A Year of Volunteer Pruning with Ralph Padilla
by Lara Netting, Trustee

Just as visitors circle the stroll garden, Ralph began with the karesansui garden and worked his way around the pond. (This area that we call the Zen garden is more commonly referred to as a 'dry rock' garden, as not all gravel and rock spaces have been influenced by Zen concepts.) On his first visit, Ralph observed that he would define trees that had grown together and reduce the overhead canopy. Around the Zen garden, this meant cutting select magnolia, gingko, and London planetree branches and allowing sun to shine on the gnarled juniper in the garden’s corner. Two seasonal photos highlight the new spaciousness that Ralph’s pruning has granted to the Zen garden. (Images #1 and #2)

Zen garden pruned for distinction and light July 2021

1. Zen Garden Pruned for Distinction and Light July 2021

Throughout 2021, the Hammond Japanese Stroll Garden has been fortunate to receive expert attention from Ralph Padilla, Director of forestry/horticulture, City of Yonkers. Ralph’s weekend work at the Hammond has been entirely volunteer. He has climbed high into evergreens and stooped low to Japanese maples, driven by the joy of shaping trees and garden. From all of us at the Hammond: “Thank you, Ralph!”

Zen garden with juniper and light snow

2. Zen Garden with Juniper and Light Snow

Just as visitors circle the stroll garden, Ralph began with the karesansui garden and worked his way around the pond. (This area that we call the Zen garden is more commonly referred to as a 'dry rock' garden, as not all gravel and rock spaces have been influenced by Zen concepts.) On his first visit, Ralph observed that he would define trees that had grown together and reduce the overhead canopy. Around the Zen garden, this meant cutting select magnolia, gingko, and

London planetree branches and allowing sun to shine on the gnarled juniper in the garden’s corner. Two seasonal photos highlight the new spaciousness that Ralph’s pruning has granted to the Zen garden. (Images #1 and #2)

Continuing south, Ralph focused on a cryptomeria and hinoki cypress that had grown together. Removing some lower branches from the tall cryptomeria allowed that tree to recede and the fuller hinoki to come to the fore in an attractive composition. (Image #3) Beyond that pair of evergreens, Ralph worked on framing the view west from the stroll garden toward the Hammond’s sculpture installations. Removing a few lower branches from our splendid katsura trees opened a vista onto the broad lawn of Ms. Natalie Hammond’s former manor. (Image #4) 

View through katsura trees to sculpture

4. View Through Katsura Trees to Sculpture

Small crabapple on the east side of the pond historic

5. Small Crabapple on the East Side of the Pond - Historic Image

At the garden entry, Ralph dedicated most of his time and wrapped up his work this December. (Image 7) Using professional tree climbing techniques, Ralph started to shape our Japanese black pine into a specimen tree. He cut height and defective wood, aiming to stimulate healthy growth to be trimmed in future seasons. Sadly, he found that the larch that has framed views across the pond for decades is declining and will need to be removed. (Stay tuned for a memorial essay for this lovely larch.) On a smaller scale, Ralph pruned our Japanese maple, bringing light into the beautifully contorted tree. Shaping these trees helped reveal the stepping-stone path that meanders from the entry past a stone lantern to the maple. (Image 8)

Swiveling east toward the Hammond pond, Ralph pruned the tangled old crabapples that dipped into the water. A photograph from our archives shows how dramatically these once waist-high trees have matured in the past half century. (Image #5) Ralph worked to distinguish one crabapple from its neighbor, clear views beneath the trees and across the pond, and remove branches that interfered with the path. (Image #6)

crabapples nw side pruned to clear pond

6. Crabapple on North West Side Pruned to Clear Pond

At the garden entry, Ralph dedicated most of his time and wrapped up his work this December. (Image 7) Using professional tree climbing techniques, Ralph started to shape our Japanese

black pine into a specimen tree. He cut height and defective wood, aiming to stimulate healthy growth to be trimmed in future seasons. Sadly, he found that the larch that has framed views across the pond for decades is declining and will need to be removed. (Stay tuned for a memorial essay for this lovely larch.) On a smaller scale, Ralph pruned our Japanese maple, bringing light into the beautifully contorted tree. Shaping these trees helped reveal the stepping-stone path that meanders from the entry past a stone lantern to the maple. (Image 8)

Hammond entry after light pruning in July 2021

7. Hammond Entry after Light Pruning in July 2021 

Maple and stepping stone path with light snow

8. Maple and Stepping Stone Path with Light Snow

As Ralph Padilla expressed, his work so far is just a first round of thoughtful interventions in our trees’ growth. We look forward to 2022, as we work together to cultivate the Hammond into a thriving and beautiful Japan stroll garden.

Essay by Lara Netting, Trustee

I would also like to acknowledge that Charles King Sadler also performed impactful pruning in spring 2021 as part of the Hammond Japanese Stroll Garden Revitalization Project.

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