top of page

our history

Portions of this article were originally prepared and published for the NARGS Northwestern Chapter's 75th Anniversary Celebration in July 2009.


The Northwestern Chapter is a venerable organization directed by prestigious members who have regularly and generously shared plants, seeds, horticultural knowledge, slides of their explorations, and rock garden designs for more than 80 years. In addition, we recognize those who have invested time and energy for the smooth operation of the Chapter. The following is a short recap of our chapter’s many years and recognition of those members.


In The Beginning


In October 1934, news of the formation of the American Rock Garden Society in New York spurred local rock garden devotees to form a branch of this parent group. Else Frye, owner of Green Pastures Nursery, initiated this chapter’s organization and subsequently became its first secretary.


The chapter's first show, at the Volunteer Park Conservatory. April 13-15, 1935. Photo by Mr. Neill Hall.



It all began in 1934...

The chapter’s first president, E.L. Reber, had an authentic alpine garden which was featured in the February 1933 issue of National Geographic. A more familiar charter member was Frances Roberson, a name so familiar it is forever linked with the chapter’s history and its evolution. She was owner with her husband of a nursery called L. N. Roberson Co.


Almost immediately after the chapter’s formation, this handful of members was planning a Rock Garden Show at the Volunteer Park Conservatory, which was held in April 1935 and drew close to 15,000 visitors over three days. In 1936 another display was created at the Floral Hall in Woodland Park. Both displays featured large rocks to present an actual environment of alpine plants. People who played key roles in these initial shows included Otto Holmdahl, who designed the display of rocks, and Else Frye who spearheaded plant procurement from members. Frances Roberson described the first display: "The rock garden was constructed with a meadow, pool, scree, and cliff of enormous rocks." Many gems were used including Primula frondosa, Saxifraga dicipiens and allionii, Gentiana excisa and Cassiope mertensiana. In 1941 our chapter participated in the 22nd National Flower and Garden Show at the Seattle Civic Auditorium (now McCaw Hall). The 300-square-foot garden, featuring one hundred Kalmiopsis leachiana, won a silver medal for the use of appropriate plants and the Seal of Merit.


The Years Following


From these impressive beginnings the organization grew with monthly programs, spring plant sales, summer picnics and fall banquets, and our part in sponsoring study weekends. A long line of devoted plantspeople have continued to introduce us to new species, detailed information about a specific genera, and their explorations, and share information about propagation, location of alpines, growing methods, and constructing alpine beds. Many of our own members gave featured talks at meetings, opened their gardens for tours, led field trips, and wrote articles for our newsletter as well as for the Bulletin of the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS).


With the growth of the Northwestern Chapter came more financial responsibility. Art Dome successfully initiated and pursued the Chapter’s Articles of Incorporation for nonprofit status and prepared the bylaws in the mid-1980’s.



At left: Three more views of the chapter's first show,

at the Volunteer Park Conservatory. April 13-15, 1935. Photos by Mr. Neill Hall.

Finding a permanent location for meetings became a major endeavor and demonstrates the importance placed on meeting as a group. Originally, meetings took place at member’s homes, or alternately in the Arboretum Clubhouse. This was followed by the Eames Theater at the Pacific Science Center (a bit too large), and in 1970 the board room at Queen City Savings Bank. From there moves were made to the Field House at Montlake Play Field, the Washington Natural Gas Company’s Blue Flame Auditorium, the Commissioners Chambers at Port of Seattle Bell Street Terminal, the Seattle City Light North Service Auditorium, and from 1978 to 1985 at the Haller Lake Improvement Club. In 1986 we moved to the Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH). We found our exclusive home there until 2015 when duties began to be shared with the recently-remodeled Bellevue Botanical Garden.


Almost from its inception, the chapter published a yearbook. To this day, the format is similar to the first one published in 1937-38 with officers and programs. In 1948 twenty members were listed including notables such as Carl and Edith English, Neill Hall, Brian Mulligan, E.L. Reber, and the Robersons, all of whom remained members throughout their lives. As the membership increased so did the activities and the need to create committees and expand the yearbook.


