PUBLISHED: 4:24 PM on Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Commemorative arboretum now open for public viewing
Flush with greenery, fragrant with botanical perfume and beautifully serene and landscaped, the Jensen-Olson Arboretum is now open to the public. Located at 23035 Glacier Highway, just under a mile north of the Shrine of St. Therese, visitors can freely enjoy the commemorative arboretum of gardener Caroline Jensen. The official opening was Saturday, July 28, with a short ribbon-cutting ceremony.

In the 1960s Caroline Jensen and her husband Carl moved to their house "out the road," and transformed the 17-acre area into one of the most gorgeous upkept gardens in Juneau.

Courtesy photo
  Jenna Gonzales tends to the grounds of the Jensen-Olson Arboretum, which is now open to the public.
To preserve all her hard work after she passed away, Jensen had researched ways she could transform her property with its gardens into a public institution for future generations to enjoy.

Possessing scenic, educational and historical aspects that are valuable to Southeast Alaska, Jensen's goal was to utilize the property for enjoyment and instructional purposes.

In 1998, a plan was approved with the Southeast Alaska Land Trust and the City and Borough of Juneau to create a conservation easement.

"The conservation easement stipulated that the Arboretum was not to become a large-scale tourist attraction, but to be maintained for individuals, small, non-commercial and non-profit groups as well as university and school groups," sources said.

As Caroline passed away in February 2006, she left a legacy for the community. The city assumed management of the property and laid the groundwork for the Jensen-Olson Arboretum.

Courtesy photo
  The view from gardens features the Shrine of St. Theresa. To view more photos, go to spotted.
Beginning with a master plan from local landscape designer Judy Sherburne commissioned by Jensen, CBJ hired Merrill Jensen, who is no relation, as Arboretum Manager, this past April.

He's previously worked at botanical institutions in both Idaho and Oregon, and arrived from his position as Director of Horticulture at the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, Calif.

Working diligently with his seasonal staff of City gardeners, they've cleaned up winter damage and enhanced the existing plant beds and installed new plantings to augment the current plant palette for educational purposes.

They've also worked on restoring the vegetable garden to its original state, with more varieties to boot.

"The vegetable garden goes back to the early 19-teens (1911-1913) where the Peterson sisters Anna and Margaret grew vegetables to sell to grocers in Juneau, which got sold to the miners," Jensen said.

"Not only were they gold miners themselves, they were making a little money themselves; the garden has been intact and growing produce for a long time."

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Year round hours of operation are from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday with no admission fees.
The garden offers a large variety of produce including strawberries, beets, chard, potatoes, onions, squash and pumpkin.

"We'll send it to the local food bank-whatever we get out of here we'll send it back to the community," he said.

The Arboretum has submitted a grant proposal with the Ford Foundation for ethnobotanic gardening, which focuses on how plants have been or are used, managed and perceived in human societies and includes plants used for food, medicine, textiles and more.

They plan on working with youth from the Zack Gordon Youth Center to educate about ethnobotany and horticulture.

"We're going to enlarge a lot of the planting space, lose some of the grass and have more flowers, trees and shrubs-not that grass is bad-but it will it give a more park like feel," Jensen said.

"We're going to get a lot of the plants that Caroline used to have out here but have disappeared over the years.

She's got a good photo history of the past 40 years so we'll use that to reconstitute the plants," he said.

In a year or two, they plan on installing a yellow cedar arbor, which will be the official entrance, adding more signage and rock work, Jensen said.

Year round hours of operation will be from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. No admission fees will be charged.

"People can just come out and go 'ooh.' It's a nice place to come down, especially if you're coming out the road, and bringing visitors," Jensen said.