More than 70 Arboretum Foundation members joined us for our Annual Meeting & Picnic at the Graham Visitors Center on June 21 to hear about our fiscal-year accomplishments, listen to updates from our UW and City partners, and participate in our Board of Directors election.

Board President Peter Rees welcomed guests and emceed the event. He started by reminding guests that the work of the Foundation not only focuses on the Arboretum of today but also of the years to come. He talked about the Arboretum’s 90th anniversary in 2024 and about getting ready for its centenary in 2034.

“And boy, do we have big dreams for that,” said Peter. “A whole new north end to the Arboretum, fish spawning in Arboretum Creek, a firm rampart against a warming climate, resources for a larger and more inclusive community, a world-class collection of healthy plants, dynamic educational and research programs, and a strong and present connection to the indigenous roots of our local culture. All of the successes that you hear about today are just steps toward achieving those dreams—we all need to keep pressing forward.”

    Pie chart breaking down our 2022–23 contributions to the UW and Seattle Parks.

    Peter then introduced Board Treasurer Jeff Lehman, who came to the podium to discuss the financial performance of the Foundation. He broke down our 2022 fiscal-year spreadsheet, published in this year’s Annual Report, and highlighted our 2022–23 contribution of more than $1.1 million to our University and City partners. Using trend graphs, Jeff then discussed the Foundation’s strong fiscal health over the past five years.

    Next up, we heard from our first guest speaker, Christopher Williams, Deputy Superintendent of Seattle Parks and Recreation. Christopher praised the shared work of the City, UW, and the Foundation in stewarding the Arboretum, as well as the great partnership that brought about the restoration and return of the Tsutakawa Memorial Gates to the Arboretum in fall 2022. He also provided an update on ongoing improvements, such as the new nature-themed playground structure being installed at the Lynn Street entrance to the Arboretum this summer.

    Christopher then discussed two pieces of legislation recently approved by Seattle City Council that will affect the future of the Arboretum: 1) a new 10-year operating agreement between Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Arboretum Foundation for the co-management of the Seattle Japanese Garden, and 2) an agreement between WSDOT and Seattle Parks, transfering the 27-acre North End Parcel back to the Arboretum at the completion of the SR 520 bridge project.

    Christopher Williams giving his update for Seattle Parks and Recreation.

    UW Botanic Gardens Director Christina Owen then took the mic and talked about the Arboretum partners’ shared impact goal of “bringing plants and people together to cultivate a more sustainable, inspired, and just community.”

    She said UW Botanic Gardens is working towards this goal through programs like the UW Farm, which donated 3,300 pounds to local food banks in 2022 and has created a indigenous community garden at the Arboretum in collaboration with Black Star Farmers. She said UWBG is sparking inspiration through environmental education programs that served 5,230 children in 2022. Christina then talked about the recently completed Rhododendron Glen restoration project and how it contributes both to improved visitor experience and—through the planting of many plant species of conservation concern—sustainability.

    Inspiration and education will soon come together at the Arboretum in the form of art, said Christina, with the installation in August of John Grade’s new large-scale sculpture, to be complemented by educational tours. Christina concluded by thanking the Arboretum Foundation for its partnership—and by announcing that the UW would soon honor the Foundation’s legacy of giving by recognizing it as a Presidential Laureate for its “exceptional generosity” and cumulative donation of more than $10 million.

    With that, Christina turned it back over to Peter Rees, who led the governance portion of the meeting, with assistance from incoming Board Secretary, Josh Dickson. This included the nomination and approval of three new board members: Connor Barclay, Sanjay Kumar, and Kara Weaver. Peter also bid fond farewell to three departing Board members, thanking them for their exemplary service: Bowman Neely (three years), Jeanne Peterson (nine years) and Trina Wherry (nine years).

    Our three new Board members elected during the meeting.

    Foundation staff then gave a short “year in review” presentation, summarizing many of the details featured in our 2023 Annual Report. Advancement Director Clare Hausmann spoke about February’s very successful Love In Bloom Opening Night Party; our new membership brochure and postcard; the Walks & Talks program for Arbor Circle and Steward-level members, now revived post pandemic; and upcoming summer events in the Arboretum.

