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Groundskeeper adds tranquility to Tempe campus

December 05, 2007

One of the busiest corners of the Tempe campus has been transformed into an oasis of tranquility.

Near the Durham Language and Literature Building, what once was a struggling juniper garden now is a Japanese garden, complete with a “deer chaser” fountain, bamboo, lantern and rock formations.

The garden was designed and installed by groundskeeper Zoltan Trest, who came to ASU a year ago from the Phoenix Zoo.

Trest, a native of Hungary, says he didn’t know much about Japanese gardens, so he set out to do research before the project began.

“I went to the library and looked on the Internet,” he says. “I found books on Japanese gardens. I even learned that there’s a Japanese garden society here. I had seen a few others, and I went to visit the Japanese garden in downtown Phoenix.”

Replicating a Japanese garden on a university campus in the desert provided a few challenges for Trest, such as finding appropriate plants that would survive the hot summer, including a tree with maroon leaves that would be a desert substitute for the Japanese maple tree, and locating rock that wouldn’t reflect too much light.

Most of the components in the garden are recycled, according to Trest and Ellen Newell, grounds assistant director at ASU.

The moving spout of the deer chaser fountain appears to be bamboo at first glance, but it’s really a section of plastic pipe that Trest painted to resemble bamboo. Some of the garden’s borders are made with sections of poles used to support immature trees.

The granite boulders were rescued from Mariposa Hall when it was torn down. The compost is from wood chippings from the Tempe campus, obtained through a new arrangement with Ken Singh’s Farm in Scottsdale.

“We send them our green waste, averaging more than 12 tons per month, then we purchase compost at a price per cubic yard that varies between the different types,” Newell says. “It is a very beneficial relationship for us and is a big part of our sustainability efforts.”

The bowl into which the recirculated water is dumped from the “bamboo” pipe is an old planter bowl that Trest covered with rocks.

ASU’s small Japanese garden includes a desert version of the abstract sand-and-stone gardens usually found at Zen monasteries, in which stones rise from raked sand. Here, instead of sand, Trest uses gravel, which Trest transforms into soothing designs with a special rake he designed for the task.

Soon, passers-by will be able to make designs in the raised sand-and-stone garden themselves. A copy of the large-toothed wood rake, made by carpenter John Breese, will be chained to the planter so that anyone who wishes can create a pattern.

Some ASU students already have left their mark on the larger sand-and-stone garden, Trest says.

“Someone made snow angels in the garden,” Trest said with a bit of chagrin.

Though it’s tiny, the Japanese garden, with its mondo grass, topiaries, Korean grass and maple tree, already has a number of fans on the Tempe campus.

Callie Babbit, who works in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, stopped to thank Trest for his work.

“This is my favorite part of campus,” she says.