The Elizabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden is located in the Highlands, a gated community in northwestern King County and was the garden of Mrs. Elizabeth Miller and her lawyer husband Pendleton Miller. It is now run by a charitable foundation which carries on the philanthropic work of the Millers.
Elizabeth Miller was a self taught gardener. Through trial and error, determination, financial resources, as well as the ability to travel throughout the world to bring home rare and unusual plants, she became a well respected plants-woman and her garden became known for its variety of plants previously not scene in the Pacific Northwest. The black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) that is so very popular today was first seriously propagated by Mrs. Miller and was found growing strong on the sunny bank of the house lawn when I was there about 2 years ago. She was also first to cultivate Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureloa’ (golden Japanese fountain grass) also very popular today.
Mrs. Miller was central in establishing the Center for Urban Horti
culture and the Miller Library, was the founder of the Northwest Horticulture Society and was an influence in the plant choices at the Washington State Convention Center. These are just a few of the many charitable acts she and her husband did for the Pacific Northwest and the horticulture community.
Mrs. Miller had a keen eye for design (she did study art in school) despite a difficult piece of property to garden upon. The garden itself is on a significant slope over looking Puget Sound. Many tons of rock have been brought in over the years to held create the structure of the garden, which include many stairs, water features, sitting areas, paths and a beautiful greenhouse propagation area. I personally loved the greenhouse area which was lush with ferns and was encouraged that propagation was successful despite often being often shaded.
I also enjoyed the areas near the house where lilies were blooming. There were many rock structures built on the property most of which now have plants in containers on the property. It was interesting to see the variety of containers used on the property although they did have similar colors and materials. Inside the house was a sun room where they also have educational classes and meetings. It was nice to sit and read about the gardens in such a lovely room. If I lived closed I would try to attend more of the educational opportunities offered, although beware of the poor parking situation at the garden. Its easy to forget that you are part of a residential community once you are in the garden, but parking is very limited.
The tours are nice as the tour guide, Holly Zipp who is also the head gardener when I went, tells stories of Mrs. Miller’s eccentricities and personal challenges in addition to explaining the history of the garden and its rare plants. It was nice to actually speak to the head gardener about the challenges of the garden. For example I saw a climbing hydrangea on a huge tree near the entry of the garden and she spoke of how they trained it up the tree.
Tour tickets are very difficult to come by, although they are free through the garden. At the time of this writing, December 2015, all tickets for 2016 are gone. When I went about 2 years ago I was able to get a ticket by making an early donation to Great Plant Picks which then allowed you early access to spots if they were available. I didn’t see that as an option but perhaps it will become a possible way to get tickets for 2017. I have been told that going to see the garden in the many seasons is particularly useful to see how the structure of the garden changes along with the different stages of flowering and leaf colors.
The incredibly helpful program Great Plant Picks is an educational resource funded by the Elizabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden and to date has over 900 recommended plants that grow well in the Pacific Northwest.
Celebrating 20 years of the Miller garden as a public institution, article by Ritchie Steffan (curator of the Miller Garden)
Seattle times article “Celebrating a Force of Nature: Elizabeth C. Miller”