The gardens provide a spectacularly colorful show during fall, the best time of the year.
FALL IS THE best time of year. It has everything: fine weather, abundant harvests from the garden, state-sponsored child care and brilliantly colored deciduous leaves.
For trees, fall is like the cast party at the end of a Broadway run: a slow-motion fireworks display, celebrating another successful season of photosynthesis and carb-loading.
However, due to the limited number of native deciduous trees, the Pacific Northwest it is not known for dramatic displays of fall color. If the lack of fall color is jeopardizing your Instagram feed, you have two options: Organize a protest against the climatic fluctuations of the early Pliocene Epoch, or visit the Washington Park Arboretum. I recommend both.
Washington Park Arboretum
• More information: https://botanicgardens.uw.edu/washington-park-arboretum/
• Interactive map: https://depts.washington.edu/uwbg/gardens/map.html
An arboretum is a living laboratory: a place to cultivate species from all over the world for study and public appreciation. A tree zoo. Our arboretum’s 230 acres contain impressive collections of deciduous plants to satisfy your fall color fix. It is home to gardens of oaks, mountain ashes, Asiatic maples, metasequoia and larches, as well as the country’s largest public collection of Japanese maples. These collections make it a perfect place to visit in September and October, when you can appreciate the last sunny days of the season among a grand fall show.
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If you are like me and want to know the name of every plant you see, pull up the interactive map from the arboretum’s website. While not yet optimized for mobile use, this page provides an almost unlimited amount of information to complement your walk. As you zoom in on the map, each plant in the park is displayed by an individual green dot. Click on the dot to find the species name, the origin of the specimen, when it was planted and the native range of the species.
I had the good fortune to meet up with Raymond Larson, the park’s Curator of Living Collections, to get some arboretum pro tips. Below is one of his recommended routes through the park for the fall season. The map calls out some of the best vistas for fall color that he pointed out along the path. Because it is impossible to mention every great specimen here, I suggest that you walk slowly, and explore as you go.
The Fall Walk
Start at the Graham Visitors Center. Walk south along Arboretum Drive until you reach the entrance to the Woodland Garden (1). The Japanese maples frame your entrance to this collection. Take one of the paths west through the garden until you meet up with Lookout Loop (just south of the bridge over the stream) (2). You can follow this walkway south past the grove of Asiatic maples, magnolias and other assorted specimens. Stop in the clearing to revel at some of the country’s largest metasequoia (3). When you reach Rhododendron Glen (4), veer west and take a respite at the stone picnic shelter (gazebo) (5) that overlooks the valley of poplars, cherries and birches. Then head east along the lower trail until you reach a small pond, take the trail north and west, and you will reach Azalea Way. Head back north on Azalea Way to walk past collections of cherries, larches, magnolia and ash (6). When you return to the Woodland Garden, stop to enjoy the view from its western edge. At this point, you can either head back through the Woodland Garden to the visitor center or keep walking north through the oak collection (7) and return to the visitor center via East Foster Island Road.