Brian Mulligan Turned Arboretum Into Crown Jewel Of Seattle's Parks

Brian O. Mulligan was as quiet and orderly as the shrubs and trees he tended in his 26 years as director of Washington Park Arboretum.

The native of Northern Ireland made the two acres surrounding his home in Kirkland into a park. He made the Arboretum a crown jewel among public gardens.

The Olmsted Brothers in 1937 created the master plan for the park. But Mr. Mulligan and his staff made it one of the nation's top living museums of woody plants.

"The credit for how collections are displayed right now, what trees we have and how they are arranged, flows more to him than to anyone in the 60-year history of the Arboretum," said Clem Hamilton, director of the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture.

Mr. Mulligan, who left a career with England's World War II victory-garden program to head the Arboretum, died Thursday, Jan. 4, of a brain hemorrhage. He was 88.

He grew up loving plants. His mother was assistant director of the Royal Horticultural Gardens. He graduated from the Royal Horticultural Society School of Horticulture at Wisley, England, in 1927.

He and his wife, Margaret, came to Seattle in 1946. He retired from the Arboretum in 1972 but held the title of director emeritus and worked there as a part-time volunteer.

Bucking pressure to plant together all varieties of a species, such as pine trees, he placed each plant where it would thrive.

"But he had a sense of humor and once planted a sweet gum in the midst of maples in the Japanese garden," said Hamilton. "It was similar to a maple, but its leaves are arranged in an alternate fashion. That's a neat thing to show students, because they can be fooled."

His legacy as a plantsman includes species and cultivated varieties named for him, including Rosa mulliganni.

"We went seed collecting every fall and plant collecting in the spring," said his wife of 57 years. "We have been to all the near states, and I think we know more about this state than do the natives."

As a father, "he was very loving but also made sure we did things responsibly," said his son Robert Mulligan of Salem, Ore.

"He was a smart man, and I don't mean only with plants. He'd let you make your own mistakes but hoped you'd learn from them."

Other survivors include a son, Michael Mulligan of Patterson, Calif., and a sister, Barbara Mulligan of England.

A funeral was held. A public service begins at 1 p.m. next Saturday in the UW Faculty Center, with an informal gathering at 3 p.m. in the Arboretum's Graham Visitors Center. Remembrances may go to the Sorbus Collection, c/o The Arboretum Foundation, 2300 Arboretum Drive E., Seattle, WA, 98112.