Home & Garden

Japanese garden adapted to the Morro Bay environment

Louise and Randy Bello have visited and admired many Japanese gardens, but hadn’t considered one of their own because many of the traditional plants wouldn’t thrive in their sandy Morro Bay garden.

Then they encountered a Japanese-style garden along a ravine in a sandy golf course, and realized that they could indeed create one, using substitutes for any moisture-loving Japanese plants.

Randy began planning the garden when he retired four years ago. Their building contractor, Steve Watt (Sea Coast Custom Homes), helped create fencing and other garden features that reflect the blend of Japanese and Craftsman artistry in Frank Lloyd Wright’s early houses.

When the couple met professional gardener Shanna McCormick (Great Gardens), she specialized in flowery English-style gardens. While initially challenged by the Japanese emphasis on greenery and rocks over floral color, McCormick discovered that creeping thyme or sedums can produce a visual effect similar to Japanese mosses.

Randy conceived the garden as three areas, each with a different mood.

Facing south, the entrance garden is sheltered, a cozy spot for reading, Louise says. The rock-faced house wall retains sufficient warmth from the sun to sustain cymbidium orchids. Randy’s water feature produces a musical sound as water trickles from a bamboo pipe into a ceramic crock set inside a copper tub.

The “sunrise garden,” a private, flagstone-paved patio, could accommodate a group. Black bamboo grows in water tanks, casting shadows on the house wall. A Japanese teahouse and lanterns add authenticity. Few would guess that the perfectly detailed teahouse facade disguises Randy’s very practical workshop.

Facing west, the “sunset garden” features a dry stream with a stone slab for a bridge. It can be enjoyed while strolling the path beside the stream or from the covered porch. From that vantage point, a wooden arch that extends above the fence precisely frames the sunset at the spring and autumn equinox.

The garden incorporates some plants that Randy had nurtured in containers for years. A deodar cedar, planted at a corner of the house, has grown rapidly. Several oaks began as acorns from an oak tree in his parents’ award-winning yard. One gnarly pine was planted into a rock cleft for a naturalistic setting. His 25-year-old bonsai pine tree warranted a special setting — an octagonal opening in the fence that duplicates the shape of a second story house window.

Randy enjoys sharing his love for the natural environment. As a State Park docent, he guides tours on the Bluff Trail and the Coon Creek Trail in Montaña de Oro.

The Bellos will graciously share their garden during the American Association of University Women’s annual garden tour on April 25. Ticket details and descriptions of the other seven gardens on the tour will be published in this section on April 21.

Sharon Crawford is a freelance writer who lives in Los Osos.