It had been raining all week, quite normal for western Washington in late May. We were near Seattle, visiting our brand new granddaughter (our first) and her parents. But then, unexpectedly, the constant drizzle turned into blazing sunshine and dazzling blue skies! Being a gardener, I immediately looked for the closest public garden to visit.
In this case, Pete and I took an afternoon off to spend some time at Lakewold Gardens Estate, just off I-5 in Tacoma. Once the home of Mr. and Mrs. Corydon Wagner, the estate is now owned by a non-profit group specifically dedicated to preserving the gorgeous plantings and lovely house. The property fronts Gravelly Lake and, weather permitting, provides spectacular views of Mt. Rainier.
As we paid our fee and entered from the gated parking area, I was immediately overwhelmed by brilliantly blooming rhododendrons and azaleas. Vivid pinks, fragrant yellows, delicate whites, screaming reds—everywhere we looked, we saw color. Given the area’s long, dreary winter, it’s no surprise that these mood-lifting spring-flowering shrubs are so abundant in local gardens.
Once I managed to tear my eyes away from the rhodies, I began to notice other plants. Japanese Maples formed an understory beneath the tall firs and cedars. I expect leaves that turn red in the fall, but the new leaves on many of the maples were a soft pink, displayed against a tracery of dark branches. Other maples were adorned with rose-pink samara, or winged seeds.
Viburnums (V. plicatum var. tomentosum) were bedecked with horizontal drifts of snowy white flowers. They shared space in shrub-filled borders that defined a series of outdoor rooms. An assortment of columbines, ferns, lily of the valley and other groundcovers added to the woodland look.
A trellis covered with lavender and white wisteria shaded a terrace behind the house, and huge ornamental kiwi vines with brightly hued variegated leaves climbed the structure’s brick walls. A brick walk led to a vine covered tea house. Streams cascaded over rock ledges on their way to the lake below. Each turn presented a new vista and new plants. I could easily have spent all day, perhaps with a picnic lunch on the lush green grass.
Around one lawn, eye-catching Blue Poppies had petals of purest azure. Imported from the Himalayas, these plants are notoriously difficult to grow, but if you want to try your luck, the gift shop offered poppies in pots, along with other perennials, saplings, and annuals. Indoors, in the former carriage house, we found a delightful assortment of garden-themed items for sale.
I was heartened to learn that all this beauty is maintained organically. No chemical moss controls. No chemical fertilizers. No toxic slug bait—and I didn’t notice a single slug hole in the hostas! Some tips are available at the garden website, but I would like to learn more about their obviously successful techniques.
Our visit was well worth the $9 admission fee (less for seniors, students, and military; children under 12 are free). The gardens are open Wednesday through Sunday, ten to four. Winter hours vary, and they suggest you contact them in advance (888.858.4106). You can learn more about Lakewold Gardens Estate by visiting their website.