Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Phases of the Moon Mosaic

Setting a marble disk in a pebble mosaic

I've been building stone mosaics for about 30 years now.  My style is very much influenced by the stones that I am working with, integrated with everything I have learned from my travels around the world and my studies of the forces of Nature and design.

My first trip to Asia many years ago was to the island of Bali in Indonesia.  I stayed with a family for a month and participated in the rituals of daily life, which are marked by frequent elaborate ceremonies.  One that takes place monthly is the celebration of the full moon.  For three days prior to this monthly event, preparations are undertaken to make offerings as the moon plays an essential role in the planting of rice and fertility.  The Goddess of rice and fertility related to the moon is Dewi Sri (  Woven offerings using young palm leaves are made in profusion to be placed on altars in the paddy fields.

Balinese women making palm leaf baskets to hold offerings of flowers, rice, and fruit

On returning home I made an effort to pay closer attention to the moon and its phases during the month.  For many years I participated in a chant on the full moon of the Hindu Om Triambakam Yajamahe repeated 108 times, which I found transformative.  One of the earliest mosaic commissions I received was for a couple who wanted to introduce their children to the idea of ritual.  I proposed making a series of spirals representing the full moons of the year so that they could celebrate the lunar cycle of the year, with offerings and prayers.  The moon is one of the essential forces that makes life possible on the planet.  The rising and falling of tides helped to create conditions suitable for the evolution of living organisms.

This spiraling mosaic has 12 outer spirals and one large inner spiral.  The turquoise stones are imported from Indonesia and the black stones are Mexican beach pebbles.  Iridescent marbles reflect moonlight.

I built a large spiral surrounded by 12 smaller spirals representing the 12 monthly moons of the year, with the center spiral symbolizing the 13th "Blue Moon" that occurs every two to three years, being the second of two full moons in a single month.  I incorporated irridescent marbles in to the design that would sparkle brighter as the moon approaches fullness, drawing attention to the mosaic at night.  My hope was that my clients and their children would make an offering on the various spirals going around the circle, creating a ceremonial habit in conjunction with lunar cycles.  

A section of the surrounding patio

When I built the Halls Hill Labyrinth on Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound region of Washington State, I again used the lunar cycle as an inspiration for the design.  In Native American astrology, the moon rather than the sun is the sign a person is born under.  Each moon has a color, mineral, plant, and animal totem relating to the seasonal character of that time of the year.  I used information acquired from the book The Medicine Wheel by Sun Bear and Wabun ( which I had purchased in the 1980's to aid in the composition of the design, with 12 white quartzite moons in the outer circuit surrounded by the colors associated with each moon.  

The Halls Hill Labyrinth with the 12 full moons of the year in the outer circuit

A thirteenth moon lies in the center of the labyrinth at the center of the sun mosaic representing blue moons and lunar and solar eclipses.

The center of the Labyrinth contains a hole that is the size as the 12 quartzite mosaics in the perimeter 11th circuit

In 2018 I received a commission to build a mosaic meditation area for the garden of a fine Craftsman style house in the Laurelhurst neighborhood of Portland.  The surrounding garden was designed and built by a local contractor working with a highly skilled stone mason named John Dibona, who's work I have admired for years.  The design process was a collaboration with the client involving in depth discussions about various concepts involving cosmic forces.  Building celestial motifs provides a trancendent refuge from the trials of daily life and a means of connecting with the universe.

A photo of a galaxy in one of my client's books

The space for this project is a rather cramped corner of the very small garden over which the house looms.  We would have tea in the kitchen and look down on the garden from above, which became an important consideration in the design.  The most efficient way for me to conceive a design is to do an on site mock up, using the materials I've gathered in order to get a realistic idea of the potential for a project.  After visiting the site and meeting my client and the guys who built the stone patio and pathways for the garden I went to work collecting stone for the project over the summer.  I gave a lecture at Heronswood Nursery in Kingston, Washington in May and collected several buckets of stones from beaches in Puget Sound, and later went on a camping trip on the beautiful Stilaguamish River in the Cascade mountains in Northern Washington, where I dedicated a lot of time to collecting wonderful metamorphic rocks from the river beaches.  These stones are treasure, as they are hand selected for their shape and character.