The members on the illustrious list that follows have served as presiding officer of the NW Chapter:


1934-40 E.L. Reber

1941-42 Frances Roberson

1943-44 Burton Whelan

1945-46 Carl English

1947 (Information not available)

1948 Neill Hall

1951 A.M. Sutton

1952-53 Leo Hitchcock

1954-55 Page Ballard

1956-57 J.D. Barksdale

1958-59 Alton H. DuFlon

1960-61 Arthur Kruckeberg

1962-63 Brian Mulligan

1964 S.A. McClanahan

1965-66 Harold Miller

1967-68 Joseph Witt

1969-70 Cliff Lewis

1971-72 Frances Roberson

1973-74 Norman Clark

1975-76 Cliff Lewis

1977-79 Sharon Sutton

1979-81 Marguerite Bennett

1981-83 Marvin Black

1983-84 Marge Kepner

1984-86 Pat Bender

1986-88 Dennis Thompson

1988-90 Art Dome

1990-92 Michael Moshier

1992-94 Evie Douglas

1994-96 Judith Jones

1996-98 Alice Lauber

1998-2000 Hans Sauter

2000-2002 Judith Jones

2002-2004 Shirley Post

2004-2006 Mindy Rowse

2006-2008 Alice Lauber

2008-2010 Dave Brastow

2010-2012 Claire Cockcroft

2012-2014 Donna Wylie

2014-2016 Robert Fincham

2016-2018 Kevin Cretin

2018-2023 Kendall McLean

2023-present Maggie Soderstrom

Above is one of the plethora of slides from our chapter's history archive that have been recently digitized. 

Carl S. English, Jr., near Ingalls Peak, September 1955.

Photo by Larry Semler

Chapter Newsletter


Originally news of our chapter appeared in the Gardener’s Chronicle of America under Western Region of the American Rock Garden Society. This continued until the first issue of the ARGS (later NARGS) Bulletin was published in 1943, which became the primary source of news and events of the Society. Our members were notified of events via postcard and telephone but this became too cumbersome as the membership grew. In 1975 Sharon Sutton published our first newsletter, named Nexus, and continued to edit this publication until 1980 when Marguerite Bennett volunteered to become editor while also at the helm of our chapter. The tradition was established and several members have taken on this enormous responsibility over the years, including Penny Finholt (who had a regular column called ‘Rock’s Garden’), John and Sylvia McDonnell, and Marge Kepner. From 1994 through 1996, Alice Lauber was Editor, one of the many roles she has accepted over the years of her membership. Claire Cockcroft followed as editor for three years and Hans Sauter graciously accepted the role as Interim Editor for a year, so titled “Because it expressly disavows claims for comparison with the professionally produced Newsletter to which we have been accustomed.” In 2000 Mary Kenady took over as our Editor, serving in that capacity for close to a decade. She began the policy of sending our newsletter via email to those who have the service. Kendall McLean assumed the responsibility in 2010, and continues to produce newsletters to the high standards of her predecessors. Many of our members contribute articles and colums; in fact, one of our most regular writers is Marguerite Bennett whose column “Rooting Around” has been published since 1996! Marguerite joined our chapter in 1968 and is currently the longest standing active member of the chapter. Sharon Collman’s "Bugs and Blights" has appeared in many issues as well.

Chapter Web Site


The popularity of the Internet and the potential for sharing rock garden content--and especially pictures--online among members led to the need for a chapter Web site. Posted live for the first time in 2002, the site was quickly adopted by long-time member Ned Lowry, who turned it into a wonderful collection of useful content, links, and, of course, beautiful rock garden photographs. 2011 began our foray into social media, with Lynn Schueler spearheading the chapter's Facebook debut. In 2015 an effort to redesign, expand, and update the chapter Web site began, coordinated by Saori Cretin with the input of the membership.  

Chapter Logo


The 2015-2016 redesign of the chapter Web site led to a renewed interest in a chapter logo. Lewisia (now Lewisiopsis) tweedyi had long been considered the de facto symbol of the chapter (and in fact a vote among the board of directors led by long-time chapter member Steve Doonan had made it official some years previously) but no true logo had ever been created. While working on the new chapter Web site, Saori Cretin designed and created what is now our official chapter logo, based on an antique (and, of course, copyright-free) image of L. tweedyi from Curtis's Botanical Magazine v. 125, published in 1899. In Saori's opinion, "the antique nature of the print and its illustrious source befit the long and storied nature of our chapter."



The following excerpt from a 1986 Newsletter is at the suggestion of Alice Lauber, and perhaps, for many of us describes our experience as members of our chapter.


