Japanese Garden Entrance
You can learn basic elements of garden design by visiting the Japanese garden in Woodley Park in Van Nuys, starting with the entrance gates. There are three contiguous gates, but only one is open. “The idea is to create mystery, which arouses your curiosity to go inside and take a closer look,” I learned from Stu Drexler, a garden docent. This principle may also be illustrated in winding garden paths, where what lies ahead is hidden from view by large shrubs or trees.
Drexler also informed me of the Japanese garden design principle of grouping rocks (or boulders) and plants in odd number arrangements – in threes, fives, or sevens. This reflects the natural world where you don’t find orderly, paired configurations of things. Odd numbers are indicative of the irregularity of the natural world, which the Japanese garden seeks to evoke, in balance with the orderly, fabricated world of the tea house, an essential aspect of the Japanese garden experience. In the tea house, every utensil and vessel has a precise function and must be held in a certain way, and every gesture of both hosts and guests is highly mannered. A video in the Shoin Building, with adjoining tea house, demonstrates tea ceremony etiquette.
Indian hawthorn (Raphiolepis indica)
A Japanese garden eschews long-blooming flower displays – although seasonal blooms of azalea, Indian hawthorn, weeping cherry and peach trees are much in evidence at the moment — in favor of evergreen and symmetrical forms, a design practice whose dividend is paid in the persistent tranquility you experience throughout your garden visit, with nary a leaf out of place. I was surprised how crowded the garden was on a Tuesday morning and the number of families that were there. It’s not an amusement park, to be sure, but is just as memorable, in its own way, having the power to bring a rare measure of tranquility even to kids – from teenagers to little children — who were everywhere.
Drexler pointed out the core elements of a Japanese garden: rocks or boulders and their derivatives (gravel, sand, and stone lanterns), water, and vegetation, representative of the geography, the natural landscape, and the flora and fauna of Japan. Large boulders embedded in gravel symbolize tortoises or the islands of Japan surrounded by water; stepping stones in a pathway alternate in a fashion that mimics the goofy walk of plover birds. Plants are evenly pruned since, gazing at a natural landscape from afar, the vegetation that you see reveals itself in discrete and symmetrical forms.
blossoms on weeping cherry tree
The Japanese Garden, at 6100 Woodley Avenue, is open Monday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from 10 to 4 on Sundays. Docent led morning tours are available. For more information, call 818-756-8166.
In response to a recent column on pyracantha, I received the following e-mail from John Richard LaGourgue, who gardens in Dana Point. “Pyracantha is a spectacular plant. You missed one aspect, however. Those abundant white flowers are accompanied by abundant pollen which for some folks is highly allergenic. Personal experience!”
Another column, which discussed ways to control the spread of buttercup oxalis, elicited this email from Christine Warren, of Sylmar. “I encourage the plant as a groundcover on the south slope of my property. I weed whack the winter’s weeds but not where the oxalis is growing. It is low, within fire department regulations, and even when it dies in the heat it mulches the ground between my citrus trees. I wish my entire slope was covered w with it.”
orchid rock rose (Cistus pupureus) ground cover
Tip of the Week: Rockroses are not native to California but they should be. No plant shows off its floriferous charms more stunningly at this time of year – in pink, orchid, or white — than rockroses (Cistus species), which have a pleasantly musky foliar fragrance, too. These plants come from the Mediterranean and like olive trees, which inhabit their ecosystem, rockroses that experience average winter rain should not need to be watered at all the rest of the year. When rockroses — which should live for a decade or more — die it is nearly always on account of needless summer irrigation.