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Dr. Gary Becker - The Man Behind Homestead Park

UP Patch's perennial (no pun intended) garden expert shares the story of one of UP's great gardening personalities.

Who’s the man behind the Rhododendron garden at Homestead Park?

Unlike our native rhododendrons, Dr. Gary Becker is a transplant from the southern everglades of Florida. During his high school years Gary became involved with the ecology and orchids of the everglades. As a young college student he contributed to the native orchid collection at the University of Florida. 

He continued his studies at Johns Hopkins and Duke University. During that time he explored the flora of the Appalachian Mountains. After serving for two years in the Air Force he moved his family to the Puget Sound area in 1971 and bought his first rhododendrons while living in Olympia. One was red and one was pink.  Smitten with the beauty of these plants and the endless possibilities of hybridization a long love affair was begun. 

For the last twenty years, Gary has served as a chapter officer and acting director for the Gig Harbor chapter of the American Rhododendron Society. He has been a “show chairman” for local rhododendron shows and “display chairman” for the Tacoma and Olympia shows. He is a member of the Rhododendron Species Foundation in Federal Way.

Gary also acts as a consultant and assists with many local rhododendron planting projects including Lakewold Gardens in Lakewood.  And lucky for UP he has been instrumental in the design and development of Homestead Park. Gary continues to be involved in Homestead Park by serving on the Friends of Homestead Park committee and contributing time, energy and plants.

As a hybridizer, Gary has developed a series of new hybrids called the “Homestead Series” with just a few now becoming available to the public.  His interest lies in propagating cultivars that are not readily available at retail nurseries.  His emphasis is with old classics, local hybridizers, unique foliage plants and species, and rhododendrons native to North America. 

Gary will be at the Flower show and Plant sale this weekend.  He will have some of his rhododendrons for sale.  Be sure to stop by to say hello and thank him for the many years of service and expertise he has given to Homestead Park and the citizens of University Place.

Barbara Lee

Christie Anderson May 01, 2011 at 04:34 AM
Wonderful article Barbara about one of UP's greatest assets....even if he does live across the bridge! :-)
Art Broback May 01, 2011 at 05:59 PM
When I driver by Homestad Park, I think about my brother, Bert Broback and his family who owned that property and the good times we had at family gatherings there. I also think about the two boats my brothers, Bert & Mons built on that property - a 37 ft. yacht and a 52 ft. yacht. Art Broback
Lorna Smith May 02, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Glad that you added the historical comments to this article, Art! You and your family have been important contributors to this community since they came in the 1930s! Your public service will always be remembered. I'm thankful that our City Hall located in Windmill Village which you developed, and that we, as a city, were able to acquire your brother, Bert's property for the Park for all to enjoy! I will look forward to more historical comments for our city. By the way...weren't your family members boat builders from Norway?
Lorna Smith May 02, 2011 at 04:42 PM
I'm so thankful that Barbara wrote this article about Dr. Gary Becker and his huge contributions to the Rhododendron Gardens at Homestead Park! Gary's plant expertise has been the backbone of our park development! The original plan for the park included a small rhododendron bed in the northwest corner of the park, but three of us, Ken Grasssi, Linda Bird and I all had a different vision and that was to make most of the park a rhododendron garden. We were truly blessed to have such an expert, as Dr. Becker, along with members of the Penninsula Rhododendron Society from Gig Harbor, which included two special ones that reside in UP, Karen Schwartz, and Steve Johnson (a Master Gardener) to get us off to a great beginning. It wouldn't have happened without them. They have continued to plan and work on Homestead, by donating plants, working on upkeep, and fundraising to add park amenities. We are also blessed to have newer members of Friends of Homestead Park with great contributions in other ways, such as Barbara Lee (Patch's "Perennial Garden Expert"), Chris Anderson (Photographer), and Park Commission Liaison, Jerry Anderson (no relation to Chris). Of note is the recent renovation of the Homestead Park Kiosk (a continuing project) with Howard Lee doing the much needed interior framing and repair; Barbara Lee planning, cleaning, and implimenting, and Chris Anderson providing photographs for the kiosk and long hours of display time.

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