Garden Photo of the Day

A Japanese Garden Project

We are pleased that Dale Dailey did not keep his promise to not create any new gardens, and that he shared this with us!

"I have long enjoyed Japanese gardens, but had resisted creating a garden in this style.  I thought that the specialized nature of the gardens required knowledge that I just didn’t have.  I had previously included elements of Japanese gardens in a quiet, meditative area of our large garden. 

A year ago, a large pine tree in the area died and was removed.  In the aftermath, a formerly shady area became quite sunny.  The shade-loving ground cover died back and weeds came rushing in to take advantage of the new environment.  I battled the weeds for much of this summer, but finally decided I needed a permanent solution.  I am 75 years old and had previously promised myself that I would not create any new gardens.  But after much walking around and deliberating, I finally decided to proceed with a Japanese-style gravel garden."

This photograph shows the area before I started the project.  There were already two Japanese features in the area, a stone lantern on the left that marked the entrance into the meditative area and Buddhist statue and water feature on the right.  My first step was to remove the plant materials and earth down to 4 inches below what would become the finished grade.

This photo shows the area after most of the plant materials and earth had been cleared.  A set of paving blocks is lined up, ready to be installed as a buffer between the adjacent path and the new garden. 

In this photo, the paving blocks are now in place.  At his point, I am in the process of relocating a small Chamaecyparis shrub two feet to a better location.  I used black plastic edging around the border and around the plant materials.

I then installed a few large stones that I had on hand to suggest or simulate mountains and mulched around the trees. In this photo, I am in the process of installing a 3-4 inch layer of clean pea stone over landscape cloth. 

This photo was taken after all the gravel was in place. I liked the overall effect, but something was missing. Most Japanese gardens rake the gravel to simulate waves.

To accomplish the raking, I built a small, saw-toothed rake from a scrap piece of wood. The piece is 11 inches wide. The raking turned out to be quite easy and added a significant element to the garden.

This is a photograph of the completed project taken from a location close to the original photograph.

"Compared to other gardening projects I have taken on, this turned out to be relatively easy.  The total project took less than 40 hours and my out-of-pocket cost was around $200.  I also like that the garden should be quite easy to maintain."

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  1. PerenniallyCrazy 09/09/2015

    Nicely done Dale! Thank you also for your sharing your process with us (including the cost). Hope you are able to relax and enjoy your garden now.

  2. jagardener 09/09/2015

    Thanks for the step by step plan. Really beautiful end product. Do enjoy and continue creating.

  3. faithfranks 09/09/2015

    Very nicely done, Dale. Aren't you glad you made this happen?! It will be something to enjoy every single day. And the pea-gravel area is a nice juxtaposition to the lush green around it. Thanks so much for sharing the images and details about your project!

  4. Chefin1950 09/09/2015

    I understand what you mean about not thinking you have the requisite knowledge. I don't know what an expert Japanese gardener would say, but I think we create our gardens for our own pleasure and so it really doesn't matter as long as we find them pleasing. I hope you have a bench somewhere to sit and enjoy the very peaceful vibes exuded by your garden. It looks like a lovely spot to relax and contemplate, probably something we don't do enough of in our busy lives.

  5. NCYarden 09/09/2015

    Great transformation and adaptation to unexpected changes in conditions. Glad to see you couldn't resist the gardening urge, though I do understand the desire to no longer install and more to just maintain. I think I have a ways to go before I get there myself. Your plan is nicely executed. Well done. I hope you find a greater sense of calm in your new creation. Enjoy. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Quiltingmamma 09/09/2015

    What a lovely solution. One can see just how sunny the position became which must have really spoken 'Japanese garden' to you. Yes, Marsha is right - I hope there is a bench somewhere close.

