Remembering Ernest Wertheim, Landscape Architect and Garden Center Designer

Remembering Ernest Wertheim, Landscape Architect and Garden Center Designer

Note from Rick Haggard: I wanted to share this remembrance of Ernest Wertheim with the members for I know he worked with some here in Indiana. I was one of those fortunate to do so. This was almost 20 years ago and he was definitely as sharp and witting then as most are in their prime. Then again, I do not know if he felt he reached his peak!

Ernest Wertheim, Landscape Architect and Garden Center Designer

December 30, 1919 ~ August 4, 2020

By Jacqueline Williams-Courtright, Owner of Alden Lane Nursery, Livermore, CA,

The history of Alden Lane is not complete without recognizing a gentleman who shaped our new garden center.  Dear friend and industry colleague, Ernest Wertheim passed away at the age of 100 years, 7 months and 4 days today.

Ernest was a landscape architect who became a world renowned garden center designer.  We were fortunate to be personal friends and engaged the services of his San Francisco architectural firm, WVK.  Ernest and his partner Jack Klemeyer made history by designing state of the art garden centers all over the globe, we are grateful to both for their vision and great skill in their backyard.  Coincidentally, the first garden center they designed was my husband’s, Orchard Nursery and Florist Lafayette in 1954 for the previous owner.

Ernest’s longevity stemmed from embracing youth and new technologies.  He never stopped learning.  He had tremendous stamina and capacity always outpacing those he consulted for.  He was a passionate planner who challenged his clients to think through their needs, asking the hard questions.  He was a peace maker and always a broker of goodwill.

My husband, I and Ernest spoke at a garden symposium and had flown out of San Francisco.  Our return flight was delayed by 4 hours.  We enticed him to talk about his life and WWII experience.  The result of that fleeting 4 hours was numerous speaking engagements and a book called Chasing Spring available at Alden Lane.

The book recounts the life of a boy born in Berlin, becoming a landscape architect, fleeing to safety in the United States, being inducted into the US Army as an enemy alien, providing intelligence that saved countless lives, ultimately working directly with General Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific.

Ernest’s bright light will live on in his family, friends, colleagues, clients and countless projects along with the many lessons taught along the way.

I’ll close with the last passage of his book

“A Place to Rest”
“On the upper part of the mountain in Alpine Meadows there is a steep slope that is covered with striking Sierra primroses (Primula suffrutescens).  The perennials, endemic to California, come out after the snow has melted.  For years our family would hike up the mountain to see them in bloom which, depending on the season, is in mid-July or early August

It is on the mountain in Alpine among the primroses where both Margrit and I would like to be put to rest.  We hope our ashes will provide some nutrients for these beautiful plants, just as my relationship with plants has nourished me.  My love affair has been with me through the innocence of childhood, the nightmares of Nazi Germany, the separations and losses of loved ones, the horrors of the battlefield, the transcendent landscapes, the gift of good friend, the joy of family and many lessons I’ve learned that humbled me and hopefully made me a better person.  How lucky I have been.”

How lucky for us to have known this amazing man.

Jacqueline Williams-Courtright — To read more about Earnest life and his autobiography