Blog

04
Apr
04
Apr
21
Mar

Japanese Gardens PDX Style — Talking Notes

Intro: (First slide) Welcome!
Who am I? Many yrs. experience as a commercial interior designer, a gardener and plant nerd.
8 years ago stepped over the threshold and now designing on the other side.
I find I can apply all the design principals I used in architecture to the landscape and also use the skills I developed as a gardener. I am a Master Gardener, a prof. member of APLD (Asso. of Professional Landscape Designers) and there are a few other letters behind my name. But basically I am a plant-aholic and design is part of my DNA.

I have always admired the restraint and deliberateness of Japanese Gardens AND last summer I participated in a training that took me to another level of understanding of Japanese design.
(1 slide)
The Waza to Kokoro (Hands and Heart) experience —
Put on by the Portland Japanese Garden
12 days total, 6 lecture days, 5 days hands on work and a tea ceremony nearly every morning.
Participants were from all trades and all over the US. Landscape contractors, designers, curators of other Japanese gardens and even a college student.
We came from Illinois, N. Carolina, Washington state, California, Oregon
Teachers were staff from the Japanese Garden, 3 Professional gardeners came from Japan with their translators and others were scholars in the community.
The training contributed volumes to my basic knowledge of designing through the lens of Asian influence.
This is an annual program. There are still spaces available for this year’s training sessions at both the Beginner and the Intermediate levels. Contact the Portland Japanese Garden to find out more.

Before I start — if you are interested my talking notes they will be posted on my website about a week from now. Beware they are somewhat abbreviated. Look for them under the NEWS tab.

Let’s begin….When we think of Japanese landscapes we often use words like:
(1 slide)
 Minimal, rectilinear, clean, deliberate, calm & contemplative, green, retreat. Etc.

There are 9 recognized design principals in Japanese Gardens but for the sake of time we will talk about 4 of the major design principals here today:
Enclosure & Entry, The Path, using Void as an accent and Balance.

If you have been to our Japanese Garden in since June, you know there is a new entrance – a meandering path that takes you up the hill to the garden itself.
This is premeditated.
It is a devise to help the visitor transition from daily life and the rush of the city to the tranquility of the garden. It takes time and effort to climb the path and as you rise you metaphorically leave the busy world behind. In Japan gardens are designed to do the same.

1. Enclosure & Entry – In Japan the urban environment is very densely populated therefore gardens are framed for privacy and to control the view and treated as a work of art.
(2 slides – traditional and contemporary)

Garden Gates are significant because each gate represents a transition point where increasingly you leave more of the everyday world behind…. Distancing yourself from the noise and stress of the city and preparing yourself psychologically to experience garden. Usually there are 3 gates – an outer gate, a middle gate and an inner gate.

Gates are also used to control views and movement. The outer gate is typically the most imposing and densely built, often roofed.
The middle gate is lighter, lower and made of bamboo. The inner gate is the lightest and most welcoming and sometimes is just a suggestion of a gate – in some cases it is a gate which you could walk around rather than through. But of course no one would do that!
(4 slides – traditional and contemporary)

2. The Path – paths are not just for wayfinding and traffic control in a garden. They also control the cadence of motion and views of vignettes and specific garden elements.
Traditionally there are two types of paths.
Stepping stone paths which are informal are made with irregular stones and meander.
And more formal, rectangular, wider, elongated paths called Nobedans.

Small stepping stone paths force the visitor to look down, pay attention to where you place your feet and slow the rate of travel. When a large stepping stone is placed in the middle of a path of smaller stones it offers a spot to pause and view a plant or object. OR a large stepping stone placed strategically at the intersection of 2-3 stone paths will cause the visitor to look up, pause and decide which direction to take.
(3 slides – traditional and contemporary)

Nobedan paths often look like a tatami mat. The stone used in Nobedan is cut and fit and sometimes mortared together. They are straight and level which lets the walker forget about foot placement and look at the surroundings and walk more quickly.
(2 slides – traditional and contemporary)

And when a path is closed to visitors a Barrier Stone = sekimori-ishi is placed in the middle of the path. A very civilized way to signal “no entry” …
(1slide – traditional and contemporary)

3. Void As Accent – Japanese use the term “ma” to describe a defined open space or void. It is used as punctuation, as in a pause in a dance movement or moments of silence in music or the space in a painting intentionally left empty.
It is a place for the eye to rest in a garden in the midst of a jumble of plants, textures and color. That is “ma”.

