We have a lot of unusual gardens here in the Pacific Northwest, and by unusual I mean they showcase plants most people have never seen nor heard of.
Now I can hear you saying, everybody knows rhododendrons. They’re basic landscaping shrubs here, with their big leathery leaves and their clusters of flowers that can get bigger than a baby’s head.
But those are hybrid rhododendrons, created by crossing and recrossing plants found around the world. The Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way, Washington, just north of Tacoma across the King County line, is sort of a botanical savings bank, with seven hundred different kinds of rhody species growing on acreage owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company, next to their headquarters campus.
Most of them aren’t as showy as the garden varieties that are their descendants. And even on my visit in May the companion plants almost outshone the main attraction. But some of them were dropdead gorgeous, and others were so different from garden-variety rhodies as to not even seem the same species.
Anyway, here’s some of what I saw:
First, the rhododendrons:
Some rhododendrons (see the white one in the sunbeam) are more tree than shrub.
Some species rhododendrons don’t need any botanical tweaking to be as gorgeous as the garden hybrids.
I love the bell-shape flowers on this rhody. Pink’s not my favorite color, but these were just so pretty.
Splotched rhododendron blossoms are my favorite kind. This cluster is about the size of my open hand, and the golden splotch is the finishing touch.
And the companion plants:
This, believe it or not, is a kind of dogwood called bunchberry. It makes a lovely little ground cover, and blooms for several weeks in spring with blossoms that look just like miniatures of the ones you find on the tree-sized version.
I have a thing for columbines, and for blue flowers. Aren’t these gorgeus?
These chubby dwarf columbines were in the alpine section of the garden.
This is a Himalayan blue poppy, which is sort of the Holy Grail of blue garden flowers, and notoriously difficult to grow in most climates. But not here…
These are jack-in-the-pulpits, an Eastern North American woodland flower. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any in person before.
These are candelabra primroses. If I had any luck whatsoever at growing primroses from seed, I’d like to have some of these in my garden.
This is a tree peony blossom. It looks more like an Oriental poppy on steroids.
This photo should be called “survival of the fittest.” The blue blossoms are Ajuga reptans, aka carpet bugle, and the white flowers are Galium odoratum, aka sweet woodruff. Both are aggressive spreaders, but they really do look lovely in spring as they duke it out.
This is the patio outside of the conservatory (yes, there are rhody species which are too tender even for this part of the world). The two enormous white shrubs are doublefile Viburnums, and were absolutely covered with bees.
And, last, but not least by any means, if there’s an iris, I’m going to take a picture of it. They’re my absolute favorite flowers of all time. I’m not sure if this one is a Siberian iris, or if it’s an Oregon or Louisiana variety, but it’s awfully pretty.
All in all, I highly recommend a trip to the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden if you happen to be in this neck of the woods in the spring.
And, since I haven’t mentioned it in a while, if you like my writing here, you may enjoy my fiction. My two novels, Repeating History and True Gold, are available from Amazon and Smashwords and most of the other usual suspects. I hope you take a look. And the third book in the series will be coming out this summer.