Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto: Planning Garden-Destination Travel

April 29th, 2018 § Comments Off on Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto: Planning Garden-Destination Travel § permalink

A Tea Garden at Koto-In, from Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto. Photograph: John Einarsen

Almost every passionate, ornamental gardener has a dream destination file; a box, drawer or folder filled with clipped photos, articles and maps of exotic landscapes waiting to be explored. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been caching field notes to the Zen Gardens of Kyoto, Japan. From Ryoan-Ji’s world renown Dry Garden and Koto-in’s glorious maples to the famed Moss Garden of Saiho-ji and the Temple of Poets, Konpuku-Ji; there are so many ancient and alluring places to see, that I can hardly imagine where to start. But if we want to make our dream garden-tours reality, a plan is needed and a great guide book is a good place to begin.

Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto

With travel planning in mind, I recently selected a copy of John Dougill’s Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto for review.  While I can not deny that John Einarsen’s gorgeous images drew me in and held me spellbound, I found Dougill’s detailed descriptions and the book’s format —with and introductory section devoted to Zen and Japanese culture, followed by a chronological listing of Kyoto’s Zen temples— has really helped me to prioritize my itinerary. My itinerary? Yes, I said that. The time has come. Now the clock is ticking and my date book is open. It’s time to get serious about this trip.

Stone Water Basin. Photograph: John Einarsen 

I am particularly interested in Moss Gardens and Tea Gardens. The connection between these spaces and the Zen practice of traditional, Japanese Tea Ceremony is especially intriguing to me. Moss-covered, stone basins, so often seen in Japan, inspired my Secret Garden’s water bowl. I find the hypnotic power of a shady, cool, reflective surface to be peaceful, calming and centering. Koto-In, famous for its Tea Gardens, Moss and Maples, is the first garden I flagged to visit. However, the author mentions that this place can be over-run with tourists in autumn. I love this kind of insight, as it helps me to consider when and how to see this special place without missing out on my reason for being there. I am also drawn to the suggestion of water in stone. With this in mind, dry gardens —such as Ryoan-Ji— are must-see stops on my list. I have waited a long time to make this extended trip and I want to thoroughly plan it, without destroying the spontaneity I love. Dougill thoughtfully mentions many of the little tips I like to know in advance when doing a lot of sightseeing; such as where to find a good restaurant.

Where do your garden travel dreams take you? Do the Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto call your name? I am loving my hardcover copy of this guidebook, and plan to download the Kindle version for my iPad as well. I’m sure I’ll want Dougill’s valuable tips and advice in my backpack as I explore Kyoto’s treasure trove of ancient gardens.

.At my request, a copy of Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto was provided by Tuttle Publishing for independent, honest review. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

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Photography copyright John Einarsen, provided by and used with permission of Tuttle Publishing, all rights reserved. All other content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Deep Forest: Exploring the Heart of Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica . . .

March 20th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Eyelash Viper, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comThis Eyelash Viper (Bothriechis schlegelii), is a mostly arboreal/nocturnal resident of Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica. Though its venom is highly toxic, this snake is non-aggressive and its bite is rarely fatal to humans. Still, I observed the colorful beauty from a distance and zoomed in with my camera for a close-up look. Learn more about this gorgeous snake at The Encyclopedia of Life, online here.

Happy Spring! We passed through the Vernal Equinox at precisely 7:02 A.M. (EDT) March 20, 2013 in the Northern Hemisphere today, but I’m celebrating the change of seasons in beautiful Costa Rica (on CST). This week’s adventures included a hike through Cahuita National Park, in the far southeastern corner of this Central American country. Located between 8 and 12 degrees north of the equator, Costa Rica’s climate is tropical. With stable temperatures year round, the seasons here are defined by rainfall. Currently, Costa Rica is in its dry season, however with many microclimates —defined mainly by geographic region and elevation— there are plenty of cool, moist rain forests to explore throughout the year. Having spent time in the northwestern part of Costa Rica last winter —see my previous posts here— this time we focused on the wildlife-rich, Caribbean side of the country.