Traditional gardens use dry gardens to create void– Raked sand or gravel gardens …these are open landscapes perhaps punctuated with boulders or dense plants. Or pools of water create “ma” Or “ma” can be created with a carpet of moss
In a contemporary garden this could be a stone patio with plantings at the edge OR a large pond OR the ubiquitous lawn.
(2 slides – traditional and contemporary)

4. Balance – Balance in combination with “ma” are the two most important design principals which give a garden Japanese character.
In Japanese gardens Balance is asymmetrical – no matching columns placed on either side of a gate. Garden elements are weighted differently — a tall narrow plant might be balanced by a low dense boulder nearby.
Straight paths are used sparingly and paths tend to wander.
Groups of elements are used in uneven numbers – 3 boulders, 5 pines.
(2 slides – traditional and contemporary)

So to review 4 important design principals are
1. Enclosure and Entry
2. The Path
3. The use of Void or “ma”
4. Asymmetrical Balance
Thoughtfully incorporating these 4 principals and a few other minor principals will help your Portland gardens to be truer to the Japanese style rather than “Japaneseque”.
It is more than images of a laughing Buddha and stone lanterns….

2 books which I find very valuable ….both by the same writer, Marc Peter Keane
Japanese Garden Design goes into detail about design and how it originated culturally, historically and politically. And more about design principals, techniques and design elements
Japanese Garden Notes is a more visual display of Japanese garden design – being a very visual person this book is my first “go to” as a reference.
Order them on Amazon for best pricing.

31
Mar
04
Feb

Classes and Publications

2017;
Alternatives for Greenspaces

2016, 2017;
Plan Now, Plant Later

Article in Oregon Home Fall issue (October 2015) “Great Plants for Tiny Gardens”
Featured in Oregon Home Spring issue (March 2016)

2015;
Climate Change is Coming, Is your Garden Ready?

2013, 2014;
Perfect Bedfellows – Interplanting Edibles
The Real Dirt on Dirt
Get your Feet Wet – Rain Gardens and Swales
Lawn, What a Yawn – Alternatives to Green Spaces

12
Oct

The Great Tomato Debate

Some of you may have noticed a new kind of tomato began to appear on the shelves of

Nurseries in the spring of 2010.  These are grafted varieties.  Grafting is a method of growing the top of a plant (the scion) onto the rootstock of another plant.  It is done to achieve hardiness, manage the size of a plant, increase production and disease resistance.  In the 19th century the wine industry in France was saved from devastation by phylloxera by grafting grapes on to disease resistant rootstock.  Dwarf fruit trees are often grafted onto different rootstock to ensure their size will be small.

With those successes in mind, a local grower, Log House Plants, began introducing grafted tomatoes into the retail market.  This year, they hit pay dirt.  The plants flew off the retailers’ shelves even though they carried a hefty price tag — three times the cost of a regular tomato.

After a year of standing by, watching the action, fielding questions from clients and talking to people in the nursery business, I have to admit I was as curious as I was skeptical.  So, I set up my own less than clinical but credible experiment.  I bought two tomato plants of the same variety, an heirloom tomato named “Brandywine”, one grafted and the other non-grafted.  I planted them side by side in an amended bed with the same exposure to sun and the same watering patterns and stood back and waited…

A bit of background would be handy here:  Heirloom tomatoes typically bare fewer tomatoes than their other contemporary hybridized cousins.  So grafting heirloom varieties could be a really fine idea if one of the outcomes was more luscious fruit.  The other point of interest was the claim by the grower that this method can extend growing time because the wild rootstock the plant is grafted to is significantly more robust and cold hardy.  Well, that got my attention since we live in the Pacific Northwest where we are starting to count our summers in days instead of months!

