The Whispering Season

Carkeek Park demonstration garden photo courtesy of Terri Johnson, owner of Plumb Pixel Photography

Written by Deborah Phare, Carkeek Park Steward

Between the closed-fist grip of deep winter and the gentle touch of early spring resides another, much shorter, season. Gardeners are familiar with this brief time of year and respond to its arrival with hope and joy. Its duration is brief – sometimes just three weeks – but its days are filled with the soft green shoots and emerging buds of early perennials and shrubs poking through a mist of soft fog or the crumble-top layer of tired mulch.

In the demonstration gardens at Carkeek Park, few plants are in bloom during this time of year but the gardens’ gifts are on full display. The garden has a large selection of Hellebores and Heucheras, as do most gardens, but above and beyond those important plants there is a full palette of subtle colors and interesting shapes best seen during this short season.

The small, bright yellow buds of Mahonia aquifolium sparkle against shiny, deep green leaves.  When planted in mass, Oregon Grape is a shot of sunlight on a dark winter day. Lucky visitors find delight in the nascent, cheery white pedals of Hepatica acutiloba nestled in our shady woodland bed. Trillium ovatum, Coast or Pacific Trillium, shows the beginnings of a flower tucked inside its protective leaf-coat. Most of the trillium flowers are white, although there are a few deep maroon blooms.

The tiny, round pink buds of Kalmiopsis leachiana “Umpqua Form” compliment the round, compact form of the plant. Some visitors who bend down to inspect this tidy little plant at close range are impressed by the many buds they see, and make a note to return in spring to see the plant in full bloom. They are never disappointed.

Viburnum tinus, Spring Bouquet, offers two rewards for close inspection – shimmering blue berries and small pink buds. Even before the flowers open and their fragrance warms an early spring garden, the berries and buds offer a bright reprieve from the deep gray of winter.

White-flowering Ribes sanguineum buds are beginning to open and create a delicate, cascading presence against the plants’ dark stems.

Carkeek Park demonstration garden photo courtesy of Terri Johnson, owner of Plumb Pixel Photography

Foliage and stem color are on full display during this short time period. Mahonia repens shows its deepest purple, red and maroon in these weeks between winter and spring. It is a rare plant in the Pacific Northwest that sports such dramatic winter color. This Mahonia is especially beautiful when its leaves are dusted with the glitter of frost or dew. Intriguing and confusing to some visitors are the fertile, dark brown fronds of Matteuccia struthiopteris, Ostrich Fern.  Visitors could see these fronds and mutter that the gardener is pretty lax in clean-up. But when the fiddle-heads begin to show through the snow or mulch, it’s obvious that there is a reason these brown fronds remain on the plant.

Leucothoë fontanesiana responds to winter with highlighted reds and greens, and a more pronounced white. Against a background of fog, its spectacular show causes many visitors to steal a moment from their jogging or conversations to stop and appreciate the display.

Seed-heads of perennials that have retired for winter persist with architectural interest and unique beauty. Eutrochium purpureum, common Joe Pye Weed, and Achillea millifolium,yarrow, create a strong vertical presence in a horizontal landscape.

Especially attractive during this season is the combined impact of deep red stems and lustrous green leaves of Vaccinium ovatum, Evergreen Huckleberry. This important plant is used in many beds in the Carkeek gardens and makes an exceptionally attractive addition to each bed.  Gardeners would be hard-pressed to find a family of plants as versatile and hardy for this area.

A contrast among dark colors during this time of year are plants that offer a glimpse of white.  Perovskia atriplicifolia, Russian Sage, displays dusty white/gray stems and an amusing presence as it serpentines its way through the structure of more vertical, traditional plants. As these stems wind through the foliage of evergreen plants they offer the visitor a sharp delineation in color, texture and movement – a welcomed sight throughout the many garden beds of Carkeek. Another plant that brings interest through winter is the native snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus. Birds will often eat the berries. The persistent white berries are a bright sight in the dark of winter.

Last, and always a pleasure to see, is the small beauty of Lewisia cotyledon when its leaves are outlined with frost. This plant’s symmetry is best highlighted when its deciduous neighbors are down for the season, the ground has a thin, sparkling cover of frost and the plant can be seen without its flowers.

It is during this brief time of year that the garden and its inhabitants share with us its most elusive gifts; gentle beauty, delicate color, unique form, and subtle promise.  These quiet gifts, whispered to the person patient enough to listen, are on full display in the Demonstration Gardens of Carkeek Park.

And they are waiting just for you.

Celebrate Neighbor Appreciation Day Feb. 11-13

We’re thankful for our Seattle neighbors every day, but in February, we dedicate a holiday just to them. Neighbor Appreciation Day is Friday, Feb. 13. Join the celebration at an event listed below!


