A Bit of West Seattle Garden Tour History
Updated: Nov 25
In the spring of 1995, a group of West Seattle gardeners brought us the first West Seattle Garden Tour (WSGT). They were encouraged by Irene Stewart, then co-owner of the West Seattle Nursery, to make the event a fund-raiser for ArtsWest.
At the time, ArtsWest was a fledgling organization, housed in a little hole-in-the-wall space in the lower level of Jefferson Square. The Playhouse and Gallery, now located on California Avenue, was just a dream. Many residents thought it was an impossible dream, and that it would never happen. But in spite of naysayers and a pandemic, ArtsWest has persisted. They built the Playhouse, which opened in 1999, and they are currently in the midst of a vibrant new theater season.
Today, WSGT is a 501(c)(3) organization. It raises around $25,000 a year, with donations spread among several organizations, including ArtsWest. The committee supports those that align with their mission: "to promote horticultural-based interests, education, and artistic endeavors." Here is the list of 2022 grant recipients.
This year's tour will be on June 26th, from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online, or at retail outlets, including West Seattle Nursery, starting in mid-May. There are 10 gardens on the tour this year. Tickets are $25 each.
There have been many beneficiaries over the years, including The Seattle Children's PlayGarden, featured in the video above, Duwamish Long House and Cultural Center, Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association, West Seattle Bee Garden, The Allied Arts Foundation, The Arboretum at South Seattle College, and so many more. It is impossible to measure the number of lives touched in a positive way because of the support, provided by the garden tour, for local non-profits.
We have some spectacular gardens in West Seattle. Without the garden tour, though, there are many that you might never have a chance to see. Here Jeff Daley, WSGT president, shows you the magnificent rhododendrons at the Colman Estate, an historic property overlooking Puget Sound, which was on the Tour in 2019.
In 1996, I was invited to join the WSGT Committee. In spring of that year, I had launched my first website. It was an online gardening magazine and a way to promote my landscape design business. I became the WSGT's first official photographer and, since the tour itself didn't have a website yet, I added a page to my site with photos of the gardens.
The video above features images mostly from that 1996 tour, with a few favorites from other years. I had to make scans of those old photos, so they don't have quite the 21st century quality we're used to today. But you can still see why, every year, local gardeners look forward to the tour to get inspiration for their own outdoor spaces!
During the time I was on the committee, we commissioned the first WSGT poster, featuring a watercolor by West Seattle artist, Chiyako Oka. It is gratifying to see that art has become a permanent part of the garden tour experience. Every year, there is an artist competition, and the winning work becomes the poster for that year.
The West Seattle Garden Tour is an example of the power of community. It combines the efforts of local residents, small businesses, artists, and passionate gardeners to bring enjoyment to the public, build lasting friendships, and raise money for organizations that do good in our area. If you're looking for a fun and rewarding volunteer opportunity, this just might be it. Take a look at the list of ways you can help.