Joyce Hawkins attended a class on landscape water features offered by the Tumwater Parks and Recreation department about 10 years ago.
At the time, she didn’t have much gardening experience.
“I was so focused on making my living that I really didn’t do much around the house,” said Hawkins, 72, who lives in unincorporated Thurston County near Littlerock. “But I’ve always loved tropical fish.”
The class was enough to give the retired state worker a case of the gardener’s bug – and not the run-of-the-mill “hobby” strand. Hawkins went on to earn master gardener certification, accept a board position with the Northwest Horticultural Society, and build a spectacular botanical ode to all things tropical.
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“My garden is now over an acre,” said Hawkins, who last month made her private koi garden available for public tours as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days in the Olympia area. “This was all from thinking I wanted to have a half whiskey-barrel water feature.”
Hawkins actually started her garden by building a 1,000-gallon Japanese koi pond in her yard.
“It soon became too small,” she said.
Thanks to the handiwork of her son, Hawkins’ garden now features 8,000-gallon and 16,000-gallon ponds with about 75 multicolored koi fish.
“Some of them are as big as a 6- or 7-pound salmon,” Hawkins said.
The peaceful garden also features a gazebo, several patios and a wide variety of trees, including about two dozen ornamental maples, shrubs and perennials.
“I’m essentially a plant collector,” Hawkins said. “A challenge to me is to find a plant that a lot of people don’t have.”
She’s built several “vignettes” – areas where visitors can sit and relax while taking in beautiful views – in the garden. Hawkins and a friend also create concrete leaf castings and other artwork to sell at South Sound farmers markets and craft events.
“I’ve made the most wonderful friends through all of this,” she said. “It’s been a great way to not age mentally or physically. It keeps my mind active, and there’s always something outside that I have to do.”
Hawkins’ is quick to admit that gardening has “consumed” her life. The koi garden is a year-round project, and during the busy season requires about 50 hours a month for planting, weeding, watering and fussing over the details.
But Hawkins said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I guess I like the structure – it needs to be done, it depends on me,” she said. “I’ve always liked that kind of challenge. I own this job.”