In this overview section focus is on maintenance restricted to more technical subjects and those more specific to Tsubo-en. Details on all the activities related to Maintenance and tuning can be found in the specialized chapters of which hyperlinks are available also in this chapter.

Like the "Technology behind the garden" section this section lacks the garden or nature romance.
The following topics are discussed (bold links into a new page):

  1. Tooling
  2. Bottom surface maintenance
  3. Preventive maintenance and repair
  4. Training, clipping and pruning
  5. Uninvited visitors


Pruning tools Loads of information on garden tools is available in books and on the Internet. We will not add to that. We will however show some of the most used tools in Tsubo-en or tools that are more or less unique to (our) Japanese gardening.
The single most used tools are tweezers, primarily to remove weed from the ground cover planting and mosses. One of the disadvantages of our strategic choice to not wall in the garden as a whole.

The tweezers with the fork is also used to rake-out moss from the groundcovering plants. The giant tweezers is actually a kitchen utensil and is great to completely remove tap roots. Other activities are removing moss from groundcovers and removing unwanted or "wrong" mosses from moss that we do want.
An other frequently used tool is the home-made gravel-rake (kumade or more specific: "sanon yo kumade" for a pattern sand rake). We use both sides. For instructions on how to make your own rake have a look at Sand and gravel rakes.

Want to test or improve your raking skills ?
Click this link: Raking training.

Yet an other frequently used tool is an ordinary hedge-shears, here resting on a Buxus.

Most of the karikomi and hako-zukuri topiary and other shrubs are the evergreen Buxus sempervirens (Box or Boxwood). To shape and keep in shape these we spend a couple of full days per year.

The same is true to shape and keep in shape the hedgerows and other shrubs.

Bottom surface maintenance

For more information on activities related to Bottom surface maintenance, click the hyperlink.

Yet an other related task is Regular cleaning-up.

The gravel area, Ginshanada

As stated above most of the gravel area of about 220 m2 is kept flat, which in itself is challenging enough already.
As a result of daily visits of cats, and less frequently dogs, children or even adults, the flat surfaces as well as the patterns get damaged. In addition, even when not damaged the patterns will eventually disappear after some heavy rain showers.
The raking is done with a specially (home) made wide-toothed rake, of which the flat is used to flatten the area without pattern.


Want to test or improve your raking skills ?
Click this link: Raking training.

Keeping the groundcovers out of the gravel

The ground covering plants can be real creepers and need strict maintenance in order to retain razor-sharp edges, almost like painted or drawn [4: Ch.16: Zen Gardens: From painting to landscaping]. In order to keep them out of the gravel they need strict and frequent trimming on the edges.

This is how the edges may look, in this example after the winter period (late April). This shows the Leptinella potentillina (prev. Cotula) that is used as groundcover in most tsukiyama parts.
Partly by "trial on error" one needs to develop a method for this maintenance task.
First raking the gravel out of the creepers.
Then cutting the plant while trying to as much as possible keep the waste out of the gravel and dispose of it right away.
Here you see the weed control fabric underneath the gravel. This considerably eases and reduces the required maintenance effort.
After this is done we need to collect as much as possible of the wasted ground covering plant.
As you can see the gravel is now dirty due to the soil that came to the surface.
Now we need to rake the gravel back again.
Keeping a small "ditch" between the gravel and the plants will slow down the growth.
Now it is up to nature to clean the gravel from the soil with one or two rain showers.
When in a hurry we could of course hose the dirt off our self.

Maintenance of the Ginshanada drainage system

In order to prevent the Ginshanada (silversand open sea or gravel area) from becoming a pond or even a lake, it has been well drained during the construction. For details see:
The technology behind (or under) the garden section. Where the drain openings are at surface level, filtering tissue prevents the pipes of blockage. These filters need frequent cleaning.
To show that the "prevent it from becoming a pond" is not exaggerated we have included the following photo's.
This was very unusual because it was a combined rain, thunder and hailstorm in early June (2005).
Thanks to the drainage system and its good condition the water was gone within an our after the storm had ended.
Click a photo to see a larger size.

In chapter Preventive & Repair you can see some of the maintenance involved to keep the drainage system functioning.


Cleaning the garden from weeds involve a major and frequent effort. Weeds may vary from mosses to grasses and trees that get blown into the garden. Yet an other disadvantage of an "open" garden.
In order to also remove the root, most of the weeds are removed using tweezers.

With regard to plants, my personal "Rule number one" is if you did not intentionally plant it there it does not belong there. Take it out !

Preventive maintenance and repair

Most of this work is directly related to activities as described in the sections Infrastructure design and component selection and Build and construction of the integral design in the Specifics on the realization of Tsubo-en chapter (and left menu option) and will often involve a partial re-do of the initial building work.
See Preventive & Repair for examples of subject activities.

