November 2015 Plant Profile: Danae racemosa

November 3rd, 2015 by UWBG Communication Staff

By Roy Farrow

Danae racemosa photoNovember, I’ve found, is a difficult month to choose a garden highlight. The glory of autumn color is passing as the storms of our historically wettest month remove the most stubborn holdouts from the branches of our Acer, Stewartia, Oxydendrum and Fothergilla. Those same storms presage the return of honest-to-goodness mud, while the uplifting gems of winter such as Helleborus, Galanthus, Cyclamen and Hamamelis are still just distant dreams. Most people of sound mind are driven inside at this time for a much deserved break from the garden.

However, it is just these conditions that can spotlight the rare jewel for people still out and about. Danae racemosa is just such a jewel. During the summer months, its only request is that you keep it out of full sun. In the right shade, Poet’s Laurel is a fine, arching, bamboo-like mass of lush green foliage all year. Take a closer peak at the “foliage” and you might notice something odd. The leaves are actually just flattened stems called phylloclades. Danae spreads slowly by rhizomes.

A monotypic genus, Danae has but the one species. Currently listed in the family Asparagaceae, it has previously been located within Ruscaceae and even Liliaceae. Danae is closely related to Ruscus which also uses phylloclades rather than leaves, though Danae has terminal racemes of 1/8 in. flowers rather than have the flowers and fruit magically appear in the center of the “leaf” as with Ruscus. While the foliage of both Danae and Ruscus is quite long lasting even when cut, the fruit set of bright orange-to-red berries of Danae tends to be much more impressive than Ruscus, mostly because Ruscus requires both a male and female plant to be present, while Danae does not.

Come visit the Witt Winter Garden and you will see Danae racemosa growing in close proximity to both Ruscus hypoglossum and Ruscus aculeatus.

Name: Danae racemosa

Family: Asparagaceae (prev. Ruscaceae, Liliaceae)

Common Name: Alexandrian Laurel, Poet’s Laurel

Location: Witt Winter Garden, Washington Park Arboretum

Origin: Turkey, Iran

Height and Spread: 3’x4’

Danae racemosa with berries

Danae racemosa in the garden

January 2015 Plant Profile: Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Shooting Star’

December 31st, 2014 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Helleborus Shooting StarThe first of the year starts off with a bang with a most wonderful hellebore hybrid to ring in the new year showing the first blossoms of the season. Here at the Center for Urban Horticulture, we’ve acquired quite a selection of hellebores thanks to Skagit Gardens and Northwest Garden Nursery. ‘Shooting Star’ is one that’s been under our watchful eye for its third season now and we’ve been impressed with its excellent foliage and vigor along with the early flower power it possesses in the garden. We have it growing in three different locations at the Center for Urban Horticulture and each specimen is thriving, making it a stand-out in the winter landscape.

All types of hellebores are beginning to pop up at local nurseries. Many will be in full bloom, so you can select from hybrid seed strains or clones such as ‘Shooting Star,’ which will be all identical compared to the seed-grown strains. Hellebores make wonderful container plants and can be potted up or safely planted into the garden as long as the ground is not frozen.

‘Shooting Star’ opens to a pale blush pink with just a hint of green. As it ages, it slowly turns greener and the pink is accentuated. These “antiqued” blooms last into March.

Companions: Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (black mondo grass), Cyclamen coum, Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (sweet flag), Pulmonaria hyrbids (Lungwort)


Genus: Helleborus
Species: × ericsmithii
Cultivar: ‘Coseh 790’   Shooting Star  USPP #22424
Common Name: Lenten Rose
Location: Douglas Parking Lot, Soest Garden South Slope, Miller Library North Foundation Plantings
Origin: Garden Origin
Height and Spread: 10-12 inches high and about 1.25 feet wide
Bloom/Fruit Time: Late December-early March





Winter Garden Project: Remodeling the “Living Walls”

August 20th, 2014 by UWBG Horticulturist

Arboretum Tree Removal Notification:


The week of 8/25/14, UWBG tree crew will embark on a project located in the Winter Garden (read about project below). 

4 western red cedars will be removed due to negative impact to plant collections and garden encroachment. 

All pedestrian path detours and other safety considerations will be handled by tree crew. 

If possible, cedar logs will be salvaged for future park uses.  

UW professor of landscape architecture and designer of our Winter Garden (1987), Iain Robertson, states it’s time to open up the “room” that has been closing in on the Winter Garden for over 25 years. Continuous growth of the “living walls”, predominantly western red cedars, is now negatively impacting many of the garden’s choice plant collections. Due to this encroachment, the garden “room” is feeling confining. Judicious consideration and deliberation has led to the following curation and horticultural decisions.

