Behind the Corbin Art Center, work continues on the Corbin and Moore-Turner Heritage Gardens, two high-profile early 20th-century residential gardens on Spokane's lower South Hill. Crews have been busy this summer in the Corbin Garden, building new paths, benches and an accessible water fountain. Much of the planting is complete, with the exception of the rose garden, which will be planted in the spring, according to project director Lynn Mandyke.
The Moore-Turner Garden will need more extensive work, so the Heritage Gardens Trust and the Spokane Parks Department have hired Dietz/Hartlage Landscape Architecture of Tacoma to do research and planning. The firm will prepare a cultural landscape report on the history and significance of the garden and recommend treatment.
"The report will give us an idea of what could be restored in the garden, and what it will cost to do the restoration," says Mandyke. "They've been doing a lot of work looking at old photos of the garden to see what it looked like, and walking around to see what's there now."
Archival photographs, sketches and notes about the garden are key components of the research, Mandyke says. "True restoration requires documentation. Otherwise, it's recreating, not restoring. The report will tell us what we can do for an accurate restoration."
Richard Hartlage, a principal with Dietz/Hartlage, will be in Spokane on Saturday afternoon for a free lecture at Finch Arboretum. Hartlage was the director and curator of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle for seven years, a position he left just this past April. His articles and photographs appear frequently in the Sunday Seattle Times, and his first gardening book, Bold Visions for the Garden, came out two years ago from Fulcrum Publishing. He'll talk about the work at the Moore-Turner Garden and speak generally about understanding early 20th-century gardens.
"Because of the interest in the Moore-Turner Garden, I'm going to put the horticulture of the time in context," Hartlage explains. "The way we see gardens today is not the way people saw gardens a century ago. Then, they were following a naturalist aesthetic, as seen in the work of English garden writers like Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson. They'd bring in exotic plants from different parts of the world, but they'd look like they grew up together naturally."
The preference for continuous blooms in all areas of the garden is a contemporary one, Hartlage says. "Early 20th-century gardens would have had a sequence of blooms in different areas. For instance, the rose garden would bloom, then the white garden, then another area. The idea of having a progression of blooms came from the 1950s."
The social history of gardening is just as important to remember as the horticultural theory, Hartlage points out. "Gardens were often built to display social status," he says. "The Turners were prominent in the community; he was a senator. They entertained constantly, and the historic images show the press was constantly there."
Based on his research, Hartlage believes Mrs. Turner was quite astute about social status and her garden's role in declaring the family's position in the community. "A very popular idea of the day was for the lady of the house to keep a journal of the garden, and she did not," he says. "She kept a journal, but she wrote about her household and her husband's political career." The Turners traveled often to the East Coast, where the latest garden trends first caught on, so they would have understood the language of gardens in the upper echelons of society.
Although no formal plans exist for the garden, Hartlage thinks the original landscape plan may have been created by architect Kirtland Cutter when he first designed the house. "We know he did design gardens later in his career," he explains. "We've found some very sketchy plans, but we think he just worked with the contractors at the completion of the house. It was probably done with a lot of waving of arms."
Even the plans for the house were sketchy by today's standards, he adds. "The quality of the builders and the craftsmanship in Spokane at the time was quite high. We'd see these drawings as concept sketches, but they built the house from them."
Researching historic landscapes is detective work, Hartlage says, piecing together an understanding of the place based on photos, journals, old newspapers and even the occasional interview with surviving witnesses. In his lecture on Saturday, he hopes to impart an understanding of the differences between contemporary and historic gardens.
"It's important to understand our biases," he says. "To understand how we see plants today, and how our current biases affect our vision when we look backward."
Richard Hartlage, garden designer, researcher, writer and photographer, will present a free lecture on early 20th-century gardens on Saturday, Oct. 25, from 10 am-12 noon at Finch Arboretum, 3404 W. Woodland Blvd. on Sunset Hill.