Despite the wettest weather we’ve had on record, signs of spring are everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. I visit the Bellevue Botanical Garden at this time of year to admire the plants, flowers and trees that remind me that this is the season of rejuvenation. The garden is undergoing extensive renovation to improve the visitor’s experience. Remarkably, admission is free of charge. Located just off the urban core where Bellevue’s downtown area is experiencing explosive growth—too much steel, concrete and highrise for my taste—the garden is a sanctuary of quiet, serenity and beauty.
Bellevue Botanical Garden
12001 Main Street
Bellevue, WA 98005
We were en route to Los Temos Taqueria in Salem, Oregon, when we saw them. Blooming in the fields were millions of irises laid out in swaths of almost every color imaginable. If it weren’t for the season, we would never have noticed, as we hadn’t in all our previous drive-bys. But, there they were in all their splendor, just up the road from Los Temos.
The fields belong to Schreiner’s Iris Gardens that also has an eye-popping demonstration garden, a true gem in central Oregon, less than an hour’s drive south of Portland, almost exactly at the 45th parallel.
Schreiner’s Iris Gardens
3625 Quinaby Rd NE
Salem, OR 97303
It’s easy to stare slack-jawed at vast fields of tulips, as I always do when visiting the Skagit Valley in April. With throngs of other visitors surrounding you, the tendency is to click the camera and move along. Taking snapshots from about a foot away is as near as most people will get. Stopping to look at tulips more closely is not the first thing that comes to mind. But, if you look deep inside the cup, you’ll find more to be amazed by: the beauty, symmetry and mystery of nature in one flower among millions like it in the field.
When the ‘Unique’ variety of rhododendron (R. campylocarpum hybrid) starts blossoming, it’s the signal in the Pacific Northwest that the rhody season will be in full swing. It’s extremely popular locally, not only for the flowers but more importantly its handsome ovate leaves and compact shape that make it a valuable landscaping specimen throughout the year. I have several shrubs growing in the front yard. After 20 years or so, they’re now quite tall. Last year, our region suffered an almost unprecedented drought. I admit I didn’t water them, except for once, through this botanically stressful period which saw little rain between May and October. So, it was quite the surprise when the shrubs started sprouting a profusion of buds that could lead to the greatest floral display ever, maybe the result of our very wet winter and early spring. The buds start out pinkish and, as they start to open, take on apricot tones. When fully in blossom, they become cream-colored with faint tinges of pink.
Rhododendron campylocarpum hybrid (‘Unique’)
Not only was I captivated by Hagley Park’s begonia display but its dahlia border garden, too. The dahlias occupy a small strip along the periphery of the much larger rose garden, a great attraction in itself. The stunning variety represents the hybridizer’s craft. On one end are the single-row specimens from their native Mexico. How they were hybridized into much more complex forms is and will remain a mystery to me. This amazing morphological variation is showcased in the much larger dahlia garden section by flowers developed by New Zealand horticulturists, including the intriguing ‘cactus’ varieties.
In January-March, flower lovers are treated to one of the most spectacular displays of begonias in the world. Townend House, part of the Hagley Park Conservatory, has a seasonal exhibit of double-flowered begonias, many of them hybridized by New Zealand horticulturists. All I could do was gawk—and snap away with my camera.
The King County Master Gardeners manage the Bellevue Demonstration Garden, also known as the Lake Hills Greenbelt Urban Demonstration Garden. Among the many plots is a section devoted to dahlias. There were two varieties that stood out. One of them had cream and ivory petals tinged mauve on the outer edges (top image). The other had peppermint candy colors where an individual flower contained red and white pigments in proportions different from other flowers on the same plant, as if unveiling Mendel’s concept of genetic variation before our eyes.
One peppermint candy color variation
Flower on the same plant
Bellevue Demonstration Garden
Near the northwest corner of 156th Ave SE and SE 16th St