When we began to design our garden, I was not particularly enamoured of gravel gardens even though they are a staple of Japanese gardens. The gravel symbolically represents water with rock groupings standing in for islands. Typically the gravel is raked in patterns that emphasize the water imagery.
Seeing more of that type of garden — in books and in person — slowly changed my attitude to the point where I suggested to Mark that we add a second gravel feature. We now have one in the front garden as well as in the back.
Mark rakes the gravel into patterns whenever we are expecting garden visitors. We had two big garden parties in August and I noticed that he raked different patterns for each event. The images above and directly below are of the front gravel garden which is circular. You can see the two different effects, though both clearly suggest water.
The back gravel garden is more irregular in shape and has a stepping stone path through it. For the first party, he raked it in a pattern suggesting ripples spreading out from the rocks (using that concept out front for the second party).
For the second party, he raked the back gravel garden in a pattern he had never used before. I particularly like the more decorative quality of this design.
The rocks are outlined in a way that suggests ripples from a pebble. But the edges of the gravel are are also outlined to create a border. The two are linked with yet another directional pattern that could suggest waves, though much more informally than the pattern he used in the front garden.
We still plan to add a couple more small fences and gates to the garden. So when we were at Anderson Gardens we snapped pictures for our idea file. It is really amazing how many variations they have in the gardens, especially since everything needs a Japanese twist to the design. Note how simple some of these are: just a bamboo pole or a gate with no fence attached; more symbolic than functional. Here are some of our favorites:
I also find it fascinating that the world's most boring Hosta looks fabulous when played against a slightly decorative fence like the one above.
Mark and I have visited Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford many times over the years. Every time we chat with the gardeners who are working there, especially if they are doing a task that we do in our garden at home. We've picked up tips and techniques as well as information about the tools they use. In particular, we learned early on about this tripod orchard ladder.
One side has steps that are quite wide at the bottom and narrow as they go up. On the opposite side is a pole that can be placed in among branches.
Note this guy has a tool belt holding his small hand implements behind his back so they don't get in the way while he's working with a long pole pruner.
The ladder pole can also be spread out far from the steps, against a hill for instance. It's metal so you don't have to worry about getting the feet wet. We ordered one of these very ladders to use in our garden after seeing it at Anderson.
Mark uses it on our big apple trees as well as on evergreens. It's especially useful when pruning the deep 60-year-old yew hedges along the front of our house. Our ladder is 8 feet tall; the one in the photos is 16 feet and the arborist doing the pruning said he wished it was 18 or 20 feet tall!
We also talked with the craftsmen who are restoring the gazebo with the round roof that you can just see through the foliage. They were very complimentary when Mark showed them an iPhone photo of our tea house.
I love my Felco pruner and my Japanese clippers equally well and use both of them constantly. I've lost a couple of the black clippers when I set them down in the garden and forgot where. Even garden pants with sturdy side pockets designed to hold tools like these are no match for sharp points being shoved in and out multiple times during the gardening day. So this last Christmas I treated myself to the Tool Belt from gardener/blogger/author Diane B. who sells a few carefully "curated" tools on her site.
The belt came wrapped in red and black tissue paper with matching ribbons. In the accompanying envelope was my receipt and and a hand-written message from Diane noting that the tool belt would "soften up after a few garden days." I was glad she added that message as I was concerned that I couldn't get my Japanese shears into their pocket as securely as I'd hoped. She was right; it didn't take long for me to be able to get both tools into the belt nice and secure. I love being able to work and always having my two favorite pruners with me. And I don't think it makes my butt look too big!
Just in case I forget to put the black pruners back in their pocket immediately, I've attached a "ribbon" of pink plastic tape to the handle making them easier to see on the ground.
We took these photos of the entrance area at Olbrich Botanical Gardensn on Oct. 30. We'll be interested to see what's happened in the last two weeks when we go to tonight's WHPS meeting. Creating access for the workers who installed Olbrich's new copper roof clearly inspired the staff to make some major design changes to the gardens around the front entrance of the building as well.
We love gravel gardens and I hate the closed-in feeling of the space that surrounds our front door at home, making us both excited to view the changes at Olbrich as they progress. All three images are looking to the left of the front door area.
These pictues show the two doors that Mark added as the finishing exterior touches to the Tea House. The only thing that's changed in the month since these photos were originally taken is the fall foliage. Most of it is now on the ground rather than still on the trees.
The door above is a bi-fold so it folds back on itself when you open it. It is about the same size as the stucco wall panel on the left. This entrance requires you to bend down and essentially crawl inside.
This door is for those days when our backs and knees need a break!
Next Spring we'll do the landscaping around this door and decide exactly what size and kind of step is needed.
Note the interior side of this door compared to the exterior design.
His next projects include adding the wiring for an electric tea kettle and all the interior finish carpentry work. Those odd pipes are the unfinished water line and electric line (to the right of the door).
We finally had a killing frost Monday night, so I spent a few hours in the garden yesterday doing tasks that could not be put off any longer. At the end of the afternoon I was carrying a big bag of garden debris in one hand and a large gathering basket in the other.
It was still so beautiful outdoors that I took the long way through the garden on my way to deal with my two big items. My path took me through the Secret Garden where the stepping stone walkway winds under the trailing branches of a Weeping Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonica).
Our long warm fall meant that a number of the leaves on our Katsura tree turned a traditional warm, honeyed gold. Most years this doesn't happen because it's too rainy and cool.
As I ducked under the tree the sun was shining on it making it glow. Carrying my awkward load, I knocked into the weeping branches which unexpectedly released the subtle cotton-candy fragrance for which the tree is famed in Japan.
I bent down to pick up this decorative leaf, but with both hands full I stuck the stem between my teeth. It's a trick worth remembering as I was able to inhale the leaf's sweet fragrance for the remainder of my journey.
Because Wisconsin can be pretty buggy in the summer, Mark made screens for three of the windows. That way we can have the views, cross-ventilation and no mosquitoes. We want to be able to leave the screens in-place for the summer but keep out rain, so Mark is making shutters to solve that problem. The glass windows will slip back into openings before winter and then the shutter will add another layer of protection for that season. The following pictures show this progression.
Looking out before the shutter was installed.
The shutter in place but raised so you can see out.
Looking out through the glass with the shutter raised.
Another view through the same window but looking slightly to the left of the view above.
The shutter secured down for protection from wet and snowly weather.
Here are a some views of the shutter he made for the window on the opposite side of the building. For this shutter he worked with a friend who has more tools and was therefore able to construct this one using the tongue and groove technique.
In this photo you can see the support boards on the back/interior side of the shutter.
This side of the teahouse faces the pool at the top of the stream that feeds into the big pond. You can just see a faucet that has been temporary for 16 years. We were't sure if we would run a water line into the tea house or just electricity, but we wanted to have the option. We are going to keep it as an exterior source for watering cans and hoses.
This view shows the large door opening on this side of the building. It's for days when our backs or knees don't want to bend down to enter via the traditional low door on the front. The small window on the right side of the picture is the window that wraps around from the front.
This view is from our deck toward the teahouse. You can see the round window and the shutter-covered window on the same wall. If you enlarge the picture you can see part of the window with the bamboo detailing on the outside. The plastic square below it is a future door.
For a complete history of the design and construction of the tea house, click on Tea House in the category list.