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Japanese garden plan approved

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously approved a new plan Monday for a remake of the Japanese Garden in Lithia Park, including a reprieve for two Douglas fir trees that had been threatened with the chopping block under a previous plan.

The original plan, which called for the removal of the two 100-year-old trees, spurred a hornet’s nest of opposition from many Ashland residents. That plan was approved by the commission 3-2 in January, but it was pulled a few days later by the donor who had offered to pay for project because of the negativity that came from the disagreement.

Commissioner Rick Landt, who opposed the plan to remove the trees, made the motion Monday to approve the revised plan, and it was seconded by commissioner Julian Bell, the other member who had voted against the first plan.

“I want to point out that the two people who voted against this last January are now making the motion and seconding it,” Landt said.

The Japanese garden is being funded by a grant of $1.3 million from local resident Jeff Mangin and the family of his late wife, Beatrice Marchel, in honor of Beatrice. Mangin said he and Beatrice used to spend a lot of time in the Japanese-style garden dreaming of ways they would improve it to become truly authentic. A few years after her death and following a lengthy planning process, their dream is moving forward.

The new plan expands the boundary of the garden slightly to incorporate the fir trees and includes a stone path to encourage people to visit them.

A bamboo garden, which was proposed to go in place of the trees, has been eliminated, and instead a short bamboo fence to encourage people to stay on path will separate the Douglas fir “room” from the rest of the garden, Parks Director Michael Black said.

The new plan increases the size of the Japanese garden from a half-acre to .65 acres.

A wall that was proposed to go behind the fir grove has been shortened so it is not under the dripline of the trees. An information booth has been given a place in the plan, and a traditional handwashing station will be added near the entrance.

Each tree along the perimeter of the proposed construction boundary, as well as trees inside the garden, will have individual tree-protection plans. They will be monitored and protected by an arborist during construction, especially during excavation, according to Black.

The garden plan calls for several “rooms” that will flow into each other, along with a koi pond, waterfall, hanging wisteria arbor, Zen garden and more.

Black said the grant, gifted through the Ashland Parks Foundation, will cover the cost of construction. He said the donor will also donate $60,000 a year for 10 years for maintenance of the garden, allowing parks officials time to secure funds to assume that responsibility down the road.

Black said the city pays $20,000 a year to maintain the garden, and that amount is expected to increase to $75,000 to $80,000.

Admission to the garden will be free for the public.

Members of the commission and a few members of the public thanked the donor for the gift and for his patience in the process.

“Not many parks directors have someone walk into their office and say, ‘I have $1.3 million and I want to improve your park,’” Black said. “Without him we wouldn’t be moving forward, so thank you.”

Landt noted that gifts like this usually do not come with an additional amount to cover maintenance.

“In this case up to $600,000 of maintenance has been gifted, and that’s pretty awesome, so thank you,” Landt said.

The two fir trees at the heart of the controversy are the “mom and pop” of a grove of 12 planted by an Ashland Boy Scout troop in 1924. The tree commission determined the trees were healthy and that removing them could harm the rest of the grove.

Mangin said he is satisfied with the new plan because it addresses the concerns of the community and will help ensure that the garden will be a source of harmony.

“I am very happy that it was passed,” Mangin said. “I was not there last night, but I was particularly happy to hear from a few people that the tone of the meeting was very, very positive.”

He said the redesign will begin in late fall or early winter and take about two years to complete.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected. Julian Bell seconded the motion to approve the Japanese-style garden.

A revised sketch of the amended Japanese Garden plan which now includes the two Douglas fir trees by designer Toru Tanaka. Image taken from the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission meeting packet.