Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden Through the Seasons

The Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge, AB  exemplifies pride of place as a “Canadian garden in the Japanese style,” as originally envisioned by its creator Prof. Tadashi Kubo almost half a century ago. The expansive spirit of the surrounding Canadian prairies and the rugged beauty of the Canadian Rockies are both reflected in this merging of Canadian and Japanese culture. Despite the challenges of climate and environment, this garden carries its pride through the different seasons and times of day.

NAJGA board member and Alberta-based garden professional Cody Fong captures the garden in its different moods in the series of photos below. Learn how this garden represents the versatility of the Japanese garden aesthetic in a regional conference “The Adaptability of Japanese Gardens: Lessons Learned From the Canadian Prairies,” September 16 to 18 in Lethbridge, Alberta. Visit for more details and to register.

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Photos by Cody Fong


Aesthetic Pruners’ Association Presents Intensive Pruning Workshop

The Aesthetic Pruners Association (APA), a member organization of the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA),  is conducting an intensive, hands-on pruning workshop from November 3 to 5, 2016 at the Gardens at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. Experienced teachers will present aesthetic pruning principles and practices and guide workshop participants in applying these techniques in Lake Merritt’s seven acres of beautiful themed gardens. Participants will come away with pruning skills and concepts which will both challenge and enhance their existing knowledge. All horticultural professionals regardless of specialization and level of experience are welcome to attend.

The difference that aesthetic pruning can make.   

Curriculum Highlights

Day 1Aesthetic Pruning Basics– morning lecture, hands-on pruning in the afternoon

  • Defining pruning
  • Assessing a tree’s health and history
  • Learning the three pruning cuts and knowing the tree’s response
  • Making a seasonal plan
  • Pruning coarse to fine and up and out, finding the good, considering context and environment

Day 2Aesthetic Pruning Principles: Focal Point, Essence and Garden Context- morning lecture, hands-on pruning in the afternoon.

  • Identifying and enhancing a tree’s essence using structure, texture, hide-and-reveal and branch definition
  • Finding the good, making space and creating a sense of age
  • Reading a garden using style, flow, topography and viewing points
  • Separating background, mid-ground and focal point using movement, line, flow and perception
  • Achieving scale and proportion.

For more information and to register to attend the workshop, please visit the APA website:


Aesthetic Pruners’ Association Presents Intensive Pruning Workshop

From Japan to Minnesota: Q. and A. With John Powell

Japanese garden expert and NAJGA board member John Powell recently shared his thoughts about the experience of training in Japan and applying his knowledge in the North American context, particularly in Minnesota and other areas in the central part of the United States. John will be one of the facilitators of NAJGA’s two-day workshop and garden education tour in the Minnesota area from August 7 to 8.

NAJGA: How did you first become interested in Japanese gardening and what led you towards the path of devoting your career to it? 

JP: I have been involved with gardening since a very early age, studying and working in a variety of fields.  When I first visited Japan in 1993, I was immediately taken by the beauty and quality of the gardens I saw.  I was especially impressed though with residence gardens and their ability to link interior and exterior spaces seamlessly and often with very small areas to work with.

NAJGA:  As the first Westerner to be invited to train with the garden staff of the Adachi Museum in Japan, what were the important lessons you took away from this and the rest of your training experience in Japan?

Adachi_Museum_of_Art_Garden_02JP: Besides the obvious lessons of improved techniques in the presentation and maintenance of a high-quality Japanese garden, I told myself on my first day at the museum that I would forget everything I thought I knew about landscape gardening and just absorb everything anew.  I had done this with the first company I had trained and worked with in Japan with great results.  This I feel is an important approach to anyone trying to learn from our Japanese friends.  

So many maintenance activities are technique driven, and while things like shearing and sweeping look simple enough and require no explanation, they in fact take time to master to do them quickly and efficiently.  When working at the Adachi Museum, it is like performing on stage in front of a large audience.  When everyone works together in the same rhythm, it looks effortless and almost choreographed and the work of caring for the garden is not a distraction to the guest.  When it is done out of sync, then it becomes a distraction to the guests experience of the garden as a whole.

NAJGA:  Aside from Adachi, what are some of the gardens that you admire and which represent your ideals of Japanese gardening? 

