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Kubota Japanese Garden's bridge

Kubota Garden’s bridge

Kubota Garden is a large traditional Japanese garden owned by Seattle, set in Rainier Beach, a weary looking neighborhood in South Seattle.

It is traditional in its extensive use of evergreens, limited use of colors, water and architectural structures. The green landscape creates a peaceful refuge, and typical use of iris and azaleas (along with other flowers and flowering shrubs and trees) relieves the predominant green with splashes of color.

The plain entrance, devoid of a traditional Mon gate or other significant entry point from the parking lot, opens to wide paved walkways edged with expansive swaths of green lawns, bordered with trees and thick vegetation. The lawns in particular must create a spacious haven to the residents nearby, although there wasn’t another soul in the park this misty afternoon, except my two companions and me.

At twenty acres I didn’t see every inch, but did spend a couple of hours meandering through the hidden trails located on the hillsides, where some trails just ended abruptly at a fence or faded into thick growth. There were a few steep grades with very narrow paths in these thickly wooded areas, and a few surprise openings that provided tunneled views of miles away. There were long moments when we were concentrating more on our footing than the surroundings until we got to lower and flatter, less slippery ground.

Stone lantern and iris are common water features

There were rhododendrons of brilliant red, deep purple and pastels in bloom, and wonderfully odd shaped sculptural trees, a running brook with splashing waterfalls, and small ponds traversed by bridges and stepping stones.  My beloved irises took their usual places at the pond’s edge and moss-laden trees stretched their limbs over azaleas that were past their bloom.

The mature landscape displayed enormous spruces, cedars and other conifers, along with Japanese maples and a multitude of deciduous trees. All of which provided many points of interest among the shorter shrubbery, and thick vegetation of various plantings, such as ferns and scattered groupings of yellow, blue and purple flowers (buttercups, blue flax? mountain bluet?)  Green was the predominant color dramatically interspersed with huge clusters of deep red-raspberry rodies (rhododendrons) and a cheery red bridge.

lacy white leaved tree nestled into rhododendrons

lacy white leaves of the floating cloud Japanese maple

Kubota Garden, like so many others, was started by a single individual, Fujitaro Kubota, whose landscaping business, nursery, and home were all located within the park. I don’t know if he started the project with a grand vision, but it began with five acres in 1927 and grew into twenty. Sadly, the family was interred in a camp during WWII and the garden was temporarily abandoned.

Mr. Kubota returned to his garden and worked on it until his death in 1973 at 94 years old. His family donated the garden to Seattle for all of us to enjoy. I wonder is the thought of his beautiful garden kept his spirit going while he was imprisoned.

The public came together to save the garden from development in the late ’80s, resulting in a 4.5 acre portion being designated an historic landmark. Seventeen acres abutting the property has also been purchased as open space.

Did I say not another soul was in the garden park that day? That’s probably not correct. Mr. Kubota must surely be present, caring for the garden as perhaps it once cared for him.

For photos, please visit the photo gallery.

Admission is free, tours take place monthly,  weddings can be held at the garden, and endless garden projects could always use an extra trowel. Please visit http://www.kubota.org

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