NAJGA member Scott Solomonson was one of the workshop facilitators during the recently concluded NAJGA regional event in Minnesota last August 7 – 8. He is the owner and operator of Living Space Landscapes in Mendota Heights, MN.
To prepare for the full day workshop, the existing gravel path leading to the teahouse entrance was excavated out several inches. The pressure was on to complete this project by the end of the day. We started with a big hole, a pile of soil and several hundred pounds of hand selected river rocks. All the specialized tools were neatly laid out on a large tarp. The elevation string lines were in place and we set the first couple of stones early in the morning. We were ready for the day. I was delighted to be working side by side with Japanese garden experts Nick Esthus from Tennessee and Hiro Kamoshita from Vancouver BC.
The workshop experience was very much different from the standard power point presentation in a warm, dark room. This was a very tactile, hands on experience with real life results constructing a nobedan path and a connecting tobi ishi stepping stone path. If constructed properly, the end result would be a permanent part of the public Japanese Garden. This was not a pretend project in a sandbox.
Finding the right stone for the right spot is difficult to do. So many things to keep in mind: size, shape, angles, gaps, elevations, color and patterns. Trial and error, a small victory with each stone that fit into place. Experience levels varied greatly but everyone seemed engaged. If a combination of rocks did not work, more rocks were rotated in until an acceptable solution was found. It was a true group effort and everyone seemed to be enjoying the challenge.
As the cycle of groups went on to other workshops, I could feel a strong sense of curiosity and ownership of the project. People would return throughout the day and see how the project was taking shape. By early afternoon the selection of rocks to choose from became very picked over and increasingly more difficult to finish the project. Going through the frustrations and victories together was a real learning experience. The nobedan and tobi ishi paths turned out beautifully and are now a permanent part of the garden.