What did it look like, back when? / by Gwil Evans


Flotsam was early decor! Note sequoias at right.

When in spring 1976 we purchased what is now Momiji-en, the condition of the place was such that we were not inspired to make photographs that today would be the “befores” in before-and-after comparisons. Instead, our photo archive for Momiji-en begins a year or so later after we gained some control of the area nearest our home in what was then the back yard and, now, is the Upper Flat Garden, or hiraniwa. Here (above and immediately below) is what it looked like in late summer 1976.

Pine tree was a living Christmas tree before it found a home here, but the space now is occupied by a large, red laceleaf Japanese maple.

And here's that Japanese maple!

Upper Flat Garden, or hiraniwa, in early spring 2016.


(By the way, most images will enlarge when you click on them.)

As our work progressed outward from our home to the further reaches of the property, we began to make more photos. I especially enjoy reflecting on the several iterations of what is now the Natural Garden, or shizen. Initially, it was a weedy hillside bounded on the north by numerous—and mostly volunteer—conifers.

Ultimately, we removed and replaced all of the firs and pines near the north property line.

What is now the Natural Garden and site of the Tea House, first was our vegetable garden. Note original apple trees in upper right. Immediately above them in the photo is the roof of Walt and Paula Schmidt's home; beyond that, In the distance is Cloverland Park.

A view similar to above, but present day. Tea House replaces apple trees; Schmidt home and Cloverland Park are visible in the background.

The tree seemed small and manageable--until we undertook its removal!

Bill Cook with saw--and ambition!

There was one lone Douglas fir that was the “bookend” for a large laurel hedge that divided the property. Armed with small hand saws, we undertook its removal! Despite all our planning and our ropes tied to the tree, it fell not where we had intended, but directly on to our vegetable garden space!

An ambitious early iteration of this north-most space was our vegetable garden.

Creek and waterfalls now cascade through the area that was once our well-tended vegetable garden. (Looking northeast.)

Former vegetable garden, now the Natural Garden, with three waterfalls in what was once the vegetable garden area. (Looking southwest.)

Two apple trees in the foreground below, probably remaining from the dairy farm once here, occupied territory that is now the site of the tea house.

By the early 1980s we had gained considerable control of the plant materials and had begun to make our mark. This view is from the top of a soon-to-be-removed sequoia in the northeast corner of the property.

Apple tree pruning accommodated Archie's favorite fantasy: Big cat in charge of the forest!







Before we removed the apple trees, we pruned them annually with the help of Archie, one of our two earliest feline companions.


The Lower Flat Garden has evolved as well. Initially, it was bounded on the west by two large California redwoods and on the south by a large alder.

Under the sequoias, looking north into what is now the Lower Flat Garden.

From the Lower Flat Garden looking southwest to present location of the Waterfall Stairs. Until we chose to remove it, a volunteer alder tree adjacent to the house dominated the hillside.

From this experience removing the alder, we embraced Rich Holmes as our arborist for the rest of his career.

The redwoods, alder, and other trees were removed by Rich Holmes of Holmes Tree Preservation Service, who was then a young man early in his career.

What had been the location of the alder is here the establishment of the black pine bed, a centerpiece of today's garden.

Japanese black pines (Pinus thunbergii) in the same bed today.

The east hillside has now become a garden of Japanese yews, Japanese maples, tea plants (Camellia sinensis), ferns, and astilbe.

The street presence of the home we purchased was uninviting and unkempt. Bill brought vision and youthful energy to renovate the area from weeds and juniper

Renovation was the order of the day on the street side of the house as well. Bill here braves hot summer weather to remove juniper and Scotch broom(!).

Not long after that hot day (pictured above), Bill made the front of our home welcoming. Most of the plant materials in this image are no longer there (see next image). In particular, note large cedars at right, removed by Rich Holmes.

Pines today draw regular compliments from passersby.

We plan a future more thorough and comprehensive presentation of historical images of Momiji-en (and more before-and-after photographs), but these suggest the extent of the evolution that’s brought us to where we are, four decades later.