Monday, August 1, 2011

Garden Profile - Bellevue Botanical Garden


A few weeks ago we decided to take a weekend off from everything and head up to Seattle...mostly to visit the Battlestar Galactica exhibit at the SciFi Museum (yes, we're nerds). Of course, I couldn't commit to an entire weekend without ANY sort of garden we also decided to visit the Bellevue Botanical Garden (which, I'm ashamed to admit, I'd never heard of) as well.

Grassy patch
The first thing that greets you as you enter the garden is this great patch of grasses. Even though the bright sun made taking photos a nightmare for the most did make for some awesome backlighting effects on these grasses.

grassy patch 3
Another shot of the grasses, with the wonderful red-tinted Imperata in front, the soft purple cloud of Nepeta behind that, and all around the feathery plumes of stipa tenuissima.

grasy patch 5
More grasses...sorry, I love them!

Circle border
I found this circular path very the mixes of grasses and perennials. The Oat Grass is especially lovely right now. I love the pairing of the blue grass with the wonderful chartreuse blooms of the Alchemilla...which makes me question why I don't have any.

oat grass and allium Crocosmia v
Blue Oat GrassCrocosmia 'Lucifer'

Warm Colors 1
This is a picture of the same border from another angle. I love the warm colors and how they play off each other. I'm generally not a fan of red tends to be a bit too strident for my liking...but with the dark foliage of the barberry behind it, I find it quite fetching.

Astrantia and spirea
I loved this pairing of the somber, bruise-colored Astrantia and the brighter yellow of the Spirea ('Ogon', perhaps?).

astrantia bokeh
even though most of the Astrantia are done blooming, the bracts remain and continue to look good...just in a subtler, more earthy palette.

border 1
This is the top of the large perennial border...the border cascades down a gentle slope in several tiers.

path with salvia
The paths in the Perennial border run parallel along the slope, dividing it into 3 or 4 tiers, I love so many of the plants they have planted has a very English Border feel...with lots of complimentary tones of pink, purple and blue.

echinacea v allium stars
Echinacea hybridAllium seedhead

vernoica and achillea
I love the soft colors of these calming, so restful...and the color echos are lovely

lovely lavendar
Seeing lavender in bloom always makes me want to run out and get some...then I'll see an old plant all woody and distorted...and my wallet pops right back in my pocket ;-)

astilbe and veronica
I loved how they incorporated Astilbe into the border, they create such a nice gauzy cotton candy.

Allium seedheads
The spent blooms of Allium are almost as lovely as the blooms themselves...and I love the muted mauve color.

The color of these Eryngiums was electric...the bees and I were competing for the best view Sadly, the plants seemed a bit straggly...must find something to camouflage those knobby knees!

eryngium with bee
Another shot of those gorgeous Eryngium blossoms.

achillea and salvia 3
I really liked this combination of Salvia and Achillea...a nice study in complimentary color and form.

Agastache backlit
There were a few lovely Agastaches in the the multi-hued blooms on this one.

Now THIS is a color pairing I can love without reservations...Nepeta, Lavender and Agastache...colorful and drought-tolerant!

allium seedheads 2
More Allium seedheads, I just love the structural quality of their blooms.

Crocosmia h
Another shot of the Crocosmia, accented by a wash of warm Helenium in the background.

agastache and lavender
More of the Agastache/Lavender grouping, with Kniphofia in the background.

physocarpus and kniphofia
While I'm not a fan of Kniphofia, I did appreciate this pairing with Physocarpus.

Monarda jacob cline and barberry
Again, not usually a fan of bright red...but I think this photo illustrates the trick to using it well...a dark really seems to alleviate the overbearing redness of these Monarda. At the same time, the red seems deeper and richer against the dark background. The difference between the red on green and red on purple/burgundy is striking. One is like a laser beam to the brain...the other like a glowing ember.

While the bright yellow Achilleas you see most often can be a bit bright, I was really digging these Achilleas...they had just a hint of orange...which really softens them and makes them feel earthy.

Stipa gigantea wide
I totally love this grass (Stipa gigantea)...mine is WAY smaller than this...definitely has a way to go before it's very "gigantea"! Here's to hoping it is just putting down lots of roots and will look this amazing next year! Love the fountain-like stems of arresting when backlit.