Dennis Thompson, as he assumed the Chair, writes:


“I wanted to begin my term of office with something erudite and thought provoking. A friend leaning over my shoulder laughed, ‘Who do you think you’re kidding?’ He was right. It’s not the multisyllablic dissertations (phew!) but the quiet zingers that characterize Northwest rock gardeners there is a humor and good nature in this group that transcends the actual plants. It’s also a pleasant surprise to find a group that operates efficiently without coaxing or haranguing. Each time I have approached a new “problem” of the office with panic, I have been soothed by an operative who assures me that there is no problem and in most cases, it was taken care of months ago."


As Chair, Dennis felt “camaraderie was as important as content: learning is a party”


Our talented speakers and the diverse programs continue to attract members to our meetings. Conviviality and shared moments during refreshments add to our excitement about rock plants. Since the late 1940’s members were encouraged to bring plants for display at meetings. Thus began “Show and Tell.” It grew even more formal in the mid-1950’s when the chapter held juried shows, one of which (in 1955) listed seventeen plant classes. But the relaxed presentations proved more popular and continue to this day.


In 1983 Marvin Black, while serving as a national director, became acquainted with other chapters and came to the following conclusions:


“The Northwestern Chapter had the largest active membership, largest attendance at meetings of any chapter, was the financially richest chapter, had a larger pool of chapter talent to turn to for programs, and NW native mountain plants are being grown successfully in a large percentage of rock gardens all over the U.S.!”

L. tweedyi, by M. Smith, from Curtis's Botanical Magazine, v. 125 (1899)

Plant Sales


Plant Sales have been an institution since 1950. They were held at the Arboretum Clubhouse for years. From 1967, with a few exceptions, the plant sale was held at the home of Mareen and Art Kruckeberg, a tradition graciously continued until 2003! Cliff Lewis chaired the sale for many years until 1997 with assistance from Hans Sauter who then took on the responsibility. At a later date, Alice Lauber joined Hans and the sale was held at the Lauber home until 2009 when it was held at the home of Pat and John Bender, before moving to such locations as the Rhododendron Park in Kenmore, and Bassetti's Crooked Arbor in Woodinville. In 2016 it settled at the Bellevue Botanical Garden, where for the first time the sale was open to the public. Waiting for the appointed hour to pick the first plant when at the sale, members would slyly eye their choice plant in order not to give away their desires. Other would observe where the eyes of the "experts" would fall in order to make a selection. One could feel the excitement mount. Fortunately, more “candy” became available with the addition of the fall plant sale held in conjunction with the October meeting.

Study Weekends


The inspiration for study weekends came from Lincoln Foster. These symposium-like events were based on those held in England and Scotland in the winter months. Thus, the Winter Study Weekends were born, the first one being held in 1969 in Atlantic City. Roy Davidson and Jim MacPhail of British Columbia were the catalysts for Western Study Weekends. The first committee included: Margaret and Brian Mulligan, Neill Hall, Laura Jezik, Marguerite Bennett and Roy Davidson. In February 1974, “Alpines of the Americas, North and South” was held at the Providence Heights Education and Conference Center, Issaquah, WA.


Since then the Northwestern Chapter has chaired the following Western Study Weekends:


  • “Tales Around the Winter Fire,” Red Lion Bayshore Inn, Port Angeles, WA, February 10-12, 1978, a collaboration with Vancouver Island Regional Alpine Garden Society, Chairmen: Marvin Black and Dennis Thompson.

  • “The Garden of Talking Flowers, Alice In Wonderland” February 21-23, 1981, Fort Warden Conference Center, Port Townsend, WA. Chaired by Marvin Black.

  • “Sentimental Journey” February 24-26, 1984, celebrating 50 years of ARGS and the NW Chapter, Fort Warden, Port Townsend, WA.

  • “Among the Rocks and Rills:  The Lore of the Moist Stone,” February 27-March 1, 1987, Red Lion Inn, Bellevue, WA, chaired by Dan Douglas.

  • “Plants of the North Pacific Rim: Northeast Asia to Northwest America,” February 23-25, 1990, Red Lion Inn, Bellevue, WA. Chair: Lyn Sauter.

  • “Woody Plants in the Rock Garden,” February 24-26, 1995, Doubletree Inn, Seattle, WA. Chair: John McDonnell.

  • “Beyond Buns: Setting the Stage,” February 25-27, 2005, Quality Inn, Everett, WA. Chair: Judith Jones with a special presentation of “The Great Bun Caper or Who’s Got the Buns” An Original Rock Melodrama.

  • "Stop the Car…NOW! Roadside Botanizing East of the Cascade Mountains," March 9-11, 2012, Holiday Inn, Everett, WA. Chair: Judith Jones.


