Before “big science” made a pivotal impact on Boulder in the 1950s, there were plenty of individuals putting Boulder on the map with small science. These innovative residents were driven by their own curiosity, operating without funding, but nevertheless made significant contributions to the world.
One such explorer was Darwin Andrews, the namesake for Andrews Arboretum, a small tree garden on Broadway between Marine Street and Grandview Avenue. Andrews made discoveries in the field of plant science by gathering specimens from the surrounding mountains and through cultivating new varieties.
Andrews‘ early love of plant collecting, nurtured by his mother, helped pay his way through college in Wisconsin, while setting him on a career path of recording indigenous flora and breeding new species.
Andrews arrived in Boulder in 1893 and soon began selling flowers at Fourth Street and Arapahoe Avenue. Shortly thereafter, he established Rockmont Nursery at 23rd Street and Bluebell Avenue, the neighborhood now known as Lower Chautauqua.
For years Andrews hunted and collected plant species for Harvard‘s Arnold Arboretum, as many species growing in the Rocky Mountains were as yet undocumented.
“Andrews traveled by foot, then with a burro, also by bicycle, by horse and buggy and finally by automobile on his collecting trips,” a newspaper story reported. He always returned with a heavy backpack of plant specimens.
At the nursery, he developed hybrids and domesticated Colorado plants and shrubs for home gardens. Rockmont Nursery grew into a mail-order venture, selling native plants and wildflowers, which was known all over the world, according to Andrews‘ obituary in the Daily Camera in 1938.
A 1935 article in a gardening magazine described Andrews as “indefatigable in the study, cultivation and introduction of western wildflowers.” By the end of his life, Andrews was honored by a cottonwood, two oaks, and several other species named for him.
Each year the Rockmont Nursery published a catalog of plant species available for sale. In the 1935 catalog, Andrews thanked his customers for their support during the Depression and wrote, “Even so, the Garden remains a necessity. It is more than a hobby, it restores the soul.”
Other area residents who made significant contributions to horticulture in the 1900s:
Wilmatte Cockerell: In 1910, this Boulder High biology teacher discovered a mutant red sunflower in a vacant lot across the street from her University Hill home. She dug up the specimen, replanted it, collected the seeds and hand-pollinated the next generations to develop several hues of red sunflowers. The seeds were sold to Sutton & Sons and also the Burpee company. Today, Boulder‘s red sunflowers are grown all over the world.
J.D. Long: J.D. Long traveled to Colorado from Iowa in 1898, for relief from tuberculosis. By 1900, Long moved to Boulder and founded a store and then a seed company. Next came land, purchased in 1916, to grow gladiolus, iris, peonies, dahlias and strawberries, among other crops. The business eventually settled on iris, as they were drought-resistant, and they developed hundreds of varieties. Today, Catherine Long Gates is the third generation to lead the horticulture venture. With her husband, Dennis, Long‘s Gardens continues to create new iris hybrids that are shipped far and wide.
Maud Reed: A nature lover and Boulder High science teacher for 21 years, Reed created an innovative outdoor botanical classroom for the study of native trees and plants. She eventually convinced the school district to purchase the land. Her outdoor study space led to the Andrews Arboretum, established in 1948, named for Boulder pioneer horticulturist Darwin Andrews. Andrews Arboretum is now owned and maintained by the City of Boulder Parks and Recreation department.