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Founders Fund Through the Years


March 16, 2021

In 1979, a Garden Greenhouse – In 2021, an Internationally Recognized Seed Bank

In 1979, The Garden Club of America’s Founders Fund Program awarded a $7,000 grant to the Rae Selling Berry Botanic Garden, Portland, Oregon, for the construction of a greenhouse enabling the development of an internationally acclaimed collection of rare and endangered alpines, primulas, rhododendrons, and native plants. The garden later became known as The Berry Botanic Garden and in 1983, the first seed bank dedicated to rare and endangered plants in the Pacific Northwest was established. In 1985, the seed bank became a founding participating institution of the Center for Plant Conservation, which today consists of forty independent botanical organizations across the United States. Since 2011, the Rae Selling Berry Seed Bank & Plant Conservation Program has been a part of Portland State University’s Department of Environmental Science and Management.  

There has been a long and fruitful history between The Portland Garden Club (PGC) and the seed bank. In 1938, Rae Selling Berry created a garden at her home with special interest in rhododendrons, primulas, and alpines. In 1964, PGC successfully nominated Mrs. Berry for the GCA’s Florens DeBevoise Medal, citing her remarkable knowledge of these plants and her fearlessness and success in growing a garden of unusual species.

After Mrs. Berry passed away in 1976, The Friends of the Berry Garden, with major support from PGC, purchased the five-acre estate, establishing the garden as a not-for-profit institution. The club proposed the garden for a Founders Fund grant in 1979, enabling the construction of the greenhouse that would support the development of rarely encountered special species and Northwest native plants. PGC member Happy Hieronimus and her husband were leaders in these efforts, and Happy stayed active with the garden and the seed bank until she passed away in 2014.

In 2011, the garden property was sold to a private individual, but the garden’s legacy continues through the Rae Selling Berry Seed Bank & Plant Conservation Program. “Without the support of The Portland Garden Club members, such as Happy Hieronimus, the Seed Bank would not have been so successful through the years in achieving its mission of conserving the genetic resources of Oregon’s native plants for current and future generations,” said acting director Kris Freitag.

Since its founding in 1934, ninety Founders Fund winners and runners-up have received more than $1.5 million to save thousands of acres of land and innumerable trees, to restore historic landmarks, to establish civic plantings, and to conduct research and educational projects across the country. While the amount of the award may have changed from the original award of $700 to $30,000, the intent remains the same.



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