With a mild climate, abundant rainfall and wide-open spaces, the Kitsap Peninsula is a mecca for gardeners, so it’s no wonder that the region is home to three world-famous destination gardens – Heronswood, Bloedel Reserve and Elandan Gardens.
Each is a distinctive gem in its own right and worthy of several hours of your time. Plan to visit all three and you’ve got the basis for a glorious couple of days of botanical exploration on The Natural Side of Puget Sound. Be sure and bring the kids because we also have a whimsical children’s garden that’s centrally located and fun for the whole family.
Here’s the scoop on Kitsap’s botanical bounty:
•Heronswood – This 5.5-acre garden combines formal beds with natural woodland gardens and features a vast array of rare trees, shrubs, vines and perennials collected from around the world by garden found Dan Hinkley.
Now owned by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the garden’s highlights include a potager (pronounced poe ta jay, with the accent on the last syllable) 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.
The garden is open for self-guided tours every Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Guided tours are also available for groups of 10 or more and must be scheduled in advance. In addition, Heronswood has four events a year that feature speakers and plant sales from a select group of Northwest specialty nurseries.
The first garden open and plant sale of 2016 is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 2. Hinkley and rhododendron expert Dennis Bottemiller will speak and 16 nurseries will sell plants. Heronswood is also available as a special occasions venue and will host a wedding expo from noon to 4 p.m. April 10. Click here for info.
•Bloedel Reserve – Created by timber executive Prentice Bloedel, this 150-acre garden and forest preserve has something for everyone, including a moss garden, a Japanese garden, a reflecting pool and a rhododendron glen.
Bloedel, who had polio as a child and felt its effects throughout his life, believed in the healing power of nature and wanted the garden to provide refreshment and tranquility to visitors.
Guided tours are available for groups of seven or more with three weeks notice, but most guests explore on their own along wide, wheelchair-accessible paths. There are plenty of benches along the way to stop and catch your breath or reflect on the beautiful surroundings.
The garden has four-season interest, but those in the know call late March to early May the “Secret Season.” Mosses are vibrant chartreuse, ferns are unfurling, rhodies are abloom and blankets of primrose line the streams.
The reserve is open Tuesdays through Sundays year-round and has frequent special events, including concerts and a summer family day. Hours vary, depending on the time of year. In April, Bloedel has two special events involving mother-daughter artists-in-residence Yuzhi Bai and Chunbo Zhang. From 1-3 p.m. April 9, the duo will select an area of the garden to paint and visitors are invited to watch. And on April 16 from 1-4 p.m., they will be demonstrating Chinese brush painting techniques. Click here for details.
•Elandan Gardens – This one-of-a-kind garden features more than 200 ancient bonsai trees against a backdrop of native plants, waterfalls and sculptures on the shores of Sinclair Inlet.
You’ve probably never seen anything like the gnarled specimens at Elandan. Founder Dan Robinson considers himself a sculptor as much as a gardener and he clips, carves and trains his collection into impossible shapes. One prized example is a 700-year-old mountain hemlock that Robinson found in a cliff-top crevasse on Vancouver Island.
Amazingly, the 6-acre garden is a former landfill that Robinson and his wife, Diane, reclaimed by hauling in 30,000 cubic yards of sandy soil and 800 tons of boulders. The naturalistic setting attracts eagles, osprey and visitors from around the world.
The garden has added a new sculptural element this year, a “Crystal Walk” featuring Merrilee Moore’s clear glass works among a grove of black locust trees.
From April to October, the garden is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. More info here.
•Anna Smith Children’s Garden – In contrast to the unattainable perfection of Kitsap’s most famous gardens, this 6.6-acre public park and WSU Master Gardener demonstration garden looks like something you could do at home. And that’s the point.
Kid-friendly highlights include a 12-foot-tall teepee covered with scarlet runner beans, tunnels of pumpkin, pea and bean vines, a kiwi arbor and colorful dahlia bed. Most fun is a yellow, purple and orange butterfly house filled during the growing season with Painted Lady butterflies.
Master Gardeners are on hand from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday mornings to inspire and answer questions. Be sure to ask about the butterflies’ two-week life cycle and their role in pollinating food crops. The volunteers raise hundred of pounds of food in the garden each year and donate them to area food banks.
The park, which is minutes from Silverdale shopping and restaurants, is open dawn to dusk daily and offers picnic tables, a duck pond and plenty of grassy areas for running off excess energy. Follow a short, steep trail to Dyes Inlet for a view of the Olympic Mountains and a good place to skip rocks. Click to learn more.
Ready to plan a garden-focused tour of the Kitsap Peninsula? Visit our website.