There’s no doubt that springtime in Ashland is incredibly beautiful. And nowhere is that beauty more concentrated than in the Japanese Garden in Lithia Park. Over the next few months the colors will erupt like popcorn until the entire Garden is bathed in yellows, pinks, purples, greens and a thousand hues in between. Sue and I try to visit here as often as we can—usually to photograph, but sometimes just to relax on a bench and listen to the flowing water. There are eleven little waterfalls in the Garden, each one designed to emit a unique pitch.
Looking around at the sidewalks, the stonework and the trees, it’s obvious that some parts of the Garden are newer than other parts, but exactly how old is it? We decided to trace the history of the Japanese Garden. (Thanks to Ashland Parks and Rec for all the great info!) Like the rest of Ashland, the Garden has had its ups and downs over the years, but its origin can be traced back to the early days of Lithia Park.
An Impressive Pedigree: Nearly a century ago, horticulturist John McLaren took a leave of absence from overseeing San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to come to Ashland to design Lithia Park. Back then, there were few trees in the canyon, providing a blank slate for McLaren to work with. He preferred to keep things as natural as possible, so for the site of the Japanese-style Garden he chose a gentle hillside toward the far end of the park. In 1916 he built the stone steps at the entrance and planted a few gingko trees. Over the next couple of years McLaren added the waterways, a tea house (which is long gone) and…that was about it.
Not much else happened in the Garden until the ’50s when a few more trees were planted, including the big magnolia. But after that, the area really got neglected. By the ’80s, the grounds were so overgrown with ivy that you wouldn’t even know there was supposed to be a Japanese Garden under there.
Then in 1983, thanks to a donation, park horticulturist Don Todt not only restored the Garden, but he improved upon it. The ivy was cleared, the waterways and paths were fixed up, and several new trees and shrubs were planted, including some stunning Japanese maples. Today, park horticulturist Anne Thayer is doing keeping the Garden as beautiful as it ever was. We’d like to think that John McLaren would be quite impressed with how it all turned out.
So happy spring…and see you in the park!
About NewmanImages: We are Jay and Sue Newman, two seasoned weekend wanderers who know where to find beauty in any direction from Ashland. You can find prints and greeting cards of the Japanese Garden in our booth at the Ashland Artisan Emporium in the Ashland Shopping Center on Highway 66. (Walk in, take a right, go to the 2nd row from the end, we’re the first booth on the right.)