Japanese design could suit the desert

My recent visit to the Portland Japanese Garden has inspired me. The beauty of the garden was not only in the use of plants appropriate for wet climates, but in the arrangement, pruning and use of space.

One of the first design techniques I noticed was the artful framing of views. Whether a specimen plant, a waterfall or a boulder, the designer drew the eye to these areas of interest throughout the garden, usually by use of a bench or stopping place that created a "window" for a special sight. This might be an actual window in a tiny Japanese hut, a gap in a roof or a space between trees. Sometimes the placement of a statue, revealed as one came around a turn, enticed the viewer to stop and notice a focal point.

The garden designers creatively incorporated hardscape into the landscape. Every boulder and every rock was placed with intention; each had its meaning or purpose.

Stepping stones raised a few inches above grade for the length of a path provided an illusion of a bridge across the land. Linear stones were combined with round stones in walks, rather than using all of one or the other. Each of these stones was arranged in relationship to its neighbor and to the whole to create an overall flow. Rounded rocks placed at the front edge of stairs softened their appearance and added interest to a normally linear design. Raked pebbles underneath specimen trees gave a feeling of universal order. Rock paths were lined with 6-inch borders of smaller pebbles contained with metal, intertwined, "S"-shaped edges.

The gardeners who maintain the Portland Japanese Garden are artists. Branches are pruned in such a way that the leaves and needles look like clouds floating above the ground. Trunks and branches are revealed as sculptures. Large trees appeared "bonsai'd." Arbors of foliage invite strolling visitors from one peaceful scene to the next.

Bamboo stakes were tied together to make organic fences. Flat rocks covered sprinkler boxes. Even the wood railings were lovely. The garden music of running water bubbling over ledges into pools filled the air.

In Nevada, we may not be able to grow some of the plants at the Portland Japanese Garden. However, we can incorporate the philosophy, the artistic pruning, the intentional placement of materials and the utilization of tranquil empty space to create a landscape that is pleasing to the eye, the ears and the spirit.

Contact me at 887-2252 or skellyj@unce.unr.edu, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office, for gardening information. Check out many useful horticulture publications at www.unce.unr.edu. "Ask a Master Gardener" by e-mailing mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu.

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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