Preserving the History of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle, Washington

Contact us at friendsofthelocks@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Carl S. English, Jr.: The Man Behind the Ballard Locks Gardens

By Sara Peterson 

 

A young Carl English
Carl and District Engineer Colonel Eineigl

 


The gardens at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks—or as many people call them, the Ballard Locks—might not be the often-photographed and popular gathering place they are today if it wasn't for Carl S. English, Jr., the gardens' namesake. English was a budding botanist even in his formative years, and his lifelong love for and fascination with plants and flora can be seen in every tree and flower that decorates the locks.

Carl S. English, Jr. was born on October 22, 1904, and grew up on his family's farm near Camas, Washington. His green thumb most likely came from his mother, who took care of the farm's many houseplants and garden flowers. Carl made his own foray into the world of plants at age 16, when he built a 16-by-50-foot greenhouse using his own money and with very little help.

A high-school botany course solidified English's interest in the subject, and he eventually enrolled at the State College of Washington (now Washington State University) to become a botany specialist. It was while he was in Pullman, Washington, that English met his future wife, Edith Hardin, at the school's herbarium. She was a zoology major herself, but was just as interested in botany as Carl was. They were also both students of Dr. Harold St. John, a botany professor who later taught at the University of Hawaii.

English graduated from college in 1929 with a degree in botany, and he and Edith moved to Portland, Oregon. While there, English did landscaping work with the Swiss Floral Company. In addition, he and Edith maintained a small seed and plant business of their own, focusing on plants native to the Pacific Northwest. 


Aerial view on locks grounds and Ballard industry in background 1928




The Englishes moved north to Seattle, Washington, in 1931, and that November, Carl began working with the Corps of U.S. Engineers as an assistant horticulturist for the then-called Government Locks (now the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks). English would eventually become the locks' main horticulturist. He and Edith also brought their growing plant and seed business with them from Portland, as it was quite successful in its own right.

With such an interest in so many plant varieties, English felt compelled to apply his expertise and enthusiasm to the Ballard Locks gardens. The gardens' look had changed very little since the locks first opened in 1917. Original plantings for the gardens had come from materials donated by the Seattle Park Development group, and mainly consisted of a few shrubs. In fact, before Carl came along, the main duty of the groundkeepers was mowing the lawn.

By 1940, English had been placed in charge of the gardens, and starting then he made it his responsibility to build the gardens into something special. Little by little, he replaced many of the original plants with ones he had grown himself from seeds. It was actually quite challenging to find plants that would thrive or even grow on the grounds, due to poor drainage over a lot of the area. But English and his wealth of knowledge were up to the task.


Carl S. English, Jr., horticulturist at the locks.  11 April 1962


He sought to transform the gardens into a showcase for all sorts of trees, shrubs, and plants. Thanks to his seed and plant business, Carl had access to a variety of plants from nearly all parts of the globe, and at virtually no cost. The Englishes had their own seeds and plants to contribute to the project as well that they had collected on vacations throughout the western part of the continent. Plus, they had a lively seed exchange with foreign botanical gardens and with friends who shared an interest in plants.



A small sampling of the plants and flowers throughout the garden.


As Carl built up the gardens, he used small greenhouses at the locks as temporary homes for the hundreds of plants he grew from seed and tested in the garden environment. Under Carl's direction and dedication, the gardens eventually flourished into a haven for botanists and plant lovers from around the world. And, of course, they became a popular gathering place that many locals and visitors still enjoy today.

English loved sharing his expertise and knowledge with anyone who showed interest. In 1969, he put together a free list for visitors of the plants in the locks gardens at that time, plants he had cultivated and tested to determine their ability to survive in the northwest. And he always had time to answer questions from visitors or summer helpers. University classes, arboretum units, garden clubs, and other groups could sign up for free tours of the gardens led by English himself, though these hour-long tours were so popular that reservations usually needed to be made a year in advance.


Outside of the locks, Carl and Edith were extremely active in the community of plant lovers. They offered once-a-week classes out of their home on horticulture or botany. In the summer, they would either take their regular seed-collecting trips, or else accompany horticulturists and botanists on mountain field trips to help identify plants the visitors wanted to study.

The English house was known for its library of horticultural and botanical books, which the Englishes happily let Garden Club members use. Both Carl and Edith were members of the American Rock Garden Society's northwestern unit, and the group gave the Englishes an award in 1966 that recognized the many contributions they had made in the field of plants. Carl was also a member of the Men's Garden Club of America, the American Horticultural Society, the Scottish Rock Garden Club, and the Alpine Garden Society of England, plus he was a fellow with the Royal Horticultural Societies of Kew, England, and Edinburgh, Scotland.


Lieutenant Colonel Allan P. Nesbitt presenting the Outstand Performance Award to Carl S. English, Jr.
July 31 1967


To honor his tireless work both at the locks and with plant communities around the world, Carl was named 1969's outstanding civil servant of military agencies by the Seattle Federal Executive Board. But perhaps an even greater honor was bestowed on Carl on December 10, 1974. That's when a bronze plaque was erected at the entrance of the locks gardens, dedicating and naming the gardens after Carl.



Plaque dedication ceremony.

English had retired from his position at the locks shortly before the gardens were named for him. But despite no longer working at the gardens officially, Carl's influence was ingrained everywhere. His dream of botanical splendor had become a reality, so much so that when Carl retired, experimenting with rare plants as further possible additions for the gardens petered out for a while. According to Walter Lyon, the head gardener for the locks after Carl's retirement, English's vision for the gardens was pretty much complete, and no one saw any need to mess with it.

