May Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum

May 15th, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (May 11-24, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (May 11-24, 2015)

1)  Cytisus x praecox ’Luteus’           Warminster Broom

  • This broom is a hybrid of C. multiflorus and C. purgans and is located on Arboretum Drive in the Legume Collection.
  • Many of the brooms are blooming now or soon to bloom, including the pineapple broom, Argyrocytisus battandieri, whose fragrance earned it its common name.

2)  Erica arborea var. alpina           Tree Heath

  • While non-alpine tree heath can reach heights in excess of 20 feet, the alpine variety is the “short” one, reaching only 10 to 15 feet.
  • Alpine tree heath has white flowers versus light-gray, and the scent is reminiscent of honey.

3)  Hydrangea luteovenosa           Sweet Hydrangea

  • In full bloom now, this semi-trailing Hydrangea is located on the Ridgetop Trail in Rhododendron Glen.
  • Though widely distributed in western Japan, this species of Hydrangea is critically endangered in Korea.

4)  Rhododendron ‘Snow Lady’ x Rhododendron degronianum ssp yakushimanum

  • Hybrids are often created to blend two or more outstanding traits from two separate taxa into one single plant, e.g. flower color and leaf indumentum.
  • There are several areas in the Washington Park Arboretum, including Azalea Way, Loderi Valley, Rhododendron Glen and the Puget Sound Rhododendron Hybridizers bed, showcasing many hundreds of hybrids of Rhododendron.

5)  Syringa reflexa           Nodding Lilac

  • The buds of Syringa reflexa start out a rosy–red before opening to pink and eventually fading to almost white.
  • The specific epithet “reflexa” refers to the nodding habit of the flower heads.
  • Lilacs are located throughout the Washington Park Arboretum, though many are found just south of the Woodland Garden along Azalea Way.

May Dispatch from the Forest Grove

May 7th, 2015 by Kit Harrington


      Who doesn’t love spring? It’s the earth’s bright green answer to winter’s dreary grey; when all the world begins to grow anew. If autumn is a time for introductions and winter for exploration, then spring is the season for culmination. In autumn we ground the students in the important, fundamental lessons of the forest grove: clearly identifying the boundaries (both figurative and literal) of the classroom; teaching an awareness of self, social expectations, and emotional responses; guiding newfound interest in the natural world. Throughout the winter we build on these lessons through experiential learning, and when spring comes they have already taken root. So now it is May and already we’ve begun encountering the result of all this preparation—new tendrils of independence, exploration, and self-direction emerging from a solid foundation of confidence and respect. The children know what their needs are and they know how to get those needs met.


     Confidence and self-control empowers the students to engage with the environment in new ways and overcome unexpected challenges. When the tree nest was accidentally dismantled, the children approached it as an opportunity and not a setback and have worked on it as a team almost every day during the weeks since. And now that the kids are adept at managing transitions, we get to spend more time exploring the surrounding area in small groups and taking short “field trips.” Currently, we are making a point of getting down to the garden at least once a week with the help of our wonderful interns and volunteers, but we look forward to adding in a story time or two at the library come June and possibly even a trip to the Center for Urban Horticulture. When Sarah and I left to speak at the BGCI Education Congress the children felt excited to have Joanna, Kate, and Alicia in the classroom and were able to continue to learn and engage and not feel overwhelmed at the change in teachers. From an adult perspective, these steps may seem small, but in early childhood they are huge accomplishments, reflective of many months of hard work and cooperation. The underlying self-regulatory skills that propel these achievements will play a crucial role in the success of both graduating and returning students next year as they encounter new peer groups and personal challenges.


     Cognitively, the preschoolers in both classes are at point where they are considering the lessons in a more abstract way, making connections between ideas and experiences and considering the implications of what they are learning. Over the past few months we have begun gently encouraging the children to strive to engage in more extended exploration and study on a particular topic, and to stay regulated and attentive throughout circle. In addition to being empowering, this level of concentration and control is allows the students to gain a deeper understanding of the topics we are learning about.

