Elandan Gardens, close to Bremerton, Washington and just off Highway 16, is a landmark for many traveling that road. While most see the sign, many do not stop as they are not cognizant of the treasures and the stories the property holds.
Elandan Gardens is home to leading Bonsai expert, Dan Robinson and his life-long collection of amazing bonsai trees from around the world. The collection, set among winding paths and ponds with stunning views of Puget Sound, is enough to make your visit memorable. But Elandan Gardens holds so many more treasures. A visit will surprise you.
To understand what you will see it is necessary to give a little history. Dan and Diane Robinson and their family purchased a flat, uninteresting abandoned landfill in the 1990’s. The six acre site was covered with berry brambles. Dan’s vision was to create a place to artfully house his ever-growing and treasured bonsai collection.
Once the Robinsons received permission to create the gardens, they brought in 30,000 cubic yards of sandy fill dirt and over 800 tons of boulders - some close to 8 tons each. The hills, mounds, winding paths and ponds were all created by Dan, the holder of the vision. His personal bonsai collection is now housed there in this beautiful outdoor setting. Dan finds most of the 200 trees in his collection in natural settings. He can tell tales of bringing trees from as far afield as Korea, where he served in the Army. Each bonsai tree has a story behind it.
Dan, too, is there when not off judging a bonsai show, lecturing or consulting. His passion is the creation of living works of art, using his expertise in wood sculpture as well has his background as an arborist. Dan is credited with the development of a root enhancing technique now used by collectors around the world. He introduced power-tools into bonsai creation arena in 1978. I had the pleasure of watching him sculpt the wood of a living Bonsai tree and teach an eager teen-ager how to use the tools of the trade.
According to his bio, Dan’s paper on "The Aging Process" clarified the design implicit during ascending stages of age in trees. His treatise "Focal Point Bonsai Design," which challenges the perpetuation of the "One-Two-Three-Triangle" design concept, has been published in US, Italian, English and French bonsai publications. He is an innovator and leader in the world of bonsai.
What you will see as you walk the beautiful paths at Elandan are truly treasures. Some of the bonsai trees are over 1,000 years old, the views are priceless, eagles and herons frequent the waterfront gardens and even the rocks, some glacial and some volcanic, were collected by Dan for their interesting textures and visual beauty.
Dan Robinson is the subject of the 2010 book by Will Hiltz, Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees: The Life and Works of Dan Robinson - Bonsai Pioneer. The book is also available at Elandan Gardens.
Import Shop and Gallery
As Dan created his gardens, his wife Diane, an interior designer, created a beautiful retail gallery space at Elandan where her clients and visitors could find treasures brought from the orient and closer to home. She, an artist in her own right, has skillfully arranged the collections to make for an exciting retail space.
The rooms of the shop/gallery flow as do the outdoor gardens, providing views of treasures, large and small, at each turn. It is fun to explore every nook and cranny of the shop.
The carefully selected gift items, jewelry, art, clothing and furniture will provide the decorator with surprising ideas and the shopper with unique treasures, many of which you won’t find elsewhere.
There are also plants and yard art for sale, all unique and fascinating.
You can easily spend an hour in the gallery so consider adding that time to the hour or two you will want to spend in the gardens and you’ll all set for a great half-day getaway.
Considering the creativity and talent of the Robinsons, it is not surprising that their son, Will Robinson, is a noted stone sculptor of both small and monumental pieces. His work is part of public collections in Washington and private collections in Washington, California, and Texas. He is represented by the Foster White Gallery in South Seattle and the Bau-XI Gallery in Vancouver, BC.
But his work is yet another treasure to be discovered at Elandan. When you pull into the parking lot you will see both finished stone works and works in progress because Will Robinson works right there on the property. I was intrigued by his use of basalt. Parts of the stone are left raw and and natural and others are beautifully polished making for a combination of textures that beg to be touched.
Works in progress while I was there included monumental basalt sculptures and an amazing two part stone bench.
A Must-Visit on the Kitsap Peninsula
Visitors can easily be overwhelmed with all there is to see and the diversity of experiences at Elandan Gardens. It is the type of place where you will want to stop in several times, in each season, for example. You can look at Will Robinson’s sculpture and enjoy shopping at the gallery without charge.
The charge for garden entry is reasonable. $8.00 per person. They are considering memberships. The garden is enjoyable to visit, Dan’s stories are entrancing and, if you bring your camera, you can capture some of the visual beauty of the gardens.
When you go, you will agree with me that the name they chose, Elandan, represents the elan (or joy) that you will sense when you are there and recognizes the expertise and vision of the gardens’ founder, Dan.
The gardens are available for weddings, meetings and events.
Address: 3050 W State Hwy. 16, Bremerton, WA, 98312
Open: April - October, Tuesday - Sunday 10 - 5 pm. November - March, Friday - Sunday 10 - 5 pm
Visiting Kitsap Peninsula