A Hidden Garden Near Seattle

I just spent a couple of weeks in Western Washington. While most of my time was filled with giggling granddaughters, a good friend and I managed to sneak away to visit a tiny gem of a botanic garden, one I’d never heard of in spite of our frequent visits to the area. Located in a quiet neighborhood in Federal Way, just north of Tacoma, PowellsWood is well worth a stop. (It’s also conveniently close to one of my favorite Indian restaurants, East India Grill. But I digress… )

I’m thankful that I can call Colorado home, as there’s no place I’d rather live, but my second choice would  definitely be Washington. I don’t mind clouds and rain, and all that water, plus a relatively benign climate, results in gardens that can only be described as stunning. PowellsWood is no exception.

Since it only occupies three acres, an hour or two is plenty of time to see everything, although you may want to linger on one of the many benches to enjoy the serenity of the gardens. The garden is organized into several rooms, each with its own subtle theme. Everywhere you look, something is in bloom, but I also appreciated the artful combination of foliage textures, sizes, and shapes.

Coming late in the season, I expected to see hydrangeas in all their glory, and I wasn’t disappointed. While the use of such large plants in a small garden was necessarily limited, several types were represented, including the traditional mopheads and my favorite lacecaps.

While it’s hardy down to zone 4, Turtlehead (Chelone) prefers acidic soil, making it a poor choice for Colorado—and a terrific choice for the Pacific Northwest. Here it grows to what felt like hugh proportions for a perennial, pushing three feet in diameter, and covered with the oddly shaped flowers that give it its common name, in dazzling shocking pink.

Nearby, there were hardy hibiscus (aka Rose of Sharon) and anemones in matching pink.

Whoever designed the garden clearly is fascinated by black foliage. Black Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) was paired with variegated ribbon grass, creating a startling black-and-white palette. Yellow dahlias with black foliage, deep purple taro (Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’), and dark green and maroon New Zealand Flax continued the effect.

Often, plants with dark leaves were paired with brilliant red flowers, a bold combination sure to grab your attention.

There was foliage in other colors as well—colorful Coral Bells (Heuchera) and multi-hued Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides).

I was especially excited to find a variety of fuchsias—one of my favorite plants, they’re not hardy in Colorado’s harsh winters. They’ve always made me think of dancing fairies, a carryover from my childhood in California.

While the gardens are open, the indoor plant room remains closed at this date. COVID restrictions require you to purchase your tickets online beforehand. PowellsWood is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am-3 pm.

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