Archive for the ‘Japanese Garden’ Category

Fall is in the Air

It feels to me as though fall is coming more quickly this year. It may be because August and the first week or so of September were so hot and so smoky. The upper 90F heat and the smoke sucked all my energy away.

Now for the past week the temperature has dropped very noticeably. The smoke cleared for several days though it was back yesterday. The forecast now calls for five days of cooler weather and rain.

There are other signs that fall is here even though the calendar will not acknowledge it for five more days. Leaves are beginning to turn and fall. Not in large numbers yet, but enough to tell you that summer is coming to an end. Nights and early mornings are now chilly. Yesterday morning I actually had to wear a jacket working in the yard until about 10 AM.

The vegetable plants are also showing the end of summer. The tomato plants are looking tired. The leaves are beginning to dry out and although there is still some fruit ripening it is near its end. The pepper plants still look vibrant as does the potato.

In the next week or so I will clean up the vegetable garden and consider planting a cover crop for winter.

I do not like the dog days of summer. There is no denying that climate change has made summer hotter here and it is no fun for me. The smoke this year from the many forest fires throughout the western US also made August less pleasant.

I still have projects to finish though. I need to fashion a cover for the new compost bins before the rains come. I also need to finish the rain collection barrels to be ready for early spring.

I did get one little job done yesterday – cleaned up the Japanese garden. I trimmed the boxwood shrub and trimmed the lace leaf maple a bit. As autumn sets in I want to plant a couple more plants in the Japanese garden and in the front yard. There are some bare spots that need filling.

A friend of mine told me he reads this blog and that I must be very serious about my gardening. I suppose I am. It is a great hobby and it feeds me! Not many hobbies do that.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy


Inspiration at Butchart Gardens

Last week we visited Victoria, British Columbia. During our visit we got to spend half a day at the Butchart Gardens. For a garden lover like myself this place is fantastic. For me it was the second visit, I’d been there over 20 years ago. For my wife it was her first visit.

In 1904 the Butcharts developed a quarry and cement factory at Tod Inlet on Vancouver Island. They also built their beautiful home there. The quarry was rich in the limestone essential to making cement. They exported to the rest of Canada and to the US.

As the limestone was exhausted the Butcharts began to transform a barren and stark quarry – a giant hollowed out area – into beautiful gardens. They hauled in tons of soil by horse and cart from a nearby farm.

Between 1906 and 1929 they created a beautiful Japanese Garden. A sunken garden, Italian Garden, a Rose Garden and more followed until the entire quarry was transformed into a chorus of trees, shrubs, and flowers.

On his 21st birthday their grandson, Ian, was given the garden and he spent the rest of his life developing it and opening it to the public. The garden remains in the family having been passed down through the generations.

It took us over two hours to see the entire garden, walking slowly along perfectly maintained paths, across bridges and by water fountains and other fixtures. For me the showcase of the gardens are the immaculate lawns and the extensive beds of flowers and bushes. They plant over a million bedding plants each year. Nearly a million people a year visit from around the world.

I’ve included only one photo here of his amazing garden. To see much more go to their site here.

The Butchart gardens are in inspiration to any gardener. They show the potential. On returning home I dived into improvements in our gardens inspired by what I saw.

Our gardens surrounding our home have been a labor of love for 15 years and will continue to be so. The inspiration gained from viewing the Butchart Gardens only give me more energy to develop our gardens further.

If you ever get the chance to see these gardens in British Columbia I hope you take it. They are a ferry ride from Seattle, Vancouver BC or Port Angeles, Washington. It is well worth the trip.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

The Leaves Begin to Fall

The leaves are beginning to fall. Just a few now, mostly from the neighbor’s sweet gum tree. They litter my orderly Japanese garden and disturb its peace. I blow them out now and then but must be very careful as the tiny crushed rock that is now on the pathways will blow away nearly as easily as the leaves.

Occasionally I hand pick the leaves. This is a bit tedious but safer. It is a meditative process and if I have time I enjoy it. I always leave a few. I read once about a Buddhist monk in a famous garden in Japan who would remove every dead leaf from the garden, but would then return a few to restore a natural appearance. I just save a step by leaving a few rather than returning a few.

Our front yard is home to two large maples. As far as I can tell they were planted when the house was built in 1974, making them 40 years old this year. These maples never turn a bright color. They go from summer’s green to a dark reddish green and sometimes a bit of yellow when they fall. When they do fall in October and November they dump a lot of large leaves. When that time comes I will explain how I use those leaves. I make use of all of them.

I decided this year not to plant a fall vegetable garden. I had intended to but changed my mind for this year. Once the tomatoes are spent the garden boxes will be prepared for winter. The large box will be planted in a cover crop and the others will be covered with leaves. Maybe we will have a fall garden next year.

Happy Gardening.

The Illusion of Being Done

Before - April 2014

Before – April 2014

The major project this spring of course has been the inner garden or the Japanese garden. It is now about 90% complete. The work began in April. Two months of toil have brought significant improvement in some ways and disappointment in others. This seems to be inevitable.

The effort has been to create more of a courtyard style garden in the Japanese style. These are not as lush as larger gardens. When I created this inner garden ten years ago the aim was something natural and green. Having grown dissatisfied with much of that the courtyard garden has now replaced it. The beautiful Japanese lace leaf Maple remains along with the walls surrounding and the basic lay out. A box shrub has matured. Several of the original plantings have died or had to be removed as they grew too fast to fit the space.

There remains a small amount of clean up and trimming to do. A bench will be installed. The inner garden will then be “complete” for now. It is never complete of course. It remains a work in progress as are all gardens.

June 7, 2014

June 7, 2014

Attention now will be devoted to the outer garden area in front and the vegetables and flower beds in back.

