washington may be Evergreen State (unofficially), but the state’s flora output ranges from collections of rare specimens to manicured lawns. And, of course, there are blooming flowers of all colors. Discover the best botanical gardens open to the public.
By car from Seattle: 45 minutes
Possibly the Tacoma Peninsula Point Defiance Park Gardens is overshadowed by the zoo and aquarium next door; these people have a literal elephant, after all. But the cluster of rose gardens, botanicals, and native plants that lie between the zoo and the ferry dock provide a soothing respite. Although the rhody and rose collections are regional classics, other flowers have a chance to shine: the iris plot is surrounded by a wall made of old Tacoma Street cobblestones, and the trial garden dahlia showcases a plant that can grow over six feet tall. Inside the zoo, the new Nature Play Garden debuts April 1 with hands-on plant and pollinator exhibits for kids.
carved in stone
By car from Seattle: 2h30
It’s one thing to carve lush gardens out of our moist western soil; cultivate the dry landscape of eastern Washington to Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee is an impressive feat. Rock makes its own statement, with stone paths and pools between bushes, flowers and cacti. Summer brings outdoor concerts and movie nights, but when the garden opens each April, art exhibits by local talent are on display around the gift shop.
By car from Seattle: 1 hour
It only makes sense Bloedel Reserve is a green retreat; The estate’s first owner, Prentice Bloedel, a lumber baron, pioneered reforestation in the North West and his company found ways to use waste sawdust as energy in the early 20th century. His Bainbridge property has become a garden open to the public, with even the large French-style house open for tours. A two-mile path winds through a meadow, a moss garden, and a cluster of birch trees. Look for a Zen garden outside the Japanese guesthouse, which replaced an old swimming pool, reworked after famed Seattle poet Theodore Roethke died in 1963.
By car from Seattle: 1 hour 25 minutes
Whidbey’s Island Meerkat Gardens may specialize in carefully tended rhododendrons and azaleas, but this spring less earthy creatures are making an appearance. After clearing the view from the garden gazebo, it is now possible to spot Baby Island in Puget Sound and the bald eagles that inhabit it. Additionally, peak bloom coincides with gray whale watching season along the Whidbey Coast. The 10 acres of carefully manicured trails juxtapose an even larger strip of wild forest, home to woodpeckers and tree frogs, along with four miles of walking trails.
By car from Seattle: 35 minutes
It may be cheating to celebrate the sculpture garden aspect of Everett Arboretum and evergreen gardens, but the works scattered between peonies and hydrangeas elevate the entire urban park. A rockery, too, breaks the procession of plants. Here, a native flora trail is flanked by the nativar garden, dedicated to cultivated versions of local species. Add this destination to your favorites for a trip back in the fall, when the Japanese maple grove takes on fall colors.
By car from Seattle: 2 hours 20 minutes
The small but mighty Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in southwest Washington may not cover a lot of land – just seven acres in total – but the tenacious woman who started the collection a century ago had more than enough guts to make it last. Nearly wiped out in 1948 by a Columbia River flood when Klager was in his eighties, the assortment of delicate lilacs (not all of which are purple, by the way) have been rebuilt and have flourished ever since. April marks the start of the annual Lilac Days, the only time of year when the Victorian farmhouse built in the 1880s by Klager is open to visitors.
By car from Seattle: 25 minutes
Leave it to the Pacific Northwest to have a signature flower that is essentially a shrub. But despite the assertive stature of the rhododendron, its eruption of flowers will not be outdone, each branch its own bouquet. the Botanical garden of rhododendron species– helpfully located right next to the Pacific Bonsai Museum at Federal Way – claims to be the largest plant collection in the world. Not that space has tunnel vision; it also contains a collection of azaleas, a conservatory to house flora for warmer climates, and a Victorian stump, which is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of stumps and roots, covered in ferns and new growth.
By car from Seattle: 50 minutes
In the early 20th century they tried to dub Tacoma south of the Lakes District, but the prim Lakewold Gardens next to Gravelly Lake is about the only remnant of this pastoral moniker. Designed by renowned landscape architect Thomas Church, the well-maintained Knot Garden retains a European feel. There’s plenty of walkable northwest, though, including the Tom Gillies Hardy Fern Foundation show garden, dedicated to a plant that can get lost behind showier blooms. The Mayfest celebration turns the collection of 800 rhododendrons into a treasure hunt and a large lawn becomes Mimosa Meadow, complete with live musical performances.