Gardens for Good tour delivers layers of cultivated beauty – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

Photo by Rhonda Nowak Lionel and Garin have dozens of koi in one of three ponds in their backyard. One of the fish is about 45 years old.

“For thousands of years, the carving of Japanese garden trees, or niwaki, has evolved into a fine art with a distinctive set of pruning techniques intended to bring out the essential characteristics of the trees.”

– Jake Hobson, “Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way”, 2007

This week, I had the pleasure of meeting Lionel Cunningham and Garin Bakle while touring their Japanese/Asian-inspired garden at their home in the Rogue Valley Country Club neighborhood. Their garden is one of eight that will be featured as part of this year’s Gardens for Good tour organized on May 14 by Soroptimists International’s North Valley Chapter.

Lionel and Garin’s garden is called Toriniwa, the “bird garden”, and covers about an acre of land around their mid-century home, which features a blue tile roof imported from Japan and floor-to-ceiling windows offering a Spectacular garden views from every room and Roxy Ann Peak and Mount Ashland as a backdrop.

“I’ve always loved Japanese gardens,” Garin said. “Every house I’ve lived in, I’ve had some sort of Japanese garden.” He shares this passion with Lionel, and since they bought their house in 2000, they have gradually transformed the garden into a meditative oasis that captivates all the senses.

As visitors enter the garden through the Japanese cedar entrance gate, they enter nine garden spaces that embody the traditional elements of a Japanese garden: water, stone, plants, bridges and lanterns. Additionally, care has been taken to incorporate five essential Japanese design principles: asymmetry, enclosure, borrowed decor, balance and symbolism.

The peaceful sounds of waterfalls and wind chimes accompany a stroll over the stone walkway and into the pond garden, which features a lily pond on the upper level, a goldfish pond in the middle, and a lower koi pond with a dragon fountain that spits water at brightly colored carp.

Lionel and Garin said koi fish can live up to 60 years. In Japanese culture, koi symbolize courage, strength, patience and success through perseverance. The pond was built with rocks at the bottom so the fish could hide from herons and raccoons. During the winter, koi go into a state of hibernation called torpor, which allows them to acclimatize to the cold.

“Koi fish are the perfect pets if you’re going away for the winter because you stop feeding them when the temperature drops below 55 degrees,” Garin and Lionel said. They spend the winter in Mexico and start feeding the fish again when they return in the spring.

Around the ponds are other garden spaces: a raked sand garden, a moss garden, a meditation garden, a Zen garden, a rock garden, a chrysanthemum garden, a maple-rhododendron-garden. ferns and a terrace of serenity. Placed in the gardens are beautiful Japanese lanterns, a 900-pound marble Buddha and a double gong stand.

Garin particularly enjoys growing bonsai trees, and there are over 50 on display in the bonsai house at the rear of the property. Garin showed me one of his favorite bonsai trees, a miniature evergreen with a moss floor. “When you look at it, it’s like looking at a path in a forest,” he said.

Bonsai is not just an art form; the long-term process of growing and shaping a bonsai tree is a way to practice patience and reflection.

But it’s not just bonsai trees that are carefully trained. The garden is filled with different species of Japanese maples, rhododendrons, wisteria, hydrangeas, peonies and many more which are carefully trimmed by landscape architect Jerry Few, who has worked with Lionel and Garin for four years. Jerry specializes in a Japanese pruning style called “niwaki”, which translates to “garden trees” in English. Pruning or carving trees is another essential aspect of traditional Japanese gardening. Again, it’s not just the end result that’s important, it’s also the contemplative process of becoming familiar with the plant and its natural way of growing.

“It’s really important to know the plants you’re working with and what you’re trying to create from them — to know what that plant wants to look like naturally, and then blend it into the landscape,” Jerry said.

Jerry prunes the branches and foliage in layers so that sunlight filters through the leaves. Through strategic sculpting, he creates the effect of floating branches and flowers that seem to dance in the wind.

These days, Lionel and Garin leave most of the pruning to Jerry and their arborist, Jimmy Lindenberger, and are happy to do the light gardening chores “that never seem to end.” In 2019, they retired from owning and operating Cripple Creek Music Company in Ashland, and since then have enjoyed working on home and garden renovation projects and spending time in Puerto Vallarta.

The Soroptimist Gardens Tour includes seven other gardens in Medford, Talent and Ashland. After a two-year hiatus, the tour will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 14.

The tour is Soroptimist’s main fundraiser that helps local women and girls achieve their educational and professional goals. Tour tickets are $20 each and can be purchased through May 13 at any Rogue Valley Grange Co-op or Blue Door Garden Store in Jacksonville. Tickets are available May 14 at the Roxy Ann Winery from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, see

Correction: In last week’s column on Joan Thorndike and Le Mera Gardens, the story should have said that Joan moved here in 1984 and her husband, Dan, was born in Rogue Valley.

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher, and writer. She is the founder of Bard’s Garden at Hanley Farm in Central Point. For more information, go to and email Rhonda at [email protected]

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