The idea of a garden as sanctuary is nothing new – in fact, it’s one of the oldest reasons there is for having a garden.
Landscape contractor Mitsugu Mori of Seaside, California, put a fresh spin on this idea in his award-winning design at the 2012 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, one of the best-known garden shows in the United States.
His “Healing Garden” attracted thousands of visitors during the recent show and also won a silver medal.
The intent, Mori said, was to create a place of quiet refuge where someone could sit and contemplate: “When you have a busy city life, you need a space where you can sit down and relax, read a book, think about the next day’s schedule, whatever.”
Although Mori had been to the show many times as a spectator, this was the first time that he designed one of its show gardens.
Mori, 60, has worked as a landscape contractor for many years on the Monterey Peninsula. The former resident of Osaka, Japan, settled in Seaside in 1978, and owns Green Valley Landscaping as well as the Seaside Garden Center, which he opened in 2007.
Mori said another reason he had for doing the show was to see how his design would do in a competition. It had particular significance for him because he is now taking the next step in his career, becoming a landscape architect.
Only 20 show gardens were created for the 2012 garden show, with renowned Bay Area and South Bay landscape designers and design companies displaying top-notch concepts. All who want to create gardens for the show must apply by submitting design ideas, according to Kay Hamilton Estey, marketing manager for the garden show.
“The gardens are the most important part of the show,” said Estey, who estimates that between 30,000 and 35,000 people visited the recent show in San Mateo. “It’s a big endeavor.”
The show gardens are judged by landscape architecture and garden design experts, who determine the majority of the award winners.
Mori said his idea was to create a tranquil refuge where people could go to relax and renew themselves after a long day at work.
His intent also was to display something that would be attainable for the average homeowner to have in the back yard.
“A garden show is like a fashion show,” said Mori – designers tend to show off flashy, elaborate layouts that aren’t always practical for the ordinary gardener. “I wanted it to be realistic.”
What made Mori’s Asian-influenced design unique was the use of water-saving plants like ceanothus, sedum and fountain grasses, as well as native trees. The trees acted as a privacy screen, creating a personal space for the homeowner to enjoy, as well as a dry stacked rock wall made from natural stone, a fire pit, a dry creek, seating, and a water feature with a stream flowing over rocks.
The native and drought-tolerant plantings fit with the theme of this year’s show, “Gardens for a Green Earth.”
“No concrete was used in the wall. Everything was done as sustainably as possible,” said Mori.
All this was created in a space similar to what you’d find behind a home in an average middle-class neighborhood in a city, an area measuring 24 by 35 feet.
Although the completed show garden was relaxing for viewers, putting it all together was anything but. Mori and his crew had to haul in all the materials and plants to the San Mateo Event Center on two trucks; then came two whirlwind days of construction. His show garden was built on wooden pallets in order to create several different levels.
“We were the first ones to finish,” said Mori with satisfaction.
And what did the thousands of visitors think? Mori calls the response “overwhelming.”
“People were standing in line waiting to see it,” he said, and one couple returned on the last day of the show, just because they wanted to visit Mori’s garden again. They also took photos because, as they told him, they hoped to renovate their own back yard in a similar style.
Interviews with Mitsugu Mori and Kay Hamilton Estey, May 2012