Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Garden Bloggers Visit Kruckeberg Garden June 29, 2009

SAGBUTT (Seattle Garden Bloggers United to Talk) skipped May for need-to-be-gardening reasons but came together yesterday to visit the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in Richmond Beach, WA, just north of Seattle. Molly of Life on Tiger Mountain graciously organized the trip, and for those of us who were lucky enough to get there early for a chat at a nearby coffee shop, we got to sample some of here incredible lavender shortbread cookies. I hope she will put up a post too on our outing, and maybe she’ll include the recipe (hint hint).

I had been “bird-dogging” (his words – I’d say “relentlessly bugging” was more accurate) David Perry of A Photographer’s Garden Blog to join us since he expressed semi-interest months ago. This was the day when his scheduling stars alinged, and it was great to meet him and welcome him to the crew. Besides him and Molly, we were joined by Daniel of Daniel Mount Gardens and his lovely partner Michael, and the (Weed Whackin’) Wenches (the look on David’s face when they introduced themselves as such was priceless), Curmudgeon and Wingnut. Paula from Petunia’s Garden made a Herculean effort to attend, accompanied by her neighbor, but between road closures for the Seattle Marathon, car trouble, and a host of other issues, she never made it and we missed her! We’ll just have to go back and hope to gather even more folks next time.

OK, enough with the roll call. Botany professor Dr. Art Kruckeberg and his wife Mareen moved to the property in the 1950s, when their turn-of-the-last-century farmhouse was about the only thing around. From flat pasture land, they built acres of woodland gardens in a naturalistic style that showcases texture and foliage over pure showiness of flowers. You can see their personal interests in oaks, witch hazels, and many other categories of trees and plants which they collected seeds and cuttings from all over the world to grow. Mareen, who passed away in 2003 at the age of 77, also founded the MsK Nusery on site, which continues to feature Northwest native and rare plants for sale to the public.

There was more to see there than could be absorbed in a single visit. Plus, we were ambling around kind of aimlessly, talking and noticing things and talking some more. They do offer guided tours and also a map for a self-guided walk, plus their web site has quite a few photos and plant names to peruse. What follows are just a few of the things that caught my eye during my short time there.

A mature Stewartia monadelpha (Tall Stewartia) showed, with its multi-colored and exfoliating bark, why many consider this one of the “must-have” trees in our area. It does take some years to grow this big and start to have its interesting bark, so patience and staying in your garden a long time are givens.

Stewartia monodelpha with peeling bark

Small maple of unknown variety in a lovely rectangular planter. Why don’t I have any planters like this??

Small maple in planter

Daphne mezereum sp. Album, a type of daphne I hadn’t seen before. I kind of wanted it for these green berries but when I looked it up, it seems like maybe not a good one for a garden with kids around – super toxic, possibly coma-inducing or fatal! Yikes.

Daphne mezereum sp. Album (beautiful but toxic plant)

Growing directly above the poison daphne, this graceful Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis, aka Osoberry, Oregon Plum or Skunk Bush – geez, this one has a lot of handles!). This is another fairly new plant on my radar, just saw one in a nursery last week and had to put it down when I saw the price (over $100) for a mature shrub. The fruit are tiny and seem more likely to be eaten by wildlife, but apparently they were a food and medicinal source for native peoples in the Northwest. I just love them for the tiny perfection of the “plums,” the way the fruit are clustered, and their red stems. I pined openly for one and a fellow blogger who shall remain nameless said I might be the lucky recipient of a free one that came up as a seedling. Hooray!

Indian Plum

Magnolia macrophylla, still with fat buds on it so hasn’t bloomed yet. My first experience with this plant as well, except as a blog-admirer of them from afar. When they get as big as this one, the experience of being dwarfed by the leaf clusters is just so cool.

Magnolia macrophylla (Bigleaf magnolia)

There were quite a few sculpture installations throughout the garden. I’m still not sure how I feel about stuff like this. Does it clutter up a perfectly lovely garden or does it provide a little humor and a break from just looking at leaves all the time? This was a big bundle of sticks shaped like a tree snag with drawings and red twine on the inside, with windows to look in through.

Tree art

The entire garden seemed to be planned far more with foliage and texture in mind than flowers. Maybe we were there at an odd time for color, but I really enjoyed the way our eyes had to go up, down and around to examine what was before us, instead of just being drawn on in the typical way with band upon band of color. This shrub, which Molly IDed as a Deutzia glauca, was one of the few things in bloom in late June. It also had amazing, peeling bark.

Deutzia glauca

We all had to ask David what camera he recommends, since he’s a pro photographer. He said he has to tote so much equipment for work that he really enjoys having a smaller camera at hand for just the fun stuff. His big pitch was for the Canon G10, he feels it has really great functionality for the price ($400 range) and will keep a regular user challenged for years. Here he is, showing David and Michael what it can do.

Camera Chat

Have you ever had the experience of taking pictures next to someone else and wondering how differently the images will turn out? At the Indian Plum above and at this Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia), David and I both stopped and examined and discussed the plants’ forms but I’m sure his takes will be so much clearer and better framed, he will have found details I missed, gotten things to line up right. I hope to learn more of how to look, learning from his example.

Hamamelis x intermedia (?)

Another tree I felt like I’d missed before somehow, Acer mono. So many maples, I think I love all of them (even you, damn Acer negundo). This one has a subtle grace with its funky-shaped leaves that are so shiny deep green.

