I've always enjoyed meandering through a large garden. Growing up on books like The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland, and the work of Beatrix Potter, they've always had a rather magical appeal. After years of vaguely talking about Meerkerk Gardens on Whidbey Island, on an overcast morning this spring Andy and I finally made the trip. The entrance to the gardens is through a picturesque stone hut, and when we arrived, since the garden staff hadn't arrived yet for the day, we left our $5 admission fee in a small kiosk by the entrance.
Packed with an incredible diversity of rhododendron, Meerkerk has a wilder feel than other gardens I've visited. The 10 acres of landscaped garden are threaded with trails, winding through the formal gardens to woodland areas that, while still carefully tended, felt more like native forest than planted garden. In the entry garden, we wandered through tunnels formed by the intertwined limbs of apple trees, covered in fragrant, frilly blossoms. Heading north we found ourselves in the secret garden, where dainty trillium and anemone gathered under the shade of sculptural Japanese maples.
My favorite area of the gardens by far was the Big Leaf Valley. Seeing the name on the map, I'd assumed it was filled with maples, but to my surprise, instead I found the muddy trail surrounded by big leaf rhododendrons! These spectacular plants, some with leaves as long as my arm, are mostly native to Asian countries, but seemed to be thriving in the Pacific Northwest. To me, these goliaths looked like something from the distant past, the dinosaur of rhodies. Perhaps someday I'll be able to plant one of these beauties in my own yard! At the edge of the Big Leaf Valley, we found a trail leading to a four mile system of nature trails. Even though it had started to drizzle, I couldn't resist a short hike through the woods before ending our visit.
Want to visit? Meerkerk Gardens is located in Greenbank, WA. The rhododendrons should be blooming for another week or two, but even if you miss them, there will be plenty of flowers through the summer! If you take the ferry from Mukilteo, I'd also recommend a stop in Langley for lunch at Prima Bistro or Useless Bay Coffee before catching the ferry home.