Garden House on Orcas Island, Washington


The Garden House is a private one-bedroom cottage located on Orcas Island (in the San Juan Island archipelago); Orcas Island is approximately 80 miles north north west of Seattle, Washington. The Garden House is available year round.

Garden House photo

We encourage a meander through our web site (here's why).
But in case you are in a hurry:

In a Nutshell

Four minute walk to this view
       Four minute walk to this view

The Garden House is a second floor guest quarters, with cathedral ceilings, dormers and lots of light. Containing a combined kitchen and sitting room, a large bedroom, and a bathroom with shower (interior photos), the Garden House is located on 6 wooded acres of waterfront property at the east end of Orcas Island. A generous, sunny deck with a large hot tub sits above a flower and fruit garden, with the water modestly visible through the trees. A four minute walk on a wooded trail leads to a large rock outcropping, with inter-tidal pools and a south-easterly view of the Rosario Straits, several islands and the North Cascades, providing an ideal place for fishing, conversation or contemplation. The northwest style building, with shake roof, custom wood framed windows and shingle siding, is about 200 feet from the main house. A wood stove (free firewood supplied), as well as electric heat, will keep you warm. The kitchen is fully furnished with pots, pans, utensils as well as plates from a local pottery.

Vermont Castings wood stove
Living Room with
Vermont Castings
Towels, sheets and blankets are provided; the queen-size bed is made. Additional bedding options are provided by a hide-a-bed sofa in the combined kitchen / sitting room area. The cabin has a coffee bean grinder, "mr coffee" type coffee maker, toaster, microwave, refrigerator, gas kitchen stove, small cd/fm/aux music system with cable attachment for an ipod or the headphone jack of your laptop, and outdoor charcoal grill (charcoal not supplied). For children, a portacrib is available as well as a fold-out futon and baby monitor. A 24x7 dsl wi-fi internet connection is available as is a pc for those who would like to have internet access without bringing a computer. Cell phone reception is of acceptable quality. Moran State Park, with hiking, swimming and a
Garden House on Orcas Island on Facebook
children's play area (more Park photos), is about 10 minutes away; the town of Olga, with a postoffice, general store (open in summer only) and cafe, is about 5 minutes away. Additional hiking is on Turtleback Mountain (info and map). Orcas Island is temperate year round: the summer brings sunny, though not hot, days in the low 70's to low 80's, while the winter brings generally above freezing temperatures and rain, creating a quiet coziness inviting one to snuggle up near the fire with a good book. Additional information is available at the Garden House  Journal



The Details

Rates for the Garden House are based on the season--in the busy summer season (July through September) the rate is $175/night. The shoulder season comprises the months of June and October; here the rate is $135. The rate for the winter season, November through May, is $115/night. There is a minimum two night stay. All rates are subject to local and state taxes. There is a four (4) person maximum which can be stretched to five under limited circumstances. The rates cover linens (for one bed) and towels for 2 people. In situations where additional bed linens and towels are requested, you may either bring your own or we will supply those items for an additional $10 (a one time fee which covers all days of your stay--if you wish us to supply these items, the fee will be collected separately prior to your departure). Please let us know the number of people in your party at the time of your reservation.

Internet Specials:

For visits to the Garden House between October 1st and April 30th (this is approximately the "winter season" I mention above), the rate will be reduced by 10% for Sunday through Thursday nights (not counting holidays) if you ask for it at the time that you make a reservation. And the twist?: this rate does not "wrap over" into weekends (Friday and Saturday); it only applies for weekday visits that begin on or after Sunday and end no later than Thursday. If your stay includes a weekend day, regular rates apply to all days.

Separately, during that same period (Oct 1st through April 30th) you may stay a third night free when you make a 2 night reservation; as described above, you must ask for it at the time that you make a reservation and this special does not apply to holidays.

For clarity, a Garden House "holiday" refers to a typical holiday window. For example, the Thanksgiving holiday means Wednesday to Sunday, even though Thanksgiving (Thursday) is the actual holi-"day". The period from Dec 24 through Jan 1 is considered a holiday. Those are the big ones. Other holidays typically include the weekend associated with the holiday (like Veterans Day, MLK day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc.) Internet specials don't apply to these periods.

