Garden tour celebrates 20th bloom


After two decades, Bainbridge in Bloom reigns as one of the Northwest’s premier garden tours, boasting high-profile speakers, internationally celebrated landscapes and bus loads of green-thumbed gawkers.

“It’s the grand lady of garden tours,” said gardening guru Ciscoe Morris, who will lead one of the tour’s workshops this weekend.

But the two-day event’s origins came out of the not-so-grand financial troubles of an island nonprofit group.

“We were just sitting around a living room trying to come up with ideas for a source of income to keep our organization going,” said Janice Shaw, one of the early board members of the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council.

Several ideas were bandied about, but board member Joanna Newnham’s spur-of-the-moment notion for a garden tour stilled the brainstorming session.

“It was an ‘a-ha’ moment,” Shaw said. “We said ‘that’s it’ and everything just started clicking. We cranked the tour out in a short amount of time.”

Hoping for at least $5,000, members were stunned when the 1988 tour of six island gardens generated $11,000.

“It was extremely successful and exceeded expectations,” Shaw said. “We knew we had a winner.”

Celebrating its 20th year, the tour now rakes in about four times its initial draw, and helps fund BIAHC’s educational programs and artist grants.

The tour has also expanded beyond the bus tour’s garden stops. This year, Bainbridge in Bloom will feature a plant sale, foods from local chefs and painters practicing their craft in the gardens.

The tour has also gone a deeper shade of ‘green,’ with sustainable gardening workshops and incentives to get more participants to ditch fossil fuels and bicycle the tour route.

Bainbridge in Bloom continues to grow and thrive because it is rooted in what islanders have traditionally prized most: nature and the outdoors, Shaw said.

“Any event, festival or project’s success depends on its ability to resonate and have an authentic connection with a community,” Shaw said. “It has to tap into the history, heritage and values of a community.”

Formerly renowned for its strawberry farms, the island continues its celebration of soil and sun with thousands of backyard vegetable gardens and well-tended frontyard landscapes.

“Bainbridge is really an epicenter for gardening in the Northwest, and maybe the country,” said David Lewis, who, with partner George Little, has crafted a garden art business with clients across the nation.

The tour is the last chance for the public to view Little and Lewis’ garden, which draws up to 4,000 visitors each year.

The pair is selling the garden and moving next door, where Lewis is looking forward to “a blank canvas” on which to create a new gardening tour de force over the next several years.

A Bainbridge in Bloom participant since 1991, Lewis said the tour has spawned numerous similar events in other communities.

“You can’t go through the summer now without one or two garden tours happening each weekend in the state,” he said.

“We used to get calls all the time from other communities wanting to know how we do it,” Shaw said. “(The tour) really became a model for something that, I think, replaced home tours in popularity.”

Many communities warmed to the garden tour idea when they saw what it meant for the island’s economy.

“It really has had a significant economic impact,” Shaw said. “The bed and breakfasts are full during the tour weekend. It’s hard to get a reservation at local restaurants and lots of people are out shopping at our stores.

It really has provided a wonderful legacy (and) has become a source of pride for people here.”

The Best in Bloom

–The 20th annual Bainbridge in Bloom garden tour runs this Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. The bus tour features five stops, including the art-laden Little and Lewis garden, 5 acres of English-inspired landscapes and a colorful garden with Mediterranean plants.

Garden expect and TV personality Ciscoe Morris will speak Sunday at the Mesogeo Nursery from 1 to 2 p.m. and at the garden of John Kathleen Bullivant from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Other tour highlights include a plant sale, sustainable gardening presentations and refreshments from local chefs.

The “Bike the Bloom” program features lower-priced tickets, a bicycle route map and bicycle parking.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $10 children under 12 years old. Cyclists pay $20.

For more information, call (206) 842.7901 or visit