A group of local green thumbs were recognized for their work over the last 25 years in making the grounds of Olmstead Place Historical State Park a work of horticultural art.

The Olmstead-Smith Historical Gardeners group was honored at an event held Thursday on the park grounds where they were presented with the 2018 Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission’s Volunteer Group of the Year award. Commissioner Mike Latimer traveled from Yakima to present the award to the group.

Original member Dorothy Stanley spoke on behalf of the group, sharing a historical timeline of their work at the property. She said the original care of the property was taken on by Bill and Grace Elkins and members of the Queen of Spades Garden Club, who have continued to help with the volunteer cause over the years.

Stanley and fellow member Annette Williams became friends over garden books Stanley ordered from Jerrol’s. She said they both had a shared love of antique roses. When Grace Elkens came into Jerrol’s and told Williams that the ranger was going to chop down all the old roses and put in grass, Stanley said they were both upset at the decision.

In the fall of 1992, the two contacted a garden historian from Seattle who came over to visit the property. The historian, Kathy Mendolsen gave a talk at the Kittitas County Historical Museum which Stanley said was attended by approximately 20 people.

“We came out (to Olmstead) to take a tour of the overgrowth of the garden,” she said. “It was basically a forest.”

Stanley said the next step was to submit a plan to the state detailing what they group intended to do on the property. The plan was approved by a State Parks superintendent in Wenatchee, but Stanley said the superintendent had their doubts about the project.

“I kind of have to stand here and gloat because he said, ‘You probably won’t last five years. Most volunteer groups don’t.’,” she said.

In an ironic turn of events, Ranger Bruce Beyeril, who had the original plan to remove the rose bushes that upset the two gardeners ended up being a close ally while they worked to rehabilitate the gardens. Work on the garden started in spring of 1993.

Group members performed archival research, reading journals and gathering information on the happenings at the homestead when it was occupied by the Olmstead-Smith family. The group selected plants they felt would have been planted by the original occupants, with all plantings being heirloom varietals dating from before 1960.

Many figures played into the work done at the park. Stanley talked of George and Mary Jo Grossman, both of which were regular fixtures during work parties. When a tragic car accident claimed Mary Jo’s life, George built a small bench for children to sit on in the garden in honor of her memory.

Stanley said along with the original core group of volunteers, multiple other groups have joined in the effort over the years, including many churches in the area, 4-H groups and even international students from Central Washington University.

“It’s a delight to see students from Japan that have never touched dirt and they’re fascinated with worms,” she said.

As Stanley read from a list of people she wanted to thank for their help over the years, she pointed out that many of them were not able to be present to celebrate their achievements at the event.

“Some of these people are gone,” she said. “I mean they’ve passed on, they’ve retired, they have health issues, they’ve moved out of state. But they’ve all really helped us when they were here.”

RECOGNIZING HARD WORK

Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission Interpretive Specialist Laura Busby noted that as a group, the volunteers have logged over 700 hours at the park over the last year.

“That’s just here at the park,” she said. “That doesn’t include all the time at home on tasks like preparing seed beds.”

Busby said the amount of time that was put into the research and historical accuracy of the plantings is recognized by horticulturalists far and wide.

“People come from all over the country to see and enjoy and appreciate some of these plants,” she said. “Some of the things we have here in these gardens are things that you can’t find anymore anywhere, or they’re in very few places. We have a treasure here of heirloom plants as a result of the commitment of these gardeners.”

With all the hours put in over just one year, Busby pointed out that that’s just one of over two decades of labor that have gone into what people see today at the park.

“These gorgeous beds you see here are a result of thousands of hours of sweat, commitment and love,” she said. “They’re really a labor of love.”

With the group’s time and attention focused on the historical importance of their plantings, Busby said she felt like the original occupants of the property would approve of the work they have done over the last 25 years.

“They would be so honored and impressed by the dedication and community spirit of these gardeners,” she said. “I know I am.”

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