Hakone Gardens (Saratoga, CA)

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Located in Saratoga, California Hakone Gardens may very well be the oldest residential Japanese garden in the entire Western Hemisphere. Created by two patrons of the arts from San Francisco the garden was designed and the buildings were built by local Californian Japanese-American landscape architects and architects in 1915. The first building built was the Moon Viewing House that is seen in the photos below but additional buildings were added later by Isabel Stine and later owners.
The Moon Viewing House was built using a style of architecture preferred by samurai and in my opinion the garden is also designed with a kind of energy that is incredibly active making the garden feel lyrical. Compared to meditation gardens, and other kinds of serene Japanese gardens, which are also included, it really made the whole setting symphonic and we lingered there for a lot longer than we’d planned.
The garden was purchased by the city of Saratoga in 1966 because Hakone had fallen into such disrepair. Since that time, luckily, it has been restored.
Now for the best part, if you have seen the movie, Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), you have already seen the garden a little bit since it was used as a filming location. I unfortunately do not remember the movie well enough to tell you any more than that though.
It is a beautiful garden, and unlike other gardens I have visited. The fact that if overlooks Silicone Valley is rather charming too.
(PS: Hakone Gardens is also possibly connected to the famous fortune cookie debate. If you were unaware that they were originally made by Japanese Americans, you should read more about it. It is a pretty funny food history and I love tales that get people so wound up.)
The common houseplant Variegated Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum Variegatum).
Moon Viewing House.
Amazing Weeping Japanese Maple.
Amazing Weeping Japanese Maple.
Amazing Weeping Japanese Maple.
Native Californian Arctostaphylos. The red back and the yellow green of the bamboo contrast nicely.
Tea House.
Moon Viewing House.
Master Stone.
Garden protector.
This is great joinery.
Entrance to Moon Viewing House.
I cannot recall right now what this was officially called, but it was the most amazing part of our visit.
From inside, each of the opening worked perfectly to frame the garden as if you were looking at art on the wall.
This design technique is something we in the West have tried to master too but the Japanese garden is not complete until you have completed this effect.
The light was bright, but everything lined up perfectly to please the eye.

Tomorrow I will post scenes from Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco. As for today, I’m off to see my old friend the Pacific Ocean. I plan to send my happy thoughts to Japan while I collect agate stones along the beach for our garden. It will be a nice way to spend the last two days of my vacation before returning home.

Garden & Plant Memories from California

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Next week I will be leaving for California. In anticipation of this exciting trip to plant places like Annie’s Annuals and the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, I have made a recap of some of my previous trips. A lot is missing—and it isn’t fair and balanced blogging—but it has some bits and pieces of the California I have come to know.
It all begins with me in a hammock. Sure, I’d been to California many times by the time this photo was taken, but looking through my old photo albums, it wasn’t until this trip that plant and garden photos begin appearing everywhere. (I had been surrounded by gardens all my life but I had completely taken them for granted.)
During this trip, I’d gone to Los Angeles for PhD program interviews at UCLA and UC Irvine, but upon my return home, everything had started to change, and my life’s direction changed too as so often occurs.
Somewhere near Altadena—I think. It was the home of my good friend David’s boss and the guy was a landscaper. Can you tell?

The Getty Center experience during that trip really opened my eyes and was transformative in terms of my development. Looking at plants as art was something that excited me after years of dark rooms and images of old paintings from the art history department’s slide library. It is difficult for me to explain even now, after all these years, what happened that day at the Getty, but in a way, the easiest thing to say is that I  think I woke up to something.

Garden designed by Robert Irwin at the Getty Center, Los Angeles.
Garden designed by Robert Irwin at the Getty Center, Los Angeles.
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I went home after that trip and began dating my husband. Later that year, we travelled back to California to meet his family. I’d never really thought a lot about where the famous horticulturist Luther Burbank had lived and I was so excited when we visited his home and garden. My father-in-law has always supported my interest in pruning and grafting, and I like to talk about these old times like Burbank because he inspired many of the older folks who mentored me as a junior gardener. (More on him when I revisit the lilac lady’s house in a few weeks when I am back home.)

