ELISABETH (BETTY) Miller is a Northwest environmental hero. She played a key role in establishing the Center for Urban Horticulture, was instrumental in greening the Washington State Convention Center and founded the Northwest Horticultural Society.
Betty’s own garden in The Highlands north of Seattle, as well as her many civic projects and her feisty personality, will be celebrated at the 20th annual Elisabeth C. Miller Memorial Lecture on Thursday, Sept. 11. It’ll be an evening of paying tribute to Betty and the Northwest gardening scene in which she was a driving force for nearly half a century.
Betty and plantsman Dan Hinkley had a mutual passion for global plant exploration. Hinkley is one of the speakers for the evening, and he’ll share experiences working with Betty and in her garden. Steve Lorton was a close friend of Betty’s. From his longtime perch as the Northwest bureau chief of Sunset magazine, he’s the perfect speaker to put Betty’s legacy in context. “She was a remarkable woman,” Lorton says. “Just look at her absolutely unique garden and you know so much about her.”
I knew Betty because I was hired in 1985 to manage the horticultural library she and her husband, Pendleton Miller, gave to the University of Washington. I’ll join Lorton and Hinkley at Meany Hall to tell stories about Betty’s great generosity, her deep knowledge of horticulture and her uncanny ability to make things happen.
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Betty Miller died in 1994 at the age of 79, but her fingerprints are still all over the city. In the thriving ecological restoration program at the Center for Urban Horticulture and its many graduates who have changed the face of horticulture around the country as well as here in Seattle. In the Elisabeth C. Miller Horticultural Library, which serves students, professionals and the gardening public, because Betty believed that access to the literature of plants and gardens was so important.
She founded the Rhododendron Species Foundation and the Washington State Roadside Council (because she hated signs blocking nature). She was instrumental in the Pacific Science Center and the Seattle Chinese Garden. She served on the board of the Garden Conservancy and the executive board of the American Horticultural Society.
Most important of all for a gardener, her legacy lives on in the ground. Betty was involved in planting Freeway Park, traffic circles around the city and the banks of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. In the last years of her life, she put her energies into preserving her own garden; the Miller Botanical Garden is open for tours and administers the popular Great Plant Picks program.
In 1990, Betty presented a check for $1 million to the University of Washington to endow a law chair in honor of her late husband. She also gave a gift that year to expand and further endow the Miller Library. At the time she said, “In planting these seeds at the university, we wanted many people who share our love for this region to benefit.” Come join the party Thursday to celebrate how those seeds Betty planted continue to grow and ripen.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.