Thus, with the exception of holidays, if you want to minimize your costs and can get away during the week (between Oct 1 and April 30), you can have a 3 night stay for 10% less than the cost of a 2 night stay. You can also get a 3 day weekend for the cost of a 2 day weekend (come on Thursday and leave on Sunday, or come on Friday and leave on Monday).

Recession Rate Reduction

Our contribution to helping jump start the economy is to reduce (at your request) the Garden House basic rates corresponding to the Federal Reserve Bank's overnight discount rate. Starting in January 2008, the Garden House rates shown above can be reduced, per your request, by a percentage equal to 2 times the drop in the Fed rate.

Here's how this works

The Fed 'primary credit discount' rate dropped 0.75% (three quarters of a percent) on January 22, 2008, from 4.75% to 4.00%. The Fed rate dropped an additional .50% (half a percentage) on January 30, 2008 from 4.00% to 3.50%. On March 16, 2008, the fed rate dropped 0.25%, and again on March 18, 2008 the fed rate dropped another 0.75%. On April 30, 2008 the fed dropped the rate another 0.25%. The economic meltdown in early October 2008 found the fed dropping the rate another 0.50%. On Oct 29, 2008 the fed dropped the rate yet another 0.50%. And, on December 16, 2008, again the fed dropped the rate another 0.75% . Currently the primary credit discount rate is 0.50%, which is 4.25% lower than when the Garden House's recession rate reduction program started.

Consequently, the basic Garden House rates can drop 2 x the 4.25% decline, or 8.5%. As the Fed makes changes, the Garden House recession rate reduction percentage will change correspondingly. Thus, when figuring your nightly rate for staying at the Garden House, you can use the Garden House rates shown above ("The Details") and, if you request this option when you make your reservation, reduce them by 2 times the current drop in the Fed rate starting from the 4.75% in early January 2008. Currently the

recession rate reduction is

8.5% (if the rates change in your favor, please let me know!)

All other Garden House discounts described above also apply.

PLEASE NOTE: You must remind me of your desire to take advantage of the recession rate reduction as well as any other internet special offers when you make a reservation (and not later)!!!

We are always looking for ways to sweeten what is already a sweet place. If you are having an anniversary during the shoulder or winter seasons (long term partnerships count the same as marriage) and can bring something (at least a good story) to prove when you met, we will discount your stay 1% for each year you have been together (this offer peaks out at 20+ years, and, alas, cannot be combined with the other offers described above). Creative ideas that won't result in our bancruptcy will be entertained--when proposing them, the zen approach is advised: have no attachment to the outcome. Single night reservations are sometimes possible--rates are higher. Mid week reservations in the winter are almost always available; weekends are often booked weeks in advance, as is anytime in the summer.

Payment Details

For rentals less than one week (7 days) in length, a deposit of the full amount due is required in advance to hold your reservation. For rentals of one week or more, 50% of the total due is required in advance; the remaining balance will be due before your departure. If you wish to make a reservation, contact us--we'll pencil you in the book and immediately send you a rental agreement, specifying the dates and total amount due. You may pay by check, Visa, Discover or Mastercard. Reservations not secured by a credit card are considered tentative and are honored for 4 days from the time of your call; reservations are only considered confirmed upon our receipt of either your (cleared) check or approved credit card transaction. (Unlike a hotel, credit card charges are made at the time you make your reservation, not at the time of your arrival).

Occasionally prospective guests call to ask me to pencil in a reservation but do not follow up promptly with a credit card or check. Meanwhile another prospective guest calls to make a reservation which would conflict with the first (tentative) one and is prepared to confirm it right then with a credit card. I don't know if the first prospective guest is serious, tho I know the second one is. If certain dates are important to you, please give me a credit card at the time of the reservation.

