Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Skagway: Jewell Gardens Tour, Part 1

Jewell Gardens
The Historic Henry Clark Farm
“Welcome to Jewell Gardens, showcase of Alaska’s Garden City!” I’ve just jumped aboard a huge tour bus. I’ve exchanged “hello” and “how are you today?” with the driver. To the tourists I say, “My name is Brenda; I’ll be your tour guide this afternoon. I understand you’ve been up to the Yukon already today? Yes? See any bears? Well, my goal in Alaska this summer is to not see a bear.”  

Ha ha.

“FYI, I used to be a college composition instructor; and a student once summarized his experience with me as being a bit like sitting on a tour bus. Over here on the right—” I point to the parking lot.“—you’ll see a lovely one-inch margin. While over here on the left—” I point to the Gift Shop.
Gift Shop
 “—is an equally divine one-inch margin. And, straight ahead—” And here I swivel so everyone can see the double gates. “—are twenty-two rows of immaculate double-spacing."

Ha ha. Ha ha.

“And you thought you were on a holiday, didn’t you?”

Ha ha, ha ha, ha ha.
Double Gates and Entryway
“So now that you’ve realized that you’ve just fallen into your worst nightmare—back in English 101—I’ll have you follow me off the bus and through the double-spacing, I mean double gates, where we’ll meet at the blue interpretive wall just inside.”
One of two "O" Garden Beds
Honest to God, I have yet to experience a tourist come through the double gates who did not slow down and jam the entryway, agog, amazed by all they see and smell—an assault of the senses that lifts a person into another world altogether. It is a bit like stepping into Oz. The color, the Eden. The glass. The air laden with the perfume of lilacs and scent of sage oil. I have to encourage my guests to move over to the interpretive wall where Charlotte Jewell, owner and creative mastermind, has pictures of the first garden ever planted on this site more than a century ago.
I leap up onto a log bench, gain my balance, it wobbles a bit, and I begin my spiel.

“Very quickly, let me give you the lay of the land so you know where you and what we’ll be doing. To my left you’ll see a lovely 1” margin— No? Sorry. To my left are the restrooms, just past our conservatory there, where we’ll be feeding you in just a bit. Be careful, though. Rumor is that Colonel Mustard did it  in the conservatory with the lead pipe.”
If I’m lucky a smart ass will pipe up, “I think it was Mrs. White with the knife!”

“You,” I say, pointing to the smart ass. “What is your name?”


“Yeah, you!” I hop off the bench, go over, shake his or her hand, exchange names. “Okay, Charlie,” I say, hopping back up on my perch, “I see that I’m going to have to keep my eye on you,” and he becomes, just like that, my handy sidekick, handy because sidekicks always pull the group together and transform strangers into friends. This is a good thing.
Conservatory and Bridge
“Okay, where were we?” I give a thumbs up to Charlie, who laughs. “Oh, yes, lay of the land. Restrooms over there, conservatory next. We’ll be entering the flower side of our garden just in front of the conservatory, via that wee bridge right over there, but again be careful because we have a troll who lives in our garden. We never know which bridge he might be hiding under, this one or the other down at the other end. So watch your toes and turn right. We’ll circle into the flower side of the garden clockwise.
Hoop House
"Half way around, we’ll pass through the fence right behind you and move into our produce section, come up alongside the Hoop House just off your shoulder there...
Eric in the Glass Blowing Studio
"...the glass blowing studios to my right, and, after tea, when it’s time to go...
Gift Shop Exit
"...we’ll exit through the Gift Shop. Are you ready?


“Okay then. Let me begin by pointing out the Double O beds directly behind me, filled with Pink Marguerites, Dusty Miller, Nenesia, some Halo Dogwood shrubbery.
One of Two "O" Beds
The flowers bursting off the fence are Radar Love Clematis.
Radar Love Clematis
"Over by the Gift Shop you’ll find Artic Beauty Kiwi—a fruit that holds 20x the Vitamin C as an orange. 

"As I move into the history here—this place, this land, this bit of earth underneath our feet—some of you may like to mill and take a closer look at what Charlotte Jewell has planted here in the courtyard. You’ll notice right away that her philosophy is to let random seeds bloom where they land.” I point out the lavender poppy rising out of the Pink Margurites. “It’s actually not a bad metaphor for life,” I add.

Two poppies flirted--lavender and red fringe.
The pink with the lavender center is one of their offspring.
Some begin to mill, others stand tight.

“So let’s talk about this place, this land, this bit of earth under our feet,” I say. “Look down, stomp a bit. Go for it, it’ll feel good.” I stomp my feet a little; we are standing on courtyard stone. 

Courtyard and Interpretive Wall
Two "O" beds flank the walk.
“This land was never settled by the native Chilkoot Tlingits. Too windy. Worse than Chicago. Skagway is actually a native term that requires an entire paragraph to translate, but the essence is “wind.” And after living here a bit, I can see why they avoided the place. The first person to actually settle here in Skagway Valley was a Canadian by the name of Captain William Moore. 

Captain William Moore in Tlingit Clothing
"For about twenty years before the big Gold Rush in 1897, pockets of gold were being found up in the Yukon, and the Canadians were getting a bit nervous, not wanting a repeat of lawless Americans storming into British territory. So they sent out a bunch of surveyors to mark the international boundary line—pretty much the continental divide,” and I point up the ridges of our mountains to the east. “They hired Captain William Moore, a man who’d made and lost many a fortune on the frontier, to find a way through the Coastal Mountains here.

