Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Autumn Leaves

"Along this road 
Going with no one 
Autumn evening"
Matsuo Basho

As Autumn gets into full swing, the leaves are starting to change color and drop. 

This year the dwarf Japanese Maple that is the centerpiece of the garden looks spectacular. Although I know that this too will pass, I can't help but look out upon the tree with a feeling of joy. 

I know that the scene will change, but in the meantime, I'm going to sit back and take in the view.

I also wanted to a show how the dwarf maple along the Dragon's Spine is doing. It turns a very bright red and is a nice contrast with the Maple in the Zen garden. 

This will be the last year to see this tree without a fence as a backdrop. Next spring I plan to extend the Japanese style fence the full length of the back yard. I may have to trim the back of the tree a bit so that it doesn't grow into the fence.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Heaven and Earth Meet at the Moongate Garden

Last weekend I had an opportunity to accompany my wife Catherine on a visit to Washington, DC. She was attending a conference and I wanted to use the opportunity to surprise her with a renewed marriage proposal and engagement ring in honor of our 25th wedding anniversary. 

Given that we had met and fell in love in China, I wanted to perform the surprise proposal in a place that appropriately reflected the start of our relationship. Initially I thought I would pop-the-question at the United States Botanic Garden. After all, we love visiting gardens. However, it had occurred to me that there was a small secluded garden adjacent to the Freer and Sackler Galleries, one of our favorite Asian art museums (part of the Smithsonian). 

It had been some time since I last visited the museum and had, in fact, forgotten the significance of the garden. As I investigated the location as the possible proposal site, I quickly realized how the garden was the perfect location for my plans.

The garden is known as the Moongate Garden and it was designed by architect Jean Paul Carlhian. The design was inspired by the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China.  

Catherine and I at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, 2011

The geometrical axial layout is centered around the cardinal points of a compass. There is granite and water throughout the garden, reflecting two of the of the Five Elements. 

Pink granite blocks are placed in the corners of the garden. Two as standing gates, and two that lay down and act as benches. 

It truly is a place of quiet contemplation, and for my purpose, seclusion. 

I also recognized the symbolic significance of this location for my plans - the circular spot at the center is similar to the Yuan Qiu (Circular Alter) located at the Temple of Heaven complex in Beijing. Yuan Qiu is essentially a square (representing Earth) with a three-tiered circular platform in which the Heaven's Heart Stone is located at the center. It literally marks the place where Heaven and Earth intersect. 

Catherine and I standing upon Heaven's Heart Stone in Beijing, 2011

The Moongate Garden reflects these same features in its design.

What better place, then, to express my continued devotion to our love than the place where Heaven and Earth meet? 

After much secretive planning, Catherine and I headed off to visit the Freer and Sackler Galleries, or so she thought. It was a beautiful day, the sky clearer and bluer than I can ever remember. It was, no doubt, a blessing from Heaven. We arrived early and no one was nearby, except a lone security guard. Although he initially rejected my request to take a photograph ("Its against policy..."), he very quickly changed his mind ("...but today I am going to ignore that policy"). Another blessing from Heaven. I handed him the phone/camera and joined Catherine who was standing upon the center stone.

Finding the words to convey the moment is beyond my abilities. I therefore offer the picture below as as a testament of my devotion to the women who has made me the happiest man in the world. 

Our love knows no bounds and transcends both Heaven and Earth, and I can think of no greater place in which to demonstrate that love than the Moongate Garden.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Yushien Garden

I had a chance to visit the Yushien Garden ("Garden of Friendship") at Amherst College this weekend. 

The garden opened in 2002 and has since been listed in The Journal of Japanese Gardening as one of the top Japanese gardens in the United States. The garden was designed by Shin Abe as a contemplative garden. Located between Kirby Theatre and Webster Hall, the garden celebrates stong historical ties between Amherst College and Doshisha University in Japan. 

When I first entered campus on my way to the garden, I almost passed it by. When walking along the road towards the entrance in Webster Hall, you will see a nicely landscaped area along your right. 

Looking down into a steep wedge between the two buildings is where the garden rests, but it was not apparent at first. 

In fact, the entrance is via an enclosed passage that links the two buildings together, but in order to get to that passageway, you must enter Webster Hall and navigate your way down via elevator to the passageway. 

Once you arrive, you see a spectacular view that looks up to a steep incline to where the roadways lies, but is now out of view.

