History of Highline Botanical Garden Foundation, 1996 – 2016

In the early 1990s, the Port of Seattle began a planning process that would result in the construction of a third runway at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. As part of its planning process, the Port identified properties for demolition adjacent to the proposed third runway, among which was the home and garden of Elda and Ray Behm.

Elda began planting her garden in the early 1960s on a shy acre located on a bog which sat in the shadow of the proposed third runway.   The Port of Seattle negotiated with the Behms to purchase their property which would result in demolition of the house and garden.

Beginning in 1996, local citizen activists in the Burien and SeaTac communities came together to save the garden.   Through the assistance of Stephen Lamphear, then a Burien City Council Member and numerous other volunteers, the concept of a regional public garden blossomed.   Through the leadership of Mr. Lamphear, the Highline Botanical Garden Foundation was incorporated, a Board of Directors formed, and an agreement was established with the City of SeaTac to develop 11 acres in North SeaTac Park into a public garden which would become the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden.   He and Kay Lasco, who would later become a SeaTac City Council Member, developed a business plan for the early days of the Foundation, and enlisted the help of local volunteers to begin the process of re-locating Elda’s Paradise Garden from her home to the new public garden.

The proposed North SeaTac site was ironically also affected by the Airport’s development.    In the 1950’s a neighborhood of homes on the site were purchased by the Port of Seattle and demolished to create a safety zone for the first runway at SeaTac Airport.   Shrubs and orchard trees remain on the site today as a reminder of the original homes located there.

Another local volunteer, Greg Butler was working on his degree in landscape design from the University of Washington.   He developed the Garden’s initial master plan as part of his graduation requirements.   The master plan provided a design into which the Paradise Garden could be transplanted as plants were moved from the Behm home to the new location.

Over 200 local volunteers, the Port of Seattle, and the City of SeaTac worked together at the end of 1999 and into the spring of 2000 to move plants including trees and shrubs from Elda’s home to a holding area while the ground and soil were prepared to receive the plants.   The Port used cranes and trucks, at its own cost, to move large conifer trees and other trees and the Cedar root that sits beside the pond.

Most of the plants survived the move.  Elda’s collection included native species, many kinds of Rhododendron and other interesting plants.   She worked tirelessly along with her good friend, Jolly Eitelberg and continued to return to the Garden to work into her 92nd year.   Elda was determined to have a water feature in the Paradise Garden because she had enjoyed one at her home.   She worked with the Board of Directors and John Russell of Russell Water Gardens to install a re-circulating stream with four waterfalls and a pond.   The water re-circulates to create an ecologically balanced water feature.  Her last project in the Garden was the installation of a Shade Garden.  She and Jolly created a pathway within the Paradise Garden that features ferns, hostas, trilliums and other shade-loving plants.   Elda died in 2008 at the age of 94.  In early 2012, an interpretive sign honoring Elda and telling the Paradise Garden story was dedicated in the Paradise Garden.

Greg Butler also developed the concept of “Partner Gardens” to expand the Highline Botanical Garden.   In 2002, he and Lori White of the Seattle Rose Society conceived the idea of the Celebration Rose Garden which was installed adjacent to the existing road which runs through the Garden.    Secret Garden Statuary donated cement columns to border the Garden and a fountain to enhance the site.   The City of SeaTac engaged artist, Ron Klein, to design and install Monet-styled metal arches leading into the Rose Garden.   Most recently in 2012, the Rose Garden seating walls were installed.   Weddings are reserved for the Rose Garden during the summer months as a service to the community and as a fund raiser for the Foundation.

The Highline Botanical Garden formally opened to the public with a dedication ceremony in 2003.   The Foundation changed the name of the Garden to honor the relationship with the City of SeaTac to the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden in 2005.    That relationship has grown from the original agreement over the years.   The Director of Parks Maintenance is a Board member of the Foundation and the City has provided funding for many of the significant capital projects in the Garden, among which was the move of the Seike Japanese Garden from the Des Moines Nursery to the Botanical Garden.

In 2004, the Seike family learned that the Port of Seattle wanted to purchase the Nursery property and would eventually demolish the nursery structures, the home, and Japanese Garden on the property.    The miniature mountain and waterfall garden had been designed and planted in anticipation of the 1962 World’s Fair both as a memorial to the middle Seike son, Toll, who died in service in the US Army in France in World War II.   The Seike’s themselves had been interred during World War II.  As they returned to their home at the Nursery, they found everything flourishing and as they had left it in the care of friends.   In 2005, the then City Manager of SeaTac, Craig Ward, committed to saving the garden.   With the help of the City Council and other local officials including State Representative Bob Hasegawa of Renton, the City received State Capital grant funds to move the Seike Garden from the Nursery to the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden.  The Japanese Garden was formally dedicated in 2006.

In the meantime, four other “Partner Gardens” have joined the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden with the installation of display gardens – the Puget Sound Daylily Club, the King County Iris Society, the Puget Sound Fuchsia Society and the Western Species Fuchsia Society.  Funding for the Highline Botanical Garden Foundation comes from a variety of sources including local foundations, corporations, Friends of the Garden, 4 Culture, the West Seattle Garden Tour and the City of SeaTac.

The Board of Directors holds two major fund raising events each year – a plant sale in early May and an Ice Cream Social in mid-August.   Both events honor current Friends of the Garden and seek to recruit additional supporters.   The annual fund drive held each December became a formal fund raising effort in 2011 when the Foundation requested funding to purchase a shed.   In 2012, the annual fund drive raised enough funds to design and install an interpretive sign in the Seike Japanese Garden that will inform visitors of the rich history of the Garden.

Today, the Foundation Board of Directors numbers eight members, meets monthly and holds an annual planning retreat each October.    The Board contracts with a Volunteer Coordinator through funding from the City of SeaTac to coordinate the work of community service workers referred by local municipal courts, community volunteers who love working in the Garden, and work parties from local corporations and schools.   The Volunteer Coordinator works with the SeaTac Parks Maintenance Director to manage the day to day operations in the Botanical Garden.

The mission of the Highline Botanical Garden Foundation is to preserve our garden heritage and grow the garden for the future.   To date, about 4.5 of the 11 potential acres of development have been cultivated.   Future plans include development of a community heritage garden honoring the homes which once stood on the property, development of a community p-patch, and development of a new partner garden with the Western Species Fuchsia Society.