Point Defiance Park is one of the most beautiful places in Tacoma, Washington, and that’s saying a lot. It’s a huge city park (708 acres) on a point sticking out into Puget Sound, with a zoo, a waterfront promenade and beach, a replica of a historic fort, extensive gardens, and expanses of old-growth forest laced with hiking trails.
I had a meeting in Tacoma yesterday afternoon, and afterwards I decided to go walk the promenade, enjoy the gardens, and take some photos. Here’s a selection:
Two weeks ago today I think I finally saw enough gardens to satisfy me. Maybe. At least for a while.
The Willamette Valley near Salem is an amazing place. The climate and soils are such that it’s an ideal place to grow nursery stock of all kinds. It’s very odd to come around a bend in the road and see an entire field of some exotic evergreen or shrub, let alone entire fields of garden flowers.
I live just down the road from a commercial dahlia grower (which is something of a joke because I can’t grow dahlias in my own garden to save my life), and up north of Seattle is where a large part of the nation’s crop of daffodil and tulip bulbs are grown by the acre (spectacular in early April). But the Willamette Valley is something special, even by my standards.
My first stop, about five miles back north of Salem on the west side of I-5, was somewhere I’d been before, Schreiner’s Iris Gardens. I have some Schreiner’s iris in my own garden, as a matter of fact. Bearded iris are my alltime favorite flowers. They look like enormous butterflies, come in every color of the rainbow except for true red and true green (they come in shades of both, but not the true color), and many of them smell fantastic. Sort of like fruit punch tastes. Or grapes. If they had a longer bloom season, they’d be the perfect flower.
Schreiner’s not only has iris fields by the acre, but they have a multi-acre display garden, too, with hundreds of varieties. I hit the garden just after peak bloom, and it was spectacular. I spent the entire morning there, and took way too many photos. Here’s a sampling of them.
After pizza for lunch in the little town of Keizer (kee’ zer), I drove a couple of miles on the other side of I-5 to a place called Adelman Peony Gardens. I’d never been there before, and I don’t think they even existed the last time I was down in this neck of the woods over ten years ago. While they’re not quite to the scale of Schreiner’s yet (although I suspect they’re on their way there), they, too, have beautiful display gardens, with a far greater variety of flower forms and colors than I ever expected from peonies. Yes, they’re primarily red, pink, and white, but they also come in creamy yellow and rusty peach, and range from a single row of petals to flower heads that resemble a cheerleader’s pompoms. I wish I had room for a peony or three in my tiny garden. Maybe someday. In the meantime, here’s some more photos.
My last garden stop for the day was at a place called Sebright Gardens. Here the emphasis was on green, as they specialize in hostas, or dinosaur plants as my sister calls the three I have in the shady part of my garden. Hostas are primarily foliage plants, although they do put up stalks of purple to white bell-shaped flowers in late summer. I knew hostas came in a lot of shapes and sizes, and they do, from cereal-bowl-sized to five feet across, mostly with leaves proportional but sometimes not. But they also come in shades of green from almost blue to almost yellow, almost white to almost black, sometimes several on the same plant or even the same leaf, and those leaves come in a wild assortment of shapes, as well.
The gardens here had more companion plants than the other two, and were spectacular. But it was the hostas that were so amazing. Green is my favorite color. What can I say?
By that point it was getting late in the afternoon, and I’d planned to visit the Oregon Garden that day as well. The Oregon Garden was built by the Oregon Nursery Association, and is an enormous display garden full of ideas for how to use all those lovely plants in the landscape. I’d been there before when it was new, and it’s really nifty. But by that point my feet hurt, and my eyes were so full of color I’m not sure they could have held any more. It did seem a bit like overkill at that point.
So instead I decided to drive the hour or so on down to Eugene, where I had some trouble finding a motel, involving crossing town twice and getting stuck in rush hour traffic, but I finally did, and settled down to make plans for heading over to the coast. And back to research, which, after all, was the main reason I was making this trip.
And now we start having photographs. Lots and lots of photographs.
I left the hostel fairly early in the morning, and drove up into the west hills of Portland to the Pittock Mansion, where I wandered around the gardens, then sat in the car and read for a while before the house itself opened up for the day. The Pittock Mansion was built around the turn of the last century by the owner of the Oregonian, Portland’s newspaper which is still published today, who apparently had more money than he knew what to do with. It’s perched on a site with views that reach clear to Mount Hood in good weather (which did not happen while I was there, alas, although I could still see almost all of Portland from up there), surrounded by beautiful gardens, and the house itself is incredibly elegant. So he had taste as well as money.
