Arts and Entertainment

Bloedel charms in fleeting moments

Top: Sandra Choy, of Redmond, brought her mom Lai-Ming Chong, of Hong Kong, to visit Bloedel Reserve Wednesday.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photos
Top: Sandra Choy, of Redmond, brought her mom Lai-Ming Chong, of Hong Kong, to visit Bloedel Reserve Wednesday.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photos

Bloedel Reserve has enjoyed a good share of international attention recently, being named one of the top five gardens in the world by Gardens Illustrated, a publication of the British Broadcasting Service and the Garden Museum of London.

In 2008, the American Public Garden Association (APGA) and Horticulture Magazine praised the Reserve with a Garden Excellence Award, noting: “It is a place, unlike most public gardens, that minimizes its message to its visitors. Rather, it provides a high quality environment within which the visitors are given ample opportunity to receive messages from nature.”

In September, the book “Great Gardens of America” featured Bloedel as one of 25 gardens that embrace “the wilderness ideal,” calling it a “connoisseurial meditation.”

And yet, while visitors pilgrimage from the four corners, the Reserve still struggles to dispel its reputation for exclusivity among locals. To that end, interim Director C. David Hughbanks has made some changes to encourage Bainbridge residents to enjoy the jewel that gleams in their own backyard.

Historically, Bloedel was firm in its reservations-only policy, and in some cases, reservations were required months in advance. To preserve a certain level of tranquility, the number of visitors was monitored and controlled.

These have been relaxed, allowing for more spur-of-the-moment visits.

“If you find yourself with a free morning, and want to come for a visit, we’re open,” he said.

For some, the $12 admission is prohibitive, but a $55 annual membership that allows year-round access for the pass-holder and three guests makes repeated visits affordable.

And while out-of-towners experience what amounts to a summer fling, Bloedel’s accessibility to residents provides an opportunity to cultivate a deeper relationship. It was this long-term relationship that Prentice and Virginia Bloedel hoped to cultivate in creating the 150-acre reserve.

“The Reserve is a place to experience the bond between people and nature. It is a place in which to enjoy and learn from the emotional and aesthetic experience the values of harmony, respect for life and tranquility,” Prentice wrote.

Fleeting moments

Horticulturist Andy Navage has developed such a kinship in the 14 years he’s worked at the Reserve. He is by his his own admission “obsessed with plants,” rattling off the botanical names, characteristics, origin, and in some cases, even the history of individual specimens within the garden. He’s hard-pressed to name any favorites, but is charmed more by “the fleeting moments” that happen throughout the garden, throughout the year.

As a living entity, the garden, and the visitor’s experience of it, is never static.

This was the experience envisioned by Prentice and Virginia Bloedel.

“There is a generally acknowledged but little understood ability of plants and landscapes to evoke a wide variety of deeply felt emotions, ranging from tranquility to exhilaration,” Bloedel wrote.

Tim Richardson, author of Great Gardens of America, describes the profound experiential mood this way: “Their reserve is nothing less than a consecration of every leaf, twig, berry, flower, shoot, moss, lichen, and decaying tree stump.”

The seasons at Bloedel

Every season has its highlights, and autumn offers an everchanging display of seasonal color. Program director Kate Gormley said the holidays at Bloedel are simply enchanting when the French Chateau-style house is decorated and warmly lit. A concert is planned, along with the occasional “incidental music” that visitors often play on the sitting room’s grand piano.

For those who prefer a more cerebral experience, the Reserve is offering members access to the extensive resource library during winter.

Bloedel Reserve

7571 NE Dolphin Drive

842-7631 |

Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays

Admission: $12 per person; $8 for those 65 and over, and active and retired military; $6 for children (5-12); and $4 for qualified college/university horticulture, botany class groups and youth clubs (boy scouts, girl scouts, etc.) Children under 5 are admitted free.

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