Priscilla Hudson is a member of the Sequim Prairie Garden Club, which is responsible for clearing a weed- and blackberry-choked 4 acres of land and transforming it into an arboretum and garden known as the Pioneer Memorial Park over the last 70 years. (Emily Matthiessen/for Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Priscilla Hudson is a member of the Sequim Prairie Garden Club, which is responsible for clearing a weed- and blackberry-choked 4 acres of land and transforming it into an arboretum and garden known as the Pioneer Memorial Park over the last 70 years. (Emily Matthiessen/for Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Pioneer Memorial Park grows into an arboretum

Granted certification by ArbNet program

  • By Emily Matthiessen For Olympic Peninsula News Group
  • Tuesday, April 16, 2024 1:30am
  • NewsClallam County

SEQUIM — When the Sequim Prairie Garden Club first began to clear the 4-acre plot of what would become Pioneer Memorial Park in 1951, the site was choked with weeds and blackberry vines so thick that eventually “they found that an entire cow had become entangled and died,” according to Priscilla Hudson and Laura Singer’s “Sequim Prairie Garden Club and Pioneer Memorial Park, the Early Years.”

It took nine years just to prepare the site, which had been abandoned for 30 years after Sequim’s first cemetery had been relocated.

“A distinct eyesore at the entrance of the city as it now is, the area will be seeded with grass; and trees, shrubs and flowers will be planted,” noted a contemporaneous article in the Sequim Press, as quoted by Hudson and Singer.

“On the southern portion of the tract of land there are several large oak trees, which would help to beautify the spot as a park,” it continued.

Now, more than seven decades of dedicated work later, 189 different tree specimens are alive and thriving at the park, all — or nearly all — hand-planted and cared for by generations of the club, a group that now boasts 72 members. There were 22 in 1949.

“They had the vision to transform it to a place that would be a real asset to the community,” club member Kathy Steichen said.

In January, Pioneer Memorial Park was granted certification as a Level I Arboretum by the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and the Morton Arboretum, the only official arboretum on the Olympic Peninsula.

ArbNet brands itself as “the interactive network of arboreta” and is, according to the Sequim Prairie Garden Club’s website, “the only global initiative to officially recognize arboreta at various levels of development, capacity and professionalism.”

An arboretum, ArbNet’s website said, is “a botanical garden specializing in trees or woody plants.”

Club members hope it will draw arboreta enthusiasts to view the 48 different species, including “11 species native to our state, such as its 47 mature Oregon White Oak, Quercus garryana,” known locally as the Garry Oak.

As part of the process of becoming a Level I Arboretum, club members have compiled a database of each tree in the park — including its GPS coordinates — and have attached a name tag to the trees for visitors’ guidance. The information can be found at sequimprairiegardenclub.org/ParkUpdates2024.aspx.

The identification process began in 2017, Hudson said, and the developed list includes 48 different tree species, including “21 species of conifers, 26 species of deciduous and two broadleaf evergreen trees.”

Level II status is not possible in the foreseeable future, members said, because it would involve having a paid staff member; currently, the Sequim Prairie Garden Club is an entirely volunteer organization.

Sequim has long been part of Tree City, USA, designated by the Arbor Day Society, and at Pioneer Memorial Park, “since 1954 a tree has been planted ... every year in observance of Arbor Day,” according to Hudson and Singer’s history.

Each of the other trees in the park have a history as well — some known and some unknown — what Steichen calls “smaller stories built into the garden.” Whenever possible, a date has been included in the database for when a tree was planted, but that can’t always be matched to a specific tree, Hudson said.

The earliest trees mentioned that still exist are the pink hawthornes (Crataegus) of 1955, moved from an earlier planting at a roadside park to the east side of the Pioneer Memorial Park.

Other noteworthy trees include the semicircle of cherry trees honoring past presidents at the entrance of the park, and Park co-chair Vina Winters’ favorite tree, the Japanese Cedar, or Cryptomeria Japonica, planted in 2002, that members say is also a crowd favorite because of its beautiful coloring, which changes with the season.

“Cryptomeria is known for the bright, light green color of its new spring growth,” Steichen said. “As the needles of the Cryptomeria mature, its cells gain more chlorophyll and the tree becomes a darker green.”

Steichen, who took the lead in writing the arboretum application with help from other members, plans to host a program on the trees in the park next year.

“Having the database on our website allows park visitors and even locals to identify any tree, including the family name, scientific name, common name, in some cases the cultivar and when it was planted,” Winters said. “The list also reveals if we have a particular tree and exactly where it is. Now when visitors have questions, the answers are just a click away.”

________

Emily Matthiessen is a freelance writer.

A Magnolia Grandiflora, located near the front of Pioneer Memorial Park, is budding into fragrant bloom. (Emily Matthiessen/for Olympic Peninsula News Group)

A Magnolia Grandiflora, located near the front of Pioneer Memorial Park, is budding into fragrant bloom. (Emily Matthiessen/for Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Three current members of the Sequim Prairie Garden Club, from left, Priscilla Hudson, Vina Winters and Kathy Steichen, stand beneath native white oak, Quercus Garyana, known as Garry Oak. The Garden Club is responsible for clearing a weed- and blackberry-choked 4 acres of land and transforming it into an arboretum and garden known as the Pioneer Memorial Park over the past 70 years. (Emily Matthiessen/for Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Three current members of the Sequim Prairie Garden Club, from left, Priscilla Hudson, Vina Winters and Kathy Steichen, stand beneath native white oak, Quercus Garyana, known as Garry Oak. The Garden Club is responsible for clearing a weed- and blackberry-choked 4 acres of land and transforming it into an arboretum and garden known as the Pioneer Memorial Park over the past 70 years. (Emily Matthiessen/for Olympic Peninsula News Group)

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