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Dale’s Japanese Garden

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Today we’re visiting a part of Dale Dailey’s garden.

In 2010, I decided to transform a quiet area in our large garden into a more contemplative space. In the spring, I would hang strings of Tibetan prayer flags between two large red pine trees. To add to the effect, I was able to purchase a Japanese stone lantern locally and added a bamboo water fountain nearby. The gentle sound of falling water added to the contemplative feeling, and the completed garden was quite pleasing.

But in 2013 one of the pine trees died, and I decided to create an even more authentic Japanese-style garden in the area. We had recently seen a beautiful Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon, and
I did my research. A fundamental concept of Japanese gardens is to create a gravel area that simulates a quiet body of water and add large rocks that represent islands. The gravel is then raked to simulate rolling waves.

My first step was to clear the mass of lilies-of-the-valley and other vegetation from the area. I left the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum, Zones 5–9) and a dwarf conifer in place. When this was completed, I added a few large stones to represent rocky islands and installed a block edging across the front. The final step was to haul in 4 inches of pea gravel and rake around the islands to represent waves. A standing Buddha statue added to the overall effect. The garden now seemed complete, and we enjoyed sitting nearby.

japanese-style garden before removal of pine treeBut after a couple of years, the garden’s shape didn’t quite work because of the intrusion of the remaining pine tree. In 2016, I decided to cut the tree down and expand the garden to create a more natural shape. Cutting the tree down was more of a job than I had anticipated, but in the end it was well worth the effort.

view of the water fountain and statues in the japanese-style gardenWe continued to enjoy the garden from two nearby chairs, particularly at the end of a busy day.

small japanese maple before being replacedThe last major task was to replace the Japanese maple that had been in its location from the beginning. It had served us well as a beautiful focal point, but over the years it had lost limbs and become very misshapen. Japanese maple trees are only marginally hardy here in central Michigan. In the spring of 2019, I finally decided that it needed to be replaced.

japanese-style garden with newly planted redbud tree as the focal pointI found a fairly large weeping redbud tree (Cercis canadensis ‘Ruby Falls’, Zones 5–9) at a nearby specialty nursery. After installing the new tree, I was initially disappointed that it was very late to put out leaves, and several branches never did produce leaves. I gave serious thought to replacing it, but fortunately I did not. During the ensuing years, the tree has filled out quite beautifully.

close up of stone statue surrounded by foliage plantsIn 2020 I added an outer border of dwarf Japanese barberry bushes (Berberis thunbergii ‘Admiration’, Zones 4–7) around the backside of the garden to better define the space. A ‘Tricolor’ European beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Tricolor’, Zones 4–7) on the left also complements the area.

We’ve visited this beautiful garden before (Dale’s Garden in 2020), if you want to see more.


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