LIFE IS COMPLICATED. Juggling work, remote learning and economic resilience is taking a toll on us. To say nothing of the rigor of navigating loss, grief and any number of daily stressors.

Nature can help.

The Bloedel Reserve is an exquisite 150-acre public garden and forest landscape on Bainbridge Island. Founders Virginia and Prentice Bloedel believed in the healing powers of nature. So much so, they made it central to their vision for the Reserve, along with horticulture, stewardship and creativity. Virginia Bloedel believed, “ … being present in nature elevates and nurtures the human spirit, heals hearts and minds, and enriches our communities and our world.”

Strolls for Well-Being is a guided invitation to slow down and sink into nature. The program, which launched in 2014, has been so well-received that it since has become integral to the Bloedel mission to “activate the senses and encourage healthful, personal growth and discovery while immersed in nature.”

This idea of immersing oneself in nature for health reasons is not new. The Japanese have been practicing medicinal “forest bathing” for decades. The Strolls for Well-Being program has connections to this practice, as well as to Prentice Bloedel’s vision for the Reserve.

The program is crafted around 12 prompts that are linked to curated walks through the Bloedel Reserve landscape. Participants receive a complimentary guidebook to chart their exploration of themes, such as Awareness, Transition and Gratitude, and a six-month Bloedel Reserve membership is included with the program. Alongside thoughtful prompts tied to specific points in the landscape, the guidebook is filled with beautiful photographs of the Reserve, inspirational poems and blank pages for recording personal thoughts and observations. While the walks are self-guided, facilitated group meetings help direct and deepen the experience for participants.

According to Bloedel executive director Ed Moydell, “The power of nature has always been here, and has always been able to affect people in deeply personal ways, but this program really creates a structure and puts a support system behind it so that people from all walks of life can benefit from restorative powers in nature.” From the beginning, registration has been open to anyone, and free of charge, supported by admissions revenue, as well as grants and donations specifically earmarked for the popular program.

Exercise, mindfulness and connecting with nature are always good ideas, but perhaps never more so than now. Last spring, in response to the COVID shutdown, facilitators with the Strolls program adapted it to a virtual practice they call Strolls at Home. Visitors to the Bloedel website (bloedelreserve.org/nature_well-being) can access and download 12 self-guided prompts that can be explored at your own pace from your home, your garden or while strolling around your neighborhood.

Last fall, when the Reserve reopened under strict safety protocols, the Strolls program was re-imagined as an online-onsite hybrid experience, with Zoom sessions supporting Bloedel visits governed by timed, ticketed entry. The approach was extremely well-received, and plans are in place to repeat the format this spring, as COVID conditions permit. Visit the Bloedel Reserve homepage, and sign up for news to stay up to date on all garden events and be the first to hear when registration for the next round of Strolls for Well-Being opens.