NEXT TO GARDENING, down on my knees, hands in the dirt, one of my favorite things to do is visit gardens. And while there’s a time and place for the awe and wonder of an ambitious public garden, often I find the most inspiration and encouragement in the playgrounds of people like me who garden for sheer personal delight.

The Northwest Perennial Alliance (NPA) is known for its Open Gardens program; indeed, it is the most popular perk of membership in this passionate plant community. Free with an NPA membership, the program completely relies on the generosity of NPA members who enthusiastically share their gardens with others.

Every spring, NPA members eagerly anticipate the arrival of the year’s Open Gardens directory — a road map to unfettered access to gardens galore. Every weekend from now through the end of September presents an opportunity for members to explore private plots throughout the Puget Sound region.

Alison and Andrew Johnson’s Redmond garden is part of this year’s Northwest Perennial Alliance Open Gardens program. Members of the nonprofit gardening organization can tour other members’ gardens on weekends through September. (Courtesy Alison and Andrew Johnson)
Alison and Andrew Johnson’s Redmond garden is part of this year’s Northwest Perennial Alliance Open Gardens program. Members of the nonprofit gardening organization can tour other members’ gardens on weekends through September. (Courtesy Alison and Andrew Johnson)

Featured gardens come in all styles and sizes, from intimate urban sanctuaries to sprawling country gardens. There are sunny gardens, shady gardens, established landscapes and gardens that are still very much works in progress — you know: real gardens. Expert, design-savvy landscapes as well as practical, productive gardens are in the mix, along with gardens that are sophisticated and formal or whimsically charming. Here’s your chance to see choice collections of rare botanical treasures as well as borders brimming with time-honored garden favorites.

Tending a garden is a constant exercise in both imagination and invention. In addition to drinking in the refreshment of a beautiful landscape, visiting gardens provides a raft of ideas you’re free to harvest. After seeing the impact of a strong focal point, like a handsome trellis, a well-placed evergreen or an inspired container planting, my mind ignites with possibilities for my own garden.

This year’s directory includes nearly 100 gardens in Western Washington — along with a few perennial favorites in Yakima. Gardens in the directory are organized by suggested self-guided tours. Each listing includes a description of the garden, most with photos, along with driving directions and the date(s) and hours that the garden will be open. Just reading the entries is a temptation to hit the road.

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“I love chatting with garden hosts about their gardening experiences and seeing the inspiring diversity of plants and design,” says Kathleen Neal, NPA membership director.

The vibe while visiting NPA open gardens is relaxed, friendly and typically crowd-free. There’s time to chat with the garden owners and ask probing questions, like: Where did they get that cool plant/garden art/paving material? Even the discovery of a new hardscape material, favorite tool recommendation or trick for outwitting snails gets me excited. For those of you who battle deer, here’s your chance to commiserate and swap solutions with fellow gardeners on the front line.

Or you can simply relax and bask in a soothing environment that you don’t have to weed.

To learn more about the benefits of membership in the Northwest Perennial Alliance — including access to this year’s Open Gardens program — visit northwestperennialalliance.org.