The ultimate weekend for garden tour lovers is filled with music and gardens with plants, art, and great designs. Music in the Gardens Tour on the Long Beach Peninsula in Southern Washington has combined musical talent and lovely gardens in its annual event on July 9th. Add a barefoot stroll on the beach, and the peninsula is a destination point with many summer delights. And placing talented local and regional musicians and artists in the gardens, one day of touring brings music to the ears, gardens to see, hors d’oeuvres to taste, fragrances to breathe, and art to touch and purchase.
The relaxed lifestyle in a beach community shines in their gardens and small towns that dot the longest beach in the world. Tour organizer Nancy Allen chooses various places, from the formal estate to small properties filled with playful art and whimsy.
Nestled on the Willapa Bay shores are two must-see gardens on the tour this year. Willapa Bay Heritage Farm sits next door to Steve McCormick and John Stephens – both places were once part of the world-famous Clarke Rhododendron Nursery. Visitors often wander between the two properties, where boundaries are not defined.
Willapa Bay Heritage Farm, owned by Deb Howard, demonstrates sustainable living, animal welfare, and organic farming practices. The farm boasts 75,000 daffodils, 225 chickens, ten goats, 1,475 Rhubarb plants, and 28 fruit trees. The nine-acre garden features tall raised vegetable garden beds and a vineyard.
Steve McCormick and John Stephens live next door on a 5-acre parcel. When they first arrived, they began clearing the overgrowth from the property, uncovering many mature rhododendrons and hydrangeas planted by the former nursery. The well-tended garden shows off an incredible Rhododendron collection of species and hybrids yet hosts other plants that bloom during the summer tour.
The rest of the tour promises a magical journey of paths through woodlands, windswept meadows, and hidden gardens you don’t know exist until you walk inside the gate. If you love driftwood, you will enjoy finding numerous pieces utilized in creative ways.
The tour began in 2005 as a fundraiser for the Water Music Society’s 3-day Water Music Festival held in October.
“2020 was to be our 15th-year celebration, but the pandemic forced cancellations for 2020 and 2021,” Allen said.
They scheduled musicians to play in only one or two gardens in the early days. The first year only 40 people bought tickets to the gardens. “It was very local and small,” Allen said. “A coordinator dropped off a cake for each garden to be served to guests.”
As the festival gained momentum, Allen chose to have a musician in every garden, which attracted more visitors.
When the October music festival began to pay for itself, the garden tour fund-raising benefits used some money to help the Ocean Park and Naselle School Districts’ music programs. Music teachers provide the Water Music Society with a wish list. Wishes fulfilled in the past included percussion instruments, ukuleles, and sheet music, with plans for scholarships in the future.
Tour-goers appreciate the ocean-side gardens even more, when considering the numerous problems and climate impediments residents overcome. Many fog-filled days, and winter’s horrendous windstorms, make any in-lander want to run down to the basement to hide. Mother Nature is no demure lady; she is a brutal beast on the coast. Yet rugged gardeners turn their places into beach-charmed oases despite the constant wind, lack of sunshine, and salt in the air.
Dress for the Climate
Even on a typical summer day, a drive about the Long Beach Peninsula reveals many different microclimates. Take a trip to the peninsula’s south end to Ilwaco, and cold wind may blow in from the mouth of the Columbia River. Next to the beach, the dense fog surrounds you, or you are under a cloud cover. Drive 1.5 miles to Willapa Bay, and you bask in full sun. Meanwhile, further north in Osterville, the day is calm and warm. You quickly learn to dress in clothing layers and prepare to take them off or put them on.
After you enjoy the tour, there are other fun-filled events to do.
A popular pastime is flying kites on the beach. You don’t have to wait for a windy day; it rarely stops near the ocean. You will find people flying stunt kites, parasails, one-string kites with long tails, or someone handling a train of 50 stacked together flying high in the sky. If you don’t own a kite, there are kite shops that will help you with kite selections. In Long Beach, you can visit the World Kite Museum.
Golfers and pet owners like the Peninsula Golf Course. Only five in Washington State allow pets on the course, including this one. The food at the Cove Restaurant on the golf course is superb for lunches and dinners. A popular place to eat with the locals, the restaurant’s dinner menu provides a variety of seafood and prime rib. Don’t miss the restaurant’s award-winning tiramisu espresso-infused cheesecake with a caramel drizzle. Considered a casual fine dining restaurant, you can also order food to go or eat outside on a heated deck with your pet. They even offer a pet menu.
There are seven miles of hiking trails at the Leadbetter Point State Park on the northern end of the peninsula. You can bike or walk an 8.5-mile paved Discovery Trail between Ilwaco and Long Beach on the southern end. The course is primarily flat, and along the way, there are sculptures and displays on display and sweeping views of the ocean.
Many businesses were hit hard during the pandemic; however, many are recovering. There are still places to shop and eat, from the south end of Ilwaco to Ocean Park to the north.
Plan Your Stay
Three hours from Olympia, the peninsula is an easy destination for a weekend getaway at one of the many condominiums, cozy motels, hotels or B&Bs that dot the peninsula. A favorite place to stay is at the historic Shelburne Hotel & Pub in Seaview. The rooms are cozy and unique, the food is good at the pub, and there’s a beautiful garden outside.
Make reservations early if you can. However, even if all the peninsula rooms book up that weekend, Astoria in Oregon also has accommodations. The river and seaside town are only 26 miles away from Ilwaco across the 4.1 miles long Astoria-Megler Bridge that spans the Columbia River. Astoria is another excellent destination point.
For more information visit their web site.
Originally written for Colibri Magazine.