Inspiration > Creating an Oasis from Local Materials

Peter and Joann Wood’s Center Harbor home can be best described as idyllic. Its many windows offer breathtaking views of Squam Lake, and the house— surrounded by trees—provides a serene getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The Woods appreciate quiet living, as they were Manhattan residents for nearly forty years. Even though they visit New York often and hold a spot for the city in their hearts, the Woods decided to make their Center Harbor summer home their permanent residence in 2004.

“We loved being up here more and more,” Joann says. The Woods also wanted to move while still able to enjoy outdoor activities, such as hiking and kayaking.

Once the decision was made to leave the city, the Woods knew some renovations were needed to make their summer home comfortable year-round. For example, Joann wanted a “potting room” for indoor plants and cut flowers; Peter needed a home office with plenty of room for organizing papers and books; and both wanted a new master bedroom, bath and laundry room. To the couple’s delight, these additions created a three-sided courtyard area.

“We really came upon this accidently,” Peter says, while gesturing to the courtyard.

A Japanese Touch

Once discovered, the Woods saw their accidental courtyard as an empty canvas to create something beautiful.

An avid gardener, Joann began envisioning a Japanese-style garden. Through a friend’s recommendation, the Woods contacted Palmer Koelb of Shin-boku Nursery in Wentworth to help transform Joann’s idea into a reality and do some other landscaping around the yard.

“It was an interesting challenge,” Koelb recalls. “In the case of the Woods, their view of the garden/courtyard was from all the way around, as opposed to most houses where it is more two dimensional. I had to make it attractive from every view.”

Koelb achieved this by complementing an approximately sixty-year-old Hussi hemlock with his specialty, dwarf conifer trees. At Shin-boku Nursery, the conifers are grown for a few years in the ground and then planted into a large container. Some are nurtured at the nursery for twenty-five or more years. According to Koelb, the trees are “pain stakingly trimmed to produce a shape and personality consistent with the finest trimmed trees found in Japanese gardens.” Koelb can say this confidently because he and his wife spent three weeks in Japan in late 2008 touring and studying what he calls “the mecca” of Japanese gardens. These are the efforts Koelb goes through to ensure his trees look similar to those in Japan.

Koelb is realistic, however, and realizes that the Japanese climate differs from New Hampshire’s; trees that survive there, such as the Japanese black pine, cannot endure a New England winter. Consequently, even though the trees found at Shin-boku and in this Center Harbor yard look as if they could be from Japan, Koelb uses trees that can withstand Granite State temperatures. “Shin-boku Nursery has experienced minus-50 degrees, so you can be sure that these trees have really been coldtested,” Koelb says.

Joann confirms that her Japaneseinspired garden withstands the winters quite nicely and, in fact, makes her yard look rather sculptural once snow flies. “In colder months, my other gardens are of minimal interest. I do try to have plantings that are of winter interest, but Palmer’s garden, however, is always beautiful,” Joann says.

An Island Patio

Adding to the garden’s beauty, Koelb used an oil-bearing shale purchased at a nearby quarry for the patio stone, and moss and lichen stone collected from his fields and woodlot as a border. Using shale this way, instead of steppingstones, was a departure from the Japanese aesthetic, but the homeowners wanted their garden to serve as a patio and for their chairs to be steady on the flat surface. So Koelb accommodated the couple’s needs by creating a garden with “Japanese flavor.”

The oil-bearing shale creates a waterlike shimmer, giving the couple their own “island” in the courtyard. During warmer weather, the courtyard becomes even more island-like, thanks to a soothing trickle of water that circulates throughout the stone wall (a pump was placed in a basin-like area at the foot of the wall).

The stone wall was built by Scott and Rick King of King’s Stone Masonry and Landscaping, LLC in Holderness, who built a stone fireplace for the couple’s living room in 1996. The brothers used native stones for both the fireplace and the wall—the majority of stones were Winnipesauke feldspar granite, a stone the Kings use frequently in their work.

With the completion of the stone wall, two former New Yorkers suddenly had a Japanese-inspired oasis in the center of their New Hampshire home—a space that almost never was.

According to a Japanese proverb, “Silence surpasses speech.” This is easily appreciated by sitting on the Woods’ patio, listening to the peaceful sounds of trickling water and gazing at Koelb’s impeccably trimmed trees.