Plant collector and connoisseur Maurice Skagen opened the garden to the public with the goal of saving the property from development and sharing all he's created.
NEED AN English-garden fix? Or somewhere special to take visiting relatives? A new botanical garden in Auburn offers extravagantly planted double borders, inspired by the color play of British garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. The borders are more than 500 feet long, and wide enough to hold masses of shrubs, trees and perennials orchestrated by color.
Plant collector and connoisseur Maurice Skagen has designed and planted these 22 acres since the early 1960s. He opened Soos Creek Botanical Garden to the public a little more than a year ago with the goal of saving the property from development as well as sharing all he’s created.
Skagen and partner James Daly, with the help of a small staff and many dedicated volunteers, welcome all of us in to sketch, photograph, study or just walk the paths and enjoy the drop-dead, classic beauty of the place. Special collections include kalmias, maples, magnolias, hydrangeas, roses, camellias and rhododendrons.
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The property is part of the original 200 acres Skagen’s Norwegian forebears purchased in the 19th century. They logged the land and raised dairy cows. There wasn’t much besides rich soil, big-leaf maples, alders, Doug firs and skunk cabbage along the creek when Skagen began to plant 5 acres his parents gave him. Since then, he and Daly have bought 17 more acres, and collected plants from local nurseries and around the world.
“Maurice started out like any other greedy gardener,” says Daly. “I just haunted nurseries,” admits Skagen. Frequent visits to gardens in England and Japan inspired Skagen to create stroll gardens, and to plant a wide variety of plants, including banana trees that flourish despite it being chillier on the plateau than it is in Seattle.
The long borders are Skagen’s favorite part of the garden; he points out how he grows roses and vines up trees just as Vita Sackville-West did at Sissinghurst Castle. In springtime, a huge deodor cedar is spangled in pearly pink Clematis montana blossoms.
While the long, double borders, with colors flowing from cool to warm, may be the garden’s defining feature, there’s plenty more to see. The newest areas are a vegetable demonstration garden (the produce goes to the local food bank) and a rain garden that channels parking-lot runoff into a pond.
Children love the aviary aflutter with Asian pheasants, peacocks, cockatiels, parakeets and quail. Gunnera and umbrella plant (Darmera peltata) line the banks of a vast pond afloat with water lilies. Trails wind through a cedar grove, ravine garden and native woodland. The Heritage Flower Garden is rich in plants grown by local settlers, including roses, peonies, heathers and iris. Still to come is a scented garden, chickens and maybe some farm animals.
When to visit? Skagen says the garden offers bloom, foliage and structure in every season. Admission is free. “We hope people will be more apt to return if we don’t charge,” says Skagen, who delights in sharing his life’s work.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “petal & twig.” Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.