Costa Rica is well-known throughout the world for its biodiversity and environmental awareness. Twenty-five percent of Costa Rican land is held by the national park system, which is where I’ve been spending most of my days. Although comparatively small, I found Cahuita National Park to be remarkably diverse. Snakes, lizards, frogs, spiders, birds, monkeys, coati, sloth and a wide variety of other animals are easy to spot in the early morning hours, even without the valuable assistance of a guide. Take a peek at just a few of the colorful, curious inhabitants I observed in Cahuita National Park!

Red-Eyed Tree Frog, Rainforest, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comThe Red-Eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas), perhaps the most famous resident of the Costa Rican rainforest, may look fierce but is non-venomous and completely harmless. Mostly nocturnal, this little fella startles would-be predators by flashing its bright red eyes and exposing its colorful toes. Learn more on National Geographic’s website here.

Golden Silk Spider, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comWhen I first spotted the web of the Golden Silk Spider (Nephila clavipes), above my head in Cahuita National Park, I thought the gold color of the silk was merely sunlight playing on the delicate threads. Imagine my surprise when I leaned in for a closer look! Not only is her web gorgeous, the artist is a real stunner as well! Although the spider will bite if threatened, it is completely harmless. I find arachnids fascinating and this one, with a golden web, is especially beautiful. Learn more about the Golden Silk Spider here.

Sara Longwing Butterfly, Rainforest, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com The Sara Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius sara) has two sides. The moment I happened to snap this photo, the wings opened, appearing blue, black and white. When closed, the wings are red, black and white. For more information, and a photo of the closed wings, click here.

Green-and-Black Poison-Dart Frog, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Famous for its toxic skin —long used by native Central and South Americans to create lethal arrows— the Green-and-Black Poison-Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus) is harmless to humans, unless touched. Learn more about this beautiful amphibian on the Michigan Museum of Zoology Website here.

White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden Highly social and undeniably entertaining, White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus), groom one another as they greet park visitors near the beach. Learn more about the White-Faced Monkey here.

White Nosed Coati Nasua narica Costa Rica ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com The White-Nosed Coati (Nasua narica) is a raccoon-like carnivore. Intelligent and opportunistic, these clever mammals are quick to snatch and run off with an inattentive and unsuspecting hiker’s lunch! Learn more about this mischievous resident of Costa Rica, here.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Field Notes from Costa Rica …

March 4th, 2012 § Comments Off on Field Notes from Costa Rica … § permalink

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Where in the world is Michaela? Yes, it’s been a long time since my last blog post, of this I am well aware. But, if you have been following The Gardener’s Eden page on Facebook, you’ll know that I’ve been hiking all over beautiful Costa Rica. With warm, moist air and lush, tropical cloud forests filled with begonias, epiphytes, moss, ferns and so much more, this country is a hortimaniac’s dream-come-true!

I have so much to share with you! Now that I have returned to snow-covered Vermont, I have many photos to sort through and stories to tell. I’ll be back with more soon, but here are a few photos to wet your appetite!

Michaela Standing in the Wet Winds at the Continental Divide – Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve – Costa Rica

Enjoying a Hike, Surrounded by Lush Moss, Ferns and Epiphytes of Every Kind Imaginable in the Costa Rican Cloud Forest at Monteverde

Enjoying a Canopy-View of the Cloud Forest & Strolling the Suspended Bridges in Selvatura Park, Santa Elena, Costa Rica

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina and WB for The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Finding Inspiration in Public Gardens … The Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts…

June 25th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink


Above, The Bridge of Flowers viewed from the bank of the Deerfield River.  Below, a gravel path leads through The Bridge of Flowers in June…


Visiting public gardens has become something of a luxury for me over the past few years. I am a professional gardener and designer, and the busiest season in my line of work tends to be in the spring and early summer. Like most gardeners, any spare hours I have at this time of year tend to be spent in my own backyard. Sometime over the course of this past winter, as I was pouring over gardening books and magazines, I realized how much I miss visiting public gardens. How did I forget what a pleasure it is to take in a garden for which I am not responsible?  This year, I resolved that visits to both public and private gardens would become part of my weekly schedule. By stepping away from my own garden, and the gardens under my care, I am able to return to the places I create with fresh eyes. Whether you are just starting your first garden, or editing one you have tended for years, visiting other gardens is a great way to stir up your creativity and continue your horticultural education.

