SHE SAID: One of the advantages to spending time making a master plan — before you even begin to dig a shovelful of dirt — is that you know what's coming next and where it's going. That's held true whether it is one of Mark's construction projects or the planting schemes that I created. During those first months, when he wasn't playing in the mud, I dragged him off to nurseries to get his opinion on trees and shrubs for our garden.
These plants would be defining choices; and though I compiled the list, we knew we would have to agree on the plant and the placement before we could make a purchase! Without these trees and shrubs, out garden features were lost in space with nothing to anchor them and make them part of the larger garden.
In the case of the large pond and stream that you've been reading about here, construction took the entire summer and planting was only discussed, not actually accomplished. But within sight of that dramatic water feature, Mark built — and I landscaped — another water feature in a much shorter time period and with much less stress. We followed our usual method of using mock-ups to test size and placement before we bought either rocks or trees and shrubs.
HE SAID: We don't pretend that our "Japanese" garden is in the least bit "authentic." We are not Japanese and we don't live in Japan. That being said, we have borrowed liberally from their tradition when it suited us.
One of the traditional elements of a tea garden is the tsukubai: a place to cleanse one's hands, mouth and spirit before engaging in the tea ceremony. It is not just a container of water, but an arrangement of elements: stones with specific functions, water, plants, a lantern.
SHE SAID: The rocks for this smaller project were all delivered and moved into the back garden at the time the big pond was being dug when large equipment was on-site. The large rock that anchors the tsukubai was set in place as the first step in the construction of this project.
Of course, the same problems that beset the pond project — rain, and lots of it — affected this smaller construction job, too. The water-filled hole is where the re-circulating pump will go; inside a five gallon plastic bucket hidden under a layer of metal screening and smooth black Mexican river rocks.
At this stage of our garden plan, you can see how the yard is bare of grass from the heavy equipment and pond construction except for the areas closest to the house. The rocks for the tsukubai have been set and the pump is under the layer of black river rocks at the center of the arrangement above. Our green marbelized bowling ball is standing in for the container that will overflow with water.
The first tsukubai plantings included a star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) in bloom, with a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum dissectum) behind it. The pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) — still in its nursery container — is awaiting planting.
HE SAID: Rather than try to slavishly imitate the Japanese models we had seen at Anderson Garden and elsewhere, we agreed to look for Western equivalents whenever possible. In the case of the tsukubai, we decided to substitute used copper piping for the traditional bamboo flue and a ceramic storage jar for the usual stone bowl. The jar was made by a local potter friend which gives it another layer of meaning.
After a number of years of enjoying the tsukubai as originally designed, we decided to take up the grass in front of it and replace it with gravel. The gravel provided a better contrast with the stepping stones as well as being a variation on the raked gravel Moon Garden in front of the house. We also added a row of small rocks with flat tops to edge the shade planting adjacent to the gravel.