    Clare also talked about how, in the past year, the Arboretum has felt the love of a number of special people who are no longer with us: “Bequests from and gifts in memory of former Foundation volunteers resulted in nearly $400,000 in support of our Arboretum. It is such an honor, and what an incredible legacy these volunteers have left for us. Truly an act of love!”

    Seattle Japanese Garden Programs Manager Chie Iida then summed up the Foundation’s work at the Garden last year. This included funding for a major restoration of the northwest meadow and hosting many memorable events, including three days of Kamishibai street theatre, presented in collaboration with the UW’s East Asia Resource Center and Youth Theatre Northwest. Chie also talked about Garden visitorship (up 17 percent in 2022), the importance of our event and garden guide volunteers, and the receipt of two significant gifts totaling $750,000 that have enabled us to embark on a major project to replace the Garden’s crumbling north wall and develop designs to complete Juki Iida’s original vision of a viewing pavilion at the north end of the pond.

    Matt’s graph showing the plant retail programs bouncing back after the pandemic.

    Volunteer Programs Manager Lily King and Operations Manager Matt Schropp-Lance then provided a report on our volunteer programs over the past year. Lily talked about how, post-pandemic, our volunteer programs and events have all returned to full swing, including the Garden Stewards, corporate work groups, and Earth Day at the Arboretum. Matt used lots of data to show how well the Arboretum Gift Shop, Pat Calvert Greenhouse, and Cloney-Harris Plant Nursery have bounced back.

    “Last year, I was able to report a strong comeback from $33,000 in revenue during the height of COVID closures to $114,000,” said Matt. “This year we have continued an optimistic pace with an estimated 25 percent growth in revenue in fiscal year 2023—over $142,000 in gift shop revenue alone, not including our plant sales or special event revenue.” Matt also praised the hard work of the shop and plant program volunteers, and talked about the success of our on-site fundraisers Gifts & Green Galore and the fall and spring plant sales.

    Foundation Executive Jane Stonecipher concluded the review by summarizing our significant mileposts for a “remarkably busy year.” These included the Tsutakawa Gates project, the renewal of the Japanese Garden operating agreement, and the North End land transfer and mitigation settlement with WSDOT. Jane also talked about the launch of the state-sponsored community survey in spring 2023, designed to help shape the future of the Arboretum, including the design and use of the North End Parcel.

    “It’s early in term of results,” said Jane, “but we’ve already heard from 193 unique zip codes. And in response to the question, “What are three words you’d used to describe the Arboretum today?”, in a surprise move, the word cloud shows that you think the Arboretum is beautiful!”

    Word cloud generated by survey takers choosing words to describe the Arboretum.

    “In the next phase of the survey work,” said Jane, “we will be out in the community engaging with groups that haven’t been historically represented at the Arboretum.”

    She then talked about the progress being made on a number of Master Plan projects, including the Woodland Meadow and the Pacific Pathway. And she thanked two major donors who have stepped up to enable the Arboretum Foundation to hire additional horticulture staff and to establish a sustaining fund that will ensure future maintenance of the plant collections. She wrapped up her speech by thanking our amazing partners at the UW Botanic Gardens and Seattle Parks and Recreation, and by announcing the recipient of our annual Volunteer Legacy Award, Larry Hubbell.

    “Our award winner this year is the epitome of an enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and passionate ambassador of the Arboretum,” said Jane. “His infectious love of birds and wildlife has for years been an inspiration to an entire community of local birders and wetlands enthusiasts.”

    Volunteer Legacy Award recipient Larry Hubbell, with his wife, Shelley.

    “He is in his second board term at the Foundation and is an active member of our Advocacy Committee and a regular contributor to the Arboretum Bulletin. You may know him as a co-founder of the Friends of Arboretum Creek, where he has been instrumental in creating a vision for the Arboretum Headwaters project, and then building support from multiple city and county entities to bring the project to fruition.”

    The event concluded with a picnic on the Visitors Center patio.

    A big thank to everyone who joined us and participated in the meeting.