Thursday, October 13, 2011


A new art project finished!

When the house was built, beginning in the spring of 2007, ledge in the hillside was blown out twice to allow the first floor to be set into the earth about five feet deep three quarters of the way around.   Behind the house a swale of pebbles was created going down below the level of the slab to drain any water that came off the hillside and divert it under the slab to prevent ground water infiltration into the house.   Tons of rock lay in piles everywhere.

As time went on I found many uses for the rocks, everything from building raised beds to contain our gardens to building retaining walls to hold back the soil that was beginning to wash down into the swale.  But the question of what to do with the swale remained.  For the first couple of years, while I was building my CD racks, work benches and storage shelving out of the enormous supply of scrap lumber from the house's construction, the swale served as an outdoor construction shop.  But eventually, the question of what to do to make it a "finished space" became pressing.

The first idea came from the landscape designer who put together the plan for the extensive planting around the house.  She drew a path outlined with scrap rock on the plan with swirls of rock on either side of it.  I thought it OK but not a compelling idea visually.  And it made the swale a pass-through, not an interesting, usable space.

Much better was the idea of one of our friends, a nurseryman and part-time landscape designer who looked down at the swale from the bridge out the second floor of the house and proposed a "stream" running through it made of landscape glass nuggets, bordered by scrap rock.  He proposed places where the stream widened to allow an island or two in which bulbs or other miniature shrubs could be planted.  This idea was much more to my liking, particularly after I remembered a visit to the Japanese Gardens in the hills overlooking Portland, Oregon where a beautiful and extensive Zen garden is a major feature.  So I began to design in my head a Zen Garden based on the Japanese Inland Sea with its shrines, monumental statues and Torii Gates sitting on little islands or rising straight out of the water.  It would be a place to sit in the shade of the house's deep overhangs in the heat of the summer in comfortable Adirondack chairs with a book, or having a drink with friends, or just to contemplate something beautiful.

I began work on it in late summer and finished it a couple of days ago.  Here are some pictures, beginning with a shot of the entire installation and then focusing in on details.

View from west to east where a "mountain lake" pours its water into the larger, island-filled seascape.

Succulents and mosses make up the plantings.  Here, a garden on the shore in the background and the famous "married rocks" that can be seen off the Japanese coast.

A shrine, a Buddhist stupa, on a small island that will eventually have a miniature bridge that I constructed today connecting it to the shore.

An island with a high peak, connected to the shore by an isthmus, with a cascade flowing down to the sea.

A "monumental" Buddha on a rock pedestal set in a garden.

A small park thrusting into the water.

View of the shrine island and another island as seen from the bridge.

Picture of me beginning the plantings, taken by Fritz from the bridge.

With great and sincere thanks to our friend Martin Grealish who made the original suggestion of a stream with islands running through the swale, who procured the plants for the islands for me, and whose enthusiasm and support has meant so much.

What a delightful achievement, Will. It looks gorgeous and I'm sure will give you both many hours of pleasure.
It's beautiful! What a lot of work! I might be able to visualize something like this, but I just don't have the energy anymore to see it to fruition. Good for you!
Very beautiful. I like that you can change the "flow" of the river when you want.
You must have had so much fun making this. I love rocks and what you made with them.
Well, almost finished as I think that there will be many months of tinkering. Still think you need a Gonzilla on the rocks! Love YA!
I am very fond of stones and rocks. I daresay it is in my blood, or at least my name.
I really, really love it!
We have a great deal of hard scape in our garden & I have tossed bits of beach glass around & they catch the light & our garden ends up looking very "beach".

Your swale is swell.
This is spectacular. What a labor of love. I could lose myself there. Thanks for finding me so I could find you!
What a delightful project... the loose leafs almost look like wandering koi...
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