Bainbridge Gardens’ Junkoh Harui dies at 75

Bainbridge Gardens owner Junkoh Harui died Sunday afternoon at his island home. He was 75 years old.

Harui, a well-known and celebrated member of the community, died peacefully at 2 p.m. with family at his side, his daughter Donna Harui said.

Islanders best know him for his Miller Road nursery, a business his father started almost 80 years ago, but was forced to abandon during World War II. Harui revived Bainbridge Gardens in the late 1980s, making it a destination for gardeners around the region and a green oasis with wooded trails, an outdoor café, a garden supply shop and a bountiful selection of plants.

Despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease and, more recently, cancer, Harui was active at Bainbridge Gardens until his death.

“Junkoh’s love of the garden and his commitment to his customers allowed him to share the beauty of nature with generations of Bainbridge Islanders,” his family said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Harui was born on Bainbridge Island in 1933, shortly after his family purchased 20 acres along Miller Road and transformed it into a large farm. The family added a general store, gas station and the Bainbridge Gardens nursery.

He graduated from Bainbridge High School in 1951 and earned a business degree from the University of Washington in 1955. It was at the UW that Harui met his future wife, Chris.

He was drafted by the U.S. Army days before taking a job at a bank. Harui was stationed for almost two years in France, where his interest in working with nature was renewed.

He returned to Bainbridge with Chris and started the island’s first flower shop in 1958. He moved his shop and added a nursery at a second location at the juncture of highway 305 and High School Road. As the highway widened, Harui decided to move his business to his family’s property on Miller Road, with its crumbling buildings buried in blackberry vines. The site was reborn as Bainbridge Gardens in 1989.

This year, Harui and Chris celebrated 50 years of marriage and 50 years of operating a business on Bainbridge Island.

He is survived by his wife, two brothers, four children and five grandchildren.

A celebration of Harui’s life will be held at Sakai Intermediate School on Bainbridge Island at 2 p.m. on Nov. 8.

For more about his life and work, see my July profile of Harui here.

One thought on “Bainbridge Gardens’ Junkoh Harui dies at 75

  1. This is very sad news. I can’t count the times since I moved here in 1992 that I stopped by Bainbridge Gardens and Junkoh gave me advice on anything and everything related to the natural Bainbridge environment, which he knew so well. He always greeted me – and everyone who came by – as a friend thirsting after knowledge of whatever grows on this little swatch of land in the Puget Sound. Each time I visited, when he saw me, he was sure to come over and say hello and ask what I was looking for. He wasn’t interested in selling me a tree or a bush or a flowering plant. His interest was in helping me understand and surround myself with the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest, to take pleasure in planting and growing and loving my garden. His knowledge of the local flora and fauna was instinctual and encyclopedic.

    In his memory, I’m sure the story will be told over and over from today on – as well it should – of how Junkoh and his wife Chris restored the gardens of his father and mother, who had been forced off their land by the cruel policies of war, of how he and Chris had taken gardens overgrown by blackberries and turned them into an island oasis, revered by all.

    The last time I saw Junkoh was about a year ago. I was looking for fig tree that might work for our climate and my soil. An improbable quest. He took me out and showed me a Desert King fig that he’d had good luck with and explained why it was suited for this island’s soil and climate, as he had so many other times with other trees, like the Plane trees that grace my driveway and the Lombardy Poplars he’d special ordered for me that now hedge my northern property line. That fig tree now thrives in my front yard, steadily growing and this year filled with fruit.

    On that last meeting, he and I, with a twig and leaves in hand, sat at his desk and plied the pages of several books to try to determine the particular species of birch that had been planted so that I could somewhat match it. Parkinson’s made his hands tremble like leaves rocked by the wind, but his voice was steady, his knowledge intact, and his enthusiasm constant. Though his health was becoming more fragile each time I saw him, it still seemed like he would be here forever. And so, in a sense, he shall – just as he will remain in the hearts and minds of the thousands of people on this island who have ever dug a hole in the ground and placed roots into Bainbridge Island soil.

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