Archive for the 'Garden' Category

Garden ups and downs

Much has occurred in my attempt at a Japanese garden in the months since I last wrote about it.  I’m sure you’ve been wondering.

Fall was beautiful.

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The Thunderhead Pine survived my hack job earlier in the year and might be starting to look like something.  In 30 years or so, it could be great.

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Winter had its good points as well, with several camellias and Winter Daphne (smells amazing).

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Then, disaster struck!  For years, my girls (the three of them older than two years) have been begging for a trampoline.  But what little back yard we have is occupied by the garden, much to their annoyance.  They would prefer to have a “normal” yard.  Anyway, a few months ago, their jump rope teammate announced that she would be moving, and that her family’s beloved trampoline could not come to the new house.  The family very generously offered to give us the coveted item (really a very nice gesture).  So, Santa brought Ruination to the garden.

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The girls, their Dad (admittedly) and Mom, and their friends have had a great time on the tramp.  But I think it is safe to say that it doesn’t add much Kyoto ambiance.  It is of Asian origin, at least.  I have yet to derive a clever bamboo camouflaging structure, so I’m open to ideas.

The latest threat is cold.  We’ve had some warm weather recently, and as I drove up the driveway today, I noticed the Japanese flowering apricot starting to bloom.  Beautiful, and wonderfully fragrant…

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But alas!  As I write this, snow is falling outside, and we’re expecting 10”, along with 16 degree weather.  This same thing happened last year:  premature flowering of three different new plants that I’d been eagerly awaiting, immediately intercepted and extinguished by a cold snap.  This year, I wrapped them in sheets or plastic.  I hope it works.

Five inches of snow so far.  Things look lovely.  The flowers on the weeping apricot might be OK, but my engineering was flawed.

That’s an eight-foot tree lying on the ground.  Fortunately, it is young and pliable.  I shook the snow off the plastic, and it sprung up to something akin to its previous state.  Since Japanese garden aesthetic favors trees that look like they’ve clung to windswept cliffs for 100 years, I might be in luck.


To each his own ball game

David Churbuck is an exceptional writer.  Here is a sample from his recent post on scoring baseball.

I never think to bring a sweatshirt in this summer of damned rain, sunspot anomalies, and El Nino disturbances that makes the sighting of a lost snowflake a distinct possibility one of these evenings. I take my card – with the Kettleer’s Gothic Germanic Script on one side, the ad from UBS Wealth Management Services of Hyannis utterly out of place during this Deprecessionary Summer. And I settle in, arriving 15 minutes early to get a prime spot in the top row of the old bleachers (the pipe railing is a nice back rest and the old gents who have the Knowledge sit there). Popcorn bag gets wedged on the springy green foot plank of the bleachers so it won’t blow over and shower the miscreant delinquents under the stands with my dinner. Moxie gets saved for the end of the bag when the popcorn salt makes it imperative.

Then the card gets filled out. First the opponent.


He goes on to compellingly describe his discovery of the true baseball fan’s art of recording and analyzing every detail of a game.  And there I am lost.

His enjoyable post brings to mind the axiom “to each his own,” as throughout, I kept thinking “no way would I do this.”

Often, people don’t appreciate things because they haven’t gotten below the surface.  Witness NASCAR (here, the baseball connoisseurs gasp that I would dare draw this parallel to the Sacred American Tradition, and begin to plot my dismemberment).  On the surface, NASCAR is a bunch of loud cars, purposefully limited to a clunky design style referencing moonshine running getaway cars, going around an oval hundreds of times.  Not so interesting.  But wait!  Study the driver and team histories, the latest dirt on who bumped who and who threw their helmet, and don a pair of headphones that pipe in the driver-to-spotter-to-crew chief radio chatter about tire wear, and you really get it!  I’ve sampled this, and I still can’t make myself watch.  But clearly many do, and have the flags on their porches to prove it.

It seems that America specializes in obsessive behavior.  The term “all in” seems to describe anyone who meets the minimum requirements for participation.  For instance, I know of no one who claims to be a cyclist who is without $3000+ of gear and who doesn’t look like Lance Armstrong when saddled up.  My friend is psyched to be driving to Florida (12 hours?) to acquire a bike worth $4000 for less than $2000.  And don’t show up to rock climb without a massive rack of gear and tape over the rips in your fingertips.

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I can get as obsessive about a new interest as anyone.  I’ve recently dipped my toe in the water of disc golf, which my kids label my latest “phase”, and now own 11 highly necessary discs with different flight ratings.

But man, as much as I appreciate the cultural import of baseball and genuinely seek common ground with its adherents, keeping an encoded score sheet (and cross referencing it with the published box score later!!) about a game that requires frequent trips to the concession stand to keep me at the park, sounds like self-inflicted water boarding.  I’m starting to appreciate my brother’s conditions of participation in sports: “OK, I’ll go, but only if you don’t try to help me improve, or suggest better equipment.  I just want to have fun.”  Ironically, this is the same brother who scored baseball games as a kid.

Well, back to pruning my Japanese maples.  Did I mention I have six varieties, including dissectum and palmatum cultivars?


Upgrading the black pine

I’ve grown a black pine (Pinus Thunbergii) next to the garden entrance for four years untouched.  It was recently time to make it look like a citizen of the Japanese garden.

This took a lot of contemplation, consultation of The Journal of Japanese Gardening, and courageous cutting.

I can’t decide yet whether I made it better or ruined it.  I made one mistake I know of (broke off a top level branch on the left), and I’m sure many of which I’m ignorant.  I do know this is a many step, multiyear process.


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The snows of North Carolina

White snow


Pink snow

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How to acquire “an eye:” visit Kyoto

If you want great results in creative efforts, such as product design or advertising, you need three things:

1)  The “A” team within your agency or design group.

2) An insightful brief that gives the creative team an intimate view of the customer and clarifies project goals.

3)  An eye, enabling good judgement of whether the results achieve the objectives in the brief.

About #3…   You might be born with this ability.  You might have access to a good teacher.  Or, you can travel to Kyoto, Japan for an aesthetic infusion.

Kyoto is home to the highest concentration of beautiful gardens that I know of.  Three days of patient absorption in Kyoto will train your eye to see balance, scale, subtlety, refinement, excellence, and restraint.

Nijo Castle, Kyoto

My mom (a fine arts major) remarked after her visit, “you can aim your camera in any direction and get a perfectly composed picture.”  I was inspired by Kyoto to make my own halting attempt at a Japanese garden in my back yard.  I feel like I’m trying to conduct Beethoven after attending the Chicago Symphony a couple of times.  I have even dared to invite a Japanese colleague (a designer!) to my house to see it.  In finest Japanese fashion, he claimed not to know much about garden design, and was cautiously complimentary.


I will write more about the garden over time, but suffice it for now to say that it is a humbling experience to try to create a worthy Japanese garden.  Maybe I need to return to Kyoto for a refresher.  If you are convinced that you need to go as well, the Journal of Japanese Gardening runs trips with access to private gardens, thought to be the best.

The Flowervores are Hungry

It snowed in Chapel Hill recently, a rare treat for a former northerner.

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Fortunately for those of us in Zone 7, certain plants bloom in the winter.  Some even smell nice. Our winter daphne has small purple and pink blossoms just opening, and the scent is striking, even just walking by. I have several varieties of camellia, and three are blooming now, including my favorite, just behind the Tsukubai.

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This cultivar is nicknamed Crimson Candles and was bred right here in Chapel Hill at Camelia Forest. Unfortunately, the squirrels are also enamored of the camellia blossoms.

squirrel with camelia