Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

A July Visit to the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden

At the end of July, I paid a visit to the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden (RSBG) in Federal Way, during what I remember as a particularly hot series of days. Despite the fact that I have only one rhodie growing in my garden, and the fact that rhodies are not my favorite kind of shrub, the RSBG is one of my favorite public gardens in the Seattle/Tacoma area. It's a very woodsy garden, and on a hot day, it's a pleasantly shady place to spend some time. They have a wonderful collection of great companion plants for shade, as well as a fabulous, ferny Victorian-style stumpery and a cavernous conservatory full of tender plants. Most years I visit the RSBG in the spring during plant sale season. If you attend their spring plant sale you get in free, instead of having to pay $8.00. Plus, during the spring you get to see Cardiocrinum and Meconopsis blooming, as well as the rhodies of course. Not a lot was flowering when I was there in July, so if you're a foliage junkie, you're in for a treat.

A word of warning -- there are a lot of photos in this post. More is more, right?

The wide path from the parking lot to the garden entrance is through a lushly wooded area

Interesting rhodies line the path, but also plenty of other great shade plants

Along the path, as well as strewn throughout the garden itself, you'll find fern and moss-covered limbs and snags

A swath of Petasites frigidus var. palmatum, a northwest native

New growth on a rhodie

Near the entrance, another large nurse log covered in moss and shade plants

Near the gift shop, where you pay to enter, a Schefflera

The huge leaves on this rhodie with their powdery undercoating were striking, I couldn't help wondering what it looks like when it's flowering

Another Schefflera on the other side of the gift shop

I don't know much about much, but I think this might be Wollemia nobilis?

The RSBG nursery's shade pavilion

Should I have bought this Rhododendron sinogrande for $165.00? It's quite a good size. I bought a tiny one several years ago, which died almost immediately after I planted it.

Just a short walk away is the Rutherford Conservatory.

Despite the warm day I found those thrown-open doors quite inviting

All the double doors and every vent had been opened, and if I remember right, fans were also going inside. It was surprisingly comfortable.

A wide brick pathway makes a big circle inside

I see this Dendrobium orchid every time I visit, but I've never seen it flowering. It reminds me of a big insect.

Magnolia rostrata leaf that someone has carefully laid aside on the bridge railing

There's a water feature inside with a stream that the bridge crosses over

This looks a lot like a Podophyllum, which should be hardy, but it's inside the conservatory

This piece of burlwood with its three "eyes" seemed to be looking at me

Just outside the conservatory door is another piece of burlwood also covered in eye-like formations, with a gesneriad-like plant at its base.

I took off walking to see what I could see, like the bear that went over the mountain. In various areas they had sprinklers running, so some of the plants were water-spotted.


I was baffled by this rhodie with its very narrow leaves, which greatly resembled a conifer

It's Rhododendron roxieanum var. oreonastes

Here it is interspersed with a real conifer

An enormous patch of Podophyllum pleianthum

Occasionally I found myself turning my eyes, and my camera, onto the trees and limbs and upper canopy all around me.

Shadows on the path

Inevitably I was drawn back to the leaves.




I may have stared open-mouthed at the cutleaf edges of this magnificent Schefflera

More Polygonatum -- enormous patches of it

Another powder-covered rhodie


Bamboo detritus, and one bamboo culm lifting in and out of the soil like a sea creature rising out of the ocean


Arisaema foliage, I think

Fancy fern frond

Another large patch of Podophyllum

Ostrich ferns

Matteucia struthiopteris fertile fronds

So coppery!

I've seen quite a few rhodies this year, at both public and private NPA gardens, with rich powdery coating like this on their new growth, that have me wondering where I can fit something like this into my garden.

Unfurling fern frond, from Blechnum chilense, I think

Corylopsis gotoana

Peony and Podophyllum (I know they've been renamed Dysosma, and the RSBG's signage reflects that, but eh)

Magnolia cone

Astilboides tabularis

By July, a field full of Meconopsis seedpods is the only evidence of their previous beauty

The backlit hairs glow in the sun

Moss on a tree branch

The pond, with Hydrangeas flowering at its edge, and a covering of a tiny floating fern called Azolla which makes it look deceptively solid

Fern and peony seedpod

Across from the pond is the entrance to the Victorian stumpery, one of my favorite areas of the RSBG. I took lots of photos of stumps and twisted limbs covered in ferns and moss and various  shade plants, and although I did try to edit them down, it's hard to leave any out.

The entrance

The area contains a little clearing, with a moss-covered, sofa-like huge limb for sitting on.

A couple of different Saxifrages, Maianthemum racemosum, and ferns

A patch of Lysimachia paridiformis var. stenophylla, next to some huge Darmera leaves

A closer look at the "sofa"

It's hard to know what fascinates me more about this place -- the twisted tangle of limbs or the wild abandon of the plants. Perhaps both -- it's such a perfect pairing. In the past when I've visited the RSBG, I've actually quickly bypassed everything just to get here to the Stumpery.

The fern in front, Dryopteris sieboldii, is not one I've grown, but I was intrigued enough seeing it here that I bought a couple of pots soon after my visit. We'll see how it does.

A rare flower at this time of year -- some kind of ground orchid/Dactylorhiza?

I hope you enjoyed this very long post with my photos from my visit to the RSBG.

The RSBG is also the home of the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection, but I decided not to visit since I'm not much of a fan of bonsai. If you're interested in seeing some photos of the bonsai collection, my blogger friend Linda posted about the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection a year ago, which you'll find here.

The RSBG also has quite an extensive nursery onsite from which you can buy or order rhodies and other plants or seeds. Check out this link to their current list.  Fall 2019 ordering is now open.

If you're on Instagram, you can follow their account here.