I love the Japanese Garden at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens! Most every Thursday morning I can be found volunteering with our Head Gardener, raking, weeding, pruning, planting . . . doing whatever needs doing. About a year ago I became a docent. Getting to show our garden to anyone who walks through our beautiful gate is a joy. I’ve learned a lot in the last year but realize there is so much more to know.

Recently I attended the NAJGA Regional Workshop “Creating and Nurturing Japanese Gardens: A Practice Based Perspective from the South.” My expectation was that attending this workshop would improve my “technical gardening skills.” Pruning and shaping wave foliage, pruning pines and juniper, and tree transplantation preparation were some of the main areas of the workshop. (And that was just day one!) I was not disappointed!

When giving docent tours one of my goals is to give the visitor a good appreciation of how a Japanese Garden is not just a garden but a work of art. I say “Japanese Gardens are inspired by nature, but they’re not wild. Every plant, rock and path is placed intentionally to create an environment that is tranquil and serene. Although carefully planned, Japanese Gardens are designed to appear natural.”

Although I attended the workshop to improve my technical skills, what I didn’t expect—and was pleasantly surprised by—was how much the design elements of the garden were addressed. For instance, after demonstrating how to prune a large black pine, the instructor talked about how the now “old” look of the pine adds to the garden’s comforting feeling. Then, after severely pruning back a low spreading juniper, the instructor noted that the scale let us see how the juniper could represent an island. And, after removing two small trees located close to a large, beautifully pruned juniper our teacher spoke about how that tree now served as a focal point.

This workshop truly addressed both technical and artistic elements of a garden. It focused not only on how to prune a tree, but why you prune it; what the tree should look like and how it should make you feel. What I learned in this workshop will help me as both a volunteer gardener and as a docent. I’m amazed by how many things I now notice in the garden that I didn’t see before!      Diane Jones (volunteer at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden)

Whenever someone teaches you something, it is a gift. I was reminded of this after I recently attended the NAJGA regional event in Texas. I have worked in the construction and landscape industry for over 30 years and owned my business for 20 of those years. After spending that long a time in a trade, it becomes rare to be “wowed” as it feels that you must have seen it all.

When I first got into horticulture and landscaping, I was so enthusiastic that I absorbed information like a sponge.  It’s been a long time since I felt that same enthusiasm as I did when I was a kid getting started in this business. At the NAJGA event, I met some really great educators, craftsmen, and even old friends and was inspired again. I cannot thank enough Don Meiners and his lovely wife for opening up their home and amazing garden to the group as an educational opportunity. They shared their construction journey, both past and present, and they shared their family’s deep culture in the Japanese tea ceremony. Being a part of this was special to me and truly an honor.

This year’s NAJGA event reassures me that there are still so many more interesting things to learn in this industry. I was blown away at the level of knowledge of the workshop leaders and I was so grateful to receive their gift of information. This event was definitely worthwhile for me and for my business.   Vince Williams, Creative Garden Spaces

Confidence, Acceptance, Patience:  A Gardener at the Bay Area Regional

I went to this workshop expecting the same thing I always do of NAJGA events—an enjoyable education. What I found were presenters, and attendees, with extraordinary passion for their craft and cohesive content wrapped in a positive tone yet still urging us to improve as a field.  I also took away an appreciation for the unique history of the Japanese gardens in the Bay Area and the Japanese Americans who helped foster them.  Being presented with historical background prior to visiting local residential gardens really helped change the way I viewed the gardens. This regional workshop was also an excellent opportunity to network with locals and organize to solve common problems.

Toshi Eto remembered a story that hit home with me. While an apprentice, he was perched in a redwood tree removing limbs and he angled his saw to its cutting position. After taking a few moments to consider whether to remove a branch, his teacher yelled “are you sure you should cut that one?”  He reconsidered and sheathed his saw.  Later that day his teacher told him he should have cut that branch; the question was a test: one must be sure of the cut before you take out your saw.  So often in the garden we are either unsure or too sure of the decisions we make.  This workshop reminded me to allow myself the confidence to proceed, the acceptance to fail, and the patience to become a garden craftsman that no longer ponders once my fingers have touched the handle of the saw.   Jacob Kellner, Head of Grounds Maintenance, Hakone Foundation

Wonder & Happiness: An RN at the APA/NAJGA Bay Area Event

Truly a novice, I signed up only expecting that my lack of knowledge would embarrass me at some point. On the contrary, the group was warm and welcoming. Any way you cut it, the APA/NAJGA event was inspirational. As one attendee said afterward, “ I feel pruned.” The metaphor is perfect: dead wood was cleared to let light come in to inspire.

The lectures helped me appreciate the long history of Japanese gardens in the US. “The first Japanese garden was started within a month of the first baseball game which makes Japanese gardens as American as baseball.”  Coupled with practical applications of the concept shizen, we learned to keep our eye fresh as we revisit ideas now thought “traditional” but that are in fact variations on earlier models.

The event was less a “how to” course and more a rich offering of the broad philosophical and psychological concepts behind Japanese garden design, aesthetic pruning, and a respect for the artists who created these beautiful places. As the Japanese master pruner climbed into the cedar during our pruning demonstration day, the translator, more poet, described that for which English has no word: “where space hits not space” or “what is there and not there.” This left me in wonder and happiness.

Touring private gardens was the most incredible experience. It’s magic to walk beyond the gate. I feel so fortunate to have seen such treasures.  Having the historians and craftsmen and families present, added such depth as they satisfied curiosities and answered all our questions.

Hats off to the teams coordinating seamless support, and a special shout out to Michael Weber, Director of Sales (and Merritt College educated Aesthetic Pruner) at The Executive Inn and Suites, for providing an easy airport shuttle ride, warm welcome to a peaceful room, and a delicious supper option. With the van coordination there was no need to rent a vehicle, which made it easier for folks coming in from a distance.

Coming from the world of a nurse practitioner caring for people with dementia, I looked forward to a new challenge and peaceful escape into the aesthetics of Japanese gardens. Judging by the new knots along my bamboo fence and my happy, healthily trimmed maple, it was an inspirational, memorable and useful event.   Joan Tincher, RN, MSN, GNP, Oceanside, CA