Ohme Gardens County Park
Ohme Gardens is an alpine adventure. It began in 1929 when Herman Ohme purchased 40 acres of land which included an older, frame house, a 5-acre apple orchard, some additional land for orchard expansion, and a high rocky bluff overlooking the Wenatchee Valley and Columbia River. He planted some trees and started a small rock garden. Soon after beginning work on his hilltop garden, Herman met Ruth Orcutt and the two were later married in 1930. Herman was from the flatlands of Mattoon, Illinois and Ruth was from nearby Dryden, WA. As a boy, pictures of the evergreen-covered mountains of the Northwest always fascinated Herman. After many visits to the top of their rocky bluff at the end of the day in the orchard, they would enjoy the view and tranquility, and one fall day after marveling at the incredible view decided that this would be a good place to build a house. The only thing was that back in 1930 the banks weren't loaning any money because of the Great Depression. So they said that was ok, they'd just start their yard until such time the banks have money to loan again. Driving their Studebaker Coupe to the Cascade Mountains they loaded up their rumble seat and running boards with young trees, ferns or shrubs to transplant to their bluff.& Since there was no water on their outcropping, they would drive a truckload of 5-gallon dairy milk cans to the top and hand water the transplants. Truckloads of flat rock - flagstone - were used to create pathways, benches, and tables. The rock lifted from the banks along the Columbia River near where Rocky Reach Dam is today, before the dam was built. After the dam was completed in 1962, its backwaters covered up the source of stone, so the Ohmes located similar rock outcroppings on surrounding hillsides and employed sledge hammers and wedges to obtain the size of stone they needed. The stepping-stone rock and border rock was moved from Burch Mountain directly above the Gardens. In addition, tons of rock was removed to clear areas for lawns and pathways. The two of them would utilize an old army stretcher to haul the rock. The larger rocks were transported with a mule pulling a plank sled. Then, Herman would use a big crowbar to walk or roll the rocks into place. "You couldn't hire me to do that," Herman said; "it was a labor of love."
After ten years working in their spare time on summer evenings and in the fall when harvest was over they had two acres developed and the little patch of green against the brown hillside was starting to get a lot of attention from the folks down below. Curiosity seekers began coming up, and, once discovered, started telling friends, who told friends and the word spread. More and more people came to admire their handiwork. Then the Wenatchee Daily World printed a story on the gardens with photo's and the following Sunday some 500 locals trekked out to look at the man-made wonder. In 1939, Herman bowed to the urging of his friends and many admirers, and finally opened the Gardens to the public. Partly to help offset the rising maintenance costs and partly to keep from being overrun, they charged 25 cents per carload in 1939.
But instead of keeping people away, just the opposite happened, it attracted even more people, so he finally had to lease out their orchard and go full-time in to doing what he loved to do - developing what would become known as "Ohme Gardens". Never intending it to become a tourist attraction, "we just wanted to build a nice backyard" said Ruth.
Neither botanists nor landscape architects, the Gardens guiding force has always been purely intuitive, and realization largely trial and error. There was never a written plan, ever; they simply carried out what they envisioned, depending on their inborn sense of beauty and proportion to create a garden completely in keeping with its inspiring vista. Their aim was never a development of a formal flower garden, but of informal, natural alpine beauty. One of their two sons, Gordon, showed a pronounced interest in and ability toward the land and took over management in 1953. Gordon expanded the Gardens another 5 acres in addition to his fathers 4 acres. Little was done to publicize their work but word soon spread and by the 1950's the annual number of visitors was nearing 20,000 and the 4 acres developed was gradually becoming self-supporting. The Ohme's weren't a rich family, other than the gasoline cost to get the rocks, trees, and building material for the shelters; the Gardens were built with physical labor. The roofing and siding material was made from hand peeled cedar bark, the furniture made from logs and large cable spools. Gordon installed a carefully engineered and practically invisible sprinkling system with over 140 sprinkler heads. Gordon had developed a rare terminal illness and was unable to keep up with the maintenance and upkeep so he sold the Gardens to the State of Washington so the Gardens would remain available to the public into perpetuity. This self-supporting garden will remain a place set apart and visited by travelers from around the world.
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