Heather Hughes-Healy carved, painted and covered with sand a wood post with the Japanese sign for tranquility. This is placed in her front yard. Mail Tribune Bob Pennell

A taste of Asia

Garden tours for charitable causes are in bloom, with colorful and distinctive designs on display. Among the best is the Japanese garden, manicured to the nth degree, front and back, by Heather Hughes-Healy, transforming her east Medford from the lawn-and-bushes affair it was 30 years ago into the magical haven it is today.

A highlight on the North Valley Soroptimist tour on Saturday, June 2, the garden has spare oriental lines, is mostly evergreen and has almost no flowers, but, she cautions, if you think it's low-maintenance, guess again.

"I start every day out here in my bathrobe, on my knees and soon realize I'd better go inside and get dressed," says Hughes-Healy. "It's all-consuming. It's my art work."

The Soroptimist tour will take you to four other north valley gardens and, on the following day, Sunday, June 3, you can check out six gardens in the Ashland area on the tour of the American Association of University Women.

The Medford Rose Society tour of four Medford-area rose gardens is this Saturday and Sunday.

All shades and shapes of green surround and embrace Hughes-Healy's simple brown bungalow, making natural serenity the main statement of the residence.

Pergolas, front and back, are flanked by Japanese maples and shore pines and serve as harbors for relaxing and viewing this "safe, peaceful haven,"

Many plants, but especially the pines, are trimmed and trained to grow in eye-pleasing, oval layers, a feat that takes literally endless pruning, hand-pinching of new sprouts, even hanging rocks from some branches to get them in the right place, she says.

"It's the perfect outlet for an OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) person," she jokes, noting each of the rounded stones along the walkway by the backyard pool have been hand-scrubbed and selected to be the same size.

The passion for all things oriental got started in 1979, when Hughes-Healy bought a Japanese coffee table at a yard sale, fell in love with the sleek but simple look and feel and soon found herself tossing out all things occidental, including her whole yard and all it's pretty flowers.

The backyard welcomes you through a Torii gate, then swoops around a kidney-shaped swimming pool, drawing the eye in a thousand peaceful directions with collections of rocks (arranged to simulate a dry creek bed), stone lanterns, shoji screens, crane sculptures, three koi ponds and the occasional grouping of iris, whose many pointy leaf ends seem to lend themselves to the theme.

All these are underlain by a dazzling lime-colored carpet of Scottish moss — and it's not a carpet for walking. It takes light traffic only and has to be cleaned and kept up with, like the rest of the garden. Augmenting it are tough little beds of knickknick.

Other plants found to work in with the esthetics an evergreen approach are St. Mary's magnolia (trained to grow flat against the north wall), mandina, threadleaf cypress, styrax juponia, bird's nest spruce, weeping larch and dogwood.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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