Obituary: Betty Lowry

Obituary: Betty Lowry (1934 – 2017)

I am saddened to announce that the rock gardening community has lost one of its best. Betty Lowry, longtime member of the Northwestern Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society passed away on February 28, 2017. She was 82 years old.

Betty Lowry was born Betty Jean Ragle on May 16, 1934, in San Diego, California. She married Ned Lowry in 1957, and shortly thereafter moved to Washington State where she earned her PhD in 1963 from the University of Washington. 

She had a passion for plants--and for seeing them in the wild--that was well known. She and Ned traveled together frequently on botanizing expeditions and explored much of the western United States together (making three trips to Alaska alone between 2000 and 2006), as well as taking a trip to Patagonia in South America in 2000. Betty and Ned's passion was visible closer to home as well, as their garden was legendary and was always a tour stop for visiting members of the plant and rock garden community.

Betty and Ned were truly made for each other. Their life together spanned close to sixty years, and Ned was always her staunch protector and partner. When growing health concerns made it difficult for Betty to continue to maintain their extensive garden, Ned moved them both to a small, quiet house on Whidbey Island where they remained together until his passing in 2015.

She was very active in plant and garden organizations, including the North American Rock Garden Society and her local Northwestern Chapter. In 1997 she was the recipient of the NARGS Marcel Le Piniec Award, given to a “person who as nurseryman, propagator or plant explorer is actively and currently engaged in extending and enriching the material available to American rock gardeners."

Not just a legendary grower and propagator, Betty was also a scientist, and her understanding of the inner biology of seeds and plants allowed her to successfully collect and preserve seeds from all over the globe. It is a testament to her talents that, when she and Ned moved to a smaller home and she decided to distribute her stored seed collection among growers and friends, the vast majority of the seed was viable and germinated, despite being up to thirty years old in some cases. Her generosity in sharing seeds and plants over her long career is the reason why many rare and hard-to-find species remain in the trade to this day.

Betty also had a substantial impact on other growers and plant lovers both locally and all over the world. Kelly Dodson of Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, Washington, describes her contributions to the rock garden community as follows:

She was a skilled grower that locally we could take pride in as she was on par with the best growers in the UK or Europe. … A visit to her garden and alpine house was an inspiring lesson in what was possible if you applied yourself diligently to the study of alpines and how to interpret their needs to successfully grow them.

Betty Lowry was truly a wonderful and respected member of the plant community, and her presence will be sorely missed by all that had the pleasure of knowing her.

By Kevin Cretin, chair Northwestern Chapter of NARGS

March 16, 2017