The design of our garden — especially the area behind the house — was heavily influenced by Japanese aesthetics. We loosely incorporated three styles of Japanese gardens into our design: Pond, Stroll and Tea Gardens. If you look at the map you can see the pond is the centerpiece of the garden and is of a size and location that we can see it from inside at all seasons. There are multiple paths that let us stroll around the pond to enjoy different views and Mark designed and build a stucco Tea House at the top of the slope next to the Header Pool.
Other than digging and shaping the pond and setting the largest stones, Mark did all the construction himself.
The view from the deck not long after we moved into the house in the autumn of 1994. It was the perfect blank canvas.
The same view in the Spring of 2012.
Looking towards the bright yellow house you can see two more of the major selling points: access at ground level and a window wall to let us enjoy the garden from indoors during the winter.
As I mentioned last week, we created many small, distinct gardens that all link together via a series of path into a unified whole; what we refer to as "the big idea." The TSUKUBAI GARDEN is right off the deck and is a Mid-westernized version of a traditional feature seen at the entrance to Tea Gardens. We often made mock-ups of features, including cardboard "rocks," to help us visualize the final product and give us a sense of the proper scale and proportion.
Here you see the path coming around from the West Gate to the Tsukubai with assorted stepping stones sitting where they will ultimately be set in place. Early plantings are in the ground and the water feature is operative. We replaced a traditional stone bowl with a ceramic pot made by a local artist and a metal pipe replaces the traditional bamboo flue.
A few years later the plants almost hide this feature and the house has been painted. The old pipe has been replaced with antique copper.
The pond took an entire summer to create. Mark worked on his own or with a young landscape architect who also drove the bobcat and hired the backhoe driver. The top of the stone retaining wall is ground level. The back yard strongly sloped upward which was helpful in creating a natural looking pond. We used some of the dirt that came out of the hole to create small hills. You can see the "shelves" that circle the pond which are used to hold the pots of water lilies under water.
The hills have sod to prevent erosion as it was an amazingly wet summer. The bottom of the pond is dirt with no rocks or rough spots, topped with sand and a layer of old carpet. The final layer is rubber. Note the sea of mud that goes across the width of the garden and stretches from the pond to the deck. It stayed that way for at least a few years.
The rubber liner is in place and large stones are being set inside the pond. Mark and our landscaper, Jon Adams-Kollitz, are standing on carpet to protect the liner as they wait for the rock to be swung into position. It is glued to a sheet of styrofoam with a cement collar and has not shifted in 20 years.
The gives you an aerial view from the roof of the house. I suggested we add a grass square to repeat the geometry of the deck but give it a twist as though it was under the deck and sticking out at the edges. We also added bluestone pavers to contrast with all the natural stepping stone. The triangle off the deck eventually was planted with a Ginkgo tree that my co-workers gave me when my Dad died. There are stone steps going up the hill to right where the Tea House will eventually be built.
If you look at the picture above you can see the long stone path and the front edge of the deck to orient yourself to the views below. The Tsukubai is off to the left and mostly hidden by foliage.
We decided we should have another gravel garden to relate to the Yin Yang garden out front and filled in this area. The view below is in the opposite direction from the image above with the Tsukubai on the right. The Spirea hedge never thrived and was replaced with a bamboo fence.
There's a pine needle path along the fence that goes behind the Tea House and meanders through the Sacred Grove at the top of the hill out of view to the left. You can also use the stone steps to get up to the Tea House, then turn left and cross the stream via stepping stones.
To the east of the pond we had a moss garden until we decided it required too much maintenance. We lost one of these apple trees and the remaining one is not in good shape so we are re-thinking this area in case we lose this tree. We started with a casual mulch path, then added a brick edge and then updated it again with gravel and a stone edge.
The front apple tree came down in 2015 but the area looks fairly similar today. The dry steam and bridge are between this mossy area and the deck. Note the path splits: go left around the the Turtle Mound and Katie's Crescent or go right to go behind the low hedge that edges the the Buddha Mound and along the Back Border where the gray gravel path continues over to the Sacred Grove.
When the neighbors whose yard adjoins ours announced they were going to have a baby, we announced that we were going to have a fence. Mark spent three years building this cedar fence. The support posts are pressure treated lumber and are sunk four feet deep to withstand frost heave. He created a design module so he could add more or fewer modules depending where the support posts were placed. He assumed he would hit rocks or tree roots which would force him to move the post and this was how he dealt with that problem while giving the fence a unified look.
The fence has a dramatic gate and the entire creation is topped with a cedar shake roof. The fence was designed to look the same from both sides. We're on our third set of neighbors since Mark built the fence and I think the presence of the gate has always made for good relations with each new family.
