Gail and I experienced the good fortune to host a rock setting workshop in our garden as part of the NAJGA Summer Midwest Regional at Anderson Japanese Gardens (AJG). During this two day event, we set 50 tons of boulders and smaller rocks centered around the creation of a karesansui. And also 12 tons of gravel and 30 tons of topsoil, installed by 28 gardeners, assisted by one trackhoe excavator and two Bobcat excavators.

To commemorate the rock setting workshop and to hopefully provide a meaningful memento for the participants, we commissioned a painting from Seiran Chiba, the Japanese calligraphy artist who normally specializes in shodo, the large scale Japanese calligraphy. Serendipitously, Chiba was performing at the AJG Japanese Summer Festival held a few weeks before the Regional. A professional photographer friend took a digital image of her art which allowed the procurement of stainless steel tumblers with the artwork inscribed on one side and Chiba’s signature and mark inscribed on the obverse. We celebrated the first night of the event with a pig roast and gave a tumbler to each workshop participant and to a handful of other attendees which was a combination of close friends and AJG patrons.

The calligraphy embodies the phrase Ichigo Ichie ( pronounced Itchy-Go Itchy-A), which, as you may know, roughly translates to one meeting, one time or more broadly as, we should treasure this moment together for it will soon be gone and never recur. Ichigo Ichie is often associated with tea ceremony. John Powell, the garden designer, developed this theme during our boulder selection trip to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. For the workshop, he interpreted the meaning to be, “We came together once. This is what happened.” Prior to the gift presentation, we displayed the artwork on an easel in the midst of the developing garden and John and Tim Gruner provided a moving description of Chiba’s work and the meaning of the calligraphy.

The workshop was a near magical experience. In addition to the thrill of being involved in what is actually a large art installation, there was a fantastic sense of camaraderie among the participants, who hailed from Japanese gardens across North America and over the extent of the workshop, involved almost every member of the AJG horticulture staff. At the end of both days, we provided coolers overflowing with various beverages and it was such a pleasure to see all of these remarkable artisans in various clusters around the garden, developing new relationships and strengthening existing ones. We also set up tables and chairs across the property for the lunches and pig roast which also furthered relationship building.

Each morning, I sit in front of a picture window overlooking the new karesansui dry garden with a cup of tea and contemplate various topics. Every day, I also think of the wonderful people who came together and created this extraordinary space. And each morning, I exit that space with a sense of gratitude, which is a beautiful way to start the day.

May the spirit of Ichigo Ichie accompany you throughout this challenging coronavirus pandemic. Treasure the gift of your family and your loved ones, for these precious moments will never recur.

*Below there are a few pictures that show the garden during and after the workshop– we have since installed one fernleaf Japanese maple and about 80 flats of vinca groundcover. As you can see, this is a very traditional Japanese garden evocative of the Muromachi period. In addition to the karesansui typical of that era, the surrounding garden is very simple, with a focus on the rocks and a plant palate composed almost entirely of green plants.