IF I SAY burnt caramel, ginger, brown sugar and burgundy, you might think of a sticky cake or mulled wine. Fall, when nature marks the turning season with rich, burnished colors, is also a heady treat. Metaphor and season collide when you stand beneath the canopy of a katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) whose heart-shaped leaves, simmering in shades of deep gold, pink and orange-red, smell of burnt sugar.

As of publication time (check again closer to the date), the Fall Foliage Festival at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden (RSBG) is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 16-17, and admission to the garden is free that weekend. As the garden name suggests, springtime at RSBG is filled with colorful blossoms and fragrance as the garden’s collection of Rhododendron species — the world’s largest in a public garden — puts on a seasonal show. But that’s only the beginning of the garden’s year-round performance when the 22-acre woodland is a stage set for seasonal color against a backdrop of inky evergreens.

Finding the Fall Foliage Festival

Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden
2525 S. 336th St.
Federal Way

Fall at RSBG is an immersive experience that celebrates the season and captures the fading light of autumn in the glowing colors of deciduous trees, shrubs and vines in the garden’s collection. According to executive director and curator Steve Hootman, now is your chance to take in a selection of the best plants for fall color from all over the world, from Japan to the southeastern United States and in between. “The meadow provides a panoramic view of color, as it’s ringed with the vibrant fall foliage of Japanese maples, red maples and serviceberry, set against a backdrop of iconic Pacific Northwest coniferous trees,” says Hootman. “It’s a must-see in the fall.” And yes: There are sweetly scented katsura trees.

During the Fall Foliage Festival, RSBG staff will be on hand to lead tours of the garden, focusing on seasonal color and native plants. Festival features include fun nature-based activities for kids and families. A food truck along with free cider and cookies will sweeten the deal. A planting demonstration and popular Rhody Care 101 workshops will help you up your gardening game, while several specialty Northwest plant vendors, including Lee Farm and Nursery, Botanica, Degro Flower and Garden Co., and Courting Frogs Nursery, will satisfy your itch for fall planting. In addition, hundreds of plants in the RSBG nursery will be on sale for 50% off. You can even document your day of seasonal revelry at the fall photo station.

Whether you’re looking for inspiration on ways to add seasonal interest to your home landscape or simply want to stroll through the woodland environment (forest bathing, anyone?), make plans to catch the Fall Foliage Festival at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden. Check the RSBG website for details and workshop timing (rhodygarden.org).