Ask Abe: Allen Centennial Garden

An Alum

What centennial does the Allen Centennial Garden commemorate?

Abe

The short answer is that the Allen Centennial Garden gets its middle name from the 100th anniversary of the founding of the UW’s College of Agriculture (now the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences). Created in April 1889, it was one of the university’s four initial constituent colleges (along with law, mechanics and engineering, and letters and science). Allen Centennial Garden opened in October 1989, just six months after CALS blew out the candles on its great, big cake.

The long answer is that the garden memorializes much more than a date. Its first name refers to Ethel Allen ’28, MS’30 and her husband, Oscar Allen PhD’30, who were bacteriologists at the UW. The pair worked as a team and published more than 40 papers together — mostly about nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Perhaps you’ve read their work The Leguminosae: A Source Book of Characteristics, Uses, and Nodulation. If not, I won’t give away any spoilers, but the important thing to know is that nitrogen fixing is an important topic, even if you didn’t realize nitrogen was broken.

Ethel and her husband were generous to the UW — particularly when it came to giving plants. They gave a great many specimens to the campus’s herbarium, and in the 1980s, after Oscar died, Ethel also established an endowment for upkeep in the new garden that the university was building.

That, of course, explains the last name, Garden, and the UW needed a new one because it had destroyed its old teaching garden in 1979 to make room for the Plant Sciences expansion to the Horticulture Building. From 1979 to 1989, the UW landscaped and planted the 2.5 acres around the agricultural dean’s residence on Babcock Drive. Initially, Allen Centennial Garden hosted more than 450 plants. Today, across 27 distinct garden spaces, it boasts nearly 1,100, ranging (alphabetically, at least) from the Abiqua drinking gourd hosta to yellow wax bells.