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Fort Vancouver
Kubota Gardens
Ohme Gardens
Seattle's Olmsted Parks
Wright Park
Historic Public Gardens to Visit:
Washington State

Among the region's many fine public gardens are a surprising number of historic landscapes. Some are restorations of once-fine gardens that had fallen into disrepair and were brought back to their former glory. Others are originals that have survived for scores of years. A few are re-creations. These gardens are as diverse as the region's past. They include kitchen gardens planted by the Hudson's Bay Company during the fur trade, pioneer rose gardens, Victorian showplaces, historic conservatories, lavish estate gardens of the twentieth century, and more. Each of them welcomes visitors.

I've visited all of these gardens. While the ones I've seen were really wonderful, any garden can have a bad spell. There are all kinds of reasons for problems (the weather stinks, funding fell through, volunteers quit, etc.), but one does not want to book a flight and travel 3,000 miles to see them. To avoid such a debacle, contact the places in question and grill them for information. In other words, this page offers information, not endorsements or guarantees.

check Fort Vancouver Heritage Garden

612 E. Reserve St.
Vancouver, WA 98661
Phone: (360) 816-6230
website: Fort Vancouver Heritage Garden

Established in 1825 by the British Hudson's Bay Company, Fort Vancouver was once the headquarters of the fur trade in the Northwest. To feed its men, the fort operated farms and had a 7-acre garden filled with vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. Today, the fort and vegetable garden have been re-created. All the vegetables in this garden, including British soldier beans, citron, yellow pear tomatoes and dozens of others, are heirlooms. So are the herbs and flowers. For that matter, so are some of the gardeners. They dress in period attire and bring to life some of the original workers of the Hudson's Bay Company.

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check Kubota Gardens

9600 Renton Avenue South
Seattle, WA
Phone: Seattle Parks Department, (206) 684-4075
website: Kubota Gardens

In 1929, Fujitaro Kubota, a native of Kochi Prefecture in Japan, bought five acres in south Seattle, started a landscaping business, and began building a garden and nursery. Over the next 50 years, he developed a garden rich in Japanese traditions. He built ponds and waterfalls, bridges and winding paths, and planted an extraordinary collection of choice ornamentals. Eventually, he expanded his holdings to 20 acres. Kubota, who never intended his to be a classic Japanese garden, created a remarkable place that is a fusion of Asian and Pacific Northwest garden styles. In 1987, after Kubota's death, the City of Seattle acquired the property. By then, the garden had declined, but restoration efforts are gradually returning this garden to its former glory. Today, the hillside garden is once again a tapestry of foliage textures and colors. The pond and waterways reflect the plants that hug the shoreline. The meadows open to views over the gardens and to borrowed scenery. While it will take time to finish the restoration, this garden already shows Mr. Kubota's genius as a plantsman and designer.

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check Lakewold

12317 Gravelly Lake Drive SW
P. O. Box 39780
Lakewood, WA 98496-3780
Phone: 1-888-858-4106
website: Lakewold Gardens

Another of the region's fine estate gardens, Lakewold has deep roots. In the early 1900s, the Olmsted Bros., noted landscape architects, worked here. They are credited with designing the garden's prominent brick walk, as well as other elements. The remainder of the garden started to take shape when Corydon and Eulalie Wagner purchased the property in 1940. During their tenure, they assembled a sizeable collection of choice and rare plants, especially meconopsis (blue poppies), alpines, rhododendrons, shade-tolerant species, and woody ornamentals. They also developed several "gardens within the garden," including a traditional herb knot garden, a dry-shade garden, a rose garden, and elegant parterres. In addition, the grounds include elements by yet another renowned landscape architect, Thomas Church.

Today, Lakewold is a public garden, but it still has the feel of a mid-twentieth century estate. The ten-acre grounds feature large-scale mixed borders and island beds, woodland walks, sweeping lawns, and intimate pocket gardens. The plants here are exceptional, from delicate alpines the size of a tea cup to an arboretum-worth of the best and brightest woody plants horticulture has to offer. It is, of course, not as perfect as it was when the Wagners were here, but it remains one of the finest estate gardens in the Pacific Northwest.

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check Ohme Gardens

Ohme Gardens, as seen on vintage postcard.

