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News / Life / Lifestyles

5 outings to see spring flowers around Seattle

By Sarah-Mae McCullough, The Seattle Times
Published: April 27, 2024, 6:02am

SEATTLE — March around the Seattle area is known for cherry blossoms. April is for the tulips. But even as May rolls closer, flower season is far from over.

Many species of rhododendrons, peonies and other vibrantly colored flowers can be admired in their full glory in late spring. Here’s where to see them around the Seattle area, whether you want to wander through a serene garden on your own or join in on one of these festive seasonal events.

  • Dunn Gardens: 13533 Northshire Road N.W., Seattle; dunngardens.org

Less than a five-minute drive from Bitter Lake Playfield in North Seattle lies a 7.5 acre garden designed by the famed Olmsted Brothers (the minds behind many beloved Seattle parks) as a summer home in 1915.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Dunn Gardens is the only Olmsted residential garden that’s now regularly open to the public in Washington, according to HistoryLink.

Along with towering Douglas fir trees and broad lawns bordered by shrubs, you’ll find rhododendrons blooming in the garden this time of year. Another “showstopper in the garden is the wisteria — it’s purple, it surrounds the cottage, it’s like walking through a purple curtain of blooms,” executive director Carolyn Cox said, before adding trillium and magnolias to the list. “It’s just a color bomb.”

“One of the most spectacular trees right now is the Magnolia kobus” in the southwest portion of the garden, Cox said. Walking underneath the “old, gnarly tree” in bloom is “like standing in a flower house.”

Stop by Dunn Gardens anytime 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday (for nonmembers, the entrance fee is $10 per person) or catch a special poetry workshop at 3 p.m. May 11.

  • Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden: 2525 S. 336th St., Federal Way; rhodygarden.org
  • Pacific Bonsai Museum: 2515 S. 336th St., Federal Way; pacificbonsaimuseum.org

If admiring rhododendrons is a high priority, there’s perhaps no better local destination than Federal Way’s Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, which features more than 700 species of “rhodies” in its 22 acre woodland garden.

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During the “riot of color” that is spring, you can also find magnolias, camellias and “a host of other beautiful trees, shrubs and wildflowers,” according to a statement from executive director of horticulture Steve Hootman.

Rhododendron-lovers won’t want to miss the big-leaf rhododendron garden, where subsections of the species grow giant leaves — up to 2 feet in length! For your $10 admission (or $7 for students and seniors), you can also explore the visitors center, plant shop, Victorian stumpery — an intentional arrangement of wooden materials like stumps and old logs that create a habitat for ferns and — and several other gardens.

While you’re in the area, pop next door to the Pacific Bonsai Museum. It’s “one of the few public collections worldwide solely dedicated to bonsai,” according to its website, and is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday with a suggested donation of $12 per adult.

Both Federal Way gems are holding special events over Mother’s Day weekend, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 11-12. BonsaiFEST will celebrate “the height of spring blooms” like azalea and wisteria with bonsai-making demonstrations, tours, pop-up shopping and more, and the rhododendron garden will bring in live music, food trucks and an art market.

  • Bellevue Botanical Garden: 12001 Main St., Bellevue; bellevuebotanical.org

An urban refuge east of downtown Bellevue, the 53 acre Bellevue Botanical Garden includes about 12 acres of cultivated gardens, plus woodlands and natural wetlands you can wander through.

The 3,000-plus varieties of plants growing there includes 138 different varieties of rhododendrons, spread throughout the garden. To surround yourself with rhodies, stop by the Rhododendron Glen.

Garden director James Gagliardi also recommends checking out the nearby, Asian-inspired Yao Garden, featuring azaleas, primroses, a stream and stepping stones.

Make a day of your trip by adding in a stop to the gift shop and the coffee bar and check out any other trails or gardens that catch your interest. Another popular draw is the 150 foot suspension bridge, which spans a ravine and allows walkers to take in the forest’s topography from a different angle.

Admission is free, and the garden is open from dawn until dusk everyday.

  • Seattle Chinese Garden: 6000 16th Ave. S.W., Seattle; seattlechinesegarden.org

Built in partnership with Seattle and our sister municipality of Chongqing, China, the Sichuan-style Seattle Chinese Garden comprises nearly 5 acres of plants, stones, water and architecture.

May is a great time to see blooming peonies and some magnolias, said interim general manager Mimi Chan.

On May 11 and 12, the garden’s 2024 Peony Festival will celebrate the blooming flowers and Mother’s Day, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (the final program is forthcoming, but the annual event generally includes music, cultural demonstrations and talks). In past years, about 1,000 people a day have flocked to the festival, Chan said. “It gets very busy, especially if the weather is nice like this.”

Not ready to head back inside after exploring the Chinese garden? A wealth of nearby greenspaces — West Duwamish Greenbelt Trails, Soundway Park and Puget Park to name a few — makes it easy to extend your nature excursion.

  • Pike Place Market: 85 Pike St., Seattle; pikeplacemarket.org
  • Chihuly Garden and Glass: 305 Harrison St., Seattle; chihulygardenandglass.com

A meander along the downtown Seattle waterfront and through Pike Place Market is a classic outing any time of year, but springtime brings its own colorful flavor.

While you’ll find all sorts of fresh flowers sold on a typical day in the historic market, more than 30 flower farms from King, Snohomish and Whatcom counties will be present 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 11-12 for the 16th Annual Flower Festival at Pike Place Market. Visitors can shop from seasonal favorites like tulips, daffodils, irises and peonies.

From Pike Place, walk about 25 minutes (or take a 10-15 minute drive or bus ride) to Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle Center. The museum’s “Spring Bloom” lasts through the end of May, with daily garden tours, demonstrations of ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arrangement) and spring-themed cocktails. General admission is $35-$39, with senior and child discounts. (Bundles that combine access to the museum, the Space Needle and Climate Pledge arena are also available.)