New Bonsai Garden Display Progression Thread

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Location
North Carolina
USDA Zone
7
#1
Hello All,

I recently moved into a new house and have a complete blank slate with which to design a new bonsai garden to grow and display my trees. This will serve as the progression thread where I share my ideas and the evolution of the garden. As always, advice is greatly appreciated.

A few basics/goals:
  • I live in central North Carolina in zone 7. We get up into the 90s with high humidity in the summer and usually get a few nights in the teens during the winter, but the growing season is quite long. I don't currently have plans for a formal winter storage area as I rely on my shed for smaller trees and mulching in larger trees on the ground.
  • My collection is 100% deciduous and doesn't plan to change.
  • The size of my collection is currently around 40 trees of various sizes. My goal is to keep the size stable and to improve the quality of trees rather than the quantity. I don't plan to incorporate any large grow beds.
  • At my old house I had lots of problems with fungus due to heavy Spring rains so I want to ensure adequate spacing and good air movement.
  • I will install an automatic drip irrigation system.
  • The display area is visible from the house and backyard so it needs to look nice and not just like a work area.
  • My aesthetic is more American/European garden design and not japanese.
A few websites I have found for inspiration
  • For overall garden aesthetic and beauty, you can't beat @MACH5 garden. I particularly enjoy the combination of design and grow area in a space limited suburban setting. I also like the incorporation of landscape plants/features into the design, like the water lily and the larger stones.
  • Although designed for a larger scale nursery, I have enjoyed following Bjorn's thought process in designing his garden at Eisei-en. I like the way he has incorporated the whiskey barrels to give a little more local feeling to his otherwise Japanese inspired garden.
More to come....
 
Messages
464
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633
Location
North Carolina
USDA Zone
7
#2
Part 2 (Site plans):

Here are the architectural plans from the builder showing the backyard before anything was built. I have placed a grey box over my designated bonsai area. It is positioned north of the house and gets about 6-8 hours of sun depending on the time of year and the exact spot. The buffer trees shown on the plans don't shade the area but there are some other trees in the neighbor's property. The total bonsai space is around 15' wide and 40' long although a shed will be incorporated into the top left corner to store tools and equipment leaving about 25-30' of space. The remainder of the backyard will be a grass play area for my kids and may ultimately also include a garden some day.

1546689380418.png
 

Brian Van Fleet

Pretty Fly for a Bonsai Guy
Messages
10,190
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22,337
Location
B’ham, AL
USDA Zone
8A
#3
Part 2 (Site plans):

Here are the architectural plans from the builder showing the backyard before anything was built. I have placed a grey box over my designated bonsai area. It is positioned north of the house and gets about 6-8 hours of sun depending on the time of year and the exact spot. The buffer trees shown on the plans don't shade the area but there are some other trees in the neighbor's property. The total bonsai space is around 15' wide and 40' long although a shed will be incorporated into the top left corner to store tools and equipment leaving about 25-30' of space. The remainder of the backyard will be a grass play area for my kids and may ultimately also include a garden some day.

View attachment 222355
Do you have a fence along the west side of this property?
 

Brian Van Fleet

Pretty Fly for a Bonsai Guy
Messages
10,190
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22,337
Location
B’ham, AL
USDA Zone
8A
#4
I would probably do something like this if it was mine. Your location is ideal to give the trees good sun exposure, and hopefully a bit of a wind break. My last house was oriented the same way; the fence was on the west side and the trees were lined up from South to North. If I had it to do again, this is what I would do:
1. More benches and fewer monkey poles.
2. I did a DG (decomposed granite) surface, which was easy to keep free of weeds, but leaves did collect. Definitely create a hard, permanent edge to separate the DG and grass. Make sure you have good drainage.
3. Building benches at the right height is important. I found 48” is a really good viewing height, and offers room enough underneath for winter storage. Much deeper than 3’, and it gets tough to work on the trees at the back.
4. Having a high fence behind the bench offers a great backdrop to photograph trees in-situ and provides a windbreak that I sorely miss now.
5. Set up at least 2 irrigation zones so you can vary the water schedule. Automatic watering is convenient, but I find that my conifers get overwatered, and my deciduous trees get underwatered. I am modifying my soil mix to account for it.
6. Having benches facing different directions means you can effectively rotate your trees by moving them to different benches without ever really showing the backs.
7. Where I drew your island, I had a berm with 6 monkey poles. I’d do a bench or two instead if I had it to do over.
B94C5D0D-9AC7-4804-9B1B-FF1F3EAD642D.jpeg
91ED38B3-F668-465E-BA6C-9A8EEA566C35.jpeg DEC7C950-4F42-4072-8A88-1BE3FBDE2742.jpeg 8B238FEE-CF06-475E-A467-1BF9184CEB49.jpeg DDDB0115-2D46-4579-AB5E-DC642ECAEFF5.jpeg
 