My first garden visit this spring was to  The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. This one-of-a-kind design was conceived by Antoinette and Walter Burnham in 1929 when they envisioned a public garden crossing an abandoned, 400-foot trolley bridge built in 1908. The Shelburne Falls Woman’s Club took on the bridge of flowers project, and remains the steward of this beautiful garden to this day.  The Bridge of Flowers spans the Deerfield river and connects the towns of Buckland and Shelburne. Over 500 different varieties of annuals, perennials, shrubs, vines and trees are included in this unusual and beloved public landmark.



This was not my first visit to this special place. I have been enjoying The Bridge of Flowers on and off since I was a little girl, and I have watched as both this garden and the village of Shelburne Falls have evolved over time. Through the years the garden has grown more beautiful and sophisticated, and yet it has never lost its calm, relaxing simplicity. The Bridge of Flowers is home to some spectacular plants; including trees, shrubs and vines. Among the stand-out woody specimens on the bridge is a cascading hemlock (tsuga canadensis, pendula), (spectacular when viewed from the Buckland side riverbank), a lovely Japanese snowbell, (styrax japonica), a pair of gnarly-trunked wisteria floribunda, a very fragrant butterfly bush, (buddleia alternifolia), an enviable climbing hydrangea,(hydrangea petiolaris), and a number of glorious rambling and climbing roses ranging in hue from red to purest white.



The mixed borders on either side of the walkway crossing The Bridge of Flowers are in continual bloom from early spring through fall. The gardens are beautifully designed and meticulously tended by a professional head gardener, assistant gardeners and volunteers. Modern additions, such as ornamental grass and exotic Asian introductions are creatively combined with old-time cottage garden favorites and ecologically minded native-plants. Shrub roses are interspersed throughout the design, adding a bit of  classic beauty and fragrance to the early summer display. On my recent visit, the beautiful David Austin rose, ‘Ambridge’, was all aglow in a luminous peachy-wash of color; it’s alluring, near-intoxicating fragrance filling the damp air and leading me down the path.



The color harmonies and textural combinations seem particularly beautiful this year on the bridge. I admire the creativity of these gardeners, working with a limited budget raised by donations and gifts. They have created such simple, dynamic vignettes; playing with focal points of saturated color and repeating the rhythm with subtle echos running through neighboring selections. Stunning, yet un-forced combinations abound along the walkway. Golden hued petals of baptisia playing off yellow edged ornamental grass, and deep rose-traced peonies enhanced by a blooming backdrop of spirea ‘Anthony Waterer’, are some examples of their thoughtful garden design.



As my stroll though the garden concluded on the Shelburne side of the bridge, I was pleased to discover the development of the shade garden. A wide variety of plants now thrive in the dappled light at this tree lined end of walkway. Gorgeous perennials, including many with dramatic foliage color and varied texture, create a quiet conclusion to the garden along the water’s edge. Delicate ferns, bold hosta, feathery goat’s beard, (aruncus), and shimmering, smooth leaved ginger, (asarum), are among the inspired plantings.



The Bridge of Flowers is wonderful inspiration for gardeners of all ages. According to the website, the bridge receives over 20,000 visitors each year from all over the world. This beautiful garden will always have a special place in my heart, and clearly I am not alone in my infatuation. Although the garden is at it’s peak now, it is worth keeping in mind that come autumn, the vibrant fall foliage reflected in this river setting is truly spectacular. The village of Shelburne Falls has much to offer visitors, including natural sites, such as the glacial potholes, artisan shops and galleries, (from glass blowing and pottery to candle making), fine restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops and more. A visit to The Bridge of Flowers and the village of Shelburne Falls is a great day trip from Boston, MA, Keene NH, or Hartford, CT.  What a great place to start my summer garden tours this year!  A great, big thank you goes out  to the gardeners at the bridge and to all of the kind donors and visitors supporting The Bridge of Flowers with generous financial contributions.

For further information about The Bridge of Flowers, please visit the website HERE, and for infomation about other attractions in the village of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, visit their website HERE.


View up the river…


View down the path on the bridge…


A last look at the beautiful bridge of flowers setting…


Know of a special garden you would like to see featured on The Gardener’s Eden?

Please email your suggestion to michaela @ the gardeners eden dot com


Article and photos copyright 2009 Michaela H.


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