A Place to Mend Hearts and Heal Minds

Wellness in the garden at Bloedel Reserve

By: Laura Counsel

Laura Counsel is special programs manager at Bloedel Reserve….

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Footpaths and trails through the Moss Garden allow visitors to immerse themselves in natural beauty. Photo: courtesy of Bloedel Reserve

If you’ve ever used nature to calm your mind or heart, then you’ve experienced the underlying basis of the Strolls for Well-Being program at Bloedel Reserve.

Bloedel Reserve (Bloedel) is a 150-acre public garden and forest landscape near Seattle on Bainbridge Island. The vision and core mission of Bloedel is to offer “refreshment and tranquility in the presence of natural beauty” and to “enrich peoples’ lives through a premier public garden of designed and natural Pacific Northwest landscapes.”

Prentice Bloedel (1900–1996), a conservationist who worked in the timber industry and an early proponent of research into the positive effects of nature on human well-being, shaped the reserve for more than 40 years. Because of his commitment to the landscape, Bloedel is a testament to fostering a strong connection between people and nature. Prentice Bloedel once described the garden as a place where people could find solace, “a retreat where one can escape the daily pressures.”

Bloedel Reserve is home to towering trees and lush tranquil landscapes like this
quiet area adjacent to the Bird Marsh. Photo: courtesy of Bloedel Reserve

Our Strolls for Well-Being program is based on shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing,” a practice that was developed in Japan in the 1980s. Shinrin-yoku is the simple idea that engaging in the natural world in a relaxed and mindful manner strengthens the immune system, reduces blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood, and other mental and physical benefits. While nature therapy and forest therapy have roots in many cultures, the tenets of shinrin-yoku speak directly to the healing properties that a landscape like Bloedel can provide.

The Japanese Garden. Photo: courtesy of Bloedel Reserve

In 2014, upon learning about the Stroll for Well-Being program at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens (Morikami) in Delray Beach, Florida, former trustee Sally Schauman introduced the idea to Bloedel staff and trustees. Morikami says that their stroll gives people a chance “to immerse themselves in the natural beauty, peace, and serenity of the gardens.” Garden visitors report “reduced feelings of sadness, hopelessness, fear, and loneliness, and greater feelings of happiness and joy at the end of the program.”

Shinrin-yoku and the program at Morikami align with the mission of Bloedel, so the reserve began adapting the concept to Bloedel’s distinct landscape. Bloedel welcomed its first Strolls participants in the fall of 2014 and has hosted the healing journeys of hundreds of people ever since.

Using the landscapes of the garden, the Strolls for Well-Being guidebook, and facilitated meetings, Bloedel offers a catalyst for healing in nature. The Strolls for Well-Being at Bloedel Reserve will continue to invite people to experience a reflective journey on a path to connect with nature in all its richness. Participants are encouraged to experience the grounds using their senses, thoughts, and feelings. With repetition, the Strolls become a practice—a time for restoration, recovery, and reinvigoration. The Strolls are not a prescription, but an opportunity to create a personal connection with nature and to reflect on life.

Participants in the self-guided Strolls for Well-Being program respond to prompts in their workbook. Photo: courtesy of Bloedel Reserve

Strolls for Well-Being

Experience the restorative powers of nature with Strolls for Well-Being, a free seasonal program offered at Bloedel Reserve.

Participants are required to attend three meetings: an orientation meeting, a check-in meeting, and a closing meeting. The 12 walks outlined in the Strolls book are self-guided. Participants who are not already a Bloedel member, are given a temporary membership to allow unlimited access to the gardens during regular open hours.

To find out when the next round of registration for the Strolls for Well-Being program opens, visit www.bloedelreserve.org/strolls-for-well-being.