  7. user-3565112 09/09/2015

    You did a great job in a short time with out spending a lot of money. Some Preen in the spring, a little raking & a leaf blower & the maintenance is done. Well designed , low maintenance it has it all. Good luck, Joe

  8. User avater
    meander_michaele 09/09/2015

    What a wonderfully successful project, Dale, and your instincts served you well throughout the process. You were absolutely correct in paying attention to that tiny itch of dissatisfaction that whispered something more was needed ...and then came the raked in rings...perfect! It's interesting to me how their gentle suggestion of movement actually creates such a pleasing sense of tranquility. I really enjoyed reading about your process and how you problem solved along the way.

  9. VikkiVA 09/09/2015

    Such a beautiful space you have created Dale! You certainly took "lemons and made lemonade." I'm envious of your physical abilities. I guess 75 is the new 50? Proof enough that gardening is a healthy habit. Vikki in VA

    1. User avater
      Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 09/09/2015

      I'm going to have that tattooed on my arm, Vikki! Indeed, 75 *is* the new 50!

  10. Cenepk10 09/09/2015

    Man o man...Incredible !!!!! Incredible, I said !!!!

  11. user-7007496 09/09/2015


  12. user-4691082 09/09/2015

    Oh Dale, what a treat to open my email today and find this! I was sure that you were going to tell us you hired someone to do this!!!! I am amazed and impressed! So tranquil... I hope the Lord gives you many years to enjoy it!

  13. user-7007804 09/09/2015

    Thank you for sharing. It's beautiful. It shows the serenity and tranquility of the mind!

  14. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 09/09/2015

    Dale, not only do have a great aesthetic sense, but you also have some great foresight to get process photos of your labor. It looks amazing and personal. I love the scale and you definitely followed the right impulse to do the raking. I love pea gravel and use is all of the time. You chose great stones, and your statue, lantern and wash basin are superb. At 75 years young, I have a feeling you will be shaping, moving and adding more garden beds in spite of yourself!

  15. riccardozanetti 09/09/2015

    Thanks Dale. I enjoyed your post. I too am in the process of installing a Japanese-style garden (it's not slavenly in the Japanese style, but more influenced by it) in the Dolomites of northern Italy. I moved here 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia, and so had to learn a whole new swathe of cold tolerant plants that I didn't previously know. My garden is a strangely-shaped 12 square metres (tiny!) at the corner of the space where we park our car. We look on it from above as we live on the 3rd floor. The challenge has been to find plants with the aesthetic of a Japanese garden, although I opted out of the typical Acer palmatum for Gingko biloba (which as time passes will be too big for this garden and have to be removed, but I enjoy it while I can). When I get it to a point I am happy with, I'll post some pics.

  16. thevioletfern 09/09/2015

    Oh my ... I am so inspired. My garden seems so messy right now and this is so tranquil and appealing. I love how you transformed this space - and learning your process along the way - you are very talented. Please keep making gardens - promises schmamises.

  17. Christina726 09/09/2015

    Thank you Dale, I really enjoyed looking at your beautiful garden!

  18. GrannyMay 09/09/2015

    A garden is a personal place, created from your own vision, built by your own hands and ultimately meant for your own enjoyment. You do not need to be intimidated by someone else's rules. When you follow your own instincts, it will work out and others will see and enjoy your vision too. What a great transformation, Dale! Thanks for sharing the journey.

  19. GrannyCC 09/09/2015

    Congratulations Dale you certainly have created a tranquil setting. As someone else said a bench would be ideal so you could enjoy the space in peace. Really glad you showed us the step by step process.

  20. greengenes 09/09/2015

    Wow, Dale! This is beautiful! Its sad that a tree had to die but it gave itself up for something else! and to hear of your age brings hope to me for sure! You will never quit. Its a part of you as I am finding out, too. You have made a wonderful place!

  21. Sheila_Schultz 09/09/2015

    Thank you for walking us through the process of creating this peaceful garden, and for taking photos along the way. I'm stunned that it was completed in 40 hours, you were definitely on a mission!!! It's quite lovely.

  22. user-7007809 09/10/2015

    Looks very nice. That looks like a lot of work. You must be a very young 75!!

  23. user-186986 09/10/2015

    Very impressive and a wonderful tapestry of plants.

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