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A Japanese Garden Grows in Putney

As part of their ongoing commitment to an Asian studies program, Putney Central School took on a project to build their own Japanese garden. Gerry Gatz, art teacher at Putney Central School, approached Rod Payne-Meyer to design a space as a Japanese garden. Rod met with Gerry, other teachers, and the students, who all shared their wish lists. It became Rod’s challenge to design a garden space incorporating these items into a Japanese garden that would thrive in Vermont. The space itself was problematic in that it was very rectangular; it was all straight lines and right angles with tall walls and an endpoint that pointed at the driveway of the school—no feng shui at all! Rod came up with design ideas that used flow, tranquility, simplicity and even included a water feature — important in a Japanese garden.

Rod, no stranger to working with children through his long involvement coaching sports in the Putney Recreation League, worked, directed and “coached” the students in garden preparation, building and planting.

The images show the garden as it progressed from a vacant and ignored area of the school grounds to a centerpiece and source of pride for PCS. The project began with the removal of all the grass in the area. Students were totally invested in and proud of their garden because of their participation in designing and building it. Paths were placed and tree planting began.

Before the snow melted in the spring, Rod went out to the school forest and selected, then brought back two black locust trees to be used as an arched entrance to the garden. Several art classes took on the project of de-barking the trees, and a team constructed a beautiful arch. A bell graces the archway, which the students can ring. The planting began in earnest. Pachysandra, myrtle, hosta, and bamboo filled the garden and took root. A water feature was installed, fulfilling one of the most important concepts of a Japanese garden. It has a square hole in the middle which represents a character in Japanese. The inscriptions around this square hole, when put together, translate roughly into “only knowledge can take people (or me) someplace.”

Rod’s vision and design have developed over the past couple of years. This project looked good the day it officially “opened” in 2005 and has continued to flourish and work in its space over time, a testament to a professional landscape design plan. The Japanese garden can be seen at Putney Central School, 182 Westminster Road, Putney, Vermont.