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

Friday, August 8, 2014

This Place is a Zoo!

On Wednesday I went to the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma for a special presentation by the head horticulturist, Brian, who led a group of about 10 people around the zoo, talking about the plants growing in the zoo's gardens. This presentation is part of a new program that they just started running last month. I enjoyed the tour of the gardens very much. Brian was enthusiastic, fun and knowledgeable, and it's obvious that he has put a lot of thought and care into choosing plants for the zoo's gardens. They were all large, healthy, impressive, well-maintained specimens, many of which I could not imagine growing to such great size in my garden, which is only about 20 miles away. The zoo is located in Point Defiance Park, right on the shores of Puget Sound, and I'm sure it enjoys the Sound's maritime influence that my own garden, further inland and 600 feet above sea level, doesn't.

Raised bed at the entrance gate -- Do I spy a Schefflera there?

Brian standing in the dry desert bed, chock full of Yuccas, Nolinas, Agaves, Palms and Aloes
To provide good drainage for these desert plants to overwinter, they created a large berm of sandy soil, about 2 feet high. There were also several low-growing shrubs that look like rosemary, but aren't (too prickly, no scent). I'm wondering now if they were Grevilleas.

Aloe (not sure what kind) with what looks like Agave parryi

Enormous trunking Yucca, with a teeny, tiny Aloe tucked underneath. The low-growing shrub in front is North African native Othonna cheirifolia (Barbary Ragwort)

Brian removing leaves of this enormous Melianthus major to pass among the crowd. The leaves smell like peanut butter.

Callistemon, Corokia cotoneaster, and Lobelia tupa

Wavy Nolina

Yucca and Melianthus

There were huge clumps of Lobelia tupa blooming throughout the zoo

Baeckia gunniana, a Tasmanian native
I was quite impressed with the excellent plant signage -- better than some botanical gardens I've visited

Brian explained that you can tell this is a male monkey puzzle tree, by the small cones at the top

Drimys lanceolata -- a big, healthy specimen

I was also quite impressed with the foliage combinations they've created at the zoo. It's obvious Brian and his team of volunteers have done some thoughtful, meticulous work here.

A waterfall of golden Hakone grass, matched with a low-growing conifer with golden needles

Jazz hands horticulurist

Brian showing the crowd a broad-leaf Salix (willow) leaf, from the tall shrub on the right
I'm not sure exactly which Salix this was.


Persicaria 'Red Dragon' and golden Hakonechloa macra

As we entered the Asian forest section of the zoo, I noticed the interesting impressions of leaves and footprints that were embedded in the concrete path.





Apparently, according to Amy, an education specialist at the zoo who also accompanied the tour, there's a story in the animal tracks. In the concrete you can follow the tracks of a tapir, which is being followed by the tracks of a tiger, as well as the human bootprints of a naturalist. At some point the tapir tracks stop, and if you're eagle-eyed you can spot a pile of bones somewhere nearby in the undergrowth. Then the tiger tracks continue on. There's no sign of what happens to the naturalist.

Path lined with bamboo on all sides

In the dry garden area, a fig tree was right at home. Here its large leaves also contribute to a tropical look.

Did I mention the interesting foliage combos?

I bet the zoo's Musa basjoo have been enjoying our hot summer. I can't help wondering how badly they got knocked back by the severe cold periods we had this past winter.

Fatsia japonica 'Spider Web' and bamboo


Big, shiny-leaved Farfugium

I don't think I've ever been on a garden tour before where the participants were so whole-heartedly encouraged to touch and experience the plants. Brian mentioned the difficulty of managing plants inside the animal enclosures. I suppose the minor destruction humans can do pales next to a tiger or elephant lying on, eating, playing with or destroying it.

Brian casts a mischievous spell on his audience.

A passing child asked Brian if he was a zoo-keeper. "No!" he said, "I'm a plant-keeper!"

Baby self-sown Trachycarpus fortunei

Pointing out the many different types of plants often referred to as rhubarb (here it's a Gunnera)

Looks like another Schefflera

Cannas, Bananas and Brugmansia

Double white Brugmansia flower

Planted "ruin" near the tiger enclosure

Brian points out the symmetrical shape of the Podophyllum leaf

Do I spy another Schefflera?



The double tiger lily beside him has produced bulbils, which Brian passes out to the crowd


Speaking of fabulous foliage...

The tall plant at the top resembles stinging nettle, but isn't. Brian picked the leaves and rubbed them on his face to demonstrate.


One of a handful of Wollemia nobilis, thriving throughout the park, in the ground!


Earlier, Brian had mentioned our native Madrona, and when I first saw that orangey tree on the left above I thought it might be one. Nope, it's a Magnolia! An amusing mistake, if you know how Seattle's Magnolia Bluff got its name.

