Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pruning Maples

"Under it's branches
Filled with leaves, I feel the wind
Brush against my back"

After spending yesterday trimming back shrubs elsewhere in the yard, I decided it was time to pay some attention to the the two dwarf maples, one in the Zen garden, and the other along the "Dragon's Spine." 

After medical related events last year, I was unable to tend to these two trees (or any of the shrubs). In the meantime, the two maples had grown somewhat out of control. Being weeping style, they filled in with foliage and created a sort of shaggy look. As a result, no sunlight was getting beneath the trees. Everything I've read said this could be problematic - disease and bugs like it in there and its healthier for the tree to keep it open - all parts of the tree like sunlight. On the other hand, I had to be careful not to trim out too much foliage so the tree can heal and to prevent too much sunlight hitting the tree itself. Needless to say, I was nervous that I might screw this up - I am no professional pruner. 

I started with the reddish tree along the "Dragon's Spine." Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of it before I started. You will have to take my word for it - it was seriously overgrown.  I started underneath with dead wood, then crossovers, and then with what I thought might prove more esthetically pleasing. 


I also added some bamboo supports on the west side (right) to help train one branch to be more straight and less droopy. The final product looks good - more "Japanese like." Hopefully, I didn't remove to much of the canopy and it will thrive.

Later, I attacked the green maple in the Zen garden. I was very nervous about touching this one. It is supposed to be a focal point in the garden and I don't want to kill it. This one does have some pre-pruning photos:


You can see how overgrown it had become. It was more difficult to work underneath because of the rocks and sloping nature of the south garden wall. I was careful not to take off to much of the canopy. However, there was a lot of gnarled and tangled limbs that had to go. 


I don't think it came out as well as the red maple, but I can continue to work with it in the next couple of years as it grows. With luck it will survive my assault. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, it looks more appropriate than the moster it was becoming.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


"Should sorrow darken all my path,
And cloud my future years,
The sunshine in my garden will
Make rainbows of my tears."
     Mary Clark Thompson, 1873 (excerpted)

Spent the weekend visiting the Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park in Canandaigua, New York. 

The park is a 52 acre site that was once the home of Frederick Ferris Thompson (a prominent 19th century banker) and his wife Mary Clark Thompson. The house was built in 1887 and the gardens added by Mrs Thompson between 1902 - 1919 after the death of Frederick. 

There are nine (out of ten) remaining gardens open to the public. I visited because I was interested in seeing the Japanese Garden. The garden was constructed in 1906 in just six months and was designed by the Japanese landscape artists K. Wadamori. 

The Tea House was completed in 1908 and was modeled after one in Kyoto that was subsequently destroyed by fire. 


In 1915 the main pool was enlarged and filled with water lilies. In addition, a small stream that was fed by a fountain just beneath the columned "Glorietta" structure at the corner of the Italian Garden (higher up and nearer the mansion) was added.


The garden is one of the only few remaining early 20th century residential gardens still in its original form and open to the public. The garden is typical of the period of "Oriental Exotica" that followed the introduction of Japanese gardens at international expositions in the late 18th century, and was adopted by wealthy Victorians into the landscapes of their private estates. As a result, the Sonnenberg Japanese garden appears to have many features associated with late 18th - early 19th century perceptions about Japanese gardens. 

In fact, it appears overcrowded with features that seem "kitchy" and unrealistic. The scale appears to be off as well. Too many lanterns in a small space, several gates in close proximity, etc. Additionally, the garden was in serious need of restoration and renovation. Apparently, following the outbreak of World War II, much of the garden was vandalized. As a result, many of the items are damaged, some beyond repair. 




I was impressed with the bronze Buddha, it was a nice addition, but seemed oddly placed. Around 1915 it was brought in by train and then wagon to the site, creating a stir amongst the townspeople who watched.



For novice visitors this could create a false impression of a Japanese garden. After visiting the Chicago Botanic Garden's Japanese garden, it was some what of a disappointment. However, given the historic background of this early form of Japanese garden in America, it makes sense. Perhaps in the future a new wealthy patron can help finance the restoration of the garden. 

Overall, it was worth the visit. If there was one thing I learned, is that I now know to be more careful when adding elements to my own garden. Too much stuff makes it "kitchy." Zen-like simplicity is the way - less is always more.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Buddha Land

I've kept the area around Buddha plant free this spring and summer. After a visit to Faddegon's Nursery, one of my local favorites, I opted to try a couple of new plants. 

'Bottle Rocket' Ligularia

This zone 4-9 perennial likes part sun, so it should do well in this shady area. It produces a very bright yellow bloom around midsummer which I think will help to add some color to this section of the garden.


I planted two, one on either side of the Buddha and they should grow to about 28-34 inches in height and no more than 2 feet in diameter.

'Silk Sunset' Coleus

This annual likes shade and will grow to about 10-13 inches. I liked the colors and thought it will add something beyond green in the garden. 

It is an annual, so it will need to be replaced next season.

Zinnia (Profusion Yellow, Fire, and White)

I added some Zinnia to the garden. I've always liked the flowers and colors on these and have added some each year. 


If I can keep the slugs at bay, they will do fine and add some temporary diversity to the garden.

Overall, the garden is doing pretty good. Its seems to be at its height of color for this summer. 

Still need to fill in behind Buddha and I am planning on trimming back the Japanese Maple - a major undertaking.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sansho-En: "Garden of Three Islands"

I had a chance to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden over the 4th of July holiday. I had originally planned to visit last year, but I was unexpectedly forced to put it off after a health scare while passing through Union Station. After a year  I was able to return and visit, and without a doubt, visiting has contributed to my healing. The Botanic Garden is spectacular. One could easily spend the entire day there as did my wife and I. The Japanese stroll garden is one of the best in the country. 

It's made of up three islands (see map):

You can read more about the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden and/or download a detailed description with map.

Here are some pictures I took while visiting:

It was a great day at the garden and at the end we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset over Horaijima (Island of Everlasting Hapiness), an island inaccessible to mortals.