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November 7, 2011 / Greg Vaughn

Seattle Area Japanese Gardens in Autumn

Washington Park Japanese Garden

Washington Park Arboretum Japanese Garden in Seattle

The Seattle, Washington area is home to several beautiful Japanese Gardens, and right now they are at their very best. The fall color is at peak and the maple trees are brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow.

Best known of the Seattle area gardens is the Japanese Garden at Washington Park Arboretum. This garden, part of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, is a photographer’s delight most any time of year, but especially in fall. The ornamental maple trees here are outstanding and the design of the gardens provides plenty of possibilities for landscape compositions. Unfortunately, tripods are prohibited in this garden except during special photo sessions. These sessions are held Tuesdays and Saturdays in October before the garden opens and cost $30. There is a limit of 10 Photographers in each session; advance registration is required and the sessions usually sell out. This no-tripod policy is unfortunate, but likely is a result of repeated instances of photographers being inconsiderate of other garden visitors. Monopods, however, are allowed at anytime. And fortunately, with the advances in camera vibration reduction technology and the ability to obtain excellent images at high ISOs, the inability to use a tripod is not the issue that it was when shooting slow speed film was the only way to achieve top quality photos.

Kubota Garden in autumn

Maple tree near the entrance to Kubota Garden in South Seattle

Kubota Garden in south Seattle may not be as well known, but the grounds here are also very photogenic. Kubota is a public park owned by the city of Seattle. There are no restrictions on tripods here (hooray!). It is a popular site for weddings and portrait sessions, but a permit is required for professional photographers using the garden for these purposes.

Over on the east side of Seattle, the Yao Garden in Bellevue Botanical Garden was constructed as part of a sister city program between Bellevue and Yao, Japan. Like the other Japanese Gardens, it has some nice fall color maples, but is also especially beautiful in spring when the rhododendrons and azaleas bloom. Tripods are okay here, too, and as at Kubota permits are needed for commercial photography (including weddings and portrait shoots).

Laceleaf maple tree at Bloedel Reserve Japanese Garden

Laceleaf maple tree at Bloedel Reserve Japanese Garden, Bainbridge Island

A short ferry ride from Seattle to Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound will get you to Bloedel Reserve, the former estate and private gardens of lumber company heir Prentice Bloedel. The gardens are now open to the public, and the Japanese Garden section is considered one of the top ten Japanese gardens in the USA. If you’re a photographer, get there when the garden opens in the morning because you’ll likely feel like you’ve run out of time but not photo possibilities when the garden closes at 4pm. Fiery red and orange laceleaf maples are here of course, but also a lovely tea house and traditional stone and sand dry garden. Portrait photography sessions are not allowed, but landscape and nature photographers are welcome to use their tripods at Bloedel (please do so considerately!).

This year (2011), the peak of fall color in the Japanese gardens in the Pacific Northwest looks to be the first 10 days or so of November. This has been an unusual year weather-wise, however, and in a more typical year the best color is around mid-October. In spring, early to mid-May is prime time for the rhododendron and azalea bloom in these gardens.




Leave a Comment
  1. Joe Campisi / Nov 7 2011 10:59 pm

    Definitely a weird weather year Greg.

    I’ll have to get over to Bloedel Reserve…looks like a great place to shoot!

  2. Bonnie Flach / Nov 8 2011 2:28 pm

    Wow! Spectacular! ~Bonnie~

  3. Bonnie Flach / Nov 8 2011 2:29 pm

    Wow! Spectacular! ~Bonnie Flach~

  4. Savory Simple / Nov 16 2011 8:36 pm

    Breathtaking. I wish I had your skill!

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