• Marie McKinsey

A Fresh Look for the Arboretum at South Seattle College


This is the new information kiosk in the Arboretum's renovated entry garden.


I was a landscape design student at South Seattle College in the early 1990s. The Arboretum was our outdoor classroom, where we took classes in plant identification, pruning, landscape maintenance and construction, irrigation, and more.


Student activism gave this garden its start. In 1978, a group of students petitioned to create an arboretum at the north end of the campus. Their request was granted and in 1980, the entry garden, designed by instructor Bill Guyot, was installed.


Over a 30 year period, instructor Steve Hilderbrand and his landscape construction students built the rest of the arboretum. All the gardens you see today - the Helen Sutton Rose Garden, the Charles & Clark Malmo Garden, the Milton Sutton Conifer Garden, the Mabel Davis Garden, HC Erickson Garden, the Mert & Beth Dawley Shade Garden, the Sequoia Grove, and the Acer Garden - were installed with student labor. Of particular note is the Coenosium Garden, an American Conifer Society reference garden, which contains more than 300 species of conifers.


But there was an odd bit of space that never quite got squared away. In front of the entry, along the curb, there was a 2 - 3 foot-tall mound of soil. Back when I was a student, we asked why it was there and we were told that the soil was left over from the original site work. The plan was to distribute it throughout the garden over time.


Except that never happened. Instead, students did what gardeners do. They planted stuff on that pile of dirt. Then once things got going, no one could bring themselves to move the plants, remove the soil, and open up the space. Eventually, the Arboretum entry was invisible from the parking lot.


Instead of seeing this...


Visitors saw this...


When I joined the Arboretum Advisory Committee in 2017, we discussed renovation of the entry. We also needed to replace the aging information kiosk. Fortunately, funds donated by the West Seattle Garden Tour and by the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association, made both possible. Construction began in fall of 2018.


To learn more about the Arboretum at South Seattle College, visit their website. This hidden gem of a garden has a rich history. It is the creation of students, instructors, area business people and countless volunteers. For over 40 years, it has provided both a classroom for horticulture students and a public garden for the community to enjoy.






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