Beautiful stones along the Stilliguamish River

Once the site was prepared for the mosaic I went to work mocking up a design.  

A compacted gravel base was prepared for me to build the mosaic on.  I later dismantled the beginnings of a circular wall and built a new one more in line with my client's desires.

We discussed doing something relating to the phases of the moon, so I took some marble tile samples I had stored for many years in my basement and cut them on a wet saw to see how they would look.  We loved the result, so I searched for additional tiles that could be cut to make the moon phases, playing on the look of the moon seen through a cloudy sky, when it is at its most beautiful.

A piece of cut marble representing the Dark Moon

I had collected a number of long finger like stones with triangular shapes to make corona like wreaths around each of the moons phases to tie them together stylistically.  The phases are depicted as waxing quarter, half, and three quarter phases of the moon with a full moon on the opposite side, and then waning phases on the right hand side.  

I did a mock up of the design once I had all of the pieces of marble cut for the moon phases.

In the center I cut a rose colored piece of marble to represent lunar eclipses, where the moon appears red, and is often called a Blood Moon.  I used the nicest of the finger stones to create the corona around the eclipsed moon.  The stone mosaic spirals out from the center to emulate a Spiral Galaxy.  I mixed in hundreds of hand sorted small black Mexican Beach Pebbles in to the design to accentuate the spiraling lines

Once I had a good enough concept of the overall look I started to set the perimeter moon phases.  I used steel strips to make the curved outer edge held in place with long steel spikes, creating a level circle to set my grades from.

A half moon and corona mortared over a reinforcing steel grid and bent 10 foot sections of rebar

I had marked the position of the moons in line with the Cardinal points, so the Dark Moon and Half and Full Moons are pointing North, East, South, and West.

5 of the moon phases set in mortar

Once the perimeter was completed I built the center moon and its larger corona and then began to fill in with the spiraling stones to create the galaxy.  My client is very detail oriented and I made adjustments to appease her that refined the overall look.  My work is not without flaws and they did not go unnoticed but eventually were forgiven.

A portion of the spiral galaxy set in mortar. 

I flatten and level the freshly set pebbles by laying a piece of plywood on to and carefully walking on it.  Then I gently hose off the excess mortar the pushes up between the stones and repeat the process until the mosaic is at the desired level.  The center of the circle is slightly higher than the edges so water drains to the outside.

The completed spiral galaxy

After the mortar set for about 10 days I removed the steel form and cleaned the mosaic by pouring Muriatic Acid on it and spraying it with water to spread it out across the surface.  The acid reacts with the base in the mortar to remove the gray residue mortar film, and exposes the sand in the mix so it looks darker.

Muriatic Acid

The stonemason John Dibona lives out in the Columbia River Gorge outside of the town of Corbett, where there is an extraordinary quarry of columnar basalt.  Basalt columns are a desirable material for garden designers.  

Columnar basalt being quarried outside the town of Corbett

We selected a number of smaller pieces that John and a friend cut in to shapes that I could use to construct a perimeter seat height wall around the mosaic.  The same basalt was used around the patio they built and I wanted to integrate my work with what they had done.  The stones were heavy so I used a hand truck dolly to maneuver them around.  I bought and gathered a selection of beautiful river stones to mix in with the basalt pieces.

Some of the basalt blocks used in the wall

The wall I wanted to build has a rustic but tightly fit construction and shape.  I did a mock up using the various stones so my client and I could make decisions about the composition.  By then she was much more trusting and I was able to work more freely.  

A partial mockup of the surrounding wall

The entrance to the patio was oriented to the north with two large columnar stones creating a gateway.  I collected an assortment of smaller stones to integrate in to the work.

An assortment of river stones to be incorporated in to the wall

When I was ready to commit to the composition I started to mortar the first course of stones together.  Some of them are tall and span the base to the cap of the wall, while most of the stones are stacked and fitted together.

Mixing mortar and setting the first course of stone in the wall

I use a 7 inch diameter diamond stone cutting blade on my large angle grinder to shape the stones so that they fit tightly together.  This is very hard work as the material is very hard and heavy.  The wall is free standing on the sides facing the patio so they wall has to look good from both sides.  The large stones helped integrate the new wall in to the existing work the guys had done before.

