“As we become more and more city creatures, living in manmade surroundings, perhaps gardens will become even more precious to us, letting us remember that we began in the garden.” –Eulalie Wagner, former owner of Lakewold Gardens.
Visiting Lakewold Gardens feels a bit like what you see in the movies — when city dwellers would leave the bustle of town to visit an estate in the countryside for the day. It’s not something we get to experience very often in the 21st century or even on the west coast. It’s a true escape; not only are you surrounded by nature, but you’re also stepping back in time.
Located in what was once called The Lakes District in Pierce County, Lakewold overlooks Gravelly Lake, one of a cluster of half a dozen freshwater lakes in a roughly 10-square-mile area. After the land was taken from the Nisqually tribe during the early pioneer days, this area became a hotspot for settlers and local tourists seeking peaceful weekend retreats.
A succession of owners over the last 100+ years have recognized the beauty of the land and its gardening potential, slowly adding acreage, plants, and hardscapes that make it the destination that it is today. Lakewold blends formal garden elements, like immaculate hedges, with more natural-looking areas brimming with ferns and native trees. In a way, you’re getting several garden experiences in one visit.
The Parterres and Pond
Parterres are artfully created gardens framed by low hedges and tidy flower beds — something akin to the highly manicured landscaping at Versailles. Lakewold’s boxy parterres contain bright perennials and even a duckling topiary. It’s a very courtly-looking area that could very well be a film set for Bridgerton.
Nearby, there’s a clover-shaped pond that glows electric blue on sunny days. In this section, there are benches aplenty and cheery statues of dogs and music-makers. The openness of this area offers panoramic views of the garden and house.
The Wagner House and Veranda
While the general public is not permitted to go upstairs, you can enjoy the main level of the home. The entryway has stately marble floors and hand-painted wallpaper fittingly depicting people strolling through an idyllic countryside. The largest room in the house is now an event space anchored by a large fireplace; it opens up to a veranda that’s surrounded by thick, winding wisteria. There’s also a cozy library with its own fireplace and arched built-in shelves.
The house plays host to a rotating selection of exhibitions by contemporary artists. Helen Donahue, Lakewold Gardens Grants and Resource Manager, tells me that Lakewold’s future is centered on “embracing the arts and deepening roots within the community.” Visit Lakewold’s website for current exhibition information.
As the name might suggest, you cannot miss this tree. It’s a monster of a Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) not far from the house and next to the parterres. Douglas firs are perhaps the most common species in our neck of the woods, but this one is special. While most trees grow one massive trunk and much smaller, relatively straight branches, this Doug fir trunk splits low and curves upward creating a super wide, tentacle-y canopy. It’s an exceptional specimen and the cause of its unique growth habit remains a mystery.
On the Flag Lawn near the Wagner House stands a mammoth Empress Tree (Paulownia tomentosa) that’s about 60 years old. This species hails from China and is known for its rapid growth and dangling chains of purple flowers. Its soft seeds were once used as packing material to protect Chinese porcelain in shipment — the original packing peanuts!
For gardening enthusiasts, you can shop for plants and plant-related merchandise. Items for sale include limited edition prints from local artist Coxswain Press, handcrafted garden tools by Fisher Blacksmithing, and books about houseplants and gardening in the PNW.
Lakewold transports you to a time of stylish garden parties, horticultural fanaticism, and curated nature escapes. It’s a perfect spot for a romantic picnic, an outing with kids, or a bit of solo time to relax and recharge.
Onsite parking is free. Summer hours: Wednesday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. Winter hours are Friday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and Military, $5 for youth (ages 6-17), and free for kids 5 and under.
See Lakewold’s website for more information.
Here are some other ideas of gardens you can visit that are near Lakewood Gardens