JP: There are many gardens in Japan and in the United States that I admire for their attention to quality of both garden and guest experience.  To the gardener, the garden is never finished.  Trees need to be pruned, paths swept, stones adjusted. It is never ending.  When all of these tasks are applied, the gardener can elevate even a garden of mediocre design to a higher status that leaves the guest feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.  Without the commitment to maintenance though, the experience is diminished and disappointing.  

(In this video, taken during a 2014 NAJGA workshop at the Garden of the Phoenix, Chicago,  John explains how the construction of a short section of nobedan during the course of the workshop is a response to how the guests have been moving around in the garden.)  

The garden is also alive and ever changing and because of this, something I find most admirable are the gardens that understand this and are able to respond to the changes.  In many cases, the gardens are attractions for guests, and without adequate care and improvement, they cease to become exciting anymore and viewership drops.  Even the best of the best have room for improvement.

NAJGA: As a consultant for three of the Japanese gardens that will be featured in NAJGA’s Minnesota event, what are the unique challenges and the opportunities that you see in the practice of Japanese gardening in the area?

JP: The gardens in Minnesota are all quite good and excellent examples of a variety of styles.  Without question, the climate is the greatest challenge.  Spring through fall is delightful, but the winter is very long and usually extremely cold.  Winters are hardest on the plant material and it seems every spring provides a new challenge in response to winter damage. Construction techniques are also slightly different due to the extreme freeze and thaw potential of the soil.  

There is, however, a great availability of plants and materials for garden construction.  Many natives and well-adapted plants, while not usually seen in Japan, make excellent contributors to the garden.  The people that visit these gardens also seem to thoroughly enjoy them, which gives us all an opportunity to show how these gardens are not solely culturally specific creations, but pleasing arrangements of form and function that can be integrated into everyone’s life.

(Photo shows the Como Park tea house entry and the Normandale Japanese Garden)

Como Park Tea House Entry        Normandale accross the pond

NAJGA:  Can you tell us more about the scope of your services as a garden consultant and what are the other gardens you are involved in, past and present? 

JP: My work focuses on two things.  Improving guest experience, and creating a sustainable system of maintenance that allows the garden to remain viable for decades to come.  Within those two basic concepts, however, are a variety of services including design and implementation of hard scape improvements such as placement of garden stones, fence building, pathways, structure conservation, to name a few, and a considerable amount of contract pruning of specialized plant material, and instruction to permanent garden staff about proper care of the garden as a whole.  

For garden educators I also provide insight into proper discussion of garden elements and design intent that is passed on to the garden guests.  In addition to the public gardens at Como Park, Carleton College and Normandale Community College in Minnesota, I provide similar services for gardens in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee and in my home state of Texas.


John Powell is the principal behind Zoen LLC Associates, a consultancy firm specializing in Japanese garden creation and maintenance. E-mail:; Tel: (817) 829-4335.

From Japan to Minnesota: Q. and A. With John Powell

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

Finding A Place For Moss In the Japanese Gardens of North America

The North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) recently talked moss with  Al Benner, a NAJGA member and owner of Moss Acres, a company that specializes in the use of moss for gardening.   

NAJGA: What are your general observations about moss gardening interest in North America over the past few years? 

AB: I would say the interest level continues to grow.  Moss was originally looked upon as an “invader”  something growing where grass was supposed to be growing.  Actually moss has been around for over 500 million years, and the 15,000+ species worldwide each have conditions that best suit their individual needs.  Some species like shade, others prefer full sun.  Some like it wet, others drier.  They all need moisture at some point in time to grow.  They have no true roots, so all moisture is absorbed through the leaves.   Moss has more recently received considerable press coverage as being an environmentally sustainable choice for many locations and conditions.  If moss is growing somewhere on it’s own it is for good reason – it likes that location.

NAJGA: How did your company get started in moss gardening?

Al with moss milkshakeAB: My father, Dave Benner began experimenting with moss lawns and garden areas on his 2-acre wooded, hillside gardens in Bucks County, Pennsylvania back in the early 1960’s.  In 2000, I started Moss Acres as a national mail order company to fill an unmet need as the first supplier of live moss in large quantities.  We ship our mosses to home gardeners and landscape professionals who are  looking for an alternative ground cover for shady garden areas.

