Bainbridge Island is a quaint community located 35-minutes by ferry from downtown Seattle. It’s beloved for its small-town community feel and rural character. One of the community tenets that Bainbridge Islanders hold near and dear to their hearts is maintaining vibrant trails and green spaces for everyone to enjoy, and maintaining a sense of natural beauty around the island. With a mild climate, abundant rainfall and wide-open spaces, the Kitsap Peninsula is a mecca for gardeners. The Kitsap Peninsula is home to three world-famous destination gardens: Bloedel Reserve, Heronswood, and Elandan Gardens. No matter where your journey takes you, Bainbridge Island with its charming boutique shops, world-class restaurants, and beautiful scenery is the perfect place from which to base your journey. Come explore nature’s restorative power at these stunning local gardens on or near Bainbridge Island.
Day One: A Visit to Bloedel Reserve
It’s your first day on Bainbridge Island, and you’re eager to see the best the island has to offer when it comes to gardens. There’s little doubt that one of the best examples of a Northwest Garden is Bloedel Reserve on the north end of Bainbridge Island. It has been rated as one of the 10 best Botanical Gardens in North America. It’s easiest to get to Bloedel Reserve by car, as it’s located on the far north end of the Island, just before you cross the Agate Pass Bridge to head towards Poulsbo. However, if you chose to come across the ferry without a car, you can still find a way to visit this incredible space. It’s a little far to travel by bike, but Bainbridge has a variety of public transportation options, including taxis, Uber and Lyft, and Kitsap Transit.
From the moment you drive through the gates at Bloedel Reserve, you’ll appreciate the majestic beauty of this 150-acre nature sanctuary. Throughout the reserve are well-groomed paths that lead to a variety of curated gardens, including birch groves, a moss garden, a beautifully manicured Japanese Garden, a bird marsh and meadow, and a reflection pool, all the while offering views of Puget Sound through the trees. The sights and sounds of the natural world are only enhanced by the beauty of the Reserve’s flowering trees and shrubs, native plants and unusual flora from around the world. Bloedel Reserve is open year-round, and is always full of seasonal delights and surprises. Beyond the ever-changing landscapes before you, Bloedel Reserve also offers guided walks, expert lectures, summer concerts, special seasonal events, and more.
After you’ve thoroughly exhausted the trails at Bloedel Reserve, it’s time to head back to Downtown Bainbridge, where you’ll find the majority of shops and restaurants on the island. Top choices for dinner include Restaurant Marché, a French-style bistro, and Hitchcock Cafe, currently rated by Eater as Seattle’s #1 restaurant.
Day Two: Local Garden Centers
Start this morning off with a relaxing stroll through one of Bainbridge Island’s hidden gems: Hall’s Hill Labyrinth. It’s a strikingly beautiful space, most notable for its serenity. The complex yet simplistic beauty of the Labyrinth is reflective of Bainbridge Island itself. It’s a wonderful place to start off your day as you get ready to explore Bainbridge Island’s two most popular garden centers.
Your first stop of the day is Bainbridge Gardens, which is a beautiful 6-acre family-run garden center. 2018 saw Bainbridge Garden’s 60th year in business. The gardens themselves have quite a bit of history, dating back to the early 1900’s, when Zenhichi Harui moved here from Japan and started growing various plants and flowers. Ultimately, the gardens bloomed with incredible sculpted bonsai trees, fountains, and lily-pad covered ponds teeming with goldfish, and became a well-known attraction for garden lovers throughout the area. These beautiful gardens were abandoned and all but destroyed during WWII, but one of Zenhichi’s sons, Junkoh, decided to redevelop the gardens with his own flourishing nursery business in 1989.
To this day, Bainbridge Gardens remains a popular destination for locals and out of town guests alike. There, you’ll find an incredible selection of plants and trees, as well as the Harui Memorial Garden. In the memorial garden stand many of Mr. Harui’s most treasured plants, including an old pear tree that Zenhichi Harui grafted into a topiary, several old bonsai pines, and an old wisteria that trails over a bamboo trellis. There is also a cafe on site, the New Rose Cafe, which is a delightful place to enjoy an espresso and a light lunch in this beautiful setting.
Next, plan on heading to Rolling Bay, where you’ll find island treasure Bay Hay and Feed. This delightful old fashioned farm store is the perfect place to pick up some supplies for your garden, as well as some uniquely Bainbridge gifts, including an iconic Bay Hay and Feed t-shirt. They have a great selection of houseplants, pottery, tools, gardening books, and a variety of other goodies. It’s a fun place to browse, especially when springtime blossoms are in bloom. Across the street is another island treasure and your dinner destination: Via Rosa. It’s an incredible Italian Kitchen serving up the most authentic cuisine you can find. You can either take your goodies to go with you if you have access to a kitchen, or you can enjoy a delicious meal in their friendly cafe.
Day Three: Gardens Blooming Beyond Bainbridge
The next botanical gardens to visit lie beyond Bainbridge Island on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Heronswood, located in Kingston, is a 5.5-acre garden that combines formal beds with natural woodland gardens, and features a vast array of rare trees, shrubs, vines and perennials collected from around the world. The highlights of Heronswood include a potager (pronounced poe ta jay) precisely edged with boxwood, a hornbeam hedge in which branches are braided to form double-decker arches, and a fountain that resembles a Roman ruin. In nearby Port Gamble, you’ll find an incredible Dahlia garden, which was planted by the Kitsap County Dahlia Society. The dahlias have become a big draw for visitors to Port Gamble, and it’s certainly worth a stop to see their summertime blooms.
Next is Elandan Gardens, a one-of-a-kind garden that features more than 200 ancient bonsai trees, native plants, waterfalls and sculptures. This beautiful 6-acre space was once a landfill. The reclaimed natural space now attracts a variety of eagles and osprey, as well as visitors from around the world. You’ve probably never seen anything like the sculpted masterpieces at Elandan. One prized example is a 700-year-old mountain hemlock that founder Dan Robinson found in a cliff-top crevasse on Vancouver Island.
These gardens are only a small piece of the natural beauty that awaits you on Bainbridge Island. Come stay with us for a few days, and explore these incredible places with us!