It’s worth a trip to celebrate spring at the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Woodland, Washington. The gardens and family home of Hulda Klager are a National Historic site and the house stands as a museum to the Lilac Lady.
Hulda Thiel emigrated to Wisconsin from Germany in 1866, at the age of 2 with her parents Gotfried and Wilhemina Thiel. At age 13 in 1877, she moved to the south end of Washington state with her parents. They bought farmland and built the house on this estate, located on the Woodland bottoms, not far from the Columbia and Lewis Rivers.
Several years later Hulda married Frank Klager. They bought the estate from her parents and raised their four children here. Hulda was an accomplished seamstress and an avid gardener. A photo in the house shows two of her daughters wearing wedding dresses that she made for their double wedding. She also made a quilt that lays on her bed.
In 1903 Hulda read a book about Luther Burbank and his work to improve plants through propagation. This book caught her attention. She began hybridizing lilacs in 1905 at age 42. In just five years, by 1910 she’d created 14 new varieties. By 1920 she decided she would hold a yearly open house called ‘Lilac Week’ each spring so other folks could also enjoy her lilacs.
‘Through the years, Mrs. Klager was been honored by many organizations for her work as a leading hybridizer of lilacs including the State of Washington, the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, the Federation of Garden Clubs in Washington and Oregon and the City of Portland, Oregon.’ (quoted from website.)
Hulda’s life was not with out sorrow. In 1922 her husband Frank died. She almost ended her hybridizing career, but at the urging of her son Fritz she continued. Sadly all of her children would die before Hulda.
The VanPort flood of 1948 backed up the mighty Columbia River and the Lewis River, flooding her home. Flood waters inundated the Woodland bottoms for 6 weeks. When the floodwater had retreated the lilac gardens were gone. Only the big trees on the property had survived. And the house was in need of repair. Floodwater had risen up the porch stairs and up the inside walls of the house 2 1/2 feet. A mark on the back side of the hall closet door still bears the water marks left so many years ago.
At age 83 Hulda set about rebuilding her garden. Many people around the world who had purchased her lilacs sent starts back to her to replace those she’d lost. Two years later in 1950 Hulda was able to open her garden for ‘Lilac Week’ and she continued that practice until her death in 1960.
Today the Hulda Klager Lilac Society, a nonprofit organization maintains the gardens and home on the estate. The home is filled with pieces indicative of the Victorian era. You can walk through the rooms and see some of Hulda’s belongings as well as other donated period pieces.
Plan a trip to the Hulda Klager Lilac gardens one day soon. Take a relaxing stroll through the gardens and step back in history by touring the home. You won’t be disappointed.