I can’t think of a single person who goes more to the heart of Bainbridge Island than Junkoh Harui. No biography can capture all that this gentle man has meant to so many – to our gardens, to our souls.
Junkoh’s parents, Senhichi and Shiki Harui, immigrated in 1908 and created Bainbridge Gardens near the head of Fletcher Bay at Island Center. Kitsap County’s first “Ag” Agents described the neighborhood as “one of the county’s most important agricultural areas where farmers, mostly of Japanese ancestry, pioneered the successful growing of many crops,” especially, rhubarb and all kinds of berries.
The Harui family established a store, plant nursery, greenhouse – and the region’s most beautiful traditional Japanese gardens. In the early 1930s, Junkoh’s father and his peers gave blossoming cherry trees to the new high school’s campus.
Bainbridge Gardens was the Island’s primary tourist destination, according to the WPA’s federally-funded state tourist guide.World War II’s Presidential orders, requiring folks of Japanese ancestry to evacuate the coast, doomed the Gardens and broke the heart of its caretakers.
The first time I visited the island was in 1948 and we stopped at the store. I had a popsicle. For years following WWII and then Senhichi’s death (1977), the Gardens fell into disrepair. Junkoh and his wife, Chris, operated Town & Country Florist, first in downtown Winslow and later in the Village with a nursery service.
By the 1960s, my family became island residents and found a patch of ground to nurture. We used to love to read Junkoh’s Bainbridge Gardens Newsletter columns. They were so beautiful – inspirational and rich with insights and wisdom of a master gardener with roots in the soil and Buddhist and Christian faiths. I hope the family and island heritage organizations retain or can preserve a set of these writings.
When Junkoh wasn’t helping us all make things grow, he served as president of the Olympic Peninsula Nurseryman’s Assn. and on the Winslow City Council. He helped create Waterfront Park, co-chaired the effort that preserved the Grand Forest, and designed the enchanting Haiku No Niwa – Haiku Gardens – at the Bainbridge Public Library, a gift of the Japanese American Community as were his father’s cherry trees a generation earlier. Lucy Ostrander’s film, “Red Pines,” shares more of Junkoh’s story – as do most of you. This list of his gifts to our community seems endless. He nurtured plants and us all.
Town & Country Nursery was in the Village when I began my service as the Bainbridge Island Museum’s president and curator. I asked Junkoh, who assisted me with the collection of many historic artifacts, if we could search the Bainbridge Gardens store before it collapsed. Junkoh said, “Sure, you can see what you can find. Just be careful.”
I took my son along. He was quite excited to find an old Wheaties box. Mice had long since feasted on the “Breakfast of Champions.” A portrait on the box of Olympic pole vaulter, Rev. Bob Richards, dated it to the 1950s.
“What else did you find?” asked Junkoh, who knew many people were hoping he would one day restore the Gardens (as he later did).
“This…I found this among the debris in the attic. Is it what I think it is?”
“Yes,” Junkoh said. “Someone hand-painted that and put it up on the store to greet us when we returned after the war. The museum can have it if you’d like.”
We used it in exhibits such as the 100-year history of islanders of Japanese ancestry – “Kodomo No Tame Ni, For the Sake of the Children.” We liked to hang it over the exhibit entrance, showing the back side of it first. It was a hand-painted sign that declared, “WELCOME BACK…” – as in both “welcome back home from the war’s forced evacuation” and “welcome back, dear visitors, to our compelling history.”
And then, after folks finished their tour of the museum, they would exit under the other side of the sign. It announced in larger and bolder professionally-made baked enamel on steel letters that they were returning to the present… stepping foot again into our beautiful island landscape, our Garden of Eden, thanks in large part to the vision, courage, faith, generosity and love of Junkoh and his family.
It read: “BAINBRIDGE GARDENS!”
Gerald Ellfendahl is a local historian.