415-584-8773 shop@holymtn.com

The Art of the Japanese Garden

From earliest times the Japanese people have had a great concern for the beauties of their natural surroundings. This is shown in Japanese art forms which frequently depict some aspect of the natural world. Japan is a country of great natural beauty with forests, mountains, lakes, islands, rivers, waterfalls and sea shores. These features are depicted in even the smallest of their gardens which as re-creations of a natural scene never have had the formality of many European and American gardens.

The art of garden making in Japan is old. Probably its original concepts came from China and Korea as early as the Sixth Century. In Japanese culture, the garden is considered one of the highest art forms. The garden expresses in a limited space the essence of nature by the use of specially-selected plants and stones arranged in harmony with the landscape. Often plants and stones are placed to express a traditional symbolic meaning, or to display the beautiful seasonal colors of trees and shrubs.

One particular kind of garden is the tea garden in which a distinct style was evolved to meet the special requirements of the tea ceremony. When the custom of tea drinking became widespread it took on a ceremonial aspect with religious overtones and several kinds of tea rituals were developed. Another kind of garden, the stroll garden, evolved over many years as a spacious garden for the large estates of the aristocracy. In stroll gardens there are carefully laid out miniature scenes with hills and valleys, streams and bridges, waterfalls, ponds and islands, arranged along paths or stepping stones. These are set off with suitable plants in harmony with their background. In a stroll garden a smaller tea garden may be set apart with its tea house, stepping stones, water basins and stone lanterns. In the smaller tea gardens the design is simple, and features as streams and bridges, ponds and islands are lacking. The tea garden as an approach to the tea house was designed to create the illusion of going into the quiet solitude of the countryside.

The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, is a stroll-style garden, in which visitors can enjoy from the paths and bridges many different views of the ponds, flowering cherry trees, azaleas, oriental magnolias, camellias, Japanese maples, dwarf pines, cedars and cypress. Visitors can enjoy a cup of traditional green or jasmine tea and cookies in the teahouse served by a waitress in a beautiful silk kimono. The fortune cookies that are served were originally introduced in 1914 at the Tea Garden by Makoto Hagiwara through his baker.

Most of the plants in the Japanese Tea Garden are from Japan, others are from both Japan and China, and a few are not Japanese but are from other parts of the world. Many of the dwarf trees are old and some were among the earliest to be planted in the Tea Garden. The oldest plant in the Tea Garden is a Japanese black pine espaliered in front of the Tea House. It came from Japan as a potted plant and was planted by Makoto Hagiwara. The wisteria vine with the gnarled trunk growing against the front of the Tea House was also planted by Makoto Hagiwara.