READY FOR A road trip, even if it’s virtual only? Just over Highway 2, Ohme Gardens sits on a rocky bluff above Wenatchee, with a sweeping territorial view of the neighboring Cascades and the Columbia River valley. Today, alpine meadows, forested trails and refreshing pools occupy what once was a scrubby hillside covered in sagebrush, dry grasses and huge rock outcroppings.
Born in the flatlands of Illinois, Herman Ohme moved to Wenatchee in 1910, drawn by his fascination with the evergreen-cloaked mountains of the Northwest. After logging failed to sit well with his love of the forest, Ohme became an apple orchardist, and in 1929, he purchased a small orchard on 40 rocky acres. Where others saw wasteland, Ohme envisioned a garden.
Ohme married Ruth Orcutt in 1930, and together the couple labored to create an alpine landscape furnished with the flora of the Cascade Range they loved so much. There’s no other way to put this: The hardworking couple dug and transplanted countless young trees and wildflowers from the mountains to their property and hauled hundreds of tons of stone from the banks of the Columbia River.
Ohme Gardens was made by hand, built with shovel and pickax. New plantings were painstakingly irrigated with water hauled in 5-gallon milk cans. The landscape was a labor of love, evidence of a family’s passion and willingness to work hard in pursuit of its vision, and a relic of a time before regulations prohibited plundering the wilderness.
The Ohmes thought of their property as a small family retreat, but in 1939, they gave in to pressure from friends and admirers and opened the gardens to the public for the first time; a fee of 25 cents a carload helped offset rising garden-maintenance costs. Once discovered, Ohme Gardens became a favorite destination for families to picnic and take in the spectacular views. And even as early as 1940, the gardens were a popular venue for outdoor weddings, a tradition that continues to this day.
Coverage in several national magazines in the 1960s introduced Ohme Gardens to a wider audience. Herman and Ruth’s son Gordon and his family took over day-to-day operations, adhering to his parents’ strict standards of daily maintenance, sweeping trails and meticulously tending the gardens.
Visitors from all over the world come to Ohme Gardens to walk among towering mature cedar and Douglas fir trees framing the still-stunning views. A network of trails furnished with integrated stone benches rambles through cool, forested shade and sunny alpine meadows blooming with creeping phlox and bugleweed, at their best just now in spring. Naturalistic waterfalls cascading into deep pools mitigate the heat in summer. It’s hard to believe this is a completely handmade landscape, crafted, tended and nurtured for more than 90 years with heart and hard work.
Ohme Gardens is a Washington State Park, owned and managed by Chelan County, although it does not receive government funding. As a self-supporting, not-for-profit organization, the gardens strictly rely on revenue from admission, events, weddings and support from the Garden Membership program. The Gardens decided in mid-May to remain closed for the 2020 season, with hopes to open to the public in April 2021. Visit the Gardens’ website (ohmegardens.org) for the latest updates — and if it’s still too soon to visit in person, scroll through the photo gallery, and escape to a magnificent landscape.