East meets West in Hawaiian gardens via rock and bonsai


In Hawaii, China and Japan, rock and water are used to add interest to the garden. The stone water basins that usually stand outside the teahouses are an example of rock and water used on a small scale.

Participants in the tea ceremony first wash their hands and at the same time, symbolically wash away the stain of the noisy and confused outside world. In almost any garden and for whatever reason, the gentle sound and sight of water dripping over cool stones is refreshing.

The use of rock and water is becoming very popular for private patio landscaping. Here especially, we enjoy water splashing over rocks into shallow pools. We are fortunate to have a special mix of Eastern and Western culture in Hawaii that allows us to create tropical gardens with the flavor of Bali or Thailand combined with the colonial plantation influence of the last century.

Even in the smallest garden patio or condo lanai, we might experience a peaceful mind by creating a small meditation garden.

When one is truly in tune with nature, a state of mindful peace may be found in the art of bonsai.

According to well known and respected kamaaina, David Fukumoto, founder of Fuku-Bonsai, “Bonsai is now a generic international term. It pays tribute to the Japanese who advanced and spread the art. And yet, it does not adhere rigidly to traditional Japanese guidelines. Throughout the world, bonsai is increasingly a bridge to friendship.”

He reminded us that Penjing, the original artistic approach to miniature gardening, preceded bonsai by 1,000 years. It developed in a highly advanced individualistic aristocratic society and was casually practiced as just one of many artistic activities.

The horticultural techniques were highly advanced and each effort was interesting. Although the early Penjing had a strong philosophical influence, there are numerous modern forms of Chinese Penjing.

Here in Hawaii, rocky land abounds.

The tendency in the last 40 years was to bulldoze a building site flat and then landscape. Today, we are learning to appreciate rock forms, water elements and plants as sculpture.

The Eastern influence of bonsai, Penjing and other cultural contributions, such as the Balinese reverence for banyan trees, also contribute to our landscape awareness.

If you would like to try your hand at creating a small meditation garden, using rock, water and plants, you can focus on one small tree or a miniature landscape.

Before you start to work, here are some tips to help you avoid mistakes.

First, you might want to contact a landscape architect familiar with East-West designs. There also are landscape contractors and designers who have done some fine designs. Some local landscape designers have a tropical flare that combines color, texture and fragrance to create a riotous Hawaiian experience. Still, others focus on the use of native plants where appropriate.

Location and choice of materials are important. Your tropical Asian garden may be located in a sunny area, but some shade is usually much better. Sunny locations require plants that prefer intense sun and dryness, such as agave, yuccas and cacti. This type of plant material does not fit well with water or Eastern design in general. If you have no choice and must use a sunny spot, then either plant shrubs or trees for shade. Shady locations are ideal for that lush tropical growth of ferns, Elephant Ears and palms that look so right near water. Of course, if your garden is on the Hilo side or mauka West Hawaii, then too much sun is not usually a problem.

In selecting rock, avoid a silly little pile of rocks. Use large boulders, the larger the better. Our native stone is beautiful, but large stones can weigh several hundred pounds. It takes heavy equipment to move stone like this and you will probably be better off contacting a landscape contractor who has the kind of equipment you need. If you are fortunate enough to have natural rock or water elements, then use them.

Be sure to place the rocks so there will be little nooks and crannies for planting, as well as an interesting pattern for the flow of water. Pool construction is not difficult or expensive but does mean some work. Obviously, you need a waterproof basin in which to catch the water. This can be constructed with concrete and wire mesh for a permanent pool. To get the water moving, you will need a small circulating pump.

Once you have your pool, try some plants such as papyrus and lilies.

You can’t beat water lilies for adding a flare of brilliant color to garden ponds and fish pools. The flamboyant tropical water lilies are among the most beautiful of all flowers. Even if you don’t have a fishpond, you can still grow some types.

Waterlilies can even be grown in oil drums and washtubs that are sunk into the ground. Large containers like those made locally by Mark Kimball or imported from China and Indonesia make excellent water elements. It’s a good idea to place mosquito fish in the pool. This helps eliminate mosquito larvae. Also, a few koi and snails add interest.

Several books are available to give you ideas about how to design and build your unique garden. Sunset Books has excellent basic publications that are available at bookstores and some garden shops.

A beautiful book available at our local book stores is “Tropical Asian Style.” There are a few books about Balinese gardens that are also a good source of ideas.

Many private homes have been landscaped using rock, water and carefully selected and placed plant materials.

Some of the most beautiful are hidden away in gated communities. Others are found in neighborhoods throughout the island, so there are many examples from which to get ideas.

The important thing is to spend a little time to create a little heaven here on Earth and enjoy it.

The weekly Sunday Tropical Gardening column is provided by the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Cooperative Extension Service.

 

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