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Japanese garden wins, trees lose

By a single vote, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission decided Monday to accept the design for a remodeling and expansion of the Japanese Garden in Lithia Park, including removing two healthy 100-year-old Douglas Fir trees.

The 3-2 vote came after a majority of 27 speakers during the public comment period spoke out against removal of the trees, which were planted by the Ashland Boy Scout Troop in 1924, according to Bryan Holley, former tree commissioner.

Holley said the trees should not be “objectified” because they are “not an object on a watercolor pastel map, but living, breathing beings.”

“If this was 12 dogs in a little doggy grove, and I told you that 'only' two dogs were going to be killed, and their bones would be used to make little ‘benchies’ in the park, would that make everybody feel better?”” Holley asked.

Cat Gould, tree commissioner, mentioned the nesting of red-shouldered hawks in one of the trees, a rare occurrence, she said.

Commissioner Rick Landt moved to accept the garden design with amendments to keep and protect the trees as much as possible, and to allow for expansion on the opposite side of the garden for the loss on the grove’s side. Commissioner Julian Bell agreed, but the other commissioners said they couldn’t agree with a revised new plan, when months of work had already gone in the current one.

Commissioner Jim Lewis said some of the comments from the public to the donor were “reprehensible.”

Landt’s proposal failed, and the original plan proposed by the Ashland Parks Foundation was approved three to two. The garden will move forward with construction immediately, and the trees will be harvested. APRC Director Michael Black said that there could be no construction within 30 feet of the base of the trees due to the tree protection zones, which would create more problems for the rest of the garden.

Japanese garden designer Toru Tanaka proposed the removal because he thought the trees would hinder certain portions of the design such as the bamboo forest and the fence line. The trees would also cast an excessive amount of shade on certain areas which would decrease the lifespan of other plantings. The redesigned Ashland Japanese garden will feature a wisteria arbor, an 8-foot-tall waterfall, a Zen garden, koi pond, bamboo forest, a natural garden and much more.

The remake is made possible by $1.3 million donation, with potentially more to come for construction, Black said.

The initial donation was made by Jeff Mangin, and the Marechal family of Normandy, France, in honor of Mangin’s late wife, Beatrice Marechal. He said they used to walk in the garden often and discuss what sorts of improvements they would make as it began falling to disrepair.

In an interview Monday, Black said he was recommending the design as it stands to the commission because they were grateful for the generous gift and ultimately wanted to get a Japanese garden, while respecting the designer. He said although the trees are beautiful and healthy, it is apparent that the best design for the sake of the garden, according to the designer, is to take them out.

Mangin said at a listening session Thursday that he plans to find a full-time director for the garden who will teach volunteers the subtle art of caring for Japanese gardens.

Mangin said he is willing to donate an additional $60,000 a year for maintenance to keep the park free to the public.

The wood from the two trees will be repurposed for benches and fences in the garden.

Black said, “Someone emailed in over the weekend and said, ‘You have to break a couple of eggs to make an omelet,’ and unfortunately, I think that’s the case here.”

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

Jan. 30: Spelling of Toru Tanaka's first name and a portion ofBryan Holley's quote about the "dog bench"corrected.

A group of Ashland citizen who are against cutting down two Douglas fir trees gather at the Japanese Garden in Lithia Park on Monday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch