Winter in the Northwest may not be the time of year when some people think of visiting a garden, but Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island embraces nature during every season of the year.
Prentice Bloedel, an innovator of the timber industry, and his wife, Virginia, purchased 150 acres with a residence in 1951 and intended it to be their retirement home. They lived there for 35 years. During those years, Bloedel developed the property within the native Pacific Northwest forest, enhancing the unique, natural qualities of the area.
No plant name tags are on the property for identification because Bloedel did not want anyone to be distracted by the botanical names. Influenced by Thoreau, Bloedel’s intention was to experience a deepening relationship with nature through hearing, seeing, smelling and feeling the details of nature. The residence, which is open during regular hours, contains an excellent collection of other historical photos and documents.
Four distinct areas have evolved over the years. The Japanese garden began in 1955 and contains a structure that is only open for special activities and events. It is surrounded by areas of inspiration from Japanese garden philosophy: spending time in nature for healing and spiritual refreshment.
Another area is referred to as the Orchid Woods Trail. Once home to coral-root orchids, the area has transitioned over the years, allowing more light and making the space inhospitable to growing orchids.
The bird marsh is the most wild and natural part of the reserve. A boardwalk and trestle bridge were completed in the 1990s to facilitate access to this area. The bird marsh will help you understand what Bloedel meant when he said, “Nature can live without man but man cannot live without nature.”
The moss garden and reflection pond were designed in 1982. The moss garden was started with Irish moss but now includes more than 40 species of native mosses. The reflection pool does not depend on pumps or pipes but rather relies on natural springs on the property.
Winter Events at Bloedel
Dwight Shappell, a master craftsman, started designing holiday villages in the 1960s. The collection has been on display for the past seven years. The Holiday Village is an annual event and is included with the cost of admission to the reserve.
This year, the Village will be open Saturday, Dec. 9, through New Year’s Eve during normal Bloedel Reserve winter hours (Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
Solstice Walks is now in its fourth year. This popular event allows visitors to experience Bloedel in a completely different way. Hundreds of people gather to wind their way on a staff-led walk through the dark woods and gardens, lit only by handheld lanterns. The inaugural year’s walk was limited to a small audience. Due to popular demand, walks have been added on several evenings for up to 200 people per night.