Happy Gardening!

The Fountain Fiasco

2014-0601So much of what we do in the garden is trial and error. I have long planned to have a tsukubai in the inner garden. This is a small vessel that holds water. They are a staple of Japanese Gardens. In Japan they serve both an aesthetic and traditional purpose but in Western gardens they are generally decorative.

My original plan was to have a simple bamboo spout that would feed water into the vessel and the over flow would be caught in an underground reservoir and pumped back into the vessel through the spout. I found many references to this method in garden books and books on Japanese gardens in particular.

So I excavated the hole, installed the plastic and leak proof reservoir and installed the small pump. I then lined the outside of the ground around the reservoir with water proof pool liner to redirect water through a hole and back into the reservoir. Then installed a screen to keep leaves and stuff out and put my vessel on top. Final step was to surround the vessel with about 20 gallons of small rock to hide the screen. It looks just OK right now but I want to add larger stones to finish the effect.

I went to a local nursery and purchased a deer scare – it is a clever bamboo device that fills a bamboo piece which is mounted so that when it fills with water it will drop down and dump the water into the vessel. It then pops back up and strikes a bamboo knob of sorts making a little sound. Apparently in Japan this scares away deer but I do not have deer in my yard and besides I cannot imagine that little sound scaring many Oregon deer.

I spent half a day installing an exterior outlet to get power to the location and then plugged it in. It worked wonderfully until sometime last night when the pump failed. I then came to the realization that in order to do any maintenance on the reservoir or the pump I would have to remove all those stones which is a lot of work. I instantly found that this was not a practical arrangement. From time to time the reservoir needs to be cleaned as well as the pump.

So, onto plan B. I always like to have a plan B. I will remove the underground reservoir and obtain a larger vessel – something that will hold several gallons of water and will not leak or evaporate out quickly. I can then mount the deer scare on top and get the full effect with easy access for maintenance. That will not get done today – more likely next weekend.

The photo on this post is how it looks now. Progress is slow but steady. I still need to finish the walkway on the far side of the inner garden and clean up some weeks.

The lesson here I suppose is that we need to be willing to do different things. If plan A does not work well move on to plan B. The other lesson is that things will not always work in the garden the way you first envision it and that is OK. Most of the fun in this is designing and building it.

Meanwhile the rest of today will be devoted to weeding and watering the veggies which I’ve added over the past week – more tomatoes, peppers, etc.

See you next week. Happy Gardening!

Heavy Lifting

The current project in the front yard is a big one. Before I’m done I will have hand dug out over 4 cubic yards of soil digging out the pathways, moved and laid out 2 cubic yards of 3/8 minus crushed rock and about as much sand. The crushed rock lies on the base soil and a layer of weed barrier.

The paths in the inner garden are over half done now. On top of the sand I laid 1.5 – 2 inch thick silver granite flag stone. In the gaps between the stone is buff colored crushed rock without fines to give a Japanese garden look.

In the outer garden there is a straight pathway currently lined with brick. It runs parallel to our driveway. It has not worked well. I battle grass and weeds that grow up through the cracks every year. I’ve swept it with sand many times to retard this but to no avail.

So, once the inner garden is done all the brick comes out of the walkway in the outer garden. I will then have to dig down another 2 inches or more and haul that dirt to a berm I have created on the north side of the outer garden. I will then have to wheel barrow in nearly a cubic yard of crushed rock and then tamp that firm followed by about 2 inches of sand again tamped firm.

More granite flag stone goes down but must be perfectly leveled on this walk. Then I will surround the flag stone with ground granite (almost like coarse sand) and treat that with G3 Pathway Stabilizer which is supposed to harden the ground granite and form an impermeable weed free walk way.

When I am done I will have loaded, unloaded and laid out a half ton of granite, a quarter ton of decorative crushed gravel and another quarter tone of ground granite. The goal here is to have pathways that are permanent and durable. The inner garden will require more maintenance but that is the nature of a Japanese garden.

Then there are more projects. There is the tsucubai, a small Japanese style water basin with a bamboo spout that fills it with water through a recirculating pump. That goes in the inner garden. In the outer garden there are many more plantings to come and a dry stream bed lined with more rock.

It is hard work but immensely satisfying. When done it will remake the front yard and the aim is that it will look peaceful and inviting. This is the big garden project for 2014.

Those are the plans. As I mentioned a few posts ago photos will be posted of the finished project but I estimate it will take at least another 8 weeks to reach that finished stage.

Why a Japanese Garden?

I have always been enamored with the Japanese style garden. I love the one in Portland. This style is orderly and well-designed yet leaves much to the imagination. It has an understated beauty. Rather than the symphony of flowers typical of western gardens a Japanese style garden is more a reflection of nature. Yet it has refined elements and artificial design aspects that also make it obviously a human creation.

I built my first Japanese garden in 1996. It was about 45 feet square. It took a lot of work and served as a small strolling garden and courtyard style in one.

My current Japanese garden was begun in 2004. It is much smaller, about 25 feet long and 18 feet wide. It is in the courtyard style. Outside the courtyard is a larger area still influenced by the Japanese style. It originally had a lawn but that has been replaced with an area for more plantings and pathways. A dry stream bed will appear in the near future.

I like these gardens not only because of their beauty and reflection of nature but also because of their quiet meditative influence. You want to walk through them slowly. You want to be silent in them. You want to meditate in them. You want to reflect in them. They provide a place of peace and tranquility. I often call mine the Meditation Garden.

Oregon Japanese Garden Portland

Oregon Japanese Garden Portland


Later this spring when the transformation is done I will post more photos and hopefully you will see something well done.