A photo essay of Dan Robinson's iconic garden in Bremerton, Washington USA
Elandan Gardens is a paradise of abstracted wilderness, built on a former garbage dump in Washington's Puget Sound. For over 30 years, Dan Robinson and his family have naturalized this once toxic environment into an iconic landscape, making it one of the most unique cultivated landscapes in the Pacific Northwest and one of the most exploratory bonsai gardens in the world. Time and intention are not expressed through polished surfaces and tightly manicured perfection. Instead, Elandan Gardens is a mirage of patina, an environment subjected to the same elements over time that form the native landscape surrounding it.
For 65 years, Dan Robinson has been cultivating bonsai in defiance of tradition, informed only by his experiences and explorations in the wild. It is through these radical and avant-garde interpretations of the ancient form that visitors come to understand Elandan.
Every tree tells a story, narrated by the hands of its caretaker. Dan Robinson's hands tell their own story-heavily worked, adept, and contorted like the trees he creates.
The garden is anchored by a body of water whose depth was limited by the human detritus buried underneath. Its shallow, wide expanse houses a tremendously organic and naturalized environment, as if it's always been there.
Rich contextual contrasts between tree and landscape explore the contradictions of life and death and reflect Dan's expression as a naturalist, landscaper, and bonsai artist. His perspective on how the form of the tree can generate the impractical or the impossible is compelling, challenging, and at times, haunting.
Korean black pine grown from seed adorn the landscape, all cultivated by Dan for over 60 years. This impressive pine, on the boundary of the Puget Sound, is neighbored by an ancient Rocky Mountain juniper that carries the signs of Dan's approach to bonsai. Every tree deserves deadwood, no branch should be straight, stasis is the path to natural representation, and the aesthetic of ancient is unpredictable and random.
Reducing the living portion of the tree to the boundary of life and death is a defining approach to design that makes Elandan gardens so powerful and filled with dramatic effect. Dan's ability to hold plants and trees on the precipice of failure, yet somehow they persevere, has created one of the more unique, individualistic, and harsh aesthetics that has ever been seen in bonsai to date.
Elandan was created from the native landscape slowly over time–stone, trees, and expired ancients in the form of burnt-out snags were repurposed and given new life as dramatic examples of North America's rugged environment. Massive spires litter the landscape as if naturally existing–all masterfully composed to maximize the effect of scale in the garden.
Bald cypress collected from the swamps of the southeast feel at home beside the central pond.
Rosemary bonsai, collected from an abandoned warehouse in San Fransisco–year of origin, 1890.
Much like his trees existing in a state of constant survival, the landscape Dan created shows the patina of decay from the natural ecosystem acting on natural elements and placed in a natural way.
Elandan Gardens is a family business, with stone works by Dan's son, Will Robinson, created onsite. Will's sculptures add frames and an illusion of permanence to the garden experience.
The garden embraces random acts from the Puget Sound. Cataclysmic storm surges have enveloped the entire garden multiple times over Elandan's history. Architectural detritus demonstrating the unpredictable power of the Pacific Ocean only further contributes to Elandan's wild character in this very exposed corner of the Pacific Northwest.
The many faces of Elandan's landscape constantly challenge your perception of what is natural from what is man-made.