Where does a gardener want to go on vacation? Probably somewhere with a beautiful public garden or two.
I make a point of visiting Colorado’s inspiring public gardens. I’ve written about many of them already, and I’m always searching out new ones. There we can see plants adapted to our area and get new ideas for our own yards. Once there, I invariably start making notes, taking photos, and mentally redesigning my perennial border. It’s fun, but not exactly relaxing.
When I visit gardens in other parts of the country (or the world), it’s a totally different experience. Instead of relating everything back to my own landscape, I unwind and just enjoy the gardens for what they are.
I just spent several days in the Seattle area, where my daughter and I took an afternoon to visit the Bellevue Botanical Gardens. Being summer, the weather was perfect. Brilliant sunshine warmed the emerald lawns and puffy white clouds decorated the blue sky behind the towering firs and maples. I had to keep reminding myself that I was enjoying the effects of nine months of drear and drizzle.
As we wandered the snaking paths, I was surprised to see a number of very familiar perennials—ones that I grow in my high altitude garden in Colorado. Rudbeckia, hardy geraniums, coreopsis and daylilies were in full bloom. So were huge clumps of hostas. Just like at home, they had holes in their leaves—but these were made by snails and slugs instead of hail.
Then we turned a corner and came to a large shrub I didn’t recognize at all. I had to ask a local to discover it was a form of hydrangea. I am familiar with the florist’s flowers, but had no idea there were so many other hydrangea varieties.
A bit farther on, the path disappeared into a shady bower of incredibly tall cedars. The understory, newly planted, contained at least 50 different kinds of ferns, a group of plants that are next to impossible to grow in Colorado’s dry climate.
A mulched side path beckoned. Following it around the hill took me to a woodland waterfall next to a small door opening into the hillside. The sign announced that this was a gnome burrow!
I’ve always loved fuchsias, and collected them years ago in northern California, so I was delighted to discover a fuchsia garden near the visitor center. In fact, we just happened to be there the day of the local Fuchsia Society plant sale. Good thing I had already maxed out the airline’s carry-on allowance, or I would have been tempted, even though fuchsias won’t survive a Colorado winter.
The pendulous flowers came in a variety of pinks and reds combined with lavender, white, and even orange. Some were fat little ballerinas, while other attracted hummingbirds with elongated trumpets. The light breeze was enough to set them all in motion, making photography next to impossible.
At the east end of the property was the dahlia garden. While dahlias do well in Colorado, I’m unwilling to spend the time and energy required. They aren’t hardy, so you have to dig and store the tender tubers for the winter, replanting them when spring comes. In Bellevue, I enjoyed seeing the colorful flowers without having to grow them myself.
Late summer isn’t the right time to see azaleas and rhododendrons in bloom, but I noticed that there were plenty of both scattered throughout the property. I can only imagine the spectacular show the spring brings. The Japanese garden included a lovely pond, and a 1/3-mile meadow walk meandered through an extensive natural area.
For once, I didn’t come away with a list of new flowers to pine for, or a burning desire to start digging up plants and moving them around. I realize that Washington’s expansive green lawns aren’t appropriate an area with far less precipitation, nor will our Colorado trees ever be as tall as those in the Pacific Northwest. Marginally hardy perennials and broad-leafed evergreens with thin, flat leaves all belong there, not here.
Instead, I was reminded how each region has its own sense of place. Bellevue’s lovely garden works because it’s perfectly suited for the acid soils and frequent rainfall of that area. I’m renewed in my desire to create a Colorado landscape that reflects the natural beauty of my own state.