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A highlight of our Holiday festivities was the presentation of the Founders Award to John E. Coulter, received in his absence by his daughter, Karen Coulter. John is now 95, living in Grants Pass, Oregon, and is reported to be delighted by the recognition we have given him. 

There is much to tell of someone who has lived 95 years, started his own vegetable garden while still in grade school, and has been involved in the horticultural industry all his life. His first job in 1927 was for Ray Hartman, owner of the Leonard Coates Nurseries originally located in Morgan Hill. He was very active in the California Horticultural Society, then helped found the Peninsula Chapter, Western Horticultural Society, in April 1968. He served as Program Chair, Vice President and was elected President in 1973. He tracked members to be sure they received their Pacific Horticultural Journal. He championed the scholarship program, which Western Horticulture continues today. 

During the period John owned and ran his own nursery, he received the James H. Wilson award, which is given to a local nurseryperson who exhibits qualities of sharing and who furthers the nursery business. Preston Oka of Yamagami's Nursery, remembers how much John Coulter meant to the nursery industry in general and to those of the Peninsula Chapter of the California Association of Nurserymen. Mr. Oka remembers John Coulter " a person with strong arms, big hands, tossled short cropped hair and a weathered look which told one that he was an outdoorsman. What I found awesome was how nice he was. How thoughtful and kind he was and how gentle and respectful he was of his wife Joyce." 

After retirement John was Superintendent of Saratoga Horticulture Foundation for several years, and his wife worked with him. He named Ceanothus 'Joyce Coulter' for her. He was also a founding member of the Santa Clara Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. After he moved to Grants Pass, he became active in the Audubon and Native Plant Societies of Oregon. As recently as 2000 (age 90) he helped start a WHS-like organization in Oregon. We are proud that he is still a member of our society that he helped found.

– Glenda Jones

People and Their Cultivars: John Coulter 
Neophytes might be amazed at the level of talent, enthusiasm and achievement in our horticultural community. Learning more about the field (e.g. by reading back issues of Pacific Horticulture), you come to realize these characteristics are indigenous, if not actually endemic to the West Coast garden scene. A number of Western Horticultural Society members with curiosity and a discerning eye, have either named cultivars or had cultivars named after them: Ed Carman, Barrie Coate, Betsy Clebsch, John Coulter, Dick Dunmire, Frances Grate, Cheryl Renshaw and Barbara Worl. 


John Coulter must hold the record for lifetime horticultural continuity. It all began with a vegetable garden while in grade school. He was actively engaged in developing horticulture in the San Francisco - San Jose area. John spent most of the fifty-plus years of his professional life as a nurseryman. He was an early participant in Western Hort in the 1960's and was involved in several other horticultural and nursery groups. After moving with his wife Joyce to Grant's Pass, Oregon, he remains prodigiously active: He corresponds actively and keeps up with trends in the field; he has helped set up a local horticultural society, is writing his memoirs, and in 2005, at 95 years old, he was given Western Hort's Founders Award. 

John discovered and named two California native plant cultivars that remain popular in gardens 30-50 years later. In 1956, he noticed an unusual form of wide, with a 9" diameter trunk. (It later succumbed to 'gardener watering' syndrome.) The Foundation introduced 'Dr Hurd' in 1976. John later wrote that "Finding the original specimen of Arctostaphylos manzanita 'Dr. Hurd' was a high point in my career with the Foundation. Learning that it is a successful landscape plant after 25 years is a delight."


More about Coulter's life and about local nursery history at California Horticultural Society's Oral History Project "Interview with John Coulter", May 2, 1997 (unpublished). Please contact if you would like to help edit the interview for publication.


– Gail Klein


John died in his sleep March 13, 2009 in the 98th year of his age.

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