The Reservation Process

Cancellation Policy

If you notify me more than 2 weeks before your reservation, you receive your deposit back less a $25 cancellation handling fee. If you notify me less than 2 weeks prior to the start of your reservation, you will receive your deposit back, less the $25 cancellation handling fee, if I am able to fill the reservation with other guests.

The Philosophy


The Garden House nighly rate is intentionally set below the average nightly rate for cabins on Orcas. The reason: the Garden House is not positioned as a super high-end romantic getaway, i.e., those cabins that have a dishwasher, high definition dvd and minimum 35" screen, more titles than Blockbuster, king size bed, furnished like the 4 Seasons, dyno view of the water. Still, there are few buildings on Orcas that are constructed with better materials, a sweeter design, a solidity that subtly conveys serious structural protection inside the envelope of a beautiful asethetic, or are grounded in voluntary simplicity activities, including the purchase of sufficient green power to fulfill a commitment to total carbon neutrality in energy use. Unlike the Garden House, more expensive cabins don't have a hot tub, don't have exclusive beach and shore access privacy for just one guest party, don't have a garden where there is a standing offer for guests to make their own bouquet of flowers or pick ripe fruit off the trees or bushes or vines. Most other cabin environments are plural...there is not the sense that the grounds are the guests' alone. The Garden House offers exclusivity in its privacy, a sense of being welcomed into one's own personal place. The Garden House quietly reflects the terms retreat and tranquility (more on the subtext of the Garden House philosophy.) A small library of materials, from games to books, offers the opportunity to explore connection, creativity and contemplation.

Ferries to Orcas Island:

The interisland ferry HIYU Interisland winter boat, the MV HIYU

Orcas Island is one of four islands served by the Washington State Ferry (WSF) System--the Anacortes ferry dock is almost exactly a one and a half hour drive from anywhere in downtown Seattle. Call WSF (in Seattle, (206) 464-6400 or statewide 1-800-84-FERRY) for current ferry information and (this is important) their recommended arrival time at the dock prior to boarding the ferry you want. (Note: the WSF web site has some recommended vehicle pre-boarding dock arrival time estimates posted in case you can't get through by phone.) From late May through early October, do not be surprised if this time seems to be unconscionably early.

For real time information, you can look at the current status of the Anacortes ferry terminal parking lot.

Current Ferry Schedule

The Anacortes/San Juan Islands Ferry current schedule, available in a variety of formats.

Figure a two hour drive from Seattle, to allow for accidents, heavy traffic, etc. and throw in at least an hour OR TWO (except for the very early and very late boats) to insure that you get the ferry you want (particularly Friday afternoons and anytime in the summer), and another hour an a half on the ferry to the Orcas dock and you'll see you need to allow a big chunk of a day to get here.

Hanging out in a crowded ferry line in the summer for an hour or more while waiting for the next ferry does not generate a wide smile across my face. It is usually hot, there are odors (food, smoking, exhaust fumes and fuels), sounds (the guy next to you thinks you will love his hip hop at a decibel level just under that required to shatter glass) and there are a legion of people unhappy that they have to wait. Throw in kids, dogs, and the absence of wind to cool everything down and your comfort level could be low. Anticipate this to keep Murphy away. Bring something cool to drink and to wear, have a towel ready to place in the window to block the sun if you want to try to sleep, and consider taking a walk down on the long wide beach east of the Anacortes Terminal. If you've a book, beverage and blanket or better yet a portable chair, you can radically improve your ferry-wait environment.

Evening Arrival Info

Whether or not you stay at the Garden House, should you plan to arrive on Orcas in the evening, you may benefit from some late arrival information regarding grocery stores and restaurants.


Enough people inquire about whether they need to bring a car that a note here seems in order. For all but the truly adventurous, you need a car. For the purposes of this comment, I define "adventurous" as anyone who is an adult not responsible for anyone else (who does not, or may not, share this definition of adventure) AND someone for whom hitching, walking or biking is not only possible but substantially preferable to driving AND someone who has virtually no restrictions on either their personal energy or their time. The upside is that this is a beautiful place and going slow will bring its beauty straight in, breath by breath, uncensored by steel, glass and rumble. The downside is that we're talking miles, and hills, to the nearest restaurant, store, or whale-watching boat.

