Sunday, January 29, 2006


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7/20/05)

Beauty is often touched by tragedy, such as in the building of the Tozan Tea House and Garden. The tragedy was the death by leukemia of Aaron Macy, a promising young ceramics student at NAU who was coming of age as a potter. His father, Douglas Macy, a well-known landscape architect in Portland, Oregon, grieving his son’s death, wanted to memorialize his son with a legacy of beauty. At the suggestion of Don Bendel and Jason Hess of NAU’s ceramics department, he agreed to supervise the construction of the Tozan Tea House and Garden in his son’s memory.

With the 1989 blueprints of Hirotomi Ichikawa, the famous Japanese landscape archictect, already in hand, Douglas Macy began the cultural and horticultural translation of a tea house and garden from Japan to Flagstaff. Funded by Betty Peckard and other donors from Japan and America, the project lurched ahead over the years.

Serendipitously, Brad Blake and Phil Patterson from the NAU Research Greenhouses, discovered the project and offered their services in securing plants apropos to Flagstaff. As with any good translation, the garden’s design and plantings had to be faithful to the original as well as to the new. Now, some cognoscenti are likely to say, "Something’s going to be lost in the translation," as though there is no plant indigenous or adaptable to Northern Arizona that would quite do the trick as well as a plant native to Japan. However, often as not, something is also gained in translation. So it is with the Garden of Tozan Tea House.

One of the principles of Japanese landscaping is using plants native to the site. Thus, the Tozan Tea House Garden is not a tit-for-tat, literal translation, but rather a faithful adaptation. Happily, much of the garden’s land is undisturbed so that the garden is covered with native ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), pinyon pine (Pinus eduliis), and Gambel oak (Querius gambelii). The understory includes various penstemons and wildflowers along with native grasses, such as mutton grass (Poa fendleriana), muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillariis), and spike muhly (Muhlenbergia wrightii).

The land immediately around a Japanese tea house is planted with grass. The land around Tozan Tea House which sets atop a knob has been planted with Arizona fescue (Festuca arizonica). A hedge customarily flows in parabolic curves through the grounds of Japanese tea house garden as though to draw the eye beyond a tight defensive circle of fear and to shield it from the distractions of the huly-burly. Since hedges are not native, a hedge cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lucidus) was used. A low water plant, it hails from Siberia, Eastern Asia, and the Caucacus, a hardy horticultural immigrant for the Colorado Plateau. Finally, along Lone Tree Road a line of New Mexican Locusts (Robinia neomexicana)and Riles Roses (unknown) from the NAU campus will buffer the garden.

A good translation always begins literally, but then transcends into style. The gain for Flagstaff is not in the plants, that is, in the content, but in the style or process. Ultimately, reality is in process, not content. How a thing is said is more important than what it said. The Tozan Tea House and Garden give everyone the opportunity to see the familiar in a new and different way, to see life steadily and to see it whole, to take the parabolic curve beyond the perimeters of paranoia into the journey of freedom, to travel into the outer reaches of inner space.

The Tozan Tea House Garden is Japanese in essence in it’s form and economy, and Southwestern in it’s horticultural language. It offers the lucicidty of simplicity, as in Occam’s Razor and Robert Browning’s "less is more," remembering that profusion leads to confusion. The Garden also offers that lucidity in the beauty of the Colorado Plateau.

The Tozan Tea House and Garden are located on Lone Tree Road, south of Pine Knoll Road and the right hand side of the road.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2005

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