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After half-century of beauty, iconic garden faces uncertain future

Flowers frame part of the Chase house with Mount Rainier in the background in Orting.
Flowers frame part of the Chase house with Mount Rainier in the background in Orting. Staff file, 2013

UPDATE: The Garden Conservancy said on June 20 that it was expanding and strengthening the conservation easement on the Chase Garden. The Conservancy is also planning to document the garden and said it will open the garden for at least one public event this fall.

ORIGINAL STORY:

A nationally known Pierce County garden bequeathed to a nonprofit is closing at the end of June and might be sold.

The Chase Garden near Orting was created over four decades by Ione and Emmott Chase. An alpine meadow in the garden has an in-your-face view of nearby Mount Rainier.

The couple bequeathed the 4.5 acre garden to the Garden Conservancy in the 1990s. The Conservancy is a New York-based group dedicated to preserving and sharing outstanding gardens.

“It’s an iconic Northwest garden with that incredible view of Mount Rainier,” Orting nurseryman Greg Graves said Sunday.

Garden director Lori Taylor referred queries to the Garden Conservancy.

“There is no official sale,” Garden Conservancy spokesman George Shakespear said Monday. “We are exploring alternatives for the garden.”

One of those, it turns out, is selling the garden.

“That is one of the alternatives,” Shakespear confirmed. “We’re looking for someone who can be appreciative of the unique qualities of the site and accept stewardship with the conservation easement.”

Other possibilities include a partnership with another group to help run the garden.

“We do believe local management is better than management from across the country,” he said.

Shakespear would not reveal the operating budget of the garden nor would he give a reason as to why the Garden Conservancy has decided to close the garden.

“We are closing it to the public at the end of this month as we continue to assess the best possible route,” he said. “That’s the only thing that’s different.”

Shakespear stressed that the Garden Conservancy has been on a search for sustainability for over a decade.

The Garden Conservancy took on the Chase Garden in 1995 as a preservation project which included a conservation easement. The easement protects the site in perpetuity.

Ione Chase died in 2006 and Emmott died in 2010. They purchased the land in the 1940s and began working on the garden in earnest in 1962.

Chase Garden is the only garden the conservancy owns outright.

“We accepted it with the goal of making it a sustainable resource for the local community,” he said.

Graves, who has volunteered at and worked with the garden on mutual projects, is not happy about the news.

“I think it’s horrible,” Graves said of the impending closing. “I just worry about all the small public gardens facing the same thing.”

The garden has only been open to the public on a regular basis since 2008. Graves said its distance from major population centers kept visitors low.

“I think the big trouble is just getting people there,” he said.

The garden is still a favorite of garden afficiandos today, often making lists of America’s most beautiful gardens.

The May edition of “Northwest Travel & Life” called it “Where heaven meets the mountain.”

“It’s definitely worth saving,” Graves said. “No northwest garden is more northwest.”

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor

Chase Garden

Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday through June 30.

Admission: Adult $8; retired or active military $4; children 12 and under free.

Information: chasegarden.org, 360-893-6739

Members and Volunteer Picnic: Noon-4 p.m. June 24

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