Learning to associate numeral and quantity with reptile countingOur natural science theme this year is “vertebrates” and the students are enjoying connecting their lessons at circle with their experiences in the field. We moved from mammals to birds and over the past two weeks began studying reptiles and more recently, amphibians. The children learned that reptiles are cold-blooded, lay leathery-shelled eggs, and have scales. We discussed and read books about common reptiles including snakes, lizards, and turtles. A number of the children built their own reptiles from the bones up, adding scales to cover the body and using materials from the forest floor to make a nest. A “Reptiles of Washington State” matching work provided fodder for discussion and gave children the opportunity to match pictures as well as words. A sensory tub with sand, eggs, and reptiles became a center for socialization and imaginative play. At circle time the children learned silly and informative songs about turtles and boa constrictors. A walk to the Azalea Way pond allowed for some first hand experience with reptiles here at the arboretum. Upon our return from the Education Congress the children shared their delight at discovering two painted turtles swimming around a large koi fish! We hope to return there soon for more discoveries.

     Last week our wonderful stand-in teachers Joanna and Kate introduced our new amphibians unit. The children listened to stories about amphibians and enjoyed a new amphibian sensory tub with water. Over the next week and a half we will continue to learn about amphibians and their life cycles and contrast their characteristics with those of reptiles. We will keep our eyes peeled for salamanders both in the water and out and are hoping that we can find some chorus frog tadpoles to examine as well. In addition we will be further exploring camouflage among amphibians and reptiles and do some experiments to help us better understand why clean water is essential to the life of a healthy frog.


     Another new material in the forest grove is the beautiful scrapbook Joanna started last week with the help of the children. Since then drawing pictures of our classroom and areas we visit around the arboretum has become a hugely popular, collaborative effort. It is a wonderful way for the children to reflect and remember and it helps us grown-ups better understand how the students perceive their world. We look forward to continuing this project throughout the rest of the school year and in the coming years as well, and see it as an important tool for documenting the learning that goes on up in the forest grove.


     When Sarah and I returned from St. Louis we brought with us a new book, the aptly named How to Find Flower Fairies by Cicely May Barker. We chose to introduce it because of the creative way the authors use the pop-up book format to encourage children to peer into, under, and around objects in their environment. It immediately became an incentive for engaging with the environment in precise, very thoughtful ways. In small groups, the children enjoy discussing their own perspective on fairies and whether they are real, and these conversations provide an opportunity to practice listening to and respecting different opinions.


     “Are fairies real?” is a common question in the forest grove, and more than just encouraging imaginative play it has provided the children with a basis for using scientific principles to develop hypotheses, gather evidence and arrive at conclusions. We encourage the students to explore and experiment and come to their own conclusions, and the group is about equally split on where they stand in this regard. Too often in early childhood education we try to inhibit debate among young children, but Sarah and I believe it is impossible to teach conflict resolution without allowing the students to practice differences of opinion. When children freely express their own opinions and are encouraged to consider other’s, they develop a sense of self while simultaneously building empathy. Whether or not they “believe,” the process of searching for, discussing, and constructing elaborate new dwellings for these imaginary creatures wherever we go is enthralling. It is the shared journey, the tiny discoveries, and the potential of the unknown that lie at the heart of this experience and make it so compelling. Both Sarah and I consider the experience of magic during childhood as a provision for the grown-up conviction that anything is possible, and so it is wonderful to watch our little fairy scientists questioning and engaging with the natural world.


    Over the next few months there is still much more to do, more to learn, more to explore. We will finish our vertebrates theme by studying fish before moving on to an in-depth study of wetlands and habitats here at the arboretum. The garden will continue to play a central role in our natural science curriculum. Students will study plant life cycles, learn about native plants and noxious weeds, and come to understand the role of different insects on plant health. We will take our time learning and make sure to follow the children’s lead whenever possible. The depth of their learning is so much greater when they guide the process themselves.


     As an educator, I try to take the time to step back and just observe when I can. When the opportunity arises I will sit back on my heels for a moment and watch the kids at work; hands digging in the dirt, eyes peering intently into the undergrowth, lips curled into a faint smile. From this vantage point, it is clear that the past two years of learning and living in the forest grove have culminated in a group of children who are capable and empowered to do anything they set their minds to. At moments like these, I am absolutely certain that it is going to be an absolutely wonderful spring.

