Nature, only better: The transcendent Bloedel Reserve


The Bloedel Reserve is a place of utter beauty and almost spiritual peacefulness. Rain drips quietly from mossy branches, and the color green wraps you in a soft embrace. I explored the grounds for two-and-a-half hours—not nearly enough time to see all 150 acres, but enough to walk some of the trails at a slow, reflective pace, in peaceful solitude and deep happiness.


I visited the Reserve with other bloggers on the final day of the Seattle Garden Bloggers Fling last month. Only a 35-minute ferry ride from Seattle and then a short drive, the garden feels a world away from the bustle of the city. Our group toured on a Monday, when the Reserve is normally closed to visitors, so we did have to put up with a few noisy mowers as the groundskeepers did their work, but that was only where lawn rules, near the Bloedel family’s former home, now a visitors center.


In back of the house, a terrace overlooks Port Madison Bay, blanketed this day in clouds. It was the only rainy day of my Seattle visit, and we even had thunder and lightning at the start of our tour. The staff were kind enough to share their umbrellas with us. However, photography was a little challenging as we tried to protect our gear from the rain.


Professional photographer David Perry, who writes an introspective (and of course beautifully photographed) blog called A Photographer’s Garden Blog, joined us to offer free, short seminars on taking better photos. He is an excellent and entertaining speaker. It was a treat to meet him after following his blog for several years.


The mowers interrupted his talk for a while but eventually fell silent. After sitting in on one of David’s seminars and then eating a quick box lunch, I decided to embrace the silence of a solo exploration of the garden. I descended the stairs pictured at the top of this post and entered a forest trail.


A hush


A sense of mystery and wonder


Moss cloaks everything in this climate, softening all hard surfaces with its ferny texture.


A chocolate-colored pond appeared, with a little waterfall…


…and a footbridge crossing over.


Silvery blue hostas along the bank, jeweled with raindrops, caught my eye.


Further along the trail, the heaviness of hemlock, Douglas fir, and western red cedar gives way to an airy, naturalistic allee of birch.


A single red-flowering shrub in bloom—could it be a rhododendron at this time of year?


The slender white trunks shine in the filtered light.


While trees and moss dominate the Bloedel—the highest and lowest layers—taller groundcovers are given a lot of play too.


Nearby, a dainty cluster of pink bells


A Japanese garden occupies the center of the Reserve, with several inviting paths leading in, including this one.


The simple beauty of wet flagstone set in grass…


…and mossy boulders.


In spring I am sure these flowering fruit trees (cherry? apple? peach?), mossy-trunked and -limbed, awaken with a profusion of frothy blooms.


Beautiful texture


I admired this zig-zagging design of groundcovers.


A wider view


A Zen garden offers a restful spot for contemplation in front of the guest house, built to resemble a Japanese tea house.


Stone and moss


Another gate and a more formal walk lead out toward the moss garden, but I’m not ready to leave the Japanese garden just yet.


In back of the guest/tea house, a sheltered deck and benches…


…an overlook…


…and a view of pond and garden.


You can see raindrops on the pond.


An elegantly contorted Japanese maple perches on one of the banks.


A “wishing bench” overlooks the pond too.


And now on to the moss garden.


I’d never seen anything like these golden carpets of moss.


Ferns, artfully planted, are set off by frames of moss. New fronds stick up like feather quills.


The sinuous branches of trees leaning toward the light wear cloaks of moss.


Such sumptuous, soft texture. This is a much gentler climate than that of thorny, prickly central Texas.


Near constant moisture makes it all possible.


An opening in the woods, and a formal reflection pool appears. I understand that the Bloedels are buried here. I can’t imagine a more peaceful resting place.


I don’t feel that my words or pictures have done justice to the beauty, serenity, and quiet joy of the Bloedel Reserve. But I hope they inspire you to visit one day. I’m astonished to think that I’d never heard of the place until the Garden Bloggers Fling, because it’s one of those incredible gardens that any lover of nature or gardens should visit.

