Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Miller Botannical Garden

Snohomish County Master Gardener Foundation presents an annual speaker series highlighting Northwest garden personalities. It’s called “The Winter Series” and features such PNW pundits as Ed Hume, Marianne Binetti, Ciscoe Morris and Mary Robson. I had the opportunity to hear Richie Steffen speak on “Ferns and Foliage.” Richie is the Coordinator of Horticulture at the Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle, WA.

The garden is a legacy of Elisabeth Miller. The Millers purchased five acres of high bluff land overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains in 1948. On this property, Betty Miller created a world-class garden surrounded by native conifer woodland. Ahead of her time, she prized texture and form over flowers, providing a strong structure with year-round interest. The Elisabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden Trust was established in 1994 to preserve and continue this remarkable garden.

I decided I had to see this horticultural treasure. The tours are very limited as part of the agreement with the exclusive, gated community in which the garden is located. Reservations are taken beginning February 1 and all slots for the year are filled within days. Groups of no more than 12 are guided by a Miller Garden staff member. Greg Graves, Head Gardener, was our tour guide. Greg’s vast knowledge and obvious delight in the plants and in the garden made the tour fun and memorable.

The garden is built on a MGalpineshill and we started out on a small terrace behind the house near  the parking area. The stone landing is loaded with fascinating pots and troughs of woodland ephemerals and alpines. Turning back toward the house, we climbed stone steps through a hillside rife with Mediterranean plants. Artemesias,  Hebes, alliums, sedums, Parahebe perfoliata, Eryngium agavifolium and sturdy dwarf conifers form a tapestry of colors and textures.

We walked back towards the front of the property, between the road and the house. Taking our time, we meandered through a fabulous replica of a PNW forest. The Highlands community in which the garden is located was originally designed by John C. Olmstead. His philosophy was to work with the natural topography and native vegetation and this is evident in the front section of the Miller Garden. It is easy to believe that you are hiking through a forest on the Olympic peninsula.

There are so many details that vie for your attention, it is hard to keep up. MGSpideyWe passed a rock outcropping that rose maybe 15 feet above the path. The staff had designed a "cataract" of Hakonechloa  grass that "flows" down through the rocks. (By the way, Betty Miller was the first to import the grass to the US.)Although this beautiful grass is chartreuse-an unlikely color for a waterfall-it is really quite evocative.  Near the bottom, by the path, there is an unusual plant that had all of us stumped. I thought the spidery pink flowers were actually new leaves-as on pieris-but they were indeed blooms. This lovely creature is Rhododendron stenopetalum 'Linearfolium'. I had never seen it before, but weeks later I found it at Emery's Garden in Lynnwood. Score!

The original house is being renovated for use by the Trust. It includes a covered courtyard and terraces where Impatiens omeiana and Daphne ‘Briggs Moonlight’ light up the shade. There are more than a dozen specimens of Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ on the property. It was one of Betty’s favorite plants.

As you move down the hill toward the greenhouse area, there are more delights. A large spicebush, Calycanthus x raulstonii 'Hartlage Wine' carries luscious burgundy blooms. Eventually you come to a large deck overlooking the water. There is a huge pot containing Metasequoia glyptostroboides, the so called dawn redwood.

The variety of plants is mind boggling. There is a Live Plant Inventory on the Miller Garden website and it is 112 pages long. There are over 40 varieties of Galanthus; I am not making this up. There are plants on the list I’ve never heard of and others I would not have believed would grow here. It truly is an amazing place worth visiting, at least every couple of years if you can snag a tour.

Our visit was unhurried and Greg was gracious to answer never-ending questions from a group of avid gardeners. I learned an incredible amount in just a couple of hours. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Miller Garden-don’t miss it!

If you would like more information about Snohomish County Master Gardeners, check out the website.

1 comment:

  1. You paint such a vivid picture of the garden, we almost feel as if we had been there. Thank you