Winter walks invigorate the body and mind — and while you're out there, head for a spot that provides new ideas for your garden. Seeing plants in winter...

Share story

Winter walks invigorate the body and mind — and while you’re out there, head for a spot that provides new ideas for your garden.

Seeing plants in winter allows you to appreciate foliage texture, branch structure and any bright berries still adorning the plants.

Here are some good plant collections gathered to educate as well as amuse.

South Seattle Community College Arboretum

Living treasures abound here, with 11 acres of varied gardens open daily.

The feature that’s particularly vivid and interesting is the unique collection of dwarf conifers in the Coenosium Rock Garden.

Six years in construction, the rock garden contains water features, a realistic scree garden and the largest public planting of small conifers in Western Washington.

Dwarf conifers shine in various colors — blue, green, gold and touches of red in winter. Landscape construction, managed by students in the horticulture program at SSCC, offers many ideas for home gardens.

A seasonal garden at its best now, near the entrance to the arboretum, includes shrubs for mid-winter interest, including native garrya, winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) and the elegant stewartia bark patterns (Stewartia monadelpha).

As in other local arboreta, you’ll see plants at or near their mature sizes. You’ll be able to appreciate the stature of plants you normally see in small nursery containers.

Don’t miss the adjacent Seattle Chinese Garden, being developed to replicate classic Chinese principles. When complete, it will be the largest Chinese garden in North America.

Address: 6000 16th Ave. S.W., Seattle (206-764-5300, 206-768-6684 or

Lake Washington Technical College

If you want to polish up your plant-identification skills, head for the arboretum section of this college near Kirkland.

Horticulture students designed and planted a collection of nearly all the plants required for mastering the nursery and landscaping professional exams.

Organized by plant family, this arboretum will help you sort the firs from the pines and the maples from the oaks. It’s also a fascinating total garden.

It’s especially helpful if you have — or are developing — a landscape design plan but are uncertain about which plant is which, or how they look when growing.

The arboretum is open daily except Sundays and college holidays.

Its address is 11605 132nd Ave. N.E., Kirkland (425-739-8100 or

Lake Wilderness Arboretum

This arboretum is adjacent to Lake Wilderness County Park in Maple Valley. A nature trail leads through mosses, lichen-draped trees and native plants, with nearly 40 acres in cultivation. Don’t miss this one in spring, also, when flowering azaleas and wildflowers light up the scene.

See the Web site or call for driving directions (425-413-2572, 206-366-2125 or

Washington Park Arboretum

Largest and oldest of the local plant collections, this arboretum offers 230 acres of varied scenes with excellent walking paths.

This season, don’t miss the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden, fragrant with witch hazels (Hamamelis sp.) and sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia). This garden will alter your view of winter as a bleak season. I’ve also found it a genuine treat for winter guests from colder locations — you’ll be showing them the Pacific Northwest at its best.

The arboretum’s Graham Visitors Center is at 2300 Arboretum Drive E., Seattle (206-543-8800 or

Garden expert Mary Robson, retired area horticulture agent for Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension, appears regularly in digs and in Practical Gardener in Northwest Life on Wednesdays. Her e-mail is