Guest comments:

The remarks offered here represent some of the many unsolicited yet very much appreciated comments which our guests have left with us over the years, offering us the rich gift of their feelings.


(Note: A Garden House weekend is defined as the time period from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning.)

Summer, especially, is a time when I make the occasional goof in the availability calendar. When you call or email me, don't hesitate to ask me to make sure the booking you want is, or is not, available.

Availability Calendar:

For a larger view, click on the link here:
The availability calendar for the Garden House.
Availability Calendar Explanation (see the calendar graphic to the right). Note that when a date is shown as "booked", that includes the night of that date. Example: in the calendar snippet shown here, the calendar shows that the dates 29, 30 of June and 1, 2 of July are booked. This means that the guest arrives on the afternoon of June 29th and leaves on the morning of July 3rd.

(note: for many of the winter months, you may stay a 3rd night free when you make a 2 night reservation. However, you must mention this option at the time you make the reservation. See the rates section for more information.)

If we are booked...

Restrictions / The fine print...

To contact the Garden House:

Joe Symons built and manages the Garden House. The phone number for information and reservations is 360-376-4549. For questions, issues, or inquiries when you get voice mail on the main number and you want/need assurance of a faster response, text or call my mobile: 360 378 7577.

Note! Some calls, especially mobile phone calls, that go to my voice mail have a reasonable chance of being degraded or garbled. Please leave your phone number twice and speak slowly and clearly. I will return all calls if I can decipher at least your phone number. Not all phone numbers are trapped by caller ID, so I often have no backup means of returning your call. If you don't hear from me within 24 hours, call, text or email.

You can email the Garden House at "GardenHouseOnOrcas AT gmail DOT com" (I realize this is a non standard form for an email address. The goal here is to give you the address without making it easily harvested by spammers) or--the preferred method--just contact the Garden House here. (The Garden House is a dba entity of Centripetus, a Washington State corporation)

NOTE: every now and then our ISP's spam filter unaccountably traps an email from you. If you don't hear from us within a day, please call! We certainly don't want to give you the impression we are indifferent to your inquiry!

And, in our continuing effort to allow clarity the front seat in technology's invisibility car, we do not sell, loan, share, rent or otherwise pass on to anyone anything about you, such as your email address.

Want to know more about the Garden House? See the Garden House Journal
crystal glaze

This is an example of a porcelain dish with a crystal glaze, produced in the Hot Ice Studio at the Garden House. If you are interested, stop in during your stay at the Garden House or take a virtual tour.

Once again, to make a reservation. I will need your

Thank you for thinking of us.

Are you on Facebook? consider Liking the Garden House to get notices of upcoming events, activities and comments on the Garden House by the staff and guests.

p.s. before you write: did you check the availability section above?
It is always current.

For your refrigerator:

This sketch is suitable for printing and putting up on your refrig, or office bulletin board, or on your partner's pillow, as a reminder that "carpe diem" may be the most important energy you can honor for yourself and ones you love.

Speaking of refrigerator, I would encourage you to take a few minutes to read an essay about eating and health. Offered (like the Garden House) as an alternative to a mainstream perspective.

And, speaking of alternatives and food, you can have a dozen organic eggs waiting for you, coming from a farm less than 5 minutes away, if you give me 24 hours notice (current price is $5/dozen). If available, I might be able to procure (or direct you to) some other locally grown pastured organic animal protein (perhaps a chicken, or some beef, pork or lamb), or veggies in the summer, and flowers too!


A commentary on going for the gold.

Rudy relaxing after a hard day at the office

Geotourism and the Garden House

Are you a geotourist? If you are, you will be right at home at the Garden House. Rather than spend extra dollars on geotourism services which we won't charge you for, why not take those dollars, or the time you spent to earn them, and either financially support, or learn about, the efforts that have been, and still are, being taken to preserve and protect San Juan County by your Garden House hosts. If you support geotourism principles, please lend your weight to preserving a place deserving of your contributions. How? The journey toward an authentic geotourist activity (fear not: there's plenty more when you get here) is just one click away.