View from Ohme Gardens,
Wenatchee, Washington

3327 Ohme Rd
Wenatchee WA 98801
Phone: (509) 663-6543
website: Ohme Gardens

Ohme Gardens began in 1929, when Herman and Ruth Ohme bought 40 acres of land outside Wenatchee. They planted a good-sized orchard, but wondered what to do with the remainder of their property. Nine acres of it was a high, rocky bluff overlooking the confluence of the Columbia and Wenatchee Rivers. Dry as dust, the bluff supported little besides desert sage and rattlesnakes. Herman Ohme saw it through different eyes, seeing instead the perfect spot for an alpine garden. He set to work, and transformed this bluff into a garden so fine that garden writers of the day repeatedly declared it one of the top ten in the country. Today, trees (brought in from nearby mountains) and ground covers provide the verdant greens of a subalpine meadow. Weathered rocks, boulders, and flagstones hauled in one truck load at a time supply the appropriate mountain cragginess. Ponds capture the look of alpine lakes filled with crystalline melt-water. Sun and endless sky open to views that fall away from this aerie to Wenatchee and beyond. Taken together, these elements form a garden that presents an idealized version of the mountain high country.

In the beginning, the Ohmes thought they were building a private garden, but it was not to be so. Visitors started coming to the garden to see what was happening. Within ten years, the Ohmes yielded to public demand. They opened the garden to the public in 1939. It remained in the family until recently, when the family sold the garden to Washington State Parks. Today, Chelan County manages the gardens, which welcome visitors year-round.

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check Seattle's Olmsted Parks

The Lake Washington Boulevard and Mt. Rainier, Seattle, U.S.A.

Lake Washington Boulevard
and Mt. Rainier

Phone: Seattle Parks Department, (206) 684-4075
website: Seattle's Olmsted Parks

Working in their trademark, naturalistic style, the Olmsted Brothers developed a grand plan for Seattle in 1903. It identified more than 30 potential parks and playgrounds scattered throughout the city, and some 23 miles of scenic drives that linked the parks. It set aside long stretches of the Lake Washington shoreline in parks and a boulevard. It saved salt water beaches and view points overlooking Puget Sound. It reserved all of Green Lake, tracts of old growth forests, views of Mount Rainier, and other places of scenic beauty. The plan was well-received. Over the next three decades, much of it was built. Today, Seattle's Olmsted parks have gained national recognition. Taken together, they are the third-largest Olmsted design in the country, and experts rank them among the best preserved.

"Seattle's Olmsted Parks", a brochure produced by Friends of Seattle's Olmsted Parks, provides a brief history and detailed map of the parks. It is available from the Seattle Parks Department, (206)684-4075. Only one small section of it, however, is signed. The "Olmsted Legacy Circle Scenic Drive" loops from Colman Park through wooded ravines to Frink Park. Both of these parks are located on Lake Washington Boulevard.

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check Wright Park and Seymour Conservatory

Wright Park Conservatory, Tacoma, Washington

Wright Park Conservatory

Sixth Avenue and I Street
Tacoma, WA
Phone: (253) 591-5330
Tacoma Parks website: Wright Park and Seymour Conservatory (follow "Parks & Facilities", then "Parks" link)

One of the region's oldest parks, Wright Park dates from about 1886, when Charles B. Wright donated the land to Tacoma for a park. About four years later, prominent landscape gardener Edward O. Schwagerl prepared a design for the park. His plan created a classic Victorian scene, the kind of landscape usually reserved for estates. It called for tree-lined walks, a pair of lakes, formal statuary, rose garden, and a wading pool, all complemented by a mix of choice trees and shrubs. Today, the trees have matured, and this park has one of the two finest collections of deciduous trees in the state.

Added to the park in 1908, the Seymour Conservatory is one of only three Victorian-style glasshouses on the West Coast and is a National Historic Landmark. Following an architectural tradition that stressed flights of fancy, this conservatory has a copper-clad, twelve-sided central dome that stands about 60 feet tall and two side wings. The oldest plant in this glasshouse is a Queen Saga, Cycas circinalus. Workers grew it from a seed planted in 1895. The plant, which looks like a small palm but is actually a cycad, stands about 12 to 15 feet tall. In addition to this plant, the glasshouse also displays other tropical trees and ornamentals, lavish seasonal color displays, a fish pond, and artwork.

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