Trees were at the forefront of most everyone’s minds at an Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission listening session regarding the Japanese Garden renovation Thursday night. Specifically, two healthy 100-year-old Douglas Firs.
There was a healthy mix of response from the audience. Some attendees were passionately against removing the trees and some were just grateful that the redesign is happening.
Jean Fyfe said she wants to keep the trees because they are an indigenous species to the area and are healthy, but understands if the decision to remove them is made.
“I’m very fond of the garden and the new design,” Fyfe said. “My preference is to keep them, but if we can’t, then whatever, I suppose.”
Some audience members piped up, asking for ways to make everyone happy, such as moving the garden slightly to allow the trees to stay.
But according to one of the donors and the champion of the project, Jeff Mangin, moving the garden would have a domino effect on all of the other “rooms” in the garden as the design is very particular and structured down to a near science.
The current plan is to replace those trees with a bamboo garden. At maturity, the bamboo plants would hinder the bottom branches of the trees if they remained. The trees would cast too much shadow on the bamboo and other new proposed plants in the garden, the root system would interfere with the bamboo and other plantings, the trees drop an excess number of needles and a proposed wall would require cutting of the tree’s roots which could cause damage to the health of both trees.
It’s proposed that the wood from the trees, if they’re cut down, be harvested for use in other areas of the garden, such as walls to keep deer out, benches and ADA accessible ramps.
Mangin said the wood needs to come from somewhere and he thinks the idea of recycling the trees into the garden is poetic.
The conceptional design was created by renowned Japanese Garden Designer Toru Tanaka, the former director and one of the designers of the Portland Japanese Garden. Tanaka, originally from Japan, is an expert in the field and it was his suggestion that the trees would need to be removed.
The trees are only two of 12 near the garden. The other 10 in the grove would remain.
“We’re only asking to take out two,” Mangin said. “There are hundreds in Lithia Park and hundreds of thousands in the state. The only reason people seem to want to keep it so badly is because of attachment. I don’t think that’s enough to interrupt the integrity of the design.”
APRC Director Michael Black said an arborist evaluated each tree in the garden and said the arborist expects the Douglas Fir grove to live another 20 years.
Mangin’s inspiration for the redesign is his late wife, Beatrice Marechal. He said the Japanese Garden was their favorite place in Lithia Park and they often talked about what they would do to improve it if they could.
So, that’s what Mangin did. He, along with his late wife’s family, the Marechals of Normandy in France, donated $1.3 million for the project. Then, Mangin undertook a competitive search for the best designer he could find to turn the current Japanese-style garden into a truly authentic Japanese garden.
Another topic touched on at the listening session was the cost of admission. Just about all other Japanese gardens charge an admission which is generally used to pay for the extensive upkeep required of these gardens.
Mangin made it very clear that he will do everything he can to make sure the garden is free of admission costs for as long as possible. He said he would donate thousands a year if he had to. “I do not want to ever see admissions for local people ever,” Mangin said.
The park commissioners reiterated that this is the plan now, but no official decisions have been made yet.
He said he hopes to build a community around the garden, bringing in volunteers to help maintain it and learn the subtle expertise needed to care for such plants from a full-time director. He said the director would teach classes and hopefully the garden could even play host to events such as small weddings.
Black said the garden was first built between 1916 and 1918 and is still true to the same design.
The new design includes features such as a bamboo forest, tea house garden with washing area, wisteria arbor, an 8-foot-tall waterfall, a koi pond, a Zen garden, a natural style garden and more.
Black said there’s been about 11 meetings for the renovation so far.
The commission will decide whether to begin the project or not at the APRC meeting from 7-10 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, at 1175 E. Main St.
Black said if the project moves forward, they’re looking at implementation this spring and completion in 2020.
Jan. 30: Spelling of Toru Tanaka's first name corrected.