Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Skagit Garden Touring Sunday

Before you start reading this, I have to warn you that there are a LOT of pictures. That means if you are trying to read it on a BlackBerry (as I do), you will probably go crazy. So go to your regular computer instead, okay? All right, now you may proceed!

I relived a little bit of England this weekend by going on a garden tour with my mother. The reason this is an England flashback is because when I am in England going to gardens is one of the things I do. I'm rarely there in the summer, which is prime open garden season, so I don't get as much opportunity as I'd like, but I've had some wonderful times visiting public gardens as well as private gardens that are in the National Gardens Scheme.

For Sunday's garden tour, though, I didn't have to travel all the way to England, but merely 30 miles or so north to bucolic Skagit County. The tour, cleverly called "Gardens of Note," was a benefit for the Skagit Symphony, and featured five private Skagit Valley gardens, plus music performed by Symphony members.

For myself, I added a twist to the garden tour itinerary by deciding to bring my bike along and bicycle between the various gardens. Each was between (approximately) two and seven miles from the next (according to my rough calculations) (mostly), and the Skagit Valley is a great cycling area, as much (but not all!) of it is very flat, as well as scenic. When I broached this plan to my mom—she would drive and meet me at each location—she was surprising receptive. I had expected a little bit of resistance (largely because she considers cycling a very dangerous activity). I did get a little of that as the day of the tour approached, but I was resolute in my plan. In the end, I think she got into it, and kind of enjoyed our meet-ups. (Especially after she saw the wide shoulders on most of the roads I was riding on.)

We started by driving together to the first garden, Benson Farmstead Bed & Breakfast on Avon Allen Road in Bow. As can be seen in the pictures below, the Bensons have a beautiful big old farmhouse surrounded by cottage garden style landscaping.

That is a big tour bus in the background, hauling a large group of spectators around the garden tour route. Because I took a slightly different route with my bicycle, we detached from the tour group after the second garden.
Here I am on the wonderful big back porch! I do love me a big porch.
This outbuilding has been turned into a Garden Tower Suite for guests of the B & B.
Here are some pictures of the guest room in the lower half of the tower. I'm not sure whether there's another room "upstairs." This is one large room but divided into different areas. The sleeping area....
The dining area... there is also a small stove and refrigerator out of the frame to the left. On the right hand side you can see the sweet little bathroom.
And a nice seating area... You can tell I found this quite charming!
An old-style tractor (or some sort of farming machinery), now turned into a clever planter.
After we finished our visit to the Benson gardens, I hauled my bike out of the back of the car and prepared to start the first leg of my journey. The trip to the next garden was only about two miles, a nice easy beginning!
After a short stint further on Avon Allen Road, I turned onto Benson Road (yes, I think it's named after the same Benson family), and cruised along through the fields till I reached the parking area for the next house. Because of the short ride and my head start, I arrived ahead of my mother, and waited for her in the car park alongside the road. This garden was a complete departure from Benson's, a large, ultra modern house nested in a four-acre woodland. The house was atop a steep hill, and the landscaping is built into the hillside overlooking farmland below. In order to get to this garden, we had to climb a long, steep hill! I rode my bike to the top (that was hard!) then walked back down to accompany my mother up the hill. She was not really thrilled with this walk, I must say. Here is a crowd of garden visitors climbing the hill (my mother is among them in the crowd).
Looking from the front of the house down into the valley....
And looking up toward the house at the rockery landscaping.
Raised vegetable beds, including very architectural tomato cages....
And here I am, admiring the vegetable beds! Those tomato cages are much nicer than the ones I have.
As we left this hilltop garden, I hopped on my bike for a much easier ride down the hill!
Although, I had to keep the brakes tight all the way and go very slowly because of the crowds of walkers going both up and down.
The next stop on the tour was the Padilla Bay Interpretive Center near Bay View. This facility and its grounds are quite interesting in themselves, but are regularly open to the public, so not really worth stopping for today. The reason it was on the tour, actually, was because we had the option of ordering box lunches to eat there partway through the tour. I had opted out of the box lunches, planning on our own lunch (at a location of my choice) after we were done. (In the end we missed lunch time entirely and just went on to dinner.)

