Japan 2023 – Gardening Lessons

We visited the three great gardens of Japan this June: Kenroku-en (Kanazawa), Kairaku-en (Mito), and Koraku-en (Okayama). My takeaways are:

(1) My farm does not have the same climate and we really could use a running stream somewhere in the middle of the farm.

(2) My dream garden would require a full time gardening team of at least twenty skilled gardeners.

(3) I would need a few decades to see a really mature garden.

A limitless budget would be nice too. Along the way it dawned on me that what we are trying to do is to create some mindful spaces using principles found in Japanese gardening. Water, stone, rocks, found items, moss, interest beyond beautiful blossoms – these are all part of gardening. Some ideas we plan to incorporate are shown in the photos below. Will we replicate exactly, probably not, but the work in progress will hopefully feel organic to our farm.

Steps created on a slope using logs. I think even I could make these.
A viewing platform for the koi pond. It’s a little hard to see behind the tree but we loved the shady overlooks. It might be a little large for our pond but perhaps we can build it into the design of the pergola.
I have always wanted to have a mossy carpet. This might be doable in the area behind our house where there is a significant amount of shade. My main concern is the amount of moisture needed to sustain the moss. We have some humid weather but it can get quite hot and dry in North Carolina. We’ll start with some small projects and see what we can do on a larger scale. Brevard, NC is the home of Mossin’ Annie and her moss team, might need to visit.
My tea plants look nothing like these. I think we need to relocate our plants, again…
Pond builder thought that planting a rice paddy might be fun. While this sounds interesting, it’s pretty low on my to-do list. We would need about 1/10th of an acre to grow 800 pounds of rice.
An organized iris garden does not look too difficult…

We have started clearing an area for our future plum-peach orchard. Over the weekend, four smaller black walnut trees and a young wild persimmon tree met Mr. Chainsaw. This is where the 1916 barn once stood and the pond builder plans on building by hand a little log cabin-ish structure. We will have to level the ground and plant about eight fruit trees. I am searching for a particular plum tree – the Japanese sour plum tree, prunus mume, which is actually an apricot.

We suspect that a well maintained bamboo grove requires regular thinning. Our bamboo comes in taller each year but the stalks are growing quite close to each other. Experimental thinning should not be a problem since bamboo is quite resilient.

Okay this is a stretch but we think some creative work can turn our area behind our house into an interesting usually dry river bed. It turns into a little running stream during the rains, so we can enjoy the running water look a few times a year.

Gardening is an endless project around the farm. The vegetable garden is doing pretty well this year and we have stayed on top of the squash bugs. Less vigilant with the japanese beetles but I’m spraying the fruit trees regularly. My apple trees were hit with apple cedar rust and I may need to do a lot of pruning. For now, I’m just spraying some fungicide and moving on. My fig tree is producing some fruit this year. The sunflowers have been reluctant to germinate but 25 of the 200 seeds I planted near the front gate are now 12 inch tall plants. The other sunflower areas are only yielding three to eight plants.

Of course all this gardening is taking a back seat to koi moving into their new home this weekend!!! After two years, we can finally open the new pond. The electrical power to the equipment house took us about a month to finish due to inspection scheduling, traveling to Japan, and Duke energy taking care of customer outages (honestly, what’s more important…) For now we have two working meters since we need to reroute the main water pump to the new meter. Then we can turn off the old meter and remove the entire set-up.

Pond builder has been busy putting all the pipes together and has a few more items left to do. We also need to complete the south wall of the equipment house.

So tomorrow I will be testing the water and the pond builder is 70% confident that the profi drum for the bottom drains can be started. We’ll throw in a canary koi and maybe the rest will follow over the weekend.

A long ways to go to complete the landscaping around the pond but we have some ideas!