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. 


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.


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.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dragon Spine - Snip

I worked on two unrelated projects that were the result of finishing up the East Gate area. Technically speaking, they are not part of the Zen garden. Nevertheless, they relate to to the overall yard plan.

The first was a small bed of Tiger-Lillies near the shrubs in front of the East Gate area. These lilies were planted around an electric pole for a couple of years, but were never mulched. I enlarged the edging around them and added some mulch, both of which were left over from the East Gate project.

The second was a new path way to the area behind the garden shed. In order to make this new pathway I would have to alter what I have referred to as the Dragon's Spine. 

Dragon's Spine, 2010

This area had first been landscaped back in 2010. I likened it to a dragon's spine - the tail end was connected to the patio area, which in turn was connected to the Zen garden. It has changed dramatically over the years as plants have grown. However, the end furthest from the Zen garden was always the place by which we entered the wood-lot behind our property. As a result, it was important to keep that space free of plants. This last December we cut the small pine tree seen in the image above (right) for use as an Xmass tree. 

Dragon's Spine, 2014

After finishing the East Gate area, I had an abundance of peastone that had been removed and needed a place to go. I also wanted to remove the grass which made up the walkway to the back of the shed. Doing so would allow me to curve the edge in a way that would be more lawn mower friendly.

So, the grass was removed, edging installed (leftover from the East Gate project), weed fabric laid, and peastone installed.

I also included an additional path out towards the wood-lot. Doing so meant that I had to snip the Dragon's Spine so that it was no longer a continuous set of curves. However, it was worth the change in order to make mowing easier and to make the entryway into the wood-lot look more like part of the overall plan, rather than a place with mulch but no plantings.

When seen from above, and within the context of the garden and rest of the yard, its an improvement.

There is also the possibility that I may finally fence off this part of the property next summer - I will think heavily about it during the winter. If I do so, this pathway into the wood-lot will be where I place a gate.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The East Gate Stroll

I completed the layout of the East Gate area today. The last of the mulch was placed along the area near the driveway as well as the Black Eyed Susan bed.

I still need to make some decisions about plants. First, the corner between the fence line and front shrubs will need to be planted.

This area gets lots of light, so I will look for something with colorful flowers.

I also have to make a decision about the large bed along the fence line.

I would like a large shrub or maybe a dwarf Japanese maple. However, I have to be careful about this spot because in the winter it is where all the snow that is moved from the driveway by the snow blower ends up. Shooting lots of snow in this direction could damage a small shrub or tree.

Overall, this area along the driveway came out nice. I will wait a year to see if I want to keep the Hosta here. I might also consider planting a tall grass plant in the center of the peastone circle at this far end (see picture below)

The East gate area, with the gate at the far end, looks really nice. In time, the Cyprus shrub and the Spirea will grow to frame it like an entrance way. The Mexican Black Stone, which almost looks blue, also adds a nice linear element.

The view from within the garden is also much nicer since I cleaned up the old "dumping ground/camper parking lot." I'm already thinking that I might add some irregular stepping stones along the pathway along the right (near the garage wall).

Interestingly, none of this was on my list of "things-to-do" for this summer. In the end, I've just about doubled the size of the garden. It looks like its been a summer well spent.

Screened In

I fixed the lantern (meter box) screen today by adding more horizontal and vertical pieces. Originally there were two of each, but I didn't think it  covered enough of the glass and the visible meter below. 

2013, simple screen

The new additions make it look more-screen-like. 

2014, complex screen

It was tough to put together. I'm hoping the glue holds.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Black Stones

I installed the Mexican Black Stone this morning. I was concerned about how much stone I would need to fill in the 20 ft. long section of edging timbers. The cost of these stones is expensive at $25/3 gal. bucket, so four buckets would cost $107 (after tax). That seemed like a lot for so few stones. So, I looked around for an alternative, but nothing seemed to fit my vision for what I was trying to achieve. I therefore decided to make the purchase. After seeing them installed, I'm glad I did. 

Although not as dramatic as the Ryōan-ji temple Zen garden temple in Japan, it does add another element to the East Gate area. 


Now that the rest of the area is curved up, this linear element helps to make the garden more diverse while helping to accentuate the bed of Black Eyed Susans along the fence line.

I still have to add mulch, but once I do, I will definitely be finished with this portion of the East Gate area.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Rain Day

I've continued working on the East Gate area off-and-on over these last couple of weeks. Today it was raining, so I'm taking a well deserved break after much work.

Yesterday, I finally finished with the fence line. I had to dig a trench in order to install some plastic edging along the base of the fence. The fence is not mine, but my neighbors, so I have no control over its appearance. After removing the last of the red-rock that had been placed around the Hosta at the base of the fence, and transplanting or bucketing all of the Hosta, I needed a way to ensure that the neighbors grass would not grow into the East Gate garden area. Hence the plastic edging (not visible - behind the Black-Eyed Susans).

Area before being re-landscaped. Note - Hosta along fence line.

Once installed, I then planted the Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia speciosa var: sullivantii "Goldstrum') - some of which I purchased, others of which were transplanted from elsewhere in the yard. Although not typically Japanese garden-like, I wanted to take advantage of the sunlight in this area to add some color.  

Fence line after re-landscaping with Black-Eyed Susans planted.

Black-Eyed Susans, Street View

In a couple of years, theses plants will grow to a height of 24-30 inches, tall enough to block the lower portions of the fence. The gaps will also fill in and the plastic edging at the base will help ensure they do not spread into the neighbor's lawn.

I also placed some additional plantings since last week, starting with a Spirea at the terminus of the wood edging.

In time, this plant will grow to fill this area in and help hide the end of the wooden timbers and the rocks surrounding the plant. It will also help to demarcate the portion of the East Gate area from the northern end which runs directly along the driveway. I consider these two different areas.

In addition, I transplanted a small boxwood shrub that was elsewhere in the yard. Originally one of two very small shrubs, it was the only one to survive the deep freeze last winter. I decided to add it to to one of the small islands (the one with two stones). In time it should grow a bit larger and fill in some of the space between the two stones. 

The northern area along the driveway is yet to be completed. I have placed a garden hose in the shape I plan to install some more black plastic edging. It will add curves and help keep the peastone from mixing in with the mulch I plan to place in the newly formed planting area. I already moved all the Hosta that will remain so that they conform to the curved edge and provided extra space for them to grow. 

The far corner, on the right, still has a triangular shaped space in which I may plant some still-to-be-determined flowering plants.

Once the rain stops, I will get back to digging and installing the edging. From there I will need to dispose of the old rotten timbers (seen in the driveway), add mulch, install Mexican Black Stone along the wooden timbers, and decide what to do with the open curved area in front of the second set fence rails (perhaps a large shrub or a dwarf Japanese maple).

Overall, the East Gate area is starting to look nice. 

A few more days and I should be done, provided the rain stops.