Lessons from the garden

Even if you don't have a chance to talk with Michael Fleming, you can learn a lot just by observing.

Planting fragrance is easy. People stop in front of the kobus magnolia tree's big white blooms and breathe in the fragrance. It's potent ― but it's not from the magnolia; it's from the Viburnum x burkwoodii that grows behind it. This plant is widely available in the Northwest and easy to grow in your own yard.

Tiny seeds quickly grow into mighty trees. One of the garden's dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is 86 feet tall with a trunk 5 feet in diameter. Carl English is believed to have started it in 1948 from the first seeds brought to America after the species was rediscovered in China. (A deciduous cousin of the coast redwood, it had been considered extinct.) And Sawara false cypress trees are so big that last year a group of great blue herons built nests in them.

Trees attract birds. Fifty years ago, hummingbirds didn't overwinter in Seattle. Now Anna's hummingbirds do, largely because nectar is available from winter-flowering plants like the strawberry tree and Grevillea victoriae, both of which are easy for home gardeners to find.

Some species grow far from home. A canyon live oak ― the largest one in Washington state ― arches over a path and garden just a few yards from the locks. It reflects Carl English's love of evergreen oaks and shows how well and how quickly this California oak can grow 1,000 miles north of its native range.

A well-planted garden can weather the seasons. The Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden looks good into fall and winter because perennials, annuals, and grasses are left alone instead of being torn out or cut back. They give the winter garden lots of interesting shapes and colors, and the grasses rustle in the wind.