Here are some photos, although I have to say the website does a much better job of it than I do.
After I left the mansion I drove back down into town looking for an on-ramp to I-5 or I-405 southbound, and could not find one for love or money. I ended up on U.S. 99E, down through Milwaukie and Clackamas County. Which didn’t turn out to be such a bad thing, since I found lunch along the way. I had originally intended to get on I-205 from there, but I discovered that staying on 99E was actually going to take me where I wanted to go, anyway.
That was the Aurora Colony, which I’d read about in the book Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community, and Craft by Jane Kirkpatrick, who I met online through a writers’ organization I used to belong to. I have to say I was disappointed in the Aurora Colony itself, which was mostly a bunch of antiques stores strewn along the highway. Somehow, in spite of their website, that wasn’t what I was expecting.
So on I went. Someone on the Hardy Plants email list had told me about a place called Heirloom Roses. This place did live up to what I was expecting. In spades. Acres and acres of roses in full bloom, mostly heirloom and species and shrub and climbing roses, although they did have some floribundas and hybrid teas. The whole place smelled like sweet tea tastes, which is the only time I like the way sweet tea tastes (despite having been born in the South, I prefer my tea with lemon and no sugar, thanks). By this point the weather had cleared up again, too. A perfect place to spend a perfect afternoon.
Anyway, here’s the pictorial proof of how gorgeous this place was.
And, on top of that, I heard a hawk crying over my head, and saw a California quail in the greenhouse, of all places.
After that, I stopped at Champoeg (pronounced sham poo’ ee) State Park, the site of some of Oregon’s earliest political efforts and a pretty riverside park. I’d been thinking about camping there, but decided against it, so I drove on to Salem and ended up in a motel. Which was fine, too.
I love research. Yes, I’m a history geek as well as a writer, and that’s just the way it is. First thing in the morning I caught a bus to downtown Portland and walked the couple of blocks from the bus stop to the Oregon Historical Society Museum. Fortunately, the weather had cleared up nicely, and was even warming a bit.
Their library didn’t open until the afternoon, but the museum opened in the morning, and since I’d never been there before I wanted to see the exhibits. The early history exhibits were well done, but the part I liked the best was the recent history room, highlighting Oregon’s somewhat schizoid politics. I lived in Eugene, Oregon, for several years during the mid-80s, and had been rather struck by them then — Eugene at the time was a cross between a college town, a logging and other resource-heavy economy, and the hippie equivalent of the elephants’ graveyard. The juxtaposition was, fascinating, I think, is the term I want to use. I’d forgotten a lot of that bemusement, and the museum brought it back to me.
After the exhibits and before the library, I walked up the park blocks, a lovely thing to find in the middle of a city, to Pioneer Courthouse Square, in search of some of Portland’s quasi-legendary food carts. It was a good place to look for them. My choices included burritos, cheese steaks and several others. I chose a cheese steak, which was as good as the ones I’d had in Philadelphia, their hometown, if a sandwich can be said to have a hometown, years ago.
But the fun part was the quiz the proprietor gave me, based on a page-a-day calendar about famous mustaches, of all things. The first question described Cesar Romero as the Joker in the old Batman series, and the second Raul Julia in the movie version of The Addams Family. I got them both right, which won me a very surprised proprietor and a free soda.
After enjoying my cheese steak, and my soda, and watching floral decorations being installed on the square for the upcoming Rose Festival, I ambled back to the museum by way of the Multnomah County Library‘s main branch, where I wandered into the children’s room, named after Beverly Cleary, who is a Portland icon, and upstairs to the history section, where I wrote down the titles of some books that looked useful for research that I will interlibrary loan later. I was very surprised that they didn’t have a local history room. The Multnomah County Library is, I suspect, the biggest Carnegie library I’ve ever been in (it certainly fits the style, architecturally), but no local history room?
And then there was the library at the Ohio Historical Society Museum. Maybe that’s why the public library doesn’t have a local history room? What I do know is that the librarian pulled a number of goodies out of her closed stacks, including a forest service document, book, really, of all things, discussing the early history and architecture of Heceta Head Lighthouse and its keepers’ quarters, which is going to be the setting of my new book. So that made my day.