Skookum Jim
in White Man's Clothing
“His Indian guide, Skookum Jim, took him through a rarely used and torturous, at times narrow trail due north.” I point. “The Canadian surveyors planted their stakes atop the summit—which they named White Pass after some mucky-muck Canadian no one’s ever heard of, and made plans to send up the Mounties. Moore, however, turned back and staked 160 acres at the beach, right where you all came in. He so believed in the eventual big Gold Rush, that he, like Kevin Costner, believed that if he “built it, they would...”

“Come,” chorus the tourists on cue.

“That’s right, and the safest way to get rich, he figured, was not to fetch it himself, but to fleece it off the minors foolish enough to do all the hard work. They’d need boots and biscuits, and booze. Who better to meet the demand with supply? And so he began widening his White Pass Trail, commenced building a 60-foot wharf right where many of you disembarked, and sat back and waited.

"And waited.

"Ten years he waited. But then, out of the blue on July 29, 1898, his ship came in, literally. Two hundred miners came tumbling of the steamship Queen with news that was electrifying the world. Gold! The richest gold strike in history!

"How many Americans in the group? Does anyone recognize the name William Howard Taft? Charlie,” I ask. “Do you know who he is?”

Someone usually does.

I say, “Whether our 27th president made his fortune on gold, we don’t know. We do know, though, that somewhere along the line, he made enough to finance a presidential campaign 10 years later.

“So what about this land? This patch of earth under our feet? We’ve got Captain Moore down at the beach. Between there and here a tent city of 10,000 sprang up almost overnight. But here? Where we stand? Untouched earth since the beginning of time?

“Well, not long after President Taft made his appearance and stepped into history, a fellow by the name of Henry Clark stepped off some boat, gold fever in his brain and, unusually enough, a packet of rhubarb seeds in his poke. He had been a dairy and truck farmer from Wisconsin who, like 100,000 others, had abandoned home and hearth to strike it rich.

Dead Horse Trail, White Pass, Alaska, 1898
“However, Captain Moore’s White Pass was proving to be a death trap for horses and brought out the worst of humanity. It quickly became known as the Dead Horse Trail, some 3,000 of them, and who knew how many dead dogs and men. Henry Clark decided at some point along the way up the trail that this was not his cup of tea. He also noticed that many of the returning miners were suffering from scurvy. This, too, was not his cup of tea. So he turned around and headed back and was coming down into the valley, when he said that the whole valley opened up to him. He had those rhubarb seeds, rich in—can you guess?”

“Yes, Vitamin C. Like Captain Moore, he realized a fortune could be made by mining the miners. So he purchased 40 acres, right here, where we stand. In all of history, then, it was Henry Clark who was the first to put down roots, literally, in this place. And we are standing on 6 acres of Henry Clark’s 40-acre historic farm.

“Charlie, where are you?”

An arm goes up. “I need you to pull that middle picture off the wall and hold it high. Can you handle that?”

Henry Clark
Whoever my Charlie is, he or she is happy to do it. And while he or she does this, I continue. “In this picture you’ll see Skagway’s King of Rhubarb.” I look around for a short person. “You in the yellow jacket, what is your name?”


“Well, Florence,” I say. “By August, Henry Clark’s rhubarb will be taller than you and me.

“True, I say. Can you see that he has to stand on a box? It was Henry Clark who discovered that Alaska’s short growing season—only 120 days—can nonetheless produce some startling produce. Who would have thunk?”

I ask Charlie for the picture. I hold it in front of me. “Take a look at these two mountain ridges behind him,” I say. “Now look up. Do you see the same two ridges?”

Bursts of amazement come forth.

“We are all standing right where his rhubarb once grew.”

I leap off my bench, put the picture back. I start for the wee bridge. “If you’ll follow me,” I tell them, “I’ll take you into the garden now. Take note, as we come to the fence right there, you’ll find one of our Henry Clark rhubarbs. Yes, we still grow it. And, yes, we’ll be feeding it to you today.”

With this I lead the way over the wee bridge, and with this a wave of gratitude for this place never fails to wash over me. It’s beautiful, serene, full of life, and I am always excited to take strangers into this 6 acres of wonder.
Alaskan Bed


  1. Dear Brenda, I have followed you in Guideposts for years. When my 2011 (!) edition arrived, and I saw that you have a blog, I had to jump in and read it! I can't believe you're doing this! And how wonderfully it is all turning out!!! Perhaps this is the inspiration that I need!

  2. Love your adventures! Aunt Phyllis

  3. you made me laugh out loud and spit mountain dew.

  4. Love the pictures and commentary - makes me want to be there for tea and rhubarb/begonia bars.

  5. Loverly. You do bring excitement to the history and beauty of the gardens.

    I loved the pics; rain doesn't show at all, and the dead horses, Indian, and rhubarb photos bring it to life, especially having tourists realize they're standing on the very spot where history was made. Nicely done, you.

  6. Fascinating Brenda! Thanks so much for sharing. It sure looks like a beautiful place.

  7. It was Charlotte Jewel in the Tea Room with a stalk of Rhubarb...