The Soest Garden, part of the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, is small, but well planted and pretty enough for many return visits. July blooms are beautiful, as they are in most gardens, but lush ornamental grasses take the stage too, and if you look closely fascinating details abound.
Below, stamens have dropped off the flower of a Magnolia tree and fallen onto one of the flower petals.
Astrantia major, or Pink masterwort, is in the same family as carrots and Queen Ann’s Lace. Astrantia illustrates a common and interesting plant structure – what looks like one flower is actually a wheel of bracts supporting many tiny flowers. Bracts provide protection for flower buds and later, as you can see, they help pollinators zero in on the target. Poinsettias are another example of prominent bracts we mistake for flowers. Their flowers are actually small and green, in the middle of the red bract cluster.
In this photo the flowers haven’t opened all the way – the five white curving structures will extend later to support the stamens, which hold the pollen. Click here to see some really beautiful extreme close-ups of Astrantia major.
A bee explores a Globe thistle – Echinops ritro. Echinops means looks like a hedgehog – a pretty good name! This plant’s family, Asteraceae or the Aster famliy (also called the composite family), has tightly packed flowers, which you can see below. We call the whole ball of blue a flower, but it’s really a cluster of many small flowers. These plants are tough, as you’d imagine, and are fun to see in the garden. They provide a visual foil to more graceful flowers – I mean plants!
The well known Echinacea purpurea, or Coneflower, is in the same family as the Echinops. The pinkish petals are ray florets and the center is made of disk florets. The disk florets have male and female parts but the ray florets do not. The head of disk florets in the center opens gradually, in concentric circles, from the outside in.
I didn’t mean this to be a botany lesson! But the variety in plants is fascinating – and the more you investigate, the more you peer closely, the more amazing it seems.
Below, a Balloon flower, or Platycodon gradiflorus, nods gracefully amidst delicate ornamental grasses. In bud this flower looks just like a little balloon. Now that it’s open you can see how the petals are fused.
The attractively colored style in the middle has caught pollen from the stamens, mostly hidden behind the style. Soon the style will split open and curl back in five parts – it’s all fives with this flower. Strangely enough, pollen from other Balloon flowers will adhere to the female part, but this flower’s own pollen is designed to be transported by an insect to a neighboring Balloon flower. Parts mature at slightly different times to avoid self-pollination, keeping the gene pool diverse – at least I think that’s how it works!
I do know that I love the colors here…
Simplicity itself, the Hosta leaf pleases the eye.
Taking a step back, the garden is framed by a small tree with multiple trunks. Like many trees in our area, it’s covered with lichens, giving the bark a beautiful color and texture.
I desaturated the colors here to bring out the textures. We’ve had an unusually warm, dry year and some leaves are falling already. This one didn’t make it to the ground yet. I like seeing leaves or petals caught by other leaves, or flowers. There’s something very poetic about it.
Just outside the Soest Garden are fields of wilder grasses and flowers. Here, Queen Anne’s Lace sways in the breeze among ripe, golden grasses.