The Bloedel Reserve for many is an unknown entity, a vast garden on Bainbridge Island hidden somewhere in the perennial Northwest mist. It has earned a reputation as a kind of “secret garden”, with water and a ferry between it and the city of Seattle. It has no bombastic Rhododendron or annual collections to advertise like some other gardens of the region.
And yet to know Bloedel Reserve is to love it…
Those that have visited The Bloedel Reserve understand something that cannot be conveyed easily in a four by eight glossy pamphlet or captured by a camera. The secrets of the Reserve, quite simply, are too monumental and at the same time too subtle in how they work upon the psyche to capture in any other medium but the physical and visceral.
The Bloedel Reserve is most like music in its effect, something felt more than seen. As I write this, it is easy to go back to the vast meadow that you first enter upon visiting, and relive the essence of summer in my mind. Can you imagine with me what it feels like to move beyond hills of grassy meadow into the shaded woods of the the reflective ponds? If you do visit, you will then pass over a gorge and giant hand built bridge to eventually reach the manicured lawns and sublime architecture of the main house. What will work upon you like a name you are having trouble remembering is the simplicity of the setting. There is no giant Calder sculptures, no signage, only a booklet to guide. The lack of clutter is captivating. It’s always as though I am seeing more clearly and deeply into my surroundings. And when you open the guide book to try to put a name on this experience, you come face to face with the knowledge that the whole experience was orchestrated expressly for you by someone who did not know you.
“Who could do this?” is the question that began to echo in my mind and throughout the landscape at that point…
To serve as a comparison, if you are a fan of Jane Austen, this would be about the same place in Pride and Prejudice where Lizzy falls in love with Mr. Darcy. She looks back at his estate, full of the people who he is close to and love him, and she realizes how much she misunderstood him. At The Bloedel Reserve our own preconceptions of what a garden should be are worked upon by Prentice Bloedel’s heart and mind until we begin to see what he was hoping we would. It is difficult to encapsulate what this is at Bloedel, but it might be described as the sacred relationship of one thing to another.
When I felt the attention and love that both Prentice and Virginia had expressed in the landscape I knew that this was also no ordinary family. In fact, the Bloedel family built its wealth from a logging empire that spanned from Seattle all the way up to Vancouver B.C. That wealth (among many things) has curated the art and history of these major cities and even, it could be argued, defined the aesthetics and spirit of the Pacific Northwest. And yet, the Bloedel family — like the garden — remains quietly reserved. After all, the Bloedel Reserve is on the West Coast not the East Coast. The Bloedel family are not the same as the DuPonts. And that is perhaps another reason to visit. If you are curious about what it means to be from the Pacific Northwest, with it’s damnable drivers that don’t honk and always want you to go first at a four way stop, then Bloedel Reserve will have much to reveal there as well.
Recently, my sweetheart Seth and I were invited by the director Ed Moydell to enjoy a personal tour of Bloedel and to discuss the future of the garden. I recommend reading Seth’s reflections on the experience. Being that both Ed and Seth draw most of their life experience from the East coast their perspectives on Bloedel are a part of that understanding. My own perspective is different having grown up in the Northwest, and done work for Eulalie Scandiuzzi, the grandaughter of Prentice and Virginia. Perhaps a piece on Lali’s garden could happen in the Spring? In the mean time, I’ll leave you with a few photos we took at the Bloedel Reserve. Imagine them as small footnotes to an experience that is much deeper and broader in real life.