Stipa Gigantea
Closeup of the Stipa blossoms.

phlomis seedheads
Phlomis russeliana is another plant that I almost think looks better post-blooming...when the form of the seedheads is really noticeable.

path with kniphofia
Another path cutting through the hillside.

stachys and helianthemum maybe
I love this combo of purple/orange...I could be wrong, but I believe these are Stachys and Helianthemum.

Border with Echinacea
A wider view of that section of the garden.

Gaillardia and stachys
Another nice contrasting purple pairing...again the Stachys, but paired with Gaillardia this time.

Geranium Blue Sunrise maybe
I was surprised to see Geranium 'Blue Sunrise' in the garden...mine is still pretty scrawny...someday it'll look this good.

Path with Panicum
Another path lined with some grasses (looks like Panicum). One thing I would have liked to see more of was grasses, there weren't very many in this part of the garden.

NewZealandBurr and Gaillardia
My favorite new short groundcover, New Zealand Burr (Acaena inermis 'Purpurea') with Gaillardia coming up through it. Love, love, love the color of this groundcover.

I believe this is a the delicate structure of the unfurling leaves.

Hakonechoal vertical Allium
Hakonechloa Allium

Eryngium giganteum
I really do love the blooms of this Eryngium...there's just something about it...or maybe it's the story of Miss Wilmott that I like...either way, great plant!

Garden Path with Monarda
Another path winding past the Monardas and Yuccas before disappearing behind a cloud of Leucanthemum.

Foreground Salvia
Even after the blooms of Salvia have faded, the spires add valuable color and structure to the garden.

Seat in teh Garden
A frothy, dreamy, backlit view of the dry garden.

Verbascum Agastache and Stipa
Again, backlighting for the win! Stems of Verbascum rise out of the Stipa, backed by colorful swathes of Agastache.

Waterfall with Rodgersia
Oh...and there's a foresty/shady section of the garden too...but that probably deserves it's own post, as this one is already far too long!

Overall, I thought this Botanical Garden was pretty good...especially since I'd never heard of it before. There did seem to be large areas in a few borders, however, that were empty...perhaps they were in the midst of some re-planting? They also seemed to be using a really limited selection of plants (especially in the perennial garden). One thing that struck me on their sun-baked slopes was the paucity of Echinacea and/or Rudbeckia (except for the few hybrid Echinacea I showed above...hardly a good representation of the genus).

Also, as I mentioned previously, with that much sunny space, I would have loved to have seen more Ornamental Grasses. They had several beds that illustrated wise water usage...for which plantings of American prairie grasses would have been idea (never mind that they would also look spectacular!) Can you imagine a huge planting of Andropogon, Schizachyrium, Panicum and Sorghastrum...interplanted with their native partners...Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Vernonia, Eupatorium and Liatris (to name but a few). Then again, I'm sure I missed some parts of the garden...and like most public gardens, I'm sure they are constantly changing.

Still...and this is something I've always been puzzled by, why doesn't Portland have a botanical garden?


  1. I'm glad you had such a good time at the Bellevue Botanical Gardens! The Flingers were there too during Fling weekend, but by the time we got there, I was rather hot and very tired, and didn't have enough energy to take good photos. Thanks for posting yours, they make me want to go back when I am feeling more energetic. You noticed so much more than I did.

    The perennial beds there that you featured here are managed by the Northwest Perennial Alliance and are only two years old. Check out this link:

  2. Looks like a fun visit!
    I love the gobs of color in all of your shots. And if there were holes, that proves that you are a good photographer because I could not see any. :)

    I would love to see the shade section.
    Looking forward to it!

  3. Incredible photos and without a doubt a well spent afternoon. Beautiful gardens.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  4. I know. There's the Chinese, Japanese, Rose and then the Oregon Garden in Silverton but no botanical garden proper. It's kind of sad for such a garden mecca as Portland. You did a great job capturing the beauty of this garden, Scott. I love the Agastache and grasses. I wish my borders look half this good. I hope you'll post the shadier photos. And I'm disappointed. No Battlestar Galactica shots. :)

  5. Scott, what a wonderful tour of these lovely gardens and grounds. I love the colours that have been put together, but most of all I love the curvy pathways throughout.

    Great photos!


