There are few better ways to enjoy the mild, balmy Pacific Northwest climate and unique biosphere than with an afternoon in a public garden. Whether you're after a particular plant that's in bloom, or you want to spend time in a space that is ultra-calming, or you're looking for a side of history with your botanic beauty, or even if you're in search of something more unusual, this corner of the country delivers some of the best gardens. Here are some of our favorites!
Dale Chihuly is one of the most famous glass artists ever, and the Tacoma native drew from his childhood in the Pacific Northwest for a lot of inspiration. It's fitting the Chihuly Garden and Glass is in Seattle, and it's one of the most incredible experiences in the city. The glasshouse, which houses many of his works, is inspired by his love for greenhouses and conservatories, and eight galleries (complete with drawing walls, which display light paintings made by the glass sculptures) offer some views of the breathtaking glasswork. The garden surrounds the glasshouse, and features glass pieces like Reeds on Logs, the Crystal and Icicle Towers and four massive sculptures in the corners to anchor it all... and, of course, there are scores of vines, flowers, trees, and shrubs tying it all together.
Bellevue Botanical Garden sees itself as an urban refuge, comprised of 53 acres of impeccably landscaped beauty. Fuschias, ferns, rhododendrons, and dahlias are all prominently featured in the horticulture here, but there's also the Lost Meadow Trail, a rock garden, ponds with aquatic plant life, and a Japanese garden. Plus, the garden is a very active community center with loads of talks, classes, and events. Stop by during a plant sale, a summer concert, the holiday lights display, or an art exhibition.
Washington's Skagit Valley is famed for its tulips, which bloom in a riot of color each spring. Roozengaarde is one of the largest purveyors of flower bulbs in the world, and the family comes from Dutch stock that has been in the bulb business since before they came to America. The 5-acre display garden, complete with Dutch windmill and thousands of bulbs, is open almost every day. They only charge admission during the tulip festival, which offers visitors the chance to get lost in a 25-acre tulip field and a 22-acre daffodil field. Tour the gift shop, pick up some bulbs, and enjoy the views!
The story of Ohme Gardens starts with Herman Ohme and his wife Ruth, who bought 40 acres of land for an orchard. The land also included a scrubby, rocky sun-beaten bluff that featured a jaw-dropping view of the Cascade Mountains and Columbia River Valley. They had a dream of turning it into a lush garden worthy of the view, and so they set to work moving evergreens from the mountains to their bluff, forming pools, and sculpting rock formations. They did it all by hand, even carrying 5-gallon water buckets from the river to keep the plants alive. For years, it was a lush private retreat for the family, but when Herman Died in the 1970s, his son sold it to Washington Parks and Recreation, and now the county keeps Herman's dream garden alive and open to the public.
International Rose Test Garden
When most people think of Portland, Oregon, they think of farmers markets and artisan coffee shops, which is all well and good, but sometimes you need a break from the hipster grind, where you don't have to worry about keeping up with the very latest in everything. Luckily, there's a place in the city that's perfect for relaxing and being present in the moment: Washington Park. It's home to the zoo, children's museum, international forestry center, and two stellar gardens. One, the International Rose Test Garden, is a completely unique attraction.
It's the oldest rose test garden in the US, and it's the reason Portland is nicknamed "The City of Roses". Here, various varieties of rose are sent to be studied for all kinds of attributes: testing everything from fragrance to color to resistance to disease and weather-- plus you can find all kinds of strange rose varieties, like black roses. The view from the Rose Garden is well worth the trip (and it's free to visit!) and the flowers are in bloom from early spring through late October, so there's plenty of chance to see the city's signature blooms in all their glory!
Opened in 1967, the garden is 5.5 acres of pure, natural bliss. It's considered one of the most beautiful and authentic Japanese gardens in the entire world (counting Japan); it was named the second-best Japanese garden outside Japan in one magazine, and the Japanese ambassador to the United States also sang its praises. What makes a Japanese garden distinct from other gardens is the design and layout: special attention is paid to every detail, from the plants, flowers, pagodas, and bridges right down to the rocks and streams. They're meant to "reflect nature in idealized form".
Portland's Japanese Garden has 5 sub-gardens, all worth exploring. The Strolling Pond Garden is the largest, with pagodas, multiple whimsical bridges, and several paths circling the little pond. The Natural Garden features mosses, shrubs and ferns around streams and waterfalls. The Flat Garden is more of a traditional garden, with azalea bushes, evergreen trees, and a lush green lawn accented by white sand. The two most distinctive gardens are the Sand and Stone Garden, with its weathered stones and wave-like patterns raked into the sand and the Japanese Tea Garden, complete with tea house. It's easily the most zen place in the whole city!
Oregon Undersea Gardens
For a beautiful, one-of-a-kind garden experience, visit the Oregon Undersea Gardens. The glass-walled theater is below the water and offers views of a world that we often don't see. Among the anemones, you can spot giant octopi, wolf eels, and schools of colorful fish. When you visit, you'll get the chance to interact with divers in the water, and ask questions while enjoying the show.
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. -John Lubbock
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