The main garden tsukubai

The tsukubai needs regular cleaning. More frequently the chõzubachi, or actually the water reservoir underneath it requires regular refill with water. Once or twice a year the reservoir of the main garden tsukubai needs to be cleaned inside and out. Outside from soil and roots and bamboo.
The water container (see: Constructing the Main Tsukubai and Turtle Island lakes), from which the tap gets its supply, holds about 40 liters. It gets automatically refilled from the tsukubai overflow until below a minimum level. Then the water jet gets less and less to eventually stop. Water is lost due to the wind blowing it away, evaporation and forms of "leakage", in particular if branches of surrounding plants grow against it.

Training, clipping and pruning

Probably the most time critical clipping act is that related to removing flowers before they go to seed.
Some plants, like the Armeria maritima ( English grass) on the Turtle island, but also a number of the herb plants in the herb garden (e.g. Chive), go to seed very quickly and are able to spread thousands of seeds in no time.
It is important to keep a close eye on these and to remove the flowers before they dry out.

As described in the garden section, this the Euonymus Japonicus "Compactus" is used to strengthen the impression or illusion of depth. A quality of this shrub is that it rapidly grew into its current size and shape. The latter of course is both an advantage and a disadvantage because it implies that the plant requires more frequent clipping to retain size and shape.
It also produces a large amount of waste. Other disadvantages are that, with its soft and succulent leaves it attracts all types of aphid (plant louse), and it is not fully a hardy annual.
The photo shows the first annual clipping, by the author, that needs to be done in May already.


More information on this subject is available in Training, clipping and pruning.

Fukinaoshi, "to re-do" overgrown trees

Thinning to preserve the natural habit of the branches and foliage is known as chirashi, while fukinaoshi is mostly used at the nursery. Fukinaoshi, a kind of revision (literally: "to re-do") is the technique for cutting back overgrown trees, creating a new shape. It is the basic technique used to shape or reshape established trees, that may have been neglected (just not) too long and involves cutting back to a framework of the trunk and main branches, before establishing a new shape.

As described in Fukinaoshi, "to re-do" overgrown trees, fukinaoshi came just in time to rescue some of our evergreen garden trees. In this separate chapter we show in detail what we did to save a number of our niwaki.

Seedbox removal

As part of this section we can also address the removal of seedboxes. This is of particular interest if the plants still do not have their final shape and size. In order to prevent a plant of putting all its energy in growing the seedbox we should remove them so that the plant can again continue to put its energy in further growth. This activity should be performed shortly after the flowers have dropped off and in particular applies to slow growing and abundantly flowering shrubs like Azalea and Rhododendron.

A handful of seedboxes from the main garden O-karikomi Box or Buxus sempervirens. These are large and old and can produce buckets full of seedbox. Whereas the flowers are almost invisible the seedbox develops into a pea-size taking a lot of energy that then can not be used to grow.

Uninvited visitors

Due to the fact that Tsubo-en is very open, that is not enclosed by walls or fences, we have more uninvited visitors than may normally be expected in a private garden.

How do Buddhists and Zennist remain faithful to their principles and beliefs of "live and let live" ?

Ants. Although the damage may look limited initially it is always just the beginning. Although true for most vermin, in particular ants are not aware of any natural boundaries nor do they have an off-switch (click for a larger photo).

These photo´s show how creative and hard-working ants can be to build a nest.
This is what I found during the yearly maintenance of the tap-points.
Move your mouse-pointer over the photo on the right to see how this used to look and should look


And then moles.
In the Netherlands until 2004 moles were regarded a protected animal.

Even when found in a private garden ! The damage they can do to a garden in only a few days is almost beyond imagination. Law or not, no way to just let them go.

Point the photo for details.

Some other intruders are shown below, all leaving behind their own specific trails and traces.

We have plenty of wild ducks visiting. This couple is probably looking for foot as some of our neighbours feed the frequently. Once they get the taste of that, they come and hope to be fed.
In most cases the will not cause too much damage or repair.
As indicated above, when in Tsubo-en, although this can not be understood by a layman, cats are at the top of our list of most frustrating and irritating uninvited visitors.
The footprints left in the gravel take away every hint of perfection. We won't mention the (piles of) droppings.

Note that this specimen is used as an example and is innocent of the above offences.
Although a beautiful bird and flutist it too needs to find its food.
As there is no way, nor will, to keep them out of the garden growing moss is impossible as the blackbird will rip apart and turn around each and every piece of it no matter how small and well hidden.
Snails, and this is only one specimen.
What more need I say ?
The one below won´t do any harm here.


And then of course insect, fungus and what have you that eats, sucks, nibbles, roles or otherwise damages plants.
Because of the general nature of this subject in each and every garden, we will refrain from going into more details.

See Pest & weeds control to find out how we deal with most of the above pests.

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