Using a timer, Andrew May shot this photo of himself in the San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden. It was created out of an abandoned limestone rock quarry in the early 20th century, much like Butchart Gardens in Victoria. (Andrew May/for Peninsula Daily News)

A GROWING CONCERN: A theme can pull a yard together

SO IT LOOKS like I have to travel more often.

Whereas I just completed my second trip to San Antonio, leaving June 23 to see my son, Airman R. Spencer May, and right on cue, the lovely warm weather arrived yet again to the Peninsula.

The weather in Texas had a low of 94 degrees and a high of 109 during the day, reminding me once again of my adage: the Olympic Peninsula is never hot nor cold.

Before boarding the return flight home, I took the opportunity Wednesday to visit the exquisite San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden, which is more special because it is a public park, open to all visitors and free of charge.

Although it was 101 degrees on the day of my visit, it did not diminish the experience but rather enhanced it as one had to shuffle ever so slowly to avoid heat stroke, taking the time instead to fully enjoy and comprehend the garden, its design and structure.

Japanese gardens are all about “serenity now” and this garden offered numerous viewpoints of tranquility.

But like any great feature garden, it is a consistent theme that plays on the mind and creates a tranquil mood.

And that is the subject of today’s column — creating a theme.

So many times when I am called to perform a consultation, the major concern I have is the question, how do we pull the yard together?

I always answer that question with one of my own: What is your theme?

A constant purpose or design will bring the entire yard together and give it a professional, well-designed and thought-out look.

A theme can be any of a multitude of venues from a Japanese garden to an English garden, to a rock scree, creating a cutting garden or a fanciful metal artwork yard.

A theme can be personal as well. Some say “I want a low-maintenance garden,” which to me is an oxymoron.

Perhaps your theme is a native plant garden, an edible garden, a blue garden or a Mediterranean garden.

A theme garden can incorporate types of plants, colors, scents or a collection for bees and birds.

Heavy large boulders placed throughout the entire yard also can pull a theme together, as does a pathway of the same gravel or concrete pour that meanders through the entire yard.

Many times I will place a few select specimen trees around the house, visible from any window or sitting area, which in turn creates another unifying theme.

Perfect examples of this would be a whole host of Japanese maples with blue spreading spruce trees and yellow junipers scattered all around the grounds.

Using strong colors and textures acts to unify the whole landscape.

A centralized theme also makes designing your yard far easier because it gives you both a direction and a plant and material list.

A nature garden would include wood elements, rocks, moss and a host of indigenous species.

An English Cottage garden would rely heavily on perennials, roses, vines and flowers all mixed up around the entire yard, while a xenoscape would use sedium, Mediterranean herbs and drought-resistant plants and bushes.

Themed gardens also tend to make the work easier as well because, as a whole, similar plants and flowers are used so therefore both the work and maintenance are similar.

Themed gardens tend to get the same fertilizer, pruning care and seasonal tasks.

They also tend toward the same type of soils and preparational work.

This in turn, makes your purchases of garden products group together, too.

So a themed garden is by far an easier garden to buy for, work with and care for.

And finally a theme for your yard tends to make you a savvy gardener, because you can concentrate on a particular area and become quite proficient at it.

Your research, reading list, plant knowledge, garden task and tools all will be geared to a very narrow band of things, and you will get very skilled as a result.

It is the rare garden I create that does not have a central theme.

A theme is what gives my gardens an intense look and sense of purpose.

So please dream a little then act on that dream, using one coherent design, plant and product list, to boot.

Your friends and neighbors will be so envious, and you will look like a professional horticulturalist, not withstanding a little sweat.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

The view looking back across the pond with the arched line Stonebridge on the right in the San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden. As one who likes rocks because they never die, need watering fertilizer or have to be pruned, I am so envious of that structure. (Andrew May/for Peninsula Daily News)

A view from the grand gazebo looking down on the San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden and what once was a limestone quarry. Like Butchart Gardens, the architect used the walls in the remnants of the quarry as a strong hardscape for the garden. (Andrew May/for Peninsula Daily News)

The entrance gate at the San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden. It was renamed during World War II as the Chinese Tea Gardens and then reconstituted as a public park in the late turn of last century. (Andrew May/for Peninsula Daily News)

Admiring the stonework from the quarry in the grand gazebo and its beautiful roof lines. (Andrew May/for Peninsula Daily News)

Looking up the stone pathway to the waterfalls cascading over the old quarry edge. (Andrew May/for Peninsula Daily News)

No Japanese garden is complete without koi. (Andrew May/for Peninsula Daily News)

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