If you had a little orchard on a hill with a nice view, and you wanted to borrow enough to build a house—but the banks weren’t lending, you’d probably consider that a set-back, right?
In 1930, Herman and Ruth Ohme just said: that’s fine, we’ll start working on the yard while we’re waiting for the banks to start loaning money again. So they headed to the Cascades in their Studebaker Coupe and filled it to the rumble seat and running boards with trees, shrubs, ferns and wildflowers, which they started planting in the scrub along a rocky bluff overlooking a magnificent river. There was no water to irrigate their hill, so they trucked in water in 5-gallon milk cans to hand-water their transplants. Then they brought in flagstone to create meandering paths and benches built into the hillsides. Much of the rock came from the banks of the Columbia River, where the Rocky Reach Dam is now. After the dam flooded the source of their stone, they sledgehammered rock from the surrounding hills and cleared tons of rock on their own land to create paths and grassy clearings. Herman and Ruth used an old Army stretcher to move rocks into position or a mule and a plank sled to move larger stones, levering them into place with a crowbar.
In ten years, working evenings and in the fall after harvest, they had a lush, green 2-acre oasis on a dry hill above Wenatchee. People started hearing about it and stopping by. In 1939, as work continued on the expanding gardens, and as more people wanted to visit, the Ohmes started charging 25 cents a carload for people to see them. Finally, Herman leased his orchard out so he could work full time on his “labor of love”. This beautiful spot was entirely a product of the imagination, passion and hard work of Ruth and Herman—he worked on the gardens for 42 years until he died at age 80—and later their son Gordon. Today it encompasses about 9 acres, after Gordon expanded on the original 4-acre garden, including an unseen irrigation system that has reduced the labor and helped ensure the health of the plants and trees.
They never wanted to build a tourist attraction—Ruth said “we just wanted to build a nice back yard.” But their beautiful Ohme Gardens is now run by Chelan County, and is ever popular with visitors. And they never did build their house here.