Tune in next time for more news of Fiddleheads and the Forest Grove….

All the best,

Kit and Sarah

Glimpse into the past – Mrs. Sawyer’s Bench

May 7th, 2015 by UWBG Communication Staff

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

Today’s visitors to the Washington Park Arboretum walk past historical artifacts not knowing why they might be there.  One of those is the Memorial Fountain dedicated to the late Mrs. W.W. Sawyer, along Arboretum Drive E. opposite Rhododendron Glen.


Finished fountain, bench and plantings. Photo by J. A. Wit

An article written by J. A. Witt, in the Arboretum Foundation Bulletin Summer (24:3, pg. 62) chronicles its dedication on Monday, February 21, 1961.  Mr. Sawyer and members of the Maude Sawyer Unit (No. 19), who made a handsome donation for its construction, were present.

“This charming and practical memorial….was designed by Dr. Donald J. Foote, a former member of the University of Washington’s Architect’s staff.  It was constructed by personnel from the mason’s shop of the UW Physical Plant Department, using granite blocks for the wall as well as the fountain basin.”  The site also originally had special collection plants of Berberis aquifolium ‘Compacta’ and Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna, surrounded by three camellia.

A series of pictures shows the site before, during its construction, and today. Like most artifacts in the WPA, they are in a state of decline. Twenty years ago, the running water fountain was changed to a hand-manipulated one. Later, the water was entirely stopped. The granite portion is still proudly standing and is easily seen.   Budget cutbacks in both state and city budgets do not provide funds to maintain these historical landmarks which are usually removed when they fall into total disrepair.


View on March, 11, 1958. Photo by J.A. Witt



Construction September 30, 1960. Photo by J. A. Witt


Construction September 30, 1960. Photo by J. A. Witt


Construction October 3, 1960. Photo by J. A. Witt


Mrs. Sawyer’s memorial bench today, May 6, 2015. Photo by J. A. Wott

The Boys and Girls and Their Boats

May 1st, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (April 27 - May 10, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (April 27 – May 10, 2015)

Opening Day crew races through the Montlake Cut, and the 1936 USA Olympic gold in rowing may never have happened without these following trees:

1)  Thuja plicata        Western Red Cedar

  • UW’s world-renowned boat maker, George Pocock followed the lead of Native Americans and used this Pacific Northwest giant for the hulls of his Pocock Classics.
  • The skin is made from a single plank of 3/32″ thick cedar and offers a combination of stiffness and springiness that eliminates the need for the extra weight of a hull.

2)  Pinus lambertiana        Sugar Pine

  • Keels of Pocock’s boats were made from this soft, even-grained Oregon native.
  • Sugar pine has very low shrinkage when it dries, so hull warping and cracking was kept to a minimum with this choice wood.

3)  Xanthocyparis nootkatensis        Alaska Yellow Cedar

  • Cheeks (two lowest timbers at the head rails) and washboards (thin planks fastened to the side to keep out water) were made from this honey-colored wood.
  • Pocock was especially fond of the way Xanthocyparis aged with Thuja plicata.

4)  Picea sitchensis       Sitka Spruce

  • Hand-carved seats and gunnels (uppermost plank in a hull) were made from these giants from Vancouver, BC.

5)  Picea engelmannii        Engelman Spruce

  • Oars used in rowing competitions are made from Engelman Spruce.
  • The oar consists of three bonded pieces made from one single plank of Engelman spruce split to make mirror-imaged sides, and another piece is cut for the center.


What and Where is the Sino-Himalayan Hillside?

May 1st, 2015 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant
Photo Credit: Scott Zona

Illicium henryi (Henry’s Star Anise)-found on the Hillside. Photo Credit: Scott Zona

Take a closer look at this often overlooked collection from the higher elevations of Western China and the Himalayan foothills. This area of the Arboretum, right off of Azalea Way, showcases some unique and unusual plants, and contains tremendous diversity. A great number of garden-worthy plants that thrive in the Pacific Northwest can be found here as well. You may even get some new ideas for your garden!

