December 12, 2004 in Idaho

He dreams big, and in vivid color

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Kathy Plonka photo

Duane Hagadone wants to build a public garden in Coeur d’Alene that would shut down two blocks of Sherman Avenue, the main downtown street.
(Full-size photo)

Nothing gives Duane Hagadone much more pleasure than an evening stroll through his Casco Bay gardens with his wife, a vodka tonic and his two German shepherds, Blue and Sky.

And he wants the residents of his native Coeur d’Alene to have the same joy – a place on the edge of Lake Coeur d’Alene where people can walk through paths of rare flowers and bushes, where color is present all year long and the serene picture promises to attract thousands of tourists, perhaps drawing more interest than the lake or Hagadone’s trademark floating green at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course.

Most importantly to the multimillionaire businessman, he wants the garden dedicated to the memory of his parents, Burl and Beverly Hagadone.

“You don’t know me very well, but my parents were very dear to me,” said Hagadone, 72. “I owe everything to them. I wouldn’t be what I am today if it wasn’t for the great foundation my mom and dad gave me.”

To him, there’s no more fitting memorial than a garden because Beverly Hagadone, for whom the resort restaurant is named, loved flowers and had a large garden at the family home on the Fort Sherman grounds. Hagadone doesn’t remember what kind of flowers were in the beds, but he knows they were beautiful. It’s the same neighborhood, just three blocks away from Hagadone Corp. headquarters, where Hagadone made his first cash tending to the neighbors’ lawns and gardens. By around age 9, Hagadone said, he was gardening for many locals and not getting paid a “heck of a lot.”

“I just love it,” Hagadone said. “I always enjoy working in the garden.”

Yet he doesn’t do any gardening these days except for conceptualizing what gardens should go with which projects.

“I work six to seven days a week and don’t have time. But I used to take care of all my gardens – mow, trim, cultivate. Being semiretired is busy.”

Hagadone believes he has a “gift of vision” and thinks the Hagadone Memorial Garden could be his swan song.

Dream takes root

Today, rich red geraniums are synonymous with any property associated with Hagadone, whether it’s the resort, his two Coeur d’Alene homes, his new megamansion in Palm Desert, Calif., or his yacht, the Lady Lola.

But the idea of a downtown garden, which could dramatically change the entrance to the main shopping district, worries some locals.

They can’t believe the man is bold enough to ask for two blocks of Sherman Avenue, the town’s main street, to build what he describes as a world-class garden. The garden would be relatively small, only about 3.4 acres, but packed full of the rarest plants that can survive the Northwest climate and maintained by the nation’s top gardeners.

Because so many people bombarded the Coeur d’Alene City Council with calls and e-mails since the plan became public in October, it is considering holding an advisory vote in February to see how people feel about closing the main entrance to downtown.

Hagadone opposes the vote, but he said he would still build the garden if the city agrees. The council will have the first public workshop on the proposal Monday.

Even if the garden proposal fails, Hagadone intends to expand the resort by building a new hotel tower, perhaps on top of the resort retail shops at the corner of Sherman and Front.

The memorial garden is a dream that Hagadone has harbored for 40 years. The idea hatched after his father, Burl Hagadone, died of cancer in 1959 when his son was 26. Beverly Hagadone died in 1984.

Burl Hagadone started as an advertising salesman for the Coeur d’Alene Press and eventually became publisher. Hagadone said his father was his best friend and confidant. He said he got a paper route at 11 so he could spend more time with Burl.

The two shared a dream – to buy the paper and turn it into a chain. Burl Hagadone died before that became reality: Hagadone owns the Press and other newspapers in Idaho and elsewhere.

If the garden plan is approved, Sherman Avenue would remain city property, so Hagadone wouldn’t pay property taxes on the land. But Hagadone would be responsible for developing and maintaining the gardens, pathways and open spaces.

The big question is whether Coeur d’Alene wants to trade its historic downtown entrance for a garden. Some downtown merchants fear rerouting traffic off Sherman would hurt sales.

