Best Western Washington Gardens to Visit

When out-of-towners visit Western Washington, the real challenge isn’t what to do with them, it’s what beautiful area do we choose to show off first?  We are spoiled with choices. Along with  the beauty of the mountains and ocean and the iconic Space Needle and Pike Place Market, we have some of the most beautifully kept public and private gardens in the country.

Bloedel Reserve

Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island is 150 acres of gardens within gardens: a Japanese garden, the color laden glen, an ethereal soft moss garden carpeted with more than 40 species of moss, a bird marsh filled with dragonflies and nesting birds and a woodland of native Pacific Northwest huckleberries, hemlocks and cedars.

     The 2.5 miles of trails give you a chance to see it all. The creators, Prentiss and Virginia Bloedel shared a love of nature and the Pacific Northwest. The French Chateau where they lived for 35 years is open to view.  The back of the house opens to a spectacular view of Puget Sound.

     A resident artist house on the property is home to authors, musicians and poets. They stay for several weeks and have the gardens all to themselves for inspiration and solitude.

Check for summer concerts. Bloedel is made for a slow, relaxing stroll. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy it.


Heronswood is in Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula and is the former home and garden of world-renowned plant hunter and horticulturist, Dan Hinkley.

     Now owned and maintained by the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe, 15 acre Heronswood is a botanical garden with collections from around the world many from the Hinkley plant hunting trips in Asia, South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand . It is well known for its environmentally friendly design.

Bellevue Botanical Garden

      The Bellevue Botanical Garden is 53 acres of just about everything that grows well in the Pacific Northwest. It is laid out in a walkable and beautifully designed group of gardens featuring a perennial border, rock garden, fern collection and Dahlia display.

     BBG is a garden of ideas to admire and recreate with an emphasis on community and horticultural education.


Powellswood is a sweet, tidy and lush 3-acre garden tucked away in a 40-acre forest in Federal Way. It has a magnificent Leyland Cypress hedge that serves as backdrop to well-designed perennial beds filled with uncommon treasures.

     The upper part of the 3-leveled garden leads you through a wide arch into a circle garden. A left turn drops down and winds around a running stream and eventually toward a pond with a resident mallard duck.

     Bring lunch and enjoy the calm.

 Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden

The RSBG is much more than rhododendron even though they have planted thousands. It is 22 acres of a good hike through and around a Victorian stumpery, an alpine garden, Meconopsis meadow and a glass house conservatory complete with waterfall and blooming Vireya rhododendron. The  Pacific Rim Bonsai exhibit at the end is not to be missed.

      The non-profit garden has sent its director Steve Hootman on plant hunting exhibitions from the Appalachians to India and China. Plants are for sale.

University of Washington Botanical Gardens

The University of Washington Botanical Gardens is the combination of the Washington Park Arboretum and the Center for Urban Horticulture.  The Arboretum is 230 acres of world class plant collections of conifers, oaks, Japanese maples, birches, poplars and larches.  Stay on the trails or go exploring.

     The newest addition is the Pacific Connection which features plants from Cascadia, Australia, China, Chile and New Zealand. Stop at the Graham Visitors Center to get started. You might need a map.

Point Defiance Park

Point Defiance Park in Tacoma maintains a Japanese Garden complete with pagoda, separated gardens of roses, dahlias, herbs, Northwest natives, Rhododendrons and irises, all near the entrance.

     In addition to its gardens Point Defiance is a full family experience with picnic areas, a zoo, trails for hiking and biking and a beach. The five-mile drive that skirts the 760-acre park has magnificent viewpoints to take in spectacular Puget Sound.




Late Summer Flash in the Plants

      Late summer days in the South Sound may not always produce the hottest temperatures but they certainly bring on the garden’s hottest colors.  Yellows, oranges and reds change the calm of early summer’s pastels into blazing combinations that make the best of a well planned…

 “Triple Threat”

     One surefire way to make a big impact in the late summer’s “hot” garden is using the  “rule of three”.  Group three each of three different plants in three different colors. Most perennials and annuals are sold in larger containers this late in the summer so using these principals you can have an instant floral punch.

     Red-flowered perennials like Monarda ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ and Crocosmia “Lucifer”; yellow flowers of flat-topped Achillea “Moonshine” or feathery Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’; orange-flowered Asclepias (butterfly weed) and daisy-like Helenium make striking combinations. Mix and match and substitute. Add fiery annuals and you have a garden that does…

“Double Duty”

     Annuals bloom all summer and take up the slack of perennials that normally have shorter bloom times.

     Still using the “rule of three”, you can add bright yellow Calendula or Zinnias;-flaming red Salvia or Snapdragons and brilliant orange Coreopsis or the newly popular Tithonia. They match and extend the color and form of  “hot-colored” perennials. Add some cream or white low-to-the ground plants like Alyssum or Bacopa just to break up the “hot”.

     All of these perennials and annuals are easy to find, grow and maintain.  They can make a big impact if you want a simple bit of flash. They all survive with a minimum of summer water and can attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.  They also make good cut flowers. Take advantage of that. There is a reason why they are called “cut and come again” flowers. More cutting produces more flowers.

     However…sometimes easy to grow and find just isn’t as much fun as the search for the unusual and the challenge of growing something completely new.   Rarer plants are creeping into both mainstream and  specialty nurseries.  They fit perfectly in our South Sound dry late summer gardens. Get ready to learn all about the new influx of better than borderline flashes of color with…

“Hot Color, Dry Garden” by Nan Sterman

     The new-to-most-of-us Australian and South African plants are giving us a whole new reason to beef up our plant knowledge. These days they are than we ever thought possible, thanks to global warming.

      “Hot Color, Dry Garden”: Inspiring Designs and Vibrant Plants for the Waterwise Garden is a great introduction to some of these plants and how we can use them.

     Several years ago these borderline hardy plants were called “temperennials” because they came and went. Now they can be a more permanent addition. Sterman’s guidelines for what to plant starts with the facts and figures of a site including elevation and rainfall and then lists plants good for that site.

     Some of the plants listed will sound familiar like Achillea, Salvia and Yucca but the addition of Aloes, Aeonium and Echeveria can make a South Sound garden come alive with the hottest of hot colors.

     Each listed plant has all the information you’ll need, including lowest and highest tolerated temperatures and soil type.

     “Hot and Dry” is all you need to start a new gardening adventure. What once was just for the South can now be grown in the South Sound. How lucky?

Timber Press, 300 pages, 360 color photos, $24.95