Scoring lines in the stones so I can remove sections with a small sledge hammer and rock chisel

The details in the wall and pavement integrate the two and make for some wonderful vignettes.  

Filling in the gaps with colorful stones

I left a gap between the bottom of the wall and the mosaic that I later filled with leftover pebbles so that water could drain from the patio in to the ground.  At the three cardinal points in the wall I built arched niches to place candles or offerings in.  These arches connect the wall with the marble moon phases in the pavement.  I used pebbles to mosaic cracks and gaps in the wall and connecting pavement to bring the details of the mosaic up in to the seat wall.

An arched niche made with beautiful river stones over the full moon.

After I finished and cleaned the rock work in the wall I brought in amended soil and planted the narrow beds with plants that would adapt will to the shady and sunny areas, trying to keep the scale of the plants appropriate to the small spaces, so that they won't overwhelm and bury the wall as they mature.  

Plantings around the Phases of the Moon Patio

The completed wall makes for a nice enclosed area to gather for conversations, and for rituals my client arranges on the full moon.  

Lighting and candles for a full moon ritual

The patio the guys had built before I came was well constructed but now looked somewhat monotone so I lifted some of the smaller pieces and did insets with pebbles to bring some more visual interest to it. 

Pebble insets set in fine crushed gravel are permeable so that water can drain in to the ground.

I took over the planting of the other garden beds as well.  I actually like working with plants more than I do building with stone.  The color pallet we chose is meant to compliment the house and fence colors.

Phormium cookianum 'Atropurpureum', Geum 'Mandarine' and Golden Oregano

Mosaic detail and Carex testacea and Black Mondo Grass

My clients are renowned for their Halloween decorations.  This skull fits nicely in one of the niches.

The garden is still fairly young and I am no longer involved with its upkeep, but hopefully it will grow in to a wonderful garden.  Thanks for reading, Jeffrey

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Ohme Gardens

Steep topography in the gardens overlooking the Columbia River

One of the Twin Pools when the pink Phlox bloom in Spring in the 1970's

This is an essay about a very special garden in Central Washington that I have only visited twice, but which holds a special place in my heart because I grew up in the Pacific Northwest.  

A map and aerial photograph of Ohme Gardens

After I had graduated from college, I began to collect a library of books about gardens, architecture, art and travel.  One of the first photo laden books I purchased, published in 1990 was Gardening America, by Ogden Tanner.  The first image in the book is of a lush green alpine mountain meadow strewn with boulders and splashes of radiant pink creeping phlox.  It is a photo of Wenatchee, Washington's Ohme Gardens, a family's laborious interpretation of idyllic landscapes found in the nearby Cascade Mountains to the west.

Ohme is unique among gardens in the United States as it was created to emulate the experience of hiking in an alpine mountain landscape.  Stone trails lace the hillsides, leading to enchanted waterfalls, ponds, flowery meadows, and dramatic viewpoints overlooking the Columbia River Valley.  

The Sylvan Pool was originally built as a swimming pool for the Ohme family and friends

Eastern Washington is high desert country.  Between 17 and 14 million years ago, a series of basaltic lava flows covered 63,200 square miles of the Pacific Northwest from Idaho to the Pacific Ocean.  Then during the Late Ice Age catastrophic inundations of water reshaped the surface of the region, erasing previous surface features.  The mighty Columbia River carves a route 1,243 miles long from British Columbia in Canada to the Pacific Ocean at Astoria, Oregon.  The river is unlike others as a the sections passing through Washington and along the Oregon border were scoured by as many as 40 or more catastrophic floods that occurred during the late Ice Age about 20,000 years ago.  An advancing ice sheet would block the course of the Columbia River, and another on the Clark Fork River in what is now Montana, forming a lake the size of Lake Michigan in the Great Lakes before breeching and sending forth an unfathomable torrent of water hundreds of feet deep, tearing at everything in its path.

Dry Falls is a 3 1/2 mile wide precipice with 4 alcoves formed by a series of catastrophic Ice Age floods with a volume estimated to be 10 times that of all the rivers flowing on Earth today.

The resulting steep walled canyons, scablands, dry waterfalls, and giant rock eddy's in the Columbia River basin confused geologists about their origins for decades until a geologist by the name of J Harlan Bretz hypothesized that catastrophic floods were responsible.  The academic community rejected his claims as contrary to accepted geologic theory but over time his ideas were validated.  Aerial surveys clearly reveal the path of the great deluges, called the Missoula Floods.

