• Greg Graves

Seattle Garden Tour part 1

Seattle waterfront

I’ve had the opportunity over the last several years to escort a number of horticultural tours, both domestic and international. I just completed a tour in my own back yard. I put together a tour for the Pacific Horticulture Society of the Seattle area gardens. Having worked as the head gardener for the Miler Garden in Seattle I had contacts to some of the finest gardens in the Northwest. I have visited all these gardens in the past but never with a large group and in such a prepared way. All the gardeners had pulled out all the stops and were most gracious. It was quite impressive to see what some of the best gardeners around have created.


The tour participants stayed at the Mayflower Park Hotel. The Mayflower is an historic, European-style boutique hotel, centrally located in the heart of downtown Seattle within walking distance to Pike Place Market, the Waterfront, museums, shops and numerous restaurants. The hotel was built in 1927 and has been lovingly restored. We had a welcome, meet and greet dinner the night before the tour began. That’s a nice way to kick things off and for everyone to get to meet one another.

After a leisurely breakfast, they joined me in the lobby for our 9:00AM departure  on our private motor coach. First we visit  Daniel Sparler’s garden, a Northwest treasure filled with unusual plants. Daniel calls the garden an assault of three dimensions, depth and color. Many people on the tour commented that it looked like we started off with the best first. Daniel just set the bar high.

Kabota Garden

Next we travel to Kubota Garden http://www.kubotagarden.org where we had a private tour by the head gardener.   The garden is twenty acres of hills and valleys, featuring streams, waterfalls, ponds, rock outcroppings and an exceptionally rich and mature collection of plant material. This unique urban refuge took over sixty years of vision, effort and commitment by the Kubota family. Fujitaro Kubota was an emigrant from the Japanese Island of Shikoku. He established the Kubota Gardening Company in 1923. Self-taught as a gardener, he wanted to display the beauty of the Northwest in a Japanese manner. He designed and installed gardens throughout the Seattle area. The Japanese Garden at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island is an example of his work.

Seattle Children’s Playgarden

Later Wendy Welch, a former PHS board member, showed us around the Seattle Children’s PlayGardenhttp://www.childrensplaygarden.org a space where children of all abilities can play outdoors and stretch their imaginations and independence. Summer camp was in session so we got to enjoy the company of many of the kids while we had our lunch there.

Miller Garden

Our final stop of the first day was the Miller Botanical Garden http://www.millergarden.org where I had the opportunity to work for 13 years as the head gardener. It still feels like my garden and was nice to be back there. The garden continues in the excellent traditions of gardening that Mrs. Miller insisted upon with plantings providing interest that delights the eye all year long. As the seasons change, the highlights of one lead seamlessly into the next. The complex plantings and select plant materials are intended to encourage others to look beyond the ordinary and to challenge their skills as gardeners.

Riehl Garden Stumpry

On the second day of the tour we were off to Vashon Island. After a short ferry ride we began with the magical, modern woodland garden of Pat and Walt Riehl. The couple love ferns and traditional stumperies made popular by Prince Charles at Highgrove. The Riehl garden has a tunnel entry and grottos full of tree stumps with the wild romanticism and dense, mossy nature of a rain forest. This is a quintessentially Northwest woodland garden with a dramatic twist. Woodland plants grow between roots and along the edges of the paths. Tree ferns are the garden’s glory, growing up to form a lacy understory beneath the taller trees. In winter months, Pat wraps them snugly to protect them from winter cold.


Froggsong Garden, https://cindystockett.wordpress.com was our next stop. It’s 3 acres and 15 years old, tended and created by owners Steve and Cindy Stockett.  The garden is done in the Northwest Formal style. This consists of the relaxed style of an English perennial garden with the more formal structure of boxwood elements. The garden hosts a long rose pergola, ponds, knot garden, cascading water features, parterre, a stone ruin and a newly installed Earth Works garden. We were lucky enough to enjoy lunch in the garden.

Carhart Garden

After lunch we were invited to visit the garden of Whit and Mary Carhart. Whit spent many hours learning about plants—taking classes, going to conferences, and volunteering at Miller Garden. His knowledge, combined with the assistance of experts and artists contributed to the creation of a fine Japanese garden. Beds around the house contain hostas, mountain laurels, may apples, saxifrages, ligularias, and bold textures. A “Woodland Gazebo” has a stone gathering space circled by “posts” of towering Douglas firs.  Plants are in tiers: Japanese maples and snowflake viburnums stretch over ground cover collections of candlelabra primroses, and unusual ferns, alliums, astrantias, and lewisias, accented with golden Japanese forest grass. Whit says, “We like eye stimulation,” such as the coral colors of the gazebo chairs. Mary places the artwork around the garden. She found the statues of running kids from an artist from Zimbabwe. The drier Upper Garden on the hillside is planted with moor grasses, sedums, and four varieties of manzanita. A pond, stream, and waterfall are visible through a MoonGate.

Dig Nursery on Vashon Island

Our last stop was at Dig Nursery http://dignursery.com . Known for their plant savvy and architectural vignettes, Ross Johnson and Sylvia Matlock have created a bridge connecting their beautifully designed home and haut-chic nursery. Their extensive knowledge and unconventional design insight attracts visitors from across the USA and has been celebrated in national magazines.


Next we had a very special visit to Dan Hinkley’s Garden, Windcliff http://www.intercontinentalgardener.com/2009/09/dan-hinkleys-garden-at-windcliff.html . The garden was planted by Dan and his partner Robert Jones mostly after 2005. It is amazing to see how it has matured. There was no special plan for the garden, but rather it evolved through an intuitive process of planting what felt right for the place. Of course, with Dan being no ordinary gardener, the results are stunning. The site has breathtaking view towards Mount Rainier and the Seattle city skyline. The garden lingers towards the sea through organic mounds of plantings and small intimate paths where you can touch the plants and they seem to answer your greetings.

Willow at the pond at the Bloedel reserve

After lunch at the pier in Indianola we spent the afternoon enjoying a private tour of the famed Bloedel Reserve http://www.bloedelreserve.org on Bainbridge Island. Bloedel is an internationally renowned public garden and forest preserve. The founder’s vision was “to provide refreshment and tranquility in the presence of natural beauty,” and the Reserve’s mission is to “enrich people’s lives through a premier public garden of natural and designed Pacific Northwest landscapes.” The Reserve’s 150 acres are a unique blend of natural woodlands and beautifully landscaped gardens, including a Japanese Garden, a Moss Garden, a Reflection Pool and the Bloedels’ former estate home. Of all the gardens in Washington, this is my favorite, after my own of course, I believe everyone should like their own garden best. After all that is home.

This Seattle tour will be continued in next weeks blog.

The woods at the Bloedel Reserve

Dianella in Daniel Sparler’s Garden

Board walk in the Bloedel Reserve

Dig Nursery Vashon Island

Fire pit at Windcliff

Seattle Children’s Playgarden

Kabota garden


Miller Garden

Miller Garden

Kabota garden

Sparler garden

Miller Garden

Sherri Wilson Garden

Sherri Wilson Garden

Sparler Garden

#boxwood #summer #privategardens #publicgarden #gardentours #Awardwinninggarden #OldGoatFarm #flowers #formalgarden #relaxing

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