The harvest mostly in, the votes counted and the findings are:

  • When I finally did harvest a ripe tomato, it came from the un-grafted plant.  The grafted plant had significantly more fruit but the FIRST tomato, the one we all wait for, came from the “Plain Jane”.
  • The grafted plant was about (remember this is not a clinical study) 20% bigger and fuller than the non-grafted tomato which is both a blessing and a curse because current grooming protocol calls for pruning the side shoots (the unproductive greenery) from tomatoes to focus the plants on fruit not leaf production.  This meant I spent at least 20% more time pruning the grafted plant and frankly in early September, I gave up keeping up.
  • The sizes of fruit from the grafted tomato were all approximately 30% bigger than those from the regular Brandywine with thinner skin.  The color of the fruit was pinker and lighter, not the red/orange of the “regular” Brandywine.
  • But, here’s the most important outcome…taste.  Taste testing the fruit with a few brave gourmands, picked simultaneously and hauled into the kitchen and eaten without accompaniment, the non-grafted Brandywine tomato won hands down.  TA DA!  The grafted Brandywine’s taste was diluted and watery in comparison.  It lacked that wee bit of acidity we all crave in a fresh, sun warmed tomato and the texture in contrast, was mushy.

There you have it.  Grafted Tomatoes are larger and more robust but the crop they produce pales in comparison to the non-grafted tomato in the taste test and will cost you three times more.

So…Why bother?  Next year save your money or spend it on a few more regular, old, non-grafted, tried and true tomatoes with exotic names like Green Zebra or Black Krim.  Take a bite out of a tomato, not your wallet.  

21
Jun

Hell Strips and Other Unmentionables

There are always “problem children” in every garden.  You know where yours are…those locations that never are quiet right, the areas that try as you might, just don’t support plants well.  They may be too boggy and wet or have poor soil or be bakey and hot.

Typically the parking strip—that area between the sidewalk and the curb is one place that is a challenge for gardeners.  These spots are referred to as “Hell Strips”, they are so called for a reason.  More often than not Hell Strips are hot spots, filled with compacted soil and subjected to pollutants because of the proximity to the street.  They are often forgotten and neglected, left to default to a boring strip of lawn or a swatch of river rock collecting weeds.

There are alternatives to the default approach.

With lot size growing ever smaller as urban density increases capturing the “Hell Strip” and making something of it is becoming more attractive to gardeners.  Hell Strips are being planted with everything from drought tolerant plant material to evergreens and edibles (although I question if it is smart to plant things you want to eat within inches of traffic and pollutants).

The first step in re-claiming a Hell Strip is amending the soil properly.  There is no point of investing in plants if the soil is so poor that it won’t support plants well.  Most soils in the Portland area are clay which means compaction is rampant, you won’t find an earthworm for miles and water runs off without penetration.  Digging in a mixture of topsoil, compost and gravel or course sand will give you a good start (at a ratio of 40:40:20).  I recommend digging the amendments in by hand but if you must rototill, show restraint and do not over till the plot.  The goal is to separate the clay and combine the amendments NOT powder the soil into a fine dust the consistency of cake flour. Whatever method you choose, hand or machine, wait to dig until the soil is not muddy or you will do more harm than good to the soil structure.

Irrigation is the next consideration.  It is not always necessary to have permanent irrigation in the Hell Strip but consider where your nearest water source is and how easy is it to access.  ALL plants (even the most drought tolerant species) need water for two to three summers until they become established.  If the source of water is difficult or complicated to use, you will find yourself inadvertently avoiding watering the new plantings. It only takes one hot day to lose your investment of time and dollars.

Now, make your design decisions about this new bed.