An early photo of a path with expansive views of the Columbia River and apple orchards below

Wind blown glacial sediments later formed south facing dunes that today are prime areas for growing apples and other orchard fruits.  Wenatchee is the self proclaimed 'Apple Capitol of the World'.

Apple blossom time

Around the time that geologist J Harlan Bretz began studying the region in 1910, a man named Herman Ohme moved from the flat plains of Illinois to Wenatchee.  He started out logging, which introduced him to the beauty of the snowcapped Cascade Mountains towering over the Western horizon.  Its apparent that Mr. Ohme had a love of nature that made logging an unappealing form of employment.  The region is utterly spectacular, with glaciated granite and basalt peaks and sculpted lake basins.  The Alpine Lakes Wilderness, which runs from Snoqualmie Pass in the south to Stevens Pass in the north contains some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes I have ever seen.  There is a reason that the most dramatic lake basin south of Stevens Pass is called the Enchantments.  

Snow Lake, north of Snoqualmie Pass 

In 1929 Mr. Ohme purchased 40 acres of land on a dry, sagebrush covered bluff overlooking the river valley with the plan of starting an apple orchard.  In 1930 Herman married Ruth Orcutt, who was born and raised in the Wenatchee region.    They planted apples on the lower slopes of the property, and after a long days work would often climb up to the top of the hill to take in the sweeping views of the orchard filled valley and the soaring Cascades in the distance.  Eventually an area was leveled and rows of poplars and black locust trees and a lawn were planted.  This was the beginning of the Great Depression and no bank loans were available for building a house so everything was done at minimal expense.  

Herman and Ruth Ohme

The landscape of Burch Mountain adjacent to Ohme Gardens in it's original state as dry sagebrush covered slopes

The Wenatchee River

Their love of the mountains motivated them to begin a laborious 40 year journey to create an alpine paradise of their own remeniscent of the nearby mountains.  The property features dramatic natural rock formations and cliff hanging promentories.  The couple would drive up in the Cascades in their Studebaker Coupe on the weekends and fill the rumble seat and running boards with seedlings of native Alpine Firs, Douglas firs, and Cedars, as well as native shrubs and ferns.  They had to haul 5 gallon milk cans to the top of the hill to hand water the new plants.  Soon they were transporting water in a large tank in a truck, and eventually installed an 800 foot pipeline to run sprinklers in the young garden.   There was no plan to begin with, just lots of trees planted here and there, but brutal hard work fueled by ambition led to the beginnings of an alpine landscape on the mountain slopes.  Having no training in landscape design or horticulture, they worked intuitively, inspired by what they had seen in the Cascade range.  They succeeded in creating a convincingly natural landscape unlike any other I have ever seen. 

Mass plantings of Alpine Fir, Abies lasiocarpa have reached mature heights

When you hike in the mountains it's often to reach a lake.  At the base of a large rock outcropping Herman used a mule drawn drag bucket to excavate what would become the Sylvan swimming pool.  Going laboriously back and forth, the soil was removed down to the underlying bedrock.  He then he lined the pool with concrete mixed by hand to seal it.  As a stone mason I can fathom the amount of labor that went in to this project.  Water was eventually piped to the top of the outcropping to cascade in a small waterfall down its face.  What a wonderful swimming pool!

The waterfall at the Sylvan Pool

Stone paths were installed around two sides of the pool using flat stones collected from an area near the Columbia River.  This area was later flooded by the Rocky Reach dam, forcing them to find other sources for stone.  Herman and Ruth would carry the stones on a retrofitted stretcher with holes cut in it so the person at the rear could see what they were walking on.  Larger ones were dragged on a sled pulled by a mule.  

I am guessing that this huge, beautiful slab ended up here and was impossible to move again.

An early view of the Sylvan Pool

The Sylvan Pool today

Herman experimented for 20 years with paint attempting to capture the color of the water in alpine lakes.  Goldfish were added and there are many to be seen swimming about today.  He built a canoe to paddle around his family alpine lake, and a bathhouse changing room for swimmers.

