Category Archives: Washington Park Arboretum


I wouldn’t have noticed this tree unless I saw the sign right in front of it.  Most signs aren’t very interesting but when they’re in front of plants I stop and read them.  This one stated that when in flower, Azara smells like milk chocolate. What?! A chocolate plant? Yum….I immediately stepped into the under story of this suddenly fascinating plant and was surrounded by the warm delightful smell of chocolate.  It was 7:30 in the morning on a brisk March day and I was experiencing the unexpected. What a surprise to catch the scent of chocolate coming from a plant instead of from the kitchen.  What a strange and sweet species.  Azara is named after an eighteenth century Spanish patron of botany, JN Azara.  It comprises a genus of 10 species of evergreen shrubs and trees from South America. The azara tree usually grows on the edge of woodlands and near lakesides.  The leaves are simple, alternate  and glossy and the fragrant flowers are small and petalless with showy stamens. Azara microphylla is one of the hardiest species for our region and was introduced from Argentina to Europe in 1861.  It’s a favorite to those with limited space, only growing 3-12′ tall.  It’s described as having ‘vanilla’ scented yellow spring flowers.  Vanilla or chocolate?  Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle of our imagination.  Either way, it’s a great addition to the scented garden.


Washington’s Best Kept Secret

This is what people think about Washington—It rains all the time, the skies are always gray, everything is gray, we all wear gray polar fleece and disappear into the fog, hibernating most of the winter.  Don’t let out our little secret, but this is what it’s really like in Washington in January.  There are flowers, bright and beautiful, teasing us out of winter. I just took these pictures today at the Washington Park Arboretum and I wish somehow I could capture their scents with a photograph.  It was brilliance! Sweeter than sweet. Sparkling and rich. Delightful, fresh and transforming. Unforgettable love at first scent.

Which winter flower is your favorite?

Winter Arboretum

A new year’s walk through the Washington Park Arboretum was a good start to 2014.  It revealed bright colors of shiny red fruits and flame colored dogwood.  It beckoned us with exhilarating scents, the sweetest of the season.  I love the wake up of witchhazel, the tempting smiles of  winter honeysuckle and the surprise of Daphne in bloom which always produces loud exclamations of delight.  There is a buzz in January around the winter garden.  Strollers, walkers, joggers, photographers are as common as the plants.  Hearing snippets of conversation at the arboretum makes me happy.  Things like ‘this is my favorite fern, it has leathery leaves’ .  Watching photographers zooming in on the lichen and moss.  Yes, these are my people! And January is a magical time to be part of it all.

June at the Arboretum

Another month and another walk full of surprises at the Washington Park Arboretum.  The leaves are so lush right now I wanted to wrap myself up in their soft green blanket.  The highlight of this trip was stumbling into the grove of tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) so tall and tree-ish.  Hidden among their branches were the almost camouflaged flowers in muted colors of yellow and green.  Standing upright like a tulip, once you noticed them they were everywhere!  So high above my head, most of the blossoms were up near the top.  Another amazing plant was the bladder nut tree.  As I wandered down the path I noticed these air filled sacks hanging from the tree.  When I walked over the fallen ones they popped!  After doing a bit of research I found that these trees grow near rivers and when the air filled seed pods fall into the water they float away, dispersing the seeds far and wide.  What a great adaptation, little tiny seed boats!

Happy Birthday Dove Tree

Walking under the Dove tree in full bloom is my favorite birthday present.  On May 16th a trip to the arboretum was in order and I was not disappointed as in days past.  We hurried down the trail, glancing over the shrubs, admiring magnolias, lingering on the laburnum for moments, but not until we reached Davidia involucrata did we stop and sigh.  It was the middle of May and this incredible tree was in full bloom.  Showing off it’s waving white bracts.  They covered the ground, they danced around our faces and over our heads.  We paused and enjoyed.  It felt good to just stop and look around.  It seems I’m always rushing somewhere, always going.  But this day we stopped.  We looked up.  We smiled and gazed.  Why does staring at trees feel so good?  Just being near it made me happy.  Everyone should have a tree for their birthday, what’s yours?

I love the leaf of Davidia involucrata.  Michael Dirr says it best:  “alternate, simple, broad-ovate, acuminate, cordate, dentate-serrate with acuminate teeth, strongly veined, glabrous above, densely silky-pubescent beneath, vivid green’!  If you’re not into botanical babble, just believe me….it’s pretty.

Just the Facts
Davidia involucrata The Dove Tree
Size 20-40 ft. (6-12m) High and Wide
Hardy to zone 6
Slow to medium growth Rate
Deciduous, Blooms white bracts in May
Prefers light shade

Dove Tree in June

A Hobbit’s New Zealand Garden

Celery Pine

Celery Pine

Of all the gardens at the 2013 Northwest Flower and Garden Show, A Hobbit’s New Zealand Garden was my favorite.  No fancy paths, patios, staircases or dining sets, it was all about plants.  Finally, order in the universe!  There was one cute little hobbit house, but even it’s roof was made of plants.  I like how everything was tied together with moss and ferns and diminutive plants.  This garden was created by the Washington Park Arboretum to celebrate the New Zealand forest which will be opening in the fall.  I wasn’t the only one who was wowed by this garden.  It won six top awards, including the People’s Choice, an award voted by the public.  From the garden description:  A spectacular tree fern stands sentry nearby.  Next to the house is a bog exuberant with colorful New Zealand flax (Phormium).  Low-lying fog over the wetland creates drama and mystery.  The foliage of variegated Coprosma, Corokia, and Veronica (Hebe) add color to the display.  Clematis ‘Avalanche’ drapes from the top of the house.  The garden features drought-tolerant plants, most of which are suitable for growing in the Pacific Northwest gardens.  The use of foliage to create a rich color palette is a key design element.  A new plant for me was Coprosma or mirror bush.  The glossy leaves were rich with color and I admired this evergreen shrub, although it appears to more comfortable in zone 9 rather than our zone 8.   Another plant that caught my attention was the celery pine, or Phyllocladus alpinus, such a cute little coniferous shrub.  Alas, not hardy in the PNW, but they suggest use as an indoor plant.  It was fun to see this collection of New Zealand plants and I look forward to the new display at the arboretum!