Messages
464
Likes
633
Location
North Carolina
USDA Zone
7
#5
Part 3 (fence):

I elected to have a 7 foot tall fence installed around the entire backyard for privacy and security. I choose a pine fence that was solid for 6 feet and then with a 1 foot lattice on top. I have gone back and forth regarding colors, but I think I will seal it to look in the current color. Bjorn has a nice youtube video about Yakisugi and the benefits of a darker colored background, but I don't think it will fit with the aesthetics of the house and yard. I might include a darker accent color on the benches to contrast.

This picture shows the layout of area while under construction. The trees in the top right have been pruned back and the pictures is from the early morning showing some shade.

IMG_3376.JPG
 
Messages
337
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297
Location
Just south of Atlanta
USDA Zone
8a
#6
Looks good! I think you will appreciate the wind break that your fence supplies. Brian makes some great points. I have some small slate chips and very fine gray gravel. They make a great contrast. I use flexible landscape edging to keep them apart. I was really concerned about leaves in the gravel but I have found the gravel easy to clean if I set my leaf blower to a lower setting and lightly rake the gravel.
Have you looked at how the sun hits your yard? I thought I had mine figured out but half way through the summer the changing sun's angle hurt the amount of sun my garden was getting. I am going to have to take out at least one tree now.
 
Messages
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633
Location
North Carolina
USDA Zone
7
#8
Part 3a (more fence):

Here is a close up of the fence. I totally agree with @coachspinks about the wind protection. I also took the article from Bonsai4Me to heart when I designed it. This should allow wind protection but also prevent the wind drag that a solid object can induce.

IMG_3707.JPG
 
Messages
464
Likes
633
Location
North Carolina
USDA Zone
7
#10
Part 4 (Shed and
I would probably do something like this if it was mine. Your location is ideal to give the trees good sun exposure, and hopefully a bit of a wind break. My last house was oriented the same way; the fence was on the west side and the trees were lined up from South to North. If I had it to do again, this is what I would do:
1. More benches and fewer monkey poles.
2. I did a DG (decomposed granite) surface, which was easy to keep free of weeds, but leaves did collect. Definitely create a hard, permanent edge to separate the DG and grass. Make sure you have good drainage.
3. Building benches at the right height is important. I found 48” is a really good viewing height, and offers room enough underneath for winter storage. Much deeper than 3’, and it gets tough to work on the trees at the back.
4. Having a high fence behind the bench offers a great backdrop to photograph trees in-situ and provides a windbreak that I sorely miss now.
5. Set up at least 2 irrigation zones so you can vary the water schedule. Automatic watering is convenient, but I find that my conifers get overwatered, and my deciduous trees get underwatered. I am modifying my soil mix to account for it.
6. Having benches facing different directions means you can effectively rotate your trees by moving them to different benches without ever really showing the backs.
7. Where I drew your island, I had a berm with 6 monkey poles. I’d do a bench or two instead if I had it to do over.
View attachment 222357
View attachment 222358 View attachment 222359 View attachment 222360 View attachment 222361
Thanks Brian. That is really helpful advice, especially regarding the watering zones. When you say 48" viewing heigh, does that mean you place the bench at around 36" to accommodate the tree height or 48" bench height?
 
Messages
464
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633
Location
North Carolina
USDA Zone
7
#11
Part 4 (shed and ground cover):

I ended up placing the shed in a south facing position and painted it to match the house. The two doors swing open to face the proposed garden. I thought this would allow easy access to equipment and tools.