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A few years later our nieces went to California to see what was so exciting. We had a really fun trip and I cherish those memories now even if they teased me about all of the gardens. Maybe that was because our first garden stop was a bit odd and it challenged them to reconsider their own preconceived definition of the word GARDEN. Cornerstone, located near the town of Sonoma, is essentially a garden full of art galleries that just happen to be gardens. There is a café and shopping too, but my nieces had already come to expect those two things from public gardens. (How quickly they learn these things!)

The famous blue tree will be taken down this weekend on the first day of spring. I am so sad we will be missing the opportunity to take one of these little ornaments home with us, but oh well! (This is the cover of their first catalog.)
The experience of standing in this landscape was very awkward. We all felt like we should feel comfortable but the falseness and unnaturalness of these objects really heightened our awareness to the point we actually considered and recognized the importance of our perspective in the environment and how much this necessitated our interaction with it.   What is it without us?
Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’.
Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ and a teen who is not quite sure if she likes it much while her pre-teen sister looks on. They had so many puzzled faces while we were there that day.
I was still working at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon House so of course we had to stop at the Marin County Civic Center. When I asked my husband if he’d ever been there, he told me that he had been inside once as a teen because he had to go to traffic court for a ticket. He described the courtroom as being like something our of Star Trek. My husband is funny.
The girls sitting on the patio on the top floor of the Marin County Civic Center. It was really hot and we were all getting so tired. I feel bad I didn’t take more pictures.
I love how nicely the inexpensive pavers blend in with the grass. This is a great way to get that modern look and it can still be family friendly without it being overtly so.

We also snuck over to Alcatraz during that vacation and I was so excited to show the gardens to all of them. I wish I could volunteer and help with their preservation, but for now, the gardens of Alcatraz are in safe hands.

We also took the bus to Golden Gate Park and we visited many different sites.
The moon bridge in the Japanese Garden at Golden Gate Park.
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The next trip was with our youngest niece and the girls’ neighbor friend who is like a sister to them both. Only we three ladies travelled home together along Highway 101 after dropping Uncle P off at the vineyard.
These are images of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens near Fort Bragg. These should be native plants, but I cannot identify them.
The little yellow flowers here should be a short form of a poppy but I am not sure which one this is.
Back at home, I unpacked these nice cones for front porch decor. We’d picked them up in Kelseyville, not far from the vineyard. These are from the Gray Pine (Pinus sabiniana) a tree endemic to California. Though not the largest pinecone, their cones can grow up to 14 inches long and they contain edible pine nuts. The largest pinecones come from the Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) and both of these trees coexist a bit together near the Sierras.
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During my last trip, we drove through Lake County on our way from the airport and I took in more of the plant life from the passenger’s seat in the car. There are plenty of Gray Pines everywhere in the hills intermixed with gorgeous mature Manzanita shrubs (Arctostaphylos). I have no idea what kind these are on this hillside—since there are around 90 or so different types in California alone—but they are a sight to see. They almost appear to resemble a tree’s root system floating in the air. (Be sure to click on the link to read about the rare Manzanitas in the San Francisco area. Amazing stuff!)
The first time I saw Lake County I was reminded of the photography of Ansel Adams. Much of the Sierra foothills looks similar too due to elevation.
Back at the vineyard, this is the olive orchard. The trees are much bigger now and they are producing well.
My father-in-law’s olive orchard in Kelseyville, California.

After San Diego and Yosemite we visited Sacramento on our way back to Oregon for the winter. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are living near there now and it is always nice to see them. We arrived a bit early and we parked by this incredibly mature palm tree in the historic downtown area. Imagine my surprise when I saw these dandelions growing ON the trunk of the tree! California is a crazy fun plant place.

At my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s home they had a Buddha’s hand lemon tree growing in this wine barrel. At the time, they were still working on the new landscaping and pool and it had not yet been planted. I cannot wait to see next week how the tree looks now!

I’ve never understood why lemons get such a bad rap. Making lemonade out of lemons? Bitter and sour are important and yummy if you know what to do with them both.
Have a great weekend and go play in the garden if you can!!!