Elisabeth C. Miller Library

Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Knowledgebase record #226

The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour by Donald Olson, 2014

Reviewed by: Brian Thompson
Review date: 2015-04-01

The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour cover

Donald Olson brings extensive experience as a writer of novels, plays, and travel guides along with his passion as a gardener to “The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour.” He also brings the zeal of a convert. As a native Minnesotan and world traveler who now lives in Portland, he extols our gardens, our native landscapes, and our climate – yes, even the grey of winter.

The focus is on the three major metropolitan areas of the region: Seattle/Tacoma, Vancouver, B.C., and Portland, and this book is essential to consult for travel to any of these. Even as a nearly life-long Seattle area resident, I discovered there are local treasures awaiting my discovery, including the Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens in Everett and the newer gardens of PowellsWood in Federal Way and Soos Creek in Auburn.

Donald Olson praises the 1915 design by the Olmsted Brothers of the Dunn Gardens in Seattle, noting how the “essential Olmsted aesthetic remains intact” a century later. He notes that reds, purples, and whites were favored in the design, while yellow was “severely frowned upon.”

At the end of this Dunn Gardens entry, Olson mentions the newer Curators’ Garden, tucked in behind the visitor center and created by co-curators Charles Price and Glen Withey “…using a bright, brilliant palette of plant color decidedly different from the muted tones favored by Olmsted Brothers. There’s even yellow.”

No trips in the planning? This is still a book easily read cover-to-cover, especially for the history and the author’s often witty turns-of-phrase. The Lake Wilderness Arboretum “…rescues old gardens that have lost their owners and moves them phlox, stock, and marrow to new digs at the arboretum” while at the Elisabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden it was “…Betty who wore the plants in the family.”

Like most garden tourists, I enjoy visiting destination nurseries, and many are included by Olson, especially those which have lavish display gardens. Of course, you’ll read about the gardens and nurseries you know, but don’t skip over the unfamiliar; I’m already thinking of a garden tour in the Portland area to share the author’s special passion for several of his recommendations there.

Excerpted from the Spring 2015 Arboretum Bulletin.

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