I really went back and forth about mulch versus granite/stone. Ryan Neil has an excellent discussion about using different sizes of stone to prevent weeds and allow for adequate drainage. Here is the link but you might need to be a Mirai Live subscriber to watch. We have Pennsylvania Bluestone elsewhere so I decided to continue a flagstone pathway over to the area and then make a double wide walkway to sit between the benches. The stones are not in their final position as they have to dig a trench to install power to the shed this week. I plan to put mulch in the area and likely landscape fabric underneath to prevent weeds. Although I recognize this won't work functionally as well as stone, I think it fits the design of the yard/house better.

IMG_3705.JPG
 
Messages
464
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633
Location
North Carolina
USDA Zone
7
#14
Part 5 (benches):

My tentative plan is to have a long row of benches along the west side up against the fence. This will serve as the primary tree storage. I am leaning towards a larger upper row and a smaller lower row for shohin. There will be storage underneath for pots. Here is an admittedly poor drawing of what I have in mind. There is a slight grade to the land and I plan to match the benches up to the fence posts which are at 8 foot increments.

I think the planks on the top will be 2x12s which should give me adequate depth on the top. The way I have it currently planned would be shared support poles at the ends of each bench, but I am a bit concerned that there might be too much bow in the middle sections. I might change it up so that the support poles are about a foot inside each end and no sharing between benches.

IMG_3715.JPG
 

Brian Van Fleet

Pretty Fly for a Bonsai Guy
Messages
10,190
Likes
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Location
B’ham, AL
USDA Zone
8A
#15
8’ runs started sagging on mine, especially after the carpenter bees found them. Setting the posts 6’ apart on an 8’bench has been really sturdy (see the back bench in the second photo).

Also, consider using 6x6 for your monkey posts. The look is much better. 4x4 vs. 6x6:
511A1F49-D132-42E2-8397-5177DA33AFE4.png CC1FF897-FD9A-4EB8-8A2D-59E5EDC8E830.jpeg
 
Messages
464
Likes
633
Location
North Carolina
USDA Zone
7
#16
8’ runs started sagging on mine, especially after the carpenter bees found them. Setting the posts 6’ apart on an 8’bench has been really sturdy (see the back bench in the second photo).

Also, consider using 6x6 for your monkey posts. The look is much better. 4x4 vs. 6x6:
View attachment 222433 View attachment 222432
You read my mind. I was really debating the 4x4 vs 6x6.
 

Arcto

Chumono
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899
Location
Western Washington
#17
You may want to consider a small greenhouse instead of a storage shed. I keep tools, soil, pots etc. in it. But also plants that need protection. A feature I’m appreciating is being able to work on trees with the resulting mess, in a well lit area while being protected by the weather. The disadvantage is my wife always knows where she can find me! 😛
 
Last edited:
Messages
464
Likes
633
Location
North Carolina
USDA Zone
7
#18
You may want to consider a small greenhouse instead of a storage shed. I keep tools, soil, pots etc. in it. But also plants that need protection. A feature I’m appreciating is being able to work on trees with the resulting mess, in a well lit area while being protected by the weather. The disadvantage is my wife always knows where she can find me! 😛
How big is your greenhouse? I've seen some designs that pack trees in like sardines and then ones that are huge, but haven't seen the sweet spot to allow space to work on trees.
 

MACH5

Masterpiece
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Location
Northern New Jersey
#20
Fun and exciting Lars! Congrats on the new house and future bonsai garden. All the hard work will be well worth it as you'll be able to appreciate you trees even more so. I would try and go simple with some landscaping, rocks, water features, etc. to accentuate and add interest. Not a lot is needed. After all you want your trees to be the focal point. Definitely lay down weed fabric whether you go with all mulch or gravel or combo like I did. From experience the gravel is easier to keep in terms of weeds but requires clean up and once in a while a good raking to keep it looking its best. Try and design your garden as a whole with visual flow so that it leads the eye from one place to the next.

I regret not having a greenhouse. I used to have one 15 years ago in my old house when I wasn't pursuing bonsai all that seriously. It just figures that now I don't have one when I need it the most. But hopefully I will get one eventually.
 
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