Magnolia Community Center
What: Cookies, punch and coffee served
When: 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 13
Cost: Free

Ballard Pool
What: Public swim, free slide
When: 12:30-1:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 13
Cost: $2


Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center
What: Free play space and light refreshments
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 13
Cost: Free


Garfield Community Center
What: Indoor tot gym, cookies and juice
When: 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Friday, Feb. 12
Cost: Free

Miller Community Center
What:  Mighty Mights indoor playground with cookies and hot cocoa
When: 10 a.m.-noon, Thursday, Feb. 11
Cost: Free


Southwest Pool
What: Public swim with snacks, games and prizes
When: 1-2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 13
Cost: Free

For more citywide events, visit the Department of Neighborhoods’ events calendar.

Seattle Parks and Recreation aquatics programs

Stay warm and fit this winter at one of our indoor pools!

Doggy paddle, breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke. We think it’s important to master one or two of these when you live in a city nearly surrounded by water. Our swimming pools offer swimming lessons, public swims and special events year-round, and best of all, they’re indoors.

Special events this winter include:

  • Southwest Pool’s Super Bowl Sunday $2 Family Swim, 2-3 p.m. on Feb. 7, 2016
    Not a football fan? Bring your family to get some exercise or relax in the spa and sauna!
  • Madison Pool’s Winter Potluck, 1 p.m. on Feb. 9, 2016
  • Madison Pool movie nights, 6-8 p.m., third Friday of the month

For weekly regular programming, see our Aquatics brochure.

Individuals that qualify for Seattle Parks and Recreation program scholarships or reduced fees can also receive discounts at drop-in public swims, family swims, lap swims, pool playlands and selected aquatic fitness programs.

Eligibility will be based on family size and income level in accordance with Seattle Parks’ established application and approval process. For qualifying individuals, drop-in discount pricing will be $2 for recreational swims such as family swim, public swim or lap swim and $3 for fitness swims such as Water Exercise, Masters or Swimstrong.

To apply for a scholarship, fill out the scholarship form and bring a copy of your most recent 1040 Income Tax Form to your neighborhood pool. All pools are participating.

For information about pool schedules, pricing and location, please visit our pool website.

Lunar New Year celebrations

Lunar New Year celebrations start Jan. 29

It’s the year of the monkey, and we’re ready to celebrate Lunar New Year! Legend has it that in ancient times, there was a monster named Nian who lived deep under the sea. On New Year’s Eve the beast would emerge to feed on people and livestock. Villagers lived in fear of Nian and often fled on the annual holiday.

Then, one year, an old man refused to leave with the others. He claimed he scared Nian away by pasting the color red on the doors of his neighbors’ homes, building a loud crackling fire and dressing in red garments. When the villagers returned, they were happily surprised to see their homes intact.

From then on, every New Year’s Eve, people have held large, loud, vibrant celebrations to keep Nian at bay. This year, Seattle Parks and Recreation is hosting a few!

Celebrate the Lunar New Year with the Vietnamese Senior Association! Garfield Community Center is hosting cultural demonstrations including the lion dance. There will be a Vietnamese lunch and raffle prizes. This event is part of our Lifelong Recreation programming. Save the date from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016.

Take part in Hiawatha Community Center’s third annual Lunar New Year kickoff! The center will lead a women’s self-defense clinic, martial arts and lion dance demonstrations, zodiac activities, fortune telling and small eats. Save the date for this free festivity from 2:30-4:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016.

Join the International District Chinatown Community Center and the Chinese Information and Service Center in a colorful, festive celebration to welcome the Lunar New Year. You will be immersed in traditional music, cultural music and live entertainment. There will be appetizers and performers doing the Lion Dance, magic, Kung Fu and more. Save the date for this free festivity from 4-6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 at the community center.

Seattle Parks and Recreation offers scholarships for recreation programming

Recreation program participants

Seattle Parks and Recreation values access and opportunity and it’s the department’s goal not to turn any individual away who wants to participate in SPR programs.

As part of the 2016 Park District spending plan, Seattle Parks and Recreation will partner with the Associated Recreation Council in the creation of a citywide scholarship system estimated to support a $400,000 system-wide scholarship fund enabling more people access to programs.

In the past, only individual community center advisory councils allocated scholarships for recreation programs, which created an issue of access inequity. Some wealthier advisory councils could offer more scholarships than others—leaving out areas where scholarships are needed the most. 

Those with low-income eligibility may qualify for up to a 90% discount in pricing. Eligibility is determined based on family size and income level.

Scholarship forms can be picked up at any community center or pool or can be found online here. Scholarships are awarded solely on funding availability on a first come, first serve basis. Receiving a scholarship does not automatically enroll a participant in the desired program. People must register for the program separately following the facility’s guidelines for registration.

For more information on scholarship policies and guidelines for school-age care, go here.

For help filling out a scholarship application, contact any staff member at a community center for assistance.