A Walk In the Park

How do you follow up a recent visit to the most extensive Rhododendron garden in the State? If you’re me, you take a vigorous (exhausting?) walk in Pt Defiance Park with stops at the Rhododendron Garden and the Iris Garden.  

I prefer exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise, i.e. bird watching or visiting extensive gardens, because I don’t notice how tired I am while looking at birds or flowers.  Sometimes I don’t notice it at all, but, at worst, I only notice it after I’m at  home in front of my computer and have trouble getting up after sitting for too long.

Though my favorite place to see Rhododendrons is in the Cascades near Mt. Hood, the Pt. Defiance Rhododendron Garden is a close second because they are so well integrated into the Old Growth Forest that they seem entirely natural, even if they’re really not.  In fact, I’m not sure there’s a single native Rhododendron in the garden. 

It’s hard not to appreciate the beauty of Rhodies like this red and yellow variety

or this purple beauty.

In the last few years they’ve even integrated Azaleas into areas with more sunlight.

The Rhododendron garden is about a mile and a  half from our front porch, so it provides a great rest stop.  Another mile on the loop is the Iris garden which is quite beautiful this time of year.  I think I tend to favor more traditional-looking Iris like this one, 

but they also have some very original, and modern-looking, varieties, too.

After pausing to admire the iris, it’s a “mere” mile up hill,  back to our house and I manage to get my  30 minutes (or more) of aerobic exercise without driving all the way to the Y.   

Pacific Bonsai Museum

When we arrived at the Rhododendron Species Foundation & Botanical Garden in Federal Way I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Pacific Bonsai Museum was open since it had closed in March of 2009 due to Weyerhaeuser’s financial problem, and I didn’t realize it had reopened under a different name.  

Several of the bonsai on exhibit looked familiar, particularly this one with its striking container.

It’s hard not to like every bonsai in the collection since as they note on their web site it “… maintains a collection of 150 bonsai that are among the finest examples of bonsai anywhere in the world.”  

On this visit I seemed to focus on bonsai that reached out in a single direction, like this one that seems to be hanging over a cliff.

This one

 reminds me of the wind-swept trees that line the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean.

A fellow visitor asked me what I looked for in a bonsai, and I replied that I had a strong attraction to bonsai where new growth seemed to spring from dead wood.

I turns out that there are prescribed “Deadwood bonsai techniques” and distinctive styles that I had somehow inferred from observing bonsai over time.  

And Not Just Rhododendrons, Either

Faced with hundreds of  Rhododendron bushes, it’s easy to be distracted by other plants that stand out because they’re so different.  I’m not normally a great fan of  Magnolias, or any dramatically flowering tree, for that matter, but looking at this Magnolia flower close up I couldn’t resist taking a shot.

I was amazed to spot the same orchids that I so admired at the Bloedel Reserve a few days before.  Best of all, these had a name tag,  pleione formosan, and now I will be able to order some for my own garden.  I wonder if deer eat them. If not I could naturalize them under the front cedar tree.   

I couldn’t decide if someone had actually planted these yellow beauties or if they were native volunteers.  

If they had intentionally planted them, they forgot to include a name tag, or I would have written that down, too.  

Rhododendron Species Foundation & Botanical Garden

There’s a reason the Coast Rhododendron is Washington’s state flower.  Almost all kinds of Rhododendrons, not just native species, thrive in Puget Sound’s temperate weather and there’s an amazing variety of Rhodies, something easily confirmed merely by driving around a Seattle/Tacoma neighborhood in Spring.

If you need more scientific confirmation, all you need to do is visit the Rhododendron Species Foundation & Botanical Garden in Federal Way, as we did on Mother’s Day weekend with Dawn, where they boast of having over 700 varieties of Rhododendrons. 

I spend a lot of time in different Rhododendron gardens, but I’m always amazed by the some of the species I see there, ones I can’t remember ever seeing before, like this red one.

Although the pinks and purples in this one are quite common, the bell-like shape certainly isn’t.

Yellow is an uncommon color for Rhodies, but this shape is even more unusual.

However, the rarest Rhodies are found in the hothouse, like this delicate Rhododendron Konori from New Guinea

and this striking Asian variety.

I’ll have to admit when I think of Rhododendrons I still picture the leggy plants with pinkish-white flowers desperately stretching for light in Cascade Mountain forests, not the lush, tropical plants found in specimen gardens, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be awed when I encounter very different species in a different environment.