After several hours in that library, I decided to check out Portland’s streetcar and see where it went, since I had the all-day pass, which includes the streetcar and light rail as well as the bus. The streetcar went to northwest Portland and the trendy shopping district on NW 23rd. I hadn’t been there in years, and it was only a couple of blocks from the end of the line to the New Renaissance Bookshop, another favorite bookstore. So I strolled there and browsed for a bit, but it was getting late and I was tired, so I wound my way back to the hostel via streetcar and bus, and collapsed in a heap on my second evening on the road.
We have a lot of unusual gardens here in the Pacific Northwest, and by unusual I mean they showcase plants most people have never seen nor heard of.
Now I can hear you saying, everybody knows rhododendrons. They’re basic landscaping shrubs here, with their big leathery leaves and their clusters of flowers that can get bigger than a baby’s head.
But those are hybrid rhododendrons, created by crossing and recrossing plants found around the world. The Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way, Washington, just north of Tacoma across the King County line, is sort of a botanical savings bank, with seven hundred different kinds of rhody species growing on acreage owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company, next to their headquarters campus.
Most of them aren’t as showy as the garden varieties that are their descendants. And even on my visit in May the companion plants almost outshone the main attraction. But some of them were dropdead gorgeous, and others were so different from garden-variety rhodies as to not even seem the same species.
Anyway, here’s some of what I saw:
First, the rhododendrons:
And the companion plants:
All in all, I highly recommend a trip to the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden if you happen to be in this neck of the woods in the spring.
And, since I haven’t mentioned it in a while, if you like my writing here, you may enjoy my fiction. My two novels, Repeating History and True Gold, are available from Amazon and Smashwords and most of the other usual suspects. I hope you take a look. And the third book in the series will be coming out this summer.
We crossed the border into Canada on day four of our trip. It was the first of six border crossings we made on that trip, back and forth between Canada and the U.S. It wasn’t the first time I’d been to Canada — a few years before we’d spent several weeks exploring the Canadian Rockies, Banff and Jasper and all, and then gone down through Vancouver and across to Victoria, where we went to Butchart Gardens and saw dahlias as big as my head. I’ve been back to Victoria several times as an adult, and even took my mother there once on one of her visits to me, but in the nineteen years I’ve lived three hours from Vancouver, I’ve not been back there. I ought to get my passport renewed and do something about that one of these days.
The ironic part of the whole thing is that in the twelve years we lived in suburban Los Angeles, we visited Canada twice and Alaska once, and never did get to Mexico. I still haven’t been to Mexico. It’s another thing I ought to do someday.
Anyway. The highlights of the day according to my diary appear to have been going through customs and visiting a large grocery store where you had to write the price on your items yourself with a grease pencil. Between the two stops we only made 340 miles that day. Daddy was slacking :-). But at least Canada would let us fill the entire gas tank at a time, even if it was even more expensive — and sold by the liter.
We drove past where I live now, near Tacoma, and on up through the traffic of Seattle, which appears to have been pretty bad even back then, and Everett, then we cut across from south of Bellingham to the border crossing at Abbotsford, then up along the Trans-Canada Highway through Chilliwack and Hope. All of a sudden things seemed much further apart, because they were measured in kilometers rather than miles.
That night’s campground was next to a river, I remember, and my father and I walked down to it after supper to see what we could see, which wasn’t much but a lot of cottonwoods and a nice riffle. But for the first time, we were off of multi-lane highways. The next freeway we drove would be I-5 again, five weeks later.
From the state capital to the first settlement in Montana, in 132 easy miles.
I guess I should have expected a road through something called the Gates of the Mountains, named by Lewis and Clark no less, to be more beautiful than I thought it would be. But for one thing, Helena’s geographical situation is rather like Denver’s, right where the Rockies start to rise out of the Great Plains. And Great Falls is even further east, along the, well, Great Falls of the Missouri River, which were (they’re mostly tamed by hydroelectric dams now, to the point where one of Great Falls-the-city’s nicknames is The Electric City) really more cascades than falls. So, logically, I should have been driving through flatlands between the two cities.
But no. I had a hard time getting photographs — there weren’t many places to pull over, and while I have been known to aim the camera through the windshield on occasion, a) the windshield was fairly bug-pocked by that stage, and b) it’s not the greatest, or safest, technique in the world. But there was a shiny new rest area at one point, so what pictures I have of a road that must have been quite the engineering feat were mostly taken there. It almost reminded me, the way it was carved through the canyon, bridging and rebridging the Missouri and cantilevered out in places from the cliffs, of the Virgin River Gorge portion of that selfsame I-15 in the far southwestern corner of Utah. Quite spectacular.
