The largest rose garden in the state
Not all the wild animals you may hear are confined inside Tacoma’s Zoo and Aquarium in Point Defiance Park. From high cliffs overlooking the Tacoma Narrows, people can hear the local bald eagles screeching as they feed on native salmon runs that pass through the narrow strait on strong tidal currents.
Their calls can also be heard from their nests in the 400 acre old-growth forest that is preserved within the park boundary. It’s not unusual to see 4 eagles flying vigorously at the same time when the salmon are plentiful. They are competing for a meal with native orca who visit too.
In winter, sea lions migrating from California feed in the swirling tides beneath the Gig Harbor overlook on the northernmost point of the peninsula. Harbor seals are common near the tip of the point most of the year, and their pups are frequently observed north of Owen Beach in late summer and early fall (humans and their dogs should keep their distance to avoid spooking the pups.)
Point Defiance Park also provides habitat for mule deer, red foxes, pileated woodpeckers, Douglas squirrels, and raccoons.
But one of the most popular pastimes in the park is to simply sit in quiet contemplation in the colorful Rose Garden among the 1500 roses and let the scents and sounds come to you.
The rose garden began in 1895 when the park superintendent solicited rose cuttings from local students for the park – and three years later, arbors had been built and 75 roses were flourishing under the superintendent’s care.
Now the garden contains over 1500 roses in 4 quadrants around a wooden pagoda, including a special section for miniatures around a wishing well.
All the plantings are protected from native deer by a 12 ft tall fence with locking gates. Before it was erected, the deer had a long-term buffet for years.
It is managed by Metro Parks Tacoma and the Tacoma Rose Society and is still located in its original 1885 location. There is also a dahlia garden in one corner next to the rose garden, and an iris test garden as well.
A history of the Tacoma Rose Society and its relationship with Pt. Defiance is here.
A link for renting the Pagoda in the Rose Garden is here.
Beyond the main rose garden, visitors will find Miniature Rose, Japanese, and Dahlia gardens next to the former superintendent’s home, now called the Lodge. It was built in 1898 in the year of the Yukon Gold Rush, and was 90 years later refurbished in 1988. Metro Parks has it rented out through much of the year for weddings and receptions. During the day-long spring pruning event, the Tacoma Rose Society also uses it for their reward potluck for us volunteers.
A prominent feature of the Japanese Garden across the drive past the Lodge is the Pagoda, built in 1914 as a streetcar station. When busses replaced street cars throughout the West, the Pagoda became a waiting area for the local busses in 1938.
In 1963 it was transformed into a meeting center for social gatherings. Like the Lodge, it is now also rented out be Metro Parks for large events like weddings, birthdays, and luckily for us, the TRS Spring Plant Sale.
In 2011 the Pagoda was heavily damaged in an arson fire that destroyed some TRS property, but it has been beautifully restored and upgraded to what you in the gallery below, and serves us well when we meet in early Spring.
All of these gardens can be easily accessed from the park’s new Pearl Street roundabout entrance at the end of Pearl St., near the approach to the Zoo and Aquarium. There is lots of parking around the rose garden, lodge, and Pagoda, and on the way to the roses, you can say ‘Hello’ to the water fowl at the duck pond.
Together, these gardens and buildings are situated on a bluff looking down on an active waterfront containing the new Dune Peninsula Park, Tacoma Yacht Club, Anthony’s Restaurant, and a Washington State Ferry landing that provides direct access to the southern tip of Vashon Island. The view from Anthony’s is spectacular, especially while you warm up after 3 hours of deadheading the Pt. Defiance’s 1500 roses in the rose garden.