Goldfish in the Sylvan Pool

Walls were built with stone moved to create areas for gardens and lawns.  Over time hundreds of tons of rock were transported and placed by hand.  Slabs were split with sledge hammers and wedges, and once unloaded they were shifted in to place using a crow bar.  Paths and steps built with flat stones were arranged to emulate naturalistic trails seen in the mountains and rougher stones were used for walls and to create naturalistic planting areas.

Native Lady Ferns, Athyrium felix femina growing along a moist section of pathway

Ruth soon gave birth to two sons, Calvin in 1931 and Gordon in 1934.  Gordon inherited his parents passion for building in the garden and was carrying stones at an early age.  He and his children would dedicate their lives to continuing work to build what you see today.  After the Sylvan pool and pool house were finished, a fireplace was constructed against a rock outcrop.

The fireplace is a remarkable construction that beautifully blends the natural and man made.  The lintel is about 6 feet long and a large oval specimen of quartzite was placed in the center of the chimney.  The arrangement of stones if very organic but also alludes the to work of the Civilian Conservation Corps, workers camps during the Great Depression who built rustic structures in parks and planted millions of trees.  Originally the fireplace was fronted by a lawn where the family would gather to roast hotdogs and marshmallows.  Trees have grown to great size around it so that it can no longer be used for fires, but until then it was a gathering place for the family after hard days moving stone.

The fireplace in the early 1930's

The fireplace now

Herman then built the Ox Yoke Lodge, named for a hand hewn Ox yoke hanging the the center gable.  Logs were hauled from the mountains to build the columns and walls that were chinked with lichen to seal the gaps.

The roof and siding was made from strips of cedar bark as there was no money to purchase building materials.  

The Ox Yoke hanging from the front gable

The lodge was furnished with hand made tables using electric cable spools and hand carved log chairs, warmed by a stone fireplace, creating a family gathering place on rainy days.  The structure has been preserved in its original state but is closed because of collapsed logs in the walls and sagging sections of cedar bark in the roof.

Furniture in the Ox Yoke Lodge

Next came the construction of the Wishing Well in a steep area below where the Vista House would later be built.  Water trickles down a vertical rock outcrop in to a round pool.  A cedar tree has grown to envelope one side of the pool.  There is an intimate feel to this destination along a meandering path and steps.  Coins collected from the well were originally donated to the Children's Orthopedic Hospital.

The Wishing Well Pool

Friends of the family would come up to enjoy the gardens and swim in the Sylvan pool.  Eventually word spread of this wonderful green sanctuary on the otherwise barren hillside and visitors started to come in larger numbers.  In 1939 the local newspaper published an article with photographs and people started to come in greater and greater numbers.  Herman eventually conceded to open the gardens to the public and charged 25 cents a carload to keep the gardens from being overrun.  But people would drive to the base of the hill and then cram themselves in to a single vehicle for the final leg to save money.  Eventually there were so many visitors that Herman leased the apple orchard so that the family could dedicate itself full time to the gardens.  

The gardens in 1939

Family and friends would still swim in the Sylvan pool but would have to hide behind trees when visitors came along so that they wouldn't be encouraged to hop in as well.

The next structure to be constructed in the gardens was the Totem Lodge, dating from the 1940's.  Built using fantastically burled logs for columns, the cedar bark roofed structure has a rock fireplace and blue stained plank walls.  Structurally it is much better condition than the Ox Yoke Lodge.  Round tables and hand carved log chairs were used for picnics, which are no longer allowed in the gardens. The lower lawn is surrounded by low beds of creeping phlox, ajuga and other ground hugging plants to replicate alpine meadows.  My Grandparents lived in Bend and had an immaculately tended garden and lawn.  In the high desert well tended bright green lawns are a trademark oasis of region to contrast the dry native scrub.

Burl log columns in the Totem Pole Lodge

Blue stained plank walls and rustic furniture in the Totem Pole Lodge

Herman kneeling by an inscribed poem about the garden written by Bertha Whitley Graham

Vinca minor, Ajuga reptans, and Cotoneaster horizontals along a rustic path

The gardens were continuously developed and expanded, with new paths and plantings using native plants and non natives that were available at the time which were propagated on site.  Alpine meadows are planted with a variety of plants collected by the Ohme's, including creeping phlox, sedums and thyme, hardy geraniums, ajuga, and native Lewisia tweedyi that sprouts from rock crevices like they do in nature.

