Growth Spurts

The Best Botanical Gardens Near Seattle

Flowers in bloom, rare plants, and long walking trails through pristine greenery.

By Allison Williams Published in the Spring 2022 issue of Seattle Met

Rows of roses at Point Defiance Park Gardens.

Washington may be the Evergreen State (unofficially), but the state's output of flora ranges from rare specimen collections to manicured lawns. And, of course, there are blooming flowers of every color. Hit up the best botanical gardens open to the public.


Life on Display

Drive from Seattle: 45 minutes

Perhaps Tacoma’s peninsular Point Defiance Park Gardens gets overshadowed by the zoo and aquarium next door; those folks have a literal elephant, after all. But the cluster of rose, botanical, and native plant gardens that sit between the zoo and the ferry dock offer a calming respite from either. Though the rhody and rose collections are regional classics, other flowers get a chance to shine: The iris plot is surrounded by a wall made of old Tacoma street cobblestones, and the dahlia test garden stars a plant that can grow more than six feet high. Inside the zoo, the new Nature Play Garden makes its debut on April 1 with interactive plant and pollinator exhibits for kids.  


Carved in Stone

Drive from Seattle: 2 hours 30 minutes

It’s one thing to carve lush gardens out of our damp Western soil; cultivating the dry Eastern Washington landscape at Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee stands as an impressive feat. Rock makes its own statement, with stone paths and pools between the bushes, flowers, and cacti. Summer brings outdoor concerts and movie nights, but when the garden opens each April, art exhibits from local talents go on display around the gift shop. 

At Ohme Gardens, rock pools are part of the scenery.

Bainbridge Island

Reclaimed Roots

Drive from Seattle: 1 hour

It only makes sense that Bloedel Reserve is a green retreat; original estate owner Prentice Bloedel, a timber baron, pioneered reforestation in the Northwest and his company found ways to use sawdust waste as power, way back in the early twentieth century. His Bainbridge property has become a garden open to the public, with even the grand French-style house open to tours. A two-mile path winds through a meadow, moss garden, and cluster of birch trees. Look for a zen garden outside the Japanese guest house, which took the place of an old swimming pool—reworked after famous Seattle poet Theodore Roethke died there in 1963.

A timber baron's estate looks about right at Bloedel Reserve.


Wild Whidbey

Drive from Seattle: 1 hour 25 minutes

Whidbey Island’s Meerkerk Gardens may specialize in carefully tended rhododendron and azalea plants, but this spring less earthy creatures make an appearance. After clearing the view at the garden’s gazebo, it’s now possible to spot Baby Island out in Puget Sound—and the bald eagles that call it home. Plus, peak bloom happens to coincide with gray whale watching season along the Whidbey coast. The 10 acres of carefully groomed paths juxtapose an even bigger swath of wild woodlands, home to woodpeckers and tree frogs, plus four miles of walking trails. 


Garden Variety

Drive from Seattle: 35 minutes

Maybe it’s cheating to celebrate the sculpture garden aspect of Everett’s Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens, but the artwork scattered between peonies and hydrangeas elevates the whole urban park. A rock garden, too, breaks up the parade of plants. Here a native flora trail is flanked by the nativar garden, dedicated to cultivated versions of local species. Bookmark this destination for a return trip in autumn, when the Japanese maple grove puts on a show of fall color. 


Purple Reign

Drive from Seattle: 2 hours 20 minutes

The tiny but mighty Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in southwest Washington may not cover much land—just seven acres total—but the tenacious woman who began the collection a century ago had more than enough grit to make it last. Nearly wiped out in 1948 by a Columbia River flood when Klager was in her 80s, the assortment of delicate lilacs (not all of which are purple, by the way) was rebuilt and has since thrived. April marks the start of the annual Lilac Days, the only time of year Klager’s 1880s-built Victorian farmhouse opens to visitors.

The lilacs are in bloom outside Hulda Klager's house.

Federal Way

Rhody Trip

Drive from Seattle: 25 minutes

Leave it to the Pacific Northwest to have a signature flower that’s basically a shrub. But for all the rhododendron’s staunch stature, its eruption of blooms won’t be outdone, each branch its own bouquet. The Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden—helpfully located just next to the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way—claims to be the largest collection of the plant in the world. Not that the space has tunnel vision; it also holds an azalea collection, a conservatory to house flora meant for warmer climates, and a Victorian stumpery, which is just what it sounds like: a collection of stumps and roots, coated in ferns and new growth.  


Genteel Greenery

Drive from Seattle: 50 minutes

In the early twentieth century they tried to dub south of Tacoma the Lakes District, but the prim Lakewold Gardens next to Gravelly Lake is about the only remnant of that pastoral moniker. Designed by famed landscape architect Thomas Church, the manicured Knot Garden maintains a European feel. There’s plenty of Northwest afoot, though, including the Tom Gillies Hardy Fern Foundation Display Garden, dedicated to a plant that can get lost behind showier flowers. The Mayfest celebration turns the 800-strong rhododendron collection into a scavenger hunt and one big lawn becomes Mimosa Meadow, complete with live music performances.

Mayfest brings music to Lakewold Gardens.

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