Project Scope:

  • Removal of 4 western red cedars to provide needed light and future growing space for plant collections. In all cases, the “room’s walls” will expand, yet filled in by existing trees in the background to continue to provide the experience of being in an enclosed space.Pruning of several other cedars to provide light and future growing space for plant collections.
    • 2 on the west side in the “twig bed”
    • 1 on the south side next to the Chinese red birch grove
    • 1 on the east side growing over several camellias and other collections

Slowing the Clock with Winter

March 5th, 2014 by Lisa Sanphillippo

Before we know it, it will be spring. April will be here and there will be flowers and (more) rain and leaf buds opening. We will continue on with our lives; work, school, exercise, going out and of course, gardening. Time moves on, no matter what, and it feels like it’s moving VERY quickly.

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I think I may have found a way to slow things down. Well, slowed down for an hour, anyway. I went to the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden at Washington Park Arboretum with my camera. It was on a day we were supposed to have rain and didn’t. For the hour I was out in the field, I saw color, smelled sweet and spicy scents, felt soft and hairy flower buds, heard birds sing and declare territory and relished in the form of the naked trees. Time slowed and my senses (including my sense of wonder) took over.

If you don’t already know, the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden is just a short distance from the parking lot near Graham Visitors Center. Walking west of the center and up the graveled ramp, you pass by one of the most fascinating trees, Malus fusca or Pacific Crabapple. This particular tree is at least as old as the Arboretum (1935) and is listed as a State Champion for it’s width. You can see in the picture below how long the side branches are.

Malus fusca

Just a little further down the trail, in the “hallway” to the Winter Garden, are two of my most favorite witch hazels. Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ not only has a beautiful flower color, but it’s fall color is also spectacular. I have seen purple, orange, red, green and yellow in one leaf.

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Directly across the trail is Hamamelis mollis, which has my favorite witch hazel fragrance and a brilliant yellow color.

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A few steps more and the the garden and all its beauty presents itself.

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A Townsend’s Warbler in Berberis ‘Arthur Menzies’ – tasting the last of the flowers. Too fast for me to get a great shot.

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The friendly and fuzzy flower buds of a star magnolia.

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The amazing and nearly unbelievable color of Cornus sanguinia ‘Midwinter Fire’.

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The shy (they don’t even lift their ‘heads’ when you walk by) and spicy sweet flowers of the Chimonanthus praecox.

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Mercy! I could go on and on. There is so much to see, smell and touch! Okay, just one more. Helleborus ‘HGC Cinnamon Snow’.

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You must come to the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden for yourself and take the time to be fully rooted in the present. You will feel like you are suddenly living in technicolor after having been in black and white. Don't delay, soon enough we’ll be caught up in spring’s turn to blow our minds with sights and sounds.

(Top picture is a Acer griseum surrounded by two Betula albo-sinensis var. septentrionalis.
All photographs taken by Lisa Sanphillippo, UW Botanic Gardens Education Program Assistant.)

Take A Tour!

February 3rd, 2014 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant

Get out and stretch your legs this spring! The UW Botanic Gardens are going to some familiar and not-so-familiar places this spring. Explore a new garden, and maybe even get some ideas for your own yard!

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Coming up soon is our first Wednesday Walk with John Wott. Dr. John Wott, Professor Emeritus and former Arboretum Director will lead a walking tour and share insights on the history, design, and changes over time of the Washington Park Arboretum. This tour is also well-suited to visitors with limited mobility. This season’s tour will be of the Witt Winter Garden, which will be in full bloom!





Courtesy of the Miller Garden



Our next adventure takes us to the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden, located in the Highland community. This garden has a very limited amount of visitors each year, so this may be your only chance to see this Northwest treasure! The curator, Richie Steffan, will show us how the Miller Garden uses early flowering bulbs and perennials to create a delightful and vibrant spring garden.









Have spring ephemerals caught your attention this year? Come visit the Cottage Lake Gardens in Woodinville to immerse yourself in one of the most famous, the trilliums! We will be having an elegant tea, followed by a talk and a tour of the gardens, which features all 48 species of trillium.







In addition, we always offer our Free Weekend Walks every Sunday, starting at 1pm, and meeting at the Graham Visitors Center at the Washington Park Arboretum.

You can register online for any or all of these lovely tours, or call 206-685-8033.

