It is Garden Tour season! So many gardens to see, to enjoy and to learn from. It could be said that every garden is designed around the flaws – I mean challenges – of the site. E. Bruce Brooks and his wife Taeko stood with me in front of his Northampton house and garden and we looked up at the tall brick building. “Our design aims to minimize the too tall house that sits on a too small lot,” Bruce said. “One purpose of our garden is to provide height to match the house, and also an integrated design to make it look more at home. The swirl of the alternating beds of myrtle and grass is meant to direct the eye away from the house, and lure it in another direction.”
Those curves include a handsomely paved path that leads first to the front door but also swoops to the side of the house where the most used door is located.
It has been noted by others that there is a calligraphic sweep to the design, a nod to the work of these two classical Chinese scholars.
Another challenge of the site is that it is on a hill. The land is an uninterrupted slope from the sidewalk to the boundary of an evergreen hedge. Bruce has created a series of ‘concealed terraces’ to diminish the rapid flow of rainwater down the slope. A shrub and flower bed parallel to the sidewalk looks like a raised bed but it is actually a sunken bed in the front and a raised bed on the opposite side. This bed neatly contains ajuga, three gas plants, Dictamus albus, and a Sky Pencil Japanese holly, one of several in the garden, pulling the eye upward. I had never seen a gas plant although I had heard that the flowers or seeds emitted a flammable oil that could be ignited by a match when the summer air was very still. I asked if he had ever experimented with such fire, but he shook his head and said he had never been that adventurous.
This garden has undergone substantial changes over the decades they have lived there. A yew hedge outgrew itself, and heavy machinery was called in to remove it. That heavy machinery pretty much did away with what garden was there and they began anew. In addition to that change, surrounding trees have made the site shadier and shadier. Taeko reminisced, “We tried to grow herbs for a while, including lavender and Biblical plants like hyssop, but the increasing shade got the better of them. We used to grow what we like; now we try to like what will grow.” One fairly sunny bed now includes Andromeda, white azalea and a ground cover of intermixed black mondo grass, dwarf iris, and sweet woodruff planted around another tall Sky Pencil.
Brooks refers to the garden as Taeko’s garden, but it is clear that it is very much a shared project. Brooks is the design man, and Taeko, a second generation Hawaiian, she happily informed me, is the gardener on the ground. There is a shrub size Japanese red maple next to the stairs going into the back garden. Brooks raised it from seed, but Taeko said it was getting too big. Brooks disagreed and Taeko took to pruning it every spring to keep it a proper size. Brooks shook his head. “We are always arguing,” he said. Taeko laughed and said, ”Oh, yes, we are always arguing.”
The narrow rear garden is very shady. Once again myrtle is massed along a narrow bed on one side of a wide gravel path, with massed painted fern against the house on the other side. In the middle of this pebble garden, a reminder of the famous gardens in the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, is an austere arrangement of stone and two shrubs. They spent two years of their early life together in Kyoto, and carried some of those stones home with them when they left, a tender souvenir of those years together.
The serenity of this garden created by the massing of myrtle, painted ferns and blu e fescue ornamental grass is a lesson to us all about the power of massing.
Bruce and Taeko have shared their professional lives as well as their garden planning. Their department, The Warring States Project of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts is a research center for classical China, and recently also for Early Christianity and the Hebrew Bible. The Project itself has branches: offsite laboratories in the Midwest and in Canada where stylistic analysis of ancient texts in four languages is carried out by teams of computer specialists.
Their home offices allow them to see each other while they slave over Chinese texts and computers, but they said they never confer while they are working. They meet only when they are finished with a section or topic. They do not always agree (always arguing again) but were very clear that their work proceeds because they have absolute trust in each other’s thinking and work. They have written several books together, including The Original Analects and The Emergence of China. New books will be arriving soon.
I have just given a taste of the peaceful Brooks garden which is one of the six gardens on the 24th annual Northampton Garden Tour, providing visitors with the differing styles and approaches to making a beautiful and unique garden. The tour is scheduled for Saturday, June 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. rain or shine. Proceeds from this tour go to the Friends of the Forbes Library to buy books, materials and programs at the Library. Tickets are $15 at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennial Farm, Cooper’s Corner, Hadley Garden Center, North Country Landscapes and Garden Center, and State Street Fruit Store. On June 10th, the day of the tour, tickets are $20 and available only at the library. There will also be a raffle.
Between the Rows June 3, 2017