SEVERAL WEEKS AGO, I grabbed my mask and hand sanitizer and ventured out to the Bellevue Botanical Garden. Walking through the meadow, exploring the alpine garden, losing myself in the masterful perennial borders and just wandering in the woods, I reconnected with familiar seasonal markers and left with a clear head.
A public garden is so much more than a collection of plants tended by talented plantspeople and generous volunteers. Inclusive and accommodating landscapes filled with natural beauty provide space for growth, inspiration and refreshment.
An avid garden traveler, Portland-based Lois Moss leads tours of gardens in the Pacific Northwest. Citing current conditions, Moss recommends touring public gardens as a way to navigate travel safely. “[Gardens] are outside, which is the safest place to be,” she says. “They are always changing, so even if you’ve visited previously, they will be different the next time, and most offer learning opportunities for children and adults.”
After my visit, I reached out to Bellevue Botanical Garden executive director Nancy Kartes. “In these uncertain times, [the Garden] remains a place of learning and respite,” she says. “We are grateful to Bellevue Parks & Community Services for allowing us to remain open, free and accessible as public interest in gardening intensifies.”
Heronswood Garden on the Kitsap Peninsula is owned by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. I asked Dan Hinkley, garden founder and present director, for his take on the role of public gardens in the face of a global pandemic. “If there is a silver lining to the roil of recent weeks, it is the collective return to wonderment of the natural world,” he replied. “It is in this dusting off of our innate curiosity that public gardens will again be appreciated as not simply refugia from the urban din, or a collection of plants neatly curated in Latin, but the source of stories we can all marvel in.”
To date, COVID-19 has put a stop to Heronswood open days, but Hinkley is regularly posting video walkabouts on the garden’s website (heronswoodgarden.org), complete with pop quizzes and a learned look at one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes.
Over at Dunn Gardens in North Seattle, members and four guests may book a private visit to have the entire garden all to themselves — stroll the grounds, bring a picnic, relax. According to executive director Carolyn Cox, the program has been immensely popular. So much so, that they’ve added an option for nonmembers (or “not-yet-members,” as they say on the website), to book for a $10 per-person entrance fee.
You’ll find these gardens and many more on Puget Sound Public Gardens (pugetsoundgardens.org). The recently launched website and nonprofit organization are the brainchild of Sue Nevler, a tireless garden advocate who believes public gardens foster civic good.
Beautiful photos and enticing descriptions accompany each garden listing, along with links to individual websites and other resources, creating a portal for virtually exploring the botanical riches and horticultural craftsmanship of our region. Or use the site’s map to plot your own in-person tour when we’re free to do so. On the pop-up page, a gallery of photos contributed by local artists, photographers and garden visitors captures unique and meaningful perspectives. Like a garden, the gallery refreshes seasonally.