Bloedel Reserve

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.

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bloedel reserve, seattle, bainbridge island, garden, gardens, rain, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, stairway

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.

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bloedel reserve, seattle, bainbridge island, garden, gardens, rain, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, birch

Skunk cabbage and trillium put on a dazzling display and clumps of yellow primula and purple cyclamen peeped out along the way…

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…but green proved to be the showstopper colour of the day.

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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.

bloedel reserve, seattle, bainbridge island, garden, gardens, rain, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

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.

bloedel reserve, seattle, bainbridge island, garden, gardens, rain, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, japanese garden

bloedel reserve, seattle, bainbridge island, garden, gardens, rain, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, japanese 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.

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Through a delicate archway and along a darkly alluring path we continued…

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Deliciously dark borders of black lily turf

…until we reached the lush moss garden, heavy with brume and cloaked in silence.

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bloedel reserve, seattle, bainbridge island, garden, gardens, rain, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, moss garden

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.

bloedel reserve, seattle, bainbridge island, garden, gardens, rain, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, reflecting poolIf 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.

raindrop photography, bloedel reserve, seattle, bainbridge island, garden, gardens, rain, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney

bloedel reserve, seattle, bainbridge island, garden, gardens, rain, travel, travelogue, ailsa prideaux-mooney, raindrop photography

xxx Ailsa

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About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - wheresmybackpack.com - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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64 Responses to Bloedel Reserve

  1. Fantastic photography Ailsa!

  2. ledrakenoir says:

    Very well captured, so full of atmosphere… 🙂

  3. Tish Farrell says:

    what a glorious place, and wonderful photos.

  4. Jet Eliot says:

    Lovely, tranquil tour…thank you. I’ve been to Seattle many times but never knew about these gardens, I will check it out next time.

    • ailsapm says:

      I highly recommend it, Jet, next time you’re in town. I’m tempted to go back for a second visit to see what summertime in the gardens is like. xxx

  5. Beautiful… I can’t believe I haven’t been to see the gardens yet. And I even have family on Bainbridge!
    Lisa

  6. Beautiful place indeed… I’d like to visit such place one day )

    • ailsapm says:

      I hope you get to visit sometime. Do you have anything similar in Smolensk? I love your winter photos. xxx

      • Alas! But no. We have not anything similar in Smolensk… But there is national park Smolensk Lakeland in Smolensk region. Very nice and peaceful place with lots ot lakes.

        • ailsapm says:

          Is that the Biosphere? I’ve read about it before, it sounds lovely.

          • I’m sorry, what does it mean Biosphere? If it means reserve, yes, Smolensk Lakeland is a reserve. But there are only animals and plants which live and grow in our region. You can’t find animals and plants from other сontinents. We call it national park ))

          • ailsapm says:

            You guessed correctly, a biosphere reserve is a UNESCO term for land set aside for conservation purposes, usually because of plants and animals that thrive in that particular ecosystem. National Park is a much nicer name for it though. I would love to visit someday. xxx Ailsa

          • I see )) I don’t have photos from Smolensk Lakeland (only photos from shooting film – Moscow company shot a film for children there). But you can see Lakeland on its website:http://www.poozerie.ru/en/media_770/photo/

  7. suej says:

    Thanks for taking me on the tour- looks fabulous. 🙂

  8. Heyjude says:

    Looks like a very interesting place to visit and thank you for the lovely ‘day out’. I shall note this for my trip to Seattle next year – do you know if it is open in October?
    Jude xx

    • ailsapm says:

      Hi Jude, yes, it’s open year round, Tuesday to Sunday. Regular hours are 10am to 4pm; in the summer they stay open until 7pm Thursday to Sunday. It’s definitely worth a visit when you’re in town. xxx

  9. love washington!!! great video, course the music was a bit tame…lol I have to ask tho, have you ever seen the trolls on Bainbridge? the guy who has trolls for every fencepost on his property, the dragon doors on the ale house, and the purple castle, complete with gnombs and giants???

