A Japanese 'river' in a Carson lawn

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Villagrana, an employee for Green House Garden Center, works to smooth gravel in a Japanese-style garden being installed as an alternative to a lawn.

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Villagrana, an employee for Green House Garden Center, works to smooth gravel in a Japanese-style garden being installed as an alternative to a lawn.

Last summer just wasn't good for Carson's green lawns. In my case, the lawn just seemed to give up any life. Part of the reason was the snow that just stayed and stayed in the shadowy part; and part of the reason was the sprinkler system died.

Despite using a hand sprinkler faithfully, the green was decidedly brown before last winter and didn't get any better as spring arrived.

So figuring we're in for some dry spells, I decided to switch from nonnative grass to native stone and xeriscape. No more watering, no more mowing, no more patching brow spots.

So, what kind of a lawn? I'd been impressed in Japan by the Zen rock gardens - an expansive of white stone, carefully raked in patterns by monks. The rocks in a way are supposed to represent a river or ocean; carefully placed rocks were to represent islands. The flow of the water would be indicated by rake furrows made by monks pulling heavy wooden rakes through the rocks.

I had seen the rock garden of the Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto - a wide, beautiful expanse of white rock carefully redone every morning. The site, commonly called the Golden Pavilion, is probably the most photographed site in Japan, but copying the design on a lawn not more than 20 feet wide and 40 feet long would be impossible. So I opted for plain white stone, smallish, with three rock "islands" in it.

But first, the old sod had to go. Talking with David Ruf at the Greenhouse Garden Center convinced me this was a job for pros, and we made a deal. For around $1,000 the Greenhouse would remove the sod, put down pre-emergent plant killer (to keep weeds from growing up amid the stones), lay thin plastic sheeting, then cover it with smallish white rocks.

It would be up to me to later add my "islands" and rake the stones in some abstract pattern symbolizing the river winding around the rocks.

On a recent Saturday morning, three men and a truck showed up. They were Turan Sameh, Art Sanchez and Gustavo Villagrana. Sameh dragged out the sod cutter - a heavy, gasoline powered machine which cuts sod loose in 20-inch wide strips. He jerked the machine around, cutting the sod free in long swaths. The other two men loosened sod around the rim of the lawn where the cutter couldn't go. Eventually, they were down to bare, brown dirt. They sprinkled the pre-emergent over the dirt.

They then unrolled 3-foot-wide plastic rolls, covering the entire lawn surface and pegging it in place with 6-inch "staples."

End of first day.

On Monday they returned with a 4-cubic-foot load of small stones. Two shoveled the gravel into wheelbarrows and dumped it the plastic. One raked. Finally, all the stones were smoothed and it was up to me to plant my "islands."

But that's another story, one that probably will never end as it has never ended at Kinkakuji in Japan. The monks rake it today just as they have for a very long time.

Besides, I forgot to make a rock garden rake - one with only four thick fingers to leave furrows in the rocks. Regular rakes won't do the job, so it's back to the garage and the drill and the saw. Odds are this will be the only Japanese rock garden of its kind in the city. Hope we don't get too many sightseers.

• Contact Sam Bauman at sbauman@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1236.

On the 'Net:

To see rock gardens, visit:

www.phototravels.net/ japan/photo-gallery/ japanese-rock-gardens.

www.phototravels.net/ photo-guides/

wikipedia.org/wiki/ Zen_garden


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