During our visit to Seattle last week, my friend Wendy offered to take us to Dunn Gardens, a little-known place in the Broadview neighborhood northeast of downtown. The gardens, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, were designed for the Dunn family in the 1910s. The landscape architecture firm Olmsted Brothers designed the grounds and selected all the original plants. Click on pictures to enlarge.
The gardens occupy a residential compound of some 10 acres, surrounding a main house and two other dwellings. The land offers a view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, which the growth of vegetation is gradually obscuring. The gardens were designed around many second-growth firs standing on the property at the time of its purchase. The massive trees lend the garden an atmosphere of seclusion and repose.
While still faithful to their original design, the gardens have evolved under the stewardship of three generations. Some plants and plantings have been added, while others have been gradually allowed to fade away, as the owners have observed plants’ changing characteristics and needs.
Several thousand plant species, many in a state of perfect maturity, contributed to a varied woodland tapestry, whose patterns and textures were too complex to apprehend on a single visit. On this afternoon, we marveled at magnificent stands of Himalayan lilies foregrounded by wisteria and boughs of pink dogwood. Starbursts of alium punctuated beds layered with grasses, sedum, and small ruby-colored lilies. The woods teemed with ferns, oxalis, hellebore, and solomon seal.
Rare and one-of-a-kind rhododendrons bred by Edward Dunn studded the forest. There were many amazing plants, but they were harmoniously incorporated into a naturalistic design.
Even the most formal parts of the grounds, like this one formed around a rectangular lawn, had an appealingly off-hand quality. The stone stairs leading out of it were one of my favorite things.
The established structure of the place supported a riot of plant life that was visually intoxicating. A Chicagoan could only envy the lushness and vitality of it all,
the plants growing upon plants,
the petals and leaves.
A superabundance of plants dripping from every ledge,
and crowding every crevice.