Story last updated at 3/19/2014 - 1:37 pm
Gardening in Skagway is almost as old as the city itself.
In 1908, the Skagway Commercial Club published a full-color pamphlet promoting its city - then one of Alaska's largest - with words almost as colorful as the pictures within. "As a garden spot Skagway cannot be excelled," the Commercial Club wrote. "Red, white and black currants grow in abundance, making the best kind of jellies. Blueberries, huckleberries, cranberries and reaspberries grow wild. Some of these berries have been cultivated very successfully. Vegetables also grow to a very large size, and it is an excellent country for celery, which is noted for its rich flavor."
Those words are more than a century old, but every day, gardener Charlotte Jewell is proving them still true. Jewell is owner and proprietor of Jewell Gardens and Garden City Glassworks, a pair of businesses making local work in Skagway.
"I started working on the garden in 1996, and I've never used an herbicide or pesticide on it, and I'm very proud of it," she said by phone.
Jewell's garden, begun as a hobby and grown into a business, is the first certified organic show garden in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
She uses no herbicides or pesticides on her flowers or vegetables but still manages to create a spectacle that's been repeatededly labeled a favorite of cruise ship visitors.
"For customer satisfaction, we have been either No. 1 or tied for No. 1 for three years running, according to Princess Cruises," she said.
Jewell has grown deep roots in Skagway since she arrived in 1976 to work at a gift shop. She started selling bedding plants business as a sideline, and it eventually became her main line of work.
With her success, she's begun to branch out. Earlier this month, she was a featured speaker at the Juneau Garden Symposium, where she discussed how she turned her garden into a business. She's spoken at garden clubs across Alaska and last year hosted the Southeast Garden Conference.
That conference was a triumph for Jewell and other Skagway gardeners, who have revived Skagway's reputation as the "Garden City of Alaska," a term born in 1902 when jeweler Herman Kirmse held the city's first garden contest and the chamber of commerce started using the phrase in its advertising.
It's not all roses, Jewell said - it takes a lot of work to keep a garden growing in Skagway.
"One of the biggest challenges is gardening here is the wind," she explained. "That wind is just vicious and just dries everything out."
While Juneau growers may have the edge in spring and early summer, Skagway blooms in middle and late summer when Juneau is usually socked by rain.
In July and August, thousands of visitors walk Jewell's gardens on culinary tours. They pick fresh vegetables and an on-site chef turns them into snacks.
Through all of her work, Jewell said, her goal is to stay organic and healthy. "I'm very much into sustainable agriculture, and that's very important to me, to be able to show you can grow a beautiful garden with organics," she said. "Feeling good about what you do is important."
Jewell Gardens can be reached at 983-2111.