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Kubota Garden: Seattle’s Hidden Treasure

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Kubota Garden is a 20-acre Japanese garden located in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of southeast Seattle. While it is often confused with the Seattle Japanese Garden in the Arboretum, it is unlike a traditional Japanese garden as it was not designed as one garden, but rather a series of garden spaces and features that were developed over time by Fujitaro Kubota, a Japanese immigrant.

 

Fujitaro Kubota came to the U.S. in 1907 from the island of Shikoku, Japan, first landing in San Francisco then coming north to work at the sawmill in the former company town of Selleck, Wash., currently known as Black Diamond. He was later listed as a proprietor of the Taft Hotel in the International District of Seattle and as a produce vendor at Pike Place Market. He often helped friends who were doing landscape maintenance, a popular business for Japanese immigrants to have in those days. He soon discovered he could make suggestions for improvements, and clients liked them. Eventually, he started out on his own doing landscape maintenance and then expanded into landscape design work. In 1927, Fujitaro Kubota bought the first five acres of Kubota Garden property to grow and store plant material and equipment for his burgeoning business.

Kubota Garden, circa 1927

 

Eventually, he moved his family to one of the houses on the property and over time as the business grew, he acquired and expanded the garden to 20 acres. He built display gardens and had nursery areas to support the landscaping business. Before World War II, the garden had rolling lawns and beautifully landscaped areas that he shared with the community.

Kubota Garden, circa 1942

During World War II, the family left the garden when they were incarcerated in Minidoka with 110,000 other people of Japanese descent. They were fortunate to have non-Japanese friends who looked after the property, but it was largely overgrown when they returned after the war. Fujitaro was not deterred and continued to grow his landscaping business until his death in 1973. Signature clients included Seattle University and the Bloedel Reserve, in addition to many private residences around Lake Washington, Seward Park, Laurelhurst and Magnolia.

Of course, his tour de force remains his own garden where he stored stones, plant material and created display gardens featuring bridges, lanterns and his quintessential unique plant materials like the Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar, the Tanyosho Pine and the Mountainside where he placed 600 tons of stone to make cascading waterfalls and streams.

The garden was purchased by the City of Seattle in 1986 and is supported by the Kubota Garden Foundation. It is open to the public year-round daily, from dawn to dusk, and admission is free.

Kubota Garden is renowned for its spectacular fall foliage and free Fall Color Tours at 10 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday of the last two weekends of October. Come for a visit, volunteer or learn more at the Kubota Garden Facebook page, or on the website kubotagarden.org.

Author’s Note: A book about Kubota Garden called “Spirited Stone, Lesson’s from Kubota’s Garden” will be published in early December. Pre-order it at spiritedstone.org.