Meerkerk Gardens in Greenbank is kicking off the spring season with guided tours that share in-depth information on the flora, fauna and history of the property.
Tours take place every Saturday at 1 p.m. starting April 1. Beginning April 15, during peak bloom season, there will be five tours every weekend at 1 p.m. on Fridays and at 11 a.m. and 1. p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tours are free with the regular $5 cost of admission, and there is no need to sign up ahead of time.
The tours are 30 to 40 minutes long and led by Meerkerk’s docents. Volunteer and board member Ellen Alexander has been the driving force behind the tour program since its creation in 2021.
“People seemed very receptive,” Alexander recalled. “Not just learning about the rhododendrons but learning about the Meerkerks.”
The gardens feature 43 acres of natural woodland, trails and a renowned collection of rhododendrons from all over the world. It also has a fascinating history. Alexander explained that Max and Ann Meerkerk, a couple from New York City, moved to Whidbey Island in 1961 and began planting rhododendrons and other plants. Ann was a ceramicist and artist and Max was an officer in World War I and a former antiques dealer.
A stop on the tour is the Secret Garden, an area of the property the Meerkerks first landscaped. There, Alexander and other docents will share interesting facts about the couple, such as how Ann did not know she was Max’s fifth wife or that she was a 30 years younger than him.
Alexander said many people think of rhododendrons as “boring,” a plant that has green leaves for most of the year except for a couple of weeks in the spring when they bloom with “garish colors.” On the tour, visitors will learn much more about the large genus of woody plants related to the heath family.
The gardens have a wide variety of rhododendrons, including a type that is native to the Himalayan mountains. The gardens have hybrid plants, including one type that has leaves streaked with yellow, which is actually caused by a virus.
Meerkerk also has more to offer than just its trademark flowers. There is a monkey puzzle tree, native to Patagonia, which Ann brought home from the Seattle World’s Fair. There is a giant sequoia on the property, planted by the couple and also not native to the Pacific Northwest.
In the summer, tours based on the trees and forests in the gardens will be given.
“Mostly it’s just to share our love and teach and meet people,” Alexander said.
Meerkerk Gardens is located at 3531 Meerkerk Lane in Greenbank.