About 30 community members who turned out Wednesday to hear a renowned Japanese garden designer present his plan for a remake of the “Japanese-style” garden in Lithia Park responded positively to his ideas.
Designer Toru Tanaka led Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioners and the general public around the existing garden, describing how areas would be transformed in a $1 million-plus makeover funded by a generous donor.
Tanaka led the small mob through the current garden, beginning where the new entrance will — upon approval — be, slightly to the right of the current entryway off Winburn Way. Orange stakes marked the garden’s future expansion.
Knowing trees are a high priority for Ashland citizens, Tanaka spent a lot of the tour discussing which trees would stay, which needed pruning, which had to be removed and which need extra protection.
Jeff Mangin, one of the donors behind the project, said that he, Tanaka and APRC Director Michael Black spent an afternoon with an arborist and catalogued every single tree in the garden. The plan is to keep as many of the healthy trees as possible, but Tanaka seemed most concerned with a pair of Douglas firs near the entrance.
The trees would get in the way of a planned bamboo forest. Plus, they shed a lot of needles. Tanaka proposed the trees be harvested and the wood stay on-site in the form of various benches, decks and fences that would be built.
That idea has received some resistance as some community members, including at least one commissioner, have said they wish to keep the approximately 95-year-old, healthy trees.
Because the trees are on the north side of the garden (toward the Sycamore Grove) and would be on the edge of the new design, there is a chance that the whole garden could just be moved slightly to the south (in the direction of the tennis courts) if the trees are preserved. Mangin said that’s not ideal for the design.
The new garden will be compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which means that the uneven staircase leading up from Winburn Way will remain for historical preservation, but won’t be a part of the garden. The torii gate that is there now will be moved toward the sycamore grove on the north side of the garden.
The new entry way will consist of a solid wall with Japanese styled tiles at the top and an authentic Japanese entryway. The wall may not wrap around the entire garden, but some form of barrier will be created to keep the deer out.
Commissioner Rick Landt said that the wall should work well to keep deer from harming the garden.
“I know what you’re all thinking, that a 6-foot wall won’t keep deer away,” Landt said. “Normally, a 6-foot wall where they can’t see where they’re jumping is sufficient.”
Lots of cherry trees would be planted by the bamboo garden, and the relocation of the torii gate would serve as an alternate entryway to this portion of the garden.
Then the path would lead to a wisteria arbor consisting of three separate stands ranging from 8- to 9-feet tall. This will give the arbor more dimension and allow for people to pass underneath.
The stream will be widened and made more shallow. Stone lanterns will be sprinkled throughout the garden, including one placed in the stream.
A teahouse garden complete with stone-washing basin and a small water feature will come after the wisteria arbor towards the back of the garden, currently the site of a shelter.
Mangin said this budget doesn’t allow for an actual teahouse because they can cost up to $500,000, but it is his hope that the Japanese garden will eventually have one.
Where there’s now a small waterfall beside the shelter will be an 8- to 9-foot tall waterfall with a deck on one side, a patio on the other and a koi pond at the base.
The deck will overlap the pond and allow the fish to seek refuge from predators.
Then the path will wrap around to a natural garden, and finally to a Zen garden which will complete the loop and end back at the entry point.
Other features include sculptures, a bonsai tree display and small stone paths that lead to places to “disappear within the garden,” according to Mangin.
Mangin said the goal is to have a full-time garden director who would then train and oversee volunteers to maintain and beautify it.
The project is still in the proposal stage, but if everything goes as backers hope, work on implementing the new plan may begin next year.
Tour attendee Doug Hormel studied landscape architecture and owns a local nursery called The Plant Connection.
“He’s really a top-notch designer,” Hormel said. “He’s got a beautiful concept and a beautiful design.”
Mangin has championed the project with the intention to dedicate the garden to his late wife, Beatrice Marechal.
“(Parks Director) Michael (Black) and I began talking about this three years ago,” Mangin said. “We’re very excited to get this started.”
(Nov. 2: Story updated to change "harbor" to "arbor.")