Daily Garden: Steve & Cindy’s Alaskan Glacier Rainforest Garden

It’s the classic story of making lemonade from lemons.   Natures wrath and frustration with garden making in the the Mendenhall Valley of Alaska lead to this interesting landscape.

mendenhall glacier garden juneau alaska tongass national rainforest

Throughout the garden, upside down trees, known as the ‘Flower Towers’, have had their tops buried in the ground and their roots thrust up in the air, forming baskets that cradle brilliantly bright trailing flowers. Netting and mosses form a bed in the center of the root ball for flowers such as begonias, fuchsias, and petunias to bloom and delicately hang down from the tree.

The back story is charming….  In 1984, heavy rain and snow deposits caused a landslide that demolished much of the face of Thunder Mountain, uprooting nearly everything and destroying one of the main streams. In 1985, Steve and Cindy Bowhay bought up nearly 50 acres of the destroyed land – much of it part of the Tongass National Rainforest near the the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska – intent on reclaiming it.

Steve and Cindy Bowhay own nearly 50 acres of land - much of it part of the Tongass National Rainforest near the the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska.

They wanted to use the stream for a hydro-electricity plant to power new greenhouses (Steve is in the landscape business).  Settling ponds were designed throughout in order to slow the rate of water and erosion and provide a series of waterfalls on the Gardens property.  Their plan for the rest of the land was to create a guided tour for visitors to enjoy both the beautiful landscape as well as the natural panoramic view of Juneau that the Thunder Mountain rock face cliff provides.

During the process of rebuilding the stream, (so the story goes) Steve accidentally damaged the moving equipment and, in a fit of frustration, used the machine to pick up a large fallen tree stump and slam it upside down into the soft mud. The image of roots hanging down like petunia vines apparently gave him the inspiration to repeat his action, inverting over 20 other dead Spruce and Hemlock trees in order to plant 75-100 flowers in the ‘root bowls’ each year.

garden Steve and Cindy Bowhay Tongass National Rainforest  Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska.

Glacier gardens are open to visit from May until September.

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rochelle greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.

5 Comments

  1. Katie on February 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    I love this! can’t say more than that as I’m in awe!

  2. Sprout on February 19, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    I’m in love – it almost makes me want to go to Alaska! Can you design something like this a wee bit closer to home?

    How are things shaping up downtown in The Woo for this spring? Rumours abound that Hanover Insurance will be taking over the City Square project. I’ll be looking for you planting City Square!

  3. private on February 23, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Beautiful and inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

    It reminds me of a hanging planter maybe twenty or thirty feet (if I remember correctly) across in a Lucent building in Holmdel NJ. At the very least, it makes my weeding/watering challenges seem trivial.

    Arbors commonly use vines, but could be built with more of a green roof concept, allowing a container planting look like this. Or I could picture it framing a driveway, maybe arching over it.

    It would be really adaptable for blocking a view. A local mounted a piece of lattice on the lot line at about twelve feet, midway between his and his neighbor’s windows. This would look better. But a vine on the lattice may be all he can maintain.

  4. pat leonard on May 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    love what you did it is beyond beautiful…

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