In the earliest part of the 20th Century, the trees on the present site of the Bellevue Botanical Garden stretched over 200 feet toward the sky and blanketed the land to the edge of a higher Lake Washington. By 1903, M. Wilbur was logging the slope to become known as Wilburton Hill. The timber was hauled to the shoreline by oxen and towed to Seattle by tug. Within a few years a mill stood at the present site of Bellevue City Hall and the settlement of Wilburton began. Wilburton disappeared with the trees and area was left to regenerate itself as best it could.
In 1932 a Mr. VonBuskirk from Montana built a log cabin adjacent to the site of the present Visitor Center. 1947 the log cabin, complete with cherry orchard, chicken house, pigpen and barn, was purchased by Calhoun and Harriet Shorts. The Shorts tried their hand at farming. At various times they raised chickens, steers, rabbits and goats, in addition to a vegetable garden. Cal tended his plastics business and added rhododendrons to the garden.
By 1957 the log cabin was under siege by the ravages of age and insects. It was replaced by a new Paul Kirk-designed home, complete with atrium garden. The garden surrounding the new home continued to grow and expand. It included a recirculating pond (renovated in 1992 and located above the Shorts Ground Cover Garden) and an ever increasing collection of rhododendrons.
In 1984 the Shorts deeded their home and seven acres of gardens to the City of Bellevue to become a public park. In the same year the Bellevue Botanical Garden society was formed to promote the use of the Shorts property as a botanical garden. In 1989 the Bellevue City Council set aside 17 acres for the botanical garden, including the Shorts property. Another 19 acres south of the garden was set aside as a botanical reserve.
Planning and construction filled the years from 1990 through 1992. The Shorts' residence was converted into the Visitor Center. Minor remodeling was done to include public restrooms and a gift shop. The entry plaza and rill were constructed along with a 1/2-mile loop trail meandering through the site. The Shorts Ground Cover Garden was added, the Northwest Perennial Alliance installed the Perennial Border, and the original Rhododendron Glen was rearranged to accommodate the loop trail. The Yao Garden at Kelsey Creek Park was relocated to the BBG to become the first stage of a larger Eastern Garden. The Eastside Fuchsia Society developed the Fuchsia Garden at the entrance to the visitor center. The 1920's Sharp Cabin was relocated to the BBG through efforts of the Historical Society. Bellevue Botanical Garden was opened to the public on June 27, 1992. During 1993, the Fuchsia Garden was expanded to twice its original size; the Paisley Bed was installed west of the Sharp Cabin and was adapted from a Lake Washington Technical college horticulture class design project; the Puget Sound Dahlia Society installed a summer dahlia display; and the King County Herb Society assisted with the creation of the Knot Garden.
In 1994 the Waterwise Garden (Water Conservation Demonstration Garden), a cooperative effort of the Bellevue Parks and Utilities Departments, was opened to the public. The planting and maintenance of the Waterwise Garden is done by a volunteer corps. The East Lake Washington District of the Garden Clubs installed the Wildflower Garden along the Lake-to-Lake Trail on Main Street. The Perennial Border was expanded by the Northwest Perennial Alliance to include separate shade and sun borders. In 1997 the Alpine Rock Garden was opened.
In the brief time since opening, the Bellevue Botanical Garden has become a major center for gardening activity. A number of gardening and horticultural groups contribute volunteer hours and funding to make it grow. Thousands of visitors from the local area and around the world have enjoyed its beauty. Its history is but a beginning.