Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Colorado Garden

I posted an earlier version of why we are putting in a "Japanese" garden but after Kenton and I went to the DBG I kinda freaked out and took it down because what we are doing really isn't a Japanese Garden. It is a Colorado Garden based on Japanese gardening philosophy. Mainly, look to nature when you are making your garden. So here it is again. My attempt to explain how a Colorado Garden is really a Japanese Garden in disguise. As always, I'm interested in what you think.

Japanese Garden Overview

It could be argued that a Japanese garden is inappropriate for the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens. Western Colorado doesn’t support a large Buddhist community nor does Japanese culture feature in the every day life of people living on the Western Slope. Many of the plants that are featured in Japanese Gardens do not grow well in the conditions found in Western Colorado and the structures and the hardscape used in Japanese gardens are not common in Western Colorado. Western Coloradoans do not observe the same rituals of Japanese culture that take place in the garden nor do the symbolic elements of a Japanese garden have immediate meaning.

So does the WCBG need a Japanese garden? Absolutely.

In the same way that Japanese gardening was influenced by Chinese gardens, Western gardening can be influenced by Japanese gardens. The WCBG “Japanese” garden is to be a space of tranquility based on nature using Japanese gardening ideas in a Western Colorado context.

One principal of Japanese gardening is that of the harmony of “man” and nature, an idea very appropriate in a valley that is surrounded by dramatic reminders of nature. In fact one of the goals of the WCBG is to highlight the nature found in the Colorado Plateau. Incorporating a more “wild” or “naturalistic” gardening style is fitting.

One type of Japanese garden is the “stroll garden”. The stroll garden was developed in Japan during the 17th through the 19th centuries when travel was limited by the central government. As a result the elite created areas on their estates that were reminiscent of famous natural areas in Japan, such as Mount Fuji. In the garden the visitor would stroll on paths designed to reveal views of a natural wonder. The WCBG is a perfect spot for a stroll garden.

While the site designated for the Japanese garden is small in terms of a stroll garden it is a wonderful spot. Three well-known natural wonders, the Grand Mesa, the western edge of the Uncompaghre Plateau and the Bookcliffs surround the Grand Valley. We don’t need acres of garden, we live right in the middle of one of the most amazing gardens on earth. The charm of the Japanese garden will be in the views revealed by the placement and type of the plants.

The site of the Japanese garden within WCBG provides continuity with the rest of the gardens. The Native Garden and the Cactus Garden are to the east and the Heritage Garden is to the west. These gardens all have elements that echo what is planned to be in the Japanese Garden so it will fit in rather than stand out.

The idea of “hide and reveal” is strong in Japanese gardens and especially in stroll gardens. The concept is to not show everything as soon as the garden is entered but to lead the visitor through the garden on a path where elements of the garden are seen only from a certain spot or as a corner is turned. This idea is a major difference between Eastern and Western gardening styles.

Symbolism is very important in Japanese gardens. Plants, rocks, trees and other garden elements, such as benches and sculpture, have a meaning to someone who is familiar with the culture. Instead of utilizing symbols from Japanese culture, the garden will have elements that have meaning to the culture of Western Colorado.

It is the ideas or concepts of the Japanese garden that will inform the way the garden will look, not the adherence to the elements that make up a Japanese garden. For example, waterfalls are a symbolic element in Japanese gardens. They look a specific way in relation to how nature looks in Japan and are placed in a specific way to elicit a spiritual enlightenment. There will be a waterfall in the WCBG’s Japanese garden but it will look like a waterfall that would be encountered while hiking on the Grand Mesa. As in a Japanese garden or nature itself, any spiritual enlightenment that the waterfall is to evoke will depend on the visitor.

Japan is an island with a wet environment and the plants found in that climate are not suited for Western Colorado. The plants in the WCBG’s Japanese garden will be native to Colorado but the Japanese ideas of placement and type such as looking to nature for inspiration will be followed.

Water is very important in Western Colorado. In a Japanese garden water is the center of the garden much in the same way a river drains into a pond, lake or ocean. Water will also be the center of our garden but we are going to incorporate water in other ways. The pathways will be based on the shapes water takes along river pathways. The placement of some of the plants will be based on the way plants follow water as it travels downhill forming tributaries.

Not all the plants in the garden will be planted at the same time. The trees will go in first followed by shrubs and perennials. During the first year there may be annuals planted or prolific perennials with the thought that they would be replaced as other plants are added. Also, not all the trees will be planted at the same time. Some will be planted two or even three years later so that the there will be variance in the height of the trees. In fact, some of the plant material may be in the process of dying or already dead.

Plant replacement or repositioning is part of any garden. As the garden is maintained over the years and as the garden matures, plants will be removed or added according to the needs of the garden in respect to the vision of the garden.

The structural elements of the garden, benches and sculpture, will be reflective of nature found in Western Colorado as well. Benches will be strategically placed throughout the garden to encourage visitors to reflect on the beauty outside of the garden, to view other gardens in the WCBG and to look to the Uncompahgre Plateau, the Grand Mesa and the Bookcliffs. The benches will be made of wood harvested from a conservation project on Watson Island, a natural river feature directly south of the Japanese Garden. The style of the benches will be rough and reminiscent of fallen trees that one would encounter in nature.

Cairns, small stacked rock monoliths, are common on hiking trails. Cairns will be placed in the garden to serve as trail markers. As works of art they call to mind the work of two western artists Andrew Goldsworthy and more specifically to Western Colorado and Eastern Utah, Robert Smithson.

Also, there will be at least one fallen log that will not only serve as a sculptural element but as a garden detail, in effect a mini-garden. Likewise, in one area of the garden will be a monoculture of trees that will have one or two trees not of that monoculture included.

The tea ceremony and tea house is an important part of a traditional Japanese garden. Unfortunately, this beautiful ceremony may not have much of an impact in Western Colorado where cultural values are much different. However, there is a parallel that can be drawn between the tea houses that Samurai came upon in the forest and the warming huts that alpine skiers come upon in the forest.

The name of the garden has not yet been determined. One thought is to name it after water itself because of the prominence of water in the design of the garden. Water is an important issue in Western Colorado. One of the things that makes this garden interesting is the way water functions in it. The focus of the garden is water, yet the plants are mainly xeric. This relationship exemplifies the ideas of balance which can lead to reflection of balance in our own lives, balance between nature and man and even a spiritual balance.

Regardless of what this garden eventually is called, its purpose is to provide a tranquil space for reflection in and through nature.

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