Friday, November 19, 2021

Heronswood; the parking-lot rock garden and borders

Just a few days before I planned to visit Heronswood Garden in person, the Northwest Horticultural Society held a webinar called "Charting the Path Ahead for Heronswood with Patrick McMillan"—excellent timing! I signed up and was excited to learn what was ahead for the garden. While watching the webinar I took a couple photos of my laptop screen, the first was when Patrick McMillan (the garden director) shared an image of their new rock garden.

Once there I took my own photo, had I been thinking I would have tried for one taken from the same spot as Patrick's, instead mine is reversed. Thus you get the porta-potty in the distance and part of an awning roof with orange cones. Most curious however are those folding chairs—perhaps a stand in for a more garden appropriate bench that's on order?

I have to admit, as a pile of rocks in an open parking lot it felt a little underwhelming, that is until I started to look closer.

Agave albopilosa... the "tufted agave"

It's so good, I was thrilled to see it here. Since the garden is located on a piece of land in Puget Sound—surrounded by water—it's bound to be a pretty mild location by Western Washington standards. It will be interesting to see how this plant does.

Oh, looky there, a small "boggy" area...

With sarracenia, darlingtonia and it looks like some pinguicula too.

Dudleya (not sure which ones).

Oh! Bommeria hispida!  

As you can see I was just sort of pinballing back and forth around the rocks snapping photos of plants, no rhyme or reason really to my progression. Proof—now a random opuntia.

Lewisiopsis tweedyi

Opuntia fragilis 

I was rather enchanted by this little fern...Polystichum imbricans.

My Hardy Fern Foundation Fall Quarterly arrived in late October and it included several essays celebrating the fact Heronswood is now a HFF affiliated garden. One written by John van den Meerendonk included this bit..."newly installed rockery/slab/sub-alpine rockery with little seen ferns and other gems from the Cascade's, Siskiyou's, and Rock mountains. It is so nice to be able to see Polystichum lonchitis attempted here, near sea level, saving us a hike into the high country." In other words I guess I won't be finding this at a local nursery and growing it in my garden.

There they are, all by their lonesome. There are two Polystichum imbricans in this photo, can you spot them?

One last rock garden photo...

And then we turn our eyes to the planted rock walls that surround the parking lot area.

My agave-loving eyes were thrilled to see these large beauties.

Perhaps Agave salmiana var. ferox?

So many pups!

There were opuntia as well.

And even an aloe! Aloe maculata, backed by Grevillea x gaudichaudii.

The parking lot boarders held more cool plants than some gardens do!

Those agaves again.

And a sweet Agave bracteosa.

It looks a little like it's going to slide right down that wall and scurry across the parking lot.

Aloe aristata (Aristaloe aristata)

And maybe Agave 'Burnt Burgundy'? Backed by a lot of blooming colchicum.

Pups too.

I love how they've made use of the crevices in the rock wall and tucked in agaves and aloes.

Check out this huge over-planted container.

That's some major cramscaping.

And this, an ornamental peach.

That foliage!

I'll close this post with another screenshot from Patrick McMillan's talk for the NHS. Another project on the horizon for the garden... pretty cool eh? I've got one more Heronswood post coming up, maybe next week—stay tuned!

All material © 2009-2021 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. Interesting to see the agaves planted in the rock wall. I've stuck aeoniums in crevices of my stacked stone wall but never considered using agaves. Maybe I'll try that with the next tiny agave pup I find...

    1. I look forward to hearing/seeing how they do!

  2. Wow, that rock garden is going to spectacular in no time. It must be so satisfying to create something so large from scratch. The dudleya looks like D. farinosa.

    As Kris said, it was so cool seeing agaves tucked into the rock wall. Another idea I'll gladly recreate if I ever have a garden large enough!

    I so look forwarding to visiting Heronswood at some point in the future!

    1. Indeed it will be (spectacular). I'm glad I got to see it early so I can appreciate the evolution.

  3. The agaves look to be benefiting from the heat reflecting dark rocks. I'm heading to Heronswood on Winter Solstice for an in-person class. Weather willing, I'll be able to inspect this rock garden with my own eyes.

  4. Thanks for all these posts for those of us unlikely to get there in person. So exciting to not be afraid to read about Heronswood. There was that period where there just was no good news. Everything looks so creative and just plain beautiful. And yes, I could easily see those two ferns!

    1. I so wish I would have visited in it's heyday. To know I lived in Seattle during that time and was clueless about Heronswood just kills me.

  5. I attended the NHS talk with Patrick as well and was really impressed by him and the direction the garden is taking. The rock garden will be very impressive in a few years. On the bucket list when border crossing becomes a bit easier.

    1. Maybe you'll make it to the NWFG Fest in February and take a day trip then?


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