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Their deep knowledge of and intimacy with the contours and flora of the Pacific Northwest informed Ione's vision and her selection of plants for the garden. Emmott's work with Puget Sound Power and Light gave him access to heavy equipment and many logging roads in the area, where they were free to gather natives for their garden. The clumps of bear grass (Xerophyllum tenax) hail from under the power lines at Stampede Pass. The colonies of white-flowered Anemone deltoides were discovered along a logging road toward Mount Rainier while the couple was looking for a grizzly bear after an alleged sighting. The western hemlock grove (Tsuga heterophylla) on the southeast edge of the front lawn was planted in the 1960s with small trees collected from a logging road outside Enumclaw.
But the land also had its own share of native plants, which the Chases preserved and encouraged. "The Woods," the area of native trees, understory, and ground covers above the house, was Ione's "church" and also Emmott's favorite part of the garden. Along with vanilla leaf (Achyls triphylla), evergreen and yellow wood violets, star-flowered false Solomon seal (Smilacina stellata), the Trillium (Trillium ovatum) were there when they moved in, but Ione coaxed them to multiply by collecting and scattering their seeds and patiently waiting: Trillium take seven years to bloom. To accompany the resident natives, she planted Oregon wood sorrel (Oxalis oregana), Synthyris reniformis, maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), and fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum).
Ione loved native plants, but she was no purist and was a self-described "plant fool" through and through. She scouted out plants that were similar to the natives or would mesh well in her design. She and Emmott consistently made the rounds to several local and northwest nurseries including Wells-Medina, The Plant Farm (now defunct), Windmill Nursery (Sumner), and Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery (Oregon). And as any true gardener, she propagated plants she had and incorporated starts from friends and visitors to the garden. The heather beds planted along the driveway and slope next to the woods originated from just a few plants of Erica carnea 'Springwood White' from a friend that Ione divided and replanted until the banks were a white carpet of heather.
In the 1970s Ione began creating one of the more unique features of the garden: tapestries of ground covers that suggest the mountain meadows she hiked in her childhood. While Emmott was a charming storyteller and at ease in front of other people, Ione was introspective and observant. As with rocks, she scrutinized plants and was always imagining possible combinations and identifying exotics as good substitutes for native plants.
As an accomplished seamstress, she loved the drape and feel of fabric. Her power of observation and an aesthetic developed from years of sewing must have guided her as she selected perennials that she planted in great drifts in the 3/4-acre meadow. Originally there was more variety — primroses, Iris, Arabis, woolly thyme, but the more vigorous ground covers — Phlox subulata, Lithodora, and Ajuga — have triumphed. While beauty was one of Ione's criteria for plant selection, another was utility.
Chase Garden is at its colorful peak in May when the meadow and many of the rhododendrons, magnolias, and dogwoods, are in bloom. Because they vacationed at their remote cabin in B.C. during mid-summer, Ione focused on spring bloomers and plants that didn't need extra water during the dry Pacific Northwest summer. Currently at the garden, a perennial bed is in the works, which will extend interest through the summer and into fall when the maples begin to color up.
A garden is living art that is never done and always changing. In 2001 at the age of 91 and after 40 years of work, Ione observed, "The garden is finally starting to take shape ... finally come together." And, yet, she continued, there is "still more to be made." Ione passed away in 2006 at age 97 and Emmott in 2010 at 99, their ashes scattered in The Woods as they wished. Thanks to the Garden Conservancy, a non-profit organization headquartered in New York that saves and preserves exceptional American gardens, Chase Garden will continue to evolve in the spirit of its creators. When Emmott died, the Garden Conservancy assumed ownership of the property and now operates it as public garden.
In April I spent a day at Chase Garden doing research for this article. It was classically spring: chilly with occasional downpours punctuated by bouts of sunshine. While indoors reading interview transcripts, thumbing through photographs, and talking to head gardener Jeannette Matthews, I sat at a round table in the room where the Chases once watched television and Ione had sewed. Four large windows face out to the river valley and Mount Rainier, invisible that day. As Matthews and I talked, I spotted a bald eagle flying toward us, one talon grasping a large stick. It swooped over the lawn and as it approached the windows, soared up and over the roof.
Later that afternoon a giant double rainbow appeared against a backdrop of dark gray across the valley. I like to think of the bald eagle flying to its eyrie beyond the woodland garden as a symbol of our basic urge to create shelter and home, and of the double rainbow as a symbol of the human desire to experience and create beauty, however transient. Ione and Emmott Chase found a piece of logged land in the Puyallup River valley, "their little corner of the earth," as Ione called it, and as she had aspired, left a "mark as least as lovely as I found it." And then some.
If you go: Admission, free for mothers on Mother's Day (May 13), when it is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; others over the age of 12 are $5. Otherwise, the garden is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from April through October, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission, $5 per person; free for fathers on Father's Day (June 17). Details and directions here.
This story has been updated since it first appeared to correct information about the admissions on Mother's Day and Father's Day.
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