When I first visited the home we ended up buying on Bainbridge Island, the owners excitedly told me that their garden had been on the 2016 Bainbridge in Bloom garden tour. This clearly was the attribute they wanted to pitch more than the number of bedrooms or kind of kitchen stove.
And it worked. My husband and I fell in love with the garden. We also couldn’t wait to experience this Bainbridge in Bloom tour the sellers had raved about.
We didn’t have to wait long. Two weeks after we moved in, we headed to the Hub at the Filipino-American Hall to buy our tickets to the 2017 garden tour presented by Arts & Humanities Bainbridge.
With map in hand, we set out to explore the five varied and inspiring gardens. It’s difficult to choose a favorite, but I remember best a garden overlooking the Puget Sound with a stunning view of Seattle.
The owners of that fabulous garden are former Congressman Don Bonker and his wife, Carolyn. They lived in Virginia when he served in the U.S. House and brought their appreciation of George Washington’s Mount Vernon to their Bainbridge garden, blending plantings like those at the first president’s home with those of their native Pacific Northwest.
“We love Mount Vernon and tried to bring some of that out here,” says Carolyn Bonker. “I’ve created rooms — the grape and fig harbor is a sweet spot, the place by the pond to watch the fish, the patio to the south and the overlook on the north with the Gertrude Jekyll roses are like different rooms. It was a joy to share that with people.”
The joy of exploring gardens has made Bainbridge in Bloom an annual treat for 30 years, attracting hundreds of visitors who don’t find out the location of each year’s gardens until they pick up their map on the weekend of the tour. An estimated 50,000 garden lovers have participated in the tour since it started and more than 150 gardens have been showcased over the years.
“The most enjoyable aspect of organizing our annual garden tour is the excitement of finding the gardens. In our 30th year, we have a group of gardens that are appealing to the eye, provide a sense of serenity and celebrate the talented gardeners on our island,” says Patty Bell, board chair of Arts & Humanities Bainbridge.
After my first time going on the garden tour last year, I volunteered for the committee led by Patty Bell for this year’s Bainbridge in Bloom. I’ve had a sneak peek at some of the gardens selected for 2018, but I’m sworn to secrecy.
As a newcomer, I reached out to volunteers who have helped Bainbridge in Bloom over the years to find out what it means to them.
“My favorite memories of the Bloom include the mix of people who attend the event. Some come for a social outing with friends while others come on their own with pen and notepad in hand, studying the details and asking many questions. Most are open-minded and enjoy being surrounded by beauty and appreciating the talent and effort of the owners,” says veteran volunteer Bethany McDonald. “Each year, the Bloom has a selection of styles and no one garden is everyone’s favorite.”
Volunteers like Bethany McDonald act as ambassadors or docents who work with garden owners ahead of time to get ready and then staff the gardens to assist visitors. Each garden also features live musicians who perform as visitors stroll around.
Christine Davis started helping with Bainbridge in Bloom over 25 years ago. One of her favorite locations was a 5-acre former dairy farm.
“The beauty of that place was [that] it attracted all ages,” she recalls. “The garden was mostly around the house, and along the northern boundary was a big, open grassland that backed up to a ravine wooded area. They had some beautiful trees that lined the driveway that went back to the barn. It was a very relaxed property, and I loved the way they had incorporated that hillside.”
Glynis Burns also has helped out with the garden tour for many years and is one of those working hard to get ready for the 30th Bainbridge in Bloom.
“What I take away as a worker bee is seeing the excitement and enthusiasm of the people that visit the gardens,” she says. “We usually have a beautiful day and there’s that warmth and the beauty of the gardens makes people really happy. And I like that.”