The garden is very well maintained and really is a spectacular garden. It fits in very nicely into what otherwise would have been an open gap between two buildings. The degree to which the landscape architects merged the plantings and topography into what appears to be a natural setting is remarkable. The garden is also populated with features, both man-made and natural, that creates a beautiful space that is balanced in its approach to creating an authentic Japanese garden.

Overall, the visit was well worth the effort. There is no doubt that Yushien is one of the best Japanese gardens in the nation.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Comfort: Traditional Over Modern

I went to visit The Clark museum over the weekend to see an exhibit of Shang Dynasty bronzes from the Shanghai Museum. The exhibit was great, but while exploring the museum, I came across some modern style Adirondack chairs outside along the new Clark Center patio area (designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando). 

I had considered these chairs a couple years back when planning for new furniture for my own garden. However, at that time, the $550-650 cost per chair seemed an extravagant expense. In addition, I would have had to purchase them online without any opportunity of trying them out. I'm glad I opted for the more traditional Adironack chairs I purchased this spring. These modern chairs look great, and definitely exhibit a Japanese esthetic that makes them fit in well at that Clark (and probably in my Zen garden), but they were absolutely uncomfortable. 

Too bad, I really liked them. On the other hand, I now have the most comfortable chairs I have ever owned in my garden. 

I'll take traditional any day over modern, especially when it comes to comfort.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Oriental Pompon

After considering a dwarf Japanese Maple and a dwarf Japanese Pine, I finally settled on a Boulevard Cypress Oriental Pompon (Chamaecyparis pisifera "Cyano-virdis' for the unplanted area near the end of the East Gate stroll area.

My decision was made as a result of not being able to acquire the dwarf pine I had my eye on for the last two weeks. I was being cheap and waiting for it to go on sale. Unfortunately, I was not the only person thinking about it, someone else beat me to it. While looking for an alternative, I came across the Oriental Pompon in the unwanted sale area of the nursery. It looked as if it had been left all summer without any care. The pompons had been allowed to grow into each other and the plant was almost back to a conical shape. As a result, it was 75% off from its normal price. It was too good a deal to pass on, so I bought it.

Although centered with the curved edging, I still have some space to add a low growing, flowering plant just to the left of the plant (or in front, if viewing the image directly above). 

Once planted, I decided to trim the plant back into shape.

before and after trimming

I didn't want to take off too much growth, but there was a lot of dead brown growth underneath the top pom. Unfortunately, I accidentally snipped a large branch from the top front. However, I'm confident it will eventually fill in. When viewed from the sides, the trimming looks pretty good.

side views

Overall, I am happy with the plant. It should grow to about 8 feet, but as a slow grower, it will take many years to get there. In effect it will be like having a large Bonsai, and to be honest, I really enjoy the time and effort it takes to trim and maintain.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mums in the House

I picked up two large Mums as part of my fall planting season. I looked all over for just the right colors. These yellow-red variegated flowers caught my attention immediately. 

They look great in the red pots and will add a huge burst of clot to the garden as we enter fall.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Summer's End

I made some last minute changes today. Starting with the ornamental Switch Grass (Panicum Virgatum 'Ruby Ribbons') I planted last year near the side entrance to the garage. 

I had been optimistic that this grass would do well in in this spot. Unfortunately, it didn't grow back as expected, an what did re-emerge took a long time to grow.

As a result I decided to move it to make way for a Spirea. 

Its small now, but in time will grow to fill in the space. I am hoping to hide the electrical line. Additionally, the Spirea on the other side of the door will held to frame the door with similar plantings.

As for the switch grass, I moved it to the semi-circular area within the East gate area.

I had created this shape in the hoes of placing a grass plant in the peastone to differentiate the large open area outside the mulch bed. I will have to wait and see how it does next year, but given the amount of light this area receives during the summer, I am hopeful that the plant will do better in this location.

I also removed a Hosta from the mulched portion of the bed and replaced it with a Rheingold Arborvitea (Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’) that had been planted in the font bed of the house. The plant had become crowded-out by other larger shrubs, so it was time for a move. I also planned on rearranging some of the Hosta in that front bed, so the switch worked well.

In time this shrub should grow to a good size to fill in this bulge I created in the mulch bed layout. Given the amount of sunlight this area gets, this shrub should do much better here and now has room to grow.

