The Meerkerk Garden
Ralph H. Nichols, Seattle, WA
Max and Ann Meerkerk moved to Whidbey Island in 1953. They had purchased the original 13 acres in 1952 and as soon as they arrived on the island, they started the garden. In 1953 they built the present house, had the two ponds dug and started plant acquisition.
They concentrated on rhododendrons, but through the years added many fine plants of other species such as: Cornus, maples, Japanese cherries, Styrax, Stewartia, Liquidamber, Oxydendrum, Magnolia, Metasequoia, etc. The rhododendron plants include a wide selection of both species and hybrids, with the latter predominating, often of large size and in vigorous health.
Local breeders such as Lem, Brandt, Ostbo, Larson and Nelson are well represented as well as many English and Dutch hybrids. Large leaved species and hybrids of the Grande and Falconeri series are growing well in this woodland garden along with many plants grown from the American Rhododendron Seed Exchange and the University of Washington Arboretum Society plant sales. Several of Ann Meerkerk's hybrids are growing here though none have yet been named.
In 1969, Max Meerkerk died leaving Ann to live at the garden alone until her death in 1979. Before Max Meerkerk's death they had acquired an additional 20 acres and, in 1970, Ann purchased the west 20 acres making the garden 53 acres in all. The west 20 acres is primarily 2nd growth Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock and was purchased to protect the woodland nature of the garden.
The garden slopes steeply on the east down to Holmes Harbour and includes 750 feet of saltwater beach. This gives the area near the house many beautiful salt water and mountain vistas.
In early 1979 when Ann Meerkerk knew she was seriously ill, she asked her friends, Mrs. Stimson Bullitt of Seattle and Mrs. Matthew Clark of Whidbey Island, to help her find a way to preserve the garden. They contacted Mr. Brian O. Mulligan, former director of the University of Washington Arboretum, and Mr. Edward B. Dunn, former president of the Seattle Rhododendron Society and The American Rhododendron Society. Mr. Mulligan and Mr. Dunn visited the garden in January 1979 and, after a tour of the garden with Ann Meerkerk, they discussed the possibility of the Seattle Rhododendron Society preserving the garden.
In February 1979, Ed Dunn made a presentation to the Seattle Rhododendron Society Board of Directors explaining all the details and recommending that the SRS take on the responsibility of preserving the garden. The board voted to proceed and an attorney was engaged to handle all the legal details. In late June 1979, Ann Meerkerk's will was completed giving the SRS the garden and an endowment fund to maintain and preserve its woodland nature. On July 17, 1979, only weeks after signing her will, Ann Wright Meerkerk died knowing that her garden would be preserved.
The garden is near Greenbank, Washington, on Whidbey Island. It is just off Resort Road which is about 15½ miles from the ferry dock at Clinton. It takes about 1½ hours to reach the garden from Seattle. This includes the twenty minute ferry ride from Mukilteo to Columbia Beach (Clinton).
The garden will be open weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in April and May. Members of the Seattle Rhododendron Society, and the caretakers, John and Dana Reaves, will be on hand to answer questions and give guidance. The Seattle Rhododendron Society hopes that all lovers of rhododendrons will be able to visit the garden and everyone is welcome.