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Mary Pat "cultivating" in the Pacific Northwest

January 25, 2012: Seattle, Washington

I’ve been thinking a lot today about gardens, and wilderness, and cultivation. I like nature, but I love a garden. It’s not a coincidence, I think, that so many ballet teachers are avid gardeners. We like to nurture, and mould, and develop things to their full potential.

Because of the long flight and the timing of flights, I come here to the Seattle area a full day before my audition. The forecast had called for rain, but then mid-morning the sun came out gloriously, so I decided to make a big expedition that I had contemplated to the Bloedel Conservatory. This is an amazing 240 acre garden on the northern tip of Bainbridge Island. In order to get there, I had to go into intrepid-public-transportation-traveler mode: walk to the Monorail, Monorail to downtown Seattle, walk to the ferry terminal, ferry to Bainbridge, bus to the northern edge of the island, then a one mile walk along a country road to the conservancy. Thank goodness for Google directions, which helped me figure out all the right timing to make this work!

The conservancy encompasses acres of wild trees and meadows, shore line and marsh. I had no idea how big it was going to be, and had to be sure to make my connections back in time for my audition, so I only saw a fraction of the garden. The genius of this garden is that they have combined the raw, big beauty of the Pacific Northwest with the refined cultivation and care of the Japanese garden, and the classic symmetry of the French style. One minute you’re walking across a beautiful manicured lawn, with a vista down to the water, then next you are approaching a classic tea house, complete with raked garden around boulders, clearly based on the Ryoan-ji temple garden of Kyoto.

The most magical area was the Moss Garden. I had imagined something tiny, like the little Alpine gardens beloved of the English gardeners. Instead, this was like the beautiful wild forests of Vermont, with fallen trees and boggy areas in between, all covered with moss, gleaming in the sunlight because it was still so saturated with water from the recent snows, and the rain of last night. And then one emerged from this enchanted wilderness into an austere rectangle, defined by very high hedges, and filled with an absolutely simple and pure reflecting pool. It was like LeNotre meeting Tolkien.

It’s not a coincidence that LeNotre, the great architect of French classical garden design, was working simultaneously with the rise of the classical dance. This sense of the possibilities inherent in nature, when moulded and developed by continuous discipline and labour, is one of the great flowerings, as it were, of the human spirit. How lucky I am to have a day when I can steep myself in this blend both outdoors, here on
Bainbridge, and then in the beautiful studios at Pacific Northwest Ballet School.

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