UW News

June 5, 2003

Students put the Northwest back in local garden

A thicket of Himalayan blackberries, English holly, European buttercup and laurel cherry has been cleared by hand. In their place, wild ginger, red elderberry, kinnikinnick, bog blueberry, common camas and more than 60 other native Pacific Northwest plants are now growing in the new Bernie Whitebear Memorial ethnobotanical garden created by the 35 students in Anthropology Professor Eugene Hunn’s ethnobiology class.

The 8,000-square-foot garden is on the east side of the Daybreak Star Center in Seattle’s Discovery Park and was dedicated last Saturday after students finished digging in the last of 70 native species.

The garden evolved into a class project after the center contacted Hunn about the possibility of refurbishing a small neglected native garden. Over the years, the native plants died out or were replaced by annuals such as marigolds and petunias.

“I try to come up with a student project where we can do something creative together,” said Hunn. “Compared to writing a term paper, this kind of activity wins hands down.”

The job of creating the garden was made considerably easier because one of the students in the class, Joyce LeCompte-Mastenbrook, is a professional landscape designer and she drew up plans for the project.

In addition to the physical labor involved, each of the students also is writing summaries about two of the plants used in the garden. The summaries include a brief description of the plants, their ecological role and their cultural significance as food, medicine, material and/or ritual use. This material will be incorporated into an interpretive manual that will be distributed by the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, which operates the Daybreak Star Center, and the staff of Discovery Park for educational visits by school children to the park.

“Many of the students have really gotten into the garden project and have taken control of it,” Hunn said. “There are always students who have special talents that come out in a project such as this. In addition to the one who does landscape design, two are interested in developing curriculum and one is interested in environmental education.”

The garden is being named for Whitebear, a key leader in acquiring the lease for the land on which the center is built. He also led the foundation for many years until his death in 2000.

Plants for the garden were donated by Art Kruckeberg, a UW professor emeritus of biology, Richard Olmstead, associate professor of biology, and Discovery Park, which also provided bark and compost. Other donors included the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Columbia Bank, the Northwest College of Art and parents of one of the students in the enthobiology class.

Hunn is now trying to establish a Friends of the Bernie Whitebear Memorial Ethnobotanical Garden to provide long-term care for the garden.