Achievingan Asian look in your garden

Published on Thu, Apr 22, 2004 by B. Durbin Wean

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Achieving an Asian look in your garden

By B. Durbin Wean

Hello again. Do you love living in the Northwest? At least when it isn’t raining? Although even as an ex-Californian (you know how we love our sun), it took a few years, but now if it doesn’t rain for a few days, I feel parched and ready for a good soaking. The result of this area’s legacy of water is the gorgeous green of the grass, the new chartreuse leaves emerging from winter chill and the absolute lushness of the foliage in the forest that surrounds us. It is a perfect environment for the emerging northwest style of gardening.

I’m excited about this week’s article because that style is very dependent on Asian and English influences on garden design and those are my favorites. I’ve talked about English design in past articles, so this week we will focus on Asian principles of design. Japanese influence is more moody than Chinese as Japan has steep wooded slopes, narrow valleys and is more enclosed then China.

Some design principles and techniques of Asian design are, enclosed spaces that protect you from the outside world and provide a place for contemplation (if you can’t go to the mountain to think and separate from the world, bring the peace and sacred to you). A fence around a portion of your property or enclosed patio is perfect. Heightened appreciation of natural forms such as rocks, water, trees, and hills and with a concern for the groundplane. Look down! An important feature in Asian design is a concern for paying attention to every step. Look at the leaves, rocks, pebbles and water feature. Pay attention to natural and organic forms and use bamboo screens or fences. Use entrances and gates to mark passages. Use borrowed landscaping (your neighbor’s trees visible over your enclosed patio) overlapping views, hidden nooks, smooth contrasted against rough, asymmetry and groupings of three. Design from the inside out instead of the western notion of outside in.

If you would like your very own Zen garden, think in terms of simplicity. A Japanese black pine will grow fairly tall but it has a dense, spreading and irregular growth habit. It grows fast while young but lends itself to pruning and for this garden you will need to prune. Add a Japanese bloodleaf maple, or a scarlet Japanese maple. The bloodleaf variety is very hardy and can grow up to 20 feet tall. Prune only to keep a view of the garden. The maple likes very rich soil that is moist but not wet. Include a gravel ‘patio’, rake into a wave, but having carefully raked it you won’t want to walk on it so you add a stone terrace to about one third of the space. A concrete bench would sit nicely on this surface. Add maybe five or so perfect (to you) large stones in an interesting pattern. Plant dark Japanese holly behind the stones which should be located near the back of the site. Among the rocks you might plant medium green ferns and epimedium. This garden will need to be maintained only by keeping out the weeds, pruning the shrubs to keep them smooth and moundlike and raking the gravel. A hint: if you install a weed barrier under the gravel you won’t have to deal with weeds. You will need to excavate a good four or more inches, place the weed barrier then add plenty of gravel. You don’t want to rake up your weed barrier. You can cut through the weed barrier with a razor knife to plant your shrubs.

If you are in a shaded yard, consider adding a water feature that may be with or without a pond and add moss to cover the area. Moss is almost essential to a Japanese garden especially with rocks and sand. You can substitute baby’s tears, ajuga, or wintergreen for moss.

Instead of Japanese holly you could use dwarf evergreen azaleas and boxwood. Both can be trimmed to the proper shape. You could use a cutleaf Japanese maple, a flowering cherry, plum, birch, ginkgo, mimosa or laburnum tree instead of the bloodleaf maple.

The essential purpose of your beautiful furnished garden is to give you a place of respite in the midst of the chaos. Enjoy and use it often.

Almost all nurseries carry Japanese maples and flowing cherries. Tom’s Bamboo is a great place for bamboo fences and live bamboo. Moss is for the asking all over the area, maybe even in your own lawn! Rocks and gravel are available at Northstar Sand and Gravel, Van Boven Gravel and others.