Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lakewold Gardens - a drop of Old World in the New

Blue poppies, Meconopsis betonicifolia, a favorite of Mrs. Eulalie Wagner's, remain a signature plant of the Lakewold Gardens.

I've always loved the work of Thomas Church, one of the greatest and most influential landscape architects of the last century. Anyone with the slightest interest in garden design cannot have escaped seeing pictures of his most famous work with its iconic, kidney-shaped pool from the mid-50s, the Donnell Garden in Sonoma, California. Also, his book Gardens are for people was one of the best-selling garden books of the 20th century, an influential and inspirational source for generations of professional designers and laymen gardenlovers alike.

Above: The main house as seen from behind the buxus parterres. Below: The brick walk towards the belvedere, past the buxus parterres filled with perennials and white flowering Mt. Fuji cherries, Prunus serrulata 'Mt. Fuji'.

Here in Washington state were are lucky to have two gardens on grand scale by Church that are open to the public. One of them is the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, a magnificent garden with great calm and elegant simplicity that I never get tired of visiting. The garden design is not completely by Church, but it includes many features by him, like the impressively architectural Reflective Pool at the end of the long garden walk. The other is the Lakewold Gardens, a large estate garden an hours drive south from Seattle. With its Church-credentials, it had been on my radar for a while, but had somehow managed to escape closer attention.

Unnamed peonies from the cutting garden.

Built as a typical weekend 'playground' for a wealthy Northwest family in the early 20th century, Lakewold entered its golden age when it was sold to Corydon Wagner and his garden-loving wife Eulalie in 1938. It was Eulalie, an eager gardener and plantswoman, who commissioned Church in 1958 to create a framework that would provide a structural background to her beloved plants and flowers.
The gardens were laid out as a series of garden rooms in a formal, traditional style that blends European influences from Edwardian gardens in England to French parterres. A medieval knot garden, a rose-covered belvedere, a swimming pool disguised by its formal quatrefoil form, parterres with topiary swans, a fern grotto and a Japanese influenced woodland garden complete with a rippling stream are only a few eclectic features of the Lakewold Gardens, all surrounded by naturalistic areas that mix native vegetation with choice exotics. Considering the mix, it is remarkable how serene the gardens appear when strolling through the areas.

The medievally inspired knot garden and the Wisteria-clad verandah.

Despite being clear that a masterful hand had planned the garden, I still did not experience that blissful elation that usually follows visits to gardens I really enjoy and admire. All exquisite plants excepted, I found the design too traditional and conservative; just like the pictures of it that I'd seen in Gardens are for people, it just did not stir my senses and feelings like the Reflective Pool at Bloedel or pictures of the Donnell Garden manage to do every time I see them.

The lion fountain; it forms a focal point at one end of the axis that runs between the buxus parterres and through the quatrefoil pool to a sun dial.

 Over 30 species of Japanese maples grow in the gardens; here the deep blush leaves of Acer 'Shindeshojo' brighten up the shady paths that lead through the Japanese gardens.

One would think I am a one-track modernist, but that is not the case; at times, I thoroughly enjoy traditional, formal gardens, or romantic and eclectic ones. But while the Donnell Garden and the Bloedel Reserve express and reflect their time, place and the surrounding landscape - they are all about celebrating genius loci - the Lakewold gardens, impressively beautiful as they were, still felt like a well-arranged collection of features from the history of European garden design spread into the forests of the Pacific Northwest. But then, as much as he was celebrated for his designing skills, Thomas Church was also admired for his ability to let the garden reflect the owner's personality. In Lakewold, while not creating his best or most avant-garde design, he made a magnificent garden for its owner to love and cherish. And maybe that is what made him the extraordinary designer he was.  

The quatrefoil pool, originally a swimming pool disguised as a formal water feature behind buxus parterres. Divers used to jump off the planting boxes in the middle.


Gardener in the Distance said...

Hello Liisa,
from what I have seen in pictures only, I'd have to agree with you that both the Donnell garden and Bloedel Reserve are far more captivating than Lakewold. A lovely, obviously loved and, as you say, serene space, nonetheless. I especially like your knot garden images.

Unknown said...

Can I use the picture of Lakewold gardens (with the building in it) for my parent's 50th anniversary web site that I am building. They are having the celebration at LG in the same building and your picture is stunning. Much better than what is available through the LG website. The image would be credited to you, I can add a link to your site as well....

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Hi Judy, I didn't get your email so I'm just answering here. Thank you for your comment! Yes, you can use the picture, but please mention that it's mine. What a lovely place to have an anniversary celebration!