Afternoon at Elandan Gardens

On our way to Bainbridge Island from Gig Harbor during our recent Labor Day motorcycle trip, we made a stop at an unusual roadside attraction Brian found near Port Orchard called Elandan Gardens – home to hundreds of different types of Bonsai trees!

Bonsai, the Japanese art of growing miniature trees, is a process that produces exceptional and one-of-a-kind botanical specimens that evoke images of ancient forests. Although bonsai may seem like an incredibly delicate art, it is a form of horticulture that any gardener can learn with some practice.

According to the San Francisco Gate

It was a nightmare trying to pull into this place directly off the highway but after accidentally passing it and circling around a couple times we finally made it in. I was sweating and upset, and there was absolutely nothing I needed more than an hour wandering around a peaceful garden of Bonsai trees to help me regain my equilibrium!

We wandered through the whimsical entry to the gift shop, stepped over a giant puppy sleeping in the middle of the entrance, and purchased our admission from the co-owner of the establishment.

She very quickly corrected our pronunciation of Bonsai – it is not pronounced like the war cry (BONZ-i) – rather it is pronounced (BONE-sigh). Her husband is a world-renowned Bonsai expert and has spent the past 60 years perfecting his art on the more than 200 trees on the property and traveling around the world lecturing on the discipline.

Some of his trees are from seeds, trimmings, etc. he brought back from his travels in Asia and other parts of the U.S. while others were works others created and donated to the gardens for him to continue to perfect.

I had absolutely no idea how these trees are cultivated and found the discipline fascinating.

A tree planted in a small pot is not a bonsai until it has been pruned, shaped, and trained into the desired shape. Bonsai are kept small by careful control of the plant’s growing conditions. Only branches important to the bonsai’s overall design are allowed to remain and unwanted growth is pruned away. Roots are confined to a pot and are periodically clipped. Bonsai may have a stylized or an exaggerated form, but it is always reflective of the tree as found in nature. The appearance of old age is prized, and in fact, bonsai may live to be hundreds of years old. The living bonsai will change from season to season and from year to year requiring pruning and training throughout its lifetime. As time goes on, it will become more and more beautiful.

According to Elandan Gardens

Situated among water features, rock sculptures, Japanese maples and giant rhododendron, each Bonsai was unique and had a printed paper in front of it with background on where it came from, how old it was, what type of tree it was, and some notes about his approach to perfecting it.

It is amazing how old some of them are (one was more than 1,000 years old!) and how much time and thought goes into them. We came around a path to discover Dan Robinson – the artist – there working on some of the other trees on the property. He was busy and we didn’t want to interrupt, but it was cool to see the master behind all of this art!

In addition to the water features throughout the gardens, the property itself sits on an inlet of Puget Sound and is partially surrounded by water. It’s a beautiful space, and I believe what they shared about it changing a lot from season to season, creating a different experience each time you visit.

I’ll be the first to admit we are not usually garden people – I’m not sure Brian has ever put a garden on our list of things to do on any trip! – but this one was certainly different from any we’ve ever visited.

Even if you don’t usually stop at gardens, the history and art of the Bonsai craft marks this one unusual and interesting – perhaps worth a visit if you’re in the area!

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