JARS v46n2 - Meerkerk Garden Launches New Plan

Meerkerk Garden Launches New Plan
Katie Schusler
Greenbank, Washington

The Seattle Rhododendron Society has approved a new master plan to guide development and improvements at the Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens on Whidbey Island, Wash. In 1988, the garden's Mission Statement was developed to read: "Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens will be an internationally recognized woodland garden, open to the public, featuring hybrid and species rhododendrons with companion plants. It will be a premier garden for display, education and research."

The garden has been featured in other ARS articles and is an ongoing source for information on the ratings of new hybrids. The SRS became owners in trust to the Meerkerk property when Ann Wright Meerkerk passed away in 1979. The garden is 53 acres of mixed native woodland and ornamental plants on the eastern shoreline of Whidbey Island, Wash.

Landscape architect, Clive Justice, of Vancouver, B.C., Canada, visited the gardens during the initial planning phase and assisted with suggested improvements and design features. Katie Schusler, a graduate of the Landscape Architecture Program at the University of Washington, and Jim Hussey, a retired landscape architect in Seattle, worked with the Meerkerk Steering Committee to refine Clive's suggestions and draw the conceptual master plan. Volunteers spent considerable time and effort surveying the property in order to have a complete and accurate base map.

Meerkerk Garden plan

The 10-Year Plan includes a series of improvements that will make the gardens more beautiful and more efficient. The plan includes:

•  An Asian Garden including species rhododendrons collected in the wild by Warren Berg.

•  An alpine garden, highlighting alpine species of rhododendrons and companion plants. Funding donated by Jim and Suzanne Ramsey of Whidbey Island.

•  A new layout of the International Hybrid Test Garden. The area will be bounded by a circle 185' in diameter, containing 6 pie-shaped wedges and a Winner's Circle. There will be room for 46 varieties to be tested each year. The grower or hybridizer donates three plants of each variety to be rated. Plants are evaluated for five years and ratings are supervised by the NW Hybridizers, a study group of the SRS.

•  A pavilion with a viewing deck, to see the mountains to the east and Saratoga Passage; a place with meeting rooms, a show and display hall, library and kitchen.

•  Tribute Gardens, as a particular place to pay tribute to special individuals, groups, or events, or as a memorial.

•  Expanded nursery and greenhouse facilities. An area for workshops and "hands-on" demonstrations.

•  Reorganization of the paths in the Heritage Garden and Display Garden.

•  A new entrance gate, ticket booth and gift shop.

•  Expanded parking lot, to allow for 50 cars and three buses.

•  A new service road to the manager's residence and nursery/pavilion area. The old service road is to be turned into the main footpath through the garden.

•  New ponds. Two ponds to be dug in the woodlands as conservation and wildlife ponds, and a new pond, in the main area of the garden, for water retention and as a reflecting pond.

Construction has begun! Island County Road Department has widened and improved Meerkerk Lane, leading to the garden; the new service road has been built, and clearing and grading work has begun in the parking lot, Asian Garden and pavilion areas.

ARS District 2 Chapters (Seattle, Whidbey Island and Komo Kulshan) have started the "Friends of Meerkerk" annual membership drive, and you are invited to participate. If you join as members at the family level for $10 you will receive a Family Pass for the year. You may join at a higher level for $25, $50, $100, or $1000 and up. If you join at the higher levels you may receive the quarterly newsletter of the "Friends of Meerkerk" as well as other bonuses, such as a special plant or invitation to special garden events, depending at which level you join.

The gardens will be opening for the 1992 season on Sat., March 21. There is a special Open House planned for that day, with free admission to the gardens, tours, refreshments, plants for sale, and a booth manned to answer the public's questions about rhododendrons. The hours will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Visit us this spring to see the magnificent rhododendron plantings, and the new developments at the garden. The gardens are located on beautiful Whidbey Island and are open from March 21 to Sept. 7, Wed. through Sun. Admission is $2.

Katie Schusler, a horticulturist on Whidbey Island, WA., is president of the Meerkerk Garden Committee.