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self-guided day trips to outstanding gardens

Greater Seattle area

As recommended by local garden expert Karen Chapman

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Use a better map with numbered icons! Also add the map illustration - possibly as lead image as discussed

Without a doubt, Seattle is a gardening Mecca, and for this transplanted Brit that was one of the deciding factors when we moved to the Pacific Northwest many years ago. Whether you are seeking a tranquil walk through mossy woods, historical Asian gardens  or a botanical extravaganza to inspire your creativity, you will find an abundance of ideas on this adventure, all with the backdrop of snow-capped mountains and sparkling waters.

This day trip begins on the "Eastside" at a remarkable urban botanical garden. From there you will cross Lake Washington via a floating bridge, passing marinas and houseboats made famous by the movie Sleepless in Seattle to reach a renowned Japanese garden set within an expansive arboretum.

An iconic Seattle view. Photo credit: Jonathan Miske
An iconic Seattle view. Photo credit: Jonathan Miske

Yet to truly experience Seattle you need to get on the water, so the final stop of the day will take you to Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from downtown. Once aboard, be sure to take in the iconic view of the Seattle skyline and snow-capped mountains.

Pack your camera - and a rain jacket - and explore some of my personal favorite treasures.

1. Bellevue Botanical Garden

A twenty minute drive east from downtown Seattle, this 53-acre urban jewel is a photographers dream. Restored woodlands, natural wetlands, and stunning layered perennial borders traversed by generous paths are a feast for the eyes and the camera in every season. Follow a nature trail onto a 150-foot-long suspension bridge that crosses a deep ravine to explore the wilder spaces in the heart of the gardens, glean ideas for a naturalistic garden that attracts pollinators in the Urban Meadow, and be sure to allow time to visit the Rock Garden, where diminuitive wildflowers are showcased among the granite outcroppings. Allow 2 hours or more to explore it all.

2. Seattle Japanese Garden

Meandering paths, inviting benches, and traditional details invite you to slow your pace and linger in this peaceful 3.5 -acre sanctuary set within the Washington Park Arboretum, just a twenty minute drive from Bellevue Botanical Gardens.

Open from spring until fall, the garden scene constantly offers something new. Look for the many colorful koi swimming in the large central pond and consider timing your visit to enjoy one of their special events or a tea ceremony. Allow one hour.

3. The Bloedel Reserve

The Bloedel Reserve is less a place to visit, than it is to experience. Open year round, there is always something new to enjoy. Fourteen unique landscapes have been artfully created from the 150-acre forest, ranging from meadows, landscaped gardens, and mossy forest trails to a Japanese guest house overlooking the traditional Sand and Stone Garden.

One of my favorite memories of Bloedel was strolling  through the Moss Garden on a typical wet Seattle afternoon, raindrops dripping softly from the ancient Douglas fir trees that towered overhead. At my feet the dappled light illuminated a carpet of western sword ferns, each frond glistening as though coated with varnish. It was  truly magical. Allow at least two hours.