But even though I wasn't planning on spending a lot of time at the Interpretive Center, I kept it on my route because I knew it would be a good bathroom stopping point, and also because I liked the route I would take to get there. I anticipated a nice cycling view. I have driven these roads many, many times, and they are in fact extremely scenic, but I really did obtain a new appreciation traveling by bicycle.

So I followed Benson Road until it intersected with Allen West Road, then jogged right at Farm to Market Road and then left onto D'Arcy Road. As I was pedalling along Allen West Road I saw my mother pass me in the car and I waved. I saw her sitting at the Farm to Market intersection for what seemed like an oddly long time, then, bemusedly, watched her turn left instead of right! Oh well, I supposed she would figure it out eventually. This gave me a bit of a head start (again), anyway.

D'Arcy Road runs into Bay View Edison Road, which follows the shoreline of Padilla Bay. This is also where the flat farmland roads turned into hilly bayside roads! I had already been combating a wind which seemed to make the flat roads more difficult than they should be. Strangely enough, the sheltered hills seemed easier to pedal up (and down) than the windy flats. I passed Merritt Apple Farm as I started up the first hill. We love to buy their orchard fresh apples in the fall!

I was relieved to see my mother drive past me (again) along Bay View Edison Road. The trip to the stop at the Interpretive Center was about 5 miles or so. I leaned my bike against the car and headed for the restroom.
The next portion of my ride was the longest single segment, more than ten miles. My mother opted to stay in the pleasant parking lot at the Interpretive Center for a while before setting out to meet me.

My path took me all the way along Bay View Edison Road, through the little town of Bay View, past the Padilla Bay Shore Trail (which can also be bicycled on, but I opted to stay on the main road), and up to the intersection with Highway 20. There I deviated from the marked garden tour route (which went onto Highway 20, not a bicycle-friendly road), crossing the highway by the Farmhouse Restaurant, and following LaConner Whitney Road to McLean Road. McLean Road is the road into Mount Vernon, but I turned off at Best Road, following it south to my next destination (actually #6 on the tour), passing Christianson's Nursery and LaConner Flats (both fine garden destinations themselves) along the way.

LaConner Whitney, McLean, and Best Roads are all fairly busy roads, but each had nice wide paved shoulders so were excellent for bicycling. By the time I got as far as LaConner Flats, though, I had gone a lot of miles and I started wondering how much farther I had left to go. I pulled off the side of the road and got out my map, just to make sure I hadn't somehow missed my destination. But no, the map clearly had me stay on Best Road all the way, and my next garden would be just off the roadway. So onward I went. Around about this time I also saw my mother zoom by in the car, so at least we were on the same route!

After a couple more miles I finally saw Leslie Road, which is the small private road that the next house and garden were on. I also saw my mother parked and waiting, so I stopped alongside the car to leave my bike. I was a little hungry, and our lunch was still far away, but luckily my mother had some Quaker Chewy Granola Bars in the car! I had a chocolate-peanut butter one. Here I am refueling.

This garden was such a surprise. It was a well-developed, lush English style garden, and while only a few years old, had the established look of a much more mature garden.

The beautiful rose garden was bordered on the back by a large pergola and trellises, and the front by a box hedge (very English)...

...and a perennial border along the sides.
My mother (and I) enjoyed the nice shady bench at the foot of the rose garden.
Sitting on the bench afforded a nice view of the stately house and the perennial borders alongside.
There was a pretty pond (with a rowboat) in the grassy meadow alongside the house. Behind the house we were delighted to discover a charming courtyard outside the kitchen and dining room. And, most dramatically, this!
A massive multi-sided metal arbor swathed in frothy white climbing roses. To me (and my mother as well) it evoked the famous White Garden at Sissinghurst in England, which also has a trellis covered with white roses (if you look at this link, the White Garden trellis is the tenth picture in the photo gallery). The white roses here are single-petal Rosa "Mulliganii." The view through an arbor "window" frames a seating area.
The terrace is set up for outdoor dining.
Here is another view of the arbor and the house.
After we finished this garden, it was time to move on to the next. This destination was only about three miles away, a quick ride along Dodge Valley Road.

