On a beautiful lake tucked into a quiet neighborhood south of Tacoma, sits a grand old house. Built as a country getaway in the early 1900s, the home was the setting in which an avid plant collector created her dream garden. You could call it Northwest luxury – a quatrefoil swimming pool that looks straight out of a European manor house yet in the shade of towering fir trees. An elegant stone patio overlooking a native woodland path down to a boathouse by the lake. The grand expanse of lawn at the front of the house is tailor-made for both building a snowman with the kids or hosting an elegant soirée. One can easily imagine an elegantly dressed woman walking down the path with her parasol towards the gazebo just as you can imagine a family playing croquet on the lawn. The garden is casual elegance – Northwest style.
The gardens are a pleasure to wander, with gravel paths winding through the woods, past ancient rhododendrons. The hard landscape sets the tone near the house with formal lines and old world charm. As you wander further from the house, the landscaping becomes looser and contains a wide variety of both native and introduced woodland plantings. The garden does not overwhelm you with art installations and objects that might otherwise draw your attention away from the natural beauty. Accented only with an occasional bench on which to sit and admire a beautiful tree or lovely flower, and one piece of artwork – a bronze statue of a boy proudly holding his prize fish, which stands down by the lake.
When I visited in early October, the fall colors had not quite arrived and the summer colors were winding down. But I could see in my mind all that this garden will become in spring and summer next year. In spring the rhododendrons and camellias will shine, and in summer the perennial flowers will fill the garden. In early autumn, the garden is one of imagination and a feeling that the garden is preparing for a rest. With less to draw your eye elsewhere, you are more likely to notice the fascinating bark on the stewartia tree, or the immense girth of the coastal redwood tree. The cyclamen were in full bloom, shining like little beacons of light at my feet. The beds of japanese anenome happily braved the colder weather of fall and were bright spots of lavender-pink against the brickwork.
The joy of visiting in early autumn also meant I had the entire garden almost to myself. Just me, my camera, and my thoughts. So many of us travel up and down I-5 without ever venturing off the freeway to discover what treasures there are just a short distance away. Next time you are heading past Tacoma, dive off at Gravelly Lake Drive exit and visit the Lakewold Garden. If you are a plant collector too, keep some room in your trunk for a few pots of plants, as their gift shop includes a nice collection of plants for sale that you might have seen on your visit. The gift shop is a great stop for gifts, and books too. If you are looing for a special housewarming gift, Christmas gift, or a beautiful garden-themed puzzle to while away your hours this winter, stop by the gift shop even if you don’t have time to explore the garden.
The garden has signage to guide you on your visit:
The classic walking path – allow about an hour for the .55 mile walk that will take you on paths that are both paved and unpaved, level and on a slope.
The Highlights path – allow about half an hour for the .27 mile stroll that covers pathways that are mostly flat and paved.
Notes on visiting:
- Picnicking is welcome – leave no trace of your visit behind
- No dogs or pets
- Children must be supervised due to water features
- Please stay on paths
- Entrance fees to visit the gardens, no fee needed to visit the plant sale or gift shop
- Annual memberships available
12317 Gravelly Lake Drive SW, Lakewood WA