Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lakewold Gardens: In Search of the Blue Poppy

Himalayan Blue Poppy
The vivid color of its petals has been compared to the blue of Paul Newman’s eyes. Rare and difficult to grow, this flower has earned the reputation as the “elusive butterfly of the garden”. It is indigenous to the sub-Alpine meadows of the Himalayan Mountains in Bhutan, Tibet, China, and Nepal; but, no need to get out your passport or pack your bags to see this marvelous plant. The Himalayan Blue Poppy’s taste for cool, moist summers; shade; and acidic soil means the Pacific Northwest is one of the few places outside its native habitat where the plant can thrive. Lakewold Gardens Estate, just south of Tacoma, bills itself as the spot “Where the Blue Poppy Grows” and is the best place to admire this pretty perennial.

The gardens consist of ten acres of manicured grounds surrounding a Georgian-style mansion on the shores of Gravelly Lake. Considered one of America’s great estate gardens, Lakewold features large collections of Rhododendrons (250 different species), Japanese maples (30 varieties), camellias, and cherry trees along with several gardens within gardens, sweeping lawns, European-inspired parterres, reflecting pool, and gazebo.

Brick pathway connects home and gazebo
The property was first developed in the early 1900s as wealthy Tacomans established summer retreats along the shorelines of a series of lakes south of the city. H.F. and Ruth Alexander, owners of the Admiral Lines, inherited the land, added additional acreage, and enlisted designers to create a fabulous estate and gardens that would capture the views of Gravelly Lake and Mount Rainier. The Olmstead Brothers, known for their work in public parks of Seattle and Portland, are credited with designing the brick walkway, perimeter fence, and gate.

Reflecting Pool
In 1938, the estate was sold to George Croydon and Eulalie Wagner. He was an established Tacoma businessman with ties to timber and coal production and she was a daughter of the Merrill’s, a prominent Seattle lumber family. With her strong interest in gardening and the arts, she is largely responsible for the look of the garden today. She was an avid plant collector, and added a sizeable collection of choice and rare plants, including the blue poppy, to the grounds.

Thomas Church, a nationally recognized landscape architect, visited the property many times between the 1950s-1970s and greatly influenced the garden design including the pool and teahouse. His emphasis on multiple vantage points and a free flow between the house and garden are observable today.

Upon her death in 1987, Mrs. Wagner donated the property to the non-profit Friends of Lakewold so the gardens could be preserved, maintained, and enjoyed by the public.

Visiting Lakewold seems more like an excursion to someone’s private estate than a public garden. The self-guided tour begins along the Circle Drive leading to the house through a forest of tall rhododendron. The Wagner House, built in the Georgian revival style, is also open to the public and serves as a popular venue for weddings and meetings. Beyond the home’s glassed sun room, an intricate brick pathway leads to the gazebo, or tea house. On both sides, neatly trimmed boxwood hedges surround topiaries and create parterres, small patterned gardens. Next to the rose-covered gazebo is an unusual, decorative swimming pool designed by Thomas Church. He is also responsible for the medieval inspired Knot Garden, shaped like a ribbon bow and filled with culinary herbs. Other “gardens within gardens” include a rock garden, fern garden, woodland garden built below a giant Douglas fir, rose garden and waterfall.
Knot Garden

A special bonus is the Garden Shop located in the original 1918 carriage house. It offers a unique selection of gardening books, tools, seed packets, and many of the rare plants seen in the garden. The Himalayan Blue Poppy is also available here but only once a year and for a few weeks in the spring. Needless to say, the limited supply sells out quickly.

The month of May is an excellent time to visit Lakewold when the spring bloomers, including the rhododendron, are at their peak. In late May and early June, the blue poppy shows off its spectacular blossom. The garden is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm and admission is $9 for adults, $6 for seniors. To check if the poppies are in bloom, call 253-584-4106 or visit their web site,

No comments:

Post a Comment