  6. That's just a hop skip and a jump from our neck of the woods, we should really try to get out there. Your photos are beautiful.

  7. Wow...just wow. Those perennial borders are really stunning, and your photography just makes them pop off the screen. I see your point about using a relatively limited palette of plants, though. Based on your description and pictures, the place strikes me less as a typical botanic garden that tries to show as wide an array of plants as possible from a scientific angle and more as an ornamental display garden.

  8. I was surprised, almost appalled, by the profusion of blossom and color, so what a surprise to read that you found many empty sections in the perennial beds (another proof the camera always lies!). I've never heard of this garden, and I certainly admire much of the planting, but I really felt almost overwhelmed by so much color. I agree more grasses would have added much structural interest, and increased the effectiveness of the color. (Maybe I'm just jealous that I can't have that, but I don't think so.)

  9. Lovely photos--bright sun be damned! I adored the grasses and the crocosmia especially.

    PLEASE get your wallet back out, by the way! There's no need for lavendar to be all woody and warped--they just need a little care, like any other perennial...

  10. They need to invite you to be the ambassador of the BBG! Fantastic shots.

  11. Here's another useful link.

    If you click on 7. Perennial Border, it will give you a map of the borders you've pictured here, and then a list of all the plants and cultivars.

  12. Oh how I wish you would have been there for the fling, what fun we could have had talking about the sites.

    Don't feel bad about not knowing about the garden, this was my first time and I used to live there (well Seattle, not Bellevue) I have to admit there were bits that were a disappointment, could have been so much better! As for why Portland doesn't have a proper botanical garden I keep asking why no conservatory!? Did you (or have you ever) visited the conservatory in Volunteer Park? Lovely, if you like that sort of thing.

  13. The whole OR coast is practically a botanic garden! :) I may be out for a visit this fall/winter. Great pics as always, I'll be posting pics of one of Wisconsin's gardens in a few weeks. Shady retreats are more my thing, but love the riot of color.

    Seriously... no pics of the scifi museum???

  14. Hi Scott,

    Yes, the backlighting is nice, but I am totally in awe of those stacked stones.

    Loving the red-tinted Imperata as well as the circular path plantings.

    I love Crocosmia...unfortunately mine died after one year.

    I literally laughed out loud about your lavender comments.

    The red hot poker photo made me gasp out loud – gorgeous!

    Scott, your photography in this post is outstanding! I thoroughly enjoyed every photo.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

  15. A SciFi museum? (Gasp!) I visited the Bellevue border many years ago and remember a narrow path running the length of the border where you could see the viticella clematis planted that were grown up the shrubs. I've got to try that New Zealand Burr again. Wonderful photos -- and midday too!

  16. Hi Scott,

    these are incredible pictures. Wow!!! Big compliment! I just LOVE grasses!!!
    If you ever come to Germany, please visit the Botanical Garden in Marburg ( The garden is always at risk to be closed as the university is running out of money to support it and only few people know about it. Somebody with the right view and love for plants and composition could probably bring all the hidden beauty and treasures back to light.

    Kind regards,
    Sabine Peiseler (

  17. Hi Scott..I was hoping for some Battle Star shots too! (fellow sci fi nerd here) I have to say, I just love your photography. Reading through your blog posts are a very enjoyable experience. The feathered grasses are something I have been meaning to get my hands on!
    I agree that it's a wonder that Portland doesn't have it's own botanical gardens. Someone ought to fix that! :)

  18. Alison: I'm so jealous you got to Fling it with everyone! I know the feeling, though, it was surprisingly warm when we were there and I was sweating like a pig by the end! Thanks for the link…I MUST take a look and find out what some of those plants are!

    Wife, Mother, Gardener: Thanks…it was fun…I felt silly that I'd never heard of it before…I tried to keep the bare ground out of the shots, as best I could…but now I'm thinking I should have gotten at least one shot of it to illustrate my point! Shade portion forthcoming!

    Sunray Gardening: Thanks so much! If you're ever in the area, I can heartily recommend it!

    Grace: I know! I'm not trying to downplay ANY of our fabulous gardens, because they are each great in their own way…but you know me…I always want MORE, MORE, MORE!!! I know the feeling…to have that much room to really play with…would make such an impact.

    Diane: Me too…there is something so inviting and gracious about a curving path!

