Bones in the Garden

Judy Broom is our guest blogger with this entry.

 Judy Broom is our guest blogger with this entry. 

It’s the time of year we find the bones.  Not bones in the grisly, or spooky, sense; not “remains.” Not the sweet, sad reminder of a pet’s last resting place under the grape arbor. The bones that gardeners discover in the bleaker time of year aren’t leftovers of life, but represent a beginning: the diagram, the map, the plan, the structure of the summer scene to come. 

It’s a horticultural maxim that a beautiful landscape, like a well-built home or a handsome person, has “good bones.”

Touring at Dunn Gardens is closed during the deepest months of winter.  Opportunities to visit are limited to a few special events. For most of us, that’s just fine.  We prefer to curl up with a hot chocolate and a good gardening book or peruse this year’s batch of nursery catalogs and dream about what we’ll tackle in our own borders and beds when it’s no longer “too wet to plow” – as the farmers say.  For garden staff and those volunteers who are lucky enough to have an excuse to wander through Dunn’s seven acres on a January afternoon, it’s an opportunity to appreciate the bones. It’s our chance to see the garden through the eyes of a designer who saw its potential more than a century ago.

Dunn’s are Olmsted bones, “good bones” indeed. They’re evident all year in the graceful curving of pathways, in the gently mounded sweep of the Great Lawn, in the tree-framed peek-a-boo view of Puget Sound, in changed plantings that distinguish one green room from another.  Winter is harsh, even in our relatively mild Pacific Northwest, but its severity provides a less cluttered look at what is unique about this spot on earth and a closer look at the design preserved through multiple generations.

And Olmsted bones are scattered all around Seattle, laid bare for us in parks and boulevards throughout the city. Beginning in 1903, John Charles Olmsted and his family’s Massachusetts landscape firm worked with Seattle parks planners in designing and developing sites from Volunteer Park atop Capitol Hill to Woodland Park in the north and Schmitz Park to the south and west – with dozens of sites in-between.  Climbing to the top of the water tower at Volunteer Park provides a winter warmup as well as a view over that park, and – inside the tower – a permanent interpretive display provides an historical overview of Olmsted's influence in the city.  

To find an Olmsted design in your own neighborhood check out the Seattle Parks Department website: 

Or sign up here for a Dunn Gardens tour in early spring, and come see its beautiful bones yourself.