Bremerton’s Museum of Tamed Trees

The stunning, stunted world of Elandan Gardens.

In the rarefied horticultural realm of bonsai, downsizing is a virtue. Trees that would naturally soar to one hundred feet or more in the wild are pruned and trained into thick-trunked dwarves of four feet or less. Cultivation of these gnarly miniatures may span centuries. An ancient bonsai is a living sculpture shaped by accumulated seasons and many pairs of hands.

Photography by Sharon Styer

Bremerton artist Dan Robinson, 70, a retired firefighter, has been raising bonsai for forty years. Elandan Gardens is the six-acre, open-air bonsai museum he created with his wife, Diane, and their children, Shanna and Will, in 1993. It exists on a beachside landfill off Highway 16. Besides the museum Elandan Gardens also contains a gift shop, gallery and nursery.

“I didn’t have a plan at all,” he says of the museum’s beginnings, “only the ingredients.”

A professional landscaper and UW School of Forestry alumnus, Robinson brought in tons of dirt and glacial rock, plus driftwood, snags and natural detritus, to surprise and delight the eye. From a circular pathway threading the semi-wild gardens where bonsai are displayed, he points out a potted eighteen-inch-high Rocky Mountain juniper fifteen hundred years old (bonsai are dated by electron microscope). Then he guides me to a squat six-hundred-year-old, pretzel-like hemlock that he scaled a snowy Vancouver Island cliff to collect. Most of his two hundred private specimens were hand-collected.  

Viewing the perfectly miniaturized bonsai against a backdrop of full-grown evergreens can be dizzying; a fast switch from microcosm to macrocosm. The afternoon I visited two bald eagles cried nearby, heightening the sense of surreal beauty. “I come home and find solace in this garden,” Robinson says. “But the world situation, climate change . . . you don’t want to visit that.”

Robinson lectures internationally, and his bonsai are in the collection of the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, and the British National Collection.


Elandan Gardens

3050 W. State Hwy. 16, Bremerton
Open 10–5, Tuesday–Sunday. Admission $8