Q & A: Evoking Natural Landscape For Garden Design

Garden designers and NAJGA members David Slawson and John DeVore shared some of their thoughts in relation to their upcoming 6-day garden design-and-build entitled “Evoking Natural Landscape: A Total Immersion Workshop,” happening on August 16 to 22, 2015 during the construction of a 1-acre residential garden in Bath, Ohio.

NAJGA:  What is behind the process of evoking natural landscape in garden design?

Dave with hat crSlawson:  We take inspiration from what we see in nature, when something beautiful arrests our attention. There are certain natural compositions of elements that speak to us and invite us to pause. It could be a turn in a stream, a weathered leaning tree over the water, a well-placed rock or a nice grouping of plants. We pause and observe what it is that makes this composition work, as well as observe within ourselves how we feel in response. In the concept and installation, both the plan and composition should evoke that exquisite sense of place.

Garvan entry pool step stones 1 MB     Aspen, aspen trunks from west

NAJGA: What does this entail in terms of garden design decisions such as plant selection?

Slawson: Appropriate design doesn’t have to include all native plants but should have the natural look AND be appropriate for the climate. For example, arid climates should have arid plants. You don’t want fussy plants.

NAJGA: How did you personally come to discover and espouse this design principle?

CBG drainage, John guiding rock closeupDeVore: I grew up in a rural setting, spending most of my available time in the fields, forest, ravines, and creeks that surrounded me. I fished, hiked, and played in these places, all the while absorbing the visual beauty and serenity of these places. Having imbibed nature, it is easy to recognize what is necessary to create it in the garden.

David’s story is actually similar. The best of of his childhood was found in the outdoors…in beautiful, peaceful, and stimulating places.

(Video of David Slawson’s life, presented during the 2014 NAJGA conference in Chicago)

We believe that everyone has this internal resource of experience in natural settings and the ability to tap that resource. One of our primary goals in the workshop is to draw out this resource and enable each participant to grow in their ability to evoke these memorable experiences.

Q & A: Evoking Natural Landscape For Garden Design

Q. and A.: Greg Afman on the Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden

Greg Afman, lead horticulturist at the Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan and a member of the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA), recently talked to us about the newly opened Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden.

NAJGA: The garden is definitely a destination for people who love Japanese gardens in North America and beyond.  What do you think will be the highlights of this garden for a visiting Japanese garden enthusiast?

Main gateGA: It’s hard to choose what to highlight in this Japanese garden of over eight acres, but both the tangible and intangible elements come to mind. The main gate and surrounding area definitely make a strong impression. The gate itself sets the tone for the garden with its earth-colored plaster, copper roof, and inviting wooden doors. The attention to detail and the level of craftsmanship is evident, all hinting at what you can expect to experience inside the garden proper.

Inside the garden, a tea House and a zig-zag bridge are sure to excite the Japanese garden enthusiast. As with most of the constructed elements in the garden, they were created in Japan, disassembled, shipped here, and permanently reassembled on site by those same craftsmen who made them in Japan.

Teahouse gate

Zig-zag bridge

Those familiar with (Hoichi) Kurisu’s other works will know that he is a master of creating environments that heighten guest’s awareness of space. For the Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden, Kurisu has thoughtfully transformed an expansive marsh and wooded valley into a space that now offers dramatic changes in elevation and includes both densely planted areas and broad open spaces.


Zen-style gardenThe Zen Style Garden and the Natural Style Moss Garden will be two areas that really appeal to experienced Japanese garden viewers. On the surface, these areas look very different, yet both highlight Hoichi Kurisu’s power to create a space that engages the viewer and has an almost palatable tranquility. In the Zen Style Garden this tranquility is created by a stripped down palette of raked gravel and boulders, whereas the Natural Style Moss Garden uses a blanket of moss, a meandering stream, and a variety of trees and shrubs responding to the local topography.

NAJGA:  What are some of the major design and horticultural challenges faced in creating this garden, especially in your area in horticulture?

GA: One challenge we faced with having all the structures built in Japan is making sure everything meets local building requirements and codes. With regards to horticultural challenges, the soil make-up of the area that the Japanese garden occupies is mostly composed of clay. To deal with this challenge when planting, we tend to plant trees a little higher out of the ground than normal and also amend the soil in areas that call for it.

NAJGA:  Can you tell us more about the design and construction collaborations behind the garden? 

