Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jewell Gardens Tour, Part II

Bridge Into Garden
So you’re standing in Henry Clark’s historic rhubarb farm. It’s a 112 years later, and we're going to head across the bridge into Jewell Gardens," I tell my tour guests, "where I’ll catch you up on how Charlotte Jewell came into the land. Watch your toes. A troll lives in the garden. We never know what bridge he might be hiding under. Also, as you cross, take note of our creek. We’re the only dry creek in the world with fish.

Happy Fish
Dry Creek
“How many have ever heard of Dale Chihuly?” I ask, as we head in, everyone following me like so many ducklings. Many have.

Hands go up. “The pink sleeve, yes, you, what is your name?”


“Ethel, it’s nice to meet you. So who’s Dale Chihuly?”

She fills everyone in. A renowned glass artist who integrates glass with gardens. Now people perk up, recognizing him. They tell me about the sculpture they’ve seen. Personally, I've seen his work in Leavenworth, Washington, and Phoenix, Arizona. I tell them we’ve embraced his vision, only we focus more on the whimsical.
I also tell them to keep a watch for all the other glass we have in the garden. “We have two glass blowing studios. And, yes, you’ll have some time afterward to watch our artists make everything you see here—as well as the glassware in the gift shop.”

Blue Glass w/Conservatory in the Background
Pink Margarites Surrounding Green Glass

Henry Clark's Rhubard, Aug 31st
By now they’ve spotted the Henry Clark rhubarb against the fence. First of August it towers over me. End of August it's done and dying back. I stop to explain that we've let it go to seed not because we’re lazy but because, like Henry Clark, we know how to fleece the miners. "I mean tourists." Sometimes I get a laugh. "The seeds," I point out, "are being harvested, and we have them in the gift shop."

"Is it true the leave are poisonous?" someone invariably asks. Which is a good thing.

"Yes. And so are the roots. And so is the stalk...for two years. After that, the stalk is good. Although you might not want to eat as much as I did when  I was a kid," I caution. "Someone gave my family two big bags of it and for once in my life my mother let me eat my heart's content. I think I ate both bags. I liked nothing better than to read a good book with either saltines and butter or rhubarb with sugar. I ate so much of that rhubarb I actually burnt the taste buds rights off my tongue. True story." And then someone notices the train—a G4 model of Skagway’s White Pass  and Yukon Railroad.

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.
The raised bed sits almost center of the garden.

Train and Model Farmhouse
The Famous Yellow Engine
The model narrow-gauge train winds in and out of a fence that splits the garden in half—horticulture from agriculture, and people begin to set up their tripods, fascinated at the find. I explain why the train. “Two brutal trails to the Yukon gold led out of this area. The White Pass out of Skagway and Chilkoot Pass out of Dyea, about ten miles north-northwest of here. One miner is quoted to have said, ‘It doesn’t matter which trail you take, you’ll wish you took the other.’ And so we have the gold rush train. How many have taken the White Pass and Yukon train up to the summit and back?” 

Hands go up. Others pipe in, “We’re going this afternoon!”  Personally, I've been on  it twice and will go again.

“The train,” I tell them, “was a collaborative effort between the Americans, Canadians, and British and today is regarded as one of the world’s most spectacular engineering feats, right up there with the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China. The terrain, the weather, the grade—all had to be conquered.

Looking Down From the Train
"It took them two years,  two months, and two days to complete. But by then  the gold was gone. Skagway, like Dyea, would have turned into a ghost town, but there was more mining to be done. Skagway therefore became a railroad town, portal between the Interior’s iron and silver and the rest of the world. Some of you may have even come in on the Ore Dock this morning.”

I step backwards into a giant leaf bed, forcing my group to turn around and face me and the conservatory behind me. “Let’s fast forward to 1942. What in the world was going on?” Hands go up. “Charlie?”

“World War II.”

“In particular, Japanese occupation of the Aleutian Islands. The Canadians and Americans both so feared a northern invasion that they decided to quit talking about a road through the Yukon into Alaska and built  it. Handily enough, we had the railroad.

“So Henry Clark retired a wealthy man and the army moved in—11,000 soldiers. And this land—” I stomp my feet between the angled rows of bird’s nest spruce that mark the veins of the giant broad leaf I’m standing in. “—became a tank farm. The army brought in hundreds of container tanks to store diesel fuel, necessary to man the trains. And our gift shop—” I point. “—used to be one of their pump houses."

Gift Shop and Old Pump House
"From the gift shop they'd pump diesel fuel from container to container to container, all the way over to the tracks, where they sent up anywhere from twelve to eighteen trains a day, carrying men, picks and shovels, dynamite, and bull dozers. It took the two countries all of 8 months to build the road and that is how I arrived. The AlCan Highway if you’re American, the Alaskan Highway if you’re Canadian.

