Kubota Garden is a South Seattle gem. Keeping it free is a challenge

Everyone knows about Rainier Beach’s not-so-secret garden.  

Kubota Garden is a rare, historic gem — a public, 20-acre, Japanese-style garden that has been admission-free since residents lobbied the city to purchase the garden in 1987. Over nearly 100 years, it has become a haven for reflection, koi-spotting, bird-watching and dog-walking, as well as a prime-time location for wedding, quinceañera and graduation photos. Today, the garden attracts more than 100,000 annual visitors.

But this nursery-turned-public-garden has its challenges. With the park’s outsized reputation, visitation is growing faster than the space and staff can handle in order to keep South Seattle’s verdant crown jewel shining. 

In this hilly refuge off Renton Avenue South, koi wriggle under the garden’s red Moon and Heart bridges; gravel paths spiral past waterfalls, through woodland trails and a mountaintop overlook, all adorned with botanical wonders chosen by the garden’s creator, Fujitaro Kubota, a first-generation Japanese American immigrant. 

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