Marion Brenner

The Secret World of Chase Garden

Across America, the Garden Conservancy preserves gardens for the public, inviting and encouraging people to experience gardens both for their cultural importance and for their beauty and significance in daily life. Many of the spaces under the Garden Conservancy’s province are protected historic sites, making the Conservancy’s purpose multifaceted: they keep gardens accessible to the public in the present, while ensuring that the past is kept alive for future generations.

In addition to the public gardens they support, the Garden Conservancy encourages private gardens to make themselves accessible on Open Days, which take place from May to October. The Garden Conservancy also offers various educational programs and garden-study tours, to further emphasize the importance of gardens, making them increasingly accessible.

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In this way, the Garden Conservancy’s scale is at once vast and specific, creating a mosaic of different spaces across the country, each capturing some corner of the American experience. But only one garden is owned outright by the Conservancy: Chase Garden, an especially charming spot located in Orting, Washington, just in view of Mount Rainier’s snowy peaks.


Marion Brenner

The garden dates back to the 1950s, when Emmott Chase and Ione (a pair of high school sweethearts) began to build their “personal paradise,” inspired by Modernist and Japanese aesthetics. With the help of landscape architect Rex Zumwalt, the Chases created a 4.5 acre garden that melded abstract, philosophical designs with the quiet, wooded character of the Pacific Northwest. While at first the two principles were considered at odds, the blended style eventually became the standard for the region’s gardens.

In 1995, Chase Garden came under the purview of the Garden Conservancy as a preservation project, before being officially bequeathed to conservancy in 2010, after the deaths of both Emmott and Ione. Since its official transfer to the conservancy, the public garden has grown rapidly– developments that have included planting new, low-maintenance species like wooly sunflower and adopting ecologically sound gardening practices– all with the spirit of the Chases’ original vision mind (in an interview with the New York Times, Ione explained that part of the garden’s original intent was to “Save the trees! Because everyone will cut them down for a buck”).

Recently, Chase Garden celebrated their annual fundraising event, Garden & Grapes with Cisco Morris, the proceeds of which go towards their vision of connecting people with “artful nature”. In the coming years, their hope is to develop a destination nursery and garden shop, as well as to introduce Chase Garden as a cornerstone of horticultural education for the region.

Chase Patio

Marion Brenner

Those who make it to the green bluff where Chase Garden sits can look forward to the bright splashes of American skunk cabbage, the delicate blossoms of tall bluebell, the slightly alien reaches of bigflower tellima, and the romantically named Ithuriel’s spear, among the many other plants currently decorating the landscape. There are always events to keep the garden busy, and even on its more quiet days, there is plenty to enjoy. Initially, the Chases set out to create their own “personal paradise”, but today, it can be anyone’s.

To find out more about Chase Garden, visit their website.

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