A stroll through some of the Northwest’s most beautiful gardens offers peace and quiet, plus views of Puget Sound.
THE IDEA THAT nature is restorative isn’t news to gardeners, who believe digging in the dirt is therapy and trees are worthy of reverence. In Japan, there are 44 forests accredited for “Shinrin Yoku,” or forest bathing. Walks through these parks are a popular activity in Japan, often prescribed by health-care providers. Studies show that nature immersion has a positive effect on people’s immune systems, decreasing levels of stress and depression.
And now Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, one of the most beautiful of all Northwest gardens open to the public, is offering a program to heal hearts and minds. The “Strolls for Well-Being” pilot project was launched in 2014. This year the program has grown to 12 walk routes, which are available in 10 sessions, with 25 people in each.
Most strolls are less than a mile along well-groomed paths through birch groves and a primeval-feeling moss garden, past ponds and waterfalls, with views of Puget Sound through the trees. The scents and hush of nature are enhanced by the richness of flowering trees and shrubs, native plants and unusual flora from around the world.
These walks might well change people’s gardening lives as well as their state of mind. Perhaps skirting the bird marsh, or passing through the portal of the Torii gate into the calmness of the Japanese garden, will inspire us to create an atmosphere of repose and nurturing in our own gardens.
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Studies show that even looking at a photo of a tree helps us drop into our parasympathetic nervous system, where healing takes place. You can imagine what being surrounded by 150 acres of abundant nature will do for our brains and bodies. The green tranquillity makes it more likely that we’ll tap into our “rest and digest” reflexes rather than “fight or flight,” a common and involuntary response to the noise and congestion of city life. “People feel safe here; they can relax into the environment,” says Erin Jennings, Bloedel’s marketing and outreach manager.
Reserve founder Prentice Bloedel found solace in nature, carving out pathways as he walked the land every day. His vision was to share the beauty he’d created by inviting people in to find the restorative powers of nature in the peace and quiet of the gardens he’d created. I’m sure he’d appreciate strolls entitled Awareness, Reflection, Gratitude and Transition, and the idea of the journey through the garden being both internal and external.
So who is participating in these meditative journeys? Jennings says retirees, caregivers, mothers of young children, teachers and people healing from illnesses or injuries have signed up. She hopes in the future to expand the strolls to include school kids, teenagers and veterans.
While the experience along the trails is mostly solitary, the program itself includes meetings, surveys for ongoing research and sharing of experiences along the pathways. Jennings says people enjoy the workbook designed to lead them through the gardens, which has color photos, inspirational quotes and space to take notes.
Bainbridge resident and artist David Lewis, who serves on the Reserve’s board, points out that many visitors to the gardens are doing their own healing walks. “The idea of the strolls really resonates with me,” says Lewis. “It’s a free program, a way for the Bloedel Reserve to give back to the community.”
You can learn more at the reserve’s website. To sign up for summer or autumn sessions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.