Please, Have a Seat

In the shady part of the Bellevue Demonstration Garden is the frame of a chair that adds a little unexpected whimsy.

And, right around the corner is the children’s garden featuring a small plot fit for tiny—really tiny—people. Elves?

Chiles Growing in Seattle?

While no one would ever mistake the climate in the Seattle area for Mexico or the Southwest, or eastern Washington even, King County Master Gardeners are intent on proving that chiles can grow quite successfully in our climate. True, they will never develop the legendary heat of Hatch chiles, but it is possible for our gardens to produce more than just bell peppers. No doubt, our unprecedented run of warm, dry weather was responsible for a surprisingly robust crop. I was struck by the variety that was growing in the Bellevue Demonstration Garden. These were just a few varieties.

Sammamish River Trail Garden

There is a small water conservation demonstration garden along the Sammamish River Trail, right below the NE 85th overpass in downtown Redmond, that showcases plants that draw insects attractive to salmon and birds. The garden design simulates a riparian environment by its system of mounded beds, large rocks and gravel pathways. It also provides photographic opportunities throughout much of the year.

mugwort and geranium

Western mugwort (artemisia ludoviciana) and geranium ‘Ann Folkard’

geranium 'ann folkard'

Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’


Red horse chestnut

Red horsechestnut (aesculus x carnea)

Catmint (nepeta faasseni)

Lily 'Stella d'Oro' (hemerocallis fulva 'stella d'oro')

Lily ‘Stella d’Oro’ (hemerocallis fulva ‘stella d’oro’)

Dwarf mock orange (philadelphus 'snow dwarf')

Dwarf mock orange (philadelphus ‘snow dwarf’)

Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden (Federal Way, WA)

For the over thirty years I’ve lived in the Seattle area, I’ve never visited one of the great rhododendron gardens of the world. Weyerhauser’s Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden showcases an amazing variety of not only rhododendrons and azaleas but also other plants that thrive in our Northwest climate. By no means is it a manicured garden like Butchart; in places, it’s landscaped, in others, it’s a work in progress, but mostly it looks to be in a natural state. The garden has been operating since 1975. Its mission, in its own words, is the “conservation, research, acquisition, evaluation, cultivation, public display, and distribution of Rhododendron species.” Remarkably, the garden holds over 700 of the more than a thousand species found in the world. If you are a lover of flowering shrubs, you can easily spend many hours here. The garden is next door to the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection.

The gallery below is just a very small sample of what’s blooming now. Aside from generic names, I’ve provided popular names and taxonomies when labels were available.

Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden
2525 S. 336th Street (see GPS coordinates below)
Federal Way, WA 98003
[Coordinates of parking lot: 47.295625, -122.301468]

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Barking up the Tree: Textures of the Royal Botanic Garden (Melbourne, VIC)

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne is one of the finest in the world, an easy walk across the Princes Bridge from Federation Square. This being nearly the third week into autumn, most all the flower blossoms were spent. Still, there was much to admire here. As you would imagine, there were many native trees of Australia on the grounds. What struck me were their wondrous bark patterns.

Springtime at Butchart Gardens (Brentwood Bay, BC)

No matter how many times we go to Butchart Gardens, one of the most beautiful in the world, we are never less than spellbound by the floral displays. This attraction, over 20km north of Victoria, is a premier destination of tourists from all over the world. It really is amazing what determination, imagination and top soil can do for an ugly limestone quarry, thanks to the singular devotion of Jennie Butchart.

Actually, we hadn’t been to the Gardens in over twenty years since our kids were very young. Our previous visits were always in the summertime when annuals are at their peak and cover the 55-acre site with a riot of colors. We boarded the bus in front of the Empress Hotel only an hour after we arrived in Victoria; the three-day forecast predicted today would have the best weather with very little precipitation. As it turned out, it was a beautiful day, sunny and cool enough that we didn’t have to remove our light jackets. Today was the first time that we visited in the spring, promising a different kind of show: spring bulbs, azaleas, rhododendrons, flowering magnolias, among others. We were not disappointed. The profusion of hyacinths literally filled the air with perfume.