“Alpines of the Americas”, the First Interim International Rock Garden Plant Conference, was a collaborative effort between the American Rock Garden Society (Northwestern Chapter) and the Alpine Garden Society of British Columbia. The first half of the conference was held July 19-23, 1976 at the University of Washington, chaired by Joseph Witt. The second half of the conference was held July 23 through July 25 at the University of British Columbia and chaired by Jim McPhail. The report, edited by Sharon Sutton, of this conference was published to include all lectures, plant lists and photos. It is an impressive volume.


Our chapter had the honor of holding the NARGS Annual Meeting in July 2000. “Northern Exposures” was chaired by Dan Douglas and held at the Best Western Executive Inn, Fife, and featured field trips to Mt. Rainier arranged by Shirley Post and Mary Kenady. At this event, the newly published book Lewisias by Roy Davidson and Michael Moshier was introduced.


Lewisiopsis (Lewisia) tweedyi, Mission Peak, WA

Photo taken in July 1954 by Edith H. English

This lovely plant is native only to our area and has been grown and admired by many of our chapter members. Steve Doonan of Grand Ridge Nursery proposed this as our official chapter flower.

Phacelia sericea in Deer Park, south of Blue Mountain,

Olympic National Park. WA

Photo by Edith H. English, July 1960

National Awards


Many members have been recognized for their contributions to rock gardening as well as to our Chapter. The Award of Merit is given annually to persons who made “outstanding contributions to rock and alpine gardening and to the particular study of our native plants." Later, the criteria was redefined as an award for outstanding service to the Society and for those who demonstrate plantsmanship. Edith and Carl English won it in 1966, Albert Merle Sutton in 1970, Frances K. Roberson in 1977, Brian Mulligan in 1978, Sallie Allen won it in 1979, Olga and Cliff Lewis in 1980, Sharon Sutton in 1982, George Schenk in 1982, Marvin Black in 1984, Nan Ballard in 1993, Alice Lauber in 1997, Pat and John Bender in 2000, and Rick Lupp in 2003.


The Marcel Le Piniec Award is given to a "person who as nurseryman, propagator, or plant explorer is actively and currently engaged in extending and enriching the material available to American rock gardeners." Recipients include: Leroy Davidson in 1972, Charles Thurman in 1976, Robert Putnam in 1983, Steve Doonan and Phil Pearson in 1986, Betty Lowry in 1997, Rick Lupp in 2000, Dan Hinkley in 2004, and Ron Ratko in 2005. The Edgar T. Wherry Award was instituted in 1966 to honor a “person who has made an outstanding contribution in the area of botanical and/or horticultural information about native North American Plants.” Northwestern Chapter members who received this award are C. Leo Hitchcock in 1976 and Arthur Kruckeberg in 1989. The Marvin W. Black Award was proposed by our chapter and established by NARGS in 1990. It is given to “a member who excels at promoting membership, organizing study weekends, planning trips to study plants and meet other plant people." In 1992 Leroy Davidson received this award.

Chapter Awards


The ARGS Chapter Service Award was proposed by Marvin Black in 1983. The award is presented in recognition of outstanding service to the chapter’s well-being. The first award was given to Harold and Altha Miller in 1983. The following members were recognized in succeeding years: Florence Free, Al and Doris Manring, Frances Roberson, Pat and John Bender, Cliff and Luella Lewis, Coleman Leuthy, Jean Witt, and Judith Jones.


In 1998 Steve Doonan was recognized for unselfishly sharing his knowledge of rock garden plants, donating plants to our plants sales, to shows and special functions that benefit our chapter, and, most importantly, chairing the popular Show and Tell for years. Alice Lauber and Art and Mareen Kruckeberg were honored in 1999. In 2000 both Sharon Collman and Art Dome received the Service Award. Sharon has been enlightening us with Bugs and Blights since 1980 with columns in our Newsletter and at meetings. In 2001 Mary Kenady and Shirley Post received chapter service awards for their hours planning field trips, creating the plant lists for the hikes, and holding classes for the guides in preparation for the NARGS Annual Meeting in 2000. Hans Sauter was presented with the Service award in 2002 for his innumerable contributions to the operation of our chapter, quickly jumping in when the need exists. Rick Lupp received it in the following year. In 2004 Lorraine Dodd was honored for her consistent pursuit of refreshment volunteers. Ilse Burch received the award in 2005. Richard Ramsden was given the award in 2006 for rejuvenating our chapter’s field trips and Dan and Pat Montague received it in 2007 for reorganizing chapter records utilizing their computer expertise and serving on the by-laws revision committee.

