Glimpse into the past – Tree Care Then and Now

The Washington Park Arboretum has long been known as a “tree place.” In fact, two sister volunteers from Mercer Island (Lee Clark and Marion “Nukie” Fellows) were instrumental in getting bumper stickers printed in the 1990s which said “Tree Cheers for the Arboretum”. The Arboretum, as with every park in Seattle, has a matrix of native plants composed of the four primary Pacific Northwest forest trees: Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Western red cedar (Thuja plicata), Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), and Big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum). In the 230-acre Arboretum, it is estimated that there may be 7,000 to 10,000 natives. Dispersed among this native matrix are the collections of other trees, shrubs, and vines from around the world, with the total number of plants now approaching 40,000. This is indeed gardening on a grand scale, and a large number of these collections are trees.

The Arboretum was established in 1934, and tree care has always been a priority. After nearly 80 years, many of our trees are huge. Like the phenomenal growth of the Pacific Northwest trees, professional tree care has grown dramatically in recent decades, advancing from simple saws and ladders to sophisticated training, equipment, specific methods including testing and licensing. Today there are hundreds of professional certified arborists, working under the leadership of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

These pictures show the “creative tree care” given by Arboretum crews in the late 1950s – 1960s. It is a wonder there were not more serious accidents. Today the arborists and crew in the Arboretum all use the latest techniques and equipment. The Pacific Northwest Chapter of the ISA regularly holds training sessions as well as Arborist Jamborees (contests). Tree care has become a new field of scientific study and endeavor.

Dick Hart, Arboretum crew leader, is shown pruning trees just south of the Pinetum. January 1, 1960.


Dick Hart, pruning with power saw, standing in tractor scoop. Trailer has power generator. March 27, 1957.


Dick Hart, close-up. March 27, 1957.


Chris Watson, former UW Botanic Gardens arborist, in harness; Dr. Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens director; Dr. John A. Wott, director emeritus. September 24, 2013.