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The botany of desire | Art & Appetite


Last updated 2/22/2017 at Noon

Running a bookstore has its vocational drawbacks. I'm especially prone to a kind of intellectual attention deficit disorder.

Putting books away, I recently stumbled upon Jonathan Silvertown’s “An Orchard Invisible – A Natural History of Seeds.” This had the effect of renewing my interest in botany.

Aside from providing me an excellent review of everything I had forgotten since college, Silverton's book is rich with interesting vignettes and anecdotes.

For instance, a giant redwood may weigh as much as six jumbo jets, yet that same tree may have been germinated 2,000 years ago from a seed that weighed only one-six-thousandth of a gram.

I was also reminded of the amazing diversity of flowering plants – estimated at over a quarter of a million distinct species, only the tiniest fraction of which you could ever hope to find in your local nursery.

My favorite nurseries seem to have a single name and a single location. For example, Sky, Wight’s, Swansons – at these, you'll at least be able to find something to plant in your backyard that isn't in every other backyard in your neighborhood.

It can be a little discouraging to see so few plants represented at even the most complete nurseries.

So when I want to satisfy the kind of plant lust brought about by reading a book like “An Orchard Invisible,” the very best place I've found to visit around here isn't a nursery – it’s the Arboretum.

The Washington Park Arboretum (run jointly by the University of Washington and Seattle Parks with lots of help from the Arboretum Foundation) is roughly 200 acres, and contains such extraordinary plant diversity that with every visit I bump into trees and plants I've never dreamed existed.

A trip to the Arboretum will provide you with the opportunity to view and walk among an amazing array of plant species but, as it turns out, it’s also good for you.

I don't really need a scientific study to convince me that a nice hike in the woods with friends and family is good for me. I know what effect spending a couple hours strolling the beautifully groomed trails around a place like the Arboretum has on my sense of well-being.

Still, the internet is rife with reports extolling the virtues of “green exercise.” Science seems to be confirming what many of us have already known, somehow.

You don't need to wait until spring to visit, either. In a recent trip, I was surprised to see all sorts of things already blooming and budding. Plants and trees from all over the world assembled for our enjoyment in this beautiful urban park.

It’s pretty cool.

If you want to try this yourself, you can find plenty of free parking at the Graham Visitors Center, and if you happen to find yourself there on Saturday at 1 p.m., you can tag along on a free family friendly tour of the grounds, which lasts for about an hour.

After that, if you're feeling a little peckish, Madison Park is just around the corner, with great places like Cactus, Café Flora, Luc, and Belle Epicurean, where you can grab a bite.

The Washington Park Arboretum is at 2300 Arboretum Drive E, Seattle. Information:, 206-543-8800.


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