Plants found here include Osmanthus, Lithocarpus, Rhododendron, Stachyurus, and Illicium.

Ray Larson, UW Botanic Gardens Curator of Living Collections, will lead you on a journey through some of the most interesting plant collections in the Washington Park Arboretum. Learn about rare and unusual plants, collections based on genetics and eco-geographic habitats, and unusual stories of how these plants have made their way to us over the years. Each class will include both a presentation and walk through the collections.

What: A Closer Look: Sino-Himalayan Hillside
When: Tuesday, May 5th, 6:30-8pm
Where: Washington Park Arboretum, Graham Visitors Center
Cost: Just $5!
How: Register online, or by phone (206-685-8033)


April Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum

April 19th, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (April 13 - 26, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (April 13 – 26, 2015)

1)  Acer cissifolium        Vine-leaf Maple

  • A three-leaf maple native to Japan.
  • The extraordinary racemes of tiny flowers give the tree a cloud-like appearance.
  • Located in the Asiatic Maple Collection.

2)  Acer rubrum        Red Maple

  • This popular street tree is native to eastern North America.
  • On this sample the petals have fallen, leaving the elongating peduncles and their tiny, immature samaras.
  • Located in grid 3-5E on Arboretum Drive.

3)  Cornus florida        Flowering Dogwood

  • Named for its showy bracts.
  • Native to the eastern United States.
  • These cuttings are from ‘Royal Red’ near the south end of Azalea Way and from an unlabeled white cultivar near the north end.

4)  Cornus nuttallii        Pacific Dogwood

  • A west coast native named for Thomas Nuttall– a British botanist and explorer.
  • Natural seedlings are scattered throughout the Arboretum.
  • This is the provincial “flower” and floral emblem of British Columbia.

5)  Cornus nuttallii x florida    ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’

  • So named because it was one of a few survivors of a flood at Henry Eddie’s nursery near Vancouver, B.C.
  • It is a hybrid of Cornus nuttallii and C. florida.
  • Several specimens are growing along Azalea Way.

Another collection stunner blooming now

April 19th, 2015 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

RhododendronoccidentaleAlong Azalea Way this time of year, as many of you know, the Rhododendron cultivars, Redbuds & Dogwood Trees are putting on their show of stunning blossoms.   Amongst all these flowering shrubs and trees it is sometimes hard to discern any individual plants, but its always worth it for me to stop at the group of Rhododendron occindentale at the North end of Azalea Way.   These Rhododendron species, commonly known as Western Azalea, get my attention because in addition to the clusters of pretty flowers (and unlike most Rhododendron species) they have a wonderful scent.  My nose could spend a lot of time near these shrubs.  This grouping of about 10 shrubs (located in the very NW bed along with several other pink/orange flowering cultivars) were planted in 1946 and now each plant stands about 8-10 feet tall.

The R. occindentale is one of two native west coast Rhodies (the other being R. macrophyllum, our state flower) and is found mainly in the mountain and coastal areas of southern Oregon and Northern California.   Because our climate and soils are similar, they are a plant that transfers quite well to our PNW gardens.  They are a slow grower which can take sun or shade and seem to adapt to a variety of soils.  Their native environments range from coastal marshes, river and lake sides and up to mountain meadows.  But that’s not all – the other perk to these shrubs is that they can bear a lovely orange/red fall foliage color.

Come along on one of our Free Weekend Walks and enjoy a guided tour of these and many other collection plants in their full spring glory.   No registration, visitors meet at the Graham Visitors Center at 1:00 pm each Sunday.

For more detail on these shrubs in their natural environment click the article link from Pacific Horticultural Society

Exciting News at Fiddleheads Forest School!

