|A path through the Northwest Perennial Alliance border|
This magnificent park was once the property of a couple who enjoyed growing rhododendrons and other plants. In 1984 their property was deeded to the City of Bellevue to be a public park. A group of gardening enthusiasts promoted the creation of a botanical garden. I learned of the garden in the early '90s when the Northwest Perennial Alliance - my hometown garden society - designed and maintained the vast perennial border that crowns an east-facing slope at the edge of the huge lawn.
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Some plants possess a quiet beauty - Alchemilla mollis caught Heather's eye, and well it should. A low-growing perennial ground cover, its scalloped and cupped leaves catch beads of water that shimmer like crystal. The flowers aren't showy - just a delicate froth of pale green.held above the pretty leaves. Good for shade and dappled sun, its common name is Lady's Mantle.
Heather was looking for ideas for a planting bed in her front yard, and Berberis thunbergia is a good suggestion. A shrub with small evergreen leaves, there are enough selections of this barberry to satisfy any situation. There are larger varieties and small, sprawlers and tight columns. The foliage color of modern selections range from golden yellow to a deep thunderous violet. Here a magnificent planting shows off the glowering purple of a dwarf berberis lit by its own tiny yellow blossoms, echoed by showy bi-color tulips. Beside it, the grey fuzzy leaves of Phlomis fruitcosa, the Jerusalem sage, soften the smoldering embers, along with the buff, feathery fuzz of grass Stipa tenuissima. Here, too, the Lady's Mantle works well as a ground cover, on the right. Best of all - these plants are drought tolerant, so you can use them in your dry garden.
Even without flowers, there is garden interest from foliage that provides a variety of shapes and textures. This planting for moister, shady beds combines the rounded glossy evergreen leaves of Asarum caudata, the wild American ginger, and Adiantum venustom, the delicate Himalayan Maidenhair fern.
Euphorbia "Glacier Blue" is a much cooler customer, its blue-green leaves brushed with cream and its bracts a chalky yellow that blends with the pastel peach-and-white narcissus. Completing the picture are the silvery-veined leaves of Heuchera "Raspberry Ice."
Akebia quinata, also called the chocolate vine. Its subtle, dusty plum-colored flowers are said to smell like chocolate - or vanilla.
Everywhere we looked, we found species of the charming groundcover Epimedium, and the Bellevue garden has quite a collection. A shade-lover, epimedium can tolerate dry shade, which makes it a particularly valuable garden plant. The leathery foliage grows thickly together for a good ground cover, while the delicate blossoms dance above the heart-shaped leaves.The leaves are semi-evergreen and both in spring with new growth and in the autumn, some of them color up bronze, purple, or red. Flowers may be purple, red, pink, peach, white or yellow, depending on the species. Epimediums spread quickly, too, so your investment in them grows more beautiful each season.
If there's a botanical garden in your area, or even a well-designed public park, it really pays to visit there regularly throughout the year. You can see what things look like at various times of the year - and sometimes you'll be struck by subtle beauties that occur by happenstance.
Perhaps it's the acid lime of the pheasant's eye narcissus a perfect match for the red-spangled greenery-yallery bracts of Euphorbia wulfenii. Or the dusky purple calyxes of an apricot Geum alongside a rust-bronze sedge.
If you visit gardens, take notes, so you'll be able to recreate the effect in your own.
Plant your garden with interesting foliage, and you'll enjoy it even when the flowers are scarce.