The Gunther Garden features plants important to Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. These plants were—and in many cases still are—used for food and medicine, and as the raw materials for houses, canoes, clothing, ceremonial artworks, and a myriad of tools and utensils.
Ethnobotany is the study of the plant lore of a people. The Gunther Garden displays many of the most useful plants in the Northwest; plant labels indicate traditional uses, as well as natural habitats and suggestions for use in wildlife enhancement, land reclamation, or waterwise gardens.
Featuring more than 100 plant species from both sides of the Cascades, the main display beds (including wetland basketry plants, Puget lowlands, westside prairie, native honeysuckle, and totem pole gardens) are located on the front (east) side of the Burke Museum; a forest floor bed and a number of native trees are found around to the north of the building. Interpretive signs describe the garden and its totem pole sculptures.
While the Gunther Garden stands alone as an attraction, this outdoor exhibit reinforces the messages of the indoor displays. Information on plant habitats and land uses relates to the stewardship message of the exhibit Life and Times of Washington State; and the information on traditional (and current) ethnobotanical uses conveys the idea of living Pacific Northwest cultures, as introduced in the exhibit Pacific Voices.
The Gunther Garden was created in 1984 to honor University of Washington anthropologist, much-loved educator, and longtime museum director Erna Gunther.