- Elizabeth Ussher Groff
- The Bee - News
Noted Woodstock gardener passes at age 94
Longtime Woodstock resident William Robinson, also known as Bill or 'Robbie Robinson', was born in Lonerock, Oregon, on April 10, 1917, where he learned to love the great outdoors. At his memorial service June 1 at Holy Family Catholic Church, his son-in-law Fred White described Robinson's early passion for the natural world: 'At nine years old he wrote a note to his mother in which he named all the blooming flowers on his walks in Lonerock.'
Hands-on-gardening experience preceded garden journaling. At age six Robbie helped his parents with their vegetable garden, and after sowing blue bell seeds, he created a rock garden to accent and display the flowers.
His father wanted him to be a lawyer, so he tried pre-law classes at the University of Oregon; but after two years of unhappiness, he left school and returned home. The Superintendent of Schools in his home town told him he should follow his heart and become a gardener. She gave him money for the bus fare to Portland; and, on arrival, he quickly got a job with the Swiss Floral Company, where he worked from 1939 to 1947.
In 1947 Robinson was hired by the Portland Parks Bureau as a gardener, and after five years was promoted to head gardener for the city, a job he kept for twenty-five more years until retiring in 1977.
In addition to selecting, caring for, and preserving flowering trees and shrubs in parks throughout the city, Robinson was instrumental in the creation of the Portland Japanese Garden. He organized city crews to carry out the designs of landscape architect Professor P.T. Tono, who frequently flew to Portland from Japan to design and work on the garden.
Robinson took Tono all over Oregon to find just the right plant materials and stones for the garden. Over the years, he took over eight thousand slides chronicling the history and beauty of the garden, some of which are on postcards and posters in the gift shop today.
Closer to his home in Woodstock, in which he lived for 58 years, Robinson worked with Portland Parks staffmembers to plan and plant an island in the Eastmoreland Golf Course that began as a rhododendron test garden in 1950. In 1964 its name was changed to reflect the setting on the edge of the body of water fed by Crystal Springs Creek.
Robinson was a charter member of the American Rhododendron Society, and in 1946 he hybridized a rhododendron that in 2004 was officially named the 'Robbie Robinson.' He was also a founding member of the Home Orchard Society and the Metropolitan Garden Club, and was integral in the establishment of Portland's Heritage Tree program. In 1984, the Mayor of Portland proclaimed a day in his honor, and the following year Emperor Hirohito awarded him a medal for helping to foster 'civilization, friendship and peace' through his work, through photography, and later through extensive volunteering with the Japanese Garden.
In 1995 Robinson was added to the career achievement registry at Oregon State University. His early work documenting Portland's unusual trees was an inspiration for Phyllis Reynold's book, 'Trees of Greater Portland,' published in 1993 by Timber Press.
Robinson died on May 27. Lena Fossati Robinson, his wife of 68 years, preceded him in death by two months. While living in Woodstock the couple raised three daughters, who are his survivors: Joanne Robinson, Martha White, and Nancy Izatt. There are four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Son-in-law Fred White describes Robinson as a humble, enthusiastic, 'can do' person, who significantly contributed to the beauty of Portland's parks and gardens. It is the city's good fortune that this gardener followed the path of his heart.