Seed Exchange


The Northwestern Chapter has shown great commitment to the national seed exchange. Dr. Arthur Kruckeberg, a chapter member since 1952, was the first Seed Exchange Director from our chapter, from 1958 through 1960. He and 24 other members worked two shifts a day to meet deadlines. Frances Roberson took the helm in 1978 and 1979. The latter year showed 499 donors and 4,267 seed varieties. John and Pat Bender were the next Northwestern Directors sorting, packaging and sending out 6,247 items from 679 donors. In 1996 the seed exchange responsibility was divided into three sections to share with three chapters. Mindy Rowse took responsibility for the packaging of a portion of the seeds in 2003 and 2004. This amounted to 4,675 varieties and 42,472 glassines packed compared to 26,422 glassines packed the year before. Thirty one volunteers assisted in this effort. In 2008 Pat and John Bender once again stepped in and acted as chairs on filling the seed orders.

Bellevue Botanical Garden Alpine Rock Garden


In 1997 the Alpine Rock Garden of the Bellevue Botanical Garden opened. Nell Scott, BBG Chair at the time, raised $70,000 to establish the garden. Originally designed by our long-time member Michael Moshier, this huge project was successfully completed with the help of our members and the donation of plants from Steve Doonan of Grandridge Nursery, Rick Lupp of Mt. Tahoma Nursery, Judith Jones of Fancy Fronds, Molbaks, Briggs, Skagit Gardens and Wells Medina. 


A complete remodeling of the garden's administrative buildings and classrooms was finished in 2014, and a revitalizing of the Rock Garden was begun at that time. Once more, our chapter has played a key role in it's development. Chapter members Claire Cockcroft, Barbara Flynn, Donna Wylie, and Jim Fox have lead the charge in working with the BBG to maintain the rock garden at the high standards our group established in 1997.


Northwest Flower and Garden Show


Our educational exhibit was first initiated by Rosina Mclvor in 1989 as a way to invite new members and bring the value of rock gardening to the general public among other goals. Holly Sinnott took on this responsibility from 1991 through 1996 with help from Judith Jones in the last year. Ilse Burch and Ilga Jansons picked up the responsibility for the next several years. Nancy Keith followed for three years and Donna Wylie handled the booth preparations and staff coverage for several years after that.  


In 1997 our chapter was invited to create a garden vignette with the American Primrose Society. June Skidmore and Alice Lauber were instrumental in establishing this display. In the early years of the Northwest Flower and Garden Show an American Rock Garden Society Award for the “Best use of Alpine Plants” was presented. In 1991 Michael Moshier’s display of an alpine garden won. In 1992 and 1994 Elanden Gardens received the award and in 1993 Judith Jones’ and Barfod’s Hardy Ferns were the winners.


Judith Jones has entered a garden display since the show’s beginnings. The enormous efforts speak well of her organizational skills and imagination in creating her gardens. She has won several awards for her endeavors including the Founder’s Cup in 2007.

On the National Level


Although the Bulletin (since 1995 The Rock Garden Quarterly) is the national publication, many of our members have contributed articles to this impressive journal. One of the most impressive members was Leroy Davidson who submitted 65 articles on Lewisias, Penstemans, Iris, Erythronium, Eritrichium, Synthyris and Bergenia, as well as several lengthy studies. Frances Roberson wrote about growing native western plans or searching for them in the wild. Frances also wrote for the Gardener’s Chronicle of America, where information about rock gardening was first published. Our own member Merle Sutton was editor of the Bulletin from 1962-1975. In 1985 and for the following three years, his daughter Sharon Sutton was editor.


Our chapter has had a high profile in the national organization. Pat Bender served as Vice President of NARGS from 1994-1997 and then assumed the Presidency from 1997 through 2000. In 1983 Marvin Black served as a national director for three years. Marguerite Bennett served as a Director from 2003-2006 and from 2009-2012. Both Judith Jones and Fred Graft have served three-year terms as well.


It is impressive to note that Doris Taggart has entered the Bulletin/RGQ’s photo contests for several years running and has won many prizes.


The Future


Our chapter is fortunate to have such talented and dedicated members to share their ideas, knowledge, plants, and friendship, and to serve in many capacities so that we may enjoy this unique class of plants. Remembering the past guides us to future rock gardening success and to continuing to meet the goals and mission of the (North) American Rock Garden Society.

Tufa Garden of Betty Lowry

photo by Ned Lowry

bottom of page