Founta “Fir” Butler was born in Dallas, Texas in March 8, 1931 and was raised as an only child. Her childhood was spent in the hot and arid state of Texas; as a city dweller her only respite from pavement, buildings and the heat was by venturing to the nearby hills where her grandparents’ farm was located. There, her love of nature was sparked, then nurtured and eventually flourished. After visiting the Pacific Northwest as a teenager with her family, she decided the Puget Sound was where she would spend her adult life. It would take several more years before she made it back to Washington. She met the love of her life, Merlin Butler, in college. After exchanging their wedding vows in 1952, Fir and Merlin hopped in a car on their wedding day and drove off to Washington to start their new life.
In 1957, Merlin and Fir purchased 5 acres in Bothell, WA. The property had been logged just prior to their purchase, leaving them with a blank canvas to begin their life long work. They had a quaint one-bedroom brick home constructed on the property in 1960; then they built a tool shed, two lathe houses, and a greenhouse all with the plan to care for the plants which would eventually make up Rhody Ridge.
With an affinity for the English language, Fir was meticulous about keeping notes on all her plants. She had an entry for every single plant she bought or propagated, detailing everything from where they were purchased from, the soil condition she planted them in, to what additives she placed in the ground. She also notated what the temperatures were like for each season, how many blooms each rhododendron produced, and her impression of the flowers. Fir was known to ‘baby’ her plants by placing them in a lathe house for several months to a few years until she felt they were strong enough to survive in the ground. During hot, sunny summers she would utilize shade cloth to shield the plants from the extreme heat. The plants in the arboretum were cared for like children – pampered, watched over and loved deeply.
In 1957, Merlin and Fir purchased 5 acres in Bothell, WA. The property had been logged just prior to Desiring to create an enduring greenspace that was an asset to the community, Fir and Merlin deeded their 5 acres to the Snohomish County Parks Department as a life estate in 1970 – enabling the couple to live out their lives on the property, caring for the garden. The County purchased an additional 6 acres, increasing the garden size to 11.37 acres. Fir still lives on site and can be seen enjoying her garden as she is driven around in a motorized cart.
Fir’s dream was to provide a space for the community to come to and get lost in nature. Rhody Ridge’s landscape includes some of the largest mature species and hybrid rhododendrons in the Seattle area. One particular rhododendron in the garden, Guardian Fir, was hybridized by Halfdan Lem and named by Fir herself. In addition to around 300 rhododendrons, the developed 5 acres of the garden is filled with a wide variety of evergreen and deciduous plants and trees – ranging from Stewartia, Carolina silverbells, maples, pines, birches, magnolias, dogwoods, witch hazels, osmanthus, viburnums, mountain laurels, redbuds, katsuras, yews, and much more. In the undeveloped 6 acres, a ‘nature trail’ has been created where salal, oregon grape, ferns, and native blackberries can be easily spotted.
RHODY RIDGE FOUNDATION
17427 Clover Rd Bothell, WA 98012
Open daily from 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM. Tours available upon request.