w 6 golden varietgated lir

Japan Through The Eyes Of A Canadian Gardener

Autumn in Japan may not have the caché of a springtime visit in cherry blossom time, but to a gardener it evokes every bit as much awe and delight.  And we have our own cherry blossom time right here in Victoria, don’t we?

Visiting family in Tokyo, I’ve had the pleasure of living the Japanese experience; the daily routine of walking everywhere, with the occasional train ride, subway crowds, or the ever-timely local bus.  These walks have allowed me to see close up, the small details of green spaces.

Wherever we go we find vignettes of beauty. The Japanese people seem to take any opportunity they can to create loveliness, whether with a small planting, or simply an artful arrangement of stones.

The little corners where sidewalk meets sidewalk speak to passersby “walk by this space, and enjoy”.

Small corner of two sidewalks

Tiny garden on a busy street corner

We are right across the street from Arisagawa Park, a green oasis of many acres that comprises bike trails, a small lake stocked with fish, the best playgrounds I’ve seen anywhere, and natural forests for exploration. As a gardener, my fascination lies in the flora, seeing details that never cease to please.  One of the delights of visiting the park is the array of sweet gestures of concern for all who walk here!

Warnings and gestures

Warnings and gestures

Harmful insects

The first thing to strike me was the respect for the aged here. Not only aged people, but aged trees! The careful support given to gnarly trunks is an art in itself.

Support for aged tree

Gentle support for branches

Not just a stake with a length of rubber hose to tie it to the tree, but a padded buffer between trunk and twine, to soften the contact. Respect, appreciation, and love for these elders of the land.

A grass-like plant that I saw everywhere is Liriope, either muscari or spicata, in all its forms: dark green, the golden variegated and the silver variegated.

Liriope ‘National Arboretum’

Golden variegated liriope

Liriope is frequently used in Japan not only as a superb ground cover, but as a buffer between shrubs and hard surface; a clipped hedge, then the liriope, then the sidewalk, the liriope being the softening touch between. Needing moisture and part shade, it’s a spreading grass-like perennial that does as well in our climate as it does in Japan.  Liriope ‘National Arboretum’ is used everywhere here as part of the small vignettes, a ground cover yet much more.  We sell this short, slowly spreading, curved, dark green grass in 4” pots, but I’ve never seen its beauty as I have here, and will be ordering more of it for the nursery in the spring.

General open nature of mature trees

During the recent inspiring talk by Louise Boutin at the nursery, she mentioned lifting and opening the limbs of trees and shrubs by selective pruning. Well, the Japanese have this down to a fine art; even large trees have been thinned this way, opening up the intriguing branches to light and view.
The use of bamboo is more than an art form here, it is an inspiration. Whether a bamboo grove, a bamboo forest, or a bamboo fence, bamboo is everywhere and it is a marvel.

Bamboo forest

Bamboo still growing is beautiful, but it continues its magic after being harvested and used as supports.

Maybe too much support here?

Whether it is thinned-out Nandina domestica planted and tied against an open bamboo fence, or wispy cedar hedging plants sparsely interwoven with the canes, bamboo provides the bones to support the green, providing a screen in even the narrowest of spaces.

Fences and trellises of bamboo are ubiquitous, and for some reason have captured my heart.

Bamboo fence enclosing

Note how evenly tied

The fascination with diverse styles and methods of tying these fences, trellises and supports led me on a search for traditional lashing, the heavy rough twine that is used for holding the bamboo canes together. This also led me to a book on the subject, and an obsession has taken root.  Walking for miles, wrong turns, (even Google maps can be wrong!) finally we found the sought-after Japanese garden center.  Traditional lashing was only part of my search; the garden center experience beckoned this gardener with promises of Japanese seeds, tools, and curiosity sated.

Keeping in mind the fact that most Tokyoites don’t have cars, nor yards, nor much space of their own, the garden center was not surprising in its tiny efficiency. It was  just a part of a large hardware store, on the second floor even, and very different from  Russell Nursery!

Garden center in Tokyo

Conifer section, note roses in background

I’m sure all of you have seen the traditional serene Japanese garden, so I’ll close with just a glimpse of the view outside my window in Tokyo, but I hope the small details described will give you the confidence to just try a few simple touches to bring the peace and beauty of the Japanese style to your own place of green.

Temple outside my window

garden today

The Turf Is Turfed!

by Faye

Last fall I wrote an article, Turf The Turf, about getting rid of lawns, and have been pondering this possibility ever since.

My front lawn wasn’t huge, nor was it golf course perfect. It was passable, and along with the quack grass-infested beds that surrounded it, it was a source of stress in my otherwise rather low-key garden.  As I’m not getting any younger, I worried about how I’d manage it “later on”, given that I’d far rather spend time growing tomatoes and beans in the back yard, than lawn in the front yard.

