Natural Gardener columnist Valerie Easton says her go-to parks for a heady dose of horticulture are Bradner Gardens in the South End, Parsons Garden atop Queen Anne and the Seattle Japanese Garden.
IF THE SLEEK new parks at South Lake Union and the foot of Queen Anne Hill are any measure of what we’re in for, plants are out and hardscape is in. With strained budgets and maintenance considerations, who can blame the city for parks that, to a gardener’s eye, look a bit stark? Both Counterbalance Park and the larger Lake Union Park are fine examples of public open space — but for urban-dwellers starved for greenery, generously planted parks offer nourishment not to be found elsewhere in the city.
My go-to parks for a heady dose of horticulture are Bradner Gardens Park in the South End, Parsons Gardens atop Queen Anne and the Seattle Japanese Garden. There are grander, plant-rich parks, like the Washington Park Arboretum and Kubota Garden. But these three offer a more intimate, residential-scale experience. You can linger on a warm evening or soft summer morning, pretending to be in your own backyard.
Bradner Gardens is a beehive of a park, and not just because parts of it offer wildlife habitat. This hilltop park is a patchwork of Seattle Tilth demonstration gardens and community plots, well-worked by the neighborhood and those attending classes. Raised beds are built of broken concrete in some areas, of colorful handmade tiles in others. Even the hose bibs are decorated with cowboy boots and stars.
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From a working windmill to a red-wheeled tractor for kids to climb on, the park is both utilitarian and fun. The art and vibrant plantings mitigate the earnestness of all the compost and signage. This park is one big lesson in modern methods of sustainable, food-centric gardening. Yet, with its picnic shelter and casual tumble of garden beds, it also invites you to just hang out, enjoy the panoramic view of the city, and be part of the neighborhood.
While Bradner Gardens is up-to-the minute funky, Parsons Gardens hearkens back to a more gracious age with banks of camellias and a wide lawn. As you open the little gate off Highland Drive, you wouldn’t be surprised to see a croquet game in session. This leafy little park is regularly rented out for events, but don’t let that stop you. Most often you’ll be the only one strolling the paths or enjoying a view of Puget Sound from a secret corner bench.
Given to the city in 1956 by the children of Reginald H. Parsons, the seasons unfold here beneath aged rhododendrons and dogwoods. Clipped hebe hedges surround billows of hydrangeas. From hellebores in winter to maples in autumn, the garden offers horticultural richness in all seasons.
For atmosphere, nothing beats the Seattle Japanese Garden. This is the place to go for respite and renewal, to appreciate design restraint, and drink in our affinities for Japanese culture and plants expertly pruned. I get as much pleasure today from the turtles sunning themselves and lazy koi swimming beneath the bridges as I did watching them as a child and bringing my children to see them over the years.
Now, when the days are long and the weather is as dry as it’ll ever be, is the time to get out and enjoy these gems.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “petal & twig.” Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.