Fall Garden Festival celebrates the season at Meerkerk in Greenbank

Meerkerk Gardens
Meerkerk Gardens' 'Seaview Sunset' is just one of the hybrids captured in bloom every spring.
— image credit: Melanie Hester photo

The folks at Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens welcome everyone to experience the red, orange, gold, umber and black-leafed fall in Greenbank.

Such color was made possible by garden founder Ann Meerkerk, a painter and weaver, who applied her artistic sensibility to the design of the gardens she created along with her husband Max in the 1960s and ’70s.

The Fall Garden Festival is a celebration of the changing season, when — thanks to the talented foresight of the Meerkerks — the verdant summer landscape of Whidbey’s beloved rhododendron garden gives way to a vibrant palette of autumnal color.

The free festival is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2 and Sunday, Oct. 3, when garden volunteers share the landscapes, rhododendrons and other plants, garden art, delicious food and festive music with the public in a fundraiser for the nonprofit gardens.

“Most people are unaware that Meerkerk Gardens is a not-for-profit conservation organization,” said garden director Kristi O’Donnell.

“The Meerkerk endowment covers less than 10 percent of the annual operating budget, which is very low compared to other gardens of its stature. Our board of directors is identifying ways to create repeatable enjoyable events to raise awareness and dollars for the gardens’ sustainability,” she added.

Formerly known as the Autumn Rhododendron Sale, the event has blossomed into the first annual Fall Garden Festival with its showcase of specialty plants from local nurseries and exhibition of garden art by Whidbey Island artists throughout Meerkerk’s natural outdoor gallery.

On sale will be all hybrid rhododendrons propagated from the Meerkerk Heritage Collection, plus new hybrids by Jim Barlup and Frank Fujioka. Also available to plant lovers will be cyclamen and other woodland plants from Bouquet Banque in Marysvillle, temperate ferns from Fancy Fronds in Goldbar and hardy fuchsias from Robinwood Nursery on Vashon Island.

Garden art for sale will include wood, stone and metal sculptures, glass, twig furniture and arbors, birdbaths, deer cages, banners and a bevy of other artistic creations.

Profits from the sale of plants and artwork will go toward the maintenance of the 53 acres of woodland gardens and forest preserve.

“Our goal is to inform our community about the seasons of Meerkerk Gardens which range beyond our famous springtime floral displays,” O’Donnell said.

“By being an outdoor classroom, living museum, concert hall and art gallery, we showcase ‘culture in horticulture,’” she added.

A highlight of the festival weekend is the garden tours and the Botany Adventure Tour for children.

Off the beaten paths of the gardens, folks will hear the backstories of Meerkerk, O’Donnell said, such as those of the second-growth native forest, the history of how the Himalayan big-leaf rhododendrons were discovered and the story behind the Secret Garden’s arboretum.

Visitors will also get to see the gardens’ newest feature, the Rain Garden, where volunteers will show garden enthusiasts how to incorporate certain ideas into their home landscapes.

Childrens’ activities include the use of autumn leaves for crafts, and imaginative storytelling inspired by nature.

Also, plenty of refreshments will be available in the “Beer(kerk) Garden,” which will feature bratwurst and other fall-themed fare, as well as microbrews from local brewer Tony Savoy, owner of Flyers Restaurant and Brewery in Oak Harbor. Live music will complete the day and add to the enjoyment of all the festivities.

O’Donnell said that the health of the gardens depends on the community and vice versa.

“When our community participates together in the gardens, we co-create, we re-create,” O’Donnell said.

“The gardens need our community’s support — artistic, botanical and financial — to thrive and be healthy, and our community needs the gardens to offer a place of solace and provide ongoing activities which foster friendships.”

Festival goers are reminded to wear comfortable walking shoes and attire appropriate for potentially rainy weather, though ponchos and umbrellas will be available at the gardens’ gatehouse.

For a complete list of the weekend festivities and participating artists, click here.

Admission is free and donations are gratefully accepted.

Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens is at 3531 Meerkerk Lane in Greenbank.

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