All of the gardens so far had been different from the next, but this one was even more dramatically unique. It was the residence of artist Joseph Kinnebrew, called "The Quarry," because he had transformed an abandoned rock quarry into a hidden garden. He built the garden to feature his sculpture, so the landscape of flower shrubs, unusual trees, and ponds and waterways is punctuated by contemporary sculptures as well as elegant bronzes and cast metal figures. Here is one of the whimsical pieces of art! The garden is bordered and sheltered by the rock walls of the former quarry.
Fountains and waterfalls ripple from the numerous ponds and streams, creating a music of their own.
Here I am crossing a bridge over water.
Additional music was provided by symphony members.
The property includes not only the dramatic gardens and a residence (which we did not see), but also an art gallery built along the the hillside. Several flights of stairs connected different levels, including one with a water floor and glass stepping stones. Here we are looking down the first flight...
And here I am looking up at my mother from one of the lowest levels.
The walls were covered with paintings. And, for anyone who is taken with this dramatic property, it is FOR SALE—for a mere $2.6 million.

It had been operating as a bed and breakfast, "The Guesthouse at the Quarry," and this video shows what you could have experienced if you stayed there (and now, I guess what you could experience if you buy the property!).

But enough of that. Time to get on the road and pedal (or petal, haha) to our final garden destination. This was another longer trip, about seven miles, through LaConner and over the Rainbow Bridge!
Looking off the bridge toward LaConner.
It's a good thing that this was my final bicycling segment because, I found out, my legs were getting tired. Of course it didn't help that this last stretch was definitely the hilliest! I made it up the hill to the bridge without too much distress, and crossed over to the Swinomish Reservation and the very hilly roads alongside Skagit Bay. When I turned on to Snee-Oosh Road (which would eventually lead me to destination), I started up the longest hill I had encountered so far. On it went, and on, and on....

This hill might have done me in (and led me to calling on my cell phone for a pick-up), had it not been for the even longer downhill on the other side! I am sure this hill was at least a mile down. (I was quite glad I was going downhill and not up in the other direction!) My lengthy coast down the hill (I even got to stop pedaling!) allowed me to rest and regain some energy. Luckily, I then went into a series of up and down hills (which is what you like to get when cycling, I think), where the fast downhills took me at least partway up the next hill, and I was able to cruise along without drawing on my final reserves of energy.

After about seven miles I spotted my mother standing on the roadside, and knew I had arrived. Here is my victorious finish! (Slightly staged to avoid shooting directly into the sun.) We threw the bike into the back of the car and proceeded to tour our final garden. Which turned out to be far more than "just" a garden!

This oh-so-lovely residence is on the view waterfront of Skagit Bay, and we arrived by walking along a woodland path adjacent to the driveway. One of the first things we came to was this outdoor bedroom!
Then a couple of stone chairs created a rustic sitting room.
The house, a sprawling Northwest style spread of walkways, terraces, andn outdoor rooms, was decorated with charming, artsy vignettes even outdoors.
The sprawling pool room (that's swimming pool) was decorated in every corner.
Even the shower is a tropical hut!
The outside waterfront terraces featured multiple sitting areas and expansive views.
This picture looks toward Deception Pass. If you enlarge the picture you can probably see Deception Pass Bridge (that you can run across in the Whidbey Island Marathon) in the center between the two land masses.
A beachy view with a flaming shrub in the foreground.
The front side of the house. It was really impossible to get a good picture of the whole house, since it is so sprawling and adorned with landscaping.
The outdoor kitchen! Check out the amazing grills at the far end. This is where I said to my mother, "The owners of this house must have a lot of money!" Um, yeah, pretty much an understatement there. This is a potting area. Kind of like my potting shed... except my sink is filled with a layer of dirt and pieces of broken clay pots that cats have knocked down climbing in and out of their hideaway in the roof of my garage. (They're not my cats, they just like to hang out in my yard and garage.) And I have like one birdhouse, not twenty. (A guess, I didn't actually count them.)The vegetable garden...
...and the greenhouse.
This is one of the numerous water features we passed by.
A sweet bench in the woods.

