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Thread: Landscaping As Practice

  1. #1
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Landscaping As Practice

    Hi all,

    My family and I moved into our current home in 2007 and for the vast majority of that time I have been converting our lawn to an organic program. I do everything by hand and while everything is a lot less green in color since we moved in, it's greener (as in healthier) and the benefits to my practice are likely impossible to calculate.

    Any planned lanscaping was put on the back burner nearly from the start as we added a second child within a couple years (2009), but also because much of what was on the property was neglected and in some cases diseased. As I found out from a neighbor, the house was built in 1982 and the original owner created a very high maintenance landscape, but the woman who owned it for 10 years before we moved in did nothing to it but have the lawn mowed. I nurtured both a pine tree and a couple different cherry trees back to healthy growth, but many other bushes and trees had to be removed. In many cases they were healthy looking from the outside but were dead or drying when you looked underneath. So, what remains is often lopsided or "ugly", but when you bring something back from the brink like that they are so very beautiful...kind of like me, but without the beautiful part.

    Now that I largely have the lawn under control I would like to start a plan for how to addrress the rest of the property. The number of options for what to do seem overwhelming, but I believe for several reasons that the best "theme" would be a japanese garden. Doing so would allow me to do things slowly over time, I can integrate the existing features which already include some pine and cherry trees, and perhaps most of all it's just a way to make a decision and get started! The first priority will be on where to plant some new trees and what types of trees to plant because they will take the longest to have the desired effects of shade on parts of the house and the grass that are baking in the sun as I type this. I will be doing most the work myself when I have some time inbetween childcare, sitting, and other Treeleaf activities.

    So, any input from the sangha would be very welcome. Whether it's sources on japanese gardens in particular, books on samu or specific projects undertaken at monasteries or people's homes as part of practice, deciding on types and placement of trees, or whatever...I would be most grateful. These days when you put zen gardens into a search you get some gems like Richard helped me to find, but also a lot of fluff on ways to get a zen looking garden as quickly as possible. And while I'm not looking for how to do it as slowly as possible, something in the middle would be great. Any older books written on how to do landscaping before the invention of heavy machinery or directly from a zen monk would be just wonderful. Put another way, I'd love to take the practice of the kesa outside and apply it to my yard.

    Any ideas folks? Many thanks in advance!

    Gassho,
    Dosho

  2. #2
    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    Re: Landscaping As Practice

    I don't have much to offer... but I really enjoy my potted vegetable garden. I really get kind of emotionally involved in the plants' development and am easily excited by noting various stages of growth. ops:

  3. #3
    Senior Member Hoyu's Avatar
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    Re: Landscaping As Practice

    Hi Dosho,

    I love your idea of creating a Japanese garden at your home! I volunteered as a gardener at a local Japanese garden for a number of years. They are truly a magnificent place to spend one's time. I agree that landscaping can be a wonderful addition to our practice!
    Before constructing one I would suggest a little research. Many elements are symbolic, so understanding the philosophy behind the design is very important.
    I'm no expert but feel free to PM me anytime!

    Here is a short video from the garden I worked at. Though it's been years since digging in the dirt I still volunteer there giving Tea Ceremony demonstrations.
    [youtube] [/youtube]
    Gassho,
    John

  4. #4

    Re: Landscaping As Practice

    Holy cow, Dosho! We bought a house in 2010 and have just come to a very similar conclusion! I'll be following along and participating with great interest.

    One of the first things I started thinking about was water. Not sure what else to say except it's a starting point for me.

    We're also having trouble finding good books, I'm afraid. I just requested a few through interlibrary loan and will report back on them.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Hoyu's Avatar
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    Re: Landscaping As Practice

    Dosho wrote:
    I have been converting our lawn to an organic program. I do everything by hand and while everything is a lot less green in color since we moved in, it's greener (as in healthier)
    Oh, I forgot to mention that the garden I worked at was as organic and green as possible. So it is entirely possible to have the beauty without the environmental consequences!

    Gassho,
    John

  6. #6

    Re: Landscaping As Practice

    We moved into my grandparent's former farmhouse in 2009, and are also doing landscaping with a similar philosophy. I have a degree in botany, so I have a little bit of a leg up, but it is always a learning experience. You can find a lot of help online, and through magazines like Mother Earth News. Two of your biggest considerations will be your horticultural zone (http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/ushzmap.html?) and how much shade you have. Japanese gardens are traditionally low on flowering plants and high on structural elements, so think about pathways, hardscaping (rocks, benches, etc.) and large plants first.

    We are doing ours on the cheap, bit by bit--hitting end-of-season clearance sales and community plant swaps. Ultimately, I don't think there is a "wrong way" to approach design as long as you like what you have and the plants are happy where you put them!
    Ted

  7. #7
    Senior Member Shujin's Avatar
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    Re: Landscaping As Practice

    Good luck on your garden, Dosho. Our neighborhood is built on an old cattle farm, and my house is on the old pasture part. As a result, my soil is terrible and the death-ray sun manages to kill almost everything. I'm seriously considering putting a rock garden in the back yard.

    gassho,
    Shujin

  8. #8

    Re: Landscaping As Practice

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisA
    We're also having trouble finding good books, I'm afraid. I just requested a few through interlibrary loan and will report back on them.
    Reporting back. I can't recommend some (Tatsuo Ishimoto's Art of the Japanese Garden, quite old, black and white, and a bit pandering on the issue of Japanese culture and history, e.g.), but I really think that two are worth tracking down for those of us in North America.

    Mark Keane, Japanese Garden Design is a beautiful book, grounded firmly in the geography and sociocultural history of Japan. If you want to understand at a deep level the hows and whys of different design approaches, with a firm focus on traditional design, this is a great place to start. Fantastic read, too, especially if you're a history buff.

    Infinite Spaces: The Art & Wisdom of the Japanese Garden is a heavily illustrated volume purporting to be an English edition of Tachibana no Toshitsuna's Sakuteiki. In truth, there's little Sakuteiki, the classic 11thC treatise on garden making. (The aforementioned Marc Keane has a published translation of it mentioned here.) However, the photographs of many gardens both famous and family are wondrous.

    Motomi Oguchi's Create Your Own Japanese Garden is very much a how-to aimed at those seeking to build a Japanese garden in a Western context. There's a brief history and some cultural context, but it focuses on the how-to -- and, I will confess, does not for me hit the aesthetic standard of the previously mentioned books.

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