You can see from this image that we spent a lot of time thinking about hardscaping and evergreens, features that would make the garden interesting even in winter. The fence has turned out to be one of the best winter features of the garden.
If you look at the aerial photo you can see the stone steps that lead to the Hedder Pool and the Tea House. Turn left at the top of the steps as you cross the stream and you will see the Weeping Purple Beech that is the focal point above the yew curve.
As you cross the stream look right and you see The Sacred Grove.
I named this area The Sacred Grove right after we moved in. There was a huge old Crabapple tree, three Austrian pines, a big Juniper and some scrubby shrubs. It was woodsy and mysterious, the perfect spot for the Delphic Oracle to appear with a pronouncement. Alas, we've lost most of those trees including a couple of special ones that we planted over the years.
They turned my shady Grove into a much sunnier area and one that does not look that mysterious in early Spring. The Hedder Pool is between the big rocks and the Tea House.
Looking the other direction
The Sacred Grove in 2015.
We decided to create a lower maintenance area along the fence by planting Yew and Boxwood. We used cardboard circles to estimate mature size and how many shrubs we'd need to buy. The hose is marking the future path.
The view today with the Buddha Mound on the left. The arching tree trunks belong to an old Lilac. The tree in the back center is a Carolina Silverbell and marks the beginning of Katie's Crescent.
The Crescent was formed when we piled up all the grass that was removed to build the pond. Eventually it broke down into a beautiful planting bed which is home to Geranium 'Biokovo' and a weeping Katsura that we've trained to create a leafy tunnel.
We're having a computer problem that is keeping me from accessing our photo archive. So I don't have any photos to show the story of the Tea House. This link gives you a timeline and further links to construction details.
If you are a junkie for design construction details and step-by-step photos, you can follow the entire process under My Garden Odyssey in the categories list. As you know, posts are chronological so the last post is at the top of the list. The very first post on this topic ran on Nov. 26, 2008. Those little "You Might Like . . ." boxes that appear below link to related posts which is another way to follow this story if you start with the first post.
We spent the first two-and-a-half years in this house designing the garden and stockpiling material. This is our original plan which is based on paths (in orange) from the house to the various features we intended to build. Thus we could create small gardens one at a time using the paths as the boundary lines. Except for the largest projects like the pond and the driveway, we did the work ourselves — which really means Mark did the construction and hard physical labor and I did the planting. We argued equally about design and control issues.
This is my drawing of the above plan where you can see the names we've given to each area. We named them so we had a way to talk about different areas without getting confused about what or where the other person meant. We continue to use those names for the most part. We still refer to the compost corner though the bins are long gone and it's all planted. We've just never come up with a new name that has stuck!
The front view of the house in 1994 on the day we had the inspection. The lot is one-half acre which is very big for an urban property and was a major factor in our decision to buy. You'll notice the lot goes right down to the street with no sidewalks. That means the city technically owns the first 16 feet of our lot should they ever decide to put in sidewalks. If the house had not been wood siding and able to be painted, that yellow color would have been a deal-breaker.
Summer 2011 after we replaced the bark on the front paths with gravel. The house has been painted twice — in the exact same color: Seal Beach Green. We've added a border the length of the driveway on the left and trees and shrubs along the slope on the right side.
October 2016, a year after we replaced our concrete driveway with pavers, added a boulder retaining wall and stone steps into the Moon Garden.
A closer look at the gravel path across the front of the garden out by the street. This area is mostly Geranium macrorrhizum ground cover and shrubs and trees and requires little maintenance.
The look of this area — aka The Wild Time Border — varies slightly by season with white daffodils in early spring, daylilies in mid-summer and Geraniums all the time.
We used Round-Up to mark out the front paths a long time before we began actual construction.
The pictures above and below clearly show the layout of the area known as the "Moon Garden" with the Yin/Yang Circle in its earliest days. Mark shot these standing on the roof of the house.
Spring with our 'Tina' crabapple in full bloom in the Yin/Yang Circle. The River Birch trees in the background are the adjacent "Birch Grove."
The Upper Moon Garden bed in very early Spring carpeted with fallen petals from an old crabapple tree that shades this area.
The new beds in summer 2015 that link the stone steps up from the front door to the Moon Garden
Coming around the curve of the Upper Moon Garden wall and approaching the West Gate garden. Note the obelisk which we brought with us from our former house and garden.
As we built the garden, we moved tools and materials from place to place. This is the West Gate area when it was the materials yard. Note the large stepping stones that took a Bobcat to be put into place as well as the stone grouping next to the fence.
A stone path with gravel edges is in place along with baby Epimediums and branches of an exsisting Burning Bush half on our side of the fence and half on our neighbor's side.
