Glimpse into the past – the Legend of the Flamingos and the Silver Egg

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

This month’s Glimpse is about the ‘Legend of the Flamingos and the Silver Egg’ featured at the recent celebration honoring Dr. Harold B. Tukey, Jr., and the founding of the Center for Urban Horticulture.  Dr. Tukey arrived in Seattle in May 1980 and one year later, several new faculty and staff were added.

During that time period, the American public had been ‘poking fun’ at the profusion of inexpensive (rather cheap) plastic ornaments which had been flooding our marketplaces.   The urban landscape took on a new look with its plastic balls, animals, statues, pet rocks, etc.  It was inevitable that a symbol from that urban environment should be chosen for the fledgling CUH.

The original Xylem and Phloem in the Center for Urban Horticulture courtyard, 1986
The original Xylem and Phloem in the Center for Urban Horticulture courtyard, 1986

The two first graduate students in the program, Sharon Buck and Cindy Maitland, decided that a pair of pink flamingos should be part of the CUH display and proudly presented them to Dr. Tukey on May 31, 1981, as members of the CUH Alumni Association.  The faculty and staff were excited and decided to hold a naming contest, voting by secret ballot, with the names of ‘Xylem’ and ‘Phloem’ chosen.  The following holiday season, and in subsequent seasons, the proud ‘parents’ were joined by a large silver egg in a CUH courtyard display.

The presentation of a pair of flamingos occurred for each new faculty and staff member hired, often appearing spontaneously on their front lawn or porch.   I was given a pair which I proudly named ‘Burt’ and ‘Ethel’, who proudly presided on my deck overlooking Lake Union.  Flamingos often appeared in many ways during the next few years around CUH.  In 1994, six appeared on my new home lawn, causing the neighbors to wonder about their new neighbor.

Today, flamingos come in many assorted colors and themes, including Husky mascot colors.   While reminiscing with Dr. Tukey at the Celebration, he remarked how much we were all full of the new doctrine for urban horticulture in the 1980’s, but the addition of the plastic flamingos brought us back to our relevancy to the urban environment.   Recently two of my new neighbors have been officially “Flocked” through a legitimate business.  While ‘Xylem’ and ‘Phloem’ have long disintegrated, their prototypes live on.

Modern garden flamingos, on display at a celebration of Dr. Tukey's founding of the Center for Urban Horticulture, April 2015
Modern garden flamingos, on display at a celebration of Dr. Tukey and the founding of the Center for Urban Horticulture, April 2015
More festive flamingos from the April celebration
More festive flamingos from the April celebration