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Monday, September 1, 2014

A Visit to PowellsWood -- A Private Garden Open to the Public

On the Friday before Labor Day weekend, Nigel only had to work for half a day, so instead of making him wait till the late afternoon to get the first train home, I drove into Seattle to meet him for lunch, and then drive him home. I decided to leave the house early and stop for an hour or so at PowellsWood, a lovely private garden in Federal Way that is often open to the public. Check out the website here, and if you're on Facebook, you can check out the garden's Facebook page here.

Amazingly, this 3-acre garden was built on the site of a former dump, on ground covered in concrete, asphalt, old cars, and used tires. The soil was so poor, even weeds would not grow. Monte and Diane Powell bought the property in 1993 and spent the first two years simply amending the soil. Since 1995, when the first hedges that define the garden rooms were planted, every year has seen changes to the garden. Most recently, the garden just outside the back of the house was replanted, because of damage caused by the ice storm of 2012 (I myself lost a pear tree in that storm, which was the impetus for tearing apart and replanting an entire bed).

I started there, in the House Gardens at the back.

Enormous hardy bananas, which spent the winter covered in bubble wrap and burlap, anchor the bed

Spent Allium seedheads with a dark-leafed Dahlia, backed by the twisted stems of an ornamental Corylus.

More bananas, barberries and palms

Cimicifuga flowers waving, with Canna musifolia (I think) and 'Tiger Eye' Sumac.

A simple wooden bench mirrored by another through the archway

Senecio mandraliscae planted in the ground (presumably being used as an annual)

Looking back from the wooden arch to the patio just outside the house

Schefflera taiwanniana


The stems make a striking pattern
From there I headed into the Spring Garden, an area of grass paths and perennial beds under cherry trees (I bet they're fabulous in bloom!)

A Podophyllum pleianthum on the left

I'm not positive, but this looks like another Schefflera (delavayi?)

Wonderfully architectural tree limbs

Begonias and Hostas under cherry trees that look like they're being bent in a gale force wind

Lovely old lichens

Oliver, the friendly neighborhood cat, greets me noisily

I'm secretly pleased to see molehills in the almost pristine lawn, I guess they plague everyone who gardens

Rhododendron with orange tomentum

Mahonia berries aka Oregon grapes

A dry stream winds through the shade garden

A large arbor covered in several different kinds of Clematis (this one looks like Clematis armandii)

Perennial borders in the distance

A fig tree leans over the grass path, backed by a hedge of Leyland cypress, pruned to within an inch of its life

Fuchsia flowers about to open

A stream runs through the lower garden

Darmera peltata, Gunnera tinctoria and Caltha palustris, all love the boggy soil along the edge of the stream

The stiff fertile fronds of ostrich ferns line the stream

The monumentally large flowers of hardy Hibiscus moscheutos 'Dave Fleming'

A view up the stream past wavy grasses and Joe Pye Weed

A quite large Mahonia 'Arthur Menzies' is one of this border's anchors

A closer look at Mahonia 'Arthur Menzies'

Bench, Joe Pye weed, and the hardy bananas in the bed near the house in the upper garden

There were quite a few of these stone basins throughout the beds

Rhodie and fern make great companions

Rhodie and Astelia also make great companions

Palm reflection in a stone basin

A view from the entry garden, through the wooden arbor into the house gardens, where I started my journey

PowellsWood is open to the public from Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 3 pm, April 1 through October 31. Admission is $5 and payment is on the honor system. No pets allowed.


  1. The garden look beautiful Alison, and immaculate. Hard to imagine that such a green and lush space used to be a dump, its successful conversion is a testament to their skill and determination.

  2. OMG, I can't decide whether to rip my garden out or hang my head in shame! LOL This is one magnificent garden. Everything is so beautifully thought out and all the plants are wonderfully grown. What a remarkable collection and I love the variety of plants. Superb! TFS

  3. What a beautiful garden Alison ! Definitely goes on the list for my next journey to the PNW . Thanks for the tour !

  4. What an incredible garden I had no idea this existed, and I agree with everything Deanne said! Thanks for the grand tour and great photos!

  5. That mahonia tree...oh my. Lots of great vignettes and takeaways from your photos, thanks for bringing it to our attention! Love the back story of a dump turned into a paradise...

  6. What a beautiful place. Generally when I read blogs on garden visits, I struggle to find things that might work for me, or get inspiration from but Alison, you hit the jackpot with this post! I can see just how many of these plants could fit in with my garden and what I like.
    Thanks for sharing your trip out with us Alison.

  7. Immaculate is the word that kept running through my head, what a lush beautiful garden. It seemed to still have the beauty of spring whereas mine seems so dry and tired.

  8. Wow. Do they maintain all that themselves? Amazing. Interesting to me that bananas look so much better in the PNW than here, where there is no need for winter protection, but the leaves end up brown-edged and shredded.

    1. Hoov, I'm pretty sure they have help. There was a woman there weeding the day I was there. There's a house on the site, but I'm not sure if the Powells actually live there. I probably should have mentioned they have had design help from two garden design professionals -- Seattle landscape architect Nel Gulbran, who helped with the original design in 1995, and Portland designer Rick Serazin, who helped redesign the House Gardens after the ice storm.

  9. What a wonderful way to spend a Friday morning! The giant banana and Joe Pye plants looming over the bench were very impressive. I love the photo of the bench with the line of sight to the other bench beyond the arbor on the upper level too.

  10. Wonderful tour of a beautiful garden. Loved all the combinations and lines, especially that dry stream.

  11. Alison, thank you SO much! I love this garden! So many plants which I love and so many great ideas!

  12. We visited Powellswood in the early summer. I was great to see it now in late summer. Fabulous photos!

  13. Wow-what a spectacular, creatively planted and well maintained garden! You captured some great photos too.

  14. What a fantastic garden, so colourful with superb planting. The contrasts of foliage and texture is wonderful, an amazing place.

  15. Wow, wow, and wow! I love how tidy and well manicured it all is. So, so beautiful and your photos did a fantastic job of capturing it. I'm adding it to one of my bucket list stops! Oh, to have that much space to garden in.

  16. Gorgeous! I love that last photo with the palm, the weathered but beautiful fence and the blue umbrellas in the background. Everything looks very lush. I love your comment about the molehills. LOL. Somebody go mess up that ridiculously green lawn!

  17. What an amazing garden. I love it. Wonderful use of foliage and I love those stone pots and the pebbly stream bed.


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