April 13th, 2015 by Kit Harrington



Listening and responding to the needs of our community is a cornerstone of the Fiddleheads philosophy. Sarah and I were absolutely astounded this year at the outpouring of interest our tiny school received. As word of the Fiddleheads Forest School spread, parents from all over the region took notice of the individualized attention we give to each child, our unique curriculum that thoughtfully integrates the specialized opportunities afforded by the environment to each student, and our remarkable forest grove classroom site where students develop a deep, mindful connection to their environment and to their peers. The result of all this care and consideration is that this year more than 90 families from as far south as Kent and as far north as Edmonds applied to become a part of the Fiddleheads Forest School community. The level of excitement and passion families expressed to us during tours, our open house event, in letters and over the phone had a profound impact on us both, and we knew immediately that we had a responsibility to respond.


The Fiddleheads Forest School provides a unique experience built upon careful observation and reflection, and is unlike any other existing Forest School model. The level of interest in our program this year shows us that families are responding to the quality of experience Fiddleheads creates, and we want to make sure those families feel they are being heard. After our first year we resisted growth, choosing instead to focus our attention on developing our curriculum, community, and infrastructure. At Fiddleheads, we never want to grow just for the sake of it. We understand the extent to which growth can impact a school, and knew from day one that we would only move forward with expansion if we truly believed it was in the best interest of the children, the families, and the teachers. However, after months of careful consideration and reflection we finally determined that we now capable of expanding the Fiddleheads Forest School in a way that is sustainable while continuing to offer the sort of high-quality education that families have come to expect. These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of meetings intended to determine this growth’s direction, and after thorough deliberation we are finally ready to move forward.

SC_150410_680258Today we are excited to announce that in fall of 2015 Fiddleheads will be expanding to a full second site here at the Washington Park Arboretum! The new site is just across the road from the current classroom area and consists of a grove of native trees and plants adjacent to the arboretum’s Mountain Ash meadow. Just as beautiful but with its own unique features, we feel confident that this new grove is an ideal place to grow our program while still remaining connected as a school. As teachers, we will each attend to a separate site in collaboration with a second qualified lead teacher as well as student interns from the University of Washington and surrounding colleges. The two of us will continue to collaborate in our role as preschool directors to maintain a high level of quality and care throughout the program. While the classes will be distinct, children will regularly come together to engage in group activities coordinated by teachers in both classrooms. This expansion will offer increased opportunities for socialization among the students and collaboration among the teachers. We are deeply thrilled to move forward on this path.


This expansion to a second site adds an additional 28 spaces to our roster, meaning that we now have a total of 49 positions for families in our 2, 3, and 5-day programs. This will help us continue to meet demand by allowing us to accept between 18 and 20 new students each year. Over the past week we have begun contacting families already on our waitlist, and we are excited to announce that our second site is already filling up. Because we feel strongly about the developmental importance of maintaining age and gender balance, we are reopening the call for applications to fill a limited number of spots for girls turning 5 years old during the 2015-2016 calendar school year. Families interested in applying for these spots or being added to our current waitlist can fill out an online application. Those families who would like to be added to our 2016-2017 interest list can do so by submitting an email address here. Finally, if you are interested in becoming a part of the Fiddleheads Forest School community we encourage you to follow us on Facebook for up-to-the minute news regarding the school and the arboretum; as well as teacher tips, articles and reflections on the outdoor education movement here in Seattle and beyond. We feel so fortunate that many of you are already a part of the wonderful, supportive community here at the Washington Park Arboretum, and we are looking forward to a fantastic year ahead! Stay tuned for updates and future developments!



Kit and Sarah
Teachers & Preschool Directors
UW Botanic Gardens Fiddleheads Forest School

Core Collection Highlight: Viburnum

April 5th, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Viburnum Collection at the Washington Park Arboretum (3/30/15-4/13/15)

Selected cuttings from the Viburnum Collection at the Washington Park Arboretum (3/30/15 – 4/13/15)

Our Viburnum Collection is recognized as one of the top three national collections. Our taxonomic display currently is home to over 100 different kinds and 330 living specimens.
[Description references: “Viburnums — Shrubs for Every Season” by Michael Dirr.]
Here are a few samples of this diverse and ornamental shrub.

