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.
Visitors to our garden always ask if we have traditional Japanese tea ceremonies in our Tea House. We still hope to do one some day, but the truth is that the Tea House functions for the most part as an art object; a gorgeous sculpture — albeit one that you can sit inside.
At this time of year we particularly try to take advantage of beautiful weather to enjoy sitting out there with afternoon coffee and cookies or cocktails. Tea of any kind is rarely on the menu.
With two doors and multiple windows, there are wonderful views in every direction all framed like camera shots.
Sometimes we just sit inside and surrender to the beauty of the structure and the fragrance of the cedar construction.
Other times we each bring something to read.
When we have a group of gardeners touring the garden, we always open the Tea House so they can see the interior and go inside if they wish to do so. But no shoes are allowed and we have a sign at each door noting that restriction.
We're finally having a break in our rainy weather and should be able to sit out there enjoying the sun and the changing autumn color for at least another month.
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.
This is Project No. 2 that Mark finished in June: Moving the water line across the area outside the Tea House and setting up a more accessible and useful hook up. The picture below shows the work on the trench for the electric line. Going off to the left you can see the start of a trench that will go over to the fence and provide multiple faucets.
Between the two projects Mark figures he dug about 25 feet of trench. Again, not a glamorous job but one that I'm very thankful for. The new setup has three faucets. That means I can attach hoses that go off in opposite directions should we have a really droughty period.
I typically only water newly planted things. Once plants, trees and shrubs have settled in they are on their own. Most years we have enough rainfall in southern Wisconsin that additional watering is never needed. These days I'm much more conscious about using drought-tolerant plants as well.
But I must say that I love having a faucet at the right height for watering cans so I can easily take care of the potted plants in this part of the garden. And it finally means that those annoying eyesores of unfinished pipes are no longer on view in one of the main focal points of the garden.
Only one more job remains before this area can be called finished: Project No. 3.
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.
Everywhere I look bloggers are talking about their summer pots. We have a dozen pots that spend their summer scattered throughout our garden as well as three huge platters that are displayed on the walls of the house. All of them are the work of Wisconsin artist, Mark Skudlarek of Cambridge Woodfired Pottery.
We like pots that are elegant as well as earthy and subdued. Among my favorites are this pair that have been living on the deck for a number of years; currently planted with Hostas and boxwoods before that. They are the only Skudlarek pots that have plants in them.
Often these deck containers have a companion pot nearby.
This one is just off the deck enmeshed in Geranium cantabrigiense 'Biokovo' in a triangular garden where three paths cross each other. This has been a great year for that particular Geranium.
Though we have traditional Japanese elements in our garden, we've given them a western interpretation like this Tsukubai below. Rather than a stone basin and bamboo water spigot, we've used one of Mark Skudlarek's pots and a piece of recycled copper tubing from an old hardware store in Madison.
You'll notice that many of his pots are patterned; some with stripes like the ones above and below.
Some are more subtle with an all-over textured surface. This pot held a waterlily but we usurped its spot when we redid the driveway last year and have not quite decided its new location and use.
The glazing contributes the "decoration" on some of the pots. Though this has four handles we never use them to carry the pot. This was the first really large pot we bought from Mark and it gave us a desire to add more big containers.
We used our 20th wedding anniversary as the excuse to treat our selves to the pot below. It is so large that we can barely lift it. But what a sense of drama and scale it gives to the garden and the Tea House.
If you look closely below (or enlarge the picture) you can see the other big pot on the opposite side of the Tea House.
This one is at the top of the sloping Tea House garden that I've been working on for the last few years.
If you live in the area it is well worth making the short trip out to Mark Skudlarek's pottery. His showroom is always open with payment on the honor system. Although most times he is out working in his adjacent studio so you can meet him and ask any questions. And you can see his amazing kiln!
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.