The Everything Season

The summertime Japanese Garden.
The summertime Japanese Garden.

Senior Gardener Pete Putnicki revives the popular "Gardener's Corner".  This month, gives us insight into how the garden is cared for in the summer months, with "specialized generalization".

Gardening is a cyclical, ongoing process; it is never truly “done”. The principal creator of the Seattle Japanese Garden, Juki Iida, observed that maintaining a garden could be more difficult than building one, an observation that takes into account the open-ended nature of the task.

For most of our maintenance work, there are regular, predictable seasons: early summer pine and azalea pruning, fall leaf clean-up, winter pruning and construction. Then there are the other times, these shoulder seasons when the specificity of projects fades, and the tasks at hand are, well, everything.

Late summer is one of these times, one of the “everything” seasons. With the valuable help of our volunteers, we are focusing on the garden in its entirety. The ground maintenance work of weeding and sweeping moss, the assessment and grooming of form and composition of trees and shrubs, the constant correction and adjustment of irrigation and hardscapes, and a dozen other tasks. Not so dramatic as the major winter pruning or construction, not so time sensitive as the early summer specimen pruning, but vital to the quality of the garden.

With everything to do, one of the most difficult parts of this season is in planning and scheduling. Mornings start with a quick briefing, where we assess and decide the day’s work. In other seasons, days and weeks are planned out; these trees today, those trees tomorrow, this section of paving or construction. Most mornings this season boil down to “everything, anything.”

This kind of soft-focus creates a fantastic opportunity for the gardeners to address and spend time in parts of the garden that might get less attention in other times of the year, and can really help in looking at the garden from (sometimes literally) a different angle. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for us to practice what I think of as “specialized generalization.” This time of year, many of the skills of the gardener are honed and tested; it’s not enough to be good at pine pruning, or good at kari-komi, or be an expert in stone setting. It is all about being able to work on “everything, anything”.

Over the next month, we will be working in almost every corner of the Garden, weeding, pruning, re-setting stone, repairing paths and fences. These small, integral projects and tasks are the real meat of the garden, the un-flashy, un-dramatic and absolutely crucial parts that come together to make the whole.

This is one of my favorite times of year in the garden, a time that really encourages looking at the garden holistically, connecting all the parts. I’m also very excited to share this time with our new corps of Niwashi  volunteers that have joined us in the past couple of months. I urge everyone visiting the garden to take a look at the garden in this granular fashion, to really inspect the less dramatic elements without the flash and distraction of spring flowers or autumn brilliance, and enjoy all of these quietly dynamic elements working together to make the garden we all love.

Peter Putnicki is the Senior Gardener at Seattle Japanese Garden.