“Well, when the war was won, the army went home and everyone in Skagway came out to a) dig up some of Henry Clark’s rhubarb and b) tear down the container tanks. The transplanted rhubarb now grows all over town like a weed. You can’t help but trip over it, and if you all don’t mind picking a stalk or two on your way back to the ship? That would be good. Everyone in town will be forever grateful. It grows like California zucchini up here.”

Ha, ha.

“Charlie, where were we? Never mind, I remember.

"So everyone in Skagway showed up to get some rhubarb and to tear down the container tanks. They hosed out the oil and dismantled them, sold it all for scrap. Anyone know where I’m going with this?”

A lady in red sticks up her hand.

 I go over, shake her hand. “What’s your name?”


“Serena, I am happy to meet you. Where am I going with all this?”

“I think you’re going to tell us something about the oil going into the ground.”

“You're right. But not yet." I give her a smile. She smiles back. "Right now I'm going to tell you about Charlotte Jewell, owner and mastermind behind everything you see, and how this came to be.

"The land reverted to farm use after the war—and in 1996 Charlotte Jewell leased six acres of Henry Clark's original forty from the city and began her garden. Three years into it, though, the Skagway River flooded. We’re actually standing below sea level. This is the lowest point in the valley and so when the river flooded, the water table rose and now, Serena, what came up with the water?”

“The oil and diesel fuel.”

“Yes. Charlotte says she came out to the deck, off the conservatory, and was overwhelmed by the reek.
From Where Charlotte Stood
And when she looked out over her lovely garden? A sheen of oil—and it wasn’t Texas oil. Nothing to make anyone rich. The EPA was called in. They dug up eight to fifteen feet of soil, hauled it all off, cleaned it up, and brought it back...to that fence."

"On the other side they left a big gaping hole. Anyone from Washington  State?” A few hands go up. 

“Tell me your names.”

“Ruth and Ben.”

“Where in Washington, Ruth and Ben?"


“Really? I’m from Bellingham, we’re neighbors. But, hey, I expect you thought you were coming to Alaska, didn’t you? Well, so did I! Yet once we cross the fence back there? We’re right back home! And the rest of you?” I say, “get a free side trip to the Pacific Northwest. Because after four years of litigation the EPA was ordered by the courts to fill that monster hole. Only they didn’t bring back Charlotte’s lovely Alaskan glacial silt, no, no, no. They barged in dirt from Skagit County, Washington. No worries, though. I’ll get you all back to Alaska before we’re through, okay? Okay, Charlie?”

"Okay," he says.

Once one of my Charlies said, “But what if I don't want to go home? What if I want to hang out in Washington with you?”

His wife promptly smacked him, he dodged, they both laughed. The rest of us couldn’t help but laugh. It was funny.

“Anyway...” I say. “In way of compensation, the city gave Charlotte half the land. Guess which half.”

They all know.

Leaf Bed with Bird's Nest Spruce
"But, hey, every cloud has a silver lining. The lining here is that Charlotte got to start her garden all over in 2002 and I'm standing in a her major redesign. If you were a bird, you'd see I'm in a leaf.  It's attached  to the boardwalk, a stem, and if you follow the stem all the way up to the south side, you'll come onto the two large flower heads. One is our Alaskan bed--and if you can tell me why we name it that, a free ticket for you next year. The other is our Edible bed--which is obvious, but I think you'll be surprised by all that can eat.

Pat Walking Through the Alaskan Bed
Black Boar Kale, Chives, Campanula, Tulips, etc. of the Edible Bed
Ron and I Eating Chive Flowers in front of the Sunbed
“Now, Charlotte’s philosophy,” I continue, as I inch my way over to the stem, “is that this is your backyard while you’re here. You’re encouraged to walk on the grass, to touch the flowers, to enjoy in your own way. It’s your tour, your holiday, your dime. If you experience things better without someone going blah, blah, blah in your ear, my feelings won’t be hurt if you wander off. If, however, you want to learn more about our growing season up here, I’m headed over to that birch tree. Come on,” I encourage, “step on the grass. There you go, you can do it. Ruth, Serena. Ben. Ah, and your name,  Ma'am?"


"Congratulations, Shirley, you've just taken your first step into total revelry." Shirleys are always old. "Can I talk you into taking your shoes off, Shirley?" Most old ladies blush,  some poo-poo me, all lap up the attention. "Oh!" I holler. "For those of you heading out on your own? You’ll want to find me in forty-five minutes because I’m the one who will escort you into the conservatory for tea.”

Delphinium, Shasta Daisy, Snapdragons
In Front of Conservatory / July
I jab my thumb toward the delphinium and peony bed, to the conservatory and tea house behind it, to where another tour is just finishing up lunch. Then I hit them with the zinger.

“But if you come with me? I’ll have you eating things you never thought you’d ever eat.

“And you’ll like it!”
Nona Not So Sure

1 comment:

  1. More, More, I'm thoroughly enjoying this tour. Aunt Phyllis