Winter Blooms Abound

February 2nd, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

Hamamelis flowerThe winter blooming shrubs Hamamelis, or Witch Hazels, are currently at peak bloom sending out their lovely aroma and luring visitors into The Witt Winter Garden. This plant and other winter bloomers will be featured during the month of February on our Sunday Free Weekend Walks.
This large shrub or small tree is native to North America, Europe and Asia and features the species Hamamelis virginiana, H. ovalis, H. venalis, H. japonica & H. mollis.
The origin of the plant’s common name comes from the Old English word ‘Wych’, meaning ‘bendable,’ and has evolved into the modern spelling of ‘Witch.’ The limbs of this plant were traditionally used for Dowsing which is how it came to be know as Water Witching.
Hamamelis is Latin for “together with fruit” which refers to the simultaneous occurrence of flowers with maturing fruit from previous year. These fruits can split explosively at maturity, ejecting seeds up to 10 meters.
Native Americans used Witch Hazel bark to treat sores, tumors, bruising and skin ulcers. Boiled twigs were used to treat sore muscles and a tea was used to treat coughs, colds and dysentery
The nutty seeds from the Witch Hazel were also a Native-American favorite because of their flavoring, which is similar to pistachios.

Winter Wrap-Up: Certainly NOT Boring…

March 29th, 2013 by UWBG Horticulturist

According to Cliff Mass, UW meteorologist, our past winter of 2012-2013 was the most “boring” on record. There were no major weather events such as wind storms, artic blasts, snowfalls in the lowlands or major flooding. This was indeed good news for the UWBG horticulture staff. Instead of spending the winter cleaning up after storms and worrying about how many plants would be affected from cold hardiness issues, we were able to focus on scheduled and planned work projects for a seasonal change of pace.  Here’s a rundown of several of these projects we were able to accomplish during this most boring winter.

Reclaimed View of Azalea Way from Lookout

Reclaimed View of Azalea Way from Lookout

An adjunct to the current Pacific Connections Garden – New Zealand construction work was taking on the long overdue renovation of the Lookout rockery and reclaiming the lost vistas from the Lookout viewpoints. Arguably the most interesting rock work in the arboretum, the rockery was essentially lost under overgrown plant collections. The crew certainly wasn’t bored with the thought of what new and exciting discoveries lay under the next pruning cut. When the Lookout gazebo reopens to the public, visitors will be able to see the pond and Azalea Way from inside the newly restored structure and experience the original 1941 design intent. In other words, the Lookout is once again a lookout. Also, check out the new  Rhododendron species planted along the Lookout trail in honor of Ben and Margaret Hall’s 80th birthdays. They are major supporters and donors of UW Botanic Gardens.

Raoulia australis close-up

Raoulia australis close-up

McVay Courtyard  Raoulia australis grndcvr

McVay Courtyard
Raoulia australis grndcvr

The McVay Courtyard renovation is mostly completed now thanks to Riz and Annie and contains many new additions. The original designer, Iain Robertson,  specified renewing the 3 distinct plant groups: Bulbs, Groundcovers and Shrubs. The existing grove of Acer palmatum ‘Aconitifolium’ which were carefully worked around and a few Osmanthus are all that remain of the original tree and shrub palette  Iain’s new design incorporates elements of interesting plant architecture, habits and striking bark. Hence his use of several types of Arctostaphylus, the unusual divaricating shrub, Corokia, Rhododendron moupinense, Rh schlippenbachii, and several tidy groundcovers that mimic inanimate forms, such as Raoulia and  Bolax. For the bulk of color, Iain chose a wide-range of spring and summer flowering bulbs.  Though the garden looks a bit austere at the moment, as any newly planted landscape does, we’re looking forward to a quick and healthy establishment and growth period this spring and summer. For those that miss the striking habit of the Nolinia, no need to panic, they were successfully transplanted  to the adjacent cistern slope and new stairs  to the south.
Washington Park Arboretum is once again a UW-Restoration Ecology Network capstone site. The student group known as the “A-Team” has designed a weir system in the north “wet” zone of the holly collection. They will be continuing construction and planting this spring. Ryan and company decided it’s better to flow with nature rather than fight it. This new feature will, over time, become a healthy wetland area and will immediately reduce both UWBG and City Parks maintenance input, i.e., mowing and weed control.