NAJGA: Which moss varieties do you carry that are the most popular or highly recommended for Japanese-style gardens? 

AB: Although moss gardens in Japan may have many different species of mosses the primary species that moss gardens in Japan use: haircap, pincushion and rock cap (broom) are three of the five species that Moss Acres provides. The other two species (sheet moss and fern moss) that Moss Acres offers are also popular in Japan.  Moss Acres offers these varieties because not only are they traditional varieties utilized for centuries in Japan, but they are also “generalists” that grow well in a variety of settings provided there is adequate shade and moisture.

Are there public Japanese gardens which feature your mosses? 

Garden of the Phoenix MossAB: The Garden of the Phoenix on Jackson Park in Chicago and this  spring, the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Philadelphia. Both are establishing new moss gardens. The moss garden in the Garden of the Phoenix was started last October as part of the NAJGA skills development workshop prior to the 2014 NAJGA convention. This moss garden will be expanded this year and then be on display for the 2015 American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) convention in November in Chicago.

One thing that really surprises us is that the most popular moss in the gardens of Japan, haircap moss or Polytrichum commune, are rarely found in the Japanese gardens in the United States. Yet haircap is easy to grow and in many states is a very common native plant.

Polytrichum commune in bluestone patio at Moss AcresCheck out this picture of haircap moss growing among the bluestone pavers at Moss Acres. Over time the haircap has naturalized among the pavers. This would be an easy way for any Japanese garden to introduce haircap moss into their Japanese garden.  It can also tolerate quite a bit of sun, as it has root-like structures called rhizoids that penetrate several inches into the soil.

NAJGA: How about residential garden owners? Are they also incorporating moss as part of their private, Japanese-style gardens? 

AB: I would say they are all over the map here.  Most of the projects are smaller in scope and usually deal with creating a smaller naturalized garden in a small grotto area.  Stone and/or water features and ferns are often incorporated.  Utilizing sheet mosses, like hypnum is very common in between pavers for walkways.  The sheet mosses can handle a fair amount of foot traffic so they work well for this application.  There are a handful of private, Japanese style gardens out there that incorporate moss, but they are few and far between.

NAJGA: What services can you offer your customers aside from providing the moss materials for their garden?

We provide a lot of online and phone support for folks getting started with moss.  Our website at is also a great resource for information on all aspects of moss gardening.

Currently we are exploring several green wall projects utilizing moss that plan to be installed during the spring of 2015.  We accomplish this by taking moss that is grown from fragments onto synthetic geotextile mats and installing them vertically with drip lines as living moss walls.  Our tests of this process over the past two years have been very encouraging and we are now ready for some installations to go in.  We also have had several moss roofs installed though the years and are experimenting with other mediums for this application that allow for significant water holding capabilities.

Finding A Place For Moss In the Japanese Gardens of North America

Using Earthen Walls for Japanese Gardens in North America – by EMILY REYNOLDS

Emily Reynolds is the author of the book “Japan’s Clay Walls,” , a founder of the Japanese Earthen Plaster Exchange (JEPE) and a member of the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA)

Earthen walls have been a defining characteristic of man-made structures in Japanese gardens for many centuries. We often miss this important element, because the clean and flat aesthetic appeals to our modern taste.

Ryoan-ji's Earthen
The centuries-old, thick earthen walls of Ryoanji’s famous rock garden are infused with oils.

But using Western finishes on Japanese structures in gardens leaves something to be desired. They lack a softness, a seamless integration with the natural surrounding and an element of health. While Japanese gardens across North America are being established, and while many more enjoy the challenge of fostering their landscapes, an appropriate wall finish for structures deserves consideration.

Katsura Imperial Villa
The earthen walls of a tea house in Katsura Imperial Villa blend with the view. 

The Japanese Earthen Plaster Exchange (JEPE)  seeks to become an educational resource and bridge-builder for harnessing the traditional advantages of earthen walls in Japanese gardens and other places we consider as sanctuaries of well-being.  By remembering to include the earthen wall in the Japanese garden, we deepen the healing experience. This is not only a visceral or esoteric thing, it is science! Science tells us that we need negative ions for optimal health — from maintaining feelings of general well-being to actually boosting the immune system.   Clays contain negative ions, and release these to their surroundings. Waterfalls also expose us to negative ions. Paints do not. Cement stuccos do not.

