A new Japanese garden in Ashland – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

Ashland Parks and Recreation Director Michael Black speaks Thursday about the combination of trees in the redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Jeff Mangin and Michael Black walk through the entrance to Lithia Park’s redesigned Japanese garden. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Jeff Mangin and Michael Black explore the redesigned Japanese garden at Lithia Park. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Jeff Mangin strolls through the new Japanese garden. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Jeff Mangin talks about the rapid growth of the trees he planted in the new garden. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Jeff Mangin and Michael Black at the New Japanese Garden. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

In time for the trees to take on their fall colors, Ashland Parks and Recreation will unveil a grand new iteration of Lithia Park’s century-old Japanese garden.

The official opening will take place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, October 22.

The new garden rises from a hill in the heart of Lithia Park, where a Japanese garden of some form has stood since 1916, explained Michael Black, director of parks and recreation at Ashland and project manager for the park. .

A white wall topped with glossy black shingles stands between the garden and Winburn Way. Beyond the new wooden front door, complete with traditional Japanese joinery fashioned by a local craftsman, everything about the garden has a purpose, Black explained.

Throughout the park, trees and rocks are arranged as complementary equals and opposites, male and female, dominant and sub-dominant. Black spoke of his experience working alongside the park’s designer, classically trained Japanese landscape artist Toru Tanaka.

The choice, position and number of each tree and rock carry symbolic meaning tied to Japanese philosophy and spirituality, he said – even the thin black cord that holds together a dried bamboo barrier next to this first path.

The Parks Service has already organized private tours as the park nears completion, and the city hopes to train guides for those who wish to delve into the myriad details and symbolic meanings contained in the tree trimmings and rock counts. . Maps will be available, but inside the park there will be no signs, not even thanking the donors who made the park possible.

Previous iterations of the park would have focused on fixing issues that plagued the previous park: faulty pumps, a flooded creek bed, and trees preparing to leave this world. Thanks to $1.65 million in donations, Parks and Recreation was able to hire Tanaka to create something grander and more authentic than before, he said.

It was partly the decision of two of the park’s most important donors, Jeff Mangin and his wife, Rebecca, that the park be exempt from the usual donor acknowledgments.

The inspiration for the park began seven years ago, Mangin said, after the death of his first wife, Béatrice Marechal. The couple spent many hours wandering around Lithia Park and the Japanese Garden in their lifetime.

Mangin said he and Maréchal’s family decided to do something like this in his memory. Now, he says, the park is bigger than that – it’s a gift for the whole community.

“Here you really step into a pure experience,” he said.

The gates to the park – one facing Winburn Way and the other allowing a hillside entrance, are designed to create a sense of departure from the outside world.

To achieve this, Black explained, the designer curved the paths inside to avoid looking too far in one direction.

“The designer wants you to experience the here and now, rather than looking ahead to see what’s coming,” Black said. “Outside the garden, we might be like, ‘OK, what’s my next step; where’s my next date’… It’s a bit typical today. But when you are inside the garden, he wants you to be able to find out where you are now.

Alcoves off the main path are provided in several places with natural rock benches, designed to invite quiet contemplation. Black pointed to rocks and explained that they were from a nearby river and mountains, and Tanaka put them all down with his own hands. Except for the rocks already in the area, which could not be moved, these indicated that they belonged there, he said.

The creek running through the park empties into a pond, which they hope will hold koi carp next spring, Mangin said. For now, the pond is slowly filling up for the grand opening next Saturday.

At the source of the creek is a new waterfall, with neatly arranged boulders of varying sizes, one jutting proudly, the other tucked in and smaller but facing each other.

“There are two paths the water goes through,” Black said, pointing to the two rocks. “One of them is the dominant one, and the other is a bit smaller, and they come together and come apart and come together and come apart a lot of times.”

Black said he’s not sure if the designer intended this separation and meeting of the waters, but to him it symbolizes two being one, two opposites making a beautiful symmetry.

“We intend to have a kind of narrative for people to say when they give tours, but we also want to let them say, ‘Hey, that’s just what it means to me; you can see it differently; it can be interpreted in different ways,” he said.

At the height of the garden, near the waterfall, a tea garden is planned, but for now the space is only smooth and dark earth surrounded by a wooden fence. There weren’t enough funds to pay for an authentic Japanese tea garden, Mangin said.

For now, Mangin said, a bench will be set up in the area, another meditation island will occupy the space while work is done to raise funds and plan the tea garden, all with the help of the interested Ashland residents and members of the local Japanese community.

While the garden will be beautiful when it opens, Mangin said, it won’t be finished.

Ashland Parks and donors like Mangin thought it was important to open in time for fall colors. To do this, they will have to agree to open the doors before the work inside is finished. But, Black said, in some ways it fits the purpose and meaning of the garden.

“Let’s get from point A to point B as fast as we can – that’s a Western thing. That’s not what it’s about,” Black said of the garden.

“You could even say it will never happen; it’s just going to keep evolving and evolving. As these plants grow and more die, and these trees get bigger and bigger, it will continue to evolve. Even with the seasons — in the spring we will have the cherry blossoms; in the fall, we will have the colors.

The inauguration of the garden will include food trucks, self-guided tours of the garden and demonstrations of Japanese art forms such as bonsai and ikebana.

Ashland Taiko (traditional Japanese drumming) will perform at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. near the Butler Bandshell in Lithia Park. Elbow Room Taiko will perform at 4:30 p.m. to wrap up the event.

For more information, see the Ashland Japanese Garden website at ashlandjapanesegarden.org/events/.

Contact Morgan Rothborne, Mail Tribune reporter, at [email protected] or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The redesigned Japanese Garden at Lithia Park in Ashland. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

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