Friends and neighbors have long described the 2.5-acre parcel of land in Federal Way that Larry and Marie Flesher live on as “park like.” While the couple appreciated the compliments, they didn’t take them too seriously.
Then, on a sunny day last summer, Larry was riding his lawn mower on to the grassy expanse that fronts the road and he found a family having a picnic.
“I told them they were welcomed to stay there until I had to mow it,” he recalled.
Now, the Fleshers realize that the property they’ve owned and slowly improved over 40 years really is on a par with a city park.
Theirs is one of six private gardens that will be open to the public on Saturday as part of the Federal Way Symphony Tour of Gardens. In addition, the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden and the Pacific Bonsai Museum, also will be part of the event.
Along with the gardens, the day features live music and art vendors. At 11 a.m. horticulturist and garden designer Riz Reyes will talk on “Travels of a Young Gardener” in the Bonsai garden courtyard.
THE RELUNCTANT GARDENERS
After purchasing their property in 1973 the Fleshers mostly let nature take its course. The long and narrow lot sits on North Lake, just east of Weyerhaeuser corporate headquarters.
Larry was busy at Boeing and Marie taking care of the family. When the couple retired they were able to donate more time for their favorite pursuits: cycling and skiing. Gardening wasn’t one of them.
Then, in 2011, when their grandson Curt wanted to use the property as the site for his wedding the couple knew they had to do some improvements.
“We suddenly became gardeners,” Marie said.
Today, a long sweeping driveway leads down through a grove of mature cedar trees and to the couple’s lakeside home. Like most of the 50 homes on the lake it was built as a vacation home. The western shore of the lake is preserved as a greenbelt giving the homes only views of nature.
Near the road, the Fleshers removed a large wild blackberry patch and replaced it with grass interspersed with apple, cherry, plum and Asian pear trees. They also set out inviting benches which are often used by passers-by. It’s easy to see why someone would mistake the area as a park.
In between the roadside grass and the Fleshers’ home is a dense woodland, mostly filled with cedar. Occasionally a tree dies and Larry, handy with chainsaw, will cut out the center of the stump and fill it with soil and plants — speeding up the course nature takes in the wild.
In December of 2013 the Fleshers were asked to be on this weekend’s tour. After agreeing the couple have spent every moment they could getting the property in top shape. They were assisted by their daughter Deby Kohlwes, a Mukilteo-based landscape designer and installer.
Kohlwes gives credit for the garden to her parents while they deflect it back.
“Deby has done more than her share,” Marie said.
Non-native plants are few on the property but, given their nature of standing out from the indigenous background, offer visual focal points.
The upcoming tour has given the Fleshers an excuse to install even more improvements on the property. Larry’s long sought dream of putting in a new flagstone pathway through the forest, vetoed for years by Marie, finally got approved.
Marie spent days trimming last year’s raggedy growth off of the hundreds of native sword ferns that grow on the property.
On the edge of the lawn between house and lake hangs a chair lift that once carried skiers at Crystal Mountain Resort. A pair of skis leans against it.
“I love skiing even more than biking,” Marie said.
The property winds down to the lake where the Fleshers have a long dock and a brick lined cove where their grandson’s wedding took place.
When Kohlwes was a child she would visit other kids on the lake by jumping in the water and swimming to their homes.
“We never went by the street,” she said.
On a recent summer evening the Fleshers, Kohlwes and a lucky reporter boarded the family pontoon boat for a “research” trip around the lake. There might have been wine involved.
The boat has a silent electric motor — no gasoline engines are allowed on the lake. Kids splashed in the water, a pair of young men fished for trout and ducks swam through lily pads under the watchful eye of a bald eagle.
It was about as perfect as a summer day can get. By the time the garden tour is over “park like” will no longer apply to the Flesher’s home and property.
“Resort like” will be more appropriate.
IF YOU GO
The Federal Way Symphony Tour of Gardens
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, July 19
Available at: 253-529-9857 or federalwaysymphony.org and at Watson's Nursery, Branches Garden Center, Oriental Garden Center, Marlene's Market & Deli in Federal Way and Furney's Nursery.