This patch of Sarracenia is planted in a sunken kiddie pool, with a sprinkler right in front, creating ideal conditions for it to thrive.



Hibiscus moscheutos leaf (possibly 'Kopper King') was thoroughly budded up, ready to flower.

A lovely honeysuckle


A bee enjoying some Rudbeckia pollen

Striking Lobelia cardinalis, a North American native near the red wolf enclosure

Canis rufus

The Point Defiance Zoo is heavily involved with a long-term propagation program for the North American red wolf. Red wolves born at the zoo eventually get released into the wild. Read about it here.


A zookeeper feeds the penguins

Armadillo, probably looking for grubs in the grass

I included the armadillo picture for Jean, who gardens in the hot and steamy region south of "Hotlanta," and has to contend with armadillos digging in her garden and lying dead at the roadside. Do you read her blogs Secrets of a Seed Scatterer and Dotty Plants Greenhouse?

In the children's area of the zoo, an enormous Lobelia laxiflora, a Zone 9-11 plant


I can't help wondering what other plants I think of as tender to this region that they could grow in the ground here at the zoo. Aeoniums? Bromeliads? Jacaranda?

While the Asian section focuses on big foliage combos, the children's area was full of bright, colorful flowers

I stopped to sit a spell.

The hortculturist-led garden tours happen on the first Wednesday of every month and meet right inside the entrance gate at 10 a.m. They're free after you pay admission ($17 for non-residents of Pierce county, $15 for residents).


Yes, this place IS a zoo. But it's also a fantastic botanical wonderland.

19 comments:

  1. Zowie! Does anyone even bother to visit the animals? Your photos are divine. I especially like the shadows.

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  2. Wow. What a place. Lots of inspiration there, especially for what to do with my golden Hakone, of which I have loads.
    I have a soft spot for armadillos too. And penguins.. although possibly neither of them in the garden.

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  3. How wonderful! Your pictures are great and I'm inspired to see a zoo do so much with plants. See the healthy Drimys lanceolata made me feel very bad that I managed to kill mine (by moving it).

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  4. Love the title....very intriguing plantings and love the concrete with footprints and story!

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  5. All that in a zoo. Very cool indeed. Thanks for the tour.

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  6. Very impressed with their planting! I'm finding more and more zoos recently that have impressive planting, perhaps triggered by the need to up the 'attraction' of the zoo and recognition that the planting must complement where some of the animals come. Loving the Podocarpus underneath the false stinging nettle!

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  7. Wow, quite the tour! I generally find zoos to be depressing, but it looks like I could be quite happy here, as long as I didn't stumble upon any pacing caged animals. I enjoyed your Schefflera spotting and encourage you to try Lobelia laxiflora, it's been hardy for me.

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  8. These plant combinations are worth a few re-visits. To start, as a desert resident, I learned so much about grouping Agave parryi var. truncata in gardens like this - learning that from the PNW! The way they sit together among the other plants is something I don't see here. Thanks...back to work...for now.

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  9. How fabulous! What a beautiful and outstanding garden. Brian is obviously a fantastic plantsperson and loves his charges. Your photos are superb. TFS

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  10. What a fabulous post, Alison. Great photographs and wonderful foliage combinations. I agree with Danger about the zoo thing, but it seems to be a wonderful place for people, animals and plants! Thanks for sharing.

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  11. Wow - amazing plant combinations at the zoo! I'm envious of what can be grown there. The mystery Salix is Salix magnifica from China.
    ~Eric

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  12. By your photos the guide appeared to have a true passion for plants. That sounds like it was an excellent tour, and your photos are really good. Thanks for taking us along via blog.

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  13. Hands out bulbils!? I love Brian! It's been a while since I visited, but I think the San Diego zoo is getting on board with more sophisticated plantings too.

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  14. What an incredible garden! A lot of zoos have wonderful landscaping but this one sounds like a cut above. I'd love to go on a tour like this. I wish more of these plants grew in my area. Our winters would kill them all. :(

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  15. They do a great job at the gardens at the Point Defiance Zoo! It's worth the price of admission just to see the gardens! I had the pleasure of meeting Brian when he was shopping at Jungle Fever just up the road from the zoo. Many of the plants there came from Jungle Fever. Hooray!

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  16. Wow, now that was a garden tour! Amazing. I'll have to remember that place if we ever head up north with the kiddos. Animals for them, plants for me. :)

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  17. That is one incredible garden! Everything is so lush and full and the foliage combinations are gorgeous, hard to believe it's actually a zoo.

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  18. Fabulous post, Alison. I really enjoyed all the plants. It makes me wish I had a bigger yard and a much bigger wallet. :)

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