the day off from work, forgot to call my mom ( I called her after the sale..) took my wad of hard earned cash I had been saving for the event and arrived for the big sale just as they were opening the gate. I remember it was a cold but very sunny and bright morning. As I turned the corner past the house there was Art sitting on a bench with his cane. I had seen Art in the house before, even waved at him once (he waved back!) but had never talked to him or had an opportunity to ask any questions. Art had a determined and fierce look on his face like he was ready for an argument or was about to ask me what the hell I was doing in his front yard. I’ve thought so much about that look since then. In retrospect, it was probably just the look of a 96-year-old man who was trying to stay comfortable sitting on a hard bench in the cold air and bright sun. I desperately wanted to talk to him and pepper him with questions about plants so I did what every star struck person would have done- I shaded my eyes, tried to smile and walked straight past him. Cheeks burning I wandered around, picking out plants, always keeping one eye on the grey-haired professor. In the end, I bought my plants and left telling myself I would talk to him next time. I justified it by convincing myself that he probably had a million friends and colleagues to talk to that day and didn’t want to be bothered by some middle-aged dummy who can’t pronounce his Latin correctly.
Unfortunately, Art died 11 days later on May 25th.
I never got to ask him any of those questions-where are the beginnings of rhododendrons in the tiny little Kalmiopsis? Did you know the Leaches? What is the exact difference in terms of habitat preference between Erythronium revolutum and Erythronium oreganum? Why is Stinky Bob so annoying and successful? Why do we commoners always tend to use the common names of weeds instead of the Latin? Why do all the plants from your garden tend to have such a graceful habit? What was it like dating a beautiful young botany student in the 1950’s? How many bolo ties do you own?
Of course, I wish I had talked to Art that day. Of course, I do, but since I didn’t his image in my mind can remain untarnished and my reverence for him undiminished, and now hopefully I can get to know him a little better through trying to understand the plants that he loved.
There are so many interesting plants to explore that I’ll probably just proceed in a random fashion taking things from his book (Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest) as they strike my fancy. I will, however, try to coordinate with the seasons so that I’m profiling a plant that the nursery currently has for sale and or during the ideal season to plant them in your own gardens.
I look forward to getting started with this project and if anyone out there has any feedback or suggestions, by all means, reach out.