Last week, I had the unexpected pleasure of touring the Elizabeth C. Miller Gardens in Seattle. I had no idea just how fortunate I was.
When my garden club mentioned the tour, I thought it sounded like a fun way to spend the afternoon. I knew nothing about Betty Miller, an internationally-recognized horticulturist who was instrumental in developing the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington.
I didn’t know that she’d left her home and gardens to the public without letting her neighbors in on the secret. Sometimes exclusive gated communities don’t like random people wandering through their streets and trekking around gardens. Lucky for us, the neighbors agreed to allow 500 people each year to visit the garden, and lucky for me, I was one of them.
As you may have guessed, Betty wasn’t just your everyday, run of the mill gardener. She was a collector of the unusual, the unique, the strange. That’s what makes her gardens, even now more than 20 years after her death, so amazing.
Let’s take a look at a few of her rhododendrons. I loved the variety found in the garden. This pure, white beauty was simply gorgeous. The topiaries near the house smelled like heaven, and as we followed the head gardener along the wooded paths, we saw more rhododendrons in all shapes and sizes from low bushes to giant trees. The flowers varied in color and the leaves in shape–they were so far from the builders’ special you find plopped down in front of most track homes. Chatting with friends recently, they mentioned how much they hated rhododendrons; they obviously haven’t been to this garden. They also had some wonderful spider azaleas; I’d never even heard of them. Who knew azaleas could look that feathery and funky? Maybe we’ll have to pick up a few for our yard.
Another design element that I really enjoyed was the dense, multi-layer underplantings and the contrasting textures of the low-lying plants and bushes. They’ve planted early snowdrops that dazzle in late-winter, and as they’re dying back another plant takes over. It’s just a never-ending carpet of different colors and textures. Even the mundane take on new beauty at this garden. My dad has grown rhubarb for over 30 years, but it has never looked like this–four-feet-tall, spiky, and crazy. This looks like it was around when the dinosaurs roamed. Our tour happened to fall on one of the few 80-degree days we’ve had this year. The sunlight filtered through the leaves dappling the path–it was magical. It makes me long for pathways through our woods. Someday, that will come, too.
While our plantings won’t mature overnight, there are a few simple ideas we can employ right now. I loved the jumble of pots in all different sizes clustered next to each other. They speak of rich abundance. A variety of pots would help soften the hard lines of the planters by our front door.
I saw this bonsai and couldn’t help but smile. I think it’s the same as our little guy (check it out here). Maybe in 50 years ours will have grown to this size. I can’t leave our tour of the garden without taking a peak at the view of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. Betty didn’t care at all about the view, but I’m a sucker for a mountain view. The EC Miller Garden’s website says:
The complex plantings and select plant materials are intended to encourage others to look beyond the ordinary and challenge their skills as gardeners.
I’m definitely feeling inspired. If you’d like more information about the Elizabeth C. Miller Gardens, they have an informative web site with virtual tours, plant identification, and tons of useful information. Just click here.
This post is a day late, because I went back to college visiting Sweet Miss for Mom’s Weekend. I met her sweet friends and their fabulous moms and had an all around wonderful time. I’m so glad she’s made such good friends and is loving her new life in Oregon, but we’re also glad she’ll be home this summer. We miss the energy, joy, and enthusiasm she brings to each day.
And if a weekend with SM and her sorority sisters wasn’t enough excitement, I arrived home in time for my niece Lilly and her husband Scott’s wedding. So happy for both of them. My sister-in-law walked her daughter down the aisle. It was just the two of them for so many years; it just seemed fitting. We had fun trying out skinny-arm poses and the sorority girl squat–some things are better left to teenagers. It’s always fun to be a little goofy.
What has been inspiring you lately? Been back to college? Spent a weekend laughing with the girls?