Bellevue Botanical Garden Offers Sanctuary In Tough Times | Magazine


Americans haven’t traveled much since last March. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, vacation plans have been abandoned, if ever realized. Instead, we rediscovered green spaces closer to home, where we did our outdoor exploration and adventures.

By July, my daughter Alison and I had each traveled more miles than a city bus on treks through our own familiar zip codes. In search of new perspectives, we took a trip to the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

We weren’t the only ones. According to the American Public Garden Association, places of “sanctuary, refuge and calming places,” including public parks and botanical gardens, were the main places visitors turned to last summer in the following pandemic closures.

The Bellevue Botanical Garden is a partnership between the City of Bellevue Parks and Community Department and the non-profit Bellevue Botanical Garden Society. What started as a seven-acre giveaway to the city in the 1980s is now a 53-acre urban retreat of cultivated gardens, restored forests and natural wetlands east of Wilburton Hill Park in downtown from Bellevue.

July 17th turned out to be a beautiful summer day in the Puget Sound area. Alison and I were drawn to the perennial frontier of the Northwest Perennial Alliance, one of the highlights of any visit to Bellevue, like the nectar-hungry bees. The NPA created and maintains the border as a gift to the city and to thousands of annual visitors. Recognized nationally for its exhibits of evergreen trees, trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs, the NPA Perennial Border is a shining example of an American style of gardening and one of the largest mixed public borders maintained by volunteers in the United States.

Borders like these are built on a base of woody plants, including conifers and broadleaf conifers. A palette of plants like this guarantees beauty in all seasons, including the colder winter months. The rich textures and contrasting leaf shapes of conifers illustrate how foliage makes as important a contribution to a garden as its flowers. Although spectacular, the blooms of bulbs, perennials, biennials and annuals are considered ephemeral. Their flowers take advantage of fleeting moments in the spotlight, bringing seasonal bursts and waves of color throughout the gardening year.

Because a mixed border is made up of a wide variety of plants, it is healthier and more resistant to disease and pests, while requiring less water, fertilizer, and maintenance.

It seemed like everything on the NPA border was just blooming for us when we visited. Floods of perennials fell on top of each other, with flowering vines weaving their way through the foam. The winding paths revealed something delicious and unexpected at every turn. We headed to Fuchsia Garden, Lost Meadow Trail, Native Discovery Garden, Rhododendron Glen, The Urban Meadow, Water-wise Garden, Yao Garden, and a dahlias exhibit. Benches along the way provide a place to take a break and relax.

I visited the gardens again one day in December, two weeks before Christmas. Temperatures were in the low 20s when I left Yakima, with frozen fog limiting visibility. Hours later, I found the sun rising in a clear Seattle sky, scorching the rest of it with a misty haze, and very little of the usual morning rush hour traffic.

Steps from the parking lot, I was kissed by seas of leathery-leaved hellebores, their large flower buds emerging from dormancy and ready to unfold. Nearby, witch hazel were in bloom, along with a few hardy fuchsias and a grove of white camellias. These views alone were a tonic for the soul of a winter-weary gardener.

The beautiful bones of the perennial border offered amazing combinations of bark, berries, and bare woody branches in the dead of winter. While the herbaceous perennials slept underground, gardeners worked to prepare the flower beds for spring. A rich compost blanket, more like crumbs from the richer dark chocolate cake, had been spread over the beds like a blanket.

I revisited Yao Garden, honoring the friendship between Bellevue and its sister city of Yao, Japan. Japanese gardens are designed to immerse the visitor in nature. A sign at the entrance encouraged visitors to leave their cares outside the garden walls as they strolled along a circular path. Over 100 tons of Columbia River basalt and 60 different plant species, including Japanese maples, pines and azaleas, scalloped in a thousand shades of green, have been placed to make this garden as beautiful in December as it is in December. any summer month.

Prior to the pandemic restrictions, the Bellevue Botanical Garden provided educational and hands-on learning opportunities for NPA members, horticultural students and gardeners throughout the Puget Sound area. But to slow the spread of COVID-19, the city of Bellevue has canceled all in-person programs and events, including plant sales, community celebrations, summer concerts, art shows and festivals of holiday light until further notice.

At this time, the grounds are open every day, including holidays, from dawn to dusk. The mask and social distancing are mandatory. Entrance is free and free parking is available in the garden car park, right next to the visitor center. With the exception of service animals, dogs are prohibited.

You can download a ‘Garden Map and Guide’, a ‘Kids Self-Guided Tour’ or find additional directions and information on the garden’s website at

In hard times like these, garden

visitors cannot help but leave with more hope and optimism for the uncertain months to come. It is the healing power of nature, and you can always count on it.

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