Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
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Bloedel Reserve is a 150-acre wonder of nature, created by the imagination, vision, and a passionate love of the natural world shared by our founders, Prentice and Virginia Bloedel. Working with the rugged geography of the land, they artfully transformed a rough-hewn Northwest forest into a harmonious series of curated gardens, structural features, and distinctive landscapes, with nature as canvas and paint.
The Japanese Garden is a defining feature of Bloedel Reserve and it is also one of the oldest gardens on the grounds. In 1951, when Virginia and Prentice Bloedel first purchased the land that would become Bloedel Reserve, it looked nothing like what it does now. Aside from the residence itself, the land was home to forest, sheep pastures, old logging roads, and not much else. The Bloedels created plans for different projects after purchasing the land and the Japanese Garden is one of the first gardens they added to the grounds.
An Organic Design Takes Shape
Seattle Garden Designer Fujitaro Kubota was hired in 1956 to create the Japanese-style garden. Thanks to his display gardens and his notable work at large Seattle homes and at Seattle University, Kubota had acquired a reputation as a skilled creator of Japanese gardens. His skills were an excellent fit for the Bloedels.
Remarkably, no landscape drawings were created for the Japanese Garden. Instead, Kubota preferred to design his gardens organically by physically placing plants, rocks, and other elements onsite. His two sons assisted him by moving landscape components around under his direction. (The photo on the right show Kubota at work with his son Tom.) The Kubota family business had originally begun as a landscape maintenance company and had eventually evolved into landscape construction. In fact, Kubota Garden Landscaping has been in business continuously since 1929 and is now operated by Fujitaro’s grandson Al.
East Meets Pacific Northwest at the Japanese Guest House
In 1961, at the advice of their landscape architect friend, Thomas Church, the Bloedels enlisted Paul Hayden Kirk to create a guest house within the Japanese Garden for family and guests. Its design combines elements of a traditional Japanese tea house and a Pacific Northwest Native American longhouse. That building still stands today, and you can read more about it here.
Miniature Mountains & A Changing Landscape
As focal points for the Garden, the pond at the lower end of the Garden is second only to the Guest House. When the pond was excavated, the soil was not hauled away. Instead it was used at the west end of the Garden to create mounds representing mountains. The plantings in and around the pond have undergone a number of changes over the years.
For instance, the largest of the mounds is currently planted with Bearberry Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri). Previously it was planted with Little Leaf Cotoneaster (C. microphyllus) and before that with Blue Fescue (Festuca ovina ‘Glauca’), a clump-forming ornamental grass.Purple Smoke
On the north end of the Garden near the meadow is a lawn area with an assortment of various trees and large shrubs. Some of these surviving older specimens were “leftovers” from Kubota’s original design.
Among them are a Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) and an absolutely stunning Purple Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria ‘Purpureus’). For a variety of reasons, most of the other leftovers have disappeared over the years.
Laceleaf Maple, Japanese Garden, Bloedel ReserveA Striking Centenarian
The tree that could be considered the flagship tree of the Japanese Garden is a large, dome-shaped Laceleaf Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’) visible just below the east deck of the Guest House.
Kubota had this tree imported from Japan. It is believed to be around 170 years old. Its beautiful branching habit can be seen in winter after all of the brilliant orange leaves have fallen away in the fall.
Red Pine bordering the pond at the Bloedel Reserve Japanese GardenPruning the Pines
The various true pines in the Garden were also installed by Kubota. Near the pond you will find Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii), Japanese White Pine (P. parvifolia), and specimens of Japanese Red Pine (P. densiflora) that lean out over the pond.
All are cloud pruned in May when the new shoots (called “candles”) begin to elongate. In a two-year pruning cycle, the candles are cut in half in the first year. In the second year, the candles are completely removed. This creates the stunted, compact growth habit that is characteristic of pine pruning in traditional Japanese gardens.
Locally Loved & Nationally Renowned
Not only is the Japanese Garden popular with Bloedel guests, it has received also acknowledgement nationally. Sukiya Living, a journal dedicated to Japanese gardening has listed the Bloedel Reserve’s Japanese Garden as one of the top 10 in the United States. Make sure it is one of the places you take time to explore on your next visit to Bloedel Reserve.
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