For 20 years, the Bellevue Botanical Garden has been growing into one of Puget Sound’s premier municipal garden meccas, highlighted by its nationally known perennial border. On Sunday, it ups the ante by opening a new native plant garden with a 150-foot long bridge.
The new native area, the Ravine Experience, encompasses a 5-acre area in a heavily forested corner of the 53-acre garden. A 1/3-mile long nature trail crosses a deep ravine into a second growth wild space.
The instrument that crosses the ravine is a suspension bridge that rises 40 feet above a seasonal creek.
Construction began in September on the $1 million project ($650,000 of that was funded by private donations.) The 5-foot-wide span is made of 240 tons of concrete and 15 tons of steel. It can hold about 320 adults. But it’s not likely that you’ll find more than two or three people on the bridge at any one time in the quiet forest.
Two iron beamed towers rise on either side of the ravine. The dark metal studded with beefy rivets gives the bridge a steampunk feel. If the Tacoma Narrows Bridges and the Brooklyn Bridge had a baby, this would be it.
It might seem incongruous that so much man-made material is plunked down in a nature garden but the idea, garden manager Nancy Kartes said, is to give a bird’s-eye view of the garden from above without disturbing the forest floor.
The visitor can observe the understory, get eye-to-eye with mature conifers and observe wildlife. On a recent visit to the bridge a blue Steller’s Jay was swooping through the trees. Kartes said she has seen owls and Pileated Woodpeckers on her visits.
The approach to the bridge is being planted with Mahonia, evergreen huckleberry, dwarf dogwood, ferns and Trilliums. A dry stream bed bisects it.
“The cool thing about it is that it’s not a garden. It’s a wild space,” Kartes said.
A swampy area, once home to invasive and non-native Himalayan blackberry, ivy and holly is now filled with sedges and yellow twig dogwood.
Horticulture groups have stepped in to help with the project. The Hardy Fern Foundation donated $1,000 worth of ferns, Kartes said.
The new plantings will be watered for two years and then left on their own. “We’ll have a hands off approach,” Kartes said.
The trails that lead to the bridge are lined with native Rhododendrons and other Washington plants. A native double-flowered salmonberry is in full bloom looking like a miniature rose. A cedar tree, its trunk making a sharp dogleg bend, resembles a lightning bolt.
The bridge and trail open Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
Perennial Border gets a makeover
When the BBG opened in 1992, a regional horticultural organization called The Northwest Perennial Alliance, created a perennial border at the garden in collaboration with the City of Bellevue Parks and Community Services.
Since that time the enormous border with thousands of perennials, shrubs and small trees has gained a national reputation.
But the border, with its fussy plants, proved to be an ongoing maintenance burden for the NPA. In 2008, the NPA and BBG launched an ambitious renovation of the border.
The BBG wanted the border to be in keeping with some of its core philosophies: reduction of invasive plants, improved accessibility, reduced maintenance and an educational resource for the horticulture community and visitors.
The remake wasn’t without controversy. Philosophical disagreements within the NPA created no small amount of internal strife and hard feelings.
Eventually the dust settled – literally and figuratively. The land was re-contoured and new beds were created. Paths, staircases and teak benches were installed. Thousands of new perennials, evergreens, bulbs, shrubs and trees were added for year-round color and interest.
The formerly mature garden is gone, replaced by a young but rapidly growing version. What was once cluttered and jungle-like is now open, low and immature. But plants are in full bloom. Spring bulbs, Hellebores and Daphnes are flowering. Paperbark maples and redwoods rise above clumps of purple leafed iris. Butterscotch colored Carex flows its grassy leaves onto a gravel walkway. White Trilliums contrast against black mondo grass. It’s already a feast for the eyes.