    Little House on the Suburban Prairie: I hope you can make it out there…it really is a treat…and, it's FREE!

    College Gardener: Thanks! You make a very good point…and that's the feeling I got as well…not that there's anything wrong with that, but I always use the Brookyn Botanical Garden as my measuring stick for BG's…I sort of expect the "here's a new way to use common plants" sort of thing too.

    James Golden: Hahahaha…indeed…a crafty photographer can almost always frame things to his benefit ;-) I sort of agree about the need for some grasses…I think they would have greatly enhanced the blooms (not that I don't love flowers), but grasses give such good structure, while not being static. I've discovered over the years that when there is a section of the garden I'm not happy with, the answer, again and again, is to add more grasses.

    Blackswamp Girl: Hahahahaha…I love that…and you are right…I know I'll buy some at one point…every time I walk past some in someone else's garden, my heart cries a bit…love them…and that scent, so heavenly!

    Compost: Indeed! Now THAT would be a job I'd look forward to every morning!

    Alison: OMG…that's awesome…thanks so much!!!

    Danger Garden: I know!!! I was thinking the same thing…both about being there…and the garden ;-) You know, a conservatory is a great idea…and much more manageable! I love the one in Seattle…we visit almost every time we make it up to Seattle (which isn't that often, sadly)…I'm kind of obsessed with the cactus room!

    The Plant Geek: Hahahah…you got me there…I should always temper my complaints by reminding myself of that! I hope you make it out here…fall is great in the PNW…and I can't wait for your post on those gardens!

    Zoey: Aren't those stones cool! So sorry to hear about your Crocosmia…I have to remind myself about when I lived in Nebraska and couldn't grow it at all…here it's like a weed!

    Denise: Hahahaha…yes…it's a mere shadow of its former self, but we still enjoy it! I would have loved to have seen that Clematis…I bet it was amazing…and yes, that Burr is so cute…love it!

    Sabine Peiseler: Thanks for visiting…I love grasses too…big time! I would love to visit Germany again…I love it there (went in High School….many years ago). Visiting gardens there would make it even better…I will file this away in my Things to Do and Places To Go file…thanks for the tip!

    Jenni; Yay for the Sci-Fi nerds! Love the grasses…so glad you like them too…they are just gorgeous…and so versatile! If I had a kajillion dollars, I would definitely open a BG in PDX!

  19. Even though you mentioned a couple of issues in the final paragraphs, from your fantastic pictures, this garden looks amazing. There are some wonderful color pairings.

  20. Great photos. I was taken to this garden several times when I was a kid, and I just remember rhododendrons in lawn. I'm sure that's not all there was, but that's what I remember. It looks much better than that. There are some nice combinations in there. Though I'd be happy to see more grasses too.

  21. All i can say is, wow - those photos are stunning. It's interesting how often you wrote, "I don't usually like this plant, but this pairing is great". I think that's the magic of a good design: it allows you to see how lovely a particular plant can be!

  22. Oh, my goodness, these pictures and this garden are amazingly gorgeous! Makes me want to cry when I look at my faded garden right now when I see all of these vibrant colors. Wow!!!!! All of the heat we've been having with no rain is taking its toll. Nice to look at a beautiful garden somewhere! Thanks for sharing.

  23. Spectacular! Spectacular! Spectacular!. These are awesome images. You are a great garden photographer.

  24. Hello, fellow nerd! I came here by way of gardengeru, who said your photos are spectacular. I agree! There are some fabulous plant combinations in this garden. As a woodland gardener, I was drawn to the shady area. Thanks for a great post. I look forward to exploring your blog further!

  25. I also came from Allan's blog to see these fabulous images. Wow! -Jean

  26. Wow, great pics, Scott. Very much enjoyed this post. Mediterranean perennials and ornamental grasses are among my favorites, so this post hit many of my weak spots. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Amazing shots! I checked out your blog based on Allan's recommendation. So glad I did. Thanks for the inspiration!

  28. I so wish I could have met you at the Fling this year. We visited this garden, and I wasn't very impressed -- saw lots of empty spaces too -- but your photos make me reconsider. Maybe I was just too tired to notice the beauty around me? Your photos are inspiring.

  29. What a beautiful garden. Your photos really bring it to life. Thanks for the tour!