THOUGH PHYSICAL GARDENING HAS BARELY BEGUN on the Long Island half-acre I bought last March, I’m incubating ideas. At one point, I fixated on the idea of a Japanese garden, but I’ve loosened up. It could be limiting: what if I want to plant lavender and white birch trees? Still, I’ll keep the Japanese plant palette top of mind, since it seems to lend itself well to a low modern home and wooded lot like mine — and I love irises and conifers and Japanese maples.
I also love the varieties of path material in Japanese gardens. It was the paths that struck me most about the John P. Humes Japanese Garden in Jay Gatsby territory on Long Island’s North Shore when I visited a few weeks back. The gravel, mulch and stepping stones, in various combinations, with log risers for steps, are totally in line with my thinking (they’re also some of the cheapest path materials available, and the easiest to lay).
Created in the 1960s by John P. Humes, U.S. Ambassador to Austria, and his wife Jean, restored and expanded in the 1980s, and now under the auspices of the Garden Conservancy, the four serene and shady acres are an “American adaptation of a Japanese stroll garden, reflecting a natural approach to garden design by responding directly to existing topography and vegetation.” All well and good. As is the idea of laying out paths and plantings to hide more than they reveal as one walks through the garden, imparting a sense of mystery and encouraging exploration.
Where Japanese gardens lose me is with their heavy symbolism: stones representing heaven and earth, the re-creation of a faraway landscape in miniature, and so on. I’m not going to make a study of the Edo period (1603-1867), and though I love the Humes garden’s tea house, top, and may borrow ideas from it to make my boxy shed more graceful, I won’t be conducting tea ceremonies there any time soon.
I am looking forward to planting my first Japanese maple, though.