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Japanese oasis is gardener's 'essence of me'

Pacemont Road resident's work on display as part of year's last garden tour

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William Webster has several different forests in his 1,300-square-foot Clintonville backyard.

It helps, of course, that the trees making up these forests are the dwarf varieties called bonsai.

Webster's garden on West Pacemont Road -- built entirely in the Japanese style, including suiseki, or viewing stones -- is the result of a longstanding fascination with that nation's culture.

The property will be among the stops on the latest Clintonville garden tour, set Sunday, July 14.

When Webster, a native of Iowa City, Iowa, was preparing to retire in 2004, his daughter, son-in-law and grandson were living in Columbus and encouraged him to relocate close to them.

"They thought that Clintonville would be the ideal place for me, given my inclinations and my liking of diversity," Webster said.

One of his criteria for a home in the neighborhood was that the yard had to be one where he could create a true Japanese garden, improving a great deal on the one he had installed in Philadelphia following no fewer than three trips to study such gardens in Kyoto. A small bungalow dating perhaps as far back as the 1880s fit the bill perfectly, Webster said last week.

The garden in Philadelphia had 50 bonsai trees of a dozen different varieties, and all of them made the trip to Columbus.

The first task Webster undertook in transforming the yard of his new home into the type of garden he wanted was to dig by hand a 2,000-gallon koi pond in spring 2004.

That's the first thing visitors will see on the tour, Webster said, along with the 11 butterfly koi averaging 18 inches in length in the pond.

The next thing tourists will spot on entering the yard is a 20-foot wall of pruned bamboo, which most find impressive because it's not easy to grow in this climate, according to the gardener.

"This has done extremely well in this protected backyard," Webster said.

Some things have worked over the years and others have not in bringing the Japanese garden to life. For example, in summer 2005, Webster had 11 tons of white marble chips brought in.

"The size was wrong and the color was totally wrong," he said he later realized.

A year later, he replaced the marble with decorative gravel chips.

Webster said at one point, he was putting about six hours a day, seven days a week, into working on and maintaining his garden. It's now down to about two hours a day.

"When it comes to whether I control the garden or it controls me, I'd be hard-pressed to say," Webster said. "The essence of me is being and working in the garden, which I basically do all the time."

But he's definitely proud of the results.

"It strikes me that this, as far as I can recall or think, this is the most artistic use of bare and raw nature as art that man has conceived," Webster said. "It takes nature and brings it to the highest level of artistic expression and sophistication.

"From the time I was a kid, I loved the idea of art being created by getting your hands in the mud."

For more information, visit Webster's website, thewebsterjapanese garden.com.

Tour stops

The third and final Clintonville Open Garden Tour will take place from noon to 4 p.m. July 14 and will include seven stops.

They are:

* 386 Crestview Road, which features native prairie plants, perennials and grasses in an urban setting.

* 156 E. Lakeview Ave., where tour organizers say there is a "unique use of a small space with outdoor kitchen and living area" that includes many pots, topiary plants and a small pond.

* 66 W. Pacemont Road, a Japanese-style garden with bamboo, a pond, miniature trees and shrubs grown in the ground, and Japanese viewing stones.

* 286 W. Brighton Road, with a variety of vegetables, perennials, shrubs and a pond in a partly shady garden, and a front garden with rocks and perennials, but no turf.

* The street park across from 469 Clinton Heights Ave., which is public space planted and maintained by neighbors, full of blooms and a wide variety of plants.

* 30 E. Torrence Road, a half-acre lot with deep, cottage-style sunny and shady borders and many native plants.

* 4517 Rosemont Place, a large vegetable garden accented with perennials, annuals and a small Zen garden in a large space.

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