And then the canyon walls opened out onto the northern Great Plains and someone laid the highway out with a ruler the last few miles to Great Falls.
Great Falls is a brick city (the third largest city in Montana, which really isn’t saying much) with one-way streets downtown and shady trees and a charming park lining the Great Muddy (the Missouri’s other name) for several miles. With gardens, where the iris were blooming, and a pond with fountains, and lots of big shady trees. And geese. I stopped for a bit and walked around, then drove on along the river out of town until I reached the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. You cannot stumble over a rock in many parts of Montana without figuratively falling over Lewis and Clark. And I can’t say I’m overly enthused about the term “interpretive center.” What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned “visitor center”? But I was charmed by the native blue flax growing even in cracks in the parking lot, and, when I went inside, by the breadth and depth of the exhibits. And I must say, just looking at the prickly pear cactus and rocks over which those men hauled their canoes during a twenty-plus mile portage made my feet hurt.
After that, I only had another hour’s drive to go to reach my destination for the night of Fort Benton. I will write more about this most historical of Montana towns in tomorrow’s post. Suffice to say today that I arrived, ate a delicious hamburger in the VFW hall, which was the only restaurant in town open after 5 pm, and camped that night in a municipal riverfront campground, which was just about all I could ask for.
I hit the road for my first long trip alone in five years. Not that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed the trips I’ve taken in the last five years, with my friend Mary and my friend Loralee (oddly enough, the three of us all have Mary as a first name — Loralee and I go by our middle names), but it was time, and past time, for me to take off on my own.
If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me how brave I am to travel alone, I could probably finance one of these trips, but you’re only brave if you’re scared first. And I’ve never been scared of traveling by myself. Traveling alone is an entirely different experience than traveling with a companion. If you enjoy your companion, it’s fun to share what you see and do, but when you’re traveling alone, you’re more open to what’s around and about you, to meeting new people and absorbing new things. And there is an abundance of time to think.
Even on the first day and last day of this trip, which was basically the only bat-out-of-hell driving I did, to get across Washington and northern Idaho — someday I need to explore northern Idaho instead of flying past it to get somewhere else — into Montana or to get home, I didn’t listen to anything except my thoughts. No radio except the occasional search for a weather report, no CDs, no nothing except peace and quiet and time to think.
I’ve said this before, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing like being behind the wheel of a car. Being between places, neither here nor there. It’s why I fight so hard when other people say we need to get away from private transportation. For one thing, many of the places I long to go will never have public transportation. It simply isn’t cost-effective when you’re connecting towns of less than 2000 people a hundred miles from each other, or getting people out to places where they can get away from people altogether — to the edges of wilderness areas where they can really renew their spirits. What we need is a way to run private vehicles that is renewable, efficient, and environmentally friendly. Not to get rid of private vehicles.
But I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes. The bat out of hell first day. I will admit that sometimes it would be nice to be able to transport me and my vehicle (which carries more necessities and is cheaper and, really, faster, to transport via driving than I am by flying and renting a car) across the wide-open spaces of eastern Washington. Getting off the Interstate and exploring there is one thing — I’ve done that before and enjoyed it. But it is not attractive or interesting from the freeway.
Snoqualmie Pass is beautiful, with some snow still on the ground. The wild horse sculptures on a butte above the Columbia River are striking. There’s a terrific fruit stand in the tiny community of Thorp in the eastern foothills. After that? I’m just waiting to see the first pine trees west of Spokane.
Spokane is a lovely city at the foothills of the westernmost stretch of the Rockies in the continental US, and it happens to possess Manito Park, one of the nicest traditional public gardens in the inland Northwest, in my humble opinion as an amateur garden fanatic. I spent about an hour there, admiring their signature lilacs as well as the first iris and peonies and the landscaped beds just beginning to come into their own for the summer. Then it was on to 75 miles of northern Idaho, past Lake Coeur d’Alene (heart of the axe is what I was told that means many years ago — I have no idea if that’s right) and over Lookout Pass and down into Montana. About 500 miles that first day.
I spent my first night on the road in a forest service campground along I-90 just west of Missoula, under the pine trees with the early flowers — balsamroot and serviceberry and bistort. And got snowed on just a bit that night Yes. In late May. Welcome to the Rockies.