Late bloomers add magic to holiday weekend

The towering and fragrant Albatross rhododendrons are in full bloom this weekend at Meerkerk Gardens.  - Submitted photo
The towering and fragrant Albatross rhododendrons are in full bloom this weekend at Meerkerk Gardens.
— image credit: Submitted photo

There’s a colorful lining in this year’s unusually cold spring: many of Whidbey Island’s rhododendrons will be in full bloom Memorial Day weekend.

Highway 20 on North Whidbey south of the Libby Road intersection is festooned with the pink blossoms of wild rhododendrons, and others both tame and wild can be seen further south, particularly in the Greenbank area.

Generally these highway visual delights have faded by Memorial Day. But Kristi O’Donnell, manager of Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens in Greenbank, agrees that the wild rhodies are indeed late this year. “I just started seeing them open,” she said. “This weekend is going to really be great for rhododendrons.”

As for Meerkerk Gardens specifically, O’Donnell said she has seldom seen it so colorful this late in May. As a rule, crowds flock to the garden on Mother’s Day, which is when peak bloom occurs. But this year, peak bloom will extend through Memorial Day weekend.

“We’re still in peak bloom, things look gorgeous,” O’Donnell said Thursday. “I’ve seen some Memorial Days when it looks like a moonscape out there, but this year it’s very lush.”

While the 53-acre gardens were resplendent as usual on Mother’s Day, many of the gardens’ thousands of flowers waited a while longer to bloom this year.

“This spring is running two to three weeks late,” O’Donnell said. “With the sunshine, they’re really going to pop this weekend.”

While wild rhododendrons have little if any fragrance, O’Donnell said the gardens she manages are very fragrant this spring, thanks the the many aromatic species propagated there. Particularly pleasant to the olfactory sense is the Albatross species, some of which date back 85 years and soar 30-feet into the sky.

O’Donnell offers some simple advice to islanders this Memorial Day weekend: “Take time to smell the rhodies.”

Meerkerk Gardens will be open all weekend, including Monday. It’s located two miles south of Greenbank on Resort Road. Admission is $8 for adults, kids under 16 are free. Call 678-1912, or visit

Holiday weekend highlights

Patriotic Parade: Coupeville’s Memorial Day weekend parade is today, May 23, beginning at 11 a.m. After the parade enjoy a picnic with speeches and music at Town Park.

Maple Leaf services: Memorial Day services Monday, May 25, at Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor begin at 10 a.m., presented by the VFW, American Legion and Fleet Reserve.

Sunnyside services: Memorial Day services Monday, May 25, at Sunnyside Cemetery in Coupeville begin at 11:30 a.m. All are welcome to lunch afterwords at the VFW Post, 3037 N Goldie Road., Oak Harbor.

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