In my backyard, a visit to the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden

Rhododendrons – in bud and leaf.

Yes, I’ve moved to the suburbs, with all the cliche trappings you can imagine, but . . . there is a world-class public garden just a few miles from my new home.

I’ve visited this garden once or twice before, but now there is no exuse for me to not witness the stature of its native evergreen trees, the graceful gesture of the deciduous understory dogwoods and Japanese maples, or, the namesake rhododendron collection in all four seasons.

‘Golden Comet’ — glowing in the deep shade.

At the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden, even the person who’s ambivalent about rhododendrons and azaleas will be enchanted by the beauty of these specimens.

Home to one of the largest collections of species rhododendrons in the world, the garden displays over 700 of the more than 1,000 species found in the wilds of North America, Europe, and Asia, as well as the tropical regions of southeast Asia and northern Australia. Conservation has come to be a primary importance in recent years with the destruction of Rhododendron habitat in many areas of the world

The entry path. RSBG has been housed at the (now former) Weyerhaeuser Corp. HQ since the 1970s. Trees define this place.

I stopped by yesterday, paid $8 for admission and then decided to pay $30 more to become a member. I can now visit for free all year long and bring one guest with me anytime. What a great excuse to get outdoors and wander the 22 acres of botanical beauty.

Rhododendron japonicum. I actuall prefer the flowers in bud more than fully opened trusses.

Rhododendron is Greek for “rose tree,” and I kind of like that. My friend Sue Goetz just posted a photo of a pink-flowering rhody on her Instagram feed with her suggested adjectives: Lucious, blousy, florid, flamboyant.

Enjoy my photos and stop by for a visit when you are driving through that boring stretch of I-5 between Tacoma and Seattle. You’ll see the signs in Federal Way off of Hwy. 18.

Combine your garden touring with your plant shopping — easy!

A footnote: The RSBG has a fantastic nursery where you can purchase rare and unusual rhododendrons (hybrids and species), as well as companion plants that prefer similar conditions, such as shade (dry or wet) and moderately mild Pacific Northwest winters. I came home with no fewer than eight perennials and I’m so excited to add them to my new garden. No rhody’s yet — still thinking about those.

More photos to wow you, including the famed Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’). The gardens are hosting a blue poppy celebration on May 20th.

Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’
A lovely vignette that caught my eye.
Rhododendrons come in all shapes and sizes. This is the species R. sinogrande, the largest big-leaf rhody.
Almost iridescent.
A Japanese maple holds its own among the rhododendrons.
About to explode in bloom, the incredible doublefile viburnum.
Cinnamon ferns unfurling . . . I’m awestruck.
More fabulous flowering shrubs, including a camellia (left) and pearlbush (Exochorda x racemosa)
The delicate white bleeding heart (yes, I purchased one for my garden)
Bronzed hues play a role in this landscape, from the paperbark maple (left) to the very cool perennial called Rodgersia (right)
Debra Prinzing

Debra Prinzing is the founder of Slow Flowers and the author of several books.

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