This summer the Reserve undertook the renovation of the stairs at the north end of the Guest House. The above picture shows the problems with the hardscaping and landscaping that were addressed in the renovation. A steep, uneven, set of stairs led from the Rock Garden to the basement of the Guest House. The stairs were there because when the Guest House was built, the Rock Garden wasn’t a rock garden – it was a swimming pool. The stairs were installed to provide access to changing rooms in the basement. The existing transition, from disciplined Japanese Garden to immaculately maintained Stroll Pond, was overgrown and wild. Visitors did not use the stairs because they could not see where they led – the sightlines were blocked. It was time to redo the stairs so that they properly connected the two, were safe and solid, with the views opened up.
About the time the Reserve was established, the swimming pool was filled in and became the Rock Garden. The growth of the Reserve as a public place means that there are now many visitors. To make a proper transition between the Japanese Garden and the Stroll Pond, the path had to be opened up, and the sightlines improved. In the above picture you can see red-flag survey markers, and Andy and Tatyana discussing the routing of a new set of stairs last summer.
This is one of Tatyana’s design studies. It contains many of the elements that were installed.For example, aggregate pavers come about halfway down the path, then the path surface transitions to rock shapes. The path comes down in a gentle curve and joins the gravel path leading to the Stroll Pond. This would make a smooth transition between the Japanese Garden and the Stroll Pond.
These photos show the top and bottom of the existing stairs at the start of renovation. The first picture shows the interface with the Japanese Garden. The second picture shows the preexisting stonework. The long piece of exposed aggregate in the first photo and the rocks in the second photo must be removed. Because the aggregate and the rocks can’t be handled manually, an excavator is required. An excavator would seriously damage the Japanese Garden, so the decision was made to work from the downhill direction.
Access to the work site for the heavy machinery was via a path crossing the turf from the staging area. Here, Joe and Sean are laying down the last of the plywood to protect the turf from the vehicle tracks. This is a good example of practices used at the Reserve to minimize the impact on surrounding areas when heavy machinery must be used.
With the path in place, Tom moves the excavator upslope and picks up a section of exposed aggregate. From there he goes down slope where it is loaded onto the Bandit for transport to the shop. Rod walks alongside to balance the load. Once at the shop Andy [Moss] and Spencer will cut the aggregate into pavers for use on the new path.
Simultaneously, the gardeners removed vegetation that was interfering with the sightlines. Joe, Sean and Andy are moving a stand of mahonia and Philip is removing a stand of ferns. Most of this vegetation was transplanted to other places in the Reserve.
With the site cleared, reconstruction can begin.
Tom is a key member of the team. Because he is operating in close proximity to personnel and delicate structures, he must be aware of his position at all times. He has to have a delicate touch with objects that weigh as much as a ton. He is often asked to “nudge” a riser or a rock to its final position. The Cat track loader is used to move the boulders to the
site where the excavator can pick them up and place them.
Note the chain securing the boulder for transport. Load control and balance are full-time concerns for Tom. Hardscaping is built up using two types of stone. The flat quarried pieces are used for risers and the boulders are used for guide rocks. Dan bought the quarried stone from Rock Mountain in Redmond, and boulders from Marenakos in Preston.
A hardscape design is implemented by placing the risers, the guide rocks and the connectors in such a way that they form a unified design.
Dan and Andy must take into account size, shape, orientation, color, and surroundings. They must keep a mental image of the design in mind before much of it is visible – this is no small task.
Picking and placing the hardscape objects is art, not science. How well it’s done determines whether the finished product is a coherent design or a jumble.
The hardscaping is now almost complete, with all risers and guide rocks in place.
Here’s what remains:
What looked reasonably finished several days ago has now been dug up again – this time for irrigation. In addition to irrigation, Darren has also put in a pass-through pipe. Dan Blossom recommended this provision because it allows changes to be made to the underground routing of pipes and wires without disturbing the hardscaping.
The stonework required to finish the path is connectors that link the riser sections. The photo above is from the top of the stairs. In this section the path is surfaced with pavers and cobbles.
The view below is from the bottom of the stairs. This connector is ocean pearl flagstone plus cobbles.
Dan handpicked the cobbles for size, shape and color, and he placed the cobbles in the connectors.
The final touches to the project are the plantings around the new hardscaping and restoration of the gravel path. Because the project objective was to create a smooth transition between two strong gardens, the plant palette has been kept very simple. The plants chosen grow low with muted colors – in other words, nothing attention getting.
- The view from the Stroll Pond path now invites visitors to the Japanese Garden
- Dan and Andy’s collaboration has produced a masterpiece for the Reserve
Andy Navage, Director of Horticulture
Tatyana Vashchenkov, 2013 Intern
o Rod Levengood, Tom Levengood
Dan Blossom Garden Design
o Dan Blossom
Sadafumi Uchiyama, Garden Curator, Portland Japanese Garden
The Bloedel Reserve thanks the Tateuchi Foundation. This project would not have been possible without their generous financial support.