The Story of Emmott & Ione Chase

With an eye to finding “beauty in nature,” Ione and Emmott Chase, took their love of the land and the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest into their hearts.

Born in 1909 and 1910, Ione and Emmott Chase were high school sweethearts who were raised in the Kapowsin and Electron area. Ione left briefly to study patternmaking in California, but in 1932, Emmott borrowed his father’s car to bring her home. They were married soon after. Emmott was employed by Puget Sound Power and Light Company for forty-seven years, working his way up to the position of supervisor. Ione built stone walls and planted gardens around their company housing in Electron, Washington.

In 1943 the Chases purchased property in Orting, near where Ione’s family had picnicked when she was a young girl. The bramble-covered site, on a bluff 200 feet above the Puyallup River, had stately second-growth firs and cedars, and would be the place for their retirement home and garden. They sought the services of a young, modernist architect. After the house was framed and plumbed, Ione and Emmott did the finishing work themselves.

Ione asked newly graduated landscape architect Rex Zumwalt to draft a plan for the garden immediately around the house. She showed him clippings of Japanese gardens and the new modernist style gardens in California. He drew a plan with concrete terraces and covered lanai, narrow stepping stones and bridges, and pebbled reflecting pools. The style was new to the Pacific Northwest, but became the region’s prevailing garden style of the 1950s and 60s.

Ione and Emmott poured the concrete for the terraces, laid the stones for the reflecting pools, and planted hedges and trees. They searched the river valleys for boulders, some weighing up to three tons, and carefully set them in the garden.

Ione traced paths into a slope and planted patterns of her favorite plants, weaving a colorful tapestry. It reminded them of the alpine meadows they saw on mountain hikes. Under the conifers they encouraged drifts of trillium, vanilla leaf, and other native plants, adding more over time. For Ione, “the purpose of a garden is to create beauty in natural surroundings.”

The garden vibrates with color in spring and early summer, but at all times of the year it displays a serenity that is the product of a masterful eye. Ione considered gardening as much about editing and restraint as it was about propagating and planting. “If you love plants, if you collect plants, simplicity can be the hardest thing to achieve. If you get too many different plants, the simplicity slips through your fingers.”

The Chases left in the summer to enjoy their lakeside cabin in British Columbia. Thus the garden needed to take care of itself during the dry Washington summers. Their concern for husbanding resources, saving water, and making do for oneself were well ahead of their time. For more than five decades Ione and Emmott cared for the garden; well into his seventies, Emmott could be seen roped into a tree, pruning and grooming. They refined the garden all the while, adding new stones, rerouting paths, and planting new shrubs and even removing trees they had planted as young saplings. But the view and the timeless beauty of the garden remained constant.