When Mark regraded this area as part of a project to help control rainwater runoff, I had to move all the plants which explains their small size.
The Epimediums all filled in. The rocks are Argillite, a highly compacted sedimentary rock, and not petrified wood despite its looks.
The view toward the street (before the regrading next to the house)
The Tea House is the focal point of this garden and so we've never decided if we want to add the gate that has given the area its name.
The opposite side of the house has a structure which gives this space its name: The East Gate. There's a sloped gravel path so we can get a wheel barrow into the back gardens and the gate panels open wide enough to get modest equipment through the area.
This space is on the side of the house with only a couple of high windows so you don't see this work yard from inside. Mark built the gate and set up this area in 2014. He recently told me to start looking for ideas for a permanent potting bench to replace the old door on sawhorses on the right of the image below. This is where we pile debris to take to the city drop off site where they will shred and compost garden waste. It's also where we store our ceramic pots for the winter and all the bags of pine needles I've been collecting from friends and neighbors to use to refresh the garden paths next spring.
Remember this picture that I posted not long ago showing how Mark had beautifully refreshed and redefined our dry stream? The bare area in the foreground is the spot where the black bags are piled above.
The Traffic Island garden came about when the city added these planting beds as a means of slowing down drivers. It's worked fairly well on our street and gave me a nice sunny space to play with.
It has been replanted and changed constantly over the years, most often because the plants out here grow too well and get so big they begin to obscure the sign as well as oncoming traffic. Most recently I changed the summer planting to perennials: Alliums, Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta and Geranium Rozanne. But Tulips have been a big success and have returned in this location because it is gritty and dry in the summer, just like the areas where they originated.
Next time I'll cover the gardens behind the house.
A couple of weeks ago Loree at Danger Garden did a "then and now" post spanning 11 years at her house and garden. I loved seeing how her vision came together. I wrote a lot of detailed posts back in 2008/09 about Mark and my garden history, long before many of you were visiting my site. So this is the short version of where we began and what our garden looks like now. Thanks to Loree for the inspiration.
. . .
When my husband and I met, I was gardening in a small plot behind my second floor apartment. I dug the beds, planted them and did the work myself. It doesn't look like much but I knew all the Botanical Latin names of my plants. I picked the plants to fulfill two needs: herbs for cooking and flowers to hang in a basket on the door to my apartment. My little plot nicely met those needs and helped me gain gardening experience without getting overwhelmed.
After our marriage we bought an 1899 Queen Anne house on a tiny lot in an old neighborhood on Madison's near east side. We spent the first winter planning the garden. Along the fence are the holding beds for the plants my landlord let me bring from my old garden. Just in front of me you may notice a circle of brown grass. That's where we dug out an Ash Tree and moved it against the fence next to an old rose bush I discovered there. Why am I holding a broom? Mark is trying to convince me that a big stone obelisk as high as the broom top would be the perfect addition to our as yet unbuilt garden. The yellow ropes on the ground indicate our future patio.
Here's the obelisk in place (it is now in our current garden in a slightly different shape). We had the previous owners of the house leave a big pile of old bricks as part of the deal. We used them to create the patio and paths. The pile of dirt in the back left side is our future rock garden.
Ta-da! The garden five years later — along with new house paint colors. We were growing plants in narrow strips down both sides of the house and had just put big pots full of flowers on our flat garage roof. Clearly we were now hardcore gardeners and it was time to move. Tune in tomorrow.
I started writing this post when we were prepping for our garden tours in June. But I think it's worth sharing since it is really about the fact that even garden hardscaping needs attention over time. Just as with plants, nothing is ever really finished in a garden.
We designed our pond with one corner lower by a half-inch than the rest of the perimeter. Essentially it directs the overflow in a big rainstorm to that spot where it pours over the edge and follows the natural drainage path on our property. We turned that necessity into a garden feature by digging out the drainage path and lining it with rocks to make a dry stream when it's not raining.
Over the course of 20 years the smaller rocks have become embedded in dirt from years of rainy pond overflow. So Mark got a truck-load of gravel to top it up again.
This necessitated multiple trips up and down a sloping path with loads of rocks which he then spread around using a rake. He smiled for the camera but it was a tough job and one that I did not help him with, other than keeping him supplied with water.
Proper tools and safety measures are in evidence here: the water and ear protectors when using the leaf blower to clean out the area before he began working. He gives me a hard time when I make a banana smoothie because the blender is so noisy he thinks I need ear protection even for that! He is very good about using protective gear.
In addition to topping up the rocks in the stream, Mark added more mid-size boulders to emphasize the stream edges. We also pulled out a bunch of German iris plants that no longer bloom because of too much shade. So we added pine needles to make a path that skirts the edge of the stream.
