IN 1956, A nursery man from Denmark purchased several acres in Woodinville, then a rural community surrounded by farmland. Beginning with five existing glass greenhouses filled with nursery stock for the production of chrysanthemums and carnations, Egon Molbak and his wife, Laina, grew their family business into one of the Pacific Northwest’s most beloved horticultural destinations.
Beginning in the 1970s, the retail nursery expanded to include comforts and furnishings for indoors as well as out, and became Molbak’s Garden + Home, a popular destination with something for everyone. Its first Poinsettia Festival was held in 1975 and quickly became a dazzling seasonal celebration attracting visitors from throughout the West.
Molbak’s was there at the birth of the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in 1989 and for years produced ambitious display gardens, many designed by renowned Seattle-based landscape architect Robert Chittock. The wildly imaginative gardens attracted throngs of visitors. Executed in plants and artistry, Molbak’s gave us magic in the middle of winter.
Jens, son of Egon and Laina, took over Molbak’s in 2002 and helped navigate the family business through a challenging economic period. Molbak’s prevailed to become an even more valuable regional resource. On-site workshops, landscape design services and seasonal festivals cultivated a loyal community and attracted out-of-town visitors who came to shop all the best annuals, a remarkable selection of indoor plants, and landscape plants and garden goods.
Now Molbak’s is growing again with the development of the Woodinville Gardens District, an all-new business and residential hub with gardens — and Molbak’s — at its heart. Molbak’s CEO Julie Kouhia says, “We’re focused on remaining true to our roots, while also evolving and moving forward with the world around us.”
Woodinville is far from the sleepy bedroom community it once was; it’s now a busy city with a growing population. Planning for the future, and in keeping with the Molbak’s tradition of undertaking ambitious and imaginative endeavors, Jens Molbak reached out to Green Futures Lab, an interdisciplinary design and research team at the University of Washington focused on developing ecologically sound public spaces.
Director Nancy Rottle, a professor in the UW’s Department of Landscape Architecture, led students and involved stakeholders, including community leaders, Molbak’s and other business owners, neighbors and regional architects, to dream up a plan that would serve the community and possibly become a successful model of a sustainable, connected downtown for the rest of America.
Nature is central to the development of The Gardens District. Breaking ground in early 2023, phase one of the five-phase project includes a four-story mixed-use commercial and residential building designed by GGLO, grounded by a brand-new Molbak’s designed by Graham Baba Architects.
Don’t worry; the present nursery will remain until doors open on the new one in 2025. “I think it’s wonderful that a garden center and the nursery are considered an integral part of the community,” Kouhia says. “We really do think that plants make life better.”
Greenhouses situated to harvest the light will provide neighbors with a bird’s-eye view of the verdant retail yard, and Kouhia muses about building community and how balcony gardens might serve as vertical pollinator pathways. Shannon Nichol, founding partner of Seattle landscape architecture firm GGN, is the lead on a plan that integrates the built environment with the surrounding native ecology at every stage of development, including the restoration of nearby Woodin Creek. “We want to create something that is authentically of the place, not landscaping as an afterthought to redevelopment,” Kouhia says.