Hagadone also wants to close Front Avenue between Second and Third streets, except to the Coeur d’Alene Resort and emergency traffic. Closing Front would provide space for a “front door” to the shopping district, the resort and the garden. This plan might help ease merchants’ fears, because it would force drivers back onto Sherman Avenue so they can’t use Front as an alternative route.

During numerous public presentations – rare appearances by the semiretired businessman who normally leaves the lobbying to his team of managers – Hagadone has reiterated that the benefit to locals is having a public garden to enjoy year-round free of charge.

Work in progress

Although the garden isn’t designed, Hagadone envisions the plants would provide color most of the year. In the winter, Hagadone would incorporate the garden into the holiday light show when his corporation covers its downtown properties with more than a million lights.

The walkways would be heated and covered with canvas awnings, similar to what the resort marina’s boat slips have in the summer.

He compares the idea to Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, which has international fame for its 1 million bedding plants in some 700 varieties that provide uninterrupted bloom of color from March through October. More than a million people a year visit the 130-acre garden, which was started in 1905 in a former limestone quarry. Hagadone is quick to point out a major difference, besides size: The Canadian business charges $22 a person, and entrance to the Hagadone Memorial Garden would be free.

Alison Partridge, of Butchart Gardens, said it is possible to create a similar garden on a smaller scale, especially if the focus is excellence.

“You don’t actually have to be a horticulturist to enjoy the senses, the smells, the beauty of place,” Partridge said, adding that she was unfamiliar with Hagadone and his projects. “It’s a very ambitious project.”

Hagadone has no doubt he can maintain the best public garden in the Northwest and cites his golf course as proof. Readers of Golf Magazine recently named the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course the finest-groomed course in North America, ranking it No. 1 out of 6,500 other courses, Hagadone said.

“It just takes a big budget, lots of personnel, good equipment and the properly trained people,” he said. “Hell, we mow all the fairways, tees and greens every day. Hardly anyone does that.”

Hagadone wants to use his Casco Bay gardens, which have more than 10,000 plants, as a “farm club” where the gardeners would bring in different plants and see how they do. If they thrive, the plants would be transferred to the downtown Coeur d’Alene garden.

In the summers when Hagadone is in Coeur d’Alene, he walks his Casco Bay gardens each evening, taking notes. In the mornings he meets with the six full-time gardeners detailing changes he wants.

Unlike building a hotel, Hagadone said, a garden is a work in progress. It’s alive and always changing. That’s what keeps it interesting, he said.

Travis Curtis, who oversees the Casco Bay gardeners, said Hagadone notices everything.

“He’s well aware of what it takes to take care of a place like that,” Curtis said, adding that the landscaped area around the home has grown to nearly 5 acres and is perhaps one of the biggest private perennial gardens in the Northwest.

“If it’s dry or wet, he notices,” Curtis said.

Three refrigerated semitrailers arrive in Coeur d’Alene each spring with 30,800 geraniums from Busch Greenhouses in Denver. The Oglevee geraniums in the color of Sincerely Yours are the plants that grow upright and are used in front of the resort and at the golf course. The Balcon Royale Ivy variety is used in the hanging baskets and on the bridge off the downtown boardwalk.

Aida Angel, of Bush Greenhouses, said these flowers are the standard geranium color and are often used in classic gardens. She said many people are moving toward a truer, genetically altered red. She doesn’t expect Hagadone to stray from the classics.

“I think they are set on that being their signature flower,” she said, adding that Hagadone Corp. is the greenhouse’s largest buyer of plants that are ready to be put in the ground.

Geraniums are Hagadone’s favorite flower because they are colorful, hardy and last into November. He also takes pride in the rich reddish-orange color, which is consistent in each flower.

Hagadone notices if the color is off.

“Anything he does is done to perfection,” said Terri Meyer, who works at the Stanley Hill home.

The expansive Coeur d’Alene residence, often used for parties, is decorated in the warmer months with the geraniums. A large display is strategically located directly outside Hagadone’s bedroom window, framing a view of the lake and his resort tower.

The library has a section of flower books ranging from “The Complete Geranium” to perennial guides and a look at George Washington’s gardens at Mount Vernon.