Beyond the Garden House:

Things to do on Orcas

Here is a short list of things to consider on Orcas, as seen through a biased local's eyes.

Many Hands Make Light Work

There are thousands of non-profits that are running on empty. If you don't have a favorite one (or more!), please consider adopting Children's House on Orcas, the oldest early childhood education facility in San Juan County as your benefactee. If half of the people who read this web page sent ten dollars to Childrens House, under the "random acts of kindness" mantra, the benefits to the children (6 weeks to 6 years) of working parents living in the U.S. county (yes, San Juan County) that has the greatest gap between the haves and the have-nots of all counties in the country would be enormous. Dig just a bit deeper into your wallet and buy yourself, a family member, loved one, friend, colleague a Susan Osborn Lullabies CD from Children's House. Yourself, or someone you know, who has, had, or will have children, will love this album.

Imagine the joy you will bring, the gratitude you will evoke. Thanks.

Hand Made in Nepal

Since many hands make light work, please warm your head, your hands, and certainly your heart by purchasing a hand made knit hat or pair of gloves at our international microbusiness support site Warm Heads, Hands and Hearts. It's international because the items were made by single-moms in Nepal. It's microbusiness because a small amount of money to us is a huge amount of money to them, to help them leverage their children out of a more or less endless cycle of poverty. We maintain the web site, ship the items, collect the money, take nothing for profit, and send it all to the knitters. It does not meet IRS rules for a 501c3 (we haven't even tried), it does not meet the standard test for business viability (how can you do all this and not earn a dime?) but it meets our test for doing the right thing. Everyone needs a warm head or hands in the winter, and it will be all the warmer knowing that you really helped someone. Read the story. Surely you know a friend, kid, parent, grandchild (and don't forget yourself) who would love one of these items. They make wonderful gifts.

Joe's Best Picks

There are certain people who do truly outstanding work. Work that defines terms like "extraordinary", or "fantastic" or "unbelievable". The people listed here are both my friends and my mentors. Judge for yourself.

A commentary on island life:

Living on Orcas Island offers many opportunities for self-discovery, most of which cannot be avoided or denied without consequence. Many who visit Orcas see it as a refuge, an escape, a retreat, a magical playground. Indeed it is, tho often less so for many who call it their home. One of the reasons for this is the difficulty in finding meaningful, as well as economically viable, work. I've written a book about Orcas which discusses this and many other realities of island living for those who would like an insider's perspective on this lovely, and complex, island. Entitled Potholes in Paradise, the 210 page book, published in 2009, deconstructs the image of Paradise into its component parts with the intent of showing what community life is really like living on a pristine rural island in one of the most beautiful locations in the country. Copies are available at Darvill's Bookstore in Eastsound and Doe Bay Resort in Doe Bay. You can get a signed copy directly from me; just write.

The future of San Juan County:

I have served as the chairman of the San Juan County Comprehensive Plan citizen advisory committee for Orcas Island. The county, by participating in Washington State's Growth Management Act, is slowly and gracelessly engaged in rewriting its future. I've been finding myself animated about the future of the island, the future of the county, and, in general, the future of beautiful places throughout the world as I watched my committee, and the community, struggle with the first of the Kubla-Ross "stages of change" (denial) in recognizing, much less resolving, largely unarticulated, tho deeply felt, personal/community boundary issues. I've written several essays which discuss the growth issues facing San Juan County, and by extension almost anywhere, and suggest possible routes to their solution. Should you find any of this material interesting or useful, both for contemplation or for application to your situation, where ever you live, I'd appreciate your feedback. You might also want to learn about the options for land conservation provided by
The San Juan Preservation Trust. If you really want to learn about the future of San Juan County, read the appeals of the San Juan County Comprehensive Plan. The details of the appeal process, the appellants, the County's response, and the conclusion of the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, are all posted here. The bottom line is simple. If you read the guest comments, you'll see that visitors love it here. You wouldn't be reading this if you weren't at least attracted to this place and wonder about its future, since you might come here, or have been here and would like to imagine that when you return, it will be then more or less what it is now. To those of us who see San Juan County as a national treasure to be preserved and shared, the rubber meets the road right on top of the Comprehensive Plan. You can help. Take a few minutes. Read this material. Imagine that your unexpected letter might tip the county council into doing the right thing. Score another point for a random act of unexpected kindness.

