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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Japanese Garden

It seems peculiar that after spending so much time and money on trying to acquire the skills to build a Japanese garden, I chose to spend the rest of my life in a place that will require none of those skills. While living in California, I desperately wanted to create a Japanese environment in my backyard. I wanted to build a large koi pond stocked with imported Nishikigoi from Hiroshima, to grow many varieties of Japanese maples, to create a karasansui (dry rock garden), to build a bridge, and to create an impressive entrance into this garden. The garden was to be called, “So Shin En (双心苑)”, translated to mean, “Garden of Two Hearts”. After 2 years of research and intensive work, the garden became a reality.

Much of the work was invisible. Trenches were dug to carry the drains, water pipes, air lines, and electrical wires. All of the excavation was done by hand. The lower pond was dug to 5 feet deep by 10 feet wide by 20 feet long.  The upper pond was 3 feet deep by 4 feet wide by 5 feet long. The hole was so large that a police helicopter kept circling overhead as we dug the hole. I think they thought we were burying a body or something. The neighbors thought we were installing a swimming pool. All of this soil was made into berms for planting beds and to transform a flat backyard into an attractive oasis. Planning was crucial, especially figuring out the correct filter, pumps, tubing diameters, drain layouts, wire gauges, and circuit breakers. Over 2 tons of boulders were hand selected and individually placed. Erika did a lot of the digging and lifting. She was much younger then. Of course, she complained a lot and I heard the word, “Divorce” just about everyday. Each joint between the boulders was filled with expanding foam and salted with sand to give the natural appearance of inter-connecting stones. The pond liner was carefully formed to remove all of the wrinkles. This provided a smooth surface for the water to circulate and to prevent any koi poop from collecting. Air diffusers were installed over the drains and educators on the walls to provide circulation similar to a Jacuzzi. This provided plenty of exercise for the koi and allowed any unwanted debris to be effectively transported to the filtering system.

The entire system was automated. Even the water quality and water levels were electronically monitored. The pond held 6000 gallons and 14 Nishikigoi. We did have 15, but a Great Blue Heron decided she wanted to have sashimi for dinner. I could not believe how large a heron actually is. The bird stood 4 feet tall and was not intimidated by my presence at all. I built the pond with vertical sides to prevent predators from stealing my fish. I later learned that a heron regurgitates its food to attract the fish…almost like using fishing bait. Once the fish gets close enough, the heron catches it. My only choice for protecting the koi was to install netting and use an electronic scarecrow. The solution worked although getting splashed by the scarecrow was a nuisance.

Turning on the pumps for the first time was an unforgettable experience. I wasn’t a 100% sure that everything was going to work. Did I have the right size pumps? Did I use too much tubing? Is the waterfall going to have enough water pressure to form a pleasant looking fall? Did I choose the right size filters? I had a gazillion questions in my head and the main answer was…it worked!! I had a small leak at the filtering tank which was easily fixed. I let the system run for a couple of weeks before I let the koi enjoy the pond. Within a month or so, I had become very close to the koi. They would approach me at feeding time and eat from my hand. I could pet their underside just like a dog. I had learned everything I could about raising koi. The water quality was exceptional. I know if I were a koi I would have loved swimming in that pond! The koi pond was the most satisfying and enjoyable projects I had ever had. We planted hundreds of azaleas, many maples, Sequoias, and fruit trees.  The garden turned out to be everything I expected and more. The soothing sounds of the waterfall permeated the entire property.

It was a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It was an escape. I just wished I could have enjoyed it. Not long after the garden was completed, I was transferred to Seattle. I was devastated at the thought of leaving all that we had worked for. None of that compared to the heartbreaking experience of leaving my Nishikigoi. After 6 years, I still have not recovered. I miss those koi very much and I’m reminded of them whenever I see a Nishikigoi.
Erika’s new set of 100,000 rules mention that our home in Tsukahara cannot have anything grown on the property that is not edible. I guess I can live with that. The property is beautiful enough without cluttering the landscape with a Japanese garden.


  1. こんばんわ^^


  2. やっとでアメリカに帰国しました。