We left this last garden feeling that we had truly saved the best for last. This home had it all—gardens, water views, delightful decor. And despite the fact that this was clearly a multi-million-dollar home, it was comfortable and welcoming, and I place I could happily live (even though it is more contemporary in style that my usual taste). (Although granted, it would take a large staff for me to keep up. I have no illusions I could do it myself.)

And that was the end of the garden tour. I've actually taken a little editorial license here, because we took the pictures of the Tower Suite at Benson's at the end of the tour, stopping back there after we finished our first round. I thought it made more sense to put them up with the rest of the Benson's pictures, though.

We had long since missed lunchtime, and it was about 4:00 or later when we finished on Snee-Oosh Road. With the stop at Benson's, it would be almost 5—dinnertime, or close enough—by the time we got to anywhere to eat. Luckily, Benson's was along the way to Chuckanut Drive, which is the location of the Rhododenron Cafe in Bow. An early dinner was called for. And I was ravenous!

The Rhododendron Cafe features Northwest and eclectic international menus. They have a standard regular menu plus a long list of specials. The interior decor is casual. The hostess/waitress who greeted me asked whether we would like to sit in the outdoor garden room. Well, how could I resist? This was garden tour day, after all. I am familiar with the garden room; it is like a screened porch, so it is less likely to get too hot in the sun or too cool in the evening breeze. Here is the inside of the garden room, with the specials board on the wall.

I was, as I said, quite hungry, and although I was tempted by some of the ethnic specials, I gravitated toward the New York steak with Greek topping (feta, kalamata olives, and capers) at the top of the specials. It is usually served on garlic mashed potatoes, but I asked to substitute roasted red potatoes instead. The vegetable was just three spears of roasted asparagus, which was a tiny bit disappointing as I could eat a pile of asparagus! The waitress brought a basket of warm home-baked bread pretty quickly, and I was very happy to eat two small pieces (with butter) while I waited hungrily. The bread and my green salad held me over until my dinner arrived! The other plate is my mother's seafood stew, which was also very good.
I saved a small piece of my steak, which I had on a salad for lunch on Monday. That left enough room for dessert... a fruit cobbler which was mostly blueberry, with some peach, and the most delicious crumbly biscuit topping!
The ice cream, I learned, is Kirkland ice cream (from Costco), and it was quite delicious! It should be, as I also found out that it is a premium ice cream, with 270 calories in a half cup! Ouch. I'm sure glad my mother was sharing the cobbler and dessert with me. (And I have to say, as yummy as the ice cream was, I am perfectly happy with slow churned ice cream at 100 calories per half cup. Think how much you could have for 270 calories!) Here I am, looking happy with the dessert but maybe just a bit tired from the day!
Stats from the day:

  • Miles cycled: 28
  • Gardens visited: 5
  • Time: About 7 hours total, from the arrival at Benson's to our departure from the Rhody. Long day!
  • Time on the bike: 2+ hours...don't know exactly, because I kept forgetting to stop the Garmin and kept standing around with the watch running
  • Bathroom stops during the day: Just 1! Until I got to the Rhododendron, where I downed iced tea.

Here is a map of my entire riding route, start to finish.

What a great day. I'm ready to do more cycling up in the Skagit County farmlands. And finishing with lunch or dinner is definitely the perfect ending!

1 comment:

Tish Oliver said...


Thanks so much for posting about your wonderful day and for all the beautiful pix. We have a lot in common. I love England and it's always my #1 travel destination. I'm a librarian and we have some of the same favorite authors (I read and re-read Toth). I've been running for just over a year and am starting to enjoy longer trips on my bike now. I live in northern VA, but have twice lived in WA and often visit relatives in Bothell and on Whidbey Is, so lots of the places you mention are familiar. I am a faithful reader, but this is my first comment. Thanks for blogging!