I thought of taking out just some of it, covering it with cardboard and mulch to gradually rot it down.  How to go about this project?

I mentioned this quandary to my friend Twyla Rusnak, one half of Rusnak Gallant Ltd, a landscape company that excels in hard scape, yard renovation, and innovative design of gardens, and she offered to come over to have a look. (for more information see rusnakgallant.com) Well, her enthusiasm for what could be done captured my imagination, and I entered the world of garden reno. The team that Twyla employs performs this task like a ballet, each performer dancing with skill and artistry.

The first stage of course was the planning; what did I see as the end result? Did I want more beds, trees, ground cover? Did I want very low maintenance? Yes yes!!

Twyla used a can of spray paint on the grass to outline areas we saw as beds, rock areas, and a bench setting.

Before we could start work, I had to decide which of my existing plants could be saved. They were dug out, weeded, and stockpiled on tarps and in pots, in a cool shady spot.   As mentioned, my garden had always been infested with quack grass, so the soil would be removed with the lawn, and taken away.

The grass goes into the truck.

The big day arrived, machines came rolling up the road and large slabs of plywood were placed on the driveway as protection. In about half an hour, my lawn was scraped off, put into a truck, and the offending soil soon followed.  Wow, how fast this has happened.

Next stop, to the rock quarry with Illarion Gallant, Twyla’s husband.  Together we chose giant boulders, and they were tossed into a truck by a machine that handled those boulders like they were sandbox rocks.

Choose a rock, pick it up, put it in the truck.

Placing the rocks.

Irrigation lines go in.

Back to my yard now bereft of green, the real dance began. Illarion supervised the placement of the boulders, moving them this way and that, one inch to the left or right.

Once the boulders were placed, irrigation lines were dug in.

The process sped up considerably at this point, with soil being trucked in both for the beds and under the crushed rock which would soon arrive.  Can you believe the remote controlled box operating the slinger to spread the soil?

Soil is sprayed

Once the soil was sprayed in, it was raked smooth, several inches thick, then the area to be covered with crushed rock was first protected by really good quality landscape cloth, stretched taut then pinned down with huge staples. This will prevent weeds from coming up between and among the rocks, a gardener’s nightmare!
The purpose of the soil under the crushed rock is so I can plant anything I choose, anywhere. I can simply push the rock aside, cut an X in the landscape cloth and there will be welcoming quack grass-free soil waiting underneath.

Needless to say, there is no landscape cloth where the beds will go.

There is just something about a welcoming path, so once the Pennsylvania Bluestone slabs were laid, it started to really look like a garden.

Pathway laid carefully.

River rock border

The crushed rock was sprayed in just like the soil was, making fast work of a daunting task.
At this point, the hardscape is complete. The crew tidies everything up, and my own job begins.
My first step before weeds blew in was to cover the beds with a 4-6” layer of leaf mold (from Victoria Gravel Mart in town). I spot amended each planting hole as well with some rotted hay and aged manure, then a bit of compost.

Designing the plantings has been a labour of love, with a lot of help from my friends at the nursery, and Twyla’s seal of approval as well.

Garden today

I have become enchanted with conifers the past few years; they are a varied and beautiful family of plants with every shade of green tinged with yellows to blues to coppers, and textures ranging from the fine and wispy to more structurally twisted and angular. Needles, cones, and bark complete the variations, and deer don’t seem very interested.  Partnered with ornamental grasses, some broad leafed shrubs, and small trees, I have the bones of a beautiful garden that will please me and all who happen by, all year long.  Choosing flowering perennials to accent the garden has been like selecting jewelry for a favourite dress; as each plant is added I feel more joy that I made this decision to turf the turf. Although I will still have to water, fertilize and maintain, I feel that I have opted for something far more interesting, labour saving, and ecologically sound. Now I can truly say that I love my garden!

Plant list:

Here are just a few of the new specimens gracing my landscape; all profess to be deer resistant:

Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’

Chamaecyparis obtusa Nana Gracilis
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Blue Feathers’
Cryptomeria japonica ‘Little Gem’
Picea Likiangensis purpurea
Tsuga canadensis ‘Jeddeloh’
Cryptomeria vilmoriniana
Abies balsamea Nana

Rhododendron pseudochrysanthemum
Cotoneaster ‘Parneyi’
Zanthoxylum piperitum
Lonicera pileata ‘May Green’

Anamanthele lessoniana
Stipa tenuissima
Uncinia uncinata
Miscanthus ‘Strictus’
Carex tenuiculmis ‘Cappuccino’
Hakonechloa ‘Aureola’

Phlomis russelliana
Eryngium ‘Blue Sapphire’
Helenium ‘Moorheim Beauty’
Euphorbia ‘Schillingii’
Digitalis ‘Apricot Blush’
Potentilla nepalensis ‘Miss Willmott’
Many varieties of ferns and hellebores for shady area under Japanese Maple