This shows the corner of the pond that allows for the overflow during rainstorms. It is not really obvious that the edge right there is a fraction lower, but this is the only spot where water ever overflows during storms. The moss on the far right of this image is growing on hard-packed clay soil in a fair amount of sun. I frequently walk on this moss instead of the adjacent stepping stones. It is very low and flat and just filled in of its own accord with no help from me.
The stream splits when it goes under the bridge.
This view shows an area in the foreground that is ready for some new ground cover plants. The small gray gravel is the wheelbarrow working path that crosses the stream over a limestone paver that was once a step in our state capitol building. The mulched area to the left is the former moss garden which I am just beginning to redesign and plant.
Now that there have been multiple rain storms since Mark reworked the stream, the dust has washed off the rocks and they aren't such a pale presence any more. Just a beautifully refreshed feature and one that I enjoy every time I cross the stream — which is pretty much multiple times every day!
When Mark built the Tea House, he made the main entrance in the traditional Japanese style as much as possible. That means a low — very low — door that you have to almost crawl through to enter. Samurai had to leave their swords outside and humble themselves to enter such a space. While I am not averse to humbling myself in the cause of art, I requested a second door that we could walk through upright.
We could never have a proper step up or any kind of defined path to this door until the electric and water lines (Projects 1 and 2) got buried, since they had to go under this area. Once that was done Mark could finish the entrance on this side of the Tea House. He'd set aside stone to use a long time ago. But there was no actual design even though we'd looked at ideas and talked about it.
Since there were an uneven number of pieces of stone and they were of differing lengths, an asymmetrical path seemed like the obvious answer. Until I looked at it, walked on it and decided I didn't like it now that Mark had set all the stones. I hated to complain at this stage of a job, but I knew it would bother me forever if it was left the way it was.
So the poor guy redid it.
Now the stones all go in one direction which makes it a bit more formal. But the edges of the path and the length of each section are not even thus making it more informal and, I suppose you could say, asymmetrical. This is a tight space to fit a defined path since it has to go to the door around the curve of the upper pool.
But this final iteration is much more comfortable to walk on letting the visitor move as they wish rather than following the zig zag original design. Mark may have other ideas and plans but as far as I'm concerned, the Tea House is now complete.
We began our garden in 1997 after having lived in our house a few years. From the start there was always going to be a building in this spot where the Tea House now stands. But Mark did not decide exactly what kind of a building he wanted for quite a while, finally beginning construction in 2005. He spent the next ten years — on and off — building it.
The upper pool is at the edge of the building behind the pyramidal boxwood at the top of the steps. It's a space that we don't want people to walk through so I am always putting a potted plant here to discourage traffic.
That's because Mark buried a water line and an electric line in conduit that goes up the hill adjacent to the Tea House steps. They have been one of the major unfinished jobs in the garden since the late 1990s. The water line has a faucet which usually has a hose attached to it. The electric line is hidden under that charming upside-down black plastic pot.
Mark used the big tour of our garden last month as the impetus to finish this project.
It involved digging a trench with the electric line inside conduit that runs adjacent to the side of the building and enters around the back. At this point it's not hooked up because we no longer care as much about having an electrical outlet in the Tea House for lights or an electric tea kettle. For me, burying the line is as important as actually using it.
Not the most romantic of garden chores but one I've been waiting to see completed for a long time. The other part of this project was digging another trench to move the water line away from the building. I'm thrilled that Mark was able to work on these projects at the same time as he was also building picture frames in preparation for his photo show. This little section outside the Tea House actually saw three projects completed here in June.
but both gardeners are under the weather. He's in his 2nd week of a head and chest cold. And now she's come down with some serious sniffles. Very frustrating with beautiful weather here at last and dozens of plants waiting to be put into their new homes.
Having been married for twenty plus years, birthday and anniversary gifts don't have the importance they did in the early days of our relationship. When Mark asked me what I wanted for my birthday recently, I reminded him that I'd been playing fast and loose with the credit card at online garden nurseries for the last six weeks. I had more than my share of treats arriving in the mail. But while he was out running errands, he did find me a perfect present: The Original Garden Broom.
It's hand-made in Sri Lanka from coconut palm leaves that have fallen off the tree and is designed to be used in all weather conditions including rain and snow. It's marketed as "sturdier than a broom and handier than a rake" and useful for situations where you'd normally reach for one of those tools. What I like about it — and what caught Mark's eye as well — is that it's attractive enough that it doesn't need to be hidden away. I'm keeping it near the new front steps so I can give them and the front door area a daily cleaning. I can also say that my first few times using the broom confirm the company's claims. It's has a nice heft, is sturdy enough that it sounds like a rake when I am using it but works more like a broom. An excellent addition to our garden tool collection.