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Don Pylant, April, 2021

How did you get started?

Started by phobbs, February 05, 2007, 10:45:33 PM

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My interest evolved slowly and quite unexpectedly.
Our next door neighbor sold us her land so "some contractor" would not buy it, cut all the redwood forest down and build 4 spec houses. We didn't want that either, so we purchased the land. We promised the neighbor we wouldn't cut a single tree or shrub. We would, we thought, subdivide the land, deed ourselves the adjacent lot, build the house and sell the three remaining parcels as one. House and a simple garden. Take the money and run (back next door.)
My husband and I first considered building a Craftsman style home like the one we were living in. Looking for inspiration from the famous Greene & Greene houses, especially the Gamble House in Pasadena, CA. We found out that the American Arts and Crafts style had gotten its origins from the elaborate joinery and framing of traditional Japanese architecture. Those houses also had many features of Japanese horticulture in their gardens. We decided to keep it simple: small but well made. If you build a Japanese house you have to have a Japanese garden, right? That's how it started.

As the plans and ideas took shape I spent one entire year tracking the path and exposure of the sun so that I could (somewhat) predict the future garden's light. I used a survey of the land printed on plain paper and used a yellow marker to indicate the sun shining. This was done every 2 hours from 8am-6pm on Dec 21, March 21, June 21 and Sept 21. Only then did we decide where to place the house.  I wanted to know where a sunny garden could be. The house almost seemed secondary.
1000 hrs of planning (I kept track of the hours) plus another year of building and we decided to move from next door rather than sell the new house. The first job was to build to transform a small flat ugly patch of (sunny) clay soil to a dry garden. There stood only a 50 year old gnarled pear tree in that area. That would be the focal point. Lots of sun, yucky dirt, one tree. We fenced in (redwood/bamboo) the area and bought tons of big rocks and small gravel and lots of plants. It took 7 months. I would have loved a different kind of garden with a water feature but so would've my 2 Golden Retrievers! My husband rakes the Karesansui once a week. The younger pup buries his tennis balls there 7 times a week.
Although the redwood trees are not Japanese, somehow they look just right with the architecture. The transition from "Zen" garden to natural redwood forest feels natural. I want the (in construction) teahouse garden to be peaceful too. It will be mostly in the shade so I'll have to choose my plants carefully. I have so much to learn, so much to do, so few hours in a day.


Skylax I enjoyed learning how your interest in JPG started.  Many do not take the time to know the land they plan for a garden, the hours you spent getting to know your property will serve you well.  We would love to see photos.

Welcome to our forum,



Wow, that is excellent approach Skylax.  Thanks for sharing.  I think many of us will enjoy more details later. 

About your dry garden. Try raking back the sand/gravel where they are digging, installing chicken wire (aka poultry netting) below and put the sand/gravel back.  The pups will dig and find the wire and decide to go elsewhere, like your favorite flowerbed.  )


Don, excellent idea re chicken wire. It might even save the cloth from being ripped up.


I found an excellent advice in one of the many books available on Japanese Garden... Although you can sit down and plan an entire garden design, start with a small area. I'm doing my backyard slowly as a hobby. Took me a year for it to begin to look 'Japanese'. As I have a small budget, took me ages before I finaly got a granite water basin. There Tsukubai area is now complete and stablished and it looks great from my varanda. I now have my heart set on big rocks... I'll buy then by next month... I went from nursery to nursery to find japanese maples, plum trees, cherry blossoms, mondo grass, pebles... It all depends on what you want out of it. I am finding this slow process rewarding and a good way to get away from the stress of everyday.