Acer mono (Painted maple)

Trees in general, at least for me with my tiny city lot, are such a commitment. I’m struggling to choose just a single shade tree for my backyard, and it’s taking me months. Here, they started with nothing but open acreage and a lot of plant knowledge, and just got going. And now, 50 years later, you look up into these partial and full canopies that are the work of these two human beings and their helpers. It’s pretty awe-insipring.

Partial canopy of trees at Kruckeberg

Not too many fragrant bloomers at the moment, but I imagine they are there at different times of year. I might have to track down one of these for my parking strip garden, Pineapple Broom (Cytisus battandieri) from Morocco – Daniel’s just checking to see that it does really smell like pineapple, which it does!

Daniel sniffing Pineapple Broom

We had lingered longer than planned and Daniel and Michael had to go. Just after they departed, we saw a white-bearded figure emerge from the main path and figured it couldn’t be anyone than Dr. Kruckeberg himself, still going strong (and out doing some weeding) at age 89. Well, of course the rest of us couldn’t leave then! We were the lucky recipients of an impromptu tour of part of the upper garden, which we’d neglected to explore previously. We heard stories about how the plants came to them, how his wife propagated so many of the trees and shrubs that are now mature, which are his favorites (he has so many!), even a little about his service during WWII that took him to Japan and its nearby islands. Here he is, only beginning to realize what he’s gotten himself into by appearing available to chat with a bunch of plant nuts.

Meeting Dr. Kruckeberg and Roland

(From left – David, Molly, Roland (? he said he has been a gardener there for almost 30 years, which hardly seems possible given he looks 25!), Dr. K, and the Wenches (Wingnut and Curmudgeon).

This garden is pretty great with the plant tags, but it was more fun to hear so many botanical names spilling forth from Dr. K (he was right on every one). I would never have guessed that this remarkably large-leaved shrubby tree was an oak, but we got to hear all about how the seeds came from Turkey, from the area near the Black Sea, via a wealthy textile manufacturer who is now the John Muir of Turkey. Sorry, I had to put my hand in this shot just to give an idea of how huge the leaves are.

Quercus pontica (Pontine Oak)

I think I am correct in saying that none of us felt we had seen all there was to see at this garden, but that we all came away wanting to return. I definitely hope to see it in other seasons, especially fall when the leaves of the maples and witch hazels are putting on their fall colors. I have more photos, so maybe I will do a second post if I can find the time. Or maybe I’ll just look for what the rest of the gang saw, if and when they choose to share it.


13 Responses to “Garden Bloggers Visit Kruckeberg Garden”

  1. Grace Says:

    Could a day be any better? I can sit and listen to the Dr. Ks of the world for hours on end. How they can mentally keep detailed histories of their plant inventory is in itself baffling.

    Very well written! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jane Says:

    Your descriptions are so good I can almost imagine having been there with you. Thanks for the tour and more power to Saggbutt!

  3. Bonnie Story Says:

    Great post!!! Looks like a great day. About Indian Plum, a good source for small and medium shrubs of it is Treezinc near Bremerton
    good prices!

    In addition to the cute fruits, Indian Plum is just about the first to leaf out in late winter – very cheering. AND they have gorgeous delicate white flowers in a pendant form:

    I’m really big on IP’s. My two shrubs are about 3′ tall this year and they look ready to really take off next year.

    One of these months it will be so delightful to join SAGBUTT on an outing! Again, great reporting and fun pics. How neat to meet Dr. K himself! — Bonnie

  4. Aerie-el Says:

    Great plants, pix, and post!
    WOW, that oak leaf is incredible.
    Thanks for sharing the Garden tour with those of us who couldn’t be there in person!

  5. Thanks for taking us along Karen. Wonderful tour and commentary, I’m with you about the tree-commitment thing. It’s so much more serious and long term than just gardening with perennials!

  6. Megan Says:

    Nice garden, I’ll need to look this one up next time I’m in the area. It’s wonderful to see the product of years of loving gardening and true appreciation of the whole plant kingdom. There’s something special about a garden that has evolved over the years with caretakers who really know their stuff. Love the magnolia. I second the G10, it’s a great small camera.

  7. Catherine Says:

    That does look like a really interesting garden. Thanks for taking lots of pictures to share! The leaves of the Oak are huge.

  8. Racquel Says:

    Planting for foliage interest is a great way to keep a garden interesting between seasons. Looks like Sagbutt had another wonderful outing together. 🙂

  9. jean Says:

    Perfect post Karen. I was feeling sad about missing this meeting. I had family in town so couldn’t make it. It sounds like you all had a great visit and I almost feel like I was there with your wonderful commentary and photos. Thank you.

  10. Lorene Says:

    I sooooo want to play along as well. What a delightful day it sounds like you had. I saw Daniel and met Michael on Sunday at yet another garden party (are we not SPOILED here in our beloved PNW?!?) He told me about the next meeting up at their farm…unfortunately I’m off to Idaho for college registration – yikes! But I love the posts, follow the messages and know that when I finally can show up I’ll more than enjoy the company.

  11. Rod Parke Says:

    I’m tour director at the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden. Just want to say your description of your self-guided tour is the best I have ever read. Great photos! I’m a little baffled by the angle of the first shot (Stewartia monadelpha) as it seems to be taken across the driveway from the kiosk and the tree, and the bark shown has even more peeling ‘paper’ than the Stewartia usually shows.

    So glad you got to meet Art!

  12. kristi Says:

    I love all of those maples!

  13. You guys have an active group out there! Came here from David’s blog, now on the way to visit others; I like the way each of you share the visit in slightly different ways, from photos to stories.

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