Spring and summer, planting and growing seasons, are busy times for the gardener especially when you add in Tour Season. For me Tour Season was especially exciting (and exhausting) this year because our garden was on the Franklin Land Trust Farm and Garden Tour, and then the following week I was attending the Hawley Artisan and Garden Tour, and the Greenfield Garden Club Tour, both on the same day – while many people were able to add on Colrain’s 250th anniversary which included tours of 16 farms and gardens because theirs was a two day tour. All these farms and gardens were a celebration of our New England landscape
Now I am just back from four days of touring gardens in Seattle and environs. With a group of 73 other garden writers and bloggers I visited elegant hillside mansions with manicured lawns and gardens, suburban gardens that mixed healthy vegetables and fruits with roses and perennials, gardens designed to withstand drought, an Olmsted designed landscape, botanic gardens, and the famed Bloedel Reserve with its serene Japanese Garden, and the fantastic Moss Garden.
I cannot tell you about every garden in this one column, but you will hear about many of the gardens over the next few months.
The Bloedel Reserve was the last garden we visited. We left the city and took the ferry across a misty Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island. We disembarked and drove across the island to this famed Reserve, arriving just as the skies opened. As I strolled along the paths of this beautiful green public space lined with gracefully drooping branches of the western red cedar (Thuja plicata), and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga Menziesii) the rain poured down. After days of brilliant sun, the soft sound of the cool rain and the shiny green sheen of Japanese maples and rhododendrons finally put me into the mythic Pacific Northwest landscape as I had imagined it.
It is the trees of the Reserve that I may remember best. We have beautiful trees in Massachusetts, but the scale is not the same. Many Washington trees rise a hundred feet or more into the air, while others like the Empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) or the Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japanonicum) spread broadly. All have a majestic grace.
Looking at the Reserve’s trees and plants gives one a chance to think about the history of the state of Washington. The native Douglas fir, is the dominant tree in the northwest environmental system, and because it is so easily logged and turned into timber it has been a vital part of the state’s economy as well.
Long before there were loggers the northwest coast Native Americans used the western red cedar in many ways, from carving their sacred totem poles, to the practical necessities of their life, including the building of dugout canoes, and weaving a waterproof cloth made from the fibrous bark.
Then came the Japanese. The Reserve has honored their participation in the state’s history by adding Hinoki cypress (Chamecyparis obtusa) in all its many sizes from tall to tiny dwarf.
Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) come in an equal number of sizes, and colors, especially when autumn arrives, painting the trees in shades of red, orange and yellow. There is also the fernleaf maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitfolium’) with its deeply cut leaves that is transformed in the fall by brilliant colors that are never the same from year to year, varying from red to yellow, depending on the weather.
A century old Katsura tree stands near the entry of the Japanese garden, its branches touching the ground with the weight of the rain, while the golden black locust inside the entry, just beyond the raked stone garden, glowed as if the sun were flaming.
Of course the Reserve, like every public garden, has special delights for each season from the beauty of the rhododendrons and Japanese flowering cherries in the spring to the rich color of the Japanese maples in the fall, but it is the magic of green that was on display for me.
The Japanese Garden with its sculptural ‘cloud pruned’ pines, the dark pond waters edged with green moss, and ferns, the reflecting pool surrounded by green lawn and green hedges, mosses in shades of green glowing in the green shade of the Moss Garden, all create an atmosphere of serenity.
The joy of traveling is in experiencing a different climate (I really did love that rain) and different landscapes. There was enjoyment in pondering the mystery of seeing peonies and daylilies blooming at the same time, and delight in learning about new plants, strange or beautiful, even if I know I cannot grow them myself.
Last Saturday our group attended a Seattle farmer’s market where the stalls were filled with vegetables, peas and cauliflowers, organic meats, smoked salmon, flowers, and tree ripe apricots and peaches, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. There were crates and crates of cherries. I bought a bag of big nearly black Atika cherries from a farmer who chastised our group of garden writers. “You want to write about our farms and crops? What are you doing here? This is Seattle. You have to go east to find farms. I grow 500 crops – in the east!”
I guess I will have to return to Washington someday. And go east.
Between the Rows July , 2011