In December of 2010, Donna Lucas, a member of the Columbia Basin Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society (CBNPS), approached the Benton Conservation District (BCD) about developing a program to promote low water-use landscaping utilizing native plants. At the time, the BCD was struggling with developing and implementing a Xeriscaping Program due to the public’s perception that low water-use landscaping was drab and ugly. Donna’s concept of Heritage Gardens seemed like the perfect answer to the dilemma the BCD was facing. 

Together the BCD and the CBNPS spent the next 18 months refining the Heritage Garden concept. We developed resources for potential Heritage Gardeners to insure that the program would be successful. The result was a comprehensive program designed to promote the use of native plants, especially those of cultural significance; promote low water-use landscaping and irrigation methods; and provide a way to educate our community about the history and biodiversity of the Columbia River Basin.

In the fall of 2011, the BCD and the CBNPS signed an MOU to formalize their relationship moving forward. Donna Lucas was appointed as the Heritage Garden Program Chair and Heather Wendt was assigned as the Program Director in charge of implementing the program for the Benton and Franklin Conservation Districts. In July 2012 the Heritage Garden Program officially certified its first Heritage Garden.

On July 13, 2016 the Benton Conservation District Board expanded the Heritage Garden program to incorporate the CBNPS’ Purple Heart concept as a component that can be included in certified gardens. Purple Hearts are a great way for public entities as well as private gardeners to honor our country's veterans. Purple Heart planting plans will be developed and/or reviewed by CBNPS member Ernie Crediford who created the concept and planted the first Purple Heart located near the primitive boat launch at Wye Park in the Richland Y.

Today the cornerstone of the program is the one-on-one interaction Conservation District and CBNPS members have with the community providing site specific plant recommendations and advice on how to create a Heritage Garden. According to Donna, "We are on the brink of a cultural shift, relearning how to approach our landscapes. The Heritage Garden Program provides a forward-looking vision utilizing our native plants, plants that developed strategies over thousands of years not only to survive our harsh environment, but to thrive in it."  

This program is currently offered at no charge to residents in Benton, Franklin and Yakima Counties. Funding for the program is provided by the BCD Rates and Charges, and grants from the Washington State Conservation Commission in Benton and Franklin Counties.  In Yakima County funding is provided by a Washington State Department of Ecology Grant through the Municipal Subgroup of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.