Japanese Garden Designer Ray Entenmann

Tending Japanese gardens keeps Ray Entenmann thriving, even as his body slows.

Zen and the Art of Growing Older

Ray Entenmann in his classic Frank Welch-designed condo. His furnishings include original mid-century pieces, and his book and art collection spans 50 years.

Tending Japanese gardens keeps Ray Entenmann thriving, even as his body slows.


Ray Entenmann is pushing 90 years, but as Dallas’ legendary designer of Japanese gardens, his life and work have assumed a Zen level of eternal youth. His ’60s era, Frank Welch-designed modernist condo is frozen in time, with original Bertoia chairs and a collection of modern paintings amassed many decades ago during a stint as director of the Fort Worth Art Center (now Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art). He has no radio, no CD player, and no TV.
Entenmann gave away his electronics years ago when his wife died.

Dogwood trees bloom each spring in the garden.

For distraction, he reads the hundreds of books that have lined his shelves for years, some since his high school days. Always, there is the garden in back to tend, its seasonal evolutions a constant source of stimulation. The garden is a perfect model for his life’s work.


Japanese gardens are perfect for courtyards like Entenmann’s, where space is at a premium.

A small space, it’s landscaped in the Japanese style with rocks and includes a shallow, dark Koi pond, most likely the favorite feature of his two cats, Prince Genji and a one-eyed feline named Naga, whom Entenmann absent-mindedly kisses. His is a garden that could be placed years in the future or years in the past, and it would not seem dated. It is a quiet, subdued space indicative of Entenmann’s design principles learned from Japanese masters.

“The most important principle of a Japanese garden is smallness. An entire garden can be done in a bonsai,” he says. He preaches for spaces to be “small and smaller,” which is obviously contrary to the looming architecture going up all around the city. Entenmann, gray and sporting something akin to a Fu Manchu mustache, is a wealth of landscaping knowledge. He studied under such greats as Walter Gropius, the father of the Bauhaus movement, while accruing degrees from Harvard (he has a master of fine arts from Harvard’s Fog Museum and a master of city planning, and he was a student in the Fog Museum’s doctoral architectural history program), but it was the two weeks he studied at Harvard under garden master Kinsaku Nakane, builder of Tenshin-En, a dry garden at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, that guided his hands and heart toward a lifelong love and pursuit of Japanese landscapes.

Entenmann doesn’t buy into contemporary ideas about placing objects in line with the earth’s hemispheres or for good luck. “That’s ridiculous,” he says. Instead, his seemingly random placement of water is intended to draw the eye down while walking. Rocks invite peaceful meditation. A rope-tied stone is a traditional Japanese way of marking a path.







Bud Oglesby’s mid-century designs are suited for Japanese decoration because of their similar aesthetics. Transparent walls allow nature to come inside, while clean, simple lines extoll an Asian serenity. Here, two Marcel Breuer Wassily chairs flank a Japanese-style paper lantern table lamp that echoes Isamu Noguchi’s work. A sculpture, posing as a foot stool, patterns its legs after tree trunks, subtly bringing nature inside.

“The Japanese approach a garden differently; they approach it from the inside out,” he says, explaining a principle of Japanese design that is difficult, at first, for Western thought to grasp. A Japanese garden landscaper does not look at the house or the neighborhood to design a particular garden; instead, he looks directly at the clients who will be using the garden, their culture, their beliefs, and their energy. He then designs the garden around the people, never the place. Part of the reason for this approach, Entenmann explains, is the lack of space the Japanese have to draw on. “Japan is overpopulated,” he says. “They take a space this big and make it beautiful. It’s the same principle with the bonsai tree, or a flower arrangement in a small receptacle with just one flower in it.”

The basic principles of the Japanese garden dictate that it must be organic, simple, and neutral. A Japanese garden wishes to integrate the landscape, not stand out from it, with attention to scale. A Japanese garden, in Entenmann’s mind, “has to be non-Texas.” Even so, if not for a few well-named Texans, Entenmann’s name might never have been known. The right-hand man to landscaper Joe Lambert, Entenmann traveled to Asia often on plant-buying trips. There, in Japan, he took advice from Stanley Marcus and hired a driver to take him on a three-week tour of the most prosperous gardens. The knowledge he gained from that tour eventually led Marlene and Morten H. Meyerson to commission him to plant a Japanese garden at their Santa Fe home (complete with an imported Japanese temple), sealing his fate as a Japanese gardener of record. Since then, the sophisticated tenants of Entenmann’s Japanese gardens have helped to shape Dallas in positive ways.

Subtle placement of earth-hewn objects such as this rock-carved lantern add to the garden’s escapism.

He was one of the progenitors of the Katy Trail. Even in his advanced age, Entenmann continues to work with influential architects such as Gary Cunningham, shaping the landscape of Dallas and educating clients on the beauty and serenity of the Japanese landscape.

“It’s different now from when Joe [Lambert] started,” he said regarding how the design process has changed since he left Harvard. He’s wary of “push-button” design plans for landscaping and clients who try too hard to keep up with the Joneses. “I don’t want to duplicate. I’m creative. I don’t want to duplicate anything. I don’t even do similar.”


It’s a mantra that keeps his work vital and beautiful.



Creating Your Own Japanese Garden

Hoping to create the same sense of peace in your own yard? Whether you are looking for ideas or need some friends to fill your koi pond, here are some places that can help you turn your space into a peaceful respite.


For Inspiration
Enjoy a feeling of tranquility as you walk among the simple beauty of the 7-acre Japanese Garden at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. Meandering paths wind up slopes to reveal vistas, while bridges take you across soothing streams and waterfalls. 3220 Botanic Garden Blvd., Fort Worth. 817-871-7686. www.fwbg.org/japanese.htm.


For Added Color
You’ve landscaped your yard but lack the koi to complete the look? Dallas North Aquarium carries 3-4 inch and 6-8 inch koi ($14-19 and $29-39 respectively) to stock your pond. Koi can grow quite large, up to 2 feet long. Keep in mind, you’ll also need a good filtration system and a UV clarifier to keep the water clear. Need more instruction? Be sure to ask for fish guru Sean Crawford when you go. If you have a fishy question, he’s likely to have the answer. 2910 E. Trinity Mills Rd., Carrollton. 972-492-6165. www.dallasnorthaquarium.com.


For Knowledge
North Haven Gardens
holds monthly Bonsai Society meetings and Ikebana Creations classes twice a month. 7700 Northhaven Rd. 214-363-5316. www.nhg.com.


Sunshine Miniature Trees offers a free, open-to-the-public class on basic bonsai concepts. 7118 Greenville Ave. 214-691-0127.


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