Bellevue Botanical Garden History
The Bellevue Botanical Garden’s history epitomizes civic dedication, visionary thinking, and seizing opportune moments
In 1946, Calhoun (Cal) and Harriet Shorts purchased a log cabin and 7.5 acres on Wilburton Hill. In 1957, they replaced the log cabin with a contemporary home designed by Paul Kirk (this structure, called the Shorts House, still stands proudly in the Garden). Throughout the next 25 years, Cal and Harriet continued to grow and expand the garden surrounding their home.
In 1984, they generously bequeathed their home and property to the City of Bellevue, with the provision that it would remain a public space. In the same year, the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society was formed to promote the use of the property as a botanical garden—an idea first proposed by Wilburton residents Bob and Iris Jewett. The Jewetts, along with enthusiastic volunteers, fueled the Garden’s inception. Additional land acquisitions in 1989 and 2006 expanded the Garden to a total of 53 acres.
From 1990 to 1992, meticulous planning and construction unfolded, converting the Shorts’ residence into a Visitor Center and establishing key features like the entry plaza and trails. Collaborations with groups like the Northwest Perennial Alliance and the Eastside Fuchsia Society enriched the landscape. The Garden opened to the public in June 1992, marking the beginning of its evolution.
Subsequent years saw continuous growth and enhancement to enrich the visitor experience. New gardens such as the Yao and Waterwise Gardens, Alpine Rock Garden, and Native Discovery Garden were introduced, as well as new attractions such as the Ravine Experience suspension bridge. Educational initiatives like the Living Lab Program and annual events like Garden d’Lights and Arts in the Garden blossomed, drawing diverse audiences.
In June 2014, a milestone was reached with the inauguration of the new Bellevue Botanical Garden Visitor Center complex, funded by a City of Bellevue Parks Levy and many generous donors. This 8,500 square foot LEED-certified facility, designed by Olson Kundig, houses The Aaron Education Center, administrative offices, and Trillium Store, alongside new gardens like the Entry Courtyard Gardens and the Iris Rain Garden.
Concurrently, the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society’s Adult Education Program flourished, offering a plethora of classes and lectures. The Youth Education Program expanded beyond the Living Lab Program, adding a preschool program and specialized youth workshops. In 2022-2023, our Adult and Youth Education Programs together served over 4,600 people.
Over its history, the Bellevue Botanical Garden has become a major center for gardening and horticultural activity and is frequently recognized as one of the best botanical gardens in the nation. Today, more than 400,000 visitors from around the globe visit the Garden each year. The come to discover the best plants and gardening practices for healthy Northwest gardens, renew their spirit, delight their senses, and connect with others at community events, educational programs, and through volunteering.