From the Puget Sound Urban Nature Series

Beauty for you


I was lost in the lush vegetation that surrounded me. Not physically, but sensually. No thoughts of me, no sense of self, only an awareness of the soft pink, filtered light surrounding me. Pink camellia blossoms everywhere. A protective canopy above. A yielding blanket below. The delicate pedals were soft and faded, like a well-worn pair of pink ballet slippers. Yet, they were as beautiful and showy as a prima ballerina. 

The heightened awareness lasted a few moments, but soon I was once again standing amidst a camellia grove with a canopy of low hanging branches.  

Ahead, I spied some wooden steps that were nearly covered with plants. I couldn't see where they led, so curiously, I stepped down them cautiously, as they curved through the trees, mindful of the slippery stones.

They led me to a tiny pond. Plants were growing every which way, inside and outside of the pond. Moss covered a nearby ancient stone wall. I could hear the soothing sound of water running over rocks and an occasional deep call from a resident frog. A nearby bench called for contemplation.

As one of my dear friends would say, "this place oozed charm." And, I'm always all about charm. Give me rustic any day. 

I was smiling and thinking how nice it would be if I had this in my backyard. But then I remembered to practice wanting what I already have, and knew I could never really replicate the perfection of this place. 

It's moments like these that nourish my spirit. Provide the teeter to my totter. 

On this particular early spring day, I was wandering through Washington Park Arboretum.  

And I was following my own guide to getting the most out of an urban park visit.

The arboretum is located just off the west end of 520, which is a highly traveled bridge that spans Lake Washington, linking Seattle to what locals call the east side. Once you are in the park, traffic sounds fade. It's a gorgeous 230-acre outdoor gallery of sorts. The north end of the park spills into Lake Washington with Marsh and Foster Islands making up that part of the park's habitat. From there, it stretches south through a beautiful land of plant collections. A variety of maple, hawthorn and holly trees are among the more than 40,000 plants and trees growing in the park.

Talented people have landscaped some of the winding paths and gently sloped hills so they seem naturally wild. And contrastingly, they also have designed some areas to be more park like with wide paths that are flanked by grassy open areas.   

A uniquely designed garden showcases plants from five countries that are connected by the Pacific ocean. Another features the largest Japanese maple collection in North America. And still another offers an uplifting winter display of plants and trees with beautiful color and interesting bark.

It's a place for slow wandering or brisk walking. Many walkers and joggers follow Azalea Way, which is a main three-quarter-mile trail that travels through the park. Others meander through the umpteen smaller trails that highlight plant families such as witch hazel, magnolias and walnuts.

You don't have to be a plant enthusiast to enjoy this park. It's incredibly peaceful. Low canopies create cathedral-like places with hushed sounds and filtered light. Birds call often, especially the crows who make me laugh-out-loud when they mimic a frog's call.

When you visit this park, your curiosity will lead the way. You'll find yourself exploring the winding paths that lead out of sight, crossing a stretch of grass to get a closer look at that interesting foliage and looking for the hidden place where you hear running water.  

I won't tell you you can explore on your own. But know that you can get grounded here and find your very own place among the trees and plants.