    • ailsapm says:

      Wow, no, I haven’t, but now I’ll go looking for them! Thanks for the tip, Shards 🙂

      • they are soo much fun…some picking their noses, other flippin you off, lol, and the giant is cool, its this guys propery, a mile or so long, near the beach on the side that faces seattle…but I can’t remember the road. everyone pretty much knows where they are so just ask a local…. 🙂

  10. What a beautiful place. We were recently talking about Seattle, and your photos give me more reason to want to visit. Thanks for sharing.

    • ailsapm says:

      Hi Sid – you will definitely want to put this high up on your list of places to see when you come here. You will love it, I guarantee it. xxx Ailsa

  11. Indira says:

    Thanks Alisa, couldn’t go there but can enjoy through your wonderful photographs. lovely shots.

  12. How beautiful. I’ve been reading about this island and reserve. Thanks for the pictures – now I really must see it!

  13. Lynne Ayers says:

    Absolutely delightful and well done, Ailsa.

  14. Trish says:

    How beautiful is the writing accompanying these photos! My favourite photo is the peeling birch bark but the line “Skunk cabbage and trillium put on a dazzling display and clumps of yellow primula and purple cyclamen peeped out along the way…” is poetry. This place brought out the best in your writing. So good.

    • ailsapm says:

      Ooh, thank you for the compliment, Trish. I must admit, nature is my muse! Thanks again for bringing a great big grin to my face. xxx

  15. pommepal says:

    I really enjoyed that stroll through one of the most amazing gardens. You did it justice with your great photos and charming video. Did you buy any plants?

    • ailsapm says:

      I didn’t, but only because I don’t have a garden right now. Oh the joys of living out of a backpack. But I was sorely tempted and when I do get a little patch of earth to call my own, I know where I can go to get some pretty spectacular and hard-to-find plants. xxx

      • pommepal says:

        I’m sure many will envy your freedom living from a backpack. It certainly is a great lifestyle but like all life styles there are ups and downs.
        We are heading almost 2000km north in Matilda tomorrow so I will be off the blogosphere for a week, look forward to catching up with every one when we get to our new house sitting home.

        • ailsapm says:

          Nice, that sounds like quite a road trip, drive safely, say hi to Matlida (good to see the old girl back in action) and see you when you get there! 🙂

  16. Kimberly says:

    Loved everything about this post! Even the idea of rain – which I despise most days.

    • ailsapm says:

      You know, Kimberly, the rain was so light it was almost more like a thick mist and it made everything glow and sparkle, it really added to the experience. Of course, I am a little biased being Irish, rain is in my blood! 😉

  17. bebs1 says:

    Oh, I’d love to see it myself. Beautiful pictures as usual.

  18. Breathtaking tour. 😉 thanks.

  19. Simply lovely ! The music is by whom?

    • ailsapm says:

      So glad you enjoyed my little tour around the reserve. Almost all the music I use in my videos comes from a guy named Kevin McLeod at incompetech.com – he does brilliant work, a lot of the pieces are his own composition and there’s something for almost every mood. I was looking for something with a suggestion of Japan in there and this one jumped out at me. 🙂

  20. jaggh53163 says:

    Beautiful location and stunning pictures… What a very pleasant break from reading emails !!!

  21. samokan says:

    What a beautiful place. Thanks for taking us around. Great pictures 🙂

  22. Lucid Gypsy says:

    What a heavenly place and what a vision they must have had to be able to create it.

  23. Megan says:

    Ah, my old stomping grounds. I loved Bloedel. It’s lovely in any season at any time of day. Your photos capture is beautifully!

  24. markd60 says:

    Beautiful scenes enhanced by expert photography!

  25. I lived in this state and never went here. ugh. What a neat spot.

  26. Paige says:

    These photos are absolutely beautiful. I lived on Vashon Island for 13 years but I’ve never heard of this place. Thanks for the tour!

  27. sue says:

    Ailsa, how beautifully you captured the Bloedel Reserve! Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm so well. Those who know it, return again and again. I hope you do too.

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