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Growing a more authentic Japanese garden

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Lithia Park’s Japanese-style garden would become more authentic — including a tea house, bamboo forest, Zen garden and koi pond — under a redesign by the renowned Japanese garden designer Toru Tanaka.

Tanaka presented his design to the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission at Monday’s regular meeting.

According to Jeff Mangin, the Ashland resident donating financing for the project, Tanaka was trained in Japan, has 35 years of experience and was the director of Portland’s Japanese Garden. Most of the current Portland garden was designed by Tanaka, and it’s arguably the most authentic in the U.S.

“Tanaka is very passionate, very well-versed in the art and truly authentic,” Mangin said.

Currently the Ashland garden in Lithia Park is considered a “Japanese-style garden” because, although it borrows from the culture, it’s not authentic. Once the redo is complete, it will be much more authentically Japanese.

After a couple of public input sessions, information was gathered, and the design incorporates much of the community’s feedback, including making the garden more accessible, more authentic and protecting the garden from the deer. At the meeting Tanaka explained precise detail about each section of the garden, from the types of trees to the meaning behind each statue to be erected.

The design incorporates multiple garden areas within the current space and will expand the garden slightly. It will offer pathways compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and will have a barrier of some sort around the garden to protect it from deer. Some portions will have an actual wall, other portions will not.

As envisioned, a pathway will wrap around the garden, beginning under an entry gate near a bamboo forest, flowing to a tea house garden with washing area outside, coming to an 8-foot-tall waterfall, then a natural style garden, a Zen garden, a koi pond with a bridge separating a patio and deck and a hanging wisteria garden.

Cherry trees will be scattered throughout, as well as maple varieties and weeping willow trees. A tiled roof will line the edge of the wall around the garden’s entryway. A waterway will be incorporated into the design as well.

Tanaka, Mangin and Ashland Parks and Recreation Director Michael Black previously spent an afternoon with an arborist cataloging every single tree in the garden. They determined which trees will survive the revamp, which can be moved, which need to stay and which need to go. Mangin said a main priority is to preserve and protect as many of the trees as possible.

“Preservation is important,” Mangin said.

During his presentation, Tanaka showed a sketch of a wooden barrier to keep people from trampling the delicate root structure of an ivy leaf maple that is currently in the garden. Everything was thought of, each detail right down to the meaning of stones to be used and the route of the path.

“It’s made to mimic nature, but it’s all meticulously thought out,” Mangin said. “There’s a whole science and poetry behind it all.”

Tanaka expressed concern about the amount of needles and cones shed by two large Douglas fir trees near the garden entrance. It was suggested the trees be harvested and their wood milled and used for structures in the reworked garden.

“We’re using wood, it comes from a tree,” Mangin said. “I think there’s something poetic about taking the tree from onsite for the project onsite.”

Commissioner Rick Landt said he would like to keep the trees because they are 95 years old and healthy. Black said the garden has room to pivot to keep the trees if necessary.

“We’re very lucky to have Toru and his expertise,” Black said. “And Jeff, we wouldn’t have been able to do this without the donation.”

Mangin, along with his late wife’s family, the Marechals of Normandy in France, donated $1.3 million to the garden in memory of Beatrice Marechal.

“Lithia Park is a place my wife, Beatrice, and I walked through many, many times, especially the Japanese garden,” Mangin said. “We always talked about what we would do to the park if we could and it always seemed to come back to the Japanese garden.”

After extensive research Mangin narrowed prospective designers down to Tanaka and one other designer, both very qualified. He held a competition. Each candidate presented an initial design and Tanaka’s won.

It was decided at the parks meeting that an onsite visit should be scheduled to better visualize the design. The public will be encouraged to attend the visit and participate in the walk-through. It hasn’t been scheduled yet, but will be noticed to the community. It may be scheduled for next week Thursday or Friday, Black said.

The goal is to have a finalized decision within the next few months and to begin construction in the spring of 2019.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Goly Ostovar of Ashland, left, and Ginny Hicks of Central Point pose for a picture at the Japanese Garden at Lithia Park on Tuesday. Jamie Lusch / Daily Tidings
APRC Director and Jeff Mangin, project champion, describe the transformation of the Japanese garden. Tidings video by Caitlin Fowlkes.{ }Thumbnail
Renowned Japanese garden designer Toru Tanaka's design draft of the future Japanese garden.