Some may think cottagecore exists only on TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest. In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, “cottagecore” is a life of gardening and farming, wild forest exploration, baking, knitting, handicrafts, art, foraging and other pastimes amid a rural backdrop. However, a long weekend on Whidbey Island shows just how real the rustic life can be.
Plan to visit Thursday through Sunday, when the island’s independently owned retail, farms and restaurants welcome visitors. Most of the island’s commerce, attractions and dining options cluster in central and south Whidbey. A road trip along State Route 525 might start at the ferry dock at Clinton, with a detour to the quaint town of Langley, past rolling meadows at Greenbank Farm, to the harborside village of Coupeville.
Whidbey gardens and more
The Olympic Mountain range influences rainfall on the island, creating mini-climate zones. The result? Spectacular, showy gardens with a plethora of plants for viewing and sale.
Just along SR-525, Venture Out Nursery serves as a living lab for the plants sold. Pathways feature mature trees, native perennials, colorful annuals in situ, and a pond, rain garden, rockery and a waterwheel. Stop by Bayview Farm and Garden for a cappuccino and homemade scones at the Flower House Cafe, browse inside a Victorian greenhouse and take photos beneath the late-spring gold drape of the farm’s Laburnum Arbor.
Continue along SR-525 another two miles to Earth Sanctuary, a spiritual site amid the diverse forest, native plants and wetlands. Carefully restored and curated, the site incorporates peaceful stone circles, driftwood corridors, a salal hedge labyrinth, a Buddhist stupa monument and art sculptures.
Roughly nine miles north, follow signs to enjoy spring rhodies in bloom among the 13-acre Meerkerk Gardens, including free, 40-minute guided tours into the garden’s hidden corners and a weekend specialty nursery. Check the garden’s 2022 bloom report to find out what’s bursting forth during your visit and walk the four miles of nature trails.
Whidbey’s Greenbank Farm
Three miles north rests the bucolic treat known as Greenbank Farm. Founded in 1904, Greenbank Farm was once the U.S.’s largest loganberry producer, which later helped popularize loganberry wine. Now, the farm is managed through a public-private ownership venture, with just over three miles of walking trails and landscapes with views of the Olympics (west) and the Cascades (east) and a handful of businesses and attractions.
The Master Gardener Educational Garden at Greenbank Farm is run by WSU Extension Island County and inspires and demonstrates gardening techniques and plantings. Stroll the grounds to view microclimates and habitats displaying common northwest gardens: shade, wetland, cottage and sunny meadow. Unusual features you may want to try at home include a child-resistant waterfall, vegetation windbreak and xeriscape.
Selections include Greenbank Farm Wine Shop’s local wines, fruit wines and dessert wines; cheese, crackers, jams and other picnic fixings at Greenbank Cheese Specialty Food & Gifts; and Whidbey Pies — right where the famous handcrafted desserts are made from regional, seasonal ingredients, including rhubarb, marionberry, huckleberry and apple.
Stop in for a slice at Old Spots Bistro, and pick up a house-made savory pie — chicken pot pie or beef bourguignon — to cook in your Airbnb kitchen. Greenbank also hosts a monthly last-Saturday weekend flea market until October inside a rustic red barn.
If you just haven’t gotten enough garden in, the Whidbey Island Garden Tour will be back in 2022 on June 25. The self-paced tour gives ticket-buyers peeks into five stunning south Whidbey Island homeowner yards.
Wild lessons on Whidbey Island
Build in plenty of time for viewing northwest plants in their native habitat, particularly Whidbey Island’s parks clustered near Coupeville, another nine or so miles north of Greenbank. Stunning favorites include Coupeville’s Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, Fort Ebey State Park, and Puget Sound’s first lighthouse — Admiralty Head Lighthouse at Fort Casey Historical State Park. The Price Sculpture Forest is a newer park that opened in 2020 and features surprising sculptures (a driftwood T-rex and kinetic metal) in a 16-acre woodland.
No cottagecore weekend is complete without some foraging. Pacific Rim Institute near Coupeville offers prairie and native plant center tours during the upcoming May Prairie Days May 13 and 14 and has provided special edible and medicinal plant walking tours in the past.
Whidbey Wild Mushroom Tours presents a guided mushroom hunt on Saturdays until June 4, leaving from the South Whidbey Tilth Farmers Market, and private tours year-round. More farmers markets offer fresh grown and foraged food around Whidbey Island.
By planning far ahead, you can uplevel your weekend with a workshop. Take a pet-portrait painting class or plein air watercolor workshop at the Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio. Or take pocket sketching, landscape photography or metalworking workshops at Pacific Northwest Art School.
Cultus Bay Gardens offers down-to-earth classes on cooking, indigo dyeing and garden design. For additional inspiration, the Whidbey Working Artists’ association hosts a Summer Open Studio Tour on August 20-22, 2022, allowing visitors a peek into ateliers.
Sleeping on Whidbey Island
For the total effect, spend several nights in one of the island’s many Airbnb garden-swathed cottages, beachside bungalows, cozy writer’s cabins or forested yurts. Or sleep in at inns and bed and breakfasts near Langley, home to notable restaurants such as French bistro Prima Bistro, hyperlocal Orchard Kitchen, and Saltwater Fish House and Oyster Bar. Favorites sleeps (often fully booked) include Saratoga Inn, Country Cottage of Langley, and Inn at Langley. Of course, farm stays may beckon, including one at an alpaca farm.
If you stay near Langley, pick up needles and a Vesper at Skein and Tipple. Skein and Tipple’s front half sells hand-dyed yarns. The rear is a speakeasy-style craft cocktail bar with live music and an impressive drink menu featuring locally made liquors, low-alcohol options, modern classics and obscure Prohibition drinks such as the Scofflaw, a Prohibition favorite named for “lawless drinkers,” with bourbon, vermouth, house-made grenadine and orange bitters.
For breakfast the next morning, indulge in one of the island’s many bakeries: Seabiscuit Bakery and Whidbey Doughnuts in Langley, Jupiter Coffee in Freeland or Little Red Hen Bakery in Coupeville. Shop for yarns, lavender, art and more in Coupeville and Langley, and laze about. And most importantly? Relax.
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