About the Garden

Seattle University's ethnobotanical garden is a place to learn about—and cultivate—sustainable and sensitive relationships between people and plants in our region. The garden is honored to bear the name of Upper Skagit elder taqwsheblu Vi Hilbert, who generously contributed two phrases in the Lushootseed language that capture local Native views of the non-human world: "The Earth is Our First Teacher," and "Gifts of the Creator."

In the spring of 2005, the garden began as a cooperative project between Seattle University's Grounds members (particularly Grounds Manager Craig Chatburn and Gardener Janice Murphy) and Rob Efird, a professor of anthropology. Craig wanted to transform an 11,500 square foot patch of turf on campus into a more sustainable (less water-wasting) planted area, and Rob was interested in creating a garden of native plants as a resource for his teaching on Native peoples of the Northwest coast.

With the award of a $10,000 grant from King County and the USDA Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry program, garden design and research began in earnest. In our investigation of plant signage and garden design we toured five ethnobotanical gardens in Western Washington and one in Vancouver, B.C.: the Longhouse Garden at Evergreen State College, the Sayuyay Garden on the Skokomish Reservation, the Makah Plant Trail in Neah Bay, the Gunther Garden fronting the University of Washington's Burke Museum, the Bernie Whitebear Memorial Garden in Seattle's Discovery Park, and the University of British Columbia's Botanical Garden. We are grateful to these gardens and the knowledgeable individuals who introduced us to them. We are particularly grateful for the guidance of Professor Marja Eloheimo of Evergreen State College, Professor Gene Hunn of the University of Washington, and Theresa Parker of the Makah Tribe.

The Lushootseed language plant names on the Garden's signage are intended to honor the garden's namesake, Vi Hilbert, and her efforts to "reawaken" and sustain the Lushootseed language and culture of the Puget Sound region. The Lushootseed labels also reflect the sophisticated and sustainable relationships that local Native people have developed with native plants in our region. We thank Lushootseed scholar and teacher Zalmai Zahir for his assistance in researching the plant names that appear on the signage.

The Garden's design, planting and maintenance are the work of Seattle University's dedicated and talented Grounds crew, who are also the stewards of Seattle University's beautiful, pesticide-free campus. The devotion and skill of the Grounds professionals are essential to the Garden's vitality.

Our vision of the Garden as a living classroom has encouraged us to reach out to local schools and welcome local students to participate in planting and learning activities in the Garden. Hundreds of camas bulbs in the prairie section of the Garden were planted by a large group of Native youth in the Seattle Public Schools' Huchoosedah Indian Education Program's after-school program, and these same children were an important part of the Garden's dedication ceremonies on Friday, April 28th, 2006. Huchoosedah has returned each year to the garden in a relationship that grows like the garden itself.

In the future we would like to see the Garden fulfill its potential as a learning resource not only for Seattle University students but also for members of our larger community, Native and non-Native, children and adults. We intend to continue to offer planting activities and "meet and greet" events where children and adults can come on campus to get acquainted with native plants and their Native uses while interacting with S.U. students and faculty. To this end we are developing a library of resource materials and learning exercises to be used in conjunction with the Garden.

We invite everyone to contribute ideas and suggestions for ways in which the garden can serve us all as an interactive, living classroom for subjects ranging from biology to the Lushootseed language. We are particularly interested in your ideas for collaborative projects that gather people in the Garden to learn and enjoy

For more information, or to propose or participate in Garden projects, please contact:
Professor Rob Efird: (206) 296-5388 and efirdr@seattleu.edu
 We welcome your interest and participation!


Self-guided tour of Ethnobotanical Garden can be printed here. (Text is reproduced below.)

Self-guided Tour of Seattle University's taqwsheblu Vi Hilbert Ethnobotanical Garden

The garden is roughly divided into four biomes, or representative ecological areas of the Pacific Northwest: alpine, lowland forest, wetland and prairie. Begin your visit to the Garden at its northwest entrance, across the concrete walkway from the Arrupe Jesuit Residence and adjacent to the police callbox. This entrance is marked by a large river boulder inset with a sign bearing the following text:

Gifts from the Creator

Where Seattle University stands a forest once stood. In and around this forest, people and plants lived closely together for many centuries before the city of Seattle was established. This garden invites you to learn more about this intimate, sustainable relationship and encourages you to cultivate your own caring relationship with our native plants.  

Ethnobotany is the study of relationships between people and plants. Among the Lushootseed-speaking First Peoples of the Puget Sound region, native plants have been valued for much more than their beauty. They have also been cherished as important foods and medicines, and employed as materials for a wide range of uses including building, carving, weaving, fishing, and ritual activities. Lushootseed oral traditions and teachings reflect and preserve a detailed knowledge of these native plants. In the harvesting and use of native plants, this sophisticated knowledge has been guided by an ethic of reverence and restraint that balances the needs of humans and the needs of the plants. 

Reverence and knowledge are clearly demonstrated, for example, in the use of Xepayac (Western Red Cedar), a native tree that has provided materials for an astonishing variety of products, from clothing to housing, canoes to cordage, bentwood boxes to intricately woven baskets. In appreciation of its many gifts, Xepayac is honored in stories and teachings as a model of generosity, and it is harvested with expressions of gratitude and respect. 

This ethnobotanical garden is dedicated to the sensitive and sustainable relationships between native plants and the First Peoples of the Puget Sound region; to the Lushootseed language that eloquently expresses these relationships; and to Upper Skagit elder taqwsheblu Vi Hilbert for her work to reawaken the language of this land.

If we learn, we will care. If we care, we can preserve.

The signage in the Garden was chosen to emphasize natural materials (such as the stones used for signs at each of the Garden's main entrances) and simple surfaces (such as the brushed aluminum of the individual plant signs). The river rock sign is intended to evoke the Skagit River home of the garden's namesake, Vi Hilbert, and harmonize with the lowland forest biome of which forms a part.

Just inside the garden entrance is an oyster shell-strewn interpretive area which recalls the shell middens of Native settlements. Plantings in this area (such as Oregon Grape, Salal, Evergreen Huckleberry, Thimbleberry and various other berries, shrubs and conifer trees) compose the lowland forest.

Downslope from the lowland forest is the wetland area of the Garden, which features a small watercourse and pool. This area is also home to a mature Vine Maple which (for now!) is the largest native tree in the Garden. Just downhill from this tree you can walk out to the pond to get a close look at the water and the plantings, including water-loving Scouler's Willow, Canoe Birch, Red-osier Dogwood and Red Alder. The watercourse is connected to the University's sprinkler network but is primarily fed by rainfall and water from a storm drain in the street above and to the east of the Garden. The small pond is a focus for animal life, and is especially enjoyed by feathered visitors.

Continuing south and back uphill on the main curved path, you pass through the prairie biome with its paired plantings of Garry Oak and Camas, accompanied by Nodding Onion. Downhill from the prairie area and fronting the street is an extensive buffer area of mixed plantings, including some high-altitude conifers like Mountain Hemlock which compose our alpine biome. Continuing on this path takes you to the southern Garden entrance next to East James Street, and the large stone plinth bearing one of the quotations that Vi Hilbert bestowed upon the garden: Dix dx?uGusaA ti?e? swatixted (The earth is our first teacher). Seen from the side, the stone plinth is gently curved, suggested the upturned palms that compose a gesture of respect and thanks among the region's Native peoples.