JEPE also aims to promote the authenticity of Japanese gardens in the United States, Canada and beyond.  Earthen finishes, either clay-based or lime-based, are the only authentic and appropriate choice for Japanese garden structures.   While thoroughly earthen walls are the tradition, an earthen or earthen-like finish will still benefit the whole atmosphere of the garden, whether applied over an existing surface, or for a new structure.

Thick earthen walls often separate various areas in the garden landscape.  The
Thick earthen walls often separate various areas in the garden landscape. The “go-sen,” “five lines” on these walls denote a temple dedicated to imperial and noble families.

Support the JEPE Campaign. JEPE needs the support of the Japanese gardening community to realize its aims. Please go to and make your support known between now and April 22, the end of our campaign. With a simple $1 contribution, you will be counted among our advocates.

You may also visit the Japanese Earthen Plaster Exchange (JEPE) website: and the Plaster with Wa blog:

Using Earthen Walls for Japanese Gardens in North America – by EMILY REYNOLDS

PRESS STATEMENT: NAJGA Supports Amicable Resolution Of Hannah Carter Japanese Garden Dispute

Hannah Carter Japanese Garden

February 24, 2015 – The North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) calls on the two parties involved in the dispute over the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden in Bel-Air, California to exhaust all means possible to avoid embroiling a local social and cultural treasure in a legal confrontation.

“As the organization that champions the welfare and future of Japanese gardens in the US and Canada, NAJGA is deeply saddened to see that the final fate of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden — long a haven of tranquility in a busy mega-metropolis — might be decided in the contentious atmosphere of a courtroom,” says NAJGA Executive Director Diana Larowe.

“The continued willingness of UCLA and Ms. Hannah Carter’s children to explore an out-of-court settlement gives us great hope that this matter will be resolved in a manner consistent with the spirit of harmony long been imparted by the garden itself,” she adds.

When the issue came to light in 2012, NAJGA joined the alliance of garden advocates expressing opposition to UCLA’s plan to offer for sale the two-acre property, which houses the more than half-a-century old garden. In a February 2012 letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, the organization expressed particular alarm over the extraction of irreplaceable stone lanterns and other art items by UCLA work crews not properly trained to handle works of art.

Japanese garden scholar and current NAJGA President Dr. Kendall Brown also pointed out that of the 20 public Japanese gardens featured in his 1999 book “Japanese-Style Gardens of the Pacific West Coast,” only the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden is slated for sale and possible destruction.

To the contrary, nine of these gardens, including those at the University of British Columbia and California State University-Long Beach, are either being expanded, restored, renovated or master-planned for growth. Brown notes that the formation of NAJGA itself in 2011, with financial support from the Japan Foundation, demonstrates the resurgence of Japanese gardens in public popularity across the US and Canada.

An Important Case for All Heritage Japanese Gardens in North America

Larowe said that the outcome of the dispute over the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden will have repercussions that go beyond the fate of the garden itself.

“There are more than 250 public Japanese gardens in the US and Canada. Many of those dating back several decades are facing circumstances not unlike the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden,” she said. “Aside from being subjected to years of neglect and misplaced judgment, these gardens also face the mounting pressure of urbanization and changing land-use priorities. The Hannah Carter Japanese garden is a test case. Everyone concerned with the fate of heritage Japanese gardens in North America will be watching,” she said.

Since its launch in 2011, NAJGA has promoted awareness of these historical gardens. It also seeks to help them better serve diverse publics who increasingly seek out these spaces for relaxation, education, and creative engagement. The 2014 issue of the NAJGA Journal features stories on a handful of 100-year old Japanese gardens in the US. There are fewer than 20 of these centennial gardens despite the 150-year history of Japanese gardens in North America.

For further inquiries relating to this story, contact Diana Larowe, Executive Director,, (503) 222-1194

PRESS STATEMENT: NAJGA Supports Amicable Resolution Of Hannah Carter Japanese Garden Dispute