Curtis wouldn’t disclose the secret to keeping the thousands of geraniums looking bright and healthy for months.

“I can’t tell you,” he said with a laugh. “Company secret. But it’s lots of care, lots of TLC.”

Year-round color

Calling the proposed Hagadone Memorial Garden a botanical garden is a misnomer, Hagadone said, because there’s no intent to have greenhouses for growing and culturing plants or research. But Hagadone is not ruling out anything for the future and says it could grow into a botanical garden.

He eagerly gives a verbal tour of his plan, which hasn’t yet been illustrated. Local landscape design company Hatch Mueller is working on a rendition that will be presented at Monday’s public workshop.

Early in the spring, the garden would have tulips and narcissus and crocus. Then, by April, the spring flowers would come followed by the summer blooms. Fall would be full of colorful foliage, such as burning bush. The holiday season would carry on the tradition of Hagadone’s holiday light show.

He wants every plant to be labeled. A master gardener would be available to answer questions and conduct seminars.

“I hope this would be a catalyst that might raise the level of all the homes in this whole area,” Hagadone said.

Walking paths and the Centennial Trail would meander through the garden that would stretch between the resort and the north side of Sherman Avenue.

Hagadone says Coeur d’Alene is devoid of flowers, more so than any other city he’s visited. Except for the Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association’s flower baskets and “Duane’s geraniums,” Hagadone said, the town is lacking.

“When I was a kid, 65 years ago, there was a beautiful garden in City Park,” he said. “Now a dandelion has a tough time.”

Coeur d’Alene Parks Director Doug Eastwood said nobody has ever complained about a lack of a garden or requested that the city plant more flowers. The city spends about $2,500 a year planting 9,000 annuals. A couple of years ago, city workers planted flowers along the seawall at City Park. Then thousands of people hit the town for the Ironman triathlon, and not a single plant survived.

“That’s about all we can afford,” Eastwood said. “It sounds like a lot, but it takes a lot to plant that many. It doesn’t go very far over 17 parks.”

Hagadone said he wouldn’t let anyone mess with his memorial garden flowers. He is horrified whenever he walks the resort boardwalk in the early morning and sees someone pull up a geranium and throw it in the lake. He said he wouldn’t mind if they took it home and planted it, but destroying the plant is “heartbreaking.”

To prevent vandalism, Hagadone is considering having the garden closed at night. But some people question how that would affect the Centennial Trail, a paved bicycle and pedestrian path that stretches from Nine Mile Falls through Spokane to Higgens Point that would be routed through the garden.

New garden, familiar theme

This isn’t the first time Hagadone has approached the city with plans for a grand garden.

In 1997, Hagadone offered to donate $2 million to build a library on McEuen Field, just east of the Coeur d’Alene Resort, that included a memorial garden. Residents resoundingly rejected the offer, because they didn’t like the location for the proposed library or the loss of the popular playfield.

In 2002, Hagadone again proposed converting McEuen Field into lawns, a memorial garden and amphitheater. This plan, which never gained momentum, included eliminating the Third Street boat launch and parking, all the ball fields, the tennis courts and the playground.

Hagadone is the first to admit he’s driven and persistent. And he survived many vicious battles over the building of the Coeur d’Alene Resort. Looking back, he said the most ferocious objectors have apologized and conceded that the resort and golf course have benefited Coeur d’Alene. Yet there are many locals who would disagree, arguing Hagadone has done too much development, for selfish reasons, and that the hospitality jobs he has created pay low wages.

The new garden proposal deepens those sentiments for some.

Hagadone admits the garden and new tower proposal would mean a radical change in the feel and look of downtown. But to him it’s also a way to build a grand gateway entrance to the shopping district, his resort and the gardens. And it would provide better connectivity for the paths and green spaces that stretch from Tubbs Hill past Independence Point to North Idaho College.

“There’s a fear of change,” Hagadone said. And, he said, there’s a portion of the population that dislikes anything he attempts.

“I could pass out $10 bills, and probably soon they would be bitching it’s not $20s,” he said. “In my heart I know their people (downtown merchants) will be better off.”


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