If you’re interested in sprucing up your garden or planting a new one, you might find inspiration this weekend during the Soroptimist International of Schenectady 10th Annual Garden Tour.
Eight Schenectady County residents will open their gardens to visitors, rain or shine. They will showcase a wide variety of plants, trees, flowers and other garden features, including waterfalls, pools, stone pathways, butterfly gardens and gazebos. Visitors will be able to see how these gardeners transformed often difficult landscapes, with impediments like shale and poor drainage, to create beautiful, tranquil spaces.
Stan Hobbs, who opens his Glenville garden for the tour this year, began working on his backyard space about five years ago. A freestanding gate reminiscent of Japanese architecture at the entrance to the garden lets visitors know its Asian-inspired theme. A sign on the gate, written with three Japanese characters that translate to “flower, mist, dwelling place,” invites visitors to meander through to the garden path beyond.
Soroptimist International of Schenectady 10th Annual Garden Tour
WHAT: A driving tour to eight gardens in Niskayuna, Mont Pleasant, Rotterdam and Glenville
WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.Saturday
HOW MUCH: $15 in advance, $18 on Saturday
MORE INFO: Call Frieda Tanski at 885-9710 or 339-3119 or visit www.soroptimistofschenectady.org
What Hobbs didn’t realize before he started creating the backyard oasis was that the yard was on a shale ledge. He had to clear away the shale before he could begin creating the vignettes that together would become a simple yet elegant space with a Japanese flavor.
Inspired by tour
His interest in Japanese gardens began after he toured the Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor, Maine. While it was not labeled a Japanese garden, he was taken by the moss, stones and natural plantings — all elements of the Japanese style — that he found there.
Rather than start with an overall plan, Hobbs began by creating what he calls “vignettes” around the space. Woven together with garden paths, these vignettes take visitors on a historical and cultural tour of Japan.
One area features an Asian lantern he found while traveling in Portland, Ore., as well as a tsukubai. The tsukubai is a fountain with a basin that the Japanese have used for centuries to cleanse their hands before entering a shrine or temple or before a tea ceremony.
Hobbs stands at the entrance to his garden. The Japanese characters on the sign represent “flower, mist, dwelling place.”
Natural plants like ferns and moss and ground cover like vinca and bugleweed fill in the area between garden ornaments, as do stones and gravel, a typically Japanese feature Hobbs has incorporated. He transplanted some of the moss from the woods and also planted some he collected on vacation.
Another focal point is a rope tied around a large tree at the rear of the garden, called a shimenawa. Hobbs explains that before gardens became big in Japan, priests found areas in the forest that they deemed sacred, and they marked them by tying a rope around the tree.
Hobbs built a small bridge over a stream he created with gravel to simulate water, a feature that is characteristically Japanese. Adjacent is a statue of a Buddha surrounded by European ginger plants.
Pond and porch
On the other side, he built a koi pond with a waterfall out of a mound of dirt with stones piled on top and bordered by estilbe.
A freestanding screened-in porch with two chairs, a coffee table and a Japanese lantern sits on the other side of the koi pond.
“It’s nice and cool and bug-free,” Hobbs said.
An oribe is the centerpiece of another vignette. The oribe is one of the oldest-known Japanese granite lanterns, whose origin hails from the warlord Furuta Oribe during the Momyana period in the early 17th century. Its distinguishing characteristic is that it has no base. Hobbs had to dig a hole 2 feet down to install it.
On the opposite side of the garden next to the garage is a pergola with benches on either side. Hobbs fashioned a gong out of an old welding tank with the bottom cut off and outfitted with a wooden chime inside. A climbing hydrangea makes its way up a trellis on one side of the pergola.
Hobbs said that he had to work with what he had, which meant not a great deal of light because of the tall trees in the yard. Interspersed throughout the different areas of the garden are shade-tolerant plants, including hostas, azaleas, rhododendrons, Japanese forest grass, Japanese maple trees, bleeding hearts, variegated dogwood, black lace elderberry trees, a mugo pine and merrybells, among others.
“The hardest part is to restrain yourself,” Hobbs said. “You can clutter it up with all kinds of stuff. I try to keep it kind of subdued.”
One tip he offers gardeners is for splitting plants. He uses a shovel or a spade and splits the plant, and then leaves it in the ground for a couple of weeks before pulling it out. “I leave it in the ground so it gets used to being two plants without the transplanting shock,” he said. “It seems to work pretty well.”
Tickets for the tour are on sale at these vendors: The Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady, The Petal Pusher in Burnt Hills, Scott’s Hallmark in Glenville, Experience & Creative Design in Schenectady, Felthousen’s Florist in Niskayuna, Kulak’s Nursery & Landscaping in Rexford, Faddegon’s Nursery in Latham and Oliver’s Café in Scotia.
Raffle tickets for prizes, including gift certificates and a wheelbarrow filled with gardening items, will be sold at each garden on the tour. Kerry Mendez, author of two gardening books, will have autographed copies of her books for sale at one of the gardens, and she will donate $5 from each sale to Soroptimist of Schenectady. Proceeds from the garden tour help to fund the organization’s scholarships, awards and projects.
Faddegon’s Nursery will host a reception from 3-5 p.m. on the day of the tour.