1)  Viburnum carlesii var. bitchiuense        Bitchu Viburnum

  • Wonderfully fragrant flowers in early spring.
  • Closely allied to V. carlesii.  Botanists still debate whether to “split” or “lump”.
  • Located across from the Graham Visitor Center in full flower. Grid: 40-3E

2)  Viburnum macrocephalum       Chinese Snowball Viburnum

  • 6’-10’ rounded shrub.
  • Known for 3″ – 8″ wide, hemispherical cymes, hence the name “Snowball”.
  • Located along maintenance facility mixed-shrub border fence. Grid: 43-5E

3)  Viburnum propinquum

  • Large evergreen shrub with glossy three-veined leaves.
  • Known to be tender in cold Pacific Northwest winters.
  • Located in the Rhododendron Glen parking lot landscape. Grid: 12-8E

4)  Viburnum x rhytidophylloides ‘Alleghany’        Lantanaphyllum Viburnum

  • National Arboretum introduction in 1958.
  • Handsome dense evergreen shrub with abundant inflorescences.
  • Located in Viburnum Collection. Grid: 25-5W

5)  Viburnum utile        Service Viburnum

  • Rare in commerce, but important evergreen species for breeding.
  • Dirr doesn’t think it has much ornamental value. I (David Zuckerman) disagree.
  • Located in Viburnum Collection. Grid: 26-4W

Exploding trees, now showing at your local Arboretum

April 1st, 2015 by Kathleen DeMaria, Arboretum Gardener

March did not go out like a lamb, nor did it end with a whimper. No, this lion ended with a grand BANG!

A lightning strike from the massive thunderstorm that roared through Seattle yesterday was a direct hit on one of our largest trees in the Washington Park Arboretum.

Lighting strike as seen from the Columbia Tower. Photo courtesy of KOMO

Lighting strike as seen from a helicopter and from the Columbia Tower. Photos courtesy of KOMO


A Grand Fir located in the Oak grove at the north end of the Arboretum was obliterated with one flash. All that remains of a tree that was easily over 100 feet tall is a jagged snag and a circular field of debris extending at least 150 feet in all directions.

Lightning Strike 3.31.15 002


Electricity always takes the path of least resistance, so arborists in places where lightning is common will install tree protection systems. These usually are metal rods affixed to the top of the tree with a metal cable running down the tree to a ground rod buried deep in the soil. This system allows the tree to avoid catastrophic explosions like the one we had yesterday. Lightning is relatively uncommon in the Seattle area, so none of our trees have lightning protection systems.

Lightning Strike 3.31.15 014Lightning Strike 3.31.15 030















So why did the tree explode instead of just breaking or cracking? Good question. A lightning bolt is hotter than the surface of the sun and has a strong electric current. The current is carried through the tree by the sapwood below the bark. This sapwood is composed of mostly water and when the bolt’s heat and electrical charge hit the tree, the water boils instantly and turns to steam; just like a pressure cooker, except the tree doesn’t have a steam release valve on top. So the result of the excessive heat and  pressure causes the tree to explode. This is not common, but the results are spectacular!

Lightning Strike 3.31.15 025Lightning Strike 3.31.15 001

We will never know why this tree was hit, but we have had a day full of speculation and mitigating safety hazards. Was the lightning attracted to this metal bolt inside the tree from a former cable?

Lightning Strike 3.31.15 020

Was it just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it the high volume of spring sap running? Was it because it was the tallest tree in an open area near water? Was it all of these factors and some unknown? We may never know but we will never forget.

Lightning Strike 3.31.15 005

One odd bonus of this amazing event is that lightning strikes are one of a few (non-synthetic) ways to fix nitrogen in the soil. Along with nitrogen-fixing bacteria and algae, the heat of a lightning flash causes atmospheric nitrogen to combine with oxygen to form nitrogen oxides. These oxides then combine with atmospheric moisture and are then delivered to the soil by rain, where it is transformed by microorganisms into nitrates that can be taken up by plant roots. Fascinating.

We know you never need an excuse to visit the Washington Park Arboretum, but we plan to keep the debris field intact for a few more days so any curious onlookers can come and check out our exploding tree. For your own safety, please stay behind the barriers, and enjoy the show.