The letter here frames the essential growth issue before the county, which, briefly, is the personal, internal conflict created by both wanting the quality of life that exists today to last in perpetuity while at the same time fearing the loss of autonomy (and income) implied by governmental regulation required to achieve this same quality of life objective. It's the "having your cake and eating it too" syndrome.

The essay here suggests a solution while reminding us that there's no free lunch.

The essay here describes why regulation is a response to both growth and the characteristic that many of us have to not do the right thing; the piece starts by reflecting on the white striping lines in ferry lane parking lots.

The essay here discusses the idea of buying our future, of being proactive rather than inactive or reactive.

The essay here points out that all the effort being devoted to keep things as they are will, if successul, result in nothing visible, nothing tangible, nothing new. As a result, who can get excited about working hard to achieve what we already have?

Our Partnerships

We support a number of organizations that do important work we don't have time to do ourselves. Part of that work helps us wake up, part of that work brings joy--each of these qualities has no maximum limit, each can be increased to the benefit of self and others. You are invited to explore these to determine if the work they do might be worthy of your investment in time, funds, or recommendation.

The San Juan Preservation Trust, a non-profit land trust, helps preserve San Juan County by assisting landowners in dedicating conservation easements on their property.

KPLU, NPR and Jazz for western Washington, 88.5 on the fm dial, serves up large doses of musical joy.

We are pleased to participate in EPA's Green Power Partnership.

Finding others to do the work you believe in takes time. You can leverage your time by exploring the Charity Navigator web site. They help charitable givers (hopefully you) make wise decisions by providing comprehensive, objective ratings and analysis of the financial health of many charities. The goal, like microfinance, (see, for example, Finca), is the fish teacher model (give a man a fish and he is hungry tomorrow; teach a man to fish and he is never hungry again.)

You can also make investments in microfinancing institutions such as These investments bring you a return of way more than money. You help level the world's economic playing field, reminding me of the phrase "woman who chops her own wood warms herself twice."

Got an old cell phone which needs a new life? You can donate it to a charitable organization to recycle and re-use your cell, you have many choices.

Lend your computer's shoulder to the wheel to solve some immediate problems without compromising security or efficiency. Join the Centripetus Family (and thousands of others) in donating unused computer processing time toward creating better (more nutritious, more disease and/or drought tolerant) rice, fighting aids, conquering cancer, figuring out solutions to Alzheimers and Parkinsons. Curious? Learn about and join either the World Community Grid or Stanford University's Folding at Home project. The Garden House allocates 2 cpu's toward the World Community Grid's active projects.

We encourage democracy in action. Voting once a year or less is just not enough. You deserve more, and so does the country. One place to start is to contact your local congressperson and senators. Do you know who these people are? Find your senators here.

Kind Remarks

The web site has been created with an intention to inform you about the Garden House while avoiding the fluff generally associated with promotion. Here's a comment that suggests the goal has been met:
"I absolutely love your web-site. It has to be the most amusing and original one I've seen while hunting for a place to stay on Orcas."

If you'd like to suggest modifications, improvements, additions, or comments on the site, know they will be appreciated.

The small print:

This web site is designed, updated and managed by Joe Symons

© 2014 centripetus

Island Stewards is a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to energy education. Joe, Island Stewards board chair, creates and distributes free e-books designed to vision and create a sustainable ecosystem for future generations. You can help fund this effort (with no cost to you) by purchasing goods at (instead of When you sign up choose "Island Stewards" (Olga) as your charity. Click here to start or click on the 'get started' button in the banner below.

Thank you!!!

Island Stewards


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