Driving along the 5 South of Seattle, it’s hard not to notice the sweeping ivy sitting delicately on top of an abandoned corporate office. In the realm of COVID, quarantine and 2022 – the landscape feels like a stark reminder of the last few years; but in actuality, the area around the old Weyerhauser Tacoma building has sat quietly. Meanwhile, contained within their grounds – the Pacific Bonsai Museum provides an enchanted reason to visit. Heading off the beaten path and into the grounds, I was immediately transported into a forested fern gully and wrapped in the breath of trees that stretch their limbs to meet the sky. Spring eagerly awaiting from each and every angle, as rhododendrons lining the winding walkway bear their lime green blossoms. Within moments, I had forgotten that I was anywhere remotely near Seattle.
One of only two museums in the United States devoted to the art and appreciation of the living art of bonsai, and one of only a few bonsai museums around the globe, the Pacific Bonsai Museum plays host to an international collection of incredible Penjing and Bonsai specimens, each with a distinct and fascinating history. Featuring gorgeous foliage from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China and Canada – you’ll be in for a special treat as you’re greeted with the most geographically diverse selection of bonsai in the United States. Though there are nearly 200 individual exhibits, with only 60 on display at a time, you’ll easily find new reasons to visit throughout the year that are beyond observing the changes of the season.
Even though Bonsai has deep roots in Chinese culture, it was the Japanese who have expertly developed and defined the art as it is today. One thing I uncovered for myself after visiting is the distinct difference between the current Japanese art of Bonsai, which explores refined, natural and minimalistic stylings of single tree systems, as versus the traditional Chinese school of Penjing – which explores the artistry of the landscape, often by utilizing multiple and distinctly separate trees. Bonsai lends itself to being refined and technical, whereas Penjing is creative, emotional and expressive. As you meander around each of the delicately adjusted exhibits at the Pacific Bonsai Museum, be sure to digest and marinate on the history of each of the trees present in front of you. Some are from the last twenty years, others have a deep and rich history – all of them begging for your undivided attention, and each as uniquely beautiful as the next.
Built in 1989 by the Weyerhaeuser Company as a joint venture with the Washington State Centennial celebration, the initial collection of bonsai was known as The George Weyerhaeuser Pacific Rim Bonsai collection – and isn’t that just a damn mouthful. Ironically, the Weyerhaeuser Company made their millions off of American Timber; it’s only fitting they philanthropically give back in tune. Their contribution to the world of bonsai established Weyerhaeuser’s commitment to forest resources, their community and their customers.
Sitting on over twenty acres adjacent to the Pacific Bonsai Museum, an incredible selection of over 10,000 Rhododendrons lay in deep rooted wait for acclimate weather. Built in 1964 by the American Rhododendron Society, the grounds feature 700 of the world’s species of 1000 rhododendrons – making the RSF one of the largest and most diverse collections in the world. Though it’s not currently in bloom, I am absolutely eager to visit the Rhododendron Species Foundation and Botanical Garden as soon as Spring settles into the area. However, one doesn’t necessarily need to wait for Spring to be sprung to be enthralled by the landscaping as you quickly find yourself dancing with giant native conifers, while you frolic through the lush landscape of fern gully’s and woodland gardens.
If you’re in the mood to up on your exploration, take a quick trek around the abandoned and architecturally incredible Weyerhaeuser building. A groundbreaking building when it was crafted in 1970, the Weyerhaeuser campus feels similar to feelings that only the hanging gardens of Babylon have been able to elicit in me. Between cascading levels of starkly empty rooms with terraced roofs and burgeoning trails of lush ivy set, the building stands tall against rolling hills and grassy meadows – and seems almost out of place, or even from another planet. Ten out of ten would recommend a long stroll down to the water’s edge and for even just one moment, find yourself lost among the trees; it’s simply magical.
For more on the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Tacoma, head to their website and socials – and if you’re in the area, just swing by and visit!