Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, have you visited?

If you're a frequent flyer reader you've no doubt read a few posts where I gush over the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way, Washington.

My first visit to this garden was in 2016. I knew of it for years, mainly because there's a sign on I-5 and I lived in Seattle from late 1988 until early 1998. Back then I was a frustrated apartment dweller who lacked gardening space, so I never managed to stop—heck I didn't even manage to visit Heronswood in it's heyday even though I was just a short ferry ride away. 

Daphne x houtteana, next to the RSBG crevice garden.

Here's the crevice garden itself. I always assumed the rather underwhelming state of this small garden was an oversight. Something they intended to "fix". Now I realize that's probably not going to happen. It is what it is.
"Lightly" planted.

Overlooking my Seattle years and fast forwarding to when I moved from Spokane, WA, to Portland, OR, started gardening (2005) and regularly driving up I-5 to the Seattle area, it still took me over ten years to visit the Rhododendron Species Botanica Garden, why? Well, I would have told you it's because I was not a fan of rhododendrons. There's a lot of baggage in that statement. The average PNW person who only knows rhododendrons as those pink (typical) flowering foundations shrubs has no idea what they're missing! This for example...

Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum, a purchase when I visited the garden last summer.

Starting this post I got curious as to just when the garden opened. Turns out the collection was housed in a couple of private gardens in Oregon before finding a permanent home on the Weyerhaeuser property in Federal Way, WA: In 1974 the Weyerhaeuser Company generously leased at no cost a permanent site of 24 acres for the collection. The following year the collection was relocated from Salem to the Federal Way site and planted in accordance with the geographic origin of each species. (source)

Rhododendron 'Ever Red'

Rhododendron bureavii

My visits to the garden have been in late winter, high summer, and autumn—thus I've never seen the garden in full bloom.

That's fine with me though, as the reason I love these plants is because of their foliage.

Rhododendron forrestii ssp. forrestii 

After I finished Monday's blog post on the Elk Rock Garden, it seemed fitting to move onto these images I've had simmering since last summer. The theme? Pacific Northwest Gardens that I once wouldn't have felt much for, but I've grown to love.

The next few images were taken inside the conservatory. I've long been enamored with the idea of both the moss filled "basket" and the column. 

Just think of the things you could grow here by stuffing cuttings in there.

Austroblechnum penna-marina, synonym Blechnum penna-marina with a great hunk of wood.

Saxifraga stolonifera—a common plant that the garden grows in many places, all inspiring!

Thus fuzzy begonia (we're still inside the conservatory) did not have a label that I could see.

But isn't it fabulous!?!

A rosy version of the maidenhair fern, adiantum. I forget the name, but know it's not hardy in your average PNW garden.

We're back out in the garden now and on a foliage high with ferns and rhododendrons and more...

Schefflera, perhaps a S. delavayi.

Rhododendron NOID

Rhododendron NOID

Rhododendron NOID (I originally thought about calling this post "It's the foliage")

Rhododendron arboreum

Blechnum chilense, aka Parablechnum cordatum

Rhododendron 'Golfer'—created by the late Warren Berg, 'Golfer' was named after his wife who was an avid golfer. 

I wonder if she would have preferred her name to be used?

Matteuccia struthiopteris, ostrich fern.

Here's another look at a serious fern crush. Dryopteris polyepsis...

How sexy is this fern!?!

I'll end with an unknown, but also sexy, rhododendron...

The RSBG is such an amazing garden to wander through. DO not pass it up if you have the opportunity! I look forward to visiting again soon.

All material © 2009-2023 by Loree L Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. Another one on my list of places to visit. - Phillip

  2. Can't wait to stop when in the area. And yes those wire/mossed columns are inspirational!

    1. Yes! Glad to hear it. Plan plenty of time to wander.

  3. On my list, too. Do you know what the best time would be to see the rhodies in full bloom? April?

    1. Gosh, good question. I bet a call to the garden would give you the best answer but I'm going to say mid April to mid May?

  4. I hadn't realize the collection was moved from Salem. If only a philanthropic corporation would step in to save the Elk Rock Garden.
    After seeing the photo of Rhododendron 'Ever Red' I cross my fingers in hope that my own small specimen will eventually look so good.
    Note to self: grow Saxifraga stolonifera. It's quite fabulous.

  5. Thanks for highlighting the foliage.

  6. I can't say I ever appreciated rhododendrons at all until you exposed me to those with fabulous foliage, like that magnificent 'Ever Red'. Of course, other than evergreen azaleas, rhododendrons are seldom sold down this way. Vireyas are supposed to be manageable here but they're also generally unavailable and, like other rhododendrons, off limits for my purposes due to their water needs. I'll continue to appreciate them and their thirsty companions through your posts.

    1. There was a nursery here in Portland for years that specialized in Vireyas, sadly the owners aged and the nursery closed.

  7. That Rhodie foliage is to die for. And I can’t grow any of them.

  8. Your post makes me miss Massachusetts and Rhode Island where I lived 40 years ago. Lots of beautiful Rhodys there and Azaleas too!

  9. This time of year, nothing beats a visit back in time to the rhododendron garden bathed in all that sun.


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