Creeping thyme, Ajuga, and Mahonia nervosa

Armeria maritima, Sea Thrift growing in a moist rock outcrop

Native Lewisia tweedii

The paths themselves are some of the masterpieces of the garden.  Each one is different in character, crossing meadows, winding along steep cliffs and leading to grand viewpoints.  The growth of the trees has changed the character of the landscape so that many of the paths lead through wooded areas now.  There are small lawns and many stone slab benches to rest and take in the views.

An alpine meadow path

A path crossing the Hook Lawn

A forest path

One of my favorite paths comes to a rock outcrop and like a steep trail in the mountains you have to climb using your hands to get to the top of the slope.

Climbing a steep path

Wandering the extensive path system is a journey of discovery

Large stones were hauled on a stretcher or by a sled pulled by a mule to create the many sets of steps that navigate the steep slopes

Gordon Ohme and his son Brian carrying stones on a stretcher

Paths were laid without the use of a plan.  Stones were placed to fit the topography to feel like mountain trails.  They were hand swept for many years until the advent of backpack blowers.

Cactus Point used to display a collection of potted cacti that were brought out in the Summer.  They were overwintered in the old house but were lost in a fire.

Steps are not always even, to feel more natural

Steep slopes are navigated by laboriously engineered paths that now have railings for safety

The paths can feel like trails in the wilderness

A path leading to Hidden Pool

In the early 1950's, Herman's and Ruth's youngest son Gordon built the Hidden Pool at the bottom edge of the garden.  He inherited his father's intuitive skill at design, and was quoted saying "It gives me a creative outlet.  To build something that brings enjoyment to other people is very satisfying."  A tractor was used to excavate the pool, the first piece of machinery used for construction in the garden.  The steep slope made it impossible for a cement mixer truck to access the pool so the concrete had to be wheelbarrowed by hand to the site.  A dramatic stone outcrop at the edge of the pool can be climbed via sets of winding stone steps  to a dramatic view over the city of Wenatchee.

The Hidden Pool in the early 1950's

Path around the edge of the Hidden Pool

Waterfall at the Hidden Pool

The gardens were meticulously maintained, 7 days a week.  Paths were swept by hand, the expansive beds were laboriously watered using hoses and sprinklers until the 1960's when Gordon took on the considerable task of installing a sprinkler system with 140 impact sprinklers ingeniously hidden on high points in the garden to reach the expansive garden beds.  This relieved him of the task of having to get up in the middle of the night to move and roll up hoses as all watering was done after the gardens closed.

Hidden Pool seen from the stone outcrop

In 1965 Gordon and his wife Carol took over management from his aging parents.  Gordon continued to expand and develop the gardens, expanding them from the 4 acres Herman and Ruth developed to the 9 acres that the gardens cover today.   

The Hidden Pool

Gordon built the Twin Pools in the 1970's using a Caterpillar Tractor borrowed from a neighbor to excavate them.  A cement truck was able to access this area making the construction considerably easier.  A stream was built that connected them to the Sylvan Pool, which continued down the slope to the Hidden Pool. 

Pouring concrete for the Twin Pools

Enchantment Falls cascade down a rocky face in to one of the Twin Pools

A naturalistic stream flows in to one of the Twin Pools

This is a natural stream in Mt. Rainier National Park

One of the most impressive features of the garden are the more than 50 rock benches that were built to rest and contemplate the views along the more than a mile of stone paths.  

A rock bench makes a pleasant place to sit and admire Hidden Pool

Large stone slabs were built in to stone outcrops to create natural looking resting spots along the paths

A large bench with a sloped back takes in the view of the Hidden Pool

A piece of Petrified wood tree trunk makes an attractive arm rest

I love these benches built in to stone outcrops

A shady nook

Another enchanted place to sit

Herman was always looking for new features to add to the gardens.  This stone table was built in the 1940's.  The original slab cracked when it was being installed.  A group of Eagle Scouts recently built a jumbled looking waterfall adjacent to this area that could use some remodeling to make it more in fitting with the standard of the work done by the Ohme family.

