When Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden (RSBG) Executive Director and Curator Steve Hootman walks around the garden, he says he feels pride in how far the garden has come in the 29 years he has worked there.
Since Hootman began working at the garden, they have added a new greenhouse, the Victorian Stumpery, the Rutherford Conservatory and expanded their rhododendron collection.
“When I see people walking around and taking pictures and enjoying it, and just knowing we did this, that we’re making people happy and we’re educating people, that makes me feel great,” Hootman said. “And I really like the fact that we did something worthwhile.”
Federal Way’s RSBG is a non-profit organization founded in 1964 that features the largest collection of Rhododendron species in the world, alongside other botanical delights.
As a living plant museum, the display garden focuses on conservation and education, while providing visitors with 22 acres of blooming natural spaces. Plant-lovers can also stop by the nursery and take home some of their favorites.
“I always feel like I’m on a little journey, because the garden looks kind of wild,” said Britt Board, program and outreach manager. “Even though I’ve walked it, who knows how many times, it always still feels like I’m discovering something. It at once feels familiar, and then also really new.”
Although the Rhododendrons primarily bloom from March to May, RSBG is open year-round. The garden’s summer months showcase the azaleas, hydrangeas and Giant Himalayan Lilies.
Hootman said his favorite part of the garden is the Big-Leaf Rhododendron Garden and remembers collecting the seeds from the wild and raising them himself.
RSBG offers activities and learning opportunities for all ages, including lectures and virtual and in-person events hosted by staff.
RSBG conducted its annual Rhododendron Symposium from June 25 to June 27, featuring local and international experts. In October, RSBG plans to host its annual Fall Foliage Festival and plant sale.
The Visitor Center has been temporarily closed to adhere to pandemic safety measures, but visitors can make certain purchases from the Visitor Center window. Vaccinated visitors are no longer required to wear masks while exploring the outdoor gardens.
“I think it’s a national treasure,” Hootman said.
The garden is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free for children under 12, $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors (65+). For more info go to rhodygarden.org.