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.
I missed last week's Ikebana vase challenge because we were just returning from our week's vacation, including a vacation from email and computers. But I own a stack of books on Ikebana as well as Ikebana baskets and a bronze Usubata-type flower container, so it seemed to me that I should make an effort to make an arrangement in that style.
Displaying my creation in our Tea House certainly makes it look like I know what I am doing. A few years ago I took an introductory workshop on Ikebana and decided that it had more rituals and rules than I could cope with. I realized that I love the containers but I was never going to be able to create anything that followed the precepts of one of the traditional Ikebana schools.
My arrangement is a by-guess-and-by-golly affair. Most of the illustrations in my books use beautiful sprays of foliage and flowers of plants that I do not grow or could not bear to cut — like a flowering branch of Stewartia japonica. I thought an uneven number of blooms was the best place to start. But that Hakonechloa grass seemed discordant; chartreuse rather than golden like the daylily throat. Perhaps Japanese Blood Grass would have been a wiser choice if only my plant was big enough to allow for cuttings.
Maybe the daylily should have been taller or a softer color. Or maybe it should disappear completely. Maybe Mies van der Rohe was thinking of Ikebana when he declared "less is more."
To see what other gardeners have put in a vase today, visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who hosts this long-running meme.
Just when you think you know which plants the critters like to munch on and you've caged them all for protection, the blankety-blanks go for something different. My garden currently looks like I have a special relationship with a chicken wire dealer given the number of shrubs and small trees that have wire walls around them. Maybe that's the reason the critters have taken to digging up Iris tubers and tossing them around and even chewing on them.
But this week they did something entirely new: they started eating the luscious fat buds on the ten-year-old Japanese woodland Peony which is ready to bloom as soon as some warmer weather returns. I discovered bitten-up buds scattered around on the ground around the Peony had when I went for a walk around the garden, so now it's caged too! This is getting a little tiring especially since I haven't actually seen a rabbit this Spring but it does not seem like anything I've ever seen squirrels do.
We bought our first Korean Maple tree (Acer pseudosieboldianum) in 1999 and the last ones — just little seedlings a foot tall — in 2014. This is a tree that has leaves reminiscent of a Japanese Maple as well as that tree's spectacular fall color. But it is much hardier here in the Midwest. Over the years we've planted dozens of different Japanese Maples and have lost most of them.
The tree pictured below was growing in the garden inbetween a newly planted Carolina Silverbell and a large Stripebark Maple. It was clear to me that three trees were one too many for the space, though the other gardener in the family wasn't convinced of the necessity of moving it. So this gardener took it upon herself to dig it out last summer and replant it across the garden next to the fence.
Our neighbors took out an old Black Walnut tree just on the other side of this fence between our houses. It resulted in the late afternoon sun being in our eyes when we walked up the steps to the Tea House. I thought the Korean Maple would fit nicely next to the fence and help to provide a bit of needed shade. It's growing quite horizontally and with lots of open space. Thus it seemed like it would work in that location.
So I dug it up and moved it and then waited for Mark to notice — which took longer than I thought it might. But he was pleased with the result as I guessed he would be. And he was impressed that I moved it all on my own since it's a good 6 feet tall. I'm impressed that it has leafed out beautifully this spring with no dieback at all.
Our moss garden came into being during the first phases of construction of the garden when we put in the pond, stream and the first big rocks back in the late 1990s. I was not allowed to plant anywhere as access was needed for equipment, beds needed to be prepared and all sorts of other reasons that Mark kept listing.
So I sat under our pair of apple trees pulling the grass — by hand — out of the moss that was growing there. Eventually we had a large velvet garden. But over the years, as we've planted every inch of our half acre, I've realized the moss garden is very high-maintenance. Anything left resting or rotting on the moss will harm it as will all the creatures who endlessly dig in it.
The loss of the apple tree (in the foreground above) last year and the need to create holding beds (below) for the plants in the way of the driveway project forced us to make a decision: The moss garden was wonderful while it lasted but it's time to move on.
After all the plants that were pulled out for the driveway got replanted at the end of the summer, we spread the soil from the beds over the moss and topped it with mulch. I've spent the intervening months mulling over how to redesign this area in a way that fits in with the rest of the garden and is ideally a bit lower in maintenance.
Since the moss garden is located opposite the Tea House, we decided it makes sense to add seating there since it would let us look across the width of the pond to the Tea House at the top of the stream. Therefore, Mark is going to build a covered waiting bench similar to those you see in Japanese gardens (bottom photo). A way stop on the approach to the Tea House.
It will have three enclosed sides and a roof overhead. The bench itself will be long enough so either one of us can stretch out fully and take a nap. The back side of the structure will have panels that can be opened to let the breeze blow through. But the roof will protect us from rain — and falling apples. Those apple bombs put paid to the beautiful hammock we hung between the two apple trees in the early years!
Doing some moss garden maintenance. This shows the view to the Tea House from our proposed waiting bench.
The new structure will be about 4 feet deep and 8 feet long; height undetermined. But that gives me a size and shape that doesn't need to be planted, and nicely breaks up the semi-circular moss garden into sections that can be planted as we move forward. But what to put here obviously is the question.
I unexpectedly found the answer in Roy Diblik's book "The Know Maintenance Garden." He has a number of designs for shady areas based on matrix plantings using limited species. I was attracted to one that had three types of sedges (Carex) and two kinds of ferns. He suggested Geraniums as another plant that might be added to the mix. Mark told me to make a drawing of my idea and so I am. Stay tuned.
A covered waiting bench similar to what Mark is going to build. I believe this one is in the Portland Japanese garden.
Last spring, I dug up a pair of tiny maples, Acer palmatum 'Mikawa Yatsubusa,' to be exact. I planted them in 2006 so they should be almost at their ten year height of 3-4 ft. tall x 4-5 ft. wide. They are about half that size and never seemed to thrive in either of the locations where they were growing. So I decided to put them in pots on the deck. Despite some transplant shock, they did well judging by the root growth I could see late this autumn.
That's when I transferred them from a pair of Mark Skudlarek's stoneware pots into plastic containers. As soon as they lose all their leaves I will bring them into the coolest spot in the garage to overwinter. I've never tried this but know people who've done it successfully for years. Since these little trees were unhappy anyway, I figured this couldn't be much worse than their prior situation. I'll find out if I've made the right decision come spring.