About two years after retiring, on August 10, 1976, Carl S. English, Jr. suffered what proved to be a fatal heart attack near the parking lot of the locks. But decades later, his gardens still flourish. And though updates have been made to some of the plants Carl introduced to the grounds, his vision of the gardens as a location that plant lovers of all levels could enjoy is still alive and strong, as he continues to look on from the dedication plaque that bears his likeness.

Find a link to the Carl English Photo Gallery on the right side of the page or select this link

Carl English photo gallery

and enjoy.

Sources:



American Horticulturist. Summer 1972. "The Garden at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle." 29–31.



Dress, William J. "Plantsmen in Profile, III: Carl S. English, Jr." Baileya vol. 5 (Sept. 1957): 141–46.



Epstein, Harold. "Mr. and Mrs. Carl S. English, Jr." American Rock Garden Society Bulletin vol. 24, no. 3 (July 1966): 75–8.



Koykka, LoAnne B. "A History of the Gardens at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks." Paper submitted for landscape architecture class (Landscape Architecture 331 taught by Professor Norman Johnston) at the University of Washington. December 1, 1969.



Kruckeberg, Arthur R. "The Gardens at the Government Locks in Seattle." University of Washington Arboretum Bulletin, Published by the Arboretum Foundation vol. 40, no. 1 (1977): 25–8.



Lyon, Walter L. "The Contribution of Carl English." Compilation by one-time head gardener at Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. February 1, 1978.



Meyer, Dick (submitted by). "Memorial Note on Carl S. English." Obituary notice. August 13, 1976.



Roberson, Frances K. "Carl S. English, Jr.: October 22, 1904–August 11, 1976." University of Washington Arboretum Bulletin vol. 40, no. 1 (1977). Published by the Arboretum Foundation. 24.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Totems by the Locks

Totem opposite the locks at Red Mill Totem House



A gentleman recently asked a question about the existence of totem poles on the Ballard Locks property.  He remembered visiting the locks about 50 years ago and noticing several totems poles positioned by the small lock.  He asked if the Archival/History Unit could verify his recollection. 

So far, we have not been able to verify that the locks ever had any totem poles within its boundaries.   We did find a 1939 newspaper article about a replica of a single totem pole that was being carved in the Haida style.  At that time, it was going to be installed in front of a curio shop at the corner of Seaview and 32nd Avenue North West just across from the Ballard locks.

More recently and far more well-known, is "The Story of North Island" totem pole located by the Montlake Cut on the southeast bank.  It is the work of Haida Chief John Dewey Wallace.  He carved it in Alaska in 1937 for display outside of a cannery.  When the cannery closed, the totem pole was removed and lost to public view until 1981 when it resurfaced and was purchased by a local preservation group.  It was dedicated in 1983 and still stands on property owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers with the actual statue owned by the city of Seattle.  In keeping with tribal tradition, the totem overlooks the water.

To readers of blog:  if you know of or have heard about the existence of totem poles in the actual Ballard Locks area, please contact the FOBL.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Summer Concerts Coming Soon

Once again the summer concerts at the locks are at hand. Check out the schedule on the calendar to the right under the Pages heading. It's a great way to enjoy the summer days. The rangers have a supply of chairs available or you can bring your own lawn chairs or blankets and enjoy the music. There's a wide variety of musical styles so there should be something for everyone! The series opens up on May 31 with:

Sunday May 31 2:00 p.m. Boeing Employees Concert Band- lively marches to show tunes and classics

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Lake Water Levels To Rise

The Army Corps of Engineers have announced the early raising of the Lake Washington water levels with the following message. The link below will lead to further information concerning the Corps' management of many of our waterways. Much more work than most of us are aware of and definitely a topic we will be learning much more about in the future.

"We are raising Lake Washington to the target summer elevation a couple weeks earlier than normal due to extremely low inflows to Lake Washington. The lake is currently at elevation 21.9 feet, which is typical for early May and consistent with normal annual operation. However, given the extreme low water supply situation, we intend to refill to an elevation of 22 feet in the next week or two instead of the June 1 date typically targeted. Vessel owners should closely monitor lake elevations and adjust mooring lines as necessary. Lake Washington’s status is available on the Reservoir Control Center website at http://bit.ly/NWS-RCC "

Also worth keeping in mind is the Corps' Facebook site which will have many interesting photos as well as important announcements concerning closures, maintenance schedules and public events.

https://www.facebook.com/ChittendenLocks

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Seal Rescue

During the emptying of the large lock, a seal remained in the chamber. Before the work could start on the maintenance of the lock, the seal would have to be caught and released in the sound. Here are a few pics of the process which had a happy conclusion even if the process was somewhat stressful for all involved. Thanks to the Corps employees for posting the pics on their blog site.

Army Corps of Engineers Chittenden Locks Facebook Page
Harbor seal netted



Ready to start the removal.

The seal gets a ride.

Th
The seal gets a birds eye view.
The large lock minus boats water and seal.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Large Lock Closure

The Us Army Corps of Engineers has posted a notice for the temporary closing of the large lock.

SEATTLE – The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks large chamber will close to vessel traffic from 7 a.m., Oct. 7 to 7 p.m., Oct.  9. Follow the link below for more information.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials are test drilling for an upgrade of the large lock’s emergency closure system. The Small Lock will continue operations.






 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, August 25, 2014

August 2014 Garden Photos

Our student volunteer, Emily Dunn, has once again brought her camera on a walk through the gardens and has provided these photos for all to enjoy. There will be more weeks with which to enjoy these scenes up close and personal but until you make it to the locks ... enjoy these. Thanks again, Emily!