The spring flower displays are not as varied as those of summer, but there was plenty to admire while walking through the Sunken Garden, Japanese Garden, and Italian Garden. It was naturally too early in the year to see anything in the Rose Garden. Blues and purples were well-represented by hyacinths, forget-me-nots, aubrietas, trout lilies and pasque flowers. Aside from the hyacinths, all the narcissus plants were in bloom. Some tulips were beginning to wilt, while others were ready to unfold. The double tulips had an interesting resemblance to peonies. The azaleas were preceding the full eruption of rhododendrons yet to come, while most of the camellias were beginning to drop their petals. Bulb plants were nicely set off by undergrowth of English daisies and forget-me-nots. We spent over four hours here, including a nice lunch at the Blue Poppy, a cafeteria-style restaurant.

The only season remaining for another visit is autumn, which promises its own rewards.

The Butchart Gardens
800 Benvenuto Avenue
Central Saanich, BC V8M 1J8

Fall Colors in the Seattle Japanese Garden (Seattle, WA)

The Seattle Japanese Garden, nestled in the Washington Park Arboretum near the University of Washington, is beautiful at any time of year, but never more so than in the autumn, when brilliant fall colors run riot among the Japanese maples. In the past, we never managed to visit the garden at the right moment when the trees are at their colorful peak. This year, the Pacific Northwest was blessed with an extended summer of clear skies and warm daytime temperatures that lasted into the middle of October, coupled with cold evenings, those together the recipe for a potentially brilliant display. It did not disappoint. We had no intention today of visiting as the forecast was for showers and thundershowers throughout the day. But when we noticed after breakfast that there were sun breaks through the cloud cover and no precipitation, we jumped in the car and headed for the garden.

Almost immediately past the entrance, there was a beautifully pruned, magnificent laceleaf maple, with brilliant orange foliage. At 15 feet tall, it is a mature shrub, almost regal in its splendor.

Laceleaf maple
The footpaths around the garden are packed down with gravel with some stepping stones over water and a small bridge. The main path makes a loop around a lake stocked with large numbers of koi, which are more visible in warmer months. Most of the maples are found in the northern part of the garden.

The teahouse is generally not open to the public, though there are tea demonstrations (chado) on certain dates of the year. When surrounded by fall colors, the teahouse and surrounding garden take on a most serene atmosphere (top image).

Throughout the garden, we admired the temporal beauty provided by fallen leaves on moss-covered ground.

Burning bush
The weather, though cold and crisp, stayed dry and mostly sunny during our short visit before the crowds began appearing in earnest.

Seattle Japanese Garden
Seattle, WA
Coordinates of entrance: 47.628644,-122.295948

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Desert Garden, Huntington Library (San Marino, CA)

Before our road trip to the Southwest in 2008, I’d not thought much about cacti or desert plants. Aesthetically, what I normally thought of as cactus plants did nothing for me. But, that changed in 2008. I began to appreciate how remarkable these drought-resistant plants are. They come in an astonishing array of shapes and sizes and remarkably can shows bits of color, too. Also astonishing are their flowers whose beauty contrast so sharply with their muted hosts.

I discovered that the Huntington Library had a world-renowned desert garden. Since I happened to be staying nearby, it was only a matter of driving a short distance to see the collection myself.

The garden has over 5,000 species spread over a 10-acre area, an important conservation collection that had me taking countless snapshots. I am not able to provide their botanical names but nevertheless include their portraits in the gallery.

Spring Blossoms at the Washington Park Arboretum (Seattle, WA)

Emotionally, springtime is my favorite season. Life is springing up everywhere and better weather lies ahead, though here in the Pacific Northwest, that is a relative expectation. Still, flowers are blooming wherever you turn. One of Seattle’s great showcases for flora is the Washington Park Arboretum, jointly managed by the University of Washington and the City of Seattle. Spread over 230 acres, the grounds boast over 10,000 specimens. There are walking trails that wind through the park, an excellent way to get outdoors and exercise those winter-tired legs.

The flowering trees are mostly mature and put on a grand display of blossoms. We timed our visit perfectly, for the cherry, apple and pear blossoms were at their peak.