"A-Team" installing weirs

“A-Team” installing weirs

The Winter Garden was in showcase form as it should be during the winter. Roy has been busy procuring new plants primarily for the new drainage area in the SE quadrant of the garden. We’re looking forward to having an updated brochure and map next winter. There’s still time to catch some of the late winter, early spring flowering plants such as Corylopsis and Magnolia.
Gardeners, Rhett and Preston, took on the tatty northeastern most corner of Rhododendron Glen. Pruning out several years worth of Rhododendron rootstock growth and removing deadwood in the grove, removal of several poor or dead specimens, and lots of sheet mulching! Wow, I’ve never seen it so good and I’ve been around these parts a long time.

Chris and Darrin spent several days up at the double parking lot along the Broadmoor fence tackling deferred storm damage cleanup and improving view corridors. I would expect ne’erdowells will think twice about using this area for their dirty deeds for quite some time.

Adding soil to Chilean Gateway via conveyor belt system along LWBlvd

Adding soil to Chilean Gateway via conveyor belt system along LWBlvd

The Lake Washington Blvd curbside area along the Chilean Gateway is vastly improved as a result of over 120 yards of new soil  brought in to create “fingers” at the toe of the slope. This new design will hopefully deter pedestrians from walking through the Gateway and stepping on our plants. Also, with improved drainage, we now can grow Elymus magellanicus without drowning its roots. There are also several new Chilean taxa planted throughout the Gateway that over time as they get bigger will create that Wow! sensation, either up close or from a distance. They include: Gunnera magellanica, Ourisia coccinea, Mitraria coccinea to name a few.

Will spring be as boring too? The UWBG horticulture staff certainly hopes so.

March 2013 Plant Profile: Edgeworthia chrysantha

March 7th, 2013 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

photo 3I always attempt to showcase a different plant , but for the second year in a row, I simply couldn’t resist mentioning a species that people who visit UW Botanic Garden’s  Center for Urban Horticulure at this time will be asking about because it’s looking the best its ever looked for us.

Making a grand return this month is Edgeworthia chrysantha all by itself!

I paired it with its close relative Daphne odora last year, but with the mild winter we’ve had, both of our specimens came through beautifully and it’s just starting to bloom its heads off! And like it’s relative, it is WONDERFULLY FRAGRANT!

They can be finicky to get established. Make you you choose a spot with sun/part shade, and it benefits from a protected location as well as it’s not as hardy as the Daphnes here in the Pacific Northwest. Rich, well drained soil is a must along with regular irrigation during the summer and fall while buds are setting and avoid moving it around as with most daphnes, mature specimens will sulk if transplanted.

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Common Name: Chinese Paper Bush, Yellow Daphne
Location: CUH-Fragrance Garden, Miller Library North beds
Origin: China
Height and spread: 6ft. high and 6-7ft. wide (usually smaller)
Bloom Time: Winter

Witch Hazels are in bloom

February 4th, 2013 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

Hamamelis There are several species of Witch Hazel, genus Hamamelis, featured in the Witt Winter Garden, which is in all its glory this month. The colors range from yellow to orange to red and their scent is incredibly heady.
The plant’s common name comes from the Old English word “Wych” which means “pliable”. The pliable branches of this plant were used for water dowsing, which was a way to find underground water, hence this activity also is known as ‘water witching”.
The Witch Hazel and many other winter blooming plants are featured on the Free Weekend Walks held each Sunday at 1:00 pm.

February 2013 Plant Profile: Cyclamen coum

February 1st, 2013 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Cyclamen coum portraitWho says there isn’t much color in the landscape in the winter time? The month of February is peak bloom for one of the most delicate, yet tough plants in the winter garden. Hugging the ground with it’s rounded foliage often mottled and marked with silver patterns, this prolific tuberous perennial sends out multiple buds that gently emerge and, all of a sudden, burst  into bloom.

What makes Cyclamen coum so charming are their diminuitive size and the diversity of leaf color and patterns on the foliage and the vibrant colors that seem to appear in the ground as if a child had spilled a bag full of candy! They come in wonderful whites, pinks, purples,  lavenders and an occasional darker colored “eye” giving a bi-color effect.

Through the rigors of winter, whether it be  gloomy and wet or  bitter cold, these delicate charmers are as tough as can be.  Even gardeners with winters temperatures dropping down to -15F can enjoy these cheery flowers once the snow melts and the weather warms.


They are wonderful under deciduous trees and shrubs or even scattered about in a lawn where you don’t want children and pets playing in during the winter.


Cyclamen coum Common Name: Winter Cyclamen

Location: Soest Garden – Bed 7

Origin: Eastern Europe/Turkey/Caucasus

Exposure: Part sun – shade

Height and spread: 2-3ft. tall x 5ft. wide