Fall sun, winter pleasures

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Linda Stephens-Urbaniak
On Gardening

What speaks more of fall than a walk through the trees? And where can you find more interesting trees than Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle? The arboretum still has fall colors, but the beauty of the season can also be found in the many berries at their peak at this time of the year.

Mountain ash are resplendent in this season. In addition to the more familiar red berries, there are trees that boast pink, white, orange and (rarely) pale yellow too. The arboretum has a lovely collection, where the various species of these smaller trees can be compared. Another collection that may take you by surprise is the holly collection. In addition to the more familiar English holly used at Christmas, there are variegated ones, hollies with small leaves and few berries that make good hedges without the prickles, and some, like American holly, that are almost all berries at this time of year.

Callicarpa are loosely arching shrubs with berries such a vivid purple that they look like something a child’s wild imagination might dream up. They will hold their fruit long after the leaves fall, living up to their common name of “beautyberry.” The Viburnum collection also shows off the diversity of color available. Some may be just coming into bloom, such as Viburnum x bodnantense with bright pink, heavenly fragrant flowers or Viburnum tinus, also known as laurustinus, with white flower clusters that are frequently added to winter holiday bouquets. Another aspect of this collection are the many plants that have berries with colors ranging from yellow to black to shiny red to white to even turquoise, most of them visible at this time of year.

The arboretum is administered by three separate entities. The University of Washington oversees the plant collections through the College of Forest Resources and the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, and provides educational programs. The Arboretum Foundation oversees volunteers and funding for maintenance and development, and the City of Seattle through its Parks and Recreation Department owns the land and buildings, and maintains park functions.

Designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm, the development was done by the Works Project Administration during the Great Depression. It includes thousands of trees, shrubs, vines and perennials and bulbs from all over the world. It is home to common plants, as well as more than 100 plants that are on the endangered species list. It provides interest and inspiration at all times of the year, and is always open from dawn to dusk. There is no admission fee.

There are picnic tables scattered throughout the garden, great restaurants are available in University Village, the University District or Madison Park. Restrooms are available in the Graham Visitors Center which has a well-stocked gift shop. Occasionally, you may also find a cart of plants available for purchase. Although not all of the trails will accommodate wheelchairs or walkers, there are several trails that have been built for their usage.

To get to the garden, take Interstate 5 to SR 520 (the Evergreen Floating Bridge), going east to the first exit (Lake Washington Blvd. E). Go straight into the arboretum. If you turn to the left where the road veers sharply to the right, you will arrive at the Graham Visitor Center. If you turn to the right, you can drive through the park, passing the Japanese Garden (closed in winter), to the south end of the park at East Madison. From Interstate 405, take 520 across the bridge and get off at the first exit on the Seattle side, Lake Washington Blvd. At the end of the offramp, turn left into the arboretum and follow the above directions.

Linda Stephens-Urbaniak can be reached at

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