Overall, I am happy with these changes - they were always part of my plan, but I was going to do it next year. Given the last few days I had of summer, it seemed more reasonable to get them done now.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Asia in Newport

I visited Newport, Rhode Island last week with the intention of touring mansions and checking out the European gardens of each. To my surprise, I came across several examples of Chinese and Japanese influence in the region that I did not anticipate.

First, while walking through Touro Park on my way to see the historic Old Stone Mill, I noticed a large Japanese lantern.

Old Stone Mill

The lantern was installed in 1954 and was a gift from Japan to Newport in honor of Commodore Mathew C. Perry and celebrated the 100th anniversary of the "opening of Japan." Apparently, it was installed incorrectly with the Japanese inscription on the lantern being up-side down. In 1959, a Japanese navel officer studying at he nearby Naval War College noticed, and as a result, the error was fixed. Apparently the inscription indicates that the lantern had originally been installed at a Japanese cemetery in 1841.

The lantern is very large, as you can see from the picture below (note - I'm leaning in a sitting position, against the lantern):

Additionally, there is a bronze statue of Commodore Perry in the park nearby the lantern. It was designed by John Quincy Adams Ward in 1869, while the pedestal was designed by Richard Morris Hunt.

Around the pedestal of the statue are four bronze bas-reliefs illustrating events in Perry's life: Africa (1843), Mexico (1846), Japan - arrival and signing of treaty (1854).

After visiting the park, I made my way to visit some mansions, including Marble House. This mansion was built between 1888 and 1892 for William K. Vanderbilt as a "summer cottage." 

Marble House 

On the grounds of Marble House sits a Chinese Tea House. 

source: http://meetings.newportmansions.org/venues.aspx?id=102

The Tea House was commissioned by Alva Belmont (divorced and remarried) in 1912. 

It opened on July 25, 1914 with a lavish Chinese costume ball at Marble House.

Alva Vanderbilt, seated, second from right

The Tea House was also used for rallies for women's suffrage. By 1919, the mansion and Tea House were permanently shuttered as Alva moved to France. 

Although the Tea House is based on a 12th century Song Dynasty temple, it is more characteristic of the wave of "Oriental Exotica" that spread across North America at the turn of the 19th-20th century. Many Japanese and Chinese style gardens were being built during this period, especially by the wealthy. These gardens had Asian characteristics, but were also reflective of late Victorian early 20th century tastes. The Tea House at Marble House is a good example of this movement.

side entrance

front entrance

front entrance

The front gateway was interesting, especially give that the plaque at the top illustrates what appears to be an example of Confucian inspired filial piety. The male figure in the center is being shown filial respect by a daughter (left) and and son (right).

front gateway

Confucian inspired, filial piety

spectacular view from the Tea House

interior view

back view

seaside view

Marble House side

Finally, the last surprise I came across in Newport was at the Chateau-sur-Mer. This Victorian era house was first built in 1852 and subsequently enlarged during the 1870s. 

William Shepard Westmore, who had the house built, had established himself by engaging in the early China trade. As a result, there are many items throughout the house reflecting an Asian influence. 

Most interesting, was a large Chinese moon gate along the edge of the property. It was made of granite and very sturdy. Using the railings and steps, one could easily walk to the top. The gate is known to locals as the "Monkey Seat Gate" because of a small seat at the top that allows one to look out across the street. When it was originally built, there were only fields on the opposite side. The Westmore family originally owned all the land down to the seaside where the current Breakers mansion now sits. One story has Mr. Westmore placing a monkey atop the gate in the seat to inform him when guests arrive. This seems an unlikely myth. The other story says that Mr. Westmore sat in the seat and could view the ocean from the perch, a more likely account, since at that time there were few trees to obstruct the view and very little development occurred around the property until almost 40 years later.

A historic photo I saw in the home showed the gate when first installed. There was nothing present expect the gate itself (I was unable to get a copy). The image below was the only historic image I could locate, from 1914, more than 50 years after the building of the house.

Moon Gate, 1914
Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me to take a photo from outside the gate, it was locked after all. Below is an image I located online.

source: http://gary.appenzeller.net/2012RICT/RICT2012E.htm

Overall, my trip to Newport was worthwhile. I didn't intend to find Asian elements such as the lantern, tea house, and moon gate. I saw plenty of European style gardens, but these three discoveries were my favorite.