In 1912 John McLaren, designer of the famed Golden Gate Park, was hired and developed the design for Lithia Park, siting in its midst a Japanese Garden, complete with tea house. A Japanese style garden was established on this spot with its condition ebbing and flowing over more than 10 decades.
With a new $1.3 million gift, the Ashland Parks Foundation together with Ashland Parks and Recreation were enabled to hire a qualified Japanese garden designer to develop a garden plan that would meet several criteria — make it a culturally authentic, traditional Japanese garden, modestly increase the garden size without encroaching on existing contiguous spaces, respect and preserve existing trees, create ADA accessibility and, lastly, design aesthetic fencing to keep out damaging deer. These criteria were informed through several open meetings where direct input was taken from the town on appropriate objectives for the garden.
Toru Tanaka, a former director and one of the designers of the Portland Japanese Garden, was selected as the designer who best met these objectives. His submitted design preserves several non-transplantable specimen trees by virtue of specific design features (notably preservation of the ivy leafed maple and its striking root system via a novel elevated walking platform), the removal of several sick trees with limited life expectancy, transplanting several large trees to new locations within the redesigned garden and the planting of approximately 200 new trees and plants within the garden.
His design does require the removal of two out of 12 Douglas fir trees. The two trees to be removed were planted just outside the existing garden and fall within the confines of the newly established boundaries of the Japanese Garden. The other 10 trees will remain to the north side of the garden.
Replacing those two trees will be 15 timber bamboo clumps that, at maturity, will reach heights of 30-50 feet. These trees will form the first garden area inside the newly designed garden, “the bamboo garden,” and will be just to the right side of the new entrance to the garden. We are fortunate that Ashland is ideal for these bamboo trees, which need a specific climate to thrive.
The Douglas fir removal is necessary according to Toru Tanaka for several reasons, including: (1) the two trees lean over the existing Japanese garden reducing light necessary for both the new bamboo garden as well as other areas of the garden; (2) the root system of the two trees is substantial and will interfere with both the bamboo’s planting and growth as well as other garden plantings beyond the bamboo garden; (3) during storms the trees tend to drop needles, branches and other potentially damaging storm-related refuse; and (4) the garden containment wall to the right of the two trees will require pruning/cutting the Douglas fir roots directly beneath the wall, potentially damaging the long-term viability of these two trees.
In the plan, the removed trees will be harvested for their wood, to be used either in the Japanese garden structures (entrance gate, tea house, etc.) or alternatively specified for several newly designated natural playgrounds to be developed within the park system.
After careful consideration and debate about the design and alternatives, the Ashland Parks Foundation Board supports this plan, finding that it offers the best compromise for the historic preservation of trees, structures and contiguous spaces, while allowing for what is expected to be a beautiful, substantially enhanced, ADA accessible and culturally correct Japanese garden in the heart of Lithia Park. It is our sincere expectation that this garden will be funded as financially self-sufficient, offering beauty and longevity for many decades to come for the enjoyment of our local population as well as the many annual visitors that come to our town.
Jeff Mangin is a donor and director and secretary of the Ashland Parks Foundation.