The Stone Table

A waterfall adjacent to the Stone Table

Weddings have been held in the gardens since the 1940's and steps leading down the slope to the Entrance Lawn are called the Wedding Path, where brides traditionally process to the ceremony.

The Wedding Path

A path leading to the high point

Herman had one unfulfilled fantasy, to build a Medieval Castle on the highest point on the property.  He wished that a millionaire would come along and finance its construction since he lacked the funds to do so himself.  In the end he built a humble wooden Vista House on the promontory in the style of a lookout.

The current Vista House

The original log Vista House, built in the 1930's

Gordon rebuilt the Vista House using stone and logs in the 1970's.

The current Vista House

The view from the Vista House

Today the magnificent views from the gardens are sullied by the huge agricultural warehouses that have replaced the orchards and riparian landscapes of the Columbia River with pavement a expansive roofs.

An photo from a 1960 article in Look Magazine with a view of the Columbia River

The gardens came to the attention of the wider public in the 1960's with the publication of articles in popular magazines such as Life, Good Housekeeping, Look, Women's Day, Holiday, and Better Homes and Gardens, along with a number of books like Gardening America.  Visitor numbers climbed as a result to 30,000 annually.  The old wind break of poplar and black locust trees were cut down and replaced with conifers and the parking lot was expanded.  In 1965 Herman and Ruth sold the garden to Gordon and Carol for $60,000.  That same year the Washington State Arts Commission gave the family a State Beautification award.  Herman Ohme passed away in 1970 at the age of 81.  10 years later the family negotiated the sale of the gardens to the State of Washington, and Chelan County later took over management as a county park.  Ruth continued to work a few hours a day at the ticket booth late in to her life.  Gordon passed away on October 15th, my birthday, in 1993 at the young age of 53.  Ruth passed away in 1997 at the age of 86.

Gordon, Ruth, and Herman Ohme taking a break on a rustic bench by the Sylvan Pool

An man made alpine paradise

Today the gardens remain a popular wedding venue, and hosts concerts, yoga sessions, outdoor movies, and Gnome and Fairy hunts for children.  The garden is maintained by a hard working staff and volunteers.  My last visit was during the height of the Covid pandemic.  I spoke to a maintenance worker who was busy weeding.  She told me that the garden had been closed for a while prior and the renovation of large planting beds was undertaken at that time.

Pieces of glacially striated stone brought to the gardens

The Top Pool undergoing restoration

Ohme Gardens is open to the public from April 15th to October 15th, 7 days a week.  Adult admission is $8.  The gardens website is

A wood carving of Ruth Ohme carrying a bucket of water

The parking lot has an adjacent picnic area outside the gardens and an entrance ticket window

Gardens that take 40 years to build, especially those built by hand with a fresh and unique vision inspired by Nature are a rare and extraordinary occurrence in the United States.  I know first hand as a garden builder and a person who has spent nearly that long working with stone how difficult that labor can be.  It requires extraordinary perseverance and strength that is often born out of necessity because the material is heavy, challenging to transport, and takes natural and acquired skill to do well, especially on steep inaccessible terrain.  There are recent renovations that have happened in the garden that I don't believe meet the standards that the Ohme family would approve of, but there really aren't that many great stonemasons available and few opportunities for people to learn the craft.  I shouldn't be too critical though.

A new path leading to nowhere is made of a exotic sparkly quartzite commonly available in stone yards that doesn't match the native stone used by the Ohme family.

It takes patience and drive and endurance.  I was so impressed the first time I visited Ohme Gardens by the way they translated the inspiration of the Washington Cascade mountain landscapes in to a much drier environment, working with the topography of the magnificent site.  

Basket of Gold, Aurinia saxitilis is an old fashioned trailing garden plant used well on this rock outcrop

I am always absorbing what I see in my travels, observing how things are built and composed and studying the motivation behind design concepts.  I utilize those things that inspire me the most in my own work, Nature being the foremost of those inspirations.  I have a fond affinity to the masterpiece that the Ohme family manifested on 9 acres of challenging terrain overlooking the city of Wenatchee.

A path I built using native Schist at Camp Glenorchy on the South Island of New Zealand

A recent patio project using Bluestone imported from the East Coast and modifying an old existing retaining wall.

Thank you for reading, Jeffrey

Goldfish in the Sylvan Pond

A post card view of the gardens from the dry slope below