I had the pleasure of following the “obtainer of rare flora” Executive Director, Steve Hootman, through the gardens. Donning his Indiana Jones hat and khaki safari shirt, Hootman has traveled the world collecting rare and unusual plants. He shows me a large, pink flowered rhody and described how he collected this species in India in 2003 and, pointing out a 20-foot tall magnolia tree with one perfect flower, brought this back from a trip to Japan in 1998
Hootman’s stories of collecting and preserving species is the core of the Rhododendron Garden’s tenets, which is known world-wide as a source for quality seeds and pollen. There is an extensive nursery onsite where you can actually buy some of the plants you see on exhibit.
Admission to the Rhododendron Garden is $8, which supports the non-profit organization and the minimalist collection of staff that do an army's-work of cultivating, propagating, and designing beautiful rhododendrons and other plants along trails through the forest. The gravel trails are easy to manage for folks with walking difficulties and there is a welcoming patio in front of the conservatory for picnic lunches.
Knowledgeable and enthusiastic docents provide excellent tours! It’s a wonderful way to learn about the garden and see the highlights. Advance registration is required, and during peak season requires a minimum of ten participands and two weeks' advance notice. Fees are $10 per person. Visit the website for more information.
In addition to the docent tours, information related to self-guided tours can be found here.