Beloved for her brilliance, energy and dedication, Reichard died suddenly in her sleep while leading a botanical trip to South Africa.

Share story

She was one of life’s generous people, never too busy to learn something new, or teach it.

Professor Sarah Elizabeth Hayden Reichard died suddenly in her sleep Aug. 29 from a brain aneurysm. She was 58.

Born on Dec. 16, 1957, she was a trailblazing scholar in a time when few women rose to the top levels of horticultural professions. She was the first permanent woman director of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, directing the Washington Park Arboretum and Center for Urban Horticulture starting in 2011. She also since 1997 held a tenured, endowed chair at the UW, as full professor in the UW’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, College of the Environment.

Remembering Dr. Sarah Reichard

Read a tribute to Sarah Reichard by Dean Lisa Graumlich, of the UW College of the Environment, on the college’s site.

Read more about Dr. Reichard’s contributions, and more tributes, on the UW Botanic Garden’s site and at the blog Offshoots

University of Washington

She earned all of her degrees at the UW, beginning with her undergraduate degree in botany in 1981, her master’s in 1989 and doctorate in 1994 from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. Her research and teaching interests focused on invasive plants and the recovery of rare species.

Most Read Stories

3-course dinners for $32 starting April 2.

But as a professor, her dedication to both graduate and undergraduate students seemed to know no boundaries. She was always looking for ways to connect students from anywhere on campus, at all levels, and across disciplines, including the arts, to the arboretum’s collection and the world of plants.

When a music-composition student approached her to put speakers in trees playing original compositions of chords created from sounds recorded at the arboretum, Dr.  Reichard leapt at the idea, and helped pursue funding for the installation. It proved a smash hit with the public. It was also typical of her openness to new ideas and her commitment to finding ways to connect students and the public to the world of plants that so fascinated her.

Dr. Reichard seemed to care about everything, from the survival of the rare, native, showy stickseed and Wenatchee Mountain checkermallow, to the quality of the coffee cart and seating for visitors at the arboretum’s visitor center.

Her expertise in the biology and spread of invasive plants earned her global stature in a field she helped pioneer. She had a special animus for English ivy, that invasive strangler of native trees. She once spent an entire week’s vacation with her husband, Brian Reichard, on a search-and-destroy mission against Himalayan blackberry in the garden she nurtured with what she called “extreme gardening,” in the deep ravine behind their Seattle home.

This was no ordinary garden, her husband noted. “For her to handle it all by herself was amazing. It was basically a half-acre-plus of ravine. It was kind of a sanctuary for her.” It was also where she gathered many of the specimens for her popular plant-identification class.

Their home of 15 years was where the couple most enjoyed weekends, and sitting out on their deck and talking before dinner nearly every night with its view of Puget Sound, wearing coats and hats if needed. Vegetarians, they’d grill tuna for Sunday dinner as a special treat, even preparing a batch just for their three cats, Zeke, 15, and a new pair of kittens, Zander and Zara. Married for 35 years and together for 40, the remodel they had just completed made their life at home together even more enjoyable.

“Sarah finally had this nice new kitchen and this wonderful space to enjoy,” he said. “It’s beautiful, we were really loving it.”

Brian Reichard also liked to buy her Franz ginger chocolate for special occasions and indulged her occasional guilty pleasure of a grilled cheese at Burger Master — when she ever slowed down.

Dr. Reichard lead trip after trip to countries from Cuba to South Africa to open the botanical wonders of those places to nonexperts, all while publishing many scientific papers, winning numerous citations and awards and serving on so many boards her curriculum vitae runs to 20 pages.

She founded and directed the Rare Plant Care and Conservation Program at the Botanic Gardens, working with agencies and using the zeal of plant lovers to document rare plants all over Washington state.

Dr. Reichard also led a fund drive to build the Miller Seed Vault, a temperature- and humidity-controlled seed bank that is the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, to preserve precious seeds of rare plants for posterity. Along the way, she also wrote two books, including her most recent, which brought her passion for responsible gardening and horticulture to a mainstream audience with “The Conscientious Gardner: Cultivating a Garden Ethic” (University of California Press, 2011).

Friends and colleagues at the University of Washington and UW Botanic Gardens still reeling from the sudden loss of her vigor and vision, are hiring three people to take her place for now, while a national search gets under way.

Tom DeLuca, director of the UW’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, said she’s one of those rare people who can never truly be replaced. Particularly unusual was her talent not only for science and scholarship, but also public engagement and administration. “She was brilliant, and not in the classical sense of being just a brilliant academic,” DeLuca said. “She was a brilliant combination of social and emotional intelligence.”

Tom Hinckley, a former director of the UW Botanic Gardens’ Center for Urban Horticulture (1998-2004) and emeritus professor at the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, said her confidence and enthusiasm powered Dr. Reichard through any situation. “She didn’t back down when pushed, especially when she thought she was right,” Hinckley said. “She was crisp in her conversation, she was to the point. Sarah found an effective way of being her own self. She was fresh and authentic.”

Dr. Reichard grew up in North Carolina and New Orleans. Her mother was a plant geneticist at Wake Forest University and her father an avid gardener, so perhaps her passion for plants was inevitable. But it wasn’t until her freshman botany class that she fell in love with the green, living world that would become her life’s work.

“She was an extraordinary person, scientifically,” said Peter Raven, former director and president of the Missouri Botanical Garden for nearly 40 years. “And she had such a love of place in the Northwest and how plants bring people together, and how people bring plants together.

“Because of her radiant personality she could reach people, and she was a very direct and clear person, she was so effective.”

Wendy Gibble, director of the Rare Care program, said Dr. Reichard’s accessibility was also remarkable.

“You could walk into her office with a fragment of a plant anytime and distract her from what she was doing, and she would take one little leaf and say what she thought it was.” That openness translated to her evangelism for plants, and the UW Botanic Gardens. “The wonderful thing about Sarah was she saw the potential of a botanic garden reaching so many people, so many different ways,” Gibble said. “Plants are quiet things, but she made them big. She spoke with passion about plants and their role. She gave them a voice.”

Dr. Reichard touched so many lives, Raven said. “You live on by being present in the hearts and minds of people, and in that sense, Sarah will always be in our hearts and minds.”

In addition to her husband, she is survived by a sister, Ann Phillips Jones, of Lynchburg, Va.

The UW Botanic Gardens will host a celebration of life in honor of Dr. Reichard on Thursday, Oct. 13, from 2-5 p.m. Look for details and updates on the Offshoots blog.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Prof. Sarah E. Reichard Endowed Fund for UW Botanic Gardens, which supports public education, outreach, student education, research and general maintenance and improvement of gardens and plant collections. Contributions may also be made to the newly created Sarah Reichard Endowed Fellowship to support UWBG-affiliated graduate students.