How should it function?  Remember this will be a very public planting.  It is at the edge of the street.  People will tend to treat it for what it is…a public place.  They may feel free to pick the blooms, eat the fruit, and walk through the plantings on the way to the street or the car.  Be prepared for all these events because they will happen.  So choose plants that are tough and not fussy.  Choose plants that will look good for at least three seasons of the year because this will create the “curb appeal”.  Choose plants that are just fine if they are walked near (or on).  And lastly choose plants that are not rare or expensive so if one disappears you will not be heartbroken.

What’s the character?  Will this be mostly edible landscape?  A Mediterranean look—lean and spikey?  An ode to Northwest Natives?  An English cottage garden?  What is your vision?

These are questions and issues to answer BEFORE you take a trip to any nursery, not AFTER you return home with a car load of “must have” plants and no plan.

Happy planting!

Bonnie Bruce is owner of Celilo Gardens, a Portland landscape design studio.  For more information: www.celilogardens.com

 

21
Apr

Interplanting Edibles in the Garden

Black Hungarian Chilies with Echinacea ‘Harvest Moon’

Almost everyone thinks when raising vegetables they need their very own spot in the yard.  A Pea Patch, a raised bed, a piece of ground where nothing else is planted except edibles.  Why?  Is this practice something we all were raised with?  Did our grandparents practice this technique?  Was it written in our 5th grade science books?  I don’t think so, but somebody sold us that idea and we have embraced it.

Let me introduce another alternative for those of us who have city sized lots and precious little room to devote a patch of the garden for only vegetables.  What about planting edible plants in between and along with our ornamental plantings? Picture it…tomatoes as a background planting to Dianthus (Pinks) or red leafed lettuce edging the deep green of a lawn or even more bold, scarlet red peppers planted beside sunny yellow Echinacea (Cone Flower)?  A veritable riot of color, texture with good eats sprinkled in.  It makes a person swoon, doesn’t it?

For years now I have interplanted food with flowers and it has brought me the best of all worlds.  Vegetables planted in the right places for their sun and water requirements–not just in the spot where the vegetable patch happens to be.  Vegetables companion planted with plants that attract bees, birds and other insects creates a richer environment for pollination which gives bigger yields. Companion planting can also attract beneficial insects which can cut down on pests. AND when the harvest is done there are no bare, muddy, unsightly “parking lots” in the yard for the duration of the winter.

The tricks are few but important to pay attention to:

Pick your vegetables as much for the tastiness of the harvest as for the beauty of the plant.  For example, I happen to love eggplant.  There are many, many varieties out there on the market.  Some are large, heavy bearers of the traditional purple bulbous, egg-shaped fruit, some have furry leaves, some are tall or short.  But my choice is a variety named “Ichiban”, a Japanese eggplant which is the most lovely plant with nearly black-purple stems, bright green leaves and star shaped purple-blue flowers with yellow centers.  You (almost) don’t care that the fruit is long, narrow, delicate and does not require weeping when cooked.  THIS is what I plant in my garden because the plant is as valuable for its contribution to the garden as the fruit.

Give equal consideration to a plant’s habit as you do to its cultural requirements when locating a vegetable in the garden.  That is, the height and spread of a veggie is as important in the placement as is its the sun (or shade) and water needs.  For instance, tomatoes will grow 3′ to 5′ tall and should be located towards the back or midpoint of your beds NOT front and center, while small and fluffy radishes can be used as edging material at the very front of a bed.  Leaf vegetables (spinach, lettuce, chard) cannot take a hot, bakey location, they will bolt, so choose a spot with dappled sun or very little afternoon sun.  When planting also consider the water requirements a particular vegetable has and plant it near perennials with the same needs.

Treat vegetables as annuals in your garden and you won’t be disappointed.  Let them fill in the holes and give fullness to your existing beds. At the end of the growing season, when the harvest is done and you clean out the vegetables, the loss will be nearly unnoticeable.

This spring, don’t let the fact that you have not created raised beds or cannot devote the space to a Pea Patch stop you from growing your own food.  It’s all about being bold and using your garden to its fullest potential.

Purple Peruvian Peppers with Trachelium caeruleum