A beloved rhododendron and azalea garden in Olympia has been donated to the city.
Located at 1500 Springwood Drive in northeast Olympia, the 3.2-acre garden was initially created by the late Art and Peggy Zabel. For nearly three decades, the couple opened their backyard garden for public tours when the flowers were in bloom.
The Angela J. Bowen Conservancy Foundation bought the property for permanent protection in 2007. At that time, Dr. Angela Bowen said a goal for the site was to provide habitat for urban wildlife.
But the land will soon belong to the public following the Olympia City Council’s unanimous vote to accept the donation Tuesday. The property is valued at $161,750, according to the Thurston County Assessor.
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As part of the deal, the property must remain “in a vegetated state without structures” and must “be maintained as a natural lot and/or as a rhododendron garden consistent with its historical use,” according to the deed.
Parks director Paul Simmons told the council that the site will remain as an undeveloped open space with no plans for modification at this point due to a lack of funding. One possible future improvement includes making the site more accessible to the public.
“Right now, we’re just grateful to get the property,” Simmons said Tuesday. He said the city can host volunteer work parties for any maintenance.
Council members praised the property as a true city treasure. Bowen was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s an incredible piece of property because of the diversity,” Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said. The garden contains hundreds of varieties rhododendrons, many of which don’t exist anywhere else.
He also described Bowen’s history of civic contributions as “legendary.”
The former Zabel’s Rhodendron Garden was a hazelnut orchard slated for a housing development when the couple bought the property in 1961. They began converting the site into a rhododendron and azalea garden after attending a garden show in 1967, according to reports. Each May, the couple’s backyard arboretum would attract more than 5,500 visitors from across the country and around the world.