SOUNDOFF: Meerkerk Gardens is now self-sustaining

On behalf of the Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, I wish to thank Whidbey Islanders for your continuing support!

Meerkerk Gardens celebrate their Silver Jubilee this year as being a private garden open to the public. We have reached this blossoming due to a hybridization of factors. Our dedicated volunteers assist in keeping the gardens growing, raising plants and vital funds.

We receive tremendous support from the Whidbey Island Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, Island County Master Gardeners, Greenbank Garden Club members and volunteers from all over the island who enjoy working with our garden community.

Over the years, the Whidbey Island Garden Tour has recognized Meerkerk Gardens as an island treasure and has awarded the Gardens with funds to improve the landscapes. Small businesses, like Whidbey Island Soap Company and Island Tea Company have invented products that promote the gardens, such as Gardener's Hand Soap and Meerkerk Medley Tea. Our bed and breakfasts inform their guests of Meerkerk, making their island visit a charming one!

I would like to take a moment to explain to your readers that Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens became an independent not-for-profit corporation in 2003. Formerly, the gardens had been owned and operated by the Seattle Rhododendron Society, as Ann Meerkerk bequeathed in her will. This step forward brings the gardens' management and ownership back to Whidbey Island, back to the gardens.

As a not for profit organization, our mission is to fulfill the wishes of Ann Meerkerk as she stated in 1979 before her passing:

“I have envisioned for the future, a careful and methodical development of a peaceful woodland garden emphasizing rhododendrons and companion plants.  In addition to being of great ornamental value, I would anticipate that the garden would be used to test, select and propagate superior plant materials.”

Ann Wright Meerkerk, 1979

We carry out Ann's words by preserving the Meerkerk's original collection, by enhancing the display gardens, and by operating the only accredited rhododendron hybrid test garden in the United States. We also feature species rhododendrons native to Asia and highlight exotic tree-form rhododendrons from the Himalayan region of the world. Meerkerk Gardens' arboretum includes the Washington State Champion Tree, Cornus contraversa. Other tree specimens in the collection include magnolias, cherries, maples, dogwoods and conifers: redwoods, ginko, larch, cryptomeria and natives.

Our staff works with our volunteers, training them in plant propagation, land stewarding and plant care. We work together on special events to share the island's rich resources in the arts, highlighting the "culture" in horticulture.

Meerkerk Gardens is financially self-sufficient. Many people do not realize that we are not subsidized by tax monies, and that we raise the capital necessary to actualize the founders dream. We raise the vital funds needed to care and improve the gardens through our Friends of Meerkerk memberships, plants sales, grants and contributions. 

The general public is invited to visit the gardens or nursery on a daily basis for a $5 day pass. Or, they may wish to support the efforts of the gardens by becoming a Friend of Meerkerk — stewarding the lands and wildlife habitat with us, and receiving free admission to the gardens year around , a newsletter and member benefits.

Spring has arrived on Whidbey Island, and we cordially invite your readers to enjoy the gardens. Invest an afternoon in the peaceful woodland garden, celebrating this glorious time of year!

We are grateful to the Meerkerks for beginning this magical place in the 1960's, and are thankful to Ann Meerkerk for her vision.

Many times it is islanders who have never been to the gardens. Our current feature in Sunset Magazine, Washington Park Arboretum Journal and Pacific Horticulture Magazine indicate that enthusiastic gardeners from the around the world are keen on Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens.

We hope you will take a moment to become inspired by your next door neighbor!

Kristi O'Donnell is executive director of Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, Whidbey Island's peaceful woodland garden, in Greenbank.

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