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.