Carl S. English was hired in 1931 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to transform the gravel lot remaining from the construction of the newly completed Hiram M. Chittenden Locks into a grassy field which could be used for marching, training drills, and public events. Instead, he took it upon himself to bring to life an elaborate, English-style landscape garden which today boasts over 1500 varieties of plants from around the world.
English was hired to maintain the seven acres of unused land that surrounded the Ballard Locks when he was still just a young man. From the very beginning, he envisioned turning the land into a lush, flower-filled garden, but the country was suffering through the Great Depression and a budget for flowers was out of the question. Even so, English was determined to realize his vision for the grounds and brought in seeds from his own personal garden. Gradually he began to trade his seeds with other gardeners to collect a diverse range of plant and floral varieties, eventually even recruiting the assistance of ship captains traveling to exotic places and returning home through the Locks.
English spent the next 43 years of his life planting and caring for his ever-growing garden on the sunny slopes overlooking the Chittenden Locks. By the time of his 1974 retirement he had created a botanical masterpiece and was considered one of the country’s leading horticulturists. Over the course of his career, English was credited with the discovery and naming of three rare plants as well as facilitating the return of the dawn redwood, a native tree of the Pacific Northwest believed to be extinct until English heard a tale of one’s discovery in China and arranged to have the seeds brought back. Today there are eight dawn redwoods growing at the Carl S. English Botanical Gardens, along with an impressive array of over 500 plant species and 1,500 varietals, all meticulously maintained in keeping with the park’s original caretaker’s vision.