Up next: A happy-hour, end-of-the-Fling visit to Dragonfly Farms Nursery in Kingston, WA. For a look back at the color-rich Farley Garden, click here.

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

20 Responses

  1. […] next: the highlight of the Fling, our visit to the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. For a look back at Lorene Edwards Forkner’s “urban hillbilly […]

  2. I could almost hear the sound of rain dripping from the trees (once the mowers stopped!) Your photo of the 3 red mowers could have even been the cover shot for David’s assignment as it so captured our day there. Thanks for giving form to my favorite memories.

  3. Frances says:

    The Bloedel was my favorite place of the Seattle visit, the rain made it even more romantic. Your photos do it justice.

  4. jenn says:

    So beautiful it hurts.

    You’ve done a great job, Pam. The pictures are gorgeous.

    That moody rain really sets the stage for this particular garden, doesn’t it?

  5. Alison says:

    Great post, Pam! Your pictures and words are both beautiful.

  6. daricia says:

    the moss is so unbelievable. how gorgeous…all of it. your photos are always inspiring, too.

  7. Victoria says:

    Wonderful pictures – really lyrical. Although it seems a bit odd to see your name on pictures that show such a WET landscape, Pam!

  8. Carol says:

    I loved the Bloedel Reserve and like you, had not really heard of it before going there. It should be on every gardener and nature lover’s “bucket list”. The reflecting pool was on of my favorite spots. It was very calm there and I felt as though I should whisper when I was around it. Thanks for this great collection of photos from a place I love!

  9. Sheryl says:

    Dang you Pam, you brought tears to my eyes. I love that place so much and it made me the most homesick I’ve ever been since moving to Austin. I’m going to now have to call my Seattle cousin and have her gripe about the rain and traffic just to get me through this. I’m so glad you got to visit there.

  10. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I would go just to see the moss garden.That is something I have always wanted but here it is too hot and dry. You conveyed the peaceful sense of this place.

  11. Tranquil. Lush. Those are the descriptions that came to mind while reading your blog and seeing the photos (fabulous, BTW).

  12. Okay. Now I’m officially depressed. Thanks, Pam. Looking at all of those lush GREEN, WET, MOSSY landscapes makes me want to cry when I look around Texas. That zen garden with the boulders and the tree in the background doesn’t even look real — stunning! Maybe we could all get window size enlargements of these photos and paste them over our windows and just pretend this is our view outside until it cools down. (sigh) Seriously, though, thanks for sharing your pics. How wonderful it must have been to experience this place in person.

  13. Gail says:

    It was a wonderful garden and you’ve captured the textures, greens, lines and sights so beautifully.

  14. Greggo says:

    Its hard to beat Japanese gardens. Simple yet intricate. I think the next fling should be in Japan. I would get a second mortgage and go. lol.

  15. Scott says:

    Love it, Pam! Between you and Loree over at Danger Garden, I feel like I was in attendance as well ;-) I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never been to Bloedel…we meant to go a few monts ago when we were in Seattle for the weekend, but I opted for the BBG instead. I can see that I’ll have something to look forward to net time!

  16. Robyn says:

    I want to be right there right now. Gorgeous. Simply, achingly, stunning. Wow!

  17. chuck b. says:

    The Bloedel Reserve was one of the first posts I did as a garden blogger back in 2006. It looks just as beautiful as I remember it.

  18. Darla says:

    these photos do define peaceful. Love all the soft looking mosses.

  19. Les says:

    Thank you for risking the ruination of your camera in that wet weather. I know how tricky it can be to hold an umbrella and attempt just the right shot at the same time. At least it was good light for photography. I have heard of Bloedel before and have admired how the natural landscape incorporates the more designed gardens and vica versa. I hope to see it one day for myself.

  20. Karen says:

    I haven’t heard of this garden either, and I live here in Washington State! I bookmarked their website and I’m going either by the end of this month or next spring. Awsome!

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