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Hot blooms for summer

What plants are trending for summer 2014? Kelly Dodson of Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend names a couple of statuesque drama queens as the hottest plants of the season. He says Gladiolus ‘Ruby’ and Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense ‘Big & Pink’ are stirring up plenty of excitement. The glad’s 3-to-4-foot flower spikes are covered with big, ruby-red blooms by late summer. The Himalayan lily grows a striking 9 to 12 feet tall and flowers pink instead of the usual white. Far Reaches Farm bloomed the first pink cardiocrinums in the world, and now they’re selling these behemoths of the lily world (

Fantastical foliage on display

In celebration of its 50th birthday, the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way recently opened an expanded display garden featuring rhodies with outsized leaves. The Big-leaf Garden, growing beneath a canopy of native conifers, is the species garden’s largest display devoted to a single group of plants.

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These giants, grown mostly from seed collected in mountainous regions of southwest China, North Vietnam, Burma and Tibet, redefine what makes rhododendrons garden-worthy: year-round structure, stature and foliage. Big-leafs are as showy as banana trees, as exotic as canna lilies, but far hardier than both. Rhododendron sinogrande, with the largest leaves of all, can grow 70 feet high with leaves more than 2 feet long in its native habitat. Learn more at

Island gardens open to all

There’s something magical about island gardens, with their views, woodlands and long driveways curving mysteriously toward hidden destinations. Some of the most private and alluring of these gardens will be opened for good causes this month and next.

The Vashon Island tour falls on the solstice weekend, June 21-22, and benefits Vashon Allied Arts. Five gardens will be open, including the demonstration garden of Jo Robinson, author of “Eating on the Wild Side,” with its views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier. Robinson is researching and trialing vegetables so nutrient dense that they emulate wild foods.

Another highlight of the tour is Pat and Walt Riehl’s magnificent stumpery garden of gnarled roots, mosses, ferns and more ferns. The tour weekend includes an art market, live music, food and talks by garden experts. For more information and tickets, see

Whidbey Island is the longest island in the country (ever since Long Island was designated an isthmus), with a wide range of microclimates and an even wider variety of gardeners. Five gardens will throw open their gates on Saturday, June 28, to benefit island conservation causes. From a wooded cottage garden with a well-disguised deer fence to a tiny town property in the village of Langley, each resonates with a sense of place. Plants will be on sale at every garden, so be sure to drive the van. To learn more (the tour often sells out, so buy tickets early) see

Bainbridge in Bloom is the granddaddy of island tours, now in its 26th year supporting the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council. Preview day is Friday, July 11, and general-admission day July 12. “The Living Canvas” of painter Gayle Bard’s garden is all about composition, color, texture and tone. An English-inspired garden runs between three neighboring townhomes, and a hillside property demonstrates how to skillfully combine native and ornamental plantings. You can visit all five gardens on the tour by bike, car or shuttle bus. Details at

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at