Anish KapoorGA:  Kurisu International has been involved in almost all aspects of the garden’s design and construction. One of these design elements is the the incorporation of modern sculpture. The presence of sculpture is an innovative approach to Japanese garden design. Ours incorporate seven contemporary works by internationally acclaimed artists— Zhang Huan, David Nash, and Anish Kapoor to mention a few.

Kurisu International’s crew is highly trained and skilled and includes some Japanese nationals staying in America to help with this project. The horticulturists here at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park have had the great pleasure of working beside them for the last two years.

NAJGA: What are some of the milestones/ activities to look forward to during the first few months of the garden’s opening? 

During the first few months, we will have tours of the tea house, a chance for guests to observe a tea ceremony, and we will also be holding one-day camps as a way for children to explore and discover the Japanese garden.

NAJGA: How will this garden complement the rest of the Meijer Gardens, in terms of aesthetics and public engagement?

GA: Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park promotes the enjoyment, understanding and appreciation of gardens, sculpture, the natural environment and the arts. The 8.5 acre Richard Helen DeVos Japanese Garden fits in seamlessly with our existing gardens. In blending horticulture with sculpture, we deepen alignment with the duality of our mission.

Q. and A.: Greg Afman on the Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden

Five Minnesota Japanese Gardens To Be Featured in Skills Workshop and Garden Tour

Five Japanese gardens in the Minnesota area will take center stage as the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) goes to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” on August 7 to 8 for its first regional event of the year.

NAJGA Minnesota 2015 - John Powell“It’s All in the Details” is a two-day skills development workshop and garden education tour featuring the following gardens: Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, St. Paul MN; Jo-Ryo-En (Garden of Quiet Listening) at Carleton College, Northfield, MN; Normandale Japanese Garden at Normandale Community College, Bloomington, MN; Seisui Tei (Garden of Pure Water) at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, MN, and a private residential garden in St. Paul, MN attached to a Modernist house designed by American architect Ralph Rapson in the 1960s.

“Attention to detail is perhaps the most important thing in elevating gardens in America to the lofty level of those in Japan,” says NAJGA President Dr. Kendall Brown. “We are pleased to provide an experience that meaningfully connects Minnesota’s most compelling Japanese gardens to each other and to the large audience of Japanese garden lovers across North America.”

Skills Development Workshop

On August 7, the Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden will host a workshop focused on teaching basic skills required of a Japanese gardener in constructing and maintaining a garden. It will also teach participants how to establish specific goals that enhance the presentation of a Japanese garden.

Exterior_wall_katsuraSessions include shearing of karikomi (massed or wave planting), deciduous tree pruning, pine maintenance, layout and installation of tobi-ishi (stepping stones) and nobedan (stone paving), and working with bamboo to create the basic nanako fence that keeps guests on the path, and the yotsume gaki fence used in tea ceremony gardens.

Three_piece_matcha_setParticipants will also be introduced to design theory, construction and maintenance of the Japanese tea garden and teahouse. After the workshop, participants will also have a rare opportunity to visit the private garden attached to the Ralph Rapson-designed house in St. Paul, MN. The house and garden provide a good example of the sukiya living concept where Japanese garden principles are applied in a residential setting and rooms are integrated with the garden.

The workshop will be led by Japanese garden expert John Powell, the first Westerner selected to train with the garden staff of the prestigious Adachi Museum of Art, widely acknowledged as having one of the world’s best Japanese gardens. Other garden experts from the region and across North America will assist.

Garden Education Tour: Japanese Gardens in the North Star State

On August 8, a bus tour will visit the Jo-Ryo-en (Garden of Quiet Listening) at Carleton College, Normandale Japanese Garden, and the Seisui Tei (Garden of Pure Water) at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Four distinct styles of Japanese gardens—hill and pond, dry landscape, stroll garden, and pleasure boating garden—will be examined in three Minnesota gardens adapted to the local climate through plant choice and design. Care of Japanese gardens will be covered. Guests will also be introduced to issues of garden care, and how gardens “care” for people when utilized for therapy and meditation.

This two-day event is also open to the general public.  For more details and to register, visit the event website HERE.  Or contact NAJGA at info@najga.org, tel: (503) 222 1194.

Five Minnesota Japanese Gardens To Be Featured in Skills Workshop and Garden Tour