The Depths of a Mature Garden

Pink dogwood and wisteria in Dunn Gardens, Seattle (Credit: Susan Barsy)

During our visit to Seattle last week, my friend Wendy offered to take us to Dunn Gardens, a little-known place in the Broadview neighborhood northeast of downtown.  The gardens, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, were designed for the Dunn family in the 1910s.  The landscape architecture firm Olmsted Brothers designed the grounds and selected all the original plants.  Click on pictures to enlarge.

Plantings at the base of massive firs in Dunn Gardens, Seattle (Credit: Susan Barsy)

The gardens occupy a residential compound of some 10 acres, surrounding a main house and two other dwellings.  The land offers a view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, which the growth of vegetation is gradually obscuring.  The gardens were designed around many second-growth firs standing on the property at the time of its purchase.  The massive trees lend the garden an atmosphere of seclusion and repose.

Grasses & flowers in Dunn Gardens, Seattle (Credit: Susan Barsy)

While still faithful to their original design, the gardens have evolved under the stewardship of three generations.  Some plants and plantings have been added, while others have been gradually allowed to fade away, as the owners have observed plants’ changing characteristics and needs.

Textures in the beds of Dunn Gardens, Seattle (Credit: Susan Barsy)

Several thousand plant species, many in a state of perfect maturity, contributed to a varied woodland tapestry, whose patterns and textures were too complex to apprehend on a single visit.  On this afternoon, we marveled at magnificent stands of Himalayan lilies foregrounded by wisteria and boughs of pink dogwood.  Starbursts of alium punctuated beds layered with grasses, sedum, and small ruby-colored lilies.  The woods teemed with ferns, oxalis, hellebore, and solomon seal.

The depths of mature plantings at Dunn Gardens, Seattle (Credit: Susan Barsy)

Rare and one-of-a-kind rhododendrons bred by Edward Dunn studded the forest.  There were many amazing plants, but they were harmoniously incorporated into a naturalistic design.

A pathway in the Dunn Gardens, Seattle (Credit: Susan Barsy)

Even the most formal parts of the grounds, like this one formed around a rectangular lawn, had an appealingly off-hand quality.  The stone stairs leading out of it were one of my favorite things.

Stone steps of the Olmsted Brothers' design, Dunn Gardens, Seattle (Credit: Susan Barsy)

The established structure of the place supported a riot of plant life that was visually intoxicating.  A Chicagoan could only envy the lushness and vitality of it all,

A planful riot of plants in Dunn Gardens, Seattle (Credit: Susan Barsy)

the plants growing upon plants,

Leaves and petals forming a tapestry of color, Dunn Gardens, Seattle (Credit: Susan Barsy)

the petals and leaves.

Abundance and variety of ground-covering plants, Dunn Gardens, Seattle (Credit: Susan Barsy)

A superabundance of plants dripping from every ledge,

Crevices of a terrace overflowing with sedum & ferns, Dunn Gardens, Seattle (Credit: Susan Barsy)

and crowding every crevice.

4 responses

  1. Very nice pictures! Really enjoyed this post! I guess it is nice to write something nice and lite after your very incisive essays. A wonderful post!

    • Sam–Thank you for writing in again. I take it you visit Seattle–you really should try to visit this place–well worth the trek. Cheers, Susan

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