Asian-inspired garden makes backyard a true retreat
By DEBBIE ARRINGTON Scripps Howard News Service
Joe and Zelda Rincon in their Japanese garden
In his Tahoe Park, Calif., backyard, Joe Rincon created a love note with a postcard view.
A graceful waterfall splashes into a cool pond stocked with silver and orange koi. Stone lanterns light a winding path to a charming teahouse through a fantasy forest of trees trimmed to resemble puffy clouds, mimicking their bonsai brethren. An arching red bridge beckons to a secluded patio, another bit of paradise. Dwarf red Japanese maples, cherry blossoms, lavender wallflowers and magenta azaleas add pops of spring color.
One step out on the deck and the heart relaxes, breath slows and stress disappears. Traffic fades into the distance.
"I made this as a gift to my wife," Rincon explained. "She inspired me."
Said Zelda Rincon, "It's really, really pretty. We give each other suggestions. We're not experts; we just try things."
Their Asian-inspired garden makes their backyard a true retreat, inviting relaxation. Such gardens have seen a resurgence in popularity as homeowners seek ways to get more use and enjoyment out of their outdoor space.
"Asian gardens are tranquil and harmonious, a place full of symbolism for quiet contemplation and an aid to meditation," explained Orangevale, Calif., garden designer Susan Silva, who recently completed two Asian gardens for clients. "Whether a client's yard is small or large or just a small area within the yard, an Asian garden always fits in well to a design and everyone always enjoys having one."
In addition, the gardens can be water-savers. They include little, if any, lawn. Water for fountains, ponds and other features is recirculated, giving the feel of abundant water without using that much.
"Or you could go with a dry Zen garden," Silva suggested. "Gravel and sand are used to represent water; that also makes for incredible water savings."
Like bonsai (the art of creating tiny sculptured trees), Asian gardening can be labor-intensive. Everything has a place and is kept in perfect balance.
"It's not for everyone," said Joe Rincon, who retired after 37 years at Kaiser Permanente as a nursing assistant. "It's very time-consuming; a lot of trimming.
"I've been working on this garden for over 20 years," he said. "I'm very devoted to it. It's not for the average person."
Asian elements can be incorporated into larger landscapes. Silva, for example, turned an unused side yard into a winding path that invites a slower pace.
"Often, one is placed in a hidden corner for a private getaway," she said. "In the hustle and bustle of life, it's always nice to take a break to an Asian garden to rest and revive."
Asian gardens include the highly disciplined, symbol-laden Japanese gardens, which represent centuries of philosophy. Less formal Chinese gardens as well as the tropical gardens of Southeast Asia also inspire gardeners, primarily through plant selection.
What makes an Asian garden?
"Definitely, the feel," said Ronn Pigram of Satsuki Aikokai Bonsai Club. "The spaces, rocks, individual perspectives as you walk down a path, turn a corner and see what you know is a structured garden highlight, but it looks natural."
Lucy Sakaishi-Judd and Gary Judd, well known in the local bonsai community, have their own Japanese garden at their Rocklin, Calif., home, featuring scores of their bonsai.
"Our garden was designed by Tom Ozawa, and through his vision, we are able to lead visitors about our garden not only to 'see' the garden overall, but to notice small 'stories' along the pathways," explained Sakaishi-Judd. "Visitors will feel an understanding of the Japanese garden and enjoy the tranquility and enjoyment every stone, plant or tree create."
Garden features such as fountains or statuary have specific purpose and symbolism that enriches the garden experience, she explained.
Sakaishi-Judd used her own garden as an example: "The entrance to the path of our garden has a stone basin -- tsubaki -- in which water drips from a bamboo pipe -- kakei -- so that one who enters may wash their hands and mouth, using the bamboo ladle he made.
"A large stone was placed opposite the stone basin in which shishiodoshi -- a bamboo tube -- fills with water, and clacks against it, empties and fills with water again," she explained. "This (Ozawa) told us was to 'frighten the tigers.' Unfortunately, it did not work to keep our deer out."
Lanterns are a must-have addition.
"There are stone lanterns all about our garden," Sakaishi-Judd added. "The dai-doro, like a pagoda, represents five elements in Buddhism; the earth, water, fire -- the light or flame, and the top -- air and spirit, pointing toward the sky. These parts symbolize that after death our bodies go back to their original form."
Said Silva, "Traditionally, an Asian lantern lit at night reminds us to follow our unique inner path."
Rocks are another must for Japanese gardens.
Rocks and stones add to the natural look of a landscape. Pigram, a former garden designer who specialized in Japanese gardens, emphasizes the importance of rocks, which anchor the landscape. Locally, these important stones usually came from the nearby Sierra.
A stone's shape and position represent various parts of nature's design.
"Craggy boulders are often placed vertically or upright in a set of three to represent tall mountains," Silva said. "Rounder boulders are placed lengthwise for the hills and ravines."
These gardens always feature a mix of evergreens such as black pine or junipers along with colorful Japanese maples. Bamboo and plum trees add symbolism as well as contrast.
"They're the three friends of winter," Silva said. "Plum represent purity, pine longevity and bamboo flexibility. Everything about this is so full of symbolism."
It adds another dimension to gardening.
"It takes a certain kind of person to do this sort of thing," Joe Rincon said. "For this kind of garden, you've got to have a lot of love. It takes time, but I've got the time.
"It's my hobby, but more than that," he added. "I'm not a golfer or a fisherman; this is my life. This is something I love to do. To do this, your heart has to be in it, too."
Courtesy of Scripps Howard News Service