Japanese Inspired Tranquility

By Shelby Rowe Moyer | Photography by Sunny Frantz

Longtime gardeners John and Jean Mathews were up for a challenge when they decided to craft a Japanese style garden surrounding their Madison home.

John — who works as a professional gardener for Yakshi Landscape & Garden Design, as well as his side business Midwest Japanese Gardens — created an outdoor space that flows beautifully from the front yard to the back.

The Japanese style demands some patient creativity. The broom fence in the front yard, for example, was made out of 900 hand-cut willow branches fastened in bundles. (In Japan, broom fences are made from bamboo, but John had to improvise with what was available here). The moss gardens require twice-a-day watering in the summertime to maintain that lush green color. And the living pond and adjoining waterfall need a year-round plan, because the Koi fish and goldfish need to winter inside.

The crafting of their landscaping required a lot of leg work, but “it’s peaceful looking,” John says. “We enjoy it.”

Much of the plant life are perennials, along with dwarf trees and shrubs, and since few of the plants are flowering, the Mathews decided on a chartreuse palette of yellows and greens to add color. Very little of the modest-sized lot has traditional grass — although they kept some to accommodate their two Rhodesian ridgeback pups.

Once the fish — and 9-year-old Sheldon, the red foot tortoise — are safely inside for the winter, Mother Nature takes care of the rest. The plants go dormant and beautifully resurface come spring.


View more from our August 2020 Gardens feature here.

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