Peonies at the Seattle Chinese Garden

It’s been twenty years or so since its official opening. During that time, I didn’t know that there was a Chinese garden in Seattle. I am not alone, I suspect. It seems it hasn’t been well publicized for all the years it’s been in existence. Locals are more likely to have gone to the Japanese Garden near the University of Washington. But that may soon change.

It turns out that there has been a multi-phase plan for the garden’s landscape design. The goal is to establish one of the largest Chinese gardens outside of China and the first of Sichuan-style in the U.S. Take a look at the architect’s rendering and tell me it doesn’t look exciting, let alone ambitious.

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Two weekends ago, the garden hosted the Peony and Bamboo Festival. If it weren’t for an announcement that my wife saw, I would have gone on even longer unaware of our local treasure. It was time for us to pay a visit, even more so for the chance to see peonies. I’ve been to Portland’s Chinese Garden in 2006 when it hosted a spectacular exhibit of cut peony arrangements, which boosted in no small way my admiration for what some regard as China’s ‘official’ flower. Add to their wondrous beauty the intoxicating scent that many of them give off and you have one heckuva flower.

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Of the multitude of peony plants, 400 were donated to the garden by ‘The City of Peonies,’ Luoyang, which itself hosts a renowned annual festival. The plants are now approximately 3-4 years old, it appears, not yet the splendid specimens they will become.

What more can be said than that a warmer than usual winter and spring caused the peonies to flower early this year? By the time of the festival in mid-April, many blossoms were already past their peak. But a great deal more were in perfect form. One can imagine that when mature, these shrubs and trees will produce even more spectacular displays.

Seattle Chinese Garden
6000 16th Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98106

Peony Season

A sure sign of impending summer is the long-awaited appearance of the peony. It is greatly admired and revered in China and has unofficially been regarded as its national flower. More than ever, peonies have been popping up for sale here in the Seattle area (and I imagine elsewhere). When Costco and Trader Joe’s begin to sell it, you know that it has gone mainstream. We have four plants in our yard that have yet to flower in four seasons, doubtless a problem of not enough sun exposure and improper soil amendment, though the plants have gotten taller and the root balls bigger. So we have to rely on enjoying these beauties at gardens and purchasing them from sellers.

At the many Hmong flower stalls at farmers markets here, peonies are currently the centerpiece of most arrangements. Today at the Issaquah Farmers Market, there were peonies in all the flower stalls and one astonishing variety (pictured above) sold exclusively at a vegetable stand. The pictures below illustrate some of the many arrangements we saw today.