The Arboretum at South Seattle College is a 5.5-acre botanical garden, featuring several unique gardens, including a rose garden and a world-class conifer collection. It is both a classroom for students and a public garden enjoyed by the community at large.
But in 1978, when horticulture students petitioned to create this outdoor classroom, the available land at the north end of the campus was hardly promising. South Seattle College was built on the site where the City of Seattle Department of Engineering had its sand and gravel operations for many years, so there was very little of what could be called "soil." To make matters worse, in the early days of classes, students learning to use heavy equipment used the site to practice, and that compacted the surface even more. It was better suited to being a parking lot than a garden.
At the time, Seattle Metro (not to be confused with King County Metro) was promoting the use of biosolids – treated sewage sludge – for making compost and improving soils in parks and on forest land. SSC and Seattle Metro teamed up to grade the area where the Arboretum was to be situated, cover it with 18" of sludge, and plant ryegrass, which was later tilled in. Despite this effort and the addition of topsoil for new gardens, drainage remains poor in the Arboretum.
In 2014, the Arboretum was designated an American Conifer Society Reference Garden because it contains one of the best collections of conifers in the United States.
The Arboretum became a National Wildlife Federation Urban Wildlife Sanctuary in 2012.
The Coenosium Rock Garden was inducted into the Gardens for Peace program in 2010.
The Landscape Horticulture facilities and the Arboretum were awarded a 5-star EnviroStars rating in 2010.
The Arboretum has been pesticide-free since 2008.
The Arboretum became a reality in 1980, when the Entry Garden, designed by instructor Bill Guyot and his students, was installed.
In 1982, the Arboretum was given a City of Seattle Community Bloc Grant to develop a "sensory" garden. The garden was to feature plants that could be enjoyed by people with limited eyesight. These included those with fragrant foliage or that have unique textures.
In 1985, the Helen Sutton Rose Garden was dedicated. Helen was instrumental in the establishment of South Seattle Community College and the Arboretum. Read more about her and her husband, Milton, here.
This is a view of the original garden. It was renovated in 2013 because the roses were struggling from poor drainage. Today, the roses are in lovely raised beds built with Montana slate and their health is much improved.
In 1986, the Federated Women's Club of West Seattle (of which Helen Sutton was a member) donated the funds to build the Gazebo. It was built by "the husbands." One of the husbands, Glen Cullor, managed the construction. There wasn't water in that part of the garden, so while the men worked, the women's club members would bring them lemonade and refreshments. When Glen passed away, his wife, Peggy, donated the money to construct a drinking fountain next to the Gazebo, so no one would go thirsty again.
This photo of the Gazebo was taken around 1992. In the foreground, you can see new plantings of a portion of the Milton Sutton Conifer Garden.
Shortly after the Gazebo was completed, the Mabel Davis Garden, which surrounds the structure, was installed. Mabel was a conservationist and early community leader.
In this photo you can see the Cullor drinking fountain, with the view of downtown Seattle in the distance. The roof of the Gazebo is just visible to the left.
At far right is Steve Nord, a long time LHO instructor, pointing something out to students in plant ID class. Photo was taken around 1992.