“Nature can do without man, but man cannot do without nature.”
– Prentice Bloedel
A short ferry ride from Seattle, tucked away on the north end of Bainbridge Island, lies a botanical treasure called Bloedel Reserve. Purchased by Prentice and Virginia Bloedel in 1951, the 150 acre property looks over the Puget Sound and was home to sheep, fields and forest. Once Mr. Bloedel retired, he immersed himself in consulting and collaborating with many famous landscape architects, but he was always the vision behind the project. Over the course of 25 years the original landscape gave way to a meandering pathway through field, forest, formal and informal spaces, in a lovely rhythm that is both restorative and inspiring. This is not a botanical garden where every tree and specimen is labeled, a visit to Bloedel Reserve is an experience of letting go of labels and to-do lists and immersing oneself in the healing power of nature.
In 1986 the Bloedel family gifted the property to the community. In 1988, Bloedel Reserve opened to the public as a living, growing museum of plants and landscape. The New York Times has called it, “one of this country’s most original and ambitious gardens.”
Bloedel Reserve encompasses twelve official gardens ranging from an award winning Japanese tea house and garden, a magical moss garden, bird marsh, waterfall overlook, reflection pool, and equally important, the native forest and meadows that weave the parts into a whole.
The Bloedel’s home is now a visitor’s center, where one is greeted by a docent and can tour the home and seasonal art exhibits. I love the timeline that hangs in the hallway, it’s a fascinating way to get a feel for the history of the people and families who lived in and created the reserve.
One of the first highlights of a walk through the Reserve is the Bird Marsh. The existing pond was enhanced by Bloedel to discourage predators with steep drop offs and the small nesting islands offer safe harbor for many species of birds. A pause here always reveals something unexpected.
The Japanese Garden has twice been named one of the top ten Japanese Gardens in the United States by the Journal of Japanese Gardening. From the tranquil pond to the smallest detail in path and stone, there is a deep sense of harmony and beauty that resonates throughout the garden. The guest house, designed by architect Paul Hayden Kirk, blends a Japanese tea house with a Northwest Native American longhouse to a stunning and dramatic effect. A lace leaf maple estimated to be over 150 years old, Japanese red, black and white pines are highlights of the garden.
To me there is nothing more magical than the quiet and mystery of a mossy place. At Bloedel, The Moss Garden was created by planting 275,000 Irish moss starts six inches apart. The native mosses gradually took over, creating a carpet of over 40 types of mostly native mosses. Huckleberries and toadstools spring from stumps and the air is infused with stillness.
Another of my favorite spots is the Reflection Pool. After a lovely hike through rhododendron, azalea, and camellia I suddenly find myself in the geometric precision of the Reflection Pool. A yew hedge precisely frames the classic rectangular pool, holding back the forest that towers above. It truly is a perfect spot for reflection.
What started as a hobby, like so many great gardens, became a treasured public garden that is a true jewel of the Pacific Northwest. A walk at Bloedel is an immersion in nature, like a great dance, it is always evolving, and embodies a true marriage of the natural wild with formal inspiration.
Whether you visit Bloedel Reserve in spring, summer, fall or winter, you will find an ever-changing seasonal landscape. Open Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 – 4:00. Public transportation is available. http://bloedelreserve.org/visit/
If you are lucky enough to visit on a Friday, make a day of it and visit Heronswood Garden, just eleven miles north Heronswood Garden, another hidden jewel of the Northwest.
Written by Katrina Godshalk
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