Go for a Wintertime Walk
Get outside this winter and breathe some fresh air. Visiting a garden can recharge your creative spirit and help you to create your own oasis of calm in the city. From formal gardens to natural areas, many of these locales will delight you with surprising winter blooms and unexpected wildlife sightings.
We invite you to visit Tilth Alliance’s urban gardens and farms for shorter walks and observe organic gardening and resource conservation practices you could try at home. For long local walks or day trips, read on for a few winter worthy spots to visit in the Puget Sound area!
- Earth Sanctuary in Langley, WA, is a great place to watch birds, to meditate, and to see a large scale ecological restoration project in progress. Visit the Cottonwood Stone Circle, currently the tallest stone circle in the world, made of Columbia River basalt and surrounded by black cottonwood trees, where Blue Herons like to nest. It is hoped this area will be contain a Blue Heron rookery in a decade or so. Walk the labyrinth lined with salal, walk by a stone dolmen, a meditative site with large flat stones laid on upright ones which forms an enclosed space for reflection. There are currently nine species of amphibians living at Earth Sanctuary; see if you can spot them all! It’s hard to believe this area was covered in invasive Himalayan blackberry plants in the early 1990s. (Entry fee required.)
- Lakewold Gardens in Lakewood, WA, near Tacoma offers landscape architecture by Thomas Church and a Georgian-style mansion surrounded by rare and native plants. This includes State Champion trees, over 900 rhododendrons, 30 Japanese maples and statuary. In pioneer days this area was known as the Lakes District. Sheep grazed on the lush prairie grass and drank from the spring-fed lakes. In 1908 Emma Alexander purchased the land and by 1913 her garden was already locally famous. Currently there is a fern garden, shade garden, knot garden planted with culinary herbs, a rock garden of alpine plants and miniature species bulbs, and a rose garden. Lakewold Gardens is included in the ‘Garden Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest’, a resource to offer even more lovely gardens to visit anytime of year. (Entry fee required.)
- Nisqually National Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1974 on the Nisqually River delta as a place of protection for migratory birds. A fabulous habitat for all manner of birds from waterfowl to raptors, this refuge is a great site for the budding birder and photographer. Boardwalk trails, including the fully accessible one mile Twin Barn loop trail, make visiting a breeze. The last 700 feet of the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail is closed until the end of January for hunting activities. This includes the viewing platform. The Visitor Center and Nature Shop is open Wednesday-Sunday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (entry fee or access pass required).
- Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum is a breath of sweet scents and refreshing colors in the middle of a dark winter day. From the bright yellow stars of witchhazel flowers to the elusive scent of the tiny Sarcococca flower on the wind there is much here to refresh and restore your soul. Colorful and decorative bark on red-stemmed dogwoods and paperbark maples mingle with bright berried plants like deciduous holly and host woodland song birds as they rustle up a midday meal. Download a plant list and guide map from the UW website and take a slow walk to tour the garden beds. Make it a regular destination and watch the different plants bloom as the season progresses. (Free admission.)
- Seattle Chinese Garden opened in 2010 and is the largest Chinese garden outside of China, showcasing not only plants, but also stone, architecture and water elements. Plantings include traditional garden favorites with meanings lying deep in Chinese culture, exotic plants with ornamental qualities collected from Sichuan’s hills and valleys, and unusual varieties of Chinese plants already familiar to Western gardeners, including new roses, wisterias, dogwoods and viburnums. (Free admission, donations appreciated.)
- Union Bay Natural Area is a portion of a former landfill that was capped in 1972 and has since been undergoing restoration as a natural area. A wonderful birders site in Seattle, more than 200 species of birds have been sighted here. Some of the sightings include Peregrine falcons, green herons and both of our native hummingbirds, Anna’s and the Rufous. Get an up close look at how invasive plants are managed and at what native plants are good choices for peaty soils and riparian areas. There are a series of trails, with one large loop trail, which interlink with the Center for Urban Horticulture. The link back to CUH will allow you to also visit the Seattle Youth Garden Works and UW Farm for a look at organic agriculture and to take a rest in the Miller Library where you can look up the plants and animals and veggies you just witnessed. (Free admission.)
- Discovery Park was a former Army base which has since the 1970s slowly transferred ownership to the City of Seattle and which boasts 524 acres of headlands and beaches along Puget Sound. With a fabulous view of the snow capped Olympics and ripe with winter birds, this site is an oasis in the middle of the city. You can pick one of two entrances, on the east and south sides of the property, to enter and traverse trails that take you through forests and meadows and can lead to tidepools and a lighthouse on the beach. On the point where the lighthouse sits is also the King County Wastewater Treatment plant. Don’t let that deter you, as the beaches to the south are a great example of a natural Puget Sound shoreline backed by sand cliffs. Don’t climb these fragile cliffs! You will also be likely to see marine mammals offshore including harbor seals. (Free admission.)
- Bellevue Botanical Garden offers something completely different and a chance during the holiday season to do a nighttime garden visit. Ooh and aah at the myriad of lights formed to mimic wisteria blossoms and spider webs in the landscape at their annual Garden d’Lights exhibit. The exhibit runs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. If you arrive just before dark you can also wander through the Yao garden with its Japanese influences or the Alpine Rock Garden to see how the influence of rocks can create micro-climates in a garden setting. There is also a Native Discovery Garden on the south end of the garden. (Free admission.)
- Issaquah Walking Routes; the Purple Route is one of a series of connected trails throughout the City of Issaquah covering both developed and open spaces. This route takes you along Issaquah Creek, offering a riparian corridor and leads you to the historic Pickering Barn and garden. You are likely to get glimpses of the deer family that makes regular visits to the garden to munch on the veggies and the native plantings that surround the site. Often there are blue herons, eagles and osprey flying overhead. See how food gardens can be managed over the winter months and intermingled with natural areas. (Free admission.)