Lakewood, just south of Tacoma, is home to one of the most beautiful gardens in the South Sound — Lakewold Gardens. While the gardens have been at the same location for more than 100 years, many South Sound residents have not visited or perhaps have not been back since childhood. But with 10 acres of stunningly beautiful gardens, wooded areas, open lawn and historical appeal, Lakewold Gardens is worth visiting, spring through fall.
“Highlights change by season,” said Executive Director, Stephanie Walsh. “Certainly in the spring, there’s a lot of robust, deep vibrant color of the blooms. We work hard to keep very green all year round. So even in the summer, we’re a very relaxing place for families to come and we do still have a lot of things blooming that time of year. In the fall, we have a maple collection so the fall colors changing are just spectacular.”
Lakewold’s 10 acres have served as a home, vacation spot and event space through the years. The land was first purchased by Emma Alexander in 1908, who later gifted it to her son Hubbard Foster and his wife, Ruth, in 1918. It was her son who expanded the property to its full 10 acres and began to hire designers to create the gardens. Decades later, after a few more owners, owners George Corydon and Eulalie Wagner brought in Thomas Church, one of the top landscape architects in the country, to refine the gardens. His influence remains to this day in much of the garden design.
“What makes us unique and worth a visit is that the property dates back to the early 1900s,” said Walsh. “Not only do visitors get to experience an amazing landscape, but they also get that sense of place that comes with that historical perspective.”
Exploring the Gardens
Today, the result and continuation of Church’s work means that Lakewold is home to both rare and native Northwest plants, more than 900 rhododendrons, 30 Japanese maples and both formal gardens and natural landscaping, gravel travels and paved paths alike. At the center of the grounds is a Georgian-style mansion, which is a Washington State historic landmark. Visitors may even find special exhibits or events taking place there.
Visitors can wander freely through the gardens, which are arranged in “rooms” — distinct spaces, each with a different atmosphere. For instance, just off the verandah on the back of the house is the Knot Garden, a well-manicured plot designed by Thomas Church that features not only ornamental plants but culinary herbs as well. Wander farther afoot and you’ll find the Shade, Woodland or Rock gardens. Whether you pay attention to the different spaces or not and whether you can identify the various plant species or don’t know a geranium from a sequoia, the experience at the gardens is nothing short of inspirational. Natural beauty is around every corner and there are many places to sit on a bench and take it all in. You even have your choice of benches — inside a large gazebo called the Teahouse, next to a pool of water, on the verandah overlooking the lake or on a shaded trail.
Also, keep an eye out for the Champion trees. Champion trees are the largest known example of their kind in the state and there are more than 10 of these behemoths (and relative behemoths for smaller species) on the grounds. Especially noteworthy is a gigantic metasequoia glyptostroboides, or dawn redwood, that you can’t miss, but if you do somehow miss it, ask one of the staff to point it out to you.
The Garden Shop
While many who visit Lakewold Gardens may not be gardeners or may not even own a potted plant, others may be designing a garden of their own. For those who seek rare and unique plants, gardening tools that you won’t find at Lowe’s, or specialty gift items, Lakewold’s Garden Shop is the place to be. Located near the admissions office, the Garden Shop is small yet mighty and has a great selection especially of Japanese maples. All proceeds from the shop go directly to the gardens, which is a non-profit.
Classes, Programs and Events
Lakewold Gardens also strives to be a resource for its community via classes and events. Off and on throughout the spring, summer and fall, events fill the garden with a little extra life. Mayfest rings in spring with festivities, from fanciful fairy houses tucked into nooks and under bushes to special guests to entertainment for kids. Later in the spring, Mother’s Day Weekend brings art, music and fun for adults to the gardens.
There are also classes for children and adults alike. For adults, watch for Learn in the Garden lectures throughout the year that address everything from gardening tools to pruning techniques and more. Speakers teach and then attendees break into groups to practice what they’ve learned. Adult classes and lectures do have a registration fee, which varies depending on whether you’re a member, registering in advance or registering the day of the event, but the cost is usually $20 or less.
For kids, the deal is even better — workshops for kids are free! Workshops take place once per month and range in topic, but always focus on having fun. Kids learn, explore nature and often get to work in the kids’ garden as well. The workshops are aimed at kids 8 through 12.
“Each September, the kids program culminates in Community Kids Day where we get together with our partners throughout the community and have a big, fun day for the kids,” said Walsh. “Each community partner brings an activity that’s somehow garden related. We have about 300 people each year.”
Beyond events and classes for the public, Lakewold Gardens is also a spectacular option for private events — especially weddings. Weddings are done after the gardens are closed to the public so guests have access both to the mansion, the sprawling wisteria covered terrace on the back of the house, and all 10 acres of the gardens. The property overlooks Gravelly Lake, which adds a little something extra to the view.
Wedding packages are available both for up to 100 guests as well as for 100-200 guests, and include everything from valet parking to a one-hour photo session.
“Everything we do goes back to our mission,” said Walsh. “Essentially, it’s to provide an inspirational experience for our community. We recognize that not everyone is a gardener, but there’s a lot of ways to enjoy the outdoors and be inspired. That’s our main goal. We can serve through horticulture and conserve through preserving an open space. We offer all these different activities to give people a reason to come to this place.”
For more information about Lakewold Gardens, visit their website. The gardens are located at 12317 Gravelly Lake Drive SW in Lakewood, which is just off I-5 exit 124. Admission is free for members and $9. Discounted rates are available for students, seniors, military and groups. Children 12 and younger are always free.