Atlantic Street just west of 12th Avenue South.
The Black family settled in Seattle early on and they owned a large estate at the north end of Beacon Hill. The story goes that in 1913 Frank Black offered to take his wife, Katie Black, on a Grand Tour of Europe, but instead she requested to have a Japanese stroll garden designed for her on their property. The garden was installed in 1914.
The garden contains several specimen trees and a variety of shrubs, and it was originally designed to frame territorial views from the hill. (Views which have since been blocked by neighboring buildings.)
The Black estate was eventually divided and sold off, but the garden remained, even after entering the hands of other owners. Katie Black had welcomed the public to her garden, and that tradition was maintained by subsequent owners.
In 1990 a local resident nominated the garden for acquisition by the city using funds from the Open Space levy to make sure the garden remained accessible in perpetuity. Seattle Parks and Recreation bought the garden in 1992 for preservation. Katie would have been pleased to know that her garden continues to be open to the public as an official city park.
Over the years the garden had become overrun with blackberries, ivy, and other invasive plants. After the garden became a park, community work parties endeavored to restore the garden and today the footpath and understory is clear again.
Katie Black’s Garden is a neat little spot on Beacon Hill that would be especially appealing on a hot day due to the many trees creating lots of shade.
There are two entrances to the garden, which is located on the west side of 12th Avenue South just a few blocks south of Jose Rizal Park. The north entrance is via stairs down from 12th Avenue. The main entrance is around the corner from 12th on Atlantic Street. The main gate is a level entry with no stairs, and the garden walk is entirely on level ground.
While this is called a garden, and probably looked like one at its inception, it’s more of a mini-arboretum today. There are no formal planting beds or large open areas to allow in sunlight. Instead it’s mostly a patch of mature trees and shrubs.
The central feature is what was once two large connected ponds, with a tiny footbridge between them. Asian influence is clear in the pond design and some of the plantings, but the garden as a whole has a distinctly Pacific Northwest feel. Sadly, the ponds have been dry for a very long time, probably because the money just hasn’t been there to maintain them.
A brick footpath circles around the entire garden, and since the area is quite small (under an acre) you could easily do the loop in a couple minutes if you don’t want to pause for anything.
A bench has recently been installed in the middle of the garden on the west side near the little bridge, and I can see that it’s a welcome addition. Without it there isn’t much here to invite a person to linger. (I also noticed some flimsy chairs near the south entrance that had obviously been put there by neighbors.)
The bench provides a nice spot to enjoy this little bit of nature in a paved over world. Birds love the garden and there were a lot of them flitting around. I was only able to identify robins and northern flickers, as the others were too small and fast for me and I didn’t have a long lens to get a better look.
The garden is quite peaceful, except when planes fly overhead. Apparently it’s under the SeaTac flight path.
I was in the garden in mid-October and most of the trees hadn’t started turning color yet, so it would probably be better a little later in the month if you want autumn color. I know very little about plants, so I’m not sure how many of the trees and shrubs bloom in the spring, but I’d imagine at least some of them do. Online photos indicate there are flowers planted in the garden as well, but none remained in October.
Katie Black’s Garden isn’t large enough or interesting enough for most people outside of the local area to make a special visit to see. But if you’re wanting an unusual spot to cool off on a hot day, have a hankering for some solitude in nature, or are sightseeing on Beacon Hill, then you might want to go take a look.
Things to Know
4 am – 11:30 pm
No picnic tables.
Public restrooms are available a few blocks north at Jose Rizal Park.
Street parking along 12th Avenue South.
Parking on a gravel strip in front of the main entrance on Atlantic Street.
You shouldn’t have any trouble getting a parking spot most of the time.
Katie Black’s Garden is used almost exclusively by locals. I can’t even begin to guess how heavy or light typical usage is, but I suspect visitors frequently have the place to themselves. I was here on a beautiful Sunday in mid-October and only one other person was present. She was entering the garden as I parked my car and only stayed for around five minutes before moving on.