Monday, August 22, 2022

An afternoon at PDZA

Somehow three years had gone by since I'd visited Tacoma, Washington's Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA). The last time was July of 2019, when I was there to interview Bryon Jones (lead horticulturist/ arborist) for a feature in my book, Fearless Gardening.
During the heat of late July, Andrew and I decided, spur of the moment to take road trip north and the PDZA was one of my stops.

This was the first time I visited on my own, without Bryon to tour me around. It was a Saturday and the Zoo attendees were out in full force, it was interesting to watch how they did (or did not) focus on the plants.

Blooming Agave lophantha.

A dreamy scattering of Agave parryi.

How could you not stop and stare at this?

I'm sure they asked the same about me, as I walked right past the main animal attractions.

It's not that I don't like the animals, it just hurts my heart to see them enclosed. The plants however, well, They made my heart very happy!

Even when they're behind a "fence" (for their own protection).

I did not notice the seeds on the Aristaloe aristata bloom spike until editing these photos, now I am jealous! Mine bloom every year, but I've never had seeds set. 

I realized I didn't grab a map when I entered (since I booked my ticket on their ridiculously easy to use online ticket purchasing page as we sped north on I-5), and so went back to the beginning to get one. I'm glad I did since I then noticed Mt Rainer making an appearance in the distance.

Such a perfect Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle tree).

Underplanted with an amazing collection including: Melianthus major, Lobelia tupa, Kniphofia northiae and Yucca rostrata (tentative ID on those last two).

Lobelia tupa

Melianthus major and Alstroemeria 'Indian Summer'.

Look at that Wollemia nobilis! (nice artichokes too)

Bryon has put together an amazing collection of kniphofia around the zoo grounds. I could do an entire post on them alone, many were blooming during my visit.
Agave gentryi 'Jaws' and check out that nice big hawk (I think?) flying overhead.

Some jerk needed to slice into that formidable 'Jaws' and scarred the plant.

Like a beauty mark I think it's actually quite fetching.

Meerkats Otters (?) and echium.

There were so many Sinopanax formosanus at the zoo! No wonder they're still so expensive, Bryon has bought them all up.

Schefflera brevipedunculata maybe? Tree sized whatever it is...

Sexy archtostaphylos/manzanita.

And another Wollemia nobilis, this one with cones!

This isn't one of the older cycads at the zoo (unless Bryon moved it here since I last visited), but I suspect it may have been in place for last winter's cold, and it looks fabulous! Ditto for the Brassaiopsis dumicola—the big leaves.

There were several wands of dierama floating on a breeze...

Yay! I was glad to see the garden get a little signage. It's reason enough to visit!

There were many sarracenia bogs.

And some animals that weren't caged.
Just hanging out together in an area under development.

The Baja bed (next to the aquarium) was looking fabulous! When I was last here it was pretty newly planted. Now it's all grown in.

Moving on, rodgersia and hakonechloa.

One of those older cycads I mentioned. 

Woodwardia unigemmata

Phormium seed pods (!), backed by a Corokia cotoneaster.

Loquat, Eriobotrya japonica

Yes, everyone was focused on the tiger, while I was looking at the plants. I mean how amazing is this wall!?!

On top of the wall...

For my fuchsia loving friends.

A bit of  "painter's palette"—Persicaria virginiana 'Painter's Palette' that is—with a nice mahonia backing.

The last photo from my visit, a blooming (smoking) Cotinus coggygria. 

I encourage everyone who lives in the Pacific NW, or who is visiting the Tacoma area, to check out the garden at PDZA. You will not be disappointed (they have some animals too)!

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All material © 2009-2022 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. This is such a ridiculously beautiful garden. I wish I could zip up there as easily as you can!

    1. Well, you do have the RBG within zipping distance, so it's not like you're suffering ;)

  2. That is a great collection of healthy looking plants!

    I would be looking at the plants instead of the animals as well Loree, ha ha!

    I visited Paignton Zoo with my family a couple of years ago. I can remember talking to Nick Macer at Pan Global Plants about going there and he said to have a look out for the plants there because it was planted up really well.

    He was right, it looked really well done and I spent most of my time ooohing and ahhing over the trees, shrubs and ferns rather than the animals, oh well!

    PS. I think that your Meerkats are otters :)

    1. It seems like a win/win. Kids and adults not interested in plants can visit the animals, people like us can visit the plants. A perfect family destination. Oh and thanks for ID'ing the otters.

    2. You're welcome Loree :)

      I was down in Devon with my youngest daughter visiting my Mum a couple of weeks ago and we visited Dartmoor Zoo.

      The planting was so so, but they did have 8 juvenile otters and they were sooo cute!

  3. I would be hard pressed to look at animals with landscaping like this.

  4. Oh, thank you for this. A Sunday morning tour sounds like fun. Although I enjoy exploring on my now, it may be useful on first visit to have all information of the plants and execution of the planting scheme.
    The group of Agave parryi is stunning.

    1. "on my own"... ;-)

    2. Yes, indeed. Bryon is very knowledgeable and sure to be entertaining.

  5. SO well done!!! I haven't been to a zoo in over a decade but I can't remember a zoo landscape this well done, although I do recall that I was impressed by the San Diego Zoo, at least in contrast to the LA Zoo.

    1. I remember enjoying the plantings at the San Diego Zoo too, but being shocked at the cost of admission there!

  6. Oh my those plants look so freakin' HAPPY. No scorch, sunburn, drooping, leaf drop...makes my heart sing to see them all in pristine beauty.

    Wollemi pine, cool! The one at the Huntington last we were there was thirsty, thirsty, stressed by the heat. Ow!

    I agree--animals in zoos--hurts, like the sight of thirsty plants.

  7. So many agaves. I need to get up there. And, I wish my Woodwardia would hurry up and get that big. I only get 1-2 leaves per year.

    1. You really do! Are you a member of the PNW Plant Geeks group on Facebook? They're having a thing there next month...


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