I hitched a ride earlier this year with my good friends Brian and Sylvia, who were checking out the annual spring plant sale at Bainbridge Island’s Bloedel Reserve. I had heard about the reserve before but never had a chance to visit, so when Sylvia told me they were going I jumped at the opportunity to tag along.
Bainbridge Island is a quick ferry ride from downtown Seattle. At a little over 30 minutes, the crossing is comparable to the New York ferry ride to Staten Island, but the fare (at time of writing) is $7.70 round trip for a foot passenger and $16.40 each way for a standard vehicle. I got spoiled by New York’s free ferries; they were the perfect free escape from the big city on a hot summer day.
Once we were on the island it took less than 15 minutes to reach the Bloedel Reserve, mostly because Brian wisely decided to follow his instincts rather than rely on my prowess for interpreting the GPS system on his iPhone. We parked and hurried eagerly to inspect the plants on display, covered in raindrops that glistened in the hazy drizzle that envelops the Pacific Northwest for most of the year. The Bloedel Reserve is a non-profit public garden that usually charges a $13 entry fee, but on days with events like this, the fee is waived so we got to explore the gardens at our leisure free of charge. Take a short video ramble with me through some of the highlights.
The residence itself is quietly elegant and very French, boasting a spectacular library filled with a treasure trove of horticultural and botanical books that you can leaf through from the comfort of a cozy armchair. It was the house that originally attracted Prentice and Virginia Bloedel to this property, but when they started exploring the 150 acres of woodlands attached to the property, they discovered a wealth of fragile plant life that inspired them to create the gardens in the 1950s.
After spending some time exploring the house, we tumbled down stately steps and along winding pathways flanked by a waterfall, a babbling stream and magnificent old trees. Turning a corner we found ourselves in the midst of a birch forest; the bark gleaming brightly in the misty, dissipated light.
Skunk cabbage and trillium put on a dazzling display and clumps of yellow primula and purple cyclamen peeped out along the way…
…but green proved to be the showstopper colour of the day.
Through thick, foggy forest we followed the trail until we spilled out into a great expanse of manicured lawn with a vast lake and elegant weeping willow as the focal point. The rain was heavier now, so we sheltered under overhanging trees and watched droplets dance off the surface of the lake waters until the showers eased into a soft mist.
At the next turn we found ourselves surrounded by beautifully sculpted Japanese gardens, best viewed from the deck of a glorious Japanese-teahouse-meets-Native-American-longhouse guest house fashioned of red cedar and fir that sits on a hill overlooking the gardens.
Around the other side of the guest house the Japanese theme continued, with a gentle, flowing Zen Garden that just begged you to sit down and contemplate for a few restorative moments. I couldn’t help imagining how divine it would be to wake up in this guest house; to stumble bleary-eyed out of bed onto that deck and take in the surroundings in the first light of morning. It stirred in me memories of a chalet I once stayed at in the heart of the Japanese Alps, but that is a tale for another day.
Through a delicate archway and along a darkly alluring path we continued…
…until we reached the lush moss garden, heavy with brume and cloaked in silence.
It was growing late now so we made our way back towards the car, but the gardens had one more surprise for us before we left; a striking reflecting pool bordered by formal clipped yews and surrounded by lofty evergreens. The simplicity of the lines made it almost poetic. It is here, under the yew hedges, that the ashes of Prentice and Victoria Bloedel are buried, in one of their favourite parts of their beautiful garden.
If you’re ever in the Seattle area and have a couple of hours to spare, I can think of no better way to spend those hours than wandering through this sublime garden. I’m sure it’s gorgeous at any time of year, but it was made all the more exquisite by a sprinkle of Pacific Northwest springtime rain.