By: Karla Sclater, Feet First Development Committee Member
You don’t have to know about the history of Kubota Garden to enjoy walking through it — and learning a bit about the history adds a rich layer to your experience. My family and I were lucky enough to get a personal tour through this 20-acre urban oasis tucked away in the Rainier Beach neighborhood a couple of Sundays ago. Feet First Neighborhood Walking Ambassador, Mary Magenta, generously guided the three of us through the 89-year old garden, despite the wild, windy weather keeping the other participants away.
In addition to being one of the original walking ambassadors for Feet First, Mary is an artist, a nature lover, a bicyclist, and a woman whose love of exploration is infectious. She also volunteers at Kubota Garden, pitching in to clean up the garden and leading tours, when she’s in town. Currently, Mary is helping out her sister in Baltimore, Maryland. We are lucky enough to have her in town for a visit and an art show at Jude’s Old Town Rainier Beach.
As we strolled through the garden, Mary enriched our experience, sharing how the history of how this spectacular garden came into being. She revealed an understanding of the garden that comes after spending time caring for as well as discovering what the garden offers.
Fujitaro Kubota’s Garden
In 1923 Fujitaro Kubota launched the Kubota Gardening Company. The lack of formal landscape training did not prevent Mr. Kubota from becoming a respected garden landscaper sought after for his unique designs. He created gardens, combining Japanese gardening plants and elements with Pacific Northwest foliage.
“There’s a holly,” Mary pointed out, “you wouldn’t see that in a traditional Japanese garden, but he was interested in what grew well here.”
Mr. Kubota began work on the garden in 1927, purchasing five acres of swampland in Rainier Beach. He acquired the land family friend who was an attorney because, as an emigrant from Japan, he could not legally own land in the United States.
During World War II, the Kubota family was interned at Minidoka in south-central Idaho. The family friend held onto the land for the Kubotas, until they returned after the war. Although they had lost their business and the garden suffered from lack of attention, Mr. Kubota and his sons began again, building up their business that continues to this day as Kubota Gardens Landscaping.
After Mr. Kubota’s death in 1973, his family worked to make the garden and nursery a public park, according to the Kubota Garden Foundation, “both to enhance the quality of life in Seattle and to increase America[n] understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture.”
There are new discoveries around every corner. Kubota Garden boasts the larges Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar in Seattle, at 32 feet; a cypress grove, waterfalls, Mapes Creek, a stone garden, and so many other visual treasures to discover. If you go, be sure to walk over the Moon Bridge. Mr. Kubota’s sons installed it to honor their father after his death. It represents the difficulty of living a good life because it is difficult to walk up and difficult to walk down, but it can be done.
There’s a lot to experience at Kubota Garden. Plan your visit here: Kubota Garden Foundation.